A Thoreau Pilgrimage

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Henry David Thoreau.

My friends tend to be a bit cynical. Nothing is sacred—when I brought up that I was reading Thoreau in class, they immediately took to calling him nothing but an over-read hippie living in his parent’s backyard, who didn’t even live off the land like people think he did. He was a Ralph Waldo Emerson-wannabe whose 200-page-long rambling was somehow called a masterpiece.

Well…sure, yeah. But the thing to remember with Thoreau was that while he appreciated nature deeply, it was never his mantra to leave civilization altogether. After all, a lot of his work is quite political. He did love Emerson, and actually lived on land owned by Emerson (not his parents). However, beyond the cynical retaliation my generation sometimes tends to have, Thoreau is a pioneer of minimalism and the positives of solitude.

“Simplify, Simplify.”

My grandfather once gave me a shirt two sizes too big with that quote on it. He’s also given me about three different copies of Walden, and once mailed me a copy of Civil Disobedience, with his own highlights and notes in the margins. He’d often sketch trees, birds, lakes and mountains in the corners of the pages before giving them to me.

I think he saw introversion in me from a very young age. He too is an introvert, and spends quite a lot of time walking alone in the woods, fishing, reading, and sketching. He once sent me a letter with the only “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” written in it, another Thoreau quote.

It’s nice to have someone like that to look up to. Someone who won’t call you anti-social for wanting to be alone, but who will actually encourage it—in healthy doses, of course. I do think he was smart to tie nature to my ideas of solitude, though. Being alone in nature allows for all the positives of being alone without any of the negatives. You don’t feel lonely or unproductive when in nature.

While I think I have the “solitude” part down, I still have to work on “simplifying” things. That’s alright. Perhaps this summer I’ll go back to Walden Pond. Maybe being in that sacred place will help me understand, just as it helped Thoreau so long ago, and my Grandfather when he was my age. Perhaps this is our version of a pilgrimage.

5 thoughts on “A Thoreau Pilgrimage

  1. Nice post -you make the point well that it’s impossible to judge a person who lived two centuries ago by today’s standards and your classmates who are doing so need to think again.


  2. There’s a really great book called The Thoreau You Don’t Know by Robert Sullivan that strips away all the things that everybody thinks Thoreau was and gets at what he was really trying to do in his writings and experiments with solitude. It’s really fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great post!!! I really enjoyed how you expressed your feelings about Thoreau, solitude and being an introvert. I wonder what I could find about the lives of those cynical classmates who so harshly. I bet they wouldn’t enjoy it if I revealed the truth about them. It’s easy to condemn the dead, because they have no defense.

    Let’s see. A bully is someone who puts down and hurts others for being different. People fear differences. It is interesting how many people fear introverts. Like they say, “The one you have to watch out for is the quiet person.” This is because they don’t know what they are thinking. The fact is, they could be simply thinking about the walk in the park they took this morning, which is most likely. It is not until they are constantly attacked for being an introvert, that they thoughts might turn to anger,and even revenge. Society and it’s people create their own outcasts.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s