My Personal Walden

In 1845, a young, restless, and idealistic man living in Concord, Massachusetts left common society and retreated to a small pond approximately 2 miles outside of town. This man, Henry David Thoreau, spent the next two years living in a cabin he constructed at the banks of Walden Pond in pursuit of a life deeply connected to nature, simplicity, and self-sufficiency. Regarding his intentional practices, he writes:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life... to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and... if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Although Thoreau only lived at Walden Pond for two years, his book Walden; or, Life in the Woods is considered his most renown work. Through his satire, social commentary, and outright offenses on modern living (as it were in the 19th century), he seemingly came to peace with himself and his newly found ideas of living. Why then, did he find himself returning to live in the society he came to see faults in so clearly and passionately?

When I was a junior in college, I found myself at a particular junction of frustration and restlessness upon my return from Alaska for the first time. I was incurring significant debt to obtain a degree in a subject matter of which I had little interest. Additionally, the close-knit community that had become my basis for social involvement and belonging began to crumble for various reasons. As I had experienced such freedom and fulfillment in Alaska, I questioned my continuance with higher education. It was at this time that I stumbled into the university library (a rare occurrence) in search of Walden. Such books pertaining to subjects of civil disobedience and solitude do not find themselves in the frequented sections of libraries, and thus, I discovered Thoreau's masterpiece on the bottom shelf of a dimly lit basement aisle, which somehow felt just right. I checked it out and read it twice that week. I returned to the library and renewed the checkout for another week. I underlined in the book, highlighted, and wrote a few folk songs related to the inspiring new themes I was discovering. I returned for the third time to finally check the book back in and was told the library had no record of that book's SKU on file. By some administrative error or divine occurrence, the library refused to take the book back, and I returned home with it quite satisfied. That book continues to have a prominent place on my bookshelf to this day.

I write all of this to express this--the themes of Walden (particularly the chapters "Economy" and "Conclusion") have resonated with me deeply for years, and as I have begun to pursue a life more intentionally lived, I find more truth in Thoreau's writing. I desire a life lived in a way that frees, inspires, and fulfills those carnal senses of wonderment, curiosity, and adventure. I often ponder life and how each person's perception of it varies, yet so many resign to attempt fitting theirs into a neat little culturally-prescribed box that they are born in to. Perhaps many do not find this box limiting as I do, but rather comforting, as a rhythm or path to existence that is safe and secure, satisfying all their desires and ambitions. For those individuals, I somewhat envy you. However, I have not yet found my place in this world of that level of satisfaction and belonging, and I continue my endeavor to find that rest. In the conclusion of Walden, Thoreau writes:

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. By doing so, men may find happiness and self-fulfillment.

Perhaps I hear a different drummer (or perhaps I simply march offbeat), but I have felt a call to a different pace of life (for at least the next few years) than the "9-5" that I have become marginally accustomed to. Through our travels, I hope to rediscover ideas on living that, although divergent from the American norms, may provide clarity, insight, and hope for improvement, and in this way, allow me the path home from my personal Walden and back into the American culture with fresh perspective.