Letter To Thoreau
"Rather than love, than money, then fame, give me truth." – Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
I decided to write a letter to Thoreau this morning, c/o of Walden Pond. In case he has a post office box there, like I have here, or lives in the trees and hills. I get the most wonderful messages, and perhaps he does as well.
Dear Henry David Thoreau, i think of you from time to time, Walden was an important work for me, it was part of the inspiration I need to set out on my own and live in the country, to understand the power of solitude and the joy of the fulfilled life. It took me a lot longer to find the life I was seeking, and it was a lot harder and more circuitous than I imagined, but I am here, not finished yet, but making steady progress.
I believe in spirit dogs, and I believe in spirit people, so I think you are around somewhere, in some form, doing your work, living your life. These are much different times than yours, of course, they are much more complicated, expensive, fearful. I hate to even think of what your little cabin would involve now, or how many forms you would have to fill out, or what the animal rights people, environmentalists, zoning officials, dieticians and government bureaucrats would say about your despoiling Walden Pond and eating squirrels and fish right out of the pond.
Not to mention tearing up all those bushes in search of nuts and berries. We have Facbook now, and I think Facebook might have driven you right off of the pond. You celebrated privacy and independence, we are becoming a nation of busybodies and fear mongers, there are lawyers everywhere,and people who love to hire them. And there are legions of angry and broken people sending out angry and hateful messages to people who are different from them.
We no longer celebrate risk and adventure, or any idea of privacy. We do not mind our own business, or respect the right of people to make their own mistakes.
You practiced the ancient craft of minding your own business, but everyone with a keyboard (this is another story) believes they have the right to tell other people what to do and what to think. I am warned many times a day about ticks, the sun, different foods, health, the weather, money, riding with my dog on a nice day. We do not celebrate the freedom to live our own lives in the way that you wrote about so beautifully. A farmer in Long island is getting death threats every day because he is killing his two-year-old beef cow Minnie in order to feed his family. Thousands of people are demanding he buy his meat instead at a trend organic grocery store.
You don't want to know…really.
I want you to know that I am very much in the process of figuring out who I am, facing the truth about myself, seeking solitude in some part of every day, working hard to re-connect with nature, something of great importance to you. I have to say that 90 per cent of Americans live in cities and towns along the coasts, we have lost touch with nature. Hardly any of us can name trees, plants, birds. Walden is a tourist attraction, a park. Nobody is heading out into the woods for a year to figure themselves out, they are all too busy working in jobs they hate for people who care nothing for them and saving up for a long and costly death on the other end of life.
Presidential candidates praise God and brag about their penises.
In New York City, now our greatest city, people actually believe it is cruel for working horses to pull people in carriages. I imagine this is hard to explain to you, but there is a rich and powerful and strident movement that seeks to take animals away from people and lock them up on private farms and reserves, where they will never be seen again.
You would never get five feet from Walden Pond today. I went to Home Depot yesterday and tried to cost out the materials you listed in Walden to build your tiny house, or cabin, for $28.12. A counselor at the Depot told me it would cost about $700- $1,000 for those materials, not including furniture.
And what, he asked, about the foundation and heating system?
You would mostly likely need to fill out some paperwork for a bunch of permits, and I don't think your cabin would pass zoning or safety muster, to be honest. You'd probably need an alarm system now also. The man at the Home Depot laughed at me when I showed him your building list. "Is this for a dog?," he asked with a sneer.
A lot of people live in fear now, working in jobs they don't like, saving up their money for a way of life they don't want, living so far from solitude, nature, and animals.
In your time, it only cost a few dollars to follow your zeal. In our time, it is staggeringly expensive to be unhappy, and live lives we don't wish to live, and give up our dreams so we can give up more dreams later. That is what I would call a conundrum. I refuse to do it.
I think you and I would have things to talk about. I don't like being told what to do, I like to make my own mistakes, I love solitude and practice it daily, I am living the life I want, doing the work I wish to do. I need to live in nature, I need to be around animals. You felt the same way.
As you know, this is not easy, but it is a source of great joy.
And I have found something that was a struggle for you – love. That took the longest and may even mean the most. You said love was more important than truth. I paused a bit at that.
"I learned this," you wrote in Walden. "at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
If we were to sit down by the pond in the deep woods, I would tell you that I have advanced steadily, if not always confidently, in the direction of my dreams, I endeavor every day and often in the face of much challenge and doubt, in the direction of my dreams, and and I am close to living the life which I have imagined. I'm not sure about the success, I'm not sure how to measure it. I supposed having written 29 books, my life is already successful beyond my dreams.
I think in my time, people who do this are rare now, even freaks. They are not celebrated, they live on the fringes of our world. The system in which we live pulls us in many ways, but rarely towards our dreams. Most everyone lives for money, not fulfillment. Writers are called to find new ways to live, but their basic story is unchanged.
You wrote many things that touched me, but one that stands out was this: "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."
Here's to standing up to live. And thanks for everything. You matter still, perhaps now more than ever.