Fourth of July at Walden Pond
My wife and daughters and I went to Walden Pond the morning of July the fourth, 2009, to sit amid the placid woods and swim in the placid water. Other than some overly friendly chipmunks, it was pretty placid.
As the girls splashed and swam, I sat and thought about Thoreau. Part of the idea of Walden Pond State Park is, I believe, to think about Thoreau.
So I did. The book, Walden, is a quirky piece, written in an inimitable style even given its era. It is a handbook of mindfulness, of living in the moment, of observing and drawing conclusions useful to one's own life.
Thoreau sometimes states his conclusions clearly and sometimes leaves it to the reader to make their own conclusion. The anecdote about dinner with a friend in his little cabin, for example, is undoubtedly purposeful, yet the lesson Thoreau intends is not clearly stated, but left for us to infer. On the other hand when Thoreau encounters a large woodchuck in the forest and is almost overcome with a desire to kill it on the spot and eat it raw, the story develops into a persuasive argument for being a vegetarian.
One well-known story that sticks with me is of the French Canadian woodcutter whom Thoreau befriends. The woodcutter goes to work in the morning, works very hard all day, and goes home in the evening. He is always friendly and happy. He loves to eat woodchucks. I think eating woodchucks is kind of a theme in Walden. Although the man is uneducated, Thoreau seems to really envy the woodcutter his simple existence and admire his outlook.
In the story he asks the woodcutter a philosophical question: Does he think the world needs changing? The woodcutter grows pensive and considers for a time before responding, "No, I like it well enough." Not a philosophy to which I subscribe, but one that has its attractions.
Another well known story from Walden is Thoreau's encounter with an Irish family living with their several children in a shack. The husband / father works for a farmer. Thoreau suggests they would be much better off walking over the hills picking blueberries than working for the farmer and living in the shack, but the Irish man cites ambition as the reason he must stay on and work for the farmer, so that he can advance in life. So Thoreau poses an alternative view we must consider, that perhaps are own ambitions are vain, leading to an unhappy life.
After a couple hours of sun the clouds began to gather in preparation for the afternoon's possible thundershowers. My thirteen year old daughter started to shiver, her lips blue. We gathered our camp chairs, blanket and cooler and left Walden Pond to return to our condominium. There the girls engaged in watching DVDs or online videos as we went from store to store to store to buy supplies for our evening cookout.
Makes you wonder.