Walden by Henry David Thoreau is the monthly selection of my book club
for April. I have read it before — but since that was in April 1965, somehow
not all the details come to mind!
The edition I read this time is by Peter Pauper Press and has illustrations — colored
woodcuts by Aldren Watson.
These were pleasantly placed alongside the text frequently and were welcome diversions when the reading sometimes became bogged down with philosophy!
Thoreau lived at Walden for two years — from 1845 to 1847. He was born in 1817, so he was about 30 years old when he spews all these thoughts and instructions to us on how to live our lives. The book was published in 1854.
One of my first impressions was his mode of simple living. He borrowed an axe to begin to
cut down the trees to build his cabin. He planted many (!) bean seeds and intended to live for the year on the money he earned working six weeks as a day laborer. He felt that working six weeks a year was enough for anyone to maintain a simple life.
“My greatest skill in life has been to want but little.”
“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”
Live simply: ” . . .keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”
His cabin was on the edge of Walden Pond –which is about 1/2 a mile long and had an area of 61 acres. Can you picture it? The pond was very, very deep. The cabin was one room, generally had windows and doors open to the outside, but could be snug and closed in the winter. His nearest neighbor was one mile away, and there was a small railroad track on the farthest edge of his property. Pretty much alone, a little north of Concord, Massachusetts.
I always have pictured him as a hermit, living alone, and in solitude, but actually, he often
walked into Concord – nearly every day – and many visitors dropped in at the cabin. There are hunters and fishermen. An amusing bit is when two fishermen visit, and fish all afternoon and then are disappointed in the time spent because they caught no fish. Thoreau muses that the men thought the time unproductive “though they had the opportunity of seeing the pond all the while.”
It was nice to read all of Thoreau’s descriptions of Nature, especially the budding spring days as I read along in my own month of April. Hardly a brown leaf goes unnoticed in this book, nor the songs and squeals of birds and wild animals.
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
At one point, digging or hoeing those everlasting beans, he hit stones and “a sluggish portentous and outlandish spotted salamander, a trace of Egypt and the Nile, yet our contemporary.”
And there we are, transported across centuries, as we read about a plot of land in Concord, Massachusetts.
And lest you think all might be old-fashioned, on page 209 he waxes vegetarian! Yes, encouraging the reader to drop all manner of eating fish and meat.
I can’t emphasize enough the mind-expanding passages when he describes his walks in the woods or along the sides of the pond. And just when you think you might drift off a bit, Thoreau brings you back with an interesting little anecdote about a screech owl or a family
of rabbits . . .
The book club discussion was lively. We were introduced to an interesting bio of Thoreau’s
life which enriched the reading we had done. Almost all of the group agreed that the first
pages of Walden are confusing and heavy reading, but again, agreed that the rest of the
book was rewarding for those who read it slowly and savored it.
Three button review.