Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thoreau, the burnt chicken, and my mother

Thoreau in his journal 1851 
Now I yearn for one of those old, meandering, dry uninhabited roads, which lead away from towns, which lead us away from temptation, which conduct to the outside of Earth, over its uppermost crust; where you may forget in what country you are traveling; where no farmer can complain that you are treading down his grass, no gentleman who has recently constructed a seat in the country that you are trespassing; on which you can go off at half-cock and wave adieu to the village; along which you may travel like a pilgrim, going nowhither; where travelers are not too often to be met; where my spirit is free; where the walls and fences are not cared for; where your head is more in heaven than your feet are on Earth; which have long reaches where you can see the approaching traveler half a mile off and be prepared for him; not so luxuriant a soil as to attract me; some root and stump fences which do not need attention; where travelers have no occasion to stop, but pass along and leave you to your thoughts; where it makes no odds which way you face, whether you are going or coming, whether it is morning or evening, mid-noon or midnight; where Earth is cheap enough by being public; where you can pace when your breast is full, and cherish your moodiness; where you are not in false relations with men, are not dining nor conversing with them; by which you may go to the uttermost parts of the Earth. It is wide enough, wide as the thoughts it allows to visit you. Sometimes it is some particular half-dozen rods which I wish to find myself pacing over, as where certain airs blow; then my life will come to me, methinks; like a hunter I walk in wait for it.

Yesterday I escaped my apartment and the endless laundry, and Facebook.  I left my cell phone in a drawer, turned off.  My computer was asleep.  I found a nearby nature preserve and began a short hike: only an hour, but more of nature than I have seen for months.  It’s almost spring in Michigan with little green shoots appearing in ragged patches.  Trees are still leafless.  The path I took was well-worn by so many other refugees from civilization, and yet I was the only living creature to be seen (other than the occasional golfer I heard on the other side of the brake.)  No deer, no squirrel, not even a bird flew over.  My path took me on a pre-determined path around the golf-course, past apartments and back to the start.  I could not forget my country, nor my city, nor my dwelling place.

I could, however, enjoy a few intimate moments with spring.  Trees and I enjoyed the same air molecules and I carried home some dirt, fresh from the path.  My head was truly more in heaven than my feet were on the Earth.  In some little way, my life came back to me again. 

(editor’s note:  Wasn't that poetic?  And I really meant it.  Yet while writing this, I completely forgot the chicken on the stove, which has now burnt to a crisp.  I wonder if Thoreau ever had moments like this….) (my mother would say, "get your head out of ......... and pay attention!)  (My mother was also a great philosopher.)


  1. During the winter passing, I read "A History of Walking". Thoreau was mentioned as were other meditative walker/writers. It made me want to join them as I think you did that day. I would recommend this book to those who appreciate what walking can offer. But don't wait till winter, it becomes a painful read when you can't take a walk after you put it down. It did help to inspire an Art Walk at my house. planning for

  2. I'll look for that book! And I'd like to talk with you about the Art Walk. You've always had the best ideas...