Walden: Or Life in the Woods

In this, the first in a series of explorations of the texts sacred to Last Wolf, I will attempt to explain a bit about the books in discussion for those who may not be immediately familiar with the text, as well as my own feelings or stories I associate with it. This is by no means from an academic perspective, merely from someone who loves to read and to share books.

“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 practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary.”

Henry David Thoreau

Walden: Or Life in the Woods

A direct quote from Henry David obviously, it possibly being the most famous part in his most famous book, Walden: Or Life in the Woods is one of our most sacred texts. An American classic, it is both widely read and taught in high school and college syllabus but is far lesser known here in the U.K. First published in 1854, it tells an account of Thoreau’s two year long journey into ‘living deliberately’ by building himself a cabin in the woods near Concord Massachusetts. You can visit a replica of his cabin in the area around Walden itself, the name coming from the pond it was constructed at.

Thoreau is concerned that people are so occupied with the day to day “labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” and it surprises him that this is true of people living in a country as free as America. Contrastingly, he takes us through his day, the hunting and fishing, the repairing and maintenance, the seasons and the solitude. But sometimes he’ll spend an entire morning ‘rapt in a revery’ or an entire day watching one animal, for primarily, Thoreau is a naturalist and it is the wildlife that gets most attention. He studies wildlife, carefully watching the squirrels and foxes, jays and chickadees and most memorably perhaps, the loon that spends as much of its time underwater as it does in the air. The visitors he has are sometime human. He famously has three chairs, one for solitude, one for friendship and the third for society.

And of course we get his thoughts and philosophies. He describes his morning reading of that most famous of Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad Geeta, as bathing his intellect, whilst his morning bath in the pond is also given religious overtones and turned into an almost ritualistic experience. Yes, the spirituality of nature is everywhere in Walden. Heaven is indeed under our feet as well as above our heads. Nature’s unlimited ability to renew life, inspiring Thoreau to grander thoughts and higher aspirations for himself and humanity.

Photo from The Walden Wood Project, walden.org

 “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

Henry David Thoreau

What does it mean to live deliberately?

Which brings me to thinking of Walden and what it means to Last Wolf, the phrase ‘live deliberately’ specifically which I use to sign off my communications. I use this term in connection with Last Wolf and in my own life, attempting to live my life deliberately and applying this theory to every aspect of it.

What? Let me give some examples.

Words have power. Think about the effect every word that comes from your mouth has on the listener, or of their perception of you. I recall something a friend’s dad said about one of our mutual friends. He said that when he first met our friend he thought he was simple (not his exact words!). This was until he realised that he was taking time over what it was that he was saying. Every word that came out of his mouth was considered and thoughtful, and for some reason that stuck with me. Coincidentally, this is a guy who lived in a tepee in the woods for four years so he didn’t have to pay rent whilst at college. He’s probably a big fan of Thoreau. This in turn translates to what goes on social media. I delete more comments than I write. In an age where an image is worth 1000 words, yet there are thousands of images and far fewer words, words are becoming increasingly essential.

Use time wisely. Making every minute count. Seems obvious but with a young family, this is especially pertinent. I’ve found myself writing future social media posts, ideas for blog posts etc. in the notes in my phone on my lunch break. Or while watching Frozen, again! Keep a notebook and use it. And connected to this is…

Make life work for you. How do we make the time in our modern busy lives? I’ve struggled with the hours in the past. It took me a long time to realise we are all given the same ones, it’s just how we use them that changes. Would I like more hours in the day? Sure, but I would prefer to get better at making use of the ones I have. And connected to this is…

Live the life that you want to live and not the one that society thinks you should. For example, in my real job, I’m a primary school teacher who has tattoos on his fingers and until Covid hit, fronted a death metal band. Just how many of them do you think there are? Me and Nocturno Culto? The professional progression tree may not suit some people, most people maybe. Do some people take on more responsibility or management roles because they actually want to, or simply because they want a bigger wage packet every month? Whatever your choice, make it suit you and not the other way round.

Recognise the beauty in the everyday. As Thoreau himself says “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth” resonates into the everyday existence of everyone on the planet. See the wonder in your own back garden. I once saw a meme that I agreed with completely. It was around the time of a big harvest blood blue red moon, or something. Let us just assume it was one of those lunar events that doesn’t happen too often. “LOOK AT THE MOON” exclaimed the meme “says me every night when I go outside.” Bang on! The moon is wonderful and you don’t need to wait until it turns blue and on the news to look at it. Get off your couch and go outside. It’s there all the time! And while you’re there, have a look for Venus too.

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”

Ach, there’s tons more examples, but I’m not here to get preachy. Maybe we can revisit these thoughts. My aim is to share Walden, its ideas and how they have affected me and Last Wolf. Like I said previously, this isn’t a book that is read very widely in this country Next time we’ll maybe discuss something a bit closer to home.

Live deliberately