For my eighteenth birthday, my brother gave me a well worn copy of Thoreau’s Walden Pond. In the front cover he inscribed, “You need to be 18 to really read this.” I’m not sure if he was right. I remember forcing myself through the book. Though some parts stuck out, my mind wandered through a majority of the book.
Tonight, over eight years after my initial reading, I finished reading Walden Pond for the third time. Each reading has brought different meaning to me as if I was reading a completely different book. Though I find parts to be quite antiquated (sorry Henry, but I have an additional 150 years of science to refute some of your deep thoughts), I know of few books which can elicit such reflection. This past reading brought even more reflection, thanks largely to having recently lived my own Walden experiment.
Early on, Thoreau discusses why he went into the woods. His response provoked thoughts of my summer in the wilderness. My reasons for hiking this summer parallel Thoreau’s explanations: “live deliberately,” “learn what it [nature] had to teach,” “suck out all the marrow of life.” After three readings, I finally understand why Thoreau wrote these famous lines. He wrote these for the doubters, for those who could not fathom a need to break from the status quo. He doesn’t need to convince me on the merits of going into the woods; I already know and have his whole book to understand his motives. However, without a whole chapter of beautiful prose defending his actions, people would keep questioning him…and I bet they still did.
I can relate to Thoreau. Since returning from the wilderness, the most common question I have received was, “Why?” I have given a number of responses, but I don’t think I have ever convinced my questioner. It is unexplainable. But if Thoreau was ultimately permitted to write a canned response, so can I. Here is my pathetic attempt to describe my summer:
I went into the woods to be reminded of my past. By entering the woods, I returned to Eden. I saw how things were and was reminded how simple they still truly are. It’s easy to forget what is important amidst life’s grind. The woods are honest. That is why I went there.