Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Walden for the Rest of Us

A Walden for the Rest of Us

A Walden for the Rest of Us (2003)

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.
--Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Don't we all want our own private Walden? Apparently so...

From the Walden Pond State Reservation:

Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden Pond from July 1845 to September 1847. His experience at Walden provided the material for the book Walden, which is credited with helping to inspire awareness and respect for the natural environment. Because of Thoreau's legacy, Walden Pond has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is considered the birthplace of the conservation movement. Park Interpreters provide tours and ongoing educational programs. The Reservation encompasses 400 acres which includes the 102-foot deep glacial kettle-hole pond. Mostly undeveloped woods totaling 2680 acres, called "Walden Woods" surround the reservation.

The area is popular for fishing, swimming, and walking. To protect the natural resources of the area and ensure that Walden Pond remains a pleasant place for people in the future, the number of visitors is limited to no more than 1,000 people at a time. Dogs, bicycles, floatation devices and grills are prohibited. To avoid disappointment, visitors are encouraged to call the park in advance and check on parking availability. A replica of Thoreau’s house and the location of his modest home are available for viewing by the public. Year round interpretive programs and guided walks are offered as well as The Shop at Walden and the Tsongas gallery. Specialized Equipment includes portable FM listening systems for park programs and a beach wheel chair for access to the beach and water.

I think Walden resonates more than ever since the reign of BushCo began. For people like me, the Bush administration has been a ongoing series of numb shocks leading almost to an anesthetized state. When Bush's smirk appears on television, I find myself falling into an involuntary fugue episode. Thoreau once observed that "to be awake is to be alive," so no wonder the five year (and counting) Republican rule is so draining. The near 70% of us who find Bush an inept, failed leader walk around with a kind of cultural post-traumatic stress syndrome. Nothing is transcendental. Instead, every televisual experience is funeral.

Something dies a little more each day. It's the undead corpse of our country and all it once embodied. In an age light years beyond Wall Street's ironic "Greed is good" maxim -- an era where the uber-rich glut themselves as the poor literally drown -- it's little wonder Thoreau's themes burn the middle and lower classes like salt in the open wounds of tax cuts for billionaires. From "On Thoreau's Walden" by Stephen C. Scheer:

Thoreau's Walden is mythic, poetic, fictitious, fabulous, and metaphoric in the best senses of these terms. In it the artistically re/created real-life experience (itself an experiment in "artistic" living) becomes a symbolic model or paradigm for an embodied spiritual quest for the disembodied, for a journey from the "gross" to the divine "necessaries of life." The thesis of Walden is clearly indicated in the first chapter of the book. True economy has nothing to do with the ways and means of increasing wealth, with methods for multiplying the superfluities, the "gross necessaries of life." True economy is that which simply provides the flesh with what belongs to the flesh so that the spirit may go about its own business. The problem for Thoreau is that people don't seem to know this. People seem to believe that the "gross necessaries of life" represent all that there is to their humanity. This, as Thoreau sees it, is a social fiction which the people of everyday reality take to be a God-given truth. Thoreau's strategy in Walden is to expose this social fiction for what it really is, namely, a false fiction, a fiction that represents the triumph of the flesh over the spirit.

Oil can't buy you love. Another McMansion won't chase away the blues. But this might

Henry David, you're doing a heckuva job...

Walden Pond
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation
."

or, if the pond is beyond the tangible reach of the rest of us, then a comparable state of mind will have to substitute. Here's a nutshell plan. If we can get this guy

That writer guy's pond needs a derrick...

out of our woods, then our collective "lives of quiet desperation" will begin to drain away like the toxic waters in New Orleans. Then we'll be left with "a Walden for the rest of us." And won't it be good to put this walking coma behind us -- and to be awake/alive again?

6 comments:

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Billy Jones said...

Great piece of work. The quote you featured, "...the mass of mean lead lives of quiet despiration..." was the basis for my first book, CARROT ON A STICK, and is quoted therin.

enigma4ever said...

Thank you for dose of Thoreau...I read that and Robert Kennedy's speech on another site and suddenly I feel more human....If I have to watch one more cheesey bush theater art piece I will vomit all over my living room....I am looking for humanity..some reality....some sanity....I guess I was seeking some Walden ...I love your site, creative and thought provoking...( I will have to lurk here more often...)

cruelanimal said...

I appreciate the kind words from all above. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thoreau ate dinners at his mothers house during his self-imposed seclusion in the woods - he would walk home for Sunday dinner (so to speak). Thus, while we have raised him to iconic status, he wasn't living entirely in nature. It's what he represents that is really the issue. Politicians would like to sell you the same image. In American "letters", it all goes back to good ol' Benjy Franklin - but at least he was more obvious about the fact that he crafted his narrative, his persona.

cruelanimal said...

Anon,

I agree with you. I never held Thoreau up as a pure naturalist. It is certainly (and maybe unfortunately) what he has come to represent. I contrasted his ideas to the moremoremore greed-is-good ideology currently stuffing the pockets of the "have-mores." No doubt Ben Franklin crafted his persona, but at least he did most of the work himself. He didn't need legions of spinmeisters to photo op his cowboy charm or assure us with propaganda that "staying the course" and "trusting one's gut" rather than reading the news and encouraging varied points of view makes for a wise leader.

You know who's lost in the woods now? All Americans.

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