I don’t think Thoreau went to the woods because he wanted to “live deliberately.” The idea of going to the woods and never ever coming back has appealed to me a lot of times, but never more so than when my dad died. On the 16th, it will have been two years. I don’t talk about it a lot, and this isn’t going to be an essay about My Dead Dad™, so I’ll say this: Thoreau went to the woods after his brother died.
Obviously I don’t know Thoreau’s entire life story, though I have been gearing up to spend a lot of time with him in the process of planning a lesson plan. I’ve been thinking about it for a while though, and here’s the thing: Thoreau would go back home to do laundry. It wasn’t as though he was totally solitary during his time at Walden Pond either; even then, it wasn’t the most remote location in New England—or even just Massachusetts—by a long shot, and besides, Emerson owned the woodlot he was staying on. Even later, when Thoreau attempted the backwoods of Northern Maine, he made the observation that some civilization is a good thing (but then, Aroostook County has snow in early May sometimes, so who can blame the guy?).
The writers we consider hermits have only become so over the years: Emily Dickinson even left her house sometimes.
Anyway, Thoreau. Walden Pond is a really beautiful site, and I’m glad Don Henley campaigned so fervently to save it. But living there would not be living, necessarily, in the wilderness. I think Thoreau, in his grief, needed to process things, and, advised by his friends, made the decision to try to find some kind of inner calmness. You can’t think so well all the time if you’re surrounded by the other people in your family who are also grieving, and I think sometimes with loss, you need to step back.
I know I did.
So I’ve been debating with myself when planning a lesson about Walden whether or not to mention to movie Into the Wild. I hate that movie, and while I like Jon Krakauer a lot, I’ve noticed that a lot of the writing he’s done has been about people who make really bad decisions. Christopher McCandless had a fundamental misunderstanding of what Thoreau was doing, and while it’s sad that he died, I can’t help but think that if he actually had read Thoreau, he would have known that the man accepted help when it was offered to him. Ultimately, it might be best if I point out that Thoreau was a lot of things, but “loner” was not one of them.
Around this time of year, I think about going to the woods myself—except the snow throws me off, and apparently it’s supposed to be 20 below with the wind chill this weekend. Maybe I’ll take a break in early May.