Thoreau All By Himself

We've always wanted to go rogue and live alone in the forest, but then we realized that conversing with trees and rocks could get pretty one-sided.

American LiteratureAll American Literature
AuthorThoreau - Henry David Thoreau
LanguageEnglish Language
Literary TopicsAuthor Highlights
LiteratureAmerican Literature

Transcript

00:23

Take, for example, Henry David Thoreau, who dropped everything so he could go live in

00:29

the forest for two years. Thoreau wanted a place where he could write

00:34

in peace, and where he could live out his fantasy of simple living and self-sufficiency.

00:40

So, in 1845, he decamped to Walden Pond.

00:46

It's true that Thoreau spent a lot of time wandering through the woods, communing with

00:49

nature.

00:52

Apparently, he had a Disney princess period, where he sang to small forest creatures and

00:59

carried on entire conversations with deer.

01:07

However self-sufficient Thoreau imagined himself to be, he wasn't really a loner.

01:12

His cabin in Walden Woods was situated on property owned by his BFF, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

01:20

Because he was still within spitting distance of his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts,

01:24

Thoreau constantly received invitations to dinner parties and barbeques and potlucks

01:29

and square dances.

01:30

He went to all these events, of course. Just because you're living the simple life doesn't

01:35

mean you have to say no to free food.

01:37

In fact, Thoreau was so not removed from civilization during his stay on Walden Pond that, one day,

01:43

he managed to run into his friendly neighborhood IRS agent.

01:47

After refusing to pay his taxes, Thoreau ended up in jail. Now that's self-sufficiency you

01:53

can admire. While Thoreau never really achieved the simple

01:56

life he was so enamored of, Walden… the book that chronicles his experiences in the

02:02

woods…

02:02

…has inspired many people to dream of living off the land.

02:07

The modern movement towards self-sufficiency is called homesteading.

02:13

Think for a moment about that term. Do primitive cabins in the middle of the vast prairie come

02:17

to mind?

02:19

Does watching your herd of cattle freeze to death or your crop blow away in a dust storm

02:24

occur to you?

02:26

Do you think of horrible illnesses like the smallpox and dysentery?

02:31

Those obstacles were what American homesteaders of the past had to overcome.

02:35

Today's homesteaders, whether they live in the country or in an urban area, make products

02:41

to sell at farmer's markets and may have access to high-end gear like solar panels.

02:46

They have ATM cards, cars, and can go buy a pint of Ben and Jerry's whenever they want.

02:52

Wanting to be more self-reliant is admirable, but modern homesteading isn't as straightforward

02:57

as it seems.

02:59

If you're keeping a blog about your homesteading adventures while baking a cake in an electric

03:03

oven and running your whites through the dryer…

03:05

…can you really say you're unplugged from civilization?

03:08

Can you truly say you're enjoying the simple, self-sufficient life?

03:12

This was the same problem Thoreau encountered.

03:15

He was kinda, sorta, not really off-the-grid during his stay on Walden Pond.

03:19

Sure, he got back in tune with nature and gathered the material for a book that really

03:25

does have some interesting things to say.

03:28

But he didn't achieve the brutal self-sufficiency of those pioneers who homesteaded places like

03:33

Kansas and North Dakota.

03:35

Reaching that level of self-sufficiency would have required more than a quiet vacation by

03:39

a New England pond.