I first read Walden when I was in high school. I was immediately enchanted with the leisurely style of Thoreay’s writing and I’m sure that I was more than a little infatuated with the man himself. I pictured myself his partner, roaming the forest, taking moonlit dips in Walden Pond, growing beans. So romantic, so idealistic. So peaceful and simple.
While we were in Concord we visited Thoreau’s pond and cabin and the environs. I felt a thrum of pleasure as my body felt so at home. And it renewed my fantasy to someday live an experiment like his.
From Chapter 7 of Walden, “The Bean-Field”:
“I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antæus. But why should I raise them? Only Heaven knows. This was my curious labor all summer — to make this portion of the earth’s surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort, and the like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers, produce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day’s work….
We are wont to forget that the sun looks on our cultivated fields and on the prairies and forests without distinction. They all reflect and absorb his rays alike, and the former make but a small part of the glorious picture which he beholds in his daily course. In his view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden. Therefore we should receive the benefit of his light and heat with a corresponding trust and magnanimity. What though I value the seed of these beans, and harvest that in the fall of the year? … These beans have results which are not harvested by me. Do they not grow for woodchucks partly? The ear of wheat should not be the only hope of the husbandman; its kernel or grain is not all that it bears. How, then, can our harvest fail? Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds are the granary of the birds? It matters little comparatively whether the fields fill the farmer’s barns. The true husbandman will cease from anxiety, as the squirrels manifest no concern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not, and finish his labor with every day, relinquishing all claim to the produce of his fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only his first but his last fruits also.
And from the Conclusion of Walden, a quotation that bears frequent pondering:
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of h[er] dreams, and endeavors to live the life which [s]he has imagined, [s]he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. [S]he will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within h[er]; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in h[er] favor in a more liberal sense, and [s]he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as [s]he simplifies h[er] life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.