“I 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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
Are we living deep? Confined to our homes – time billowing around us in suffocating heaps. Embroidered, a bit, with prolonged meals, walks, and blank stretches of reading and thinking. Someone told me it was like time had froze. As if everything around us sat, congealing, whilst we pattered about. Earth has halted, mid-spin,with a rusty clank.
And yet – the world has not stopped spinning. The days fatten – nourished by longer hours of sun, “breeding lilacs out of the dead land.” The ants in our kitchen carry on just as industriously – as do the ravens (attested by their boisterous chatter early in the morning) or the shinners that cluster together to collect crumbs we drop by the dock . Nature triumphs. Its ever present roar suddenly clear – no longer drowned out by the bellow of human industry.
This is what Henry David Thoreau sought to uncover. The worlds that churn constantly – parallel to the cacophony of human life. He devoted mornings to observing ants and an entire anthology of other animals marching about his cabin. Humans are not the only the creatures to move. For example, on the weekend, I observed a root that had crept up into a water pipe. It’s deliberateness, and precision, was unnerving – seemingly parodying human behavior. Nature, I have to realize, is fierce. And immense. Beyond my own scope. I was reminded of a Mary Oliver poem –
“ you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched
by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.”
Henry David Thoreau dwelled in the imagination. His thoughts nourished not by society, nor grand tours across the globe, but rather, the mundane. He remarked:
“Should not every apartment in which man dwells be lofty enough to create some obscurity over-head, where flickering shadows may play at evening above the rafters? These forms are more agreeable to the fancy and imagination then fresco paintings or the most expensive furniture.”
I am taking this opportunity to refurbish my mind. As suggested by Mr.Thoreau, we have little control about what happens in our surroundings. Thus, we must focus on the small area we bear jurisdiction over – our minds. Like architects, the individual may craft towering philosophies and ornate ideas – paving mindsets, and taking care to maintain balance. Devoid of distractions, I have found ample opportunity to delve into the dominion of my mind – rich in raw material, yet lacking in resplendent structures. It, indeed, is in need of processing.
This is also the moment to revel in the details. Life is composed of many different scales – all of which are as small, or as immense, as we make them out to be. I am reminded of another beloved author, Jane Austen – of whom unearthed the vastness in her own limited experience.
Ultimately, Mr.Thoreau left the woods. Because “I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves.”
This reassures me. This pandemic – rather abruptly, and rather cruelly – has ruptured a staling epoch, and laid the foundations for a new one.
To conclude, I shall share a sonnet by William Wordsworth:
To sit without emotion, hope, or aim,
In the lov’d presence of my cottage-fire,
And listen to the flapping of the flame,
Or kettle, whispering its faint undersong.
I love this poem as it suggests that solitude, in fact, does not exist. Surrounded as we are by echoes of past human encounters – by our thoughts, by the unique human ability to bleed and seep ourselves into our surroundings. We are never truly alone.