Writing advice from Thoreau

You go places. You have experiences. You write. What do you make of any experience on the page? Here is a passage from Thoreau worth thinking about:

Let me suggest a theme for you: to state to yourself precisely and completely what that walk over the mountains amounted to for you,—returning to this essay again and again, until you are satisfied that all that was important in your experience, is in it. Give this good reason to yourself for having gone over the mountains, for mankind is ever going over a mountain. Don’t suppose that you can tell it precisely the first dozen times you try, but at ’em again, especially when, after a sufficient pause, you suspect that you are touching the heart or summit of the matter, reiterate your blows there, and account for the mountain to yourself. Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short. It did not take very long to get over the mountain, you thought; but have you got over it indeed? If you have been to the top of Mount Washington, let me ask, what did you find there? That is the way they prove witnesses, you know. Going up there and being blown on is nothing. We never do much climbing while we are there, but we eat our luncheon, etc., very much as at home. It is after we get home that we really go over the mountain, if ever. What did the mountain say? What did the mountain do?


O Pioneers

We got back from a relaxing cabin vacation in Tioga county, Pennsylvania last Friday. As someone who teaches Thoreau often for my Literature and Environment course, I was thinking of Henry David a lot while in our small cabin near a lake. The message from Walden that seems to resonate with me and my students the most is his advice that we simplify, always simplify our lives.

Simplicity can be a hard row to hoe today. Too many distractions, too much clutter. If we want to practice what Thoreau preaches, we need to do so in small steps and tiny gestures. Allow yourself to inch towards the goal of simplicity. I will give you a mildly absurd case in point. Let’s talk home stereos. Continue reading “O Pioneers”