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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 7-15-22 – A Man in the Woods

This gratitude Friday, I am grateful for American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). He was born in Concord, Massachusetts this week 205 years ago. He is best known for his book, Walden or Life in the Woods and his essay on Civil Disobedience. He practiced Transcendentalism, which was a 19th-century movement of writers and philosophers in New England. It was an idealistic system of thought based on a belief in the essential unity of all creation, the innate goodness of humanity, and the supremacy of insight over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths. He lived life with intensity and contributed a great deal to how we see nature and our country.

Civil Disobedience was published in 1849 when he was just 32 years old. He argues in the essay that all governments are flawed and tend towards corruption and deep injustice. He writes about the duties of citizens to avoid becoming complicit agents of injustice when government goes awry. He was motivated in part by his disgust with slavery and the Mexican American War which occurred after we took Texas from Mexico. His perspective was that there are times when government actions must be resisted against in ways that may result in retaliation. Having this view led him to live simply so that if it happened to him, he would have less to lose. This led to his even better-known work, Walden.

Walden; or, Life in the Woods first published in 1854 when he was 37 years old. Wikipedia describes the book as “part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and—to some degree—a manual for self-reliance.” I have never actually been to Walden Pond, I have heard it is relatively small and not far removed from civilization. He lived in a time in the decades before the civil war when there was a lot of discord. His love of nature and how being in the woods helped him stay centered is certainly a sentiment that resonates with me as a person in recovery. The woods are my go to place for getting my head and heart back on track.

I am a miner of quotes; his writings offer some rich veins of thought to quarry:

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

“I can alter my life by altering my attitude. He who would have nothing to do with thorns must never attempt to gather flowers.”

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” “However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”

“The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.”

“Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.” “Amid a world of noisy, shallow actors it is noble to stand aside and say, 'I will simply be.”

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

This gratitude Friday, I thought I would share a few of his many quotes and reflect on his short but productive life. He had contracted tuberculosis when he was 18 years old and dealt with it his entire adult life. In 1860, following a late-night excursion to count the rings of tree stumps during a rainstorm, he became ill with bronchitis. His health declined, with brief periods of remission, and he eventually became bedridden. He died at the young age of 45. Even though he died young, he lived with such passion and purpose that we know who he was 160 years after his death. Grateful for his contributions to our nation and for his example of living life by getting as much out of what our world has to offer. What are you grateful for today?

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