After Walden: I Believe in Life in the Woods
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.—Henry David Thoreau in Walden; Or, Life in the Woods
I found a cottage to rent on the Appalachian Trail overlooking the Shenandoah River in Bluemont, Virginia. Calm seeped through me as I ambled, arms full, along the grassy path toward my new home. Birdsong pierced the mountain air; dew steamed in the rising sun; a breeze swirled the lusty scent of pine up my nose and grabbed my eyes. These are what I missed behind the sealed windows of the workplace.
I’d lately become ferocious about hating work—the long days in artificial light while ferns unfurled and pear trees bloomed nine stories below. And the gravity of the work: public education in Baltimore. I was weary of wrestling the system, watching the poor falter, and wondering if I was as much of an ally for them as I thought I was.
Advice I got—“Be a good soldier”—didn’t suit me. I thought life might be better if I slowed down and lived closer to the earth, so I arranged a month’s leave of absence. I’d eat well; read a dozen books, maybe write, and hike daily. I hoped I could lose ten pounds.
The cottage was musty and still when I arrived, but came to life as I settled in: fetching icy water from the spigot; making friends with spiders in the outhouse; opening windows all the way. Spinning in a swivel-rocker, like my Gram’s, in the cross breeze.
Right back to work scouring a grimy hot plate, steadying a wobbly lamp, dragging the worn wooden table to an east window for morning light. I pushed the bed across the room so I could watch the night sky. My books gave a finished appearance to the unpainted shelves; they looked keen to be read.
In the morning I perked coffee, and studied Walden like I had the Bible as a young man—a little bit at a time with profound interest in reforming my life. I scribbled long forgotten stories in my journal. I would hike rugged sections of the Appalachian Trail, snack on apples and nuts, clear paths on the property, plant white ash, stack wood. Exhausted from my jaunts and chores, I often napped in the chaise lounge on the rear deck and woke shivering in the long shadows of the looming trees. Tuna for dinner, and tea to keep me warm as I read late into the night. I slept carefree, long, and languorously.
By the end of the month I had read thirteen books, written over three hundred pages, and trudged more than a hundred miles on the AT. I lost thirty pounds. I felt good and became my own ally. I quit my job. I’m a tutor now: private, part-time, and affordable. And I spend most of my time outside, enraptured.
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