In Search of My New American Writing Dream
By Norma Hopcraft
In a pre-COVID escape from New York City, a tough place to live because of the non-stop noise, crowding, lines of people for every service, subways, dirt, asphalt, concrete, steel, exhaust fumes, millions upon millions of strangers rushing past me, I took Amtrak from NYC to Providence, RI in 2019 to visit my brother. We planned a trip to Walden Pond.
To get ready for this trip, I read Walden, an American classic by Henry David Thoreau. I read about the fish, the loon, the war between ant colonies, the lake, while standing on the Q train, swaying as it pounded through the tunnels from my apartment in Brooklyn to my job in Manhattan.
Walden is fantastic nature writing. And philosophy. It challenges Americans today to consume less and live more simply.
Thoreau was a bit of an oddball, it seems--which you might expect of someone who chose to live in the woods and eat mostly beans he farmed himself. He did go into nearby Concord nearly daily, apparently, so he did do plenty of socializing.
But it was a little off beat. Here are the things he valued most when socializing: "I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board. ...I called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality. There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree. His manners were truly regal. I should have done better had I called on him."
Thoreau lived on Walden Pond in a house he built himself, approximately 8 feet x 10 feet. When I stepped into the replica (his actual cabin no longer exists), there was only space for a narrow cot, a fireplace, and a small table. I think he had two chairs, because he did get visitors.
He had more cool writing.
"The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire...as if the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the returning sun; not yellow but green is the color of its flame."
"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth."
About being fully alive:
"Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star."
- “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time."
- “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be."
- “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”