Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.
I remember reading Walden in high school. I had this very specific mental image of the whole thing: Thoreau out there in the woods, building his little shack. Nothing but silence and the beauty of nature. "A mile from any neighbor," the man wrote.
I have to admit, it's probably on my own head that I took Thoreau's narration there to be an example of poetic understatement. I'd assumed he really meant "miles". Turns out, he was being quite literal, almost down to the foot. But Earth Day is coming up and if you're feeling burned out on modern society, there's definitely a couple of things you can learn from Thoreau. I've summarized them here (and in Be Amazing) for your benefit.
First: Choose Your "Wilderness" Carefully
You'd hate to end up communing with the Earth someplace…rural. Shudder. That certainly wasn't a problem for Thoreau. Despite what impressions he might have given you, Thoreau's Walden Pond had more in common with Central Park than with Yellowstone. Damn near exactly a mile away from bestie Ralph Waldo Emerson's house, Thoreau was often called to meal times by Mrs. Emerson's dinner bell. From his hand-built cabin, Thoreau could see a major highway and hear the train that ran along the opposite side of the pond. In fact, Concord Village was close enough that he walked down there nearly every day. In a lot of ways, Walden is really similar to that time you "ran away from home" to live in the garage. Of course, you were 5.
Second: Don't Let Yourself Get Bored
Turns out, there's plenty of room in the vast wilds of nature for all your friends and acquaintances to come over. Besides regular weekly visits with his mother and sisters (who brought baked goods and pre-made meals, lest Thoreau be forced to do something drastic, like hunt and gather) and frequent (and also frequently food-related, see a pattern here?) sojourns to the Emersons', Thoreau's idyllic, natural lifestyle also included numerous house parties. He hosted galas for political groups, dinners for luminaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Bronson Alcott, and once managed to pack 25 people into his one-room cabin.
Accurate illustrative wood-cut print provided by Mr. Michael Rogalski, esq.