In 1845 Henry David Thoreau moved into a small cabin he had built in the woods at Walden Pond. In his own, now-famous, words, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. And see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” He also wrote that part of his motivation was to discover if such a simple, natural life might not be sublime, and “if it were sublime, to know it by experience…”
In 2012, I made my own pilgrimage to Walden Pond. I had it in my mind that by walking where Thoreau walked, by standing where he stood, by seeing what he saw, by being meditative and contemplative about his experience, I might siphon off some of his experience for myself.
Shortly after arriving at what is now, Walden Pond State Reservation, I stood in the replica of his tiny cabin. It was simply furnished: a bed, a desk, a stove, and three chairs. That was about it; primitive, even by 1845 standards. I then walked the trail through the woods to the site where his original cabin had stood. I stood there forcibly relating to Thoreau. I surveyed what would have been his view from his front door. I imagined living a simple, primitive, natural life; a life without all of the “stuff.”
My experience confirmed what I had suspected: Henry David Thoreau lived on Walden Pond for two years because it is impossible, in just two hours, to discover that which he sought to discover. Sometimes, there are no shortcuts. To frame the lesson in terms of my particular situation: One cannot truly experience the simple life when one knows one must soon return to the car and follow GPS directions to the airport to catch a plane to Chicago.