Saturday, January 16, 2010


Way back when I was in grammar school, maybe the 5th grade, I read Henry David Thoreau's Walden. What in the world could possess a kid to read such a book? Every now and then there was the opportunity to buy books through the school. I think it was something like Scholastic Books. Prices must have been right, as my parents always let me buy a few books.

Maybe it's because I used to have trouble reading. At the time, the learning fad was something called whole word memorization. Some people did just fine with that system. I was more of a phonics sort of person, but didn't even know it. One summer my mother made me stay inside every morning and taught me how to read. Even though I hated it at the time, I've come to appreciate what she did for me. Reading went from a dreaded chore to one of my favorite things.

So perhaps with my early struggles with reading in mind, they encouraged me to read. Nothing is as encouraging as getting your very own books.

There must have something in the catalog summary that caught my attention. Must have been the idea of living out in the woods in a small cabin. My dad used to be a partner in a small primitive hunting camp. I loved it there. So for me, Thoreau's Walden must have seemed like moving into the hunting camp.

The book was a real inspiration to me. The idea that one could live free and easy in a small place excited me. A whole new possibility for living opened up for me. Henry's frugality opened my eyes. Living with less wasn't hardship, it was freedom. The thought of living alone with my own thoughts and perhaps a few good books became a goal. That kind of life fit my nature.

Now a lot of people think Walden is about living as a hermit. Even as a kid I could see that wasn't so. Henry walked into town often to visit friends and family. He had visitors at the cabin. He could pick the amount of society he would tolerate. If he felt the need for a lot of people, it wasn't too long a walk into town. The small size of his cabin, by it's very nature, kept the number of visitors to a manageable number.

The philosophy of Thoreau, the idea of marching to the beat of your own drummer, sunk deep in my soul. Many years later as an adult I reread Walden and was surprised at how much I remembered -how much it influenced me.

I was on my way to my own little cabin on a pond. When I was 16 my parents gave me a 50 X 100 lot across the street from their cottage on the lake. At 18 I was able to buy some additional land adjoining my property. My goal was to slowly build a small place there, inspired by the cabin on Walden Pond.

Then life happened. Unlike Thoreau, I married a fine girl when we were both the tender age of 20. Among my friends, it was speculated that I'd be the last to get married. Instead, I was the first. Before you know it, there were three kids and a small place in town. Still kept the land up at the lake, but had no idea when, if ever, we'd get to build there.

One day my dad told me he was taking an early retirement and was going to sell the cottage. He told me about it in case I wanted to sell me land at the same time. He figured that with his place gone, I'd have no access to the water. Instead of selling my place, I bought his. My house in town went up for sale. Instead of building a dome on my original property, I cut the roof off the cottage and plopped a dome on top.

Living in a good sized place with a wife and three kids was not exactly life on Walden Pond. However, Thoreau's example guided much of what I did. Life isn't about how much money one makes. It's about having a life worth living. Life at my piece of heaven worked for me. Unlike Henry, my stay's been a good twenty years (so far) compared to his two at Walden.

Here's the funny thing. My wife would love to sell our place to the kids and we'd keep my original piece of land. She wants to simplify our lives and live in a 20 foot yurt.

I can see the attraction.



  1. Funny thing about a yurt, It's damn cold when it's 20 below outside.

  2. They do make yurts with decent insulation. However, I suspect my wife wants to spend winters in the southern sun. Then the insulation thing wouldn't matter all that much.

  3. Sounds good. Let me know when the "cabin" goes up for sale.