Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail…. Simplify, simplify.
–Henry David Thoreau
Of course there is a certain irony in starting a blog that references Thoreau so directly–this is the same man, after all, who says he could “easily do without the post-office.” And by no means do I intend to romanticize Thoreau’s 800 days (give or take) on Walden as the epitome of simple living. Growing up in Concord, I heard plenty of tales of how Thoreau would walk back to his mother’s house when the rain got too bad at his cabin in the woods….
Still, it seems appropriate to kick off this year-long experiment with a nod of the head to Henry David Thoreau and a rereading of Walden–or at least Chapter Two:
We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.
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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
The entirety of Walden is available at The Thoreau Reader site, courtesy of EServer at Iowa State University and The Thoreau Society. The block quote above comes from Chapter Two, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.”