Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"As if you could kill time without injuring eternity."

I've always liked Thoreau.  I love the idea of moving out to the woods, building a modest cabin, and thinking deep thoughts.  Yes, I know that Thoreau had a few personality quirks--like Ralph Waldo Emerson having to help pay a few bills on occasion or that he thought the ladies found his neck beard attractive.  Gentlemen: they didn't then, they don't now, and they won't ever.  I remember studying Thoreau in high school and learning that he had hoped to be a poet, but it turned out he wasn't actually good enough to make a living as a poet.  His writings gained much of their popularity after his death.  Nevertheless, there is something that is still just a little bit magical about his life.  Lately I've been reminded that at the age of 28 he stepped away from his Concord life (although Walden was barely 2 miles away from Concord) to "experiment" in living simply.  For the next two years Thoreau wrote, thought, and searched himself to understand what truly matters most.  A little over two passed and he returned to Concord.  His experience did not gain him fame or fortune.  Indeed, he spent the next nine years making pencils at the family factory while rewriting Walden.  I clearly remember standing on the foundations of his cabin in Massachusetts.  A sign nearby read, "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 have not lived."  I remain captured by the idea of living deliberately.  To take recognize and seize those things that matter most.  I wonder if after he returned to Concord and began making pencils if he ever took a walk back to Walden to remember what he learned there?  Did he ever sigh for those quiet days near the pond?  Did he love Walden the way that I love these woods?

Winter after the 2009 Arnica Fire

This is my Walden.  It is the place I come to be centered and to learn for myself what matters most to me.  I come to learn to live with the rhythm of nature and to share that heartbeat with others.  Thoreau might express this feeling differently saying, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."  This is my time to face the essentials in life and boil it down to the few things that matter most.  I moved here one month ago and find much to reflect upon.  I find that living deliberately is about family, friends, and faith.  I am an instructor and Yellowstone is my classroom.  But I have learned much from watching my students.  They come to this place to take a special trip and they come with the people that matter most: spouse, children, or a close friend.  I see that it is not enough to experience it alone, the things that matter most must be shared with others.  I just returned from two days with my family and find that greatest happiness is in human relationships.  After all, "Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?"  Faith, I find, is my constant companion.  Faith in things I cannot see and hope in the unknown.  One of Thoreau's earliest memories was lying awake at night "looking through the stars to see if I could see God behind them."  I remember standing in the hayfield as a child wondering which star was heaven.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

I do not know how long this season for reflection and deliberation will last.  But, like Thoreau, I am learning that, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined he will meet with success unexpected in common hours."  That's quite a brave belief for a man who earned a living at the family pencil factory.  Perhaps he did learn something about the "essential facts of life" while he was at Walden.

Hayden Valley

Sources:, photos of Yellowstone National Park by Michael Justice


Jacque said...

I have been helping Howard prepare for his Teachings for our Times lesson on President Uchtdorf's last conference address--"Things that Matter Most". Do you mind if I quote what you have said about relationships? It fits in beautifully!

Rachel Eddington said...

Of coures. Use any ideas you like.

nick cuny said...

i look forward to reading your blogs by the way. they make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Emily Sue said...

Beautiful, Rach. Just beautiful.