Coming out of the Wilderness – H.D. Thoreau Memoir

To Whom It May Concern,

Due to my department from academia I have attempted to distance myself from the arbitrary constraints that have come to influence my actions and reconnect to the earth as a machine that survives merely to sustain itself. Some may consider this opinion to be narcissistic or reclusive but the comfortable routine which we get lost in attaining has to be stirred around to relearn and appreciate what life is meant to be. My experiment is to return to a rural life in the woods surviving on minimal resources while maintaining a standard of living that is as fulfilling and meaningful as any other. To escape the factitious reality, the entire population can be pacified by or content with the same governing or institutional bodies and be taught the same values that one’s monetary wealth has prevalence over their spiritual affluence. The construction of my palatial home cost me under thirty dollars, the majority of the material was gleaned from the white pine forest with sufficient area surrounding it for a plot with which I can grow crops to raise and maintain an income. The purpose of the experiment is to focus on my own actions without the influence of the church, government or academia on my survival in the world.

The Nineteenth Century is thriving with novelty. Men strive to obtain wealth while paying an ever increasing portion to the government. In doing so, they become smothered by trivial actions and possessions. My experiment is not for them. Those who are lost can do as they please; I am not here to change or judge them. This retrogression is not to show that one way of life is greater than another but that the light of God shines into the mansion with the same divinity as it shines into the poor-house. This idea may be better understood by the latter but my experiment is for both to relate to equally. My students have been taken from me, and in their absence I have the opportunity to appeal to a much larger audience, an audience that I am not pressured to strike or intimidate for fear of losing my academic position.

In disobeying this morally repugnant practice of corporal punishment,the faculty at Harvard University has chosen to dismiss me from that institution. In challenging the morality of said practices,I hope to expose the example the institution is setting for the students. A government or persons holding positions of power should lead altruistically to produce a dignity in the people; their popularity should not be gained from fearful actions but from virtuous ones. Too often wealth compromises the integrity of professors and presidents, making their actions immoral or for personal gain instead of the betterment of the people they impress.

Simplicity should be the influence sent by those that inform the population of civility. Luxury is superfluous. The necessities of life are few: food, clothing and shelter. In the winter month’s fuel is added but no other possession, other than tools, are required for survival. In my cabin I have stationary and a few books but these possessions are not objects that cause grief or worry over their property rather means of communication and survival. I own these objects but never worry of their value or fear their theft. As for the past two years my doors have never locked and I have no anxiety of that fact or fear of my neighbors intruding on my privacy. No man could molest me more than Harvard has and it is my duty, with this experiment, to show and prove how to circumvent entities such as these while exposing them for what they are.

My idea of earning a living by labour was that it is a life of toil and turmoil. That one spent their entire life turning and fertilizing the soil and at the end of their lives their bodies are turned back into the soil to fertilize the fields for another generation. My view that this was a futile occupation has changed, now I see it as the highest form of living. The realizations that occur as I turn my beans or haul water from the pond are of the truest nature. Carrying my pail in a more efficient way, for example, is a concept that materialized from no book or journal but a communication between my mind and my body like a religious transcendence. This information is the basis of survival and institutions fail to and can not instruct it. Men graduate with degrees in mathematics and philosophy but are unknowing in the essentials like how to make a fire or insulate a cabin. This may sound pretentious, that fundamental skills are of higher value than academic, but without a solid foundation to build a house the structure will be fragile and unsound. These self-proclaimed “Higher Thinkers” would be in dire straights if they were put into an actual survival situation. We often exaggerate the importance of the work we do and I am no exception to this. While teaching at Harvard I considered what I was doing to be of high importance, in a way it is, but I have come to realize that affecting the quality of the day is the highest form of art.

My experiment has not been to become a miser or curmudgeon living alone in the woods because of my conflicting beliefs; it is far easier to hate than it is to love. As I mentioned visitors stopped by the cabin regularly. Without the visits of my friend and landlord, Ralph Waldo Emerson, I would have only my own Cartesian theater to entertain me. Unlike Descartes though, I must be out of bed by noon and out to my fields or the lake focusing on survival but one idea we do share is that our own intuition is as close or closer to God’s message than one that is brought to us by the Church. On my trading trips into town I meet and befriend people with ease and I contently listen to the stories of how their crops are faring. What I realize now is how what they say is far more meaningful than what is written in any New England newspaper or academic journal, to a certain extent. Communication, when used correctly, should be more of a necessity of life than a pest and bring us closer to understanding human nature than dividing us merely by race or religion.

These last two years have gone from one season to the next with their tell tale signs like Walden pond making guttural moans and developing puddles on its surface. Two Springs ago, when I arrived, I thought I could create my own Utopia. Since I have had the solitude to become attuned with my mind I have come to the realization that Utopia is wherever I/you am/are. The light of Dawn shines for all those that are awake, everyone and everywhere, the grandest sojourn one can experience is to travel nowhere but inside of themselves.

Henry David Thoreau, 1847*.

*All historical information and references were paraphrased from:
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; Or, Life In The Woods . Toronto: Dover Thrift Publications, 1995.
“Encyclopedia.” Wikipedia. 9 Dec 2006 .


  • JWinter

    What I learned in the revising process was that writing through someone else’s voice has to be done with care.
    This is one of my favorite books and to rewrite the major messages was hard to piece together. Through editing the piece became more fluid to read, an act that can not be done by the authour. Some of the tips I recieved, especially in the last paragraph, clarified the message I was aiming to portrait. Also the idea of adding a footnote reveals and makes mention to the book that some may not be familiar with.

  • Ella

    I think i must of read this 3 or 4 times….I am baffled that I have not read him sooner…and although im sure i would of crossed his path eventually…I am so glad that you have opened this door…

    I love the simplicity of his thoughts, yet they are so profound…im sure penetrating people’s souls and minds for centuries…

    Looking forward to exploring more…gracias…