“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
Henry David Thoreau was a naturalist, poet and philosopher who stands an an icon to modern environmentalists. His writing about nature is considered by many to be the best of its kind and has inspired conservationists and artists the world over.
Born on this day in 1817, he lived most of his life in or near Concord, Massachusetts, and spent two years, two months, and two days in solitude writing in a tiny cabin near Walden Pond. That experience inspired his masterwork, Walden, in which he established himself as a transcendental idealist. What does that mean? Thoreau’s back-to-nature experience at Walden, along with the writings of his friend and fellow Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson, convinced him that both people and nature are innately good, and that the closer people are to nature, the better they are likely to behave. This eventually let him to think that the rules of modern society were corrupt.
When we visited Walden last year, on his 196th birthday, we saw some spots that looked as they might have when Thoreau walked along its banks, and some things that he likely would never have imagined or approved. There is something for everyone at Walden Pond.
“Nature will bear the closest inspection; she invites us to lay our eye level with the smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. She has no interstices; every part is full of life.”
This post originally appeared on July 13, 2013.