Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Every heart a Walden Pond

Back when I conducted a writing seminar called The Naturalist, it was our habit -- our happy band of scribblers -- to make a visit to Walden Pond. We always chose a day out of season, middle of the week, overcast sky, so that we might have the place to ourselves. We sat at the site of Thoreau's cabin and read aloud passages from Walden. Then we separated to find each our own place of solitude to sit and journal.

Did we catch something of the spirit of the man himself, who urged us to build castles in the air -- and then take care to give them proper foundations. Each word we wrote was like a brick set carefully in place.

Mary Oliver has a poem called Going to Walden in which she expresses skepticism about the value of such a visit. She reminds us that Thoreau cautioned against scurrying here and there in search of what we might more usefully find closer to home. Pilgrimages are easy, Oliver suggest. "It is the slow and difficult/ Trick of living, and finding it where you are," that she sees as our proper goal.