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Walden: a classic for these troubled economic times
Walden


In 1845, Henry David Thoreau, then twenty-eight years old, went to live in the woods outside Concord, Massachusetts. He built a small home on the shores of Walden Pond with his own hands from used materials, subsiding for over two years almost exclusively, on what he grew or gathered from the forest and fields. In Walden, Thoreau lays out the reasons for this experiment, how he does it, and provides detailed descriptions of the events, great and small, that take place in and around Walden Pond.

I first read Walden when I was twenty years old and just getting started in life. I was awestruck by Thoreau’s example of living happily on very little, struck by how foolish it is to work so hard to acquire possessions we do not need, and envied the freedom that comes from not having so much to take care of. Now, whenever I consider buying something superfluous, I remind myself of Thoreau’s words, “Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

Thoreau dedicates a large part of Walden to detailed descriptions of Walden Pond’s flora and fauna. His account of a raging battle between the red and black ants on his woodpile is my favorite episode. Thoreau declares it a more furious battle than any fought by men in Concord’s history. Although Walden is occasionally laborious, (Thoreau spends a good deal of time describing, complete with charts, a full account of all his income and expenditures during his experiment) this is a minor concession for all the wisdom found in this great classic.

Walden has influenced my life more than any other book; it taught me a new approach to life. Life is not a contest to accumulate possessions or money; it is a journey, full of experiences to be savored as they come. Although Thoreau sets an extreme example, we can follow him with moderation. Thoreau does not demand us to zealously forsake all possessions and take up a life of subsistence in the woods. Instead, we need only spend our time and money with care, avoiding frivolity and excess to benefit from his example. This book is required reading for anyone striving for a simpler life. Walden’s lessons are especially fitting for these tough economic times.



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