I went into 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 had not lived.
I am not fond of Thoreau.
I think he’s a bit of a prick, really.
Have you read Walden? Full of contradictions and coming from a place of such unacknowledged privilege. To aspire to a kind of poverty tourism… while looking down on the poor…
Let’s not get into my dislike of Thoreau.
I took Friday off of work and spent the morning cleaning house while Nova rolled in the patch of dirt in our back yard. I cleaned the kitchen counters and packed our bags.
I was away last weekend for work, and I’ll be away again this week. But I wasn’t packing for that trip yet.
No, I was going into the woods.
A friend picked me up and even as the blur of a migraine aura crossed my eyes, we headed south. My eyes closed. Letting the migraine wash over me. Letting the Excedrin wash over me.
I went into the woods because I needed it.
My favorite poem by Robert Frost is Build Soil: A Political Pastoral.
While I may not agree with Frost’s politics, I do agree with his metaphor. To build soil is to feed the earth. To turn the earth and mix it with compost, with air. To give it the breath and food of life that will make the soil rich and bountiful.
I went into the woods so that I could build soil.
There is a perception of selfishness around the act of withdrawal. Of discovering your campsite has no cell service and then letting your phone drain to dead on the dash while you wander in the woods. Of taking your dog and your friend and side stepping the world and going and for a night living a reality in which there is no one but you and the dog and the people you meet for fleeting moments.
How could waking up and opening your eyes and looking up to the stars be a selfish act?
How could walking the dog and eating breakfast in down parkas be a selfish act?
My favorite stanza in Build Soil is the last one, presented here. (The entire poem is here.)
Probably but you’re far too fast and strong
For my mind to keep working in your presence.
I can tell better after I get home,
Better a month from now when cutting posts
Or mending fence it all comes back to me
What I was thinking when you interrupted
My life-train logic. I agree with you
We’re too unseparate. And going home
From company means coming to our senses.
I do not go into the woods to live deliberately, although that may happen. I do not go into the woods to look at any one true life. Because there is no one true life and the best way to live deliberately is to live.
But I do go to build soil. To cultivate a space in me that is separate from you, separate from even the people I am with when I go into the woods.
And while I may reinforce the boundary line between me and you, I erase the line between me and this.
This landscape. This earth. This path beneath my feet and this air that flows in gusts into my lungs. This rain as it fell and these clouds as they hovered and the rock flakes we traced with our palms. Glacial till.
In the soil metaphor, this is the organic matter. The compost, the half-chewed stalks of whatever was growing before.
(You are the rocks pulled by hand from the loam.)
This week, I leave my dog for five nights. I go back to the city a stone’s throw from where I grew up. I go back to an accent I know is under my skin and will never fully leave my throat.
So, I needed this. I needed the time away to come to my senses. To mark out the boundaries between me and you.
I went into the woods, in short, because I wished to come to my senses.