Saturday, January 23, 2010

What We Have In Common With Thoreau

We've all heard of Henry David Thoreau: he's that old guy who's really into nature, lived out in the woods and wrote about it. That's what I knew when I read Walden, but within the first part of the book something struck me as odd. Thoreau only spent two years of his life on the pond. For a guy who has a reputation close to that of a hermit, I found it strange that in reality he lived there for a short time.

That is what peaked my interest in a recently published book called "The Thoreau You Don't Know," by Robert Sullivan. I knew the book would help answer some of my questions about the often overlooked aspects of Thoreau's life, but it surprised me to learn how much Thoreau's world (1830's-1840's) parallels the current state of our own. To get a better understanding of Thoreau, Sullivan points out the social/economic state of Concord (and America) at the time Thoreau chose to pursue his little experiment in the Walden woods...times which are eerily similar to our own:

"To get an idea of what Thoreau was thinking about work and about making a living when he wrote
Walden, you have to stop and look at the work situation in Concord and the towns in the area, to imagine the economic landscape around the pond the way you might try and imagine the trees and the birds and the water...

"The Concord that existed when he went to college, in 1834, was different form the Concord in which he is about to build a cabin, in 1845, at twenty-seven; like the rest of America, it is in the midst of a transformation. It bears repeating that from 1837 through 1843, the country was caught in a severe financial depression. In general, New England's economy was changing, colonial agriculture being replaced by the early stages of modern industrial capitalism, all the economic and political power that had been dispersed among farmers now being concentrated in a smaller number of people, primarily landowners and business owners." (Sullivan 125)

Just as in Thoreau's time, the America that existed when I went to college, in 2002, is vastly different from the America in which I am now building the foundation for my future in 2010. When I went off to school, 9/11 had just happened, we were going to war, but on the flip side, the housing market was booming and jobs were readily available. Fast-forward eight years...I am twenty-six (Thoreau's age when he built his house on Walden), America is in the midst of a similar transformation. Our country is once again caught in a severe financial recession. The ongoing war has not been cheap, the housing market has crashed and jobs have dried up. I don't know if it's comforting or disturbing to know that Thoreau (an aspiring writer himself at the time), was faced with very similar issues over 100 years ago...makes me wonder if we've learned anything from the past.

Even after reading this book, I won't really know Thoreau, but if his thought process about going off to be more self-sustaining, getting back to nature, not being owned by a job, was in any part due to his frustration with the way things were headed in Concord and America in general (industrialization, a failing economy, and class separation), then I know a lot of people my age can relate. We're frustrated, confused and distrusting. We graduated, like Thoreau, into a world full of broken systems and because of this we don't want to be a part of them. All this is enough to push even the most practical of us to want to get all "Thoreauvian" and desire to build a modest home with a garden on a little pond outside town.

Thoreau struggled with these things over 100 years ago and perhaps another generation will struggle with them 100 years after me in a world that is even more advanced and industrial. I wonder if this moment in time will spark modern Walden-like experiements...there is something about seeing the modern world in turmoil that causes a lot of frustrated souls to go running back to nature for the answers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Snow Days

I have a lot of negative thoughts about snow, but it's important to acknowledge the positives snow days. Whether you're a kid going to school or an adult going to work, it's wonderful to wake up in your pajamas, take one look at the thick, heavy snowflakes piling up outside the window and understand that your pajamas are staying on all day.
As a kid, my mom would have my sister and I bake a cake or bake brownies on snow days. Today, Tommie and I took the time to make breakfast. Meanwhile, the animals of the household, Dusty (the family cat that just moved back from California) and Maya seem to have the meaning of a snow day down pat since this is what they've been up to all day while the idiot humans were outside shoveling...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Aries Parents

My parents are packing up their belongings in California and heading back east this week to start living and renovating the fixer-upper barn house they recently bought in Bethel, Maine.

They are finally realizing a big dream of theirs and I'm just as happy for them as I am worried about them. Not many people move to Maine from San Diego in the middle of January. Even less people move to a house with no heat and a decent bathroom in the middle of January. And even fewer drive a 26-foot truck across the country with a cat who gets motion sickness in the middle of January. This is a recipe for an anxiety attack for an over-prepared Libra, but for two Aries it's simply another adventure.
I once flipped through an astrology book that rated what signs were best and worst matched for parents and their children. According to the book, the worst sign for a Libra to have as a parent would be an Aries. This is probably for health reasons alone. My parents are great fun. Anything that is "great fun" gives me a heart attack.
While I don't operate like them, I've always admired my parents for being able to take big risks and have fun doing it. I joke that if I wasn't raised by two Aries I would officially be the most boring person on earth. I think it's their influence that makes me want to explore, and do crazy things like sail off a cliff with a parachute, and to keep chasing after my dreams. I'm glad they are still chasing after theirs even if the way in which they do it is not for the faint of Libra heart. Happy and safe travels, you two.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Snowed In

We shoveled snow at midnight and when we got up this morning it looked like we'd never even made a dent. Tommie said discouragingly, "You've gotta be kidding me!"
Maya had woke us up because she needed to go to the bathroom. She poked her head out the door, unable (or unwilling) to make it over the snow drifts. She didn't say anything but I could tell by the look on her face she was echoing, "You've gotta be kidding me!"

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 In Limbo

2009 was one of those in between years for me. It was in between places (moving between San Diego and Massachusetts). Literally spending time getting in between the country...crossing from one coast to another.

It was a year in between the past and the future. San Diego was once a new future, now it's part of the past, yet, here I am living back in the place of my what's my future?

2009 was a year of indecision disguised as a year of decision. We chose to come home to the east coast. Decision, right? Not really. It was a safe choice to make to come back to our hometown knowing that San Diego wasn't the place we wanted to be forever. But now that we're here, we still don't know where that place is, or what we want to do, or how we plan to get there.

I never wait until the first of the year to set resolutions. I've already resolved that I need to make changes in the near future. I have resolved that I can't live below my nosy grandparents for another year. I can't keep working at a place where I think The Devil Wears Prada may have been scripted.

I would like 2010 to be a year of gaining momentum again...give myself a good shove into the new decade. We owe it to ourselves to try to make it a good one.