Book II Chapter Eleven — Henry David Thoreau
Today is one of those misty mornings when most of the guests here at the Inn of Inspiration choose to remain in bed a bit longer or arrange for a late coffee or breakfast with friends. I on the other hand, after donning my rain gear and boots am heading for a hike in the mountain forests. I am in great need of solitude this morning. No particular reason. My duties at the Inn are minimal and there are no new guests arriving or needing my attention. I just wish to be alone for a while.
I past the hot springs where Simone Weil, Simone Beauvoir and Jimmy Baldwin gesture for me to join them. As much as I am tempted, I point to the trail head and wave. They wish me a safe journey and return to their conversation.
There is something about being alone in the forest that energizes me. Perhaps it is simply the fact that I am not really alone but among my closest friends. The trees, birds, squirrels and other creatures of the forest welcome me, opening their world to greet me as a member of their family in the same manner I welcome each guest to the Inn. They require no attention from me nor do they need my assistance. I have no responsibilities other than to put one foot in front of the other, to breathe deeply of the fresh morning air and to take in all the beauty their world freely offers.
I do not know for how long I have been walking as my mind has slipped in and out of presence this morning. I return to awareness when I hear someone call my name.
“Good morning Socrates!”
I look up to see Henry Thoreau sitting on a bolder smoking his pipe.
“O good morning Henry. I was just… Well, my mind was elsewhere.”
“ I know what you mean Socrates. I am myself alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is – I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”
“Well Henry that perfectly describes me this morning. My thoughts have drifted to some other place or unfinished deeds that I lost my reason for coming into the forest which was to simply enjoy this beautiful morning.”
“I completely understand Socrates. I think the morning, the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night. Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance fills the air – to a higher life than we fell asleep from. All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, “All intelligences awake with the morning.”
“But I also came into the forest this morning because I wished for solitude.” I say.
“Yes Socrates, me too. Being alone in a distant woods or fields, in unpretending sprout lands or pastures tracked by rabbits, even on a black and, to most, cheerless day, like this, when a villager would be thinking of his inn, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that the cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go to home… It is as if I always meet in these places some grand, serene, immortal, infinitely encouraging, though invisible, companion, and walked with him.”
“I hope I do not appear rude when I say this, but I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
“We are brothers of the same belief Socrates, but now that we are together, please join me for a cup of tea at my cabin a short ways from here. I think I have a bit of brandy to fend against this moist chill.
“Absolutely Henry. It would be my pleasure. I did not know you built a cabin in this neck of the forest.”
“I have done so only recently after visiting your cave on the other side of the property. It inspired my creation. As much as I love my space at the Inn, like you, sometimes I just want to be alone with my own thoughts in nature. I am convinced that to maintain one’s self care on this earth is not a hardship but a passtime, if we will live simply and wisely.”
“Well said my friend.” The two of us continue along the path to a small lake and Henry’s cabin.
He says, “I came into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I come to die discover that I had not lived.”
“And what have you learned so far?” I ask.
“I learned this Socrates by my experiment thus far, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. Also in proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.”
“That is the same reason the Providers gave this space to us.” I add.
We walk a bit farther to the cabin. It is made of logs, but Henry tells me he used only trees which had already fallen from storms and old age. He also built all the furnishings which are sparse himself by hand.
Henry stokes the fire and brings a small kettle of water and a half bottle of brandy over to the small table. “I find most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”
“I could not agree more Henry.” I say.
He continues as he pours a little brandy and some hot tea into each of our cups. “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. I believe in keeping my life as simple as possible.”
“Here! Here!” I add and the two of us toast to the simplicity of our lives. I then notice some papers along with a pen and a bottle of ink on a table in front of the window facing the lake. “How’s the writing coming along?”
“Very well!” He says. “This is a wonderful spot for inspiration. In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained;… We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”
“The examined life is never a narrow experience.” I interject.
“You are correct Socrates. Our truest life is when we are in our dreams, awake for it is as hard to see one’s self as to look backwards without turning around. My desire for knowledge is intermittent, but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant.”
“Henry, my friend. You have created the perfect grounded space to maintain your lofty thoughts and dreams.”
“Thank you Socrates for your inspiration and friendship. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.”
“Amen brother. Amen.”
The Gate Keeper of Inspiration: Book II Chapter Twelve — Joseph Campbell will be published on Sunday, February 03, 2020.