Out on Walden Pond, something of a Mary Poppins’ picture, I ran in busy circles. It was that time to understand why I live the way I do, propping acts against the real me; laps around the fertile pond gave inspiration to my flurry of questions.
Who, for instance, am I to look into the secret lives of others, taking their morning stroll around that pond, and pierce the intimacy between them? It is something akin to reading between the lines of people, a sanctioned Peeping Tom. Where did they begin and why are they here now? I remember Thoreau and his sick tales of boys and girls chasing each other; they murmured and rushed, discarding clothes as less civilized than skinny-dipping. And then I think of it: Thoreau was that odd, scopophilic character who garnered more from lines on the periphery of life than in the harried frenzy of relationship. To stand back and watch, but not to live – this is where his songs came from.
And so this morning, as I wound my way through wagging weeds, lounging on the path, I thought of myself as a terribly comfortable purveyor of reflections. When the moment is too foreign, too much like life belonging to somebody else, I run to isolation and look in on others’ escapades. As the moment is left behind, I crawl inside them; I question their frozen characters with an unmoving quiet.
I asked the duck, “What was your morning like? Where are you going?” He nodded at me, squawked, and turned the other way to wade across the pristine lake. His wiggling behind jostled the waters, upsetting the mirror of the distant, towering mountains. He left me behind. He refused to answer. Or perhaps, he wanted me to swim behind him?
In the moments among people, as I am integral, I know that life is being lived. Here I sit, lounging in front of a TV and a fireplace, and think on all of it. But these moments, which sometimes give birth to a true insight, are disgustingly empty if not put to use in the core of living. Who was Thoreau but an artistic hermit, living through an animate imagination? And who am I to idolize him? Did he ask me to join him alongside this pond, questioning ducks and dying weeds; or did he want the few who really saw him to take the other path, far away from the isolated cabin, and fall naked into the cold confines of an unexplored pond?
Clouds are nowhere and the temperature is falling. Stained glass in its pretense presumes the ego of this place, and I cannot imagine a more fitting place to write than in the quiet-cold mountains. But I can see the counters of the kitchen beckoning, weighed down with chocolate chips and crinkled coffee bags. I am at home here, but absent from the world somehow. I can sit and dream and write about it, but the coffee is getting cold and the scrambled eggs are beckoning. Can I sustain myself on this buttered comfort? So I leave: to the mountains outside that are at the same time insurmountable and family. If I choose to climb, can I return to this refuge? Do I love the solace of this homey house or the uncertain adventure of the cold mountains? Why in my mind is it one or the other?
Was it the same for Thoreau? Did he ever think to write naked, wading in the water at the center of that frigid pond? Or did he resign himself to the living outside of life and wondering about it? Are we related?
My room is, ironically, adorned with maritime wallpaper. In patterned circles, visions of the Old World are depicted while ships dot its expanse. I can draw those circles, I can paint those ships. But oddly, I have never been in one. I live in a cabin, on the side of a lake, and at age twenty-eight, I write the manual on living.
Understand him as you will, but in my mind, Thoreau calls for the observer-in-residence. He cries out for more courage than he himself could claim. How to be both author and adventurer? I’ll start with the Walden Pond, take a swim in the buff, and hope that the chill shocks me into living life—with pen and paper nailed to my hand.
If you know how to accomplish both, please tell me; to leave one behind is something like a negligent suicide. And being a man of God, I cannot stomach the guilt of murder.