Thinking Like Thoreau

When we were reading Walden back in 11th grade, we stopped and discussed this little passage:

“Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me.”

Boy, did we give Thoreau shit for that one. Already we’d learned that this guy upped and left his life to build a cabin and live in it for 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days. We learned about the one time he went into town and spent some time in jail for refusing to pay taxes. And we definitely learned about how much he loved his solitude. So when he started to talk about befriending pine needles, we were already pretty certain Thoreau was nuts.

But we came to appreciate the genius behind his insanity, the meaning of “living deliberately.” And sometimes, when we venture into the vastness of nature, Thoreau doesn’t seem like such a madman after all.

Just yesterday, my friend and I went hiking around one of my favorite places, a spot where rocks jut out of both sides of the Eau Claire River where glaciers left them behind, smooth and golden in the sunlight. Hiking trails hug either side of the river as it shifts from white, rushing falls to steady currents and connect at a bridge over top like hands clasped together.


We stopped near the bridge, where some of the rocks formed a flat island, and listened.

The sound of rushing water surrounded us, billions of droplets splashing against each other, rushing against the shore, flowing around boulders undeterred. Water bugs danced across the surface, and other bugs buzzed over top. There was the sound of tree branches swaying, crackling, rubbing against each other and their leaves floating lazily down to rest next to us, scratch along the stone, into the water, and be carried away.


And as the birds fluttered and the squirrels chattered, I understood what Thoreau was talking about. I could hear the conversation of life around me, and with each breath I took, I knew I had a part in it.