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Unformatted text preview: Words for the Wild: The Sierra Club Trailside Reader Edited by Ann Ronald Sierra Club Books San Francisco, 1987 HENRY DAVID THOREAU (1817-1862) "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately," Henry David Thoreau announces in Walden , 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." Thus Thoreau prescribes a model lifestyle for countless men and womensome of us, perhaps who dream of a similar wilderness retreat where the individual can explore a relationship with the natural world. Those two years at Walden, compressed into a single literary achievement, remain profoundly influential on anyone who either writes or reads "words for the wild." Beside the tiny Massachusetts pond, Thoreau built his own shelter (at a cost of $28.12 1/2), cultivated about two-and-a-half acres of beans and potatoes and corn (as the spirit moved him), worked a little in town ($13.34 worth of labor), entertained only those visitors he chose (more animals than people, as I recall), and pursued his own digressions. Believing that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, he turned his back on convention and pursued instead an existence more in touch with what he deemed the "necessaries of life. The necessaries are whatever sustains the vital heat in us, this sociable recluse firmly believed. Thus he wrote not only of food and shelter, but of watching ants, of fishing, of listening to the ice break up in spring, of sounding his pond to the depths. When the experiment was finished, he left, for "it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one." Nonetheless, he had learned some valuable lessons about himself and about the natural world, and he had learned to express his findings well. His scientific contemporaries scrutinized and his transcendental friends philosophized, while Thoreau did both together. That conjunction of close observation and contemplative thoughtfulness, of scrutiny and speculation, is the pattern not only for Thoreau's prose but for generations of essays to follow. It would be easy to fill an entire volume like Words for the Wild with excerpts from Thoreau's writing, or to fill this section with nothing but passages from Walden. But copies of that famous 1854 book are readily available, and one can always carry it along another day. Thoreau wrote a great many other memorable pieces about man's relationship with the natural world, so I have left out the more familiar passages about the pond. Instead, I have chosen the less well known climb of Maine's tallest peak, a spiritual as well as a physical journey that has always been one of my favorite wilderness selections.... From "Ktaadn" in The Maine Woods So, scanning the woody side of the mountain, which lay still at an indefinite distance, stretched out some seven or eight miles in length before us, we determined to steer...
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This note was uploaded on 01/19/2012 for the course LA 1203 taught by Professor Fryling during the Fall '08 term at LSU.
- Fall '08
- Walden, Ice, Thoreau