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News: Woman wearing earbuds jogs right past a den of baby foxes !!

I first read Thoreau's Walden in high school and recall enjoying it then. But when I reread it in college, by which time I had become a cynical 21-year-old know-it-all, I could hardly stand it. Thoreau struck me then as a pretentious phony, a man who jotted down any old thought that drifted through his mind. Also, I was fascinated by natural history, and so I was disappointed that Thoreau's masterwork seemed to be a dull philosophical rumination rather than a collection of colorful natural history observations. I was faulting the book not for what it was but for what I had wanted it to be--a common critical failing.

But something brought me back to Walden. On Halloween 2014 I arrived in Bucharest, Romania with my beat-up paperback of Thoreau in tow--the same paperback I'd read in high school, now physically falling apart and thus secured by a thick rubber band. Somehow, I had sensed that now was the time to give Thoreau another chance.

I fell wholly in love with Walden.

Although I was living in an apartment near the center of Romania's capital, as opposed to a cabin in the woods, I was a person living in isolation, able to wield only a handful of Romanian phrases (thank goodness every person under the age of thirty spoke good English), far from my American home. I had friends there, yet there was also always an unspoken and perhaps even generally unperceived--though nonetheless present--cultural distance between us, maybe something similar to what Thoreau felt when he'd leave his little cabin by Walden Pond and go into town for a pint or several with the locals.

My thoughts often turn to Walden at Satori. As I cook a meal using a combination of the gas range and the top of the wood-burning stove, I realize now what I had failed to grasp in college, that Walden is not exclusively a philosophical rumination nor a collection of natural history observations, but a seamless integration of the two. Which is to say that it acknowledges, in a voice speaking over one hundred and fifty years ago, the timeless principles of Satori itself today: that we humans are inextricably a part of nature, and that being immersed in nature can offer a human profound philosophical insights.

Here I find I have time and room to think, not only about the wildlife in the Blackdown Hills, but about my own life journey. I suspect every guest here asks the same question I've asked myself many times over the last three weeks since my arrival: How did I get here? I find myself with time and room to replay scenes from my life. Some scenes are unhappy, some even baffling. Whatever was I thinking?!?!? But some make me smile as I recall small but significant accomplishments. All are important. All are cherished. Even unhappy recollections can be analyzed here at a safe remove, where I might review them detached and clinically--or even appreciate the bittersweet beauty of them as a whole. The Victorians recognized the beauty of sorrow.

"Time and room to think" is a phrase I think Thoreau would have understood, and now, in our ever-distracted twenty-four-seven world, this concept feels more important than ever. Social media has long felt like madness to me, but never more so than when listening to the peaceful sound of rain pattering on the yurt. I remember morning jogs back in America where it seemed as if every other runner I passed had earbuds screwed in, cutting themselves off from the sounds of the cardinals, blue jays, and drumming red-bellied woodpeckers. I once watched a woman wearing earbuds jog right past a den of baby foxes, oblivious to their presence.

Maybe this is a Yogi Berra-ism, but we need time to think about what we think about things.

A few years ago I read Helen Macdonald's Vesper Flights. In it, she wrote about how animals perceive their worlds. Rather than anthropomorphize birds, as, say Rachel Carson did in Under the Sea Wind in the 1950s, Macdonald writing today emphasizes that birds' minds are simply ungraspable by human beings, so different they are from our own. Throughout those same essays, she wove her own stories of her struggles with depression, and analyzed how her experiences in nature have provided comfort, solace, and a deeper understanding of herself.

Although Macdonald is more confessional than Thoreau (Thoreau can come across as a bit aloof, my twenty-one-year-old self might well have pointed out), I realized in reading Vesper Flights that the wisdom of Walden had come full circle: When we experience nature, we inevitably experience it in the form of a dialog between nature and ourselves. We see nature through the prism of our own unique human experiences. That's inevitable, unavoidable, and wonderful.


Andrew (Satori volunteer, 2024)


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