I took a walk around the meadow with Thoreau this morning. It wasn’t so much that I was invited as I caught a glimpse of him walking by on his way to the pond and cornered him. I see him pass everyday, looking for nothing in particular, always alone.
I waved a feeble greeting as my screen door’s creaking prompted a turn of his head, and proceeded to catch up to him through the gnat-infested tall grass. He slowed his pace a bit but kept moving as I skipped up to him. I don’t think he’s so much the cantankerous recluse that people brand him.
As I stumbled to fall in step beside him, he glanced back and smirked a bit. Normally, this would irritate me with someone; it would appear as arrogance. But he evoked a kind of reverence in the moment, as dispassionate as an individual would be toward others if God were to enter a room.
He had a small hole in the top of his brimmed straw hat. I surmised that, given his reputation around here, he would as soon have a bird fly off with his shade before he would venture into town to buy something.
I found it hard to find a gait to match his, as he moved in a rhythm that I could not find, smaller steps here, then a longer stride there. He seemed to almost taunt me to either delay myself or race ahead. It was a little vexing.
“You don’t get out for your own walks often, do you,” he said faintly, more to himself than to me, as I finally agreed to find my own pace. From this, I surmised that he was giving me direction on how to go about attempting some semblance of companionship with a loner.
I made the slight mistake of mentioning my activities of only a few minutes before. I asked what he thought of the elections and then of the petty crimes that had recently occurred in the vicinity of our cabins—small talk. I received only a shrug and a wince as replies, respectively. I inferred that I’d disturbed his daily communion with nature so said nothing more.
We later passed by some plots he had. Picking a couple of tubers here, checking a few leaves there, his hands were swift and purposeful. I spotted his middle finger with the noticeable callous of a writer and some ink stain on his thumb. There was definite opinion in the man, though he didn’t share it openly, at least not with me.
He didn’t notice my company much. He was no master of polite conversation, that’s for certain. But in his disregard, I found myself relaxed and free to simply be, to burden neither Thoreau nor myself with banter or thoughtless interaction.
I could hear wind swirling about my ear, caught sight of brilliant highlights spun in my hair that I didn’t know were there, and saw the ethereal mist clearing over the pasture. Morning glory. I picked up on a sleepy, satisfied owl whoo-ing, still awake and full from his kills. I relished a moment of utter clarity, newly honed awareness of all that was around me. And it was gone in an instant.
I glanced over at my teacher. With the water sparkling over his back that was turned to me, it seemed almost a halo. He was as peaceful as Buddha, as deep in prayer as Christ. I noticed he took a breath and then continued his trek, all the while looking down as often as ahead.
Our only playful interaction occurred as we rested on a rock together. He bent to maybe take a pebble from his home-clobbered boot. I felt it necessary to check for messages on my Blackberry, so I courteously stole a couple of seconds to do so.
I felt a whack and then a push away with his knobby walking stick, my cell falling from my clumsy grasp and onto the silty ground.
“Why have you need to do that now?” he asked as though it were said to a child checking his drawers for surprises, as though I had been inappropriate and stupid for a moment.
“I thought we were taking a breather.”
“Every breath should be considered such. And the next time you ask me about things as current events on a walk, or bring along superfluous contraptions, you may leave yourself at home.”
I realized I had interrupted Thoreau in his church, where simplicity and solitude are deities, where the soul is bared to creation and exalted by it. The closest to purity one can get.
While I’m grateful for the time that ol’ H.D. shared—however indifferently—with me this morning, I don’t know that I’ll make his company a habit. I fear it would bring about a great many changes in my life that I’m unprepared to make. I’m too instantly gratified and frequently placated by the countless little pleasant distractions and shiny, singing gadgets that modern life affords me. I’m excited by the hustle and bustle of feeling important, however delusional that is, being situated in the midst of people and plans.
It’s achingly clear to me now that I’m settling, though, and missing this sparkling clarity in my life just to perceive myself as effective. The man has invaded my consciousness. I’m now cognizant that, in doing so, I’m embracing a kind of trade-off that might not be best for my soul. I’ve learned here that some degree of detachment from others is healthy and good, more so than I would have thought.
That walk—I’m not certain whether Thoreau considered it truly being in the presence of God. What I do know is that it’s as close to God as I have been in a while.
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”