Erin's Everyday Thoughts

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Rediscovering Walden

Photo: From the Walden Woods collection by Scot Miller.

Yesterday, on a happy day off of work, I took a trip to the Cincinnati Museum Center to explore the Cincinnati History Museum and the Museum of Natural History & Science. In the latter museum, they had a special display of photographs of Walden Pond, taken by photographer Scot Miller. These were part of a collection of photographs that were used in the 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of Walden. (Proceeds on the sale of this book go in part to the Walden Woods Project—I think I may pick up a copy!)

The photographs were beautiful. Walking through the gallery was like walking through present-day Walden (albeit with more rambunctious children racing across the room). Miller took the photographs over several years and was able to capture all seasons. My favorite was a photograph of pond life under a sheet of ice. The life below appeared just out of focus, but only if you looked closely could you see that this was because of ice. (Or if you looked at the title of the piece, which totally gave it away!)

Things in my life lately have seemed to take on a charming synchronicity. I’ll be thinking and writing about a topic, and then I’ll experience something that brings those ponderings together for me. In this case, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my fitness routine. For the past year, I’ve spent countless hours in the gym running on elliptical trainers, headphones on, listening to and watching the attached television screen. The physical exertion is satisfying, but only on one level. I get my blood pumping and my sweat glands working, and that’s all. I enjoy the TV, but it’s no more than a diversion that I’ll quickly forget as soon as I step away from it. And I do this in the name of “being in shape” or “being healthy.”

A few weeks ago, I started to re-evaluate this routine, and since then instead of going nowhere on an elliptical trainer, I’ve taken up walking (which I used to do extensively, before joining the gym) again. On colder days, I’m still walking indoors on a treadmill, but on days even slightly warmer, I take to the streets of my neighborhood to walk and explore. Last week, I took a particularly good walk. It was a Sunday morning. When I started out, the sky was clear but about 10 minutes in, it began to snow. As it snowed harder and harder, my black wool coat filled with snow flakes. Before I knew it, I looked like a Dalmatian, and then like a polar bear! With the snowflakes on my cheeks and coat, I was happy.

Movement or “exercise” that takes place out of doors, I think, is satisfying on so many more levels than indoor movement. I find that as I walk, I think, I observe, I dream, I wonder—all good things for a writer to do!

Seeing the Walden display re-affirmed my decision to walk outdoors more. It helped me justify burning less calories in favor of experiencing more of my surroundings. My neighborhood, of course, has nothing close to the natural beauty of Walden. But there is a lot beauty, when I open my eyes to see it.

In addition to the beautiful photographs in the museum display, there were also Thoreau quotes posted in placards among the pictures. The one that touched me most said:

“Nature never makes haste; her systems revolve at an even pace. The bud swells imperceptibly, without hurry or confusion, as though the short spring days were an eternity… The wise man is restful, never restless or impatient. He each moment abides where he is …”

Again, the synchronicity comes into play! Just in my last blog entry, I was talking about how to balance time, and here is Thoreau's wisdom reminding me to take it slow, whatever I am doing. I do believe that living in the moment, and concentrating on whatever it is I’m doing right now will lead to a world of discovery and achievement. Of course, I’ll still have to pick and choose carefully where I’d like to direct that restful attention. But I’ll post this quote by my desk as a daily reminder to take things one step at a time.

My Walden experience was more beautiful than I can express in words. But I’ll certainly continue to see how close I can get …


  • Ah, Erin, my sweet. You remember what I used to tell you those days in my office about thinking like a writer? Well, you're there, This is a wonderful entry, and I daresay I believe it is one of the most wonderfully wrought pieces of writing I've ever seen you do (and I've read a lot of your writing!) I think you're going into a great direction (literally and figuratively!) with your thoughts. I think once a person really wraps her/his mind around the concept of synchronicity, that person has truly tapped into the poetic heart of their being. Keep going, Erin! Oh, keep going!

    By Blogger Theresa Williams, at 12:49 AM  

  • What a lovely entry, Erin. I dream of visiting ponds and Walden Pond, in particular. Meanwhile, allow me to second most heartily your words about walking outside. I cannot bear to do all that inside stuff (except yoga) and much prefer to take myself outside to enjoy the elements, the air, the breeze, the sun, the rain. Makes me feel closer to the world.

    Enjoy communing with the greatest power there is, along with human nature.


    By Blogger Vicky, at 10:43 PM  

  • Sometimes when folks ask me how I am, I say "I need to go to Walden Pond." Often they think I mean literally, but of course, I do not. I need to remind myself to live deliberately, open as a bud would in nature, and reflect on various meanings. I liked your entry very much.--Beth

    By Blogger beths front porch, at 8:56 PM  

  • Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Vicky, I enjoy yoga, as well! I just can't wait until I have a dog to take along with me on my outdoor adventures. One day ...

    Beth, what a lovely response to the "how are you" question. I think it's so easy to rush when you get into your day and the rest of the world seems to be rushing to go somewhere or do something.

    Theresa, your words mean a great deal to me. I so appreciate your constant encouragement, and I will keep going! :-)

    By Blogger Erin, at 12:36 PM  

  • I don't usually link to my own stuff, but I bring students to Walden every year, so you might enjoy this:

    Do youknow the collection of essays called Heaven is under Our Feet?

    By Blogger Paul, at 12:36 PM  

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