Tag Archives: Walden

A Journal of the Plague Year: #6

This morning (upon waking? in the shower? during meditation, while Sam Harris spoke to me about conscious awareness? over breakfast?), I found myself thinking Thoreau. Passages from Walden were emerging from the memory banks where favorite books are stored. It occurred to me that if one were to grab a classic from American Literature off the shelf that might be of great use during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be Walden. In particular, the section called “Solitude.” If there was ever a prince or a king of social distancing, it would be Henry David Thoreau. This particular passage comes to me first, as he imagines what he would say to those who question his nutty project of living in the woods alone for two years:

Men frequently say to me, “I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially.” I am tempted to reply to such,–This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way?

As things get more and more serious we tend to be more and more careful, and the difficulty of today was in telling our son that it would be best if his friend did not come over. She lives right down the road, is more than likely practicing her own social distancing, is likely safe to have around–but at what point can you know with any certainty that someone outside your family, no matter how trusted, is not carrying this stupid virus? What chance are you willing to take? It appears, at least today, we’re not taking chances. We’re only eight days into this thing and the chances are that it will get worse and that this conversation will get harder and harder. Us married folks, especially us long-time married folks, take each other’s company for granted, I suppose. If we had to, it probably wouldn’t kill us to be apart, but we don’t have to, and so we have each other’s company all through this thing, a huge comfort. But if you’re young and smitten, think what the prospects of weeks away from your friend might signify! The bloody end of the world as we know it. You’ll have to settle for your parents! And for solitude.

I am, I would say, a social person in small doses. I love small, intimate gatherings but I loath crowded social events–and I do love solitude. Thoreau again:

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

I think that my son has inherited some of this from me. He’ll spend gobs of time in his room “alone.” Most of that time he is not really alone, occupied as he usually is with communications in real time with his gaming buddies. But when he practices his drumming, or when he does his homework, or when he reads, he seems content often to be alone. But this will be difficult and it will get more and more difficult. And my thoughts move from Thoreau to Rilke.  In his Letters to a Young Poet, offering more advice about loving and living than he ever gives about writing, he gifts to the young poet and subsequently the entire world that famous and absolutely incalculable good advice: Hold to the difficult. Today’s reading, not a poem but a piece of prose–from a poet, a selection I hope you find as comforting as I do in times of difficulty.

 

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Filed under Family, Literature, Self Reflection, Writing and Reading

#104: Lunes for the Loon

Today’s poem is a variation on the Japanese Haiku, but instead of counting syllables, 5-7-5, we count words, 3-5-3. A lune can be, like a haiku, a single one stanza poem, or lunes can be strung together to form a longer poem. For no better reason than for the sound of it (which is as sound a reason as any), I have chosen a brief meditation on the word “loon.”

Lunes for the Loon

I

You’re a bird,
a swimming, diving, wild bird,
and noisy, too.

An entire section
of Walden written for you,
Thoreau following close.

Hide and seek,
a game childlike Henry plays,
you laugh, dive.

You elude him
entirely, now ahead, now behind,
disappear in rain.

II

You’re a nut,
crazy, off your rocker, bonkers,
over the edge,

off the deep
end, around the bend, a
certifiable goof, genius,

you are misunderstood,
marching to the beat of
a different drummer,

like the bird,
loon of a feather, you
laugh at us

as we try
to chase you down, enclose
you in cages.

You defy us
as well you should; sing
to the moon.

6-15-12-common-loon-and-chick-img_4162

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Filed under Poetry

Why I’m Thinking All The Time About Tiny Houses

The Gifford from Four Lights Houses

The Gifford from Four Lights Houses

Every few years or so I adopt a new obsession, embarrassingly, around some kind of thing I’ve come to believe will change my life in all kinds of positive ways.  I say embarrassingly, because usually the obsession revolves around some material thing.  Let me give you a quick run down of the last decade, for example: musical equipment (recording gear, drums–can’t make or teach music without this stuff), a high end stereo system (because life is too short for shitty-sounding playback), the smart car, an Airstream travel trailer, folding bicycles (Dahon or Brompton), cargo bicycles (box or longtail), and finally, my most recent obsession–the tiny house.

Time and money being limited the way they are, only a few of these obsessions have resulted in some kind of acquisition in the material world.  A modest home recording studio is up and running; the stereo is sweet; the Airstream was indeed purchased (and then sold two years later); and the Dahon, the less expensive of the two folding bike options, is in the garage and ready for riding.  The smart car was a bad idea.  The jury is out on the cargo bike.  But the tiny house beckons.  What’s up with that? Why am I thinking all the time about tiny houses? Oh, let me count the ways.

Tiny houses appeal to my sense of aesthetics.  They are marvels of design and almost without exception extraordinarily beautiful.  Typically, they use the finest materials and/or workmanship to create a living or working space that is perhaps more expensive per square foot to build, but because of their tininess, sometimes as tiny as 100 square feet, they are relatively cheap.  An exquisite attention is often spent on every detail, whereas, in a large modern home, a house is framed and slapped over with sheet rock and cheap-ass vinyl windows and fake wood floors and there’s tons of wasted space. Go to Portland Alternative Dwellings, Four Lights Houses, Tumbleweed House Company, or Zyl Vardos, and see, if you couldn’t see yourself living in such a space, that you don’t at the very least go crazzy gaga over the design aesthetics.

Tiny houses appeal to my desire to simplify my life. The lessons taught by Henry David Thoreau in Walden are fundamentally applicable in the here and now.  I am decidedly not a hoarder, but for me, I find myself surrounded by shit I don’t need.  Where did this stuff come from?  Why is it here? How much money did I spend acquiring it?  How much space is needed to store it? How much time does it take to maintain all of this space, to keep it clean, to keep it in working order?  Economically speaking, how much does it cost to heat and send water and electricity through all these thousands of square feet? And could a person not be “happy” with less?

Tiny houses are green and sustainable, which appeals to that part of me that would like a planet for my child’s children to live on.

But I will never live in a tiny house.  They are completely impractical.  Where would I put my wife and my child?  Where does the dog go?  What about my books, records, and cds and the rest of the stuff I don’t need but can’t live without?  What about the baby grand piano and the drum set and the recording gear? I can’t put a recording studio in 120 square feet and still have a place to hang my hat.  And the tiny house, and all or most of the above reasons for acquiring one, represents for me this nagging contradiction that often exists in work, in parenting, in relationship, in the way we live, between what we believe is right and what we continue to do.  It’s terribly disconcerting.  So, why don’t I just dismiss outright all thoughts of a tiny house?

For all of the reasons listed above, perhaps, and for the persistence of other thoughts about how acquiring a tiny house might be a good deal even if I didn’t live in it.  Writing retreat?  Vacation home on a little piece of property in the woods?  A guest house in the back 40?  I could be the suburban proprietor of a tiny house hotel like the one in North Portland!  The possibilities are endless–and so are the depths and lengths of my obsessive brain.

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Filed under Culture, Self Reflection