Nov 2, 2009

Back to the City

Stewart Brand was the publisher of the Whole Earth Catalogue and was recently interviewed on Marketplace about his new book. Here’s the bit that jumped out at me:

“I was part of the back to the land thing. In fact, I guess I encouraged a fair amount of it with the Whole Earth Catalogue in the '60s and '70s. And most of us went back to the land then and bounced pretty hard, and came back to town within two or three years having learned all sorts of important things.”

This is Walden again.

A girl once howled at me that Walden was a beautiful ode to the naturalist’s life, an environmental manifesto ahead of its time, a call for people to move back into the woods! She was one of those girls who was extremely attractive when she was angry.

My position was (and still is, 19 years later) that Thoreau only wrote about one of his two years on Walden Pond for a reason. The second year was the same as the first. It is his way of saying he learned the lesson easily.

What was the lesson, that raving gorgeous girl demanded. She was practically demented with anger and the party was avoiding us. I was getting stares from friends as if to say whatever I was doing was not going well.

Thoreau kept a journal, which you can buy from Princeton University Press in a handy sixteen volume set. Reading the journals of his Walden period will reveal that Thoreau would often sneak off to have tea and other things with friends in the city. Very often. He liked the woods and solitude, but he liked the city and friends a lot more. Walden is an admission of a failed experiment.

(That girl never left my side that night and we eventually closed down the argument - it was a draw - but that winter whenever she saw me, she clenched her teeth at me, like I had ruined the 60s for her.)