Monday, July 04, 2022

Henry David Thoreau moves into his cabin at Walden Pond #onthisday 1845

Not all notable works of architecture are on a grand scale or include trailblazing features. One shedlike building that has had a longlasting impact on society is the one room cabin which writer, philospher, and father of Shedworking, Henry David Thoreau (1817 –1862) built at Walden Pond, Concord and lived in for the following two years. He deliberately chose Independence Day to begin his experiment. 

 “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” he wrote, “to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Thoreau wanted to experiment with cutting himself off from the everyday life of Concord in order to discover the inner truths of being. His cabin lifestyle was relatively cheap and he lived simply so that earning money could become a less important part of his life. It also gave him a spiritual retreat in which to be alone with his thoughts (as well as a place to work). Here's a snippet: 

So I went on for some days cutting and hewing timber, and also studs and rafters, all with my narrow axe, not having many communicable or scholar-like thoughts, singing to myself… I hewed the main timbers six inches square, most of the studs on two sides only, and the rafters and floor timbers on one side, leaving the rest of the bark on, so that they were just as straight and much stronger than sawed ones. Each stick was carefully mortised or tenoned by its stump, for I had borrowed other tools by this time. My days in the woods were not very long ones; yet I usually carried my dinner of bread and butter, and read the newspaper in which it was wrapped, at noon, sitting amid the green pine boughs which I had cut off, and to my bread was imparted some of their fragrance, for my hands were covered with a thick coat of pitch. Before I had done I was more the friend than the foe of the pine tree, though I had cut down some of them, having become better acquainted with it.

The book received a mixed reception on its publication in 1854, but in more recent times has become a key text in the environmental movement and even regarded as an example of performance art. “A century and a half after its publication,” wrote novelist John Updike in his introduction to the 150th anniversary of the book, “Walden has become such a totem of the back-to-nature, preservationist, anti-business, civil-disobedience mindset, and Thoreau so vivid a protester, so perfect a crank and hermit saint, that the book risks being as revered and unread as the Bible.” 

The cabin is no longer standing although a replica has been erected close to its original location.


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