It amazes me how I can read something five or six times and still not understand, “Hey – wait a minute – that guy is talking about me.” So it has been with this line from Thoreau’s Walden:
Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.
Sometimes it’s just the language that keeps me from fully understanding what the author’s really saying – in this case, the ‘plucking’ of fruit just never did it for me. Funny, because I’ve spent portions of several evenings lately following the sunset while thinning fuzzy little peaches from the literally overbearing volunteer peach tree at the back of the back yard.
Plus, the reference to ‘coarse labors,’ by sounding like the farm labor of Thoreau’s day, screened me from the reality that he was talking about a wide range of activities. Today I think they might include quite a few things that we tell ourselves constitute leisure but that are actually forms of running in place. Certainly much of my ‘wasting time on the computer’ falls right into that category.
I believe that when I started going outside to paint the sunset, for me it was a little like going out to Walden Pond on the instalment plan – even if it was another twelve years before I read the book and began to see a connection. As Henry Miller said in his essay on Thoreau, Walden can be anywhere. The deep glacial pond for me has been inverted, in the sky.