Wanderlust Read: Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

26/07/2018

With the advent of the modern travel industry and the globe-setting lifestyle that many people lead today, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden doesn’t even register as a travel book to a lot of people. Borrowing an ax and building a cabin in your friend’s backyard would seem like anything but a wanderlust read. But the impetus behind this act seems to be removing oneself from society in a way that unlocks a specific kind of freedom and wanderlust of the mind. For after building this cabin that could be retreated to when needed for shelter and rest, Thoreau seemed to spend awfully little time in it. Instead, he would walk, hike, climb, and boat his way around the neighborhood on some days, the better part of eastern Massachusetts during some weeks.

 

In another interesting tidbit of tension, Thoreau had no great love for the new kid on the block when it came to modes of transportation. Though it would take a little more time to fully ensconce itself into American culture, the railroad had already make its way to New England by the mid-19th century when Thoreau was writing. It would seem to many like the railroad held an endless amount of wonder and possibility. Compared to the stagecoach and other horse-drawn transportation of the time. The railroad was a significant advancement for its time. But just like flying across the country or the world today, taking a ride on the railroad wasn’t free. In fact, Thoreau argued he and most people could walk to any destination the railroad could take him to faster than he could work and save the money needed to buy the railroad ticket. (Notably, before he went to live in the woods, Thoreau had a good-paying job as a land surveyor.

 

Now, I’m not so sure this same calculation holds true today with air travel. Nevertheless, I appreciate Thoreau’s emphasis on the economics of travel. Traveling significant distances has never been cheap, but we also loathe the idea that travel is only for the wealthy. And this combination of 19th century economics with the eternal values of travel and adventure is enough by itself to make this a great read the well-rounded traveler and those who wish to live a fuller life in general.

 

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