You are Henry David Thoreau in the Walden simulator video game


Because the fact that someone was basically dry-labbing is a pretty important footnote to his publications?

Because promoting an exercise propped up by the largely invisible labor of others, to which you assume you entitled, as ‘authentic’ is all kinds of problematic?


that term is very much about science. He wasn’t faking science. That would be a problem. But that’s the thing with the liberal arts, the liberties. No harm no foul. He went places and did stuff, some of it happened, some was left out, he was the hero of his own story. So say we all.


have you read much Thoreau? Honest question. You may be confusing him with millenials?




You know what, I thought I was being snarky, but rereading what I wrote it comes off as mean-spirited even to me. Chalk it up to a really distressing day, but I’m deleting my original comment. Even though you didn’t name me specifically, thank you for calling it out.


But it isn’t “liberal arts” – Thoreau claimed that he could escape from society and successfully live on self reliance. That is science of a sort, albeit social science. And his faking it had consequences. Self-reliance is a dangerous fallacy – yes, one can argue that it inspired people like Gandhi, but it also inspired the pernicious American myth that society is unneeded and everybody can (or should) get by on their own.


i haven’t commented along those lines but i’ve liked a few of the ones which have and the reason for my liking them is that i feel it is worth pointing out that his mother and his sister both provided supports without which he could not have done what he did. those supports don’t render null his literary and philosophical output which was exquisite but they should be acknowledged as contributions which made all of it possible. i regard this as another case in which women’s work is rendered invisible and that leads me to feel a little snarky about the situation.


you seem fairly passionate about badmouthing a 150 year old dead man. Carry on.


That’s only available in the DLC.


Emerson’s only available if you use console commands, it’s no good in vanilla gameplay.


What if you switch to God Mode?


I’m aware of Thoreau’s hypocrisy, but his philosophical ideas are valuable historically, and in some questions that still antagonize us today: how can we be a functioning democracy of individuals? Where on the continuum between the two poles of society’s concerns and individual concerns do we choose to live?

Btw, though it’s obviously not hypocrisy, I can’t believe this other fact doesn’t get more play: When he was younger he accidentally set a fire that burned down a good chunk of the woods in Concord. And then of course he never left town. Can’t imagine people let him forget that.


Yes, a lot of snark. Here’s my Thoreau story.

I read Walden when I was 14, as an assignment for American Lit. I was intrigued. Always fantasized about building a cabin in the woods. Hadn’t a clue how to do it, or if I ever would.

Since then, I’ve stood in Thoreau’s cabin at Walden pond.

…which is neither Thoreau’s cabin (because it’s a replica), nor is it in the correct location (the real cabin was off a ways around the back side of Walden pond.) But it was built to spec, since Thoreau gave such specific measurements and descriptions in the text.

During my college years, a friend of mine built his sugarhouse to the specifications of Thoreau’s cabin. His sugarhouse was also 16x12, made cheaply with locally sourced materials as much as possible. No chimney, but of course had all the sugaring equipment in it, plus an attached wood shed and a cupola for letting vapor out.

My friend wanted to see how much his sugarhouse would cost to build, compared to Thoreau’s stated cost in his book, and then adjust for inflation and see if he could beat Henry David in terms of cost outlay. I believe he was unsuccessful, mainly because Thoreau was a highly skilled barterer. My friend was also a hob-nobber, but he admitted that Henry David had him beat by a mile.

After my friend died, I built a cabin in the woods behind my house. It took me more than seven years to build it. That’s because I had kids and a job and all kinds of distractions. But I did build it, kind of as a tribute to both my friend Ned and to Thoreau. But also I did it in that transcendental spirit of seeking mental clarity. It worked, in a humble/humbling sort of way.

I had a huge career shift after being laid off in 2009. So I worked on my cabin, and myself, and plotted a new life and career while I had the time off and looked for work. At first, the layoff was a horrid mental trip. After spending a sustained amount of time at the cabin, focusing, building and working out my shit, I came out much better on the other side. I’m grateful.

This was my take on the cabin idea:

Someone else has it now. We sold the house. Lots of friends say, “But aren’t you sad you had to let that go?” My answer is sure, but now I know how not to build something and it only cost me ten grand to get that education. In all seriousness, it was wonderful to do it, and so peaceful.

Here is one fairly mundane realization that I’ll share with you.

There are physical zones of peacefulness, from least peaceful to most peaceful.

One zone is down right next to the road. Cars zoom by, noise, distraction. Nowhere to be for very long, really.

The next zone is up the driveway and in the yard area. You’re removed from the road, but you’re still public. Also not that peaceful. Used to be you could sit on your porch and chill, but not really anymore in 2017. Still too loud and obnoxious.

The next zone is inside one’s house, which may or may not be peaceful, depending on who’s in there and what you got going on.

The next zone is the back yard area. Unless you have neighbors breathing down your neck, you are likely to be thrice removed from the “madding crowd.”

The next zone after that, if you live rurally, is up the hillside a bit and into the woods. That zone is where the transition birds like to hang out. You can be around the robins and thrushes singing their woodsy song at dawn and dusk. At this point, it becomes very peaceful. You are well-removed from humans, and you haven’t gone very far. Maybe a couple hundred feet.

The next zone is another 100 or so feet from the edge of the woods. This zone is utterly quiet at night from nearly all human sounds, and is fully immersed in the forest. You still haven’t gone very far. Maybe 300 to 400 feet from the road.

And then of course, all the woods and fields for miles and miles, but those don’t differentiate that much from the 300 foot zone.

The realization is: you don’t have to go very far for peace and quiet. And, what’s more, you don’t even have to go 300 feet for it if you structure your life a certain way. But I had to experience the various zones for years before I realized this sort of spatial psychology.


Great post. I’m always curious about where one’s attention would go in such isolation, though that must vary from person to person, and if of course the isolation was total or intermittent. Does a person become more task-focused? Does the look and sound of surrounding nature (and any nature that moves into the cabin) take on a heightened character?

And that’s an interesting note about Thoreau’s bartering: for a guy who talked so much about ideals and individuality and going it alone, he was very practical as well as deeply woven into the fabric of his hometown (in his family, and also as a surveyor and general doer of odd jobs around town).


My take is that it’s at the confluence of showing off by stating what everyone already knows and not being able to accept, especially when the politics don’t align with one’s own, that interesting and/or influential and/or brilliant people had things to say worth considering even while being flawed people.


I did.

It was intermittent for me because I had kids and a job (until getting laid off) and lots of other responsibilities to tend to. However, during that layoff time, when there were days with no kids or girlfriend, it was extremely quiet. At first, I suffered. No income, and worse: no bites on job applications for months. I was starting to go crazy.

Then something happened, a shift. I realized, “I have this time. I’m building this fucking cabin.” That wasn’t the whole shift. That’s what started the shift. I got sick of feeling helpless.

So I set to it. Spent what little cash I had on very basic, no frills materials (like 2x6’s, 2x4’s, and nails) and I was dragging it up there every chance I had and nailing it up. I used as much lumber from around the property as I could. I used hand tools as much as possible. The foundation was every loose, flat rock dragged from a 200 foot radius. The frame was chainsaw-milled pine with mortise and tenons joining them. Etc. Hard fucking work, and of course very amateurish.

The labor up there at the cabin started to crystallize something else: I taught myself Java on my laptop. I realized my former career in IT sucked and it was time to get into the creative/analytic side. So, Java over about three months solid cabin building and programming. Best thing I did for my career, because after learning Java in that way that I did it, I now own a bunch of languages. They are easy to pick up now.

As you said, every cat is different. I have no problems with sustained periods of isolation. I like people, certain ones, but I don’t require them. Perfectly happy doing my own thing for as long as it happens to be.

I could romanticize it more. I don’t think I really have to or need to. In the picture, you can see those long angle braces holding up the eaves. Well, a robin built a nest in there right over the porch area. Every time I walked up there, she would jump out of her nest and swoop down on my head, yelling at me. It was super freaking annoying. I never did anything about it, just let her hatch her babies and then she’d leave until the next year. I could see them growing up from one of the upstairs windows. It was cute. I found bear scat about 20 feet away, once. That was rather disconcerting. Mice were everywhere, so I couldn’t have food unless it was in a sealed, hard-to-chew container. Everything else got gnawed, even my sleeping bag. Awful.

I don’t think I’m really answering your question.

Yes, I knew every inch of those woods, every tree, rock and undulation of the land. I knew the comings and goings of most of the creatures big and small. Only occasional surprises. But not just in my little woods… I was always walking around and I knew the whole landscape for probably a square mile, at least. Some people are rangers by nature, so this is hard to pick apart and attempt to see objectively. It wasn’t stressful, I’ll tell you that. The woods, nature, even big storms and winter were the least of my worries. My worries then, and still, come mainly from other people. If you have any inclination to go off and live in the woods, you should do it for a while. I could write a thousand pages on all the minutiae and how-to for living in the sticks. I found it immensely satisfying and fun. I might do it again at some point. Had to move for work, but I still find ways to get out into the woods.

He was no hermit. It probably seems like it to most city-folk types. But he was really cosmopolitan.


I’ve done quite a lot of solo back-country hiking. Usually just a few days at a time, but occasionally for a week or more. Out in the sort of country where the complete absence of other people is the norm, wandering wherever I choose, sleeping in caves or beneath overhangs when available.

A major part of what I like about that is that I don’t think much at all. Mostly all I think about is “don’t do anything stupid enough to get killed”; everything else drops away.

Look at the plants, look at the rocks, enjoy the sun and stars, try to ignore the weight of the pack and the ache in your legs.


i think it’s not so much the hypocrisy i object to, but when people celebrate thoreau in a manner that suggests he is some sort of pioneer of “rugged american manhood.” in a really fetishized way, too, where details of his life are thought to be blueprints for re-enactments of survival and minimalism, while forgetting that he had this whole family (and god, women!) who supported him and no one really gave an ounce of shit what they put up with.

i think he absolutely had a huge impact on american culture in terms of how we interact with nature— but do we need to really pore over the details, dimensions, and quotidian minutia of his hut to grok it? that’s what i question.


More than just the relationship with nature, and much of it highly questionable.

The mythology of the self-sufficient frontier, the denial of the importance of collective action, the focus on the lifestyle and preferences of a privileged minority as the idealised norm, etc.

Thoreau wasn’t solely responsible for that, but he played a role.


That’s exactly it. He gets more credit than he deserves. However, what he did was (help to) initiate a style of questioning civilization, like his buddy Emerson. To me, that’s the biggest take-away from Walden. Not solutions. Questions. Or not even questions. Maybe a style of questioning that goes way back to St. Francis of Assisi, or Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, or Krishna… or … look at just about any hero myth. There is nearly always a wilderness moment in these stories. Go out in nature; get where it’s quiet; ask yourself, why are you doing life that other way, what about this way? Have a good look, why are you believing what you believe?

I think Thoreau cemented that in American culture. It was there long before America, though, and it’ll be here long after we’re gone.