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.