Walden at Midnight
Three walks with Thoreau
“We do not commonly live our life out and full, we do not fill all our pores with our blood; we do not inspire and expire fully and entirely enough. We live but a fraction of our life.”
—Thoreau, Journal, June 13, 1851
Around this time last year, as the 2020 presidential campaign neared the homestretch, I was asked to contribute an essay to the new anthology Now Comes Good Sailing: Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau, coming from Princeton University Press this October. (It has an amazing list of contributors brought together by the volume’s editor, Andrew Blauner.)
I hadn’t written anything about Thoreau since late 2014, when I was finishing the manuscript of my book about the climate justice movement, and I wasn’t at all sure that I had anything more to say. But I gave it some thought, and I decided to accept the assignment because it felt somehow right to look back at Thoreau in a moment of not only ecological but political and moral crisis. I’m glad I did. It inspired me to visit or revisit, on the page and on foot, some of the less-travelled ground that’s essential to grasping Thoreau and why he still matters. (And why some of his detractors get him so very wrong.)
The result is an essay called “Walden at Midnight: Three Walks with Thoreau,” which appears in the anthology—as well as, in slightly different form, in the new print issue of The Nation, where it’s titled “Taking the Left Fork to Walden.”
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