Embracing Thoreau’s Legacy: Living Simply and Freely

Henry David Thoreau, a renowned writer and philosopher, left a lasting impact with his advocacy for simplicity and freedom. Born in 1817, his deep connection with nature and disdain for materialism shaped his unique perspective on life. Despite facing setbacks and unemployment, Thoreau remained steadfast in his love for life and pursuit of liberty.

Thoreau’s rejection of material slavery and embrace of a minimalist lifestyle reflect his profound understanding of true fulfillment. By retreating to the woods to experience authentic living, he sought inner contentment and the essence of existence.

Building a cabin by Walden Pond, Thoreau led a secluded life, disconnected from the world yet deeply in tune with nature. His intimate connection with the wilderness allowed him to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of life.

More than just a writer, Thoreau was a beacon of thought, influencing generations with works like “Walden.” His call to follow one’s true feelings and thoughts resonates in a society often consumed by external influences.

Thoreau’s life, though modest, radiated with a passion for living and a yearning for freedom. Through his experiences and writings, he showcased a compelling way to pursue a life of simplicity and authenticity.

In 1845, Thoreau was 28 years old.In that society where materialism was prevalent, Thoreau had always been unwilling to be a slave to materialism. He did not look for a fixed job and worked odd jobs here and there. For him, he could maintain a simple life with very little money.In the eyes of many people, this is already very “promising”, but Thoreau made a crazy decision: He was going to the forest and live a real life. He said:“I want to go to the forest, because I want to live a real life, I want to live fully, absorb the essence of life, abandon everything that has nothing to do with life, so that when I die, I will not realize that I lived in vain. “ People are looking for material things and success, but Thoreau is looking for life.Towards the end of March, Thoreau borrowed an ax and walked into the forest near Walden Pond.There was no house in the forest, so he built it himself. There were pine trees growing there, and that was the material he used to build his house.Looking out at Walden Pond from here, the remaining ice still remains, there are occasional snowflakes flying in the sky, and the newly opened railway tracks shine dazzlingly in the sun. The chirping of birds is the sound of spring. Thoreau set out in the morning, wrapping bread in old newspapers and taking it to make lunch.At noon, his hands were covered with rosin, but he didn’t care. He took the bread and ate it. The smell of rosin on his hands was just like seasoning, which filled his stomach. He read the old newspaper wrapping the bread, and the warm sun shone on his body. . In July of this year, he moved into his own cabin. Open the window, you will be greeted by the breeze, and the blue waves of the lake in the distance are rippling. Everything is just right.Many people have abundant material resources and big houses, but still have a difficult life, not because they have too few materials, but because they are too poor in their hearts. The poorer the heart, the more complicated life is.And those who really live a good life may not have a lot of money, but they must be rich in their hearts. The richer your heart is, the simpler your life will be.


 There are as many lives as there are people in the world.Every life has its difficulties, but some people’s lives will gradually become an ideal, and some people’s personalities will gradually become a role model. In my opinion, Thoreau is such a role model.Every time I feel that life is too difficult, I go and read Thoreau, and then I find that life is simple, but we think too complicatedly. We don’t need much, but we often want too much. . On July 12, 1817, Thoreau came into the world for the first time.When Thoreau was born, his parents lived in the countryside, so he was far away from the noisy crowd and breathed his first breath of free air in nature.Just six weeks after he arrived, his uncle died when he was less than 21 years old. According to family tradition, Thoreau inherited his uncle’s name-Henry David Thoreau. Since childhood, Thoreau has been a strange child, always making his family worried.Once, he fell down while going down the stairs and passed out. The family “used two large buckets of water to wake him up.”He played with an ax and accidentally chopped off a bit of his toe. It was hard to imagine that he would be able to build himself a house with an ax many years later.He also angered a cow so much that it refused to give milk. He angered a hen and was knocked to the ground by the mother with a group of chicks. He drove the cows out to graze with bare feet and then rushed back home to be milked.In short, his childhood was full of excitement, wandering around barefoot, rough, simple, and earthy, surrounded by all kinds of animals.Nature left the most cordial echo in Thoreau’s heart, and he loved nature so much throughout his life.But when Thoreau was 4 years old, his pastoral life came to an end. Thoreau, who was like a wild child, was taken away from his garden by his parents.In 1823, the Thoreau family moved to Concord near Walden Pond and Main Street, where Thoreau’s father opened a pencil factory.With the pencil business, the pencil factory grew bigger and bigger, and the Thoreau family’s life also improved.But Thoreau was still that strange child. He didn’t like to play with others. He always stayed by himself and calmly observed everything around him. His appearance was puzzling.He was always polite. Even if people laughed at him, he would still watch it all calmly. If people threw snowballs at him, he would not fight back. He doesn’t compete with others, he just does himself. However, on important matters, he was always able to protect his own interests.When Thoreau was a child, he liked to look out the window and look up at the half-dark clouds in the sky, and then freely imagined that he wanted to find a hole in the clouds to see the world outside.Even at night, when he was lying in bed, he was thinking about strange things in his head. Once, his mother asked him why he still didn’t sleep. He said:

 I was looking to see if I could see God through the stars.

We don’t know whether he saw God, but he must have seen himself, a different and unique self.


In addition to loving nature, Thoreau also liked handicrafts, which he had enjoyed since he was a child. Therefore, his family considered letting him become an apprentice and a shopkeeper in the future. But he was quiet and studious, so his family still let him go to college and go to Harvard.Other children prepare for college entrance exams very hard and earnestly, wishing they could spend all their time preparing for the exams.Thoreau was different. He spent his time either building his first boat or roaming along the river. Years later, Thoreau said:“That time should have been spent studying, but I spent it exploring the forests, lakes and streams in my hometown.”In 1833, 16-year-old Thoreau passed the Harvard examination and became a member of Harvard.School life is simple and regular. Everyone wears uniform clothes. Every morning, everyone wears the prescribed black coat and appears at the prescribed place on time. The only exception is Thoreau, who wears a green coat.This was not because he was unique, but because he had no money left to buy another coat.At that time, Harvard’s studies were not heavy. A young man with some talent could complete all courses in only four hours a day, and he could freely pursue his hobbies in the remaining time.Therefore, after studying the required lessons every day, Thoreau went for a walk, watched how the birds flew in the countryside, and looked for bird nests and eggs.Every day he visited a skunk in a hollow apple tree, and every year he and his friends attacked the nest of a northern flutter.After reading Nature, he walked into Harvard’s vast library and wandered in the ocean of knowledge.In the Harvard library, Thoreau began a good habit of taking notes throughout his life. Whenever he read, he would make excerpts in his notebook. Thoreau read books with terrifying seriousness.Classmates joked that the library was Thoreau’s factory and mine, and Thoreau mined in the library for several hours every day with quiet enthusiasm.Reading may not necessarily allow people to obtain material things or win in material competitions, but it will definitely allow people to see more possibilities for themselves.


 In Thoreau’s view, both education and belief should be free.However, education and belief at that time were not very free. There were many strict regulations and many rules that had to be followed. Thoreau hated these impersonal rules.But he always dealt with it carefully, not letting himself touch these rules and not letting himself be kicked out of school.However, these things also made Thoreau think about what kind of courage it takes for a person to disobey?Therefore, on the surface he obeyed all this, but in his heart he began to resist for a long time. This is a war.In one’s war, the enemy is one’s weakness, fear, ignorance, external unreasonable rules, and secular traditions.In this war, an individual has no helpers or reinforcements. He himself is his own reinforcements, and he himself is an army. June 1837, the eve of graduation.The teacher assigned an assignment, the title is, what are the criteria for judging whether a country is barbaric or civilized? Another boring assignment. But Thoreau’s answer was quite interesting. He said:

“A country can have a very high level of civilization, but still lack wisdom. Wisdom is the result of education, but education must be about cultivating and developing something inherent in people.

Savages may well be, and often are, wise men. He lived as a man—He thought as a man—He died as a man. “

A truly capitalized person is a person who truly lives for “himself”.Thoreau’s lonely years of “mining” in libraries gave him the strength to persist in himself.In 1837, there was a financial crisis in the United States and job opportunities dropped sharply. Everyone who graduated that year was worried about employment issues.But Thoreau still ushered in the topic of his graduation speech, about “The Spirit of Business.” Many people think that business makes people free, but Thoreau said bluntly:

 Business destroys moral freedom.

Commerce binds people to ignorance. Instead of liberating people, commerce enslaves them and turns them into barbarians.To be human is to break free from material desires and material constraints and become a truly free person.


 After graduating from college, Thoreau also worried about his job.On the one hand, he is a Harvard graduate and should have a bright future. If he does too poorly, he will not be able to live up to his reputation.On the other hand, he said in his graduation speech that he only wanted to work one day a week, but fresh graduates had to work six days a week.But Thoreau was also happy that he had found a job as a teacher and could earn $500 a year.He stepped onto the podium full of hope and planned to work hard for several years, teaching students writing and speech.When he was hired, Thoreau was the first to state that he would never use corporal punishment on students.However, not long after he arrived at the school, the school leaders changed, and they were very dissatisfied with Thoreau’s teaching methods.Under pressure, Thoreau also tried to whip disobedient students, but after being beaten once, he could no longer tolerate this barbaric method. He resigned. I only worked as a teacher in a public school for 10 days.Without his job, Thoreau became the laughing stock of the town. People speculated whether he was incompetent or had done something wrong to lose his job. Thoreau felt bitter. His conscience and freedom, let him suffer.When Thoreau was most confused, a person who influenced Thoreau’s life appeared in his life, and that was the great transcendentalist thinker Emerson. On October 22, 1837, Emerson asked Thoreau:

 What are you doing? Do you keep a diary?

 That day, Thoreau wrote his first diary entry. This is his second rebirth.From this day on, Thoreau began to talk to himself by writing diaries. These conversations turned Thoreau into the unique Thoreau. Emerson advised Thoreau:

 First, be alone.

Second, keep a journal. Respect every time truth comes to your mind, record those thoughts.

Being alone is to truly hear your inner voice, and to write it down is to keep your thoughts from passing away. So Thoreau found an attic and bought pencils and paper. He began to find his true self and let himself grow.


 Emerson’s appearance seemed to shine a light on Thoreau’s life.He saw a different version of himself, a Thoreau who didn’t have to worry about work or material things.From then on, he never had a stable job again, doing odd jobs here and there to make ends meet. He became the most unpromising person among Harvard graduates, but he lived to become the Thoreau who is envied by countless of us today.He went to work in his father’s pencil manufacturing factory, but when he was working, he was not only working, but also thinking and creating. He asked himself: Why are today’s pencils so bad? He kept experimenting to create a better pencil. Eventually, he succeeded.Pencils made using Thoreau’s secret method are the highest quality pencils in the United States.Friends congratulated him because he had discovered a way to become rich and if he kept at it he could make a lot of money. But Thoreau said he would never make pencils again.

“Why should I make pencils? What I’ve done once I’ll never do again.”

 He has wealth at his fingertips, and he will do it if he doesn’t want to do it. This is true freedom and ease.He wanted to teach and spread true wisdom. He wrote to his brother and said that they would go to the west together and build a school together. As soon as he said it, he started to gather his partners and build the school. With the help of his brother, the school recruited 25 students.He wanted to practice his principles of liberal education, not only to teach students knowledge, but also to enlighten their souls.He took the students on outings, went to the newspaper office to see how newspapers were printed, and hiked to Walden Pond to learn botany, geology and history in nature. He built a boat with his own hands and took his students to row.This self-employment was the most glorious history of Thoreau’s life. However, such a glorious moment did not last long. In April 1841, the school closed down. Thoreau was once again unemployed.In order to earn some living expenses, he dug out people’s excrement. At the end of the day, his back ached and he earned 75 cents.He originally had many job opportunities, but he was unwilling to be restricted too much, let alone do things that went against his nature.Therefore, he has been doing odd jobs to earn a living and living a simple and free life. Freedom sometimes comes at a price.But for some people, keeping the freedom of their souls is the most important thing than making money.


While Thoreau was working, Emerson said, “Come to my house, tidy up the garden with me, and teach me how to graft apples.”In this way, Thoreau moved into the Emerson home and became the home gardener and handyman of the Emerson family. At Emerson’s house, Thoreau had free access to Emerson’s study. He had plenty of time to read, write, and walk.Thoreau was really busy, busy working, busy being himself, busy walking, busy writing.Although he was the Emerson’s handyman, other people often asked him for work. The poet Qian Ning needed repairs on his new home and was too lazy to find a construction team, so he turned to Thoreau.A long list of repairs, paint the house, repair the cellar, build a new staircase, redo the well, build a fence. These things can keep a construction team busy for a long time. But Thoreau was busy in and out, and he did a good job. When Qian Ning moved in, he was so impressed that he even ridiculed Thoreau: “He’ll never be a writer, he’s as active as a shoemaker.”But Thoreau became more and more determined in his writing ideal. He must become a professional writer.At the end of 1841, among the mountains of old books and poems he had written like fallen leaves, Thoreau glanced out the window, and some of his ideas became more and more firm. He wanted to leave and live by the lake. Friends asked him: What to do there? Thoreau told himself: Wouldn’t it be useful enough to just go there and observe the changes of the four seasons?He was determined, “There will be no disappointment or harm to the soul who is always thinking about the beauty of nature.” Whenever he has time, he travels and writes while traveling. Beautiful words are written one after another. Sometimes halfway through the trip, he would run out of money and stop to work.Once when he traveled abroad, he ran out of money. It wasn’t until Emerson sent Thoreau $10 in royalties that he could afford to travel home.As long as he has free time, he goes into nature and gets along with nature, making friends, camping, fishing, hiking, and taking adventures together. In order to save money, he stayed at a farmer’s house. Now that the trip is over, let’s continue working and writing.A man is not in sync with his companions because he hears a different drumbeat.The most important thing in life is not to keep pace with others, but to find your own direction and move forward at your own pace.


 Living in the Emerson home, Thoreau did not feel constrained.But he still wanted to build a house on the edge of Walden Pond, but he had no money to buy land.In 1844, Emerson bought 11 acres of land covered with wild roses for $8.10 per acre.Friends say this patch of briars would be worthless without the pine forest next to it. So Emerson spent another $125 to buy a pine forest. The poet Qian Ning also bought a field in the mountains. He said to Thoreau:

“The only land I see on this planet that is suitable for you is the land I once named ‘The Wild Rose’; go there, build yourself a log cabin, and start a great self-reliant life there.”

But at this time, Thoreau was still very busy, repairing his house and writing new articles.Until March 1845, spring came, the ice melted and the river flowed.Thoreau found Alcott, the author of “Little Women”, borrowed an ax, walked into the forest on the edge of Walden Pond, and began to build his house.He cut down several pine trees and split them into cylinders, leaving as much bark as possible so that they could be used to build houses. At noon, he lay on the ground to rest.His hands were covered with thick rosin, but he didn’t care, took the buttered bread and started eating. While eating, read the scrap newspaper used to wrap the bread. Going home at night, the skylark sang songs all the way.Someone heard the sound of his axe, and came over to chat with him. He put down his work and chatted with passers-by. When he first went there, the lake was still frozen and it occasionally snowed.Gradually, the snow stopped falling and the ice disappeared. Walden Pond was as clear as a mirror, with fish dancing in it. He bargained and bought some second-hand building materials.In early May, he had everything ready to build the skeleton of the house. He called his friends, Emerson, Alcott, and Channing, to help him build the house. 10 feet wide, 15 feet long, 8 feet high.He also built a chimney, thickened the roof and walls, and painted the interior of the house with lime to give the house a good thermal insulation function.After the house was all finished, Thoreau calculated that the total cost was $28.115, which is equivalent to the annual rent of an ordinary college student. In July 1845, Thoreau moved into his own house.He used his actions to declare that life is simple and that nothing the soul needs can be bought with money. He declared:“I am willing to plunge deeply into life, suck out the marrow of life, live a solid and simple life, cleanly eliminate all content that is not part of life, push life to the edge, use the most basic form, simple, simple , no matter how simple.”


When Thoreau was building his house, spring was getting stronger, and Thoreau cultivated a piece of land like an ordinary farmer.During the spring plowing season, he hired a man, held the plow himself, and planted the land with the hired workers. He also picked up many old tree stumps, chopped them into firewood, and stored them. This wood is enough for two winters of heating. After that, he planted potatoes, peas, and corn.Some of the grain and vegetables he grows are for his own consumption and some for sale, but he also likes to feed corn to squirrels and birds.His house was so small that others thought it was just a shack, not a house. But Thoreau didn’t take it seriously, thinking that this was a house. Emerson said:

 People who have been domesticated by civilization cannot live in shacks.

 But Thoreau was a free man who was not domesticated.He thinks about life ambitiously and applies all his thinking to his life. In August, his friend Qian Ning came to stay for two weeks. He said:

 Two people seemed too many.

 Because the house is too small, only 15 square meters.Therefore, in the eyes of Thoreau’s family, Thoreau lived here as if he was suffering. He was not comfortable at all. His mother and sister were very worried.But for Thoreau, he had his own room to write and dream. He said to himself:

 I wish I could see the truth of life.

He wanted to see real life through his own experiment. He didn’t know whether he could really succeed, but he had to try.

“If I don’t make it here, I’m at least a little closer to success than I was before.”

A 28-year-old young man, instead of working hard in society to make money, went to the forest to find a life.When there were odd jobs available, I would go to town and do odd jobs. The income was one dollar a day. The income was not high, but it was enough to live on. He did all kinds of odd jobs, including digging manure, painting walls, building fences, and doing carpentry.When Emerson needed to build a fence, he called Thoreau. When he needed to floor the cellar, he called Thoreau. When he needed to convert the barn into a classroom, he called Thoreau. Thoreau lived to be the greatest wonder of his time.When you live, you don’t have to compare yourself with others. The most important thing is to live the way you like, the way you like.


 Thoreau’s life at Walden Pond was simple.But he didn’t live here forever. He lived here for two years and then left. His experiment was complete. He returned to the crowd and never lived in seclusion again. The reclusive Thoreau returned, but Thoreau as a writer gradually appeared on the scene.He compiled the diary he wrote at Walden Pond into a book manuscript and gave lectures on his experiences, which were very popular. He published “On the Right of Civil Disobedience”, which won him fame.He wanted to write a book, and his friends thought he was writing a book about life at Walden Pond. Everyone agreed, but in the end what he published was “A Week on the River.” The book failed to sell, and Thoreau owed the publisher a huge sum of $290. It took him four years to pay off the money. In order to supplement his living expenses, he became a land surveyor, measuring the land with his feet.Of course, he continued to study nature, and every time he faced nature, he would be newly moved. Rather than making more money, he wants to enrich his life.He often works as a day laborer, holding a pencil, ruler, compass, and thermometer, embracing the earth and the world.He insisted on keeping a diary, and wrote more and more. The house was full of diary manuscripts. Even when he took a walk, he took paper and pen with him. As soon as he had an idea, he started writing. The poet Channing thought it was a good imitation of Thoreau, but soon gave up. He is getting richer and richer, but his life is getting simpler. At the dinner table, someone asked him which dish he liked to eat. He said, the one closest to him. A simple life requires a complex mind.People who are too poor on the inside need external things to fill their lives, while people who are rich on the inside often prefer simplicity.


Since leaving his cabin at Walden Pond, Thoreau has been writing the book Walden. But it was never completed.In 1852, he dusted off the manuscript of “Walden” and rethought the book he had longed to write. He continued writing. In 1854, he finally completed “Walden”.After the publication of “Walden”, it was welcomed by many people and Thoreau became famous, but his life did not change much.After becoming famous, he was invited to give lectures abroad, but he began to worry that he would lose his winter:

 “How am I going to make up for the winter I lost if I went abroad to speak?”

 He began scientific research and studied various birds and plants. Someone asked him:

 Mr. Thoreau, when you study a bird, don’t you shoot it down?

 He retorted:

 Then do you think if I want to study you, I should kill you first?

But what he likes most is traveling around, going to nature, listening to the wind, the rain, and himself.He climbed to the top of the mountain to camp, getting up at 4 a.m. every morning to watch the sunrise and eat wild mountain cranberries. At dinner, eat bread and watch the sunset. So comfortable! So happy and leisurely!But his health gradually began to have problems. In the spring of 1862, Thoreau became seriously ill. A friend came to visit him and told him that a robin was singing on the road. After hearing this, Thoreau said softly:This is a beautiful world, but soon I will see an even more beautiful world. I love nature so much. Two days later, Thoreau passed away.On May 6, 1862, that beautiful spring, that beautiful sunrise morning, Thoreau watched the last sunrise in his life, and then left. He lived a life he loved. After his death, Emerson lamented:

The country does not yet know, or rather does not realize at all, what a great son it has lost.

More than a hundred years later, Thoreau’s words to the world are still deafening. He said:

“From now on, stop living the life you should live, live the life you want to live!”

 All his life, he only lived the life he wanted to live.In this world, many people don’t know what kind of life they want to live, and many people know it but dare not live it. But only those who spend their whole life living the life they want are the real winners in life.


 Li Jihong, the translator of “Walden” said:

Everyone can live soberly, follow their true inner feelings and thoughts, and become a unique and independent person. This is Thoreau’s ideal.

 In fact, this is not our ideal.This was originally a very simple thing, because what it requires is always just yourself. As long as you want, you can do this. As long as you dare, you can live this way. However, things are not that simple.Really living in this world, everyone is just holding a small boat and swimming in the turbulent river of ideas. Most people can only drift with the tide, either succumbing to the pressure of the world or committing themselves to the desire of life. In short , either you give up first, or you get lost halfway.Only a few extremely outstanding leaders can maintain their own direction and live the life they desire under the impact of various pressures.For this reason, I often feel mentally exhausted, but I understand that it is just a collision between myself and the world. As long as I persist in myself, the world can’t do anything for me.

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