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STOIC POETRY | Adrift across a desert night

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

In his book Walden, specifically in the chapter titled "The Ponds", Henry David Thoreau describes the seasons and moods of Walden Pond as well as the nearby White Pond and Flint's Pond. In the passage quoted below, Thoreau communicates his experience and sense of the rudderless passage of time while reclining in a small boat which he allows to drift with the breeze over the extensive surface of Walden (a "pond" which measures a half-mile by a quarter-mile across). The experience - to borrow Henry’s own vocabulary - might be described as "singular", which word perhaps falls short of capturing such a worthy life milestone. In fact, when I visited Thoreau's grave in Concord many decades back, the poet in me wondered - as I looked upon his headstone marked "Henry" - if the essence of this, and his many other such experiences, perhaps lingered with the man still, whose mortal remains were at rest, decomposed there below my feet; memories like gemstones taken to the grave within a closed fist, to outlast the stuff of the mortal who does soon become earth. So too, perhaps, does the gem of Thoreau's living experience of drifting across the pond bejewel the memory of his lost mortal remains, as a most precious lingering gift, a treasure imparted of words, from the treasure seeker to anyone who might pause to read of what he had found:

I have spent many an hour, when I was younger, floating over its surface as the zephyr willed, having paddled my boat to the middle, and lying on my back across the seats, in a summer forenoon, dreaming awake, until I was aroused by the boat touching the sand, and I arose to see what shore my fates had impelled me to... -Henry David Thoreau

Likewise, have I drifted over my own pond - in the desert, at night, when I strike out from Siberia ghost town towards the empty hills and mountains to the north. My open eyes are soon shut by the dark, which depth is deepened by my reluctance to use a torch, and my eager willingness to become lost. I wander then into the wastes for half a night, turning here and there where I may, or must, or do, without the knowledge that I have changed way. Still air draws me forward like vacuum, while breezes and gusts push me along with whispers and words rustling of night. My feet are lost almost from the first, crossing places I may not know, feeling warm stones with my soles, stumbling often, falling forward into new lands I fool myself are familiar, until my thoughts move away from caring where I am - and I just walk on further into the dark, guided by nothing, my ambition nothing, my destination...nothing; until fatigue takes over and I lay down on the sand to sleep, a deep and dreamless sleep of further progress into night, finding places where no memory can return, lying cold and alone on the sand covered with stars and an infinity of dark.

I find myself then where "my fates had impelled me to", ashore somewhere I'd never hoped to be.


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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