On our way to Gloucester Massachusetts to meet a friend for deep-sea fishing, Joe and I made a slight detour to visit Walden Pond, made famous by Henry David Thoreau’s writings of his time in the woods along its shores. It felt like something of a pilgrimage to me in many ways. I had read Walden, and a few other compositions, and knew the author to be a naturalist and outdoorsman, and outspoken advocate of The Duty of Civil Disobedience. He spent time in the Maine woods on guided bear hunts, and wrote many short correspondence articles about such adventures. He would probably prefer to be remembered for his political essays, but just being remembered is the golden idol of creative people. I like to think I embrace Thoreau’s admonition to “Simplify!”. Not so much in the sense of minimalist living conditions, but in the way we choose to relate to our place in the natural order. Also the ways we choose to allow civilization, indoctrination, and the expectations of modernity to influence our behavior, our self-sense, and our outlook.
Thoreau and I shared so many things in common, I feel as if we would be good friends had we known one another. Nature and the outdoors, the Adirondack Mountains, my times in the piney woods at our remote and wild lake, all became fodder for my writing machine. There is often a philosophical bent to my poems and journal entries.
While I lived in the modern world and had a family to support, (and partly because of that!) a humble and frugal lifestyle suited me just fine. We had a huge old farmhouse in the country that we bought pretty cheap and before the real estate boom. To this day my car is simply a machine to replace my horse. When in need, I’ll choose something that makes sense and can be had used at a reasonable price. (A car I mean, not horse.)
Fast forward through a life of raising kids to fledge from The Ark and burning the mortgage (we didn’t really burn it, when the time came, we wanted to keep it) and through burying my parents and my wife, and retiring from work this year. Here I have The Ark to myself in a peaceful rural glen, with the woods backed up nearly to my door. The government dole we’ve partnershipped on over the last forty-five years is slim, but might just be adequate to support one old man and a dog and a cat if we live like old Henry this year. There are savings to subsidize the budget, but “tax burdens” make it inadvisable to tap into that before January 2023. I don’t want you to think I’m trying to cry “starving artist”, though it would play well to my painting sales. This really is a further incentive to embrace the spirit of simplicity, and even the minimalism to a degree. Wait, I guess you can’t have minimalism “to a degree”, but you know what I mean.
When one announces an intent to retire, or makes the rounds of goodbyes at work, the question is posited like clockwork; “What are you going to do?”. At first I was entirely unprepared for the question. I would begin to narrate a daytime dream of my retired life to the poor wretches yet slaves to ambition.
“Bake.” A moment’s thought. “Fish. I look forward to fishing. Playing music. Mowing.”
As their eyes glazed over I realized they expected some coherent answer. Some Big Thing to replace the Big Thing Of Work. Or perhaps some Big Dream of owning your own hot pretzel cart or trying out for a Broadway musical. Hobbled still in the trenches of the working, perhaps they worry for the old man that has quit his job. Maybe they want to know if an adult child will have room in their home. At the very least they expect to hear some modest indentures on your Forsaken Dreams.
“I’ll still have remotes with the station once in a while.”, they want to hear, or something like: “I’ll be riding herd on my nephew’s rutabaga ranch. You know, enough to cover the bills.”
Then it occurred to me. I do have a Big Thing to replace the Big Thing Of Work. I do have a Big Dream and I’m ready to audition. Like Henry, I am as free of the indentures of modernity as one can be. I have studied long about this very singular chapter of my life, and have journaled my way along the circuitous path that has brought me, perhaps through a series of unfortunate events, to this Now. A blank slate pregnant with promise and boundless beauty. With all that, I think people still remain puzzled when I answer their inquiries with a single word. I’ve Simplified my Big Thing, my Big Dream, and my retirement plan into a frill-free, direct-to-the-point, answer I like to think old Henry would be proud of.
When asked “What are you going to do?”
Take care and keep in touch.
Let me know what you’re doing these days.