the Thoreau Log.
20 May 1860. Concord, Mass.

Thoreau writes in his journal:

  A strong, cold west wind. 60º at 2 P.M.

  To Walden . . .

  Judging from Hind’s Report of his survey of the region between the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Rivers, the prevailing trees—and they are small—are aspens and willows . . . their abundant fine and light seed, being buoyed up and wafted far through the atmosphere, speedily clothe the burnt tracts of British America . . .

(Journal, 13:305-306)
Thoreau also writes to H.G.O. Blake:
Mr Blake,

  I must endeavor to pay some of my debts to you.

  To begin where we left off then.

  The presumption is that we are always the same; our opportunities & Nature herself fluctuating. Look at mankind. No great difference between two, apparently; perhaps the same height and breadth and weight; and yet to the man who sits most E. this life is a weariness, routine, dust and ashes, and he drowns his imaginary cares (!) (a sort of friction among his vital organs), in a bowl. But to the man who sits most W., his contemporary (!) it is a field for all noble endeavors, an elysium, the dwelling place of heroes & knights. The former complains that he has a thousand affairs to attend to; but he does not realize, that his affairs, (though they may be a thousand,) and he are one.

  Men & boys are learning all kinds of trades but how to make men of themselves. They learn to make houses, but they are not so well housed, they are not so contented in their houses, as the woodchucks in their holes. What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on? If you can not tolerate the planet it is on? Grade the ground first. If a man believes and expects great things of himself, it makes no odds where you put him, or what you show him, (of course, you cannot put him anywhere nor show him anything), he will be surrounded by grandeur. He’s in the condition of a healthy & hungry man, who says to himself—How sweet this crust is!

  If he despairs of himself, then Tophet is his dwelling place, and he is in the condition of a sick man who is disgusted with the fruits of finest flavor

  Where he sleeps or wakes, whether he runs or walks, whether he uses a microscope or a telescope, or his named eye, a man never discovers anything, never overtales anything or leaves anything behind, but himself. Whatever he says or does he merely reports himself. If he is in love, he loves; if he is in heaven he enjoys, if he is in hell he suffers. It is his condition that determines his locality.

  The principal, the only thing a man makes is his condition, or fate. Though commonly he does not know it, nor put up a sign to this effect, “My own destiny made & mended here” [not yours] He is a masterworkman in this business. He works 25 hours a day at it and gets it done. Whatever else he neglects or botches, no man was every known to neglect this work. A great many pretend to make shoes chiefly, and would scout the idea that they make the hard times which they experience.

  Each reaching and aspiration is an instinct with which all nature consists & cooperates, and therefore it is not vain. But alas! each relaxing and desperation is an instinct too. To be active, well, happy, implies rare courage. To be ready to fight in a duel or a battle implies desperation, or that you hold your life cheap.

  If you take this life to be simply what old religious folk pretend, (I mean the effect, gone to seed in a drought, mere human galls stung by the Devil once), then all your joy & serenity is reduced to grinning and bearing it. The fact is, you have got to take the world on your shoulders like Atlas and put along with it. You will do this for an idea’s sake, and your success will be in proportion to your devotion to ideas. It may make your back ache occasionally, but you will have the satisfaction of hanging it or twirling it to suit yourself. Cowards suffer, heroes enjoy. After a long day’s walk with it, pitch it into a hollow place, sit down and eat your luncheon. Unexpectedly, by some immortal thoughts, you will be compensated. The bank whereon you sit will be afragrant and flowery one, and your world in the hollow a sleek and light gazelle.

  Where is the “Unexplored land” but in our own untried enterprises? To an adventurous spirit any place,—London, New York, Worcester, or his own yard, is “unexplored land,” to seek which Freemont & Kane travel so far. To a sluggish & defeated spirit even the Great Basin & the Polaris are trivial places. If they ever get there (& indeed they are there now) they will want to sleep & give it up, just as they always do. These are the regions of the Known & of the Unknown. What is the use of going right over the old track again? There is an adder in the path which your own feet have worn. You must make tracks into the Unknown. That is what you have your board & clothes for. Why do you ever men your clothes, unless that, wearing them, you may mend your ways?

  Let us sing

(Letters to Harrison Gray Otis Blake (110-112) edited by Wendell Glick (from Great Short Works of Henry David Thoreau edited, with an introduction, by Wendell Glick (New York: Harper & Row, 1982). Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers)

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