There once lived a man who was, is and always shall be The King of Frugal Mountain. Born in New England, and a close friend of Emerson the poet, Henry David Thoreau lived in Concord, Massachusetts, where living close to the bone was considered a worthy path. But Thoreau, a Harvard graduate and aspiring writer, took that path and stretched it as far as it could go by leaving his comfortable home in town and walking into the woods to build himself a small shack a mile from the nearest neighbor. There on the shore of Walden Pond, he lived alone for two years and two months. In his words: ” I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Casting aside town life, tax regulations and worldly possessions, he wrote in a later book: “Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them… Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”
Thanks to Thoreau’s precise bookkeeping, we know that his humble new cabin, which he moved into on the Fourth of July 1845, cost him $28.12. Even for that time, it was a mighty frugal amount. His two-year accounts also included his farming expenditures – $14.73, and the money he earned planting extra vegetables to sell in town, his only means of support, which totaled $23.44. This left him a profit of $8.71.
When visitors tramped through the woods to his cabin, Thoreau had but three chairs to offer them. “One for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
Aside from fishing, farming, reading and writing an account of a long canoe trip, most of Thoreau’s time was spent following the weather and seasons and every facet of life in the woods with unwavering attention. Wasps lived harmoniously with him in his cabin when autumn turned into winter, fish swam to his boat when he played the flute, at all hours birds serenaded him. Once a sparrow lighted on his shoulder and he wrote, ” I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.”
Speaking of epaulets, his feelings about clothes have always resonated with me. “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes,” he wrote. And: “Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends…Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”
“Our life is frittered away by detail,” he added. “Simplify, simplify…A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
He was disinterested not only in fashion, but in whatever was popular at the moment; what others currently thought or did was of no importance to him. Let others strive for possessions, position, power, whatever. As for him: “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”
My favorite quote of his is, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Thoreau not only heard that different drummer, he lived and was true to that singular beat every day of his life.
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