“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

It’s that time of year again. Spring is approaching; very slowly perhaps, but it is approaching. Taking Tanner out on his daily walks we’re seeing the leaves on the birches beginning to burst; the first dapple of blackthorn blossom in the hedgerows; the first glow of catkins on the willows.bluebells

It’s just the time of year when our imagination comes out of hibernation and we start to look forward. A time to think about the summer and all the adventures it has in store.

I’ve been looking back over my own journals this winter and found they are mostly written during the warmer months. The few entries from the winter months are more likely to be introspective meanderings; whereas the summer entries are much more external, more about the physical, more about the things I’m actually doing. It’s like the sun allows us to experience life outside of ourselves. And, of course, re-reading those summer entries allows me to experience them again, in a small way.

We tend to live a simple life, myself and Samantha, we spend most of our time in the workshop and when we’re not in the workshop, we like to go for walks (I say ‘walks’, but they tend to be long romps exploring weird places other people rarely go). Some people think our life is boring, but we like to think of it as simple.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

~Henry David Thoreau

beachSo, in the spirit of looking forward to warmer days; to travelling; to walking; to holidays; to whatever you like to do when the sun shines on you (and to keeping a note of all those things in your Earthworks journal, so you can look back on them when winter comes around again!), I thought I’d share a few inspirational quotes from a favourite writer of mine, Henry David Thoreau.

Thoreau (1817-1862) is perhaps most famous for his book Walden, in which he records his experiences of living a simple life, over a period of two years, in a cabin he built in the woods.

“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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

~Henry David Thoreau

Of course, living a modern life in a modern world it’s unlikely to be possible for us to give it all up and bugger off to the woods for a couple of years, as much as we might want to sometimes. But, should we wish to, we can live by the spirit of the quote. I suppose Samantha and I have created a metaphorical cabin in the woods with our workshop. It may be a lowly red brick terrace in a non-descript small town but it’s where we do real things, we’ve filled it with the tools of our trade, we heat it with a wood-burning stove and we have a window which looks out onto our small garden which we’ve made into a tiny sanctuary for wildlife. It’s a simple thing and I think a lot of us have that metaphorical ‘cabin in the woods’; whether it’s a tool-shed; a favourite spot in the garden; a study; a particular park bench; even your favourite chair. It’s that place where we can become ourselves and shed the trappings of modern life; we’re very lucky that we get to be in ours most of the time.

garden

Another of Thoreau’s best known essays is his treatise on ‘Walking’. He thought of this essay as one of his key pieces of writing, one which encompassed all of his other work.

“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.”

“The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours …but it is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day.”

“We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”

~Henry David Thoreau

Again, we may not be quite willing or ready to send our embalmed hearts back to our loved ones when we go missing in the wilderness. We may have been open to this in our younger days, when we would set off around the country, often selling our wares, in our clapped out old camper-van (we were never quite sure whether we’d make it back alive in that thing!), but these days we’re as partial to our home-comforts as anyone. We’re more than happy to take Thoreau’s spirit with us out on our adventures, but we do like a warm bath and our own bed on our return.

But Thoreau’s greatest work is thought to be his own journals. Compulsively writing about his everyday life and all that surrounded him he filled forty seven volumes, that’s around seven thousand pages, with his thoughts. In these journals can be found the first seeds of his books, essays and poetry.

And so, to finish off, one more beautifully apt quote from Thoreau which will hopefully inspire you to record your own life for future generations, if you haven’t succumbed to the bug of journalling yet!

“A written word is the choicest of relics.”

~Henry David Thoreau

journals and maps

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