Nov 21 2008

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Two Realities

Posted at 10:07 am under Blog Post

As a lover of all things wild, I find myself torn nearly every day by two distinct realities: the economic and the natural.  Theoretically, there is no conflict between the two since economics mimics the rules of survival laid out by nature, and nature follows the basic principles of economics as it goes about its affairs.  But on a practical level, the tension is palpable.

Henry David Thoreau, the patron saint of environmentalism, railed against what he saw as the crass materialism of his day.  “I cannot easily buy a blank-book to write thoughts in,” he complained in his journals, “They are all ruled for dollars and cents.”  Anyone who has committed large chunks of his/her life to writing and thinking understands this all too well.  While blank books abound in our day and age, the time to actually sit down and write something in them remains a precious commodity.  Writing, ruminating, walking, or merely observing wild nature – all the activities we associate with that Concord nonconformist require time, money and energy that could be devoted to earning a living.

Yesterday I mentioned to a shopkeeper that I might have to curtail my writing when my wife retires, that opening a bookshop remains my fallback plan if I can’t generate enough money writing.  “Why can’t you do both?” he asked, then I asked him what he does other than run his business.  He fell silent.  Yes, I did a little writing while running a bookstore back in the 1980s, but nothing compared to what I’ve written since then, while working part time and relying on my wife’s income.  I didn’t get into the woods much back then, either.  We all make choices, and often those choices are heavily influenced by economic necessity.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of having a cabin in the woods not all that different from Thoreau’s shack on Walden Pond.  Nowadays I see that cabin as something that competes with my writing as well as my wife’s own cost-dependent desires.  Everything requires money, and while I could build that cabin cheap enough, I haven’t the land upon which to put it.  Keep in mind the fact that Thoreau built his cabin on land owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, who shared the same dream.  Emerson was too busy writing and lecturing for a living to follow through on his own cabin dream so Henry did it for him.  So much for self-reliance.

The problem here, of course, is that I’m trying to be a nature writer much like both Emerson and Thoreau.  Not a journalist, a biologist, or anything practical like that, but one who delves deeply into the wild then writes down whatever comes to mind.  Truth is, there has never been much market demand for this kind of thing.  During the better part of his life, Thoreau supported himself by surveying land and running his father’s pencil factory.  Short of an inheritance or a hefty trust fund, we all make hard choices.

The choices we make in life reflect our core values.  This is true for both individuals and society at large.  The tension between the aesthetics of the wild and material well being is as fundamental as the water we drink, the land we walk, and the air we breathe.  There is no getting around this.  At all levels, we make choices that determine the fate of both our selves and the global community.  And this is why every ideology contains at least one lie.  Theory never matches practicality.  Theoretically, we can have it all.  Realistically, something has to give.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Two Realities”

  1. Ranger Svenon 28 Nov 2008 at 8:37 am 1

    Interesting post, Walt…! I, too, had to make the ‘real job’ decison while being a freelance writer. I made the decison to get a good govt job that allows me freedom (financially and time off) and relative employment security (and healthcare in retirement). Perhaps, in time, I will return to freelancing. But for now, I have to say that I made the right decision.

    Keep writing, pally—you are a good writer…!!!

    Happy Trails,


  2. Walton 28 Nov 2008 at 9:40 am 2

    We all make hard choices – that’s all I was trying to say. No one, not even nature writers, are immune to economic reality.