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Querencia and Thoreau, Thoreau’s “Walden” Essay

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Updated: Nov 7th, 2021

The word ‘querencia’, according to J.H. Mitchell, refers to the idea of a ‘sense of place’ or ‘personal intimacy with a particular region.’ In the preface to The Paradise of All These Parts: A Natural History of Boston, Mitchell says some sites “assume an identity of their own and become part of the continuing narrative of the region.” An example of this kind of site is Walden Pond in Massachusetts, which is associated with the writer Henry David Thoreau and his ideas of existentialism. Thoreau insists, in his chapter entitled “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” in Walden, that the only way to really understand what it means to live is to become intimate with nature. The essential concept behind this idea was that in living in places such as cities and towns, becoming regulated not by his own choices but by the necessity of earning food and board, most men tend to sleepwalk through life. They are awake only in a physical sense while remaining woefully somnolent in the spiritual sense. “The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life” (Thoreau 74). According to Thoreau, life has become so busy with the rushing railroad and the preoccupation with commerce and other such non-essential aspects of life that the average man has completely lost sight of his own worth and the true realities of life. In this way, Thoreau uses intimacy with the landscape to talk about larger ideas that continue to apply to the modern world and thus links the landscape of his experiment with the “continuing narrative of the region” (Mitchell).

Thoreau begins his chapter with a reflection on the concept of ownership as a mere condition of the mind. He talks about how he owned a number of properties in his area, enjoyed them fully, and gained the reputation of a wealthy man among his friends without ever having spent a cent. “In imagination, I have bought all the farms in succession, for all were to be bought, and I knew their price … cultivated it … and withdrew when I had enjoyed it long enough, leaving him to carry it on … Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the landscape radiated from me accordingly” (Thoreau 67). In other words, he was able to take as much enjoyment of the property as if he really did own it and perhaps was able to enjoy it to an even greater extent having never had the need to put any effort into it. He expands his mind into the environment of his choosing and experiences a much deeper sense of appreciation for it as well as a much larger and more bountiful conception of himself. He engages in roughly the same process as he begins to build his home at Walden Pond. He rejects the traditional concepts of what’s necessary and customary and simply concentrates on what he feels he needs for himself. He deliberately rejects the capitalist system which he says has corrupted our concepts of what’s important in life. He establishes his home at Walden Pond to prove that these material goods are not actually necessary for happiness or survival.

Having rejected the concept of ownership in the form of deeds and fences as well as condemned the process of ownership, Thoreau then dedicates his attention to showing how nature functioned to help him find himself. “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” (Thoreau 75). He relates these ideas to the way that the average man, living within the modern world of railroads and the need to keep up with the day’s news, fritters his life away on meaningless details. He thus relates his own means of finding himself with the confused and lost way in which most people live their lives, offering up his experiences of Walden Pond as the solution to the modern problem. This transforms the pond and its surrounding area, still preserved today, into a shrine for the human mind in search of simplicity and truth.

Thoreau relates his experiences on Walden Pond in order to communicate to his fellow man what he saw very clearly – that the realities of life have little or nothing to do with the meaningless activities with which we typically fill our days. By simplifying his life to its basic essentials while he lived on Walden Pond, Thoreau was able to establish an intimate connection with the landscape that helped him discover a much deeper and purer understanding of himself. These ideas are then expanded to apply to those who live around him in what was then considered the modern world. He related the modern man to the busy ant, ‘frittering’ away his time on meaningless activity and missing out on the truly important things in life. As he describes his understandings reached through his discovery of himself, Thoreau relates his realizations to the larger ideas if his time which remains important to our time. He discovers an expansion of mind through his contemplation of the natural world at Walden Pond and he describes it in a way that brings the pond and its larger meanings into reality in the mind of the reader. This reality of the mind is finally transferred to the actual place, making the geographic location of Walden Pond as important in reality as its ideas are in the book. Through this process, the landscape of Walden Pond becomes part of the “continuing narrative of the region” and ‘querencia’ is achieved.

Works Cited

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1993.

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