I recently discovered a fascinating German word–“Waldeinsamkeit.” There is not a direct English translation, but generally speaking, it means the peaceful feeling of finding solitude in the woods. Isn’t it fascinating how we can tell those things which are now or once were valued by a culture based on which things they needed to find words for? The German people obviously valued their solitude in the woods, as do I.
Looking at that word, I was immediately reminded of the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Published in 1854, Walden chronicles Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond amidst the part of the forest area owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts.
I’ve often thought, as Thoreau did, that there must be something magical in the waters of Walden Pond, formed centuries ago by receding glaciers. There were too many great writers and thinkers in the near vicinity for it to have been a coincidence. When I was young, I contemplated going there and bringing away with me a vile of the water, which I would keep with me to spark genius in my own writing. But was it really the water or was it the peace in the solitude of the surrounding woods which sparked genius?
By immersing himself in nature, Thoreau hoped to gain as understanding of society through personal introspection. He also aspired to live simply and self-sufficiently, inspired by his transcendental philosophy. (Although, let’s be honest that the self-sufficiency is somewhat skewed based on the fact that he was living on his friend’s land.)
As Thoreau himself said, he “went to the woods because [he] wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if [he] could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when [he] came to die, discover that [he] had not lived.” He wanted to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” Don’t we all?
I wonder if Thoreau knew this word “waldeinsamkeit” when he went into the woods looking for that very feeling. I wonder if that’s where Walden pond originally derived its name. We all look for solitude in our own ways. Most of us don’t have generous transcendental friends with woodland to lend to us for our solitude. Many of us live and work in the fast paced cities and technological world around us. I sometimes long for the quiet and peace of pre-digital days when you could go outside to commune with nature in peace and quiet.
I, for one, have my pond and park where I often go in the spring, summer, and fall to recharge. I seek my clarity and silence there. I seem to resonate with the energy of the trees and wildlife around me. During these dark and gray winter months, I find myself longing for “waldeinsamkeit,” for the peace I can only find in nature and the woods. My pen feels frozen, and I have to work harder to find inspiration for my writing.
I understand Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott and other transcendentalists (even Emily Dickinson–yes, she was a transcendentalist, but that’s an argument for another day.) Our lungs ache for the green air. Our eyes ache for the vibrant colors. And our ears ache for the silence yet alive with forest sounds. There is some kind of inspiring life which can only be found in nature. I know I will get back to nature and my personal Walden again, but spring feels so terribly far away.