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Inside and Outside the Birth Room

By Donna Marie Przybojewski

“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk. I would fain forget all my morning occupations, and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is. I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” — “Walking,” HDT

I spent time recently at the Concord Free Library Special Collections rereading Thoreau’s “Walking” revisions. Henry’s lecture brought to mind the need for all of us to remove  stress and tension  from our minds, before we embark on activities to refresh ourselves.

Children’s book author Donna Marie Przybojewski at work in the HD Thoreau birth room.

No one can deny that we live in an age of technological overload, making personal introspection difficult and almost impossible to accomplish. Although technology has made life easier, it also has been the root of many of our problems. Technology pervades our lives and surrounds us with excessive stimuli that makes it challenging to relax and clear our minds. Cell phones, iPods, iPads, and Smart watches keep us connected with the world while complicating our attempts to be stress free.

Henry obviously did not contend with such technology, but he did find it troublesome to leave the world behind at times during his saunters. Even though life was a lot less complicated during Henry’s time, people still had worries, matters to attend to, and anxiety. Even Henry was not exempt from these types of troubles. We all face obstacles at one point or another, but Henry knew it was vital to abandon problems, thoughts, and stress when going into nature, and he was conscious of when he had not done that. Such was the difference. He was perceptive enough to appreciate that removing oneself from all that cluttered the spirit was essential to achieving clarity and health in one’s life. Whenever a person requires time for reflection and personal growth, nothing must muddle the mind.

As an avid hiker in the national parks, I adhere to Henry’s philosophy to leave the world behind and all that does not belong in nature when I am on the trails. It does not matter whether I am climbing to view Delicate Arch at Arches National Park in Utah in the sweltering heat of summer; hiking around the hoodoos in Bryce National Park also in Utah; the Sonoran Desert of Arizona; the Rocky Mountains in Colorado; or simply sauntering on the Towpath of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park near my home.

During such excursions, big or small, my mind is clear of all that creates tension in my life and complicates it. My thoughts are turned to lofty things.  As I immerse myself into the beauty of the natural world, my inner self emerges as it becomes refreshed and restored leaving behind all that is troubled and blemished. I gain new perspectives which assist me in reawakening what might have been lost in me.

However, there are moments, when the spirit is willing, the flesh does not cooperate, and I sometimes need a reminder from Henry when I allow the world to creep into my space of solitude during my time in nature.

Now, the same holds true for me when I am at the Writer’s Retreat in the birth room of Henry David Thoreau at the Thoreau Farm. That time is sacred to me because I can only visit once or twice a year. Therefore, the world is left outside as I spend time in reflection and creative growth. During this time, it is vital for me to experience the solitude and spiritual ambiance that the room offers. When I am at the Writer’s Retreat, I find myself energized with creativity and a special inner peace that enables me to exist only in the present, not realizing that eight hours or so has passed in what seems to be minutes.

On my visit in July of 2016, however, I am ashamed to admit, I did not adhere to Henry’s wisdom on that particular day. For some reason,  I unfortunately brought the world into the birth room that morning. Now, for a person who does not own a cell phone, I acted as if my life depended upon technology. There happened to be a number of pressing issues in my life that I believed needed to be dealt with, so I brought my iPad with me to check for the email that I was expecting. Immediately, I felt a difference — my sense of peace was missing. I brought the world into the room. Since it is my practice not to  leave the birth room once I arrive, this caused me great anxiety. The more I checked my email, the more tension I felt, which caused my heart to race and most likely, my blood pressure as well. There was no peace, no ambiance, and no creative energy.

I was flitting back and forth from my iPad to writing and contemplating. I felt anxious because I was not relaxed and knew I was wasting precious time and could not concentrate or write my thoughts. The more I was aware that time was passing, the more agitated I became. I felt nothing. I was broken. The room was not serving its purpose. Why?

Since I have never had a problem leaving my thoughts behind whenever I stayed at the birth room, this was confusing to me. The only technology I relied on was my iPod because I enjoyed playing the Thoreau Family Flute Book as well as Aeolian harp music. Both were the background to my journaling and meditation. This time though something changed. Even the music had now become a distraction.

This back and forth went on for about two hours when suddenly my iPod went dead. I heard no music. Shrugging, I assumed that the battery went dead and needed to be charged. Although I could not figure out why, since I had charged it the previous night. I went to plug it into an outlet — nothing happened. There was no charge. I thought thought the battery was completely drained and needed to be plugged in for a few more minutes before a light would come on. After twenty minutes, I checked — blank screen. My heart sunk. My iPod was dead —no Aeolian harp and no flute music.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Henry’s words reverberated in my mind, “What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something outside of the woods?” Precious time was being wasted because I was not allowing my spirit to leave the world that I was supposed to leave behind. What business did I have trying to contemplate and write if my mind was outside this special room?

Upon realizing this, I quickly shut my iPad and put it away. “I’m all yours, Henry,” I silently thought to myself. Without the technology, including the music, my sense of peace was restored. My respirations were slow and steady, and my mind was clear of all that did not promote the sanctity of this room. The remaining six hours turned out to be one of complete renewal for me and the beginning of an extraordinary journey that I would be taking in the months that lay ahead.

After my time at the Writer’s Retreat was over and I returned to my hotel, a surprising thing occurred. My iPod turned on and worked. Now, I tend to believe in guidance from other realms, and I have no doubt that I was being reminded (perhaps, by Henry) that if my time was to be renewing for me, then I had to leave all that was not necessary behind. It was a remarkable lesson to learn from one who never had a problem doing that. It is a reminder we all need from time to time — leave the world outside. Sometimes, silence can be the most inspirational background music we can hear.

Therefore, I am left with this one thought for the next time I use Henry’s room: “What right do I have to be in the birth room, if I am thinking about something outside the birth room?”

Donna Marie Przybojewski is a teacher and children’s book author, who writes about Henry David Thoreau. Her books provide many young people with their first introduction to Henry and Transcendentalism.

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200 Years and Beyond!

Dear Friends,

Henry David Thoreau birthplace

As we come to the end of Henry David Thoreau’s Bicentennial year, I want to thank you for your support in helping to carry Henry’s legacy forward toward the next 200 years.

From left: Thoreau Society president Michael Schleifer, Thoreau Farm president Ken Lizotte and Thoreau Farm director Joseph Wheeler reveal the Henry David Thoreau Forever Stamp at the United States Postal Service special dedication ceremony on July 12, 2017.

Henry’s birthday bash on July 12 was one for the books! Folks from all over came to Thoreau Farm, Henry’s birthplace, to celebrate the 200th birthday of the man who went to the woods to live deliberately.

Festivities included celebrity speakers, a special issue of the U.S.P.S. Henry David Thoreau Forever Stamp, and the launch of our book, “What Would Henry Do?”

“What Would Henry Do?” can be ordered at Amazon.com, The Thoreau Society Shop at Walden Pond, or by your local bookseller.

This exceptional collection of essays features thoughtful contributions from President Jimmy Carter, Gregory Maguire, Frank Serpico, Lawrence Buell, Ed Begley, Jr., Laura Dassow Walls, and many other Thoreau scholars and activists.

Our programs this year included:
Natural History Tours
Mushroom Walks
Author Talks
Children’s Events
Presentations on Walden Pond

Your support allows us to offer free admission, guided tours, and educational events.

Thoreau Farm is the only historic house dedicated to the life and work of Henry David Thoreau. We need your support to keep the doors open and to reach Thoreauvians, old and new, who seek to learn more about Henry, the ethical man who led a deliberate life.

While community generosity in this bicentennial year has been strong, there is always more we can do. Every gift is appreciated. In honor of the Thoreau 200th, with your donation of $200 or more, you will receive a copy of “What Would Henry Do?”, our special tribute to Thoreau’s work. (“What Would Henry Do?” has a retail value of $24.95.)

Donate now by clicking on this link!

Here’s to Henry! Thank you for your support of Thoreau Farm.

Ken Lizotte, President

P.S. If you  have already made your 2017 gift to Thoreau Farm, thank you!

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Free Speech Around the World

By Harriet Martin

The law will never make a man free; it is men who have got to make the law free. – Henry David Thoreau

While on a trip in Northern Europe, I visited the Oslo Parliament building in the capital of Norway. Oslo is the center for government in the country of 5.2 million people. Scandinavian countries like Norway are famous for their constitutional protections of free speech. Norway gained a constitution in May of 1814, yet censorship has been banned since 1770. On the World Press Freedom Index, Norway ranks one out of 180 countries. The United States ranks 43. These Northern European countries paint a picture of a land, where Thoreau would look on in favor. Thoreau’s ideas conflicted with the mainstream in his time; the protection for those with new ideas  in some countries today would make him proud. Yet, the range of free speech protections can vary greatly around the world.

Parliament building in Oslo, Norway. (Credit: www.visitoslo.com)

On the negative end of spectrum, the first country we will look at is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a country rich in resources, namely oil, located in the Middle East. The Saudi government consists of a theocracy headed by a king, who commands the military forces. Internet censorship is one of the most prevalent examples of free speech limitations in the country. According to Free Speech and Free Press, over 2,000 pages are blocked, including pages on religion, humor and media. The right to peaceful protest, a cornerstone of American democracy, is definitely not followed in Saudi Arabia. Activists in the country have to live with the risk that they could be injured, or in some cases killed by police. 

Another country with a questionable record on free speech is China. A modern superpower with over 1.3 billion people, China will imprison journalists. NPR reports that China has imprisoned a record 199 journalists. In the graphic below, from the website Freedom House, countries are ranked by their level of freedom, which is a metric that takes into account many factors. The prevalence of free speech protections is a good indicator of the stability of a country.

Europe is completely free, when compared to the African and Asian continents. Africa and Asia are the current centers for political turmoil, which is reflected in how “free” they are. As you can see China as well as Saudi Arabia are a resounding “not free.”

Enough virtual globetrotting, let’s turn our gaze to home. In the U.S Constitution, the First Amendment guarantees every citizen very important rights: Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. It allows citizens to hold different points of view and is what makes the cultural mixing pot of America so fascinating. For the purpose of this blog, we will look at freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

However, the U.S is not completely free. As mentioned earlier, the U.S ranks 43 on the World Press Freedom Index, down from a ranking of 20.  This low ranking on the World Press Freedom Index is attributed to the Obama administration’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers that included eight Espionage Act Prosecutions as well of its investigation of journalists, according to rootsaction.org.

While the world and the United States have changed significantly since the time of Thoreau, it’s more vital than ever that we stand for what we believe in so we can live up to our moniker of  “nation of the free.”

Harriet Martin is a youth blogger for The Roost and a student at Concord-Carlisle High School.

 

    

    

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