Page 29 of Walden is loose. It slips from its place, dips into flight and begins the seesaw motion of falling to the floor. Instinctively I grab for it…as if it were glass and might shatter when it hits. I miss; it floats, lands, settles. There. Solo.
I lean over and do what we do with newspaper spread over the floor when we paint a room. I start to read: Penobscot Indians in Concord, “living in tents of thin cotton cloth, while the snow was nearly a foot deep around them…” It’s the Shelter section with its vestiges of a wild past and it modern, various “boxes” and their landlords “dogging you for rent.”
“I am far from jesting,” Henry writes, reminding us that he jests often, and that he is often “far” from expected opinion. “Economy is a subject which admits of being treated with levity, but it cannot be so disposed of.” Well, that explains why this initial chapter will stretch on for another 50 pages, testing attention spans and taxing interest before we finally get to spend time at the pond. We would know what’s “necessary” before taking up residence, after all.
The moment interests me, and I turn this copy of Walden on edge. Four more pages slip from their moorings; there is a scatter of Walden on the floor. And now it occurs to me that this book is so exquisitely written and structured that any one page opens out to the whole book’s universe of thought. Each leaf suggests a fullness of thought, an examined life caught in print.
I gather the fallen pages, slot them back into place and resume reading. I slip through familiar passages. Without looking at the numbers, I know what page I’m on. Then, my mind snags of something new, something unremembered. On the page before my falling leaf, I find this:
Every child begins the world again, to some extent, and loves to stay out doors, even in the wet and cold. It plays house, as well as horse, having an instinct for it. Who does not remember the interest with which when young he looked at shelving rocks, or any approach to a cave?
Here, in the season of fallen leaves and widening view, I see the “shelving rocks” off to the side of the trail, and I tend toward them.
Perhaps, I think, I’ll some day read Walden as its leaves fall.