Expect Great Things: The Life and Search of Henry David Thoreau
What makes this better than a biography is that it is written by another “ruminant walker” — a comrade in arms with Henry Thoreau. By the time I reached Chapter 2 of this book, I felt like I was reading Thoreau's Journals again, feeling the same sweet, contemplative mood as I accompanied Henry on his daily walks through the woods for 14 years. Looking at the cover artwork, featuring an artist's sketch of an old daguerreotype, it seems I'm looking into Kevin Dann's blue eyes. I followed Henry's walks through his native Concord, to Cape Cod, to Mt. Ktaadn in Maine, et al, reading about them about 150 years in the future. I followed Kevin's walk from Montreal past Lake Champlain to Brooklyn in real-time. How appropriate for one walker to document the life of another prominent walker. Henry documented the flora and fauna he encountered on his walks; Kevin documented the people and historical places on his walk. Pick up this book and join Kevin as he walks in Henry's footsteps and reports back to us on his progress through life. We know what Henry wrote; now we can begin to understand why he wrote.
In every book I read I look for the eponymous quote, the passage in which the book's title is revealed, and here is where I found it. Thoreau had just been surveying and found flowers he had never seen before in the area.
[[page 258] Owning that "a botanist's experience is full of coincidences," in that thinking about a flower never seen nearly always meant you would find it nearby someday, he turned his botanical experience into a general law of life: "In the long run, we find what we expect." We shall be fortunate then if we expect great things."]
Unfortunately, most people act as if they expect bad things to happen to them, and the universal rule still applies, namely, whatever you suppose is going to happen will likely happen to you. I gave this the form of a rule with an easy to say acronym, EAT-O-TWIST, which stands for Everything Allways Turns - Out - The Way It's Supposed To. When you find yourself supposing something bad might happen, you can quickly say the three-syllable phrase, eat-oh-twist, to remind you to change your own supposing. If you learn to apply this in your own thinking, you will drop every negative concept and replace it with a positive. For example, instead thinking this is going to be bad weather, you'll think we'll get some good weather where we live. If you study hypnosis, you learn that creating vivid images puts people into trance states. The word not cannot remove the negative image you create in your mind, for example, when you say, "This is not going to be a bad day for me." By the time you've thought that, some bad image will have been created in the form of an expectation. Saying, "This is going to be a good day" will create a better expectation. If you truly learn the power of expectation, you will agree with Thoreau that it is best to expect great things. Did Thoreau stop expecting great things for his book Walden when he was storing in a closet 500 unsold copies returned to him by his publisher? Given his statements above, we can predict that he expected great things to come from Walden, and that expectation led to great things, in its enormous popularity throughout the world and the salubrious effects it has had on so many lives.
Did Thoreau have a sense of humor? Not many biographers would notice that. But, yes, he did and admittedly a wry one such as in this story where he is confronted by farmers whose property he must cross for his surveying job. When one of them asked Thoreau if he were lost, not having seen him before on this land, Thoreau mused, "If the truth be known, and had it not been for betraying my secret, I might with more propriety have inquired, 'Are you not lost, as I have never seen you before?'" Who really owns the property but the one who walks it the most often?
Here is Henry's last entry in his Journal.
[[page 340, 341] He then turned to describing the storm of the previous evening and the long striations that the winds had left in the gravel along the railroad causeway. He gave the exact dimensions of the minute tracks: From behind each pebble projected a ridge an eighth of an inch high and an inch long. The very last line in this his very last journal entry reads: "All this is perfectly distinct to an observant eye and yet could easily pass unnoticed by most. Thus each wind is self-registering." With his last steps in life, Thoreau surely was leaving racks that could be made by no other man.]
Henry grew weak and asked Edmund Hosmer to stay the night with him.
[[page 342] The next morning, Sophia read to her brother the "Thursday" section of "A Week" and, anticipating the "Friday" section's description of the exhilarating return journey home, he murmured, "Now comes good sailing." At nine o'clock on the morning of May 6, Henry Thoreau set sail.]
Once more, as I did on Dec. 14, 2009 when I finished reading Volume 14 of his Journals, I am sad as I say Goodbye and Bon Voyage to my fellow traveler whose journey on the Earth ended some eighty years before mine began. I have read your long journals, your Walden, and have saved for later your other books, so that your memory, Henry, will never stay very far out of my consciousness and my soul. This is an excerpt from Bobby Matherne’s full review which can be read in DIGESTWORLD ISSUE DW#173.