10 Things You Might Not Know About Walden

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Walden is one of the most quotable books in American literature. Henry David Thoreau filled the book with gems like, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Or, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Or that old chestnut, “Simplify, simplify.” Of course, Thoreau’s account of his time in the woods is much more than just fodder for motivational posters—it’s a work of transcendentalist philosophy that shaped how people see the natural world today.

1. Before going to the woods, Henry David Thoreau started a 300-acre forest fire.

One windy day in 1844, Thoreau went fishing with a friend. On the way back, the duo stopped by the water in order to cook a meal. A spark from their campfire set a nearby patch of dry grass ablaze, resulting in a massive blaze spanning 300 acres. The fire was put out before it reached the town of Concord, but for years after that, people mocked Thoreau, calling him “woods burner.”

2. It was a friend who suggested that Thoreau build a cabin in the woods.


Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Although publicly he claimed otherwise, Thoreau felt lost. Wracked with guilt and struggling to overcome his damaged reputation, he tried to plot out his next steps. His friend, the poet William Ellery Channing, wrote to him in a letter: “I see nothing for you in this earth but that field which I once christened 'Briars'; go out upon that, build yourself a hut, & there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive. … Eat yourself up; you will eat nobody else, nor anything else.”

Four months later, Thoreau was living in a cabin in the woods. His experiment was 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.”

3. Ralph Waldo Emerson owned Walden Pond.

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Poet and fellow transcendentalist thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson was also Thoreau’s champion throughout his lifetime, giving him shelter and work when he needed assistance, and helping him get published. Because of their bond, Emerson’s land beside Walden Pond was a natural place for Thoreau to try his experiment.

In Thoreau’s time, the local forests had been depleted by Concord’s rapid growth, the construction of the railroad, and the expansion of agriculture. Emerson purchased the land surrounding Walden Pond in an attempt to save the lot's trees. (Today, thanks to reforestation efforts, there are more trees around the Massachusetts town than there were in the 1840s.)

4. Thoreau's cabin cost him less than $30 to build.

Thoreau borrowed an axe and chopped down pine trees to clear a place for his house. Then he bought a shanty from another man and recycled the boards, pulling out nails and letting them bleach in the sun. He enlisted friends, including Emerson, Channing, and Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott, to raise the frame and set the roof. The result was a shingled cabin, 10 feet wide by 15 feet long, boasting two windows, a garret, closet, and fireplace. Behind the house was an outhouse and a woodshed made from scraps. Thoreau used the pond as his bathtub and the spring for his drinking water. He calculated that the construction of his cabin cost him about $28.12.

5. Thoreau was not a hermit.

Though he escaped to the woods in search of a simpler life, Thoreau wasn't trying to drop out of society—far from it. Walden Pond was less than 2 miles from Concord, and Thoreau often visited family and friends, sometimes staying with them for days. He also played host. “It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain,” he wrote. “I have had twenty-five or thirty souls, with their bodies, at once under my roof.”

6. Thoreau lived in the cabin for two years, two months, and two days.


Wikimedia Commons // CC BY SA-3.0

Although Walden is divided into four seasons, Thoreau lived in the cabin for twice that long. He planted a garden and lived off its fruit and vegetables plus whatever he could gather from the woods. His days were spent tending his garden, chopping wood, swimming, rowing, fishing in the lake, playing flute, and meditating. He also wrote in his journal every day and completed his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.

7. It took Thoreau nine years to write Walden.

After leaving the cabin, Thoreau went through draft after draft of Walden. It finally hit shelves in 1854. His journal entry that day said simply, “Walden published. Elder-berries. Waxwork yellowing.” In the first year, the book sold 1744 of its initial 2000 copies—a vast improvement over A Week's measly 294—although it didn’t sell out completely until 1859.

8. Thoreau inspired the Conservation movement.

Thoreau was one of the first major thinkers to write about conservation issues. One of his disciples was John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, who in 1903 convinced Theodore Roosevelt to make Yosemite the first national park.

9. the eagles' Don Henley helped save Walden Pond from developers.

In 1989, rock star Don Henley was watching the news when he learned that 68 acres of Walden Woods was about to be bulldozed for an office complex and condominium. Henley, a Thoreau fan, launched the Walden Woods Project, a fundraising group whose aim was to stop development. Membership included everyone from Meryl Streep to John Kerry and Bonnie Raitt to Alex Haley. To date, 80 percent of Walden Woods is protected by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Walden Woods Project, and others.

10. There's a Walden video game.

The National Endowment for the Arts gave University of Southern California’s Game Innovation Lab a $40,000 grant to create a video game based on the book. Walden, A Game is a first person simulation of Thoreau’s time in the woods. Users can “follow in his footsteps, surviving in the woods by finding food and fuel and maintaining their shelter and clothing.” No word if you can stop by Emerson’s house for tea. It's currently available to play on Macs, PCs, and PlayStation 4 and will soon be available for Xbox users.

This story has been updated for 2019.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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13 Things You Might Not Know About H.P. Lovecraft

Crabitha, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Crabitha, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Though it’s been more than a century since H.P. Lovecraft was born, the writer’s weird fiction and cosmic horror remain both influential and problematic. Lovecraft’s ghastly tales of alien gods, bloodguilty families, and collapsing civilizations have influenced authors like Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell. The new HBO horror series Lovecraft Country—which was created by Misha Green and executive produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out) and J.J. Abrams (Star Wars)—explores 1950s racism via dramatic encounters with Lovecraftian monsters. Check out some facts about this twisted soul from Providence, Rhode Island. (Warning: Some of the sources linked within contain offensive and racist language.)

1. H.P. Lovecraft had a tough childhood.

Born on August 20, 1890, Howard Phillips Lovecraft grew up under tragic, bizarre circumstances. His father, suffering from what was likely syphilis-induced psychosis, entered Providence’s Butler Hospital in 1893 and died there in 1898. (His mother went into the same mental hospital after World War I.) Lovecraft’s grandfather told him horror stories, and Lovecraft honed his lurid imagination by devouring Edgar Allan Poe and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. After his grandfather’s death, his family fell into poverty, and he had a nervous breakdown before graduating high school.

2. H.P. Lovecraft’s iconic monsters have murky origins.

When Lovecraft, at age 5, lost his grandmother, his mother and aunts wore eerie black mourning dresses. His subsequent nightmares may have inspired his black-winged, demonic Night-Gaunts. Another of his monsters, Dagon, is a water denizen with a “hideous head” and “scaly arms,” and the name, which Lovecraft first used in a 1919 short story, matches that of the Biblical god of the Philistines. And the infamous Cthulhu, a gigantic octopus-dragon hybrid, may reflect Lovecraft’s hatred of seafood.

3. H.P. Lovecraft co-wrote a short story about Egypt with Harry Houdini.

In 1924, the editor of Weird Tales paid Lovecraft $100 to write “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs,” based on Houdini’s claim that he’d once been kidnapped and trapped underground near the Great Pyramid of Giza. Lovecraft figured this was bogus, but did extensive Egyptological research. The legendary magician offered Lovecraft more projects, but died in 1926 before they could collaborate further.

4. H.P. Lovecraft struggled to support himself.

Reclusive and socially inept, Lovecraft scraped by financially, sometimes by living with his family, sometimes being supported by his wife Sonia Greene. He wrote more than 60 short stories, plus some novels and novellas, but also penned an estimated 100,000 letters to friends and fans. Sometimes he skipped meals to pay for postage.

5. Metal bands are obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft.

Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” and “The Thing That Should Not Be” invoke Lovecraft’s greatest monster, as does Cradle of Filth’s “Cthulhu Dawn.” Black Sabbath’s “Behind The Wall of Sleep” is inspired by a 1919 Lovecraft story. Morbid Angel guitarist Trey Azagthoth derived his stage name from Azathoth, one of Lovecraft’s gods. The list goes on.

6. H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness influenced the movie Alien.

Alien writer Dan O’Bannon was influenced by Lovecraft’s 1936 novella about an ill-fated Antarctica expedition. Both stories involve explorers getting attacked by mysterious creatures in an unfamiliar environment, and the Alien somewhat physically resembles Cthulhu. Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who designed the facehuggers and chestbursters in Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic, released a surreal art book entitled Necronomicon, named after Lovecraft’s oft-cited spellbook.

7. Providence, Rhode Island, abounds with H.P. Lovecraft-related tourist attractions.

The city features the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences store and Lovecraft’s grave, among other highlights. Plus, Brown University houses the world’s largest collection of Lovecraft papers.

8. H.P. Lovecraft had a love-hate relationship with New York.

While residing in Brooklyn, Lovecraft enjoyed roaming around the Big Apple in search of ideas and hobnobbing with other literary types in the Kalem Club. However, 1927’s “Horror at Red Hook,” a story set in the neighborhood and involving occult sacrifices, displayed his xenophobia.

9. H.P. Lovecraft loved cats.

In a pompous essay entitled “Cats and Dogs,” he wrote: “The cat is such a perfect symbol of beauty and superiority that it seems scarcely possible for any true aesthete and civilised cynic to do other than worship it.” Horror stories like “The Cats of Ulthar” and “The Rats in the Walls” also reflect his penchant for felines. As a boy, Lovecraft owned a black cat whose name was a racial slur.

10. H.P. Lovecraft was extremely racist.

There’s no avoiding it: Lovecraft’s fiction, poetry, and correspondence include bigoted statements about Black, Jewish, and Irish people—among many other backgrounds. He admired Hitler and supported white supremacy. Recently, his troubling legacy has come under the microscope.

11. The World Fantasy Awards stopped using H.P. Lovecraft statuettes after the 2015 awards.

These awards, which have taken place annually since 1975, honor the best fantasy fiction published the year before. Winners used to receive a small bust of Lovecraft. That tradition ended due to his racist history. YA author Daniel José Older (Shadowshaper) petitioned to replace it with an Octavia Butler statuette. However, in 2017, the organizers unveiled a new design with a tree in front of a full moon.

12. A Wisconsin publishing house pumped up H.P. Lovecraft’s fame after his death.

If August Derleth and Donald Wandrei hadn’t co-founded Arkham House in Sauk City, Wisconsin, Lovecraft’s work might have languished in obscurity. After Lovecraft died of cancer at age 46 in 1937, Derleth and Wandrei wanted to put out a hardcover anthology of his fiction. When no established publisher bit, they published The Outsider and Others themselves in 1939. More omnibuses followed, and over the decades, Lovecraft became a household name.

13. H.P. Lovecraft continues to influence popular culture.

Besides Lovecraft Country, there are lots of recent reimaginings to choose from. South Park spoofed Cthulhu in 2010. Lovecraft’s influence on the 2016-launched Netflix series Stranger Things is well-documented. Between 2016 and 2018, Mark Hamill and Christopher Plummer lent their voices to the animated Howard Lovecraft film trilogy by Arcana Studio. Also, Nicolas Cage stars in the 2019 movie Color Out of Space, based on the Lovecraft story of that name.