I sat under the cover of a massive cedar tree on top of a steep hill hidden from Google Earth satellites, hoping a deer will walk within bow range.
After five days of exploring “Walden” with my Adventure Literature classes, it was no surprise that Thoreau’s words blew in on me after half an hour of seeing nothing but squirrels.
Transcendentalism is often oversimplified to where it’s about being a nonconformist and heading into the woods — which people like Chris McCandless did and, maybe thanks to the tone of the book “Into the Wild,” achieved almost hero status among ideological teenagers and young adults dissatisfied with the prospect of, or actual adulthood. The great irony, both of my classes decided, was how dependent (through hitchhiking, friendliness and kindness) McCandless was on the society he decided to leave, once he left it. A nonconformist who abandoned his vehicle will need a conformist if he wants to get around.
Anyway, there is value in thinking and discussing -ists, -isms, and political affiliations, but I wonder if we spend too much time trying to subscribe to one so we can tell other people or because it makes it easier come voting time. You know, rather than practicing a version of something that makes us feel optimized, we are preoccupied with something that makes us sound enlightened. It begs the question, why spend so much energy trying to impress people who just really don’t care and even if they did, it wouldn’t matter?
Is it more important for me to feel like a good man who hunts or look like a good hunter?
The hunting and angling worlds are rank with posturing — worth is calculated by points, pounds, inches, etc. It’s filled with honest people who ethically and dutifully go to the woods and take responsibility for the acquisition of meat, but also unfriendly types who feel they are without flaw or have nothing more to learn.
Like it or not, hunters carry the same title, and nuance isn’t always considered, especially in the areas of the country in which all hunting is deemed socially unacceptable and all hunters are bloodthirsty psychopaths. Should I care about what they think? Yeah, some of them. I should care about what other people think of me. The right people.
It doesn’t matter if I think I am an honest or trustworthy person, what matters is whether or not how I act and what I do makes me that in the eyes of others. If nobody thinks I am trustworthy or reasonable, then it doesn’t matter what I think.
Lifestyle expert and Podcaster Jay Ferruggia says, “That doesn’t mean I let someone’s opinion of me dictate what I do or do not do. That would be weak. It means that I do my best to uphold the time-tested virtues of masculinity — strength, courage, honor and mastery.”
If the word “masculinity” set off an alarm, then you’ve missed the point.
A student asked me if I was a Transcendentalist. I said no. That it would take too much time to figure out exactly what that meant, how it could maybe be applied in this contemporary context, and all for what? So, I could label myself, tell people, then eventually fall short of the philosophical or political standards?
Next week we can Stand for Salmon or Stand for Alaska, but apparently not both, and there are people likely waiting to question whether or not you’re really on the team, whether you really qualify as a (fill in the blank) depending on your vote.
You can save yourself some reading, vote “No” like a good anti-regulation disciple, or cash your Permanent Fund check, then vote “Yes” because “No” is funded by Big Oil … ignoring the irony.
Or you can forget groupthink, come to a better why and know it was right.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.