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The third of July it is the eve of Independence Day, the day when each man must proclaim liberty from tyranny or submit to oppression. Forty men signed themselves to condemnation and with their ink stains formed a more perfect union, and thousands more signed with their blood. Freedom is not without pain and relief not without suffering. Freedom is a choice! Tomorrow is the day of jubilation and accolades, not Today. Today is the hard incessant lump in your throat that you can’t swallow away. You are responsible for Today, not tomorrow.
Today in Massachusetts, just outside of the city of Concord, the newborn sun stretched its legs. Ralph Waldo was seated on the edge of his chair in his cluttered study intently reading. The study was comprised of many worn out books with tattered pages from careful examination. The sunbeams refracted off the dust particles floating in the musty air. The only sound was his deft fingers as he flicked the pages.
“Incredible,” Ralph said shouting to no one in particular. “This ‘Narrative[i]’ is spell-binding. Frederick has endured much more than any man I have ever known, and not as much as some Men that he knew.” He was referring to Frederick Douglass’ narrative; he had been most of the night reading it. Ralph had arisen early this morning to finish it before going in to town.
Lydiar, his wife, upon hearing his rant entered the study with a mischievous smile on her face. She watched his obsessive action. “So that is what kept you out of my bed last night…a big, strong Negro man.” Ralph shifted his disgruntled scowl at her. He tried to wipe her comments way with a ‘tsk, tsk’ and the strong wave of his hand. But the sunlight traced a shadow her body’s outline against the white hall wall behind her, he paused for a moment. His mind carried him away, ’god she is beautiful! Lydiar, no that name is to plain…how about Lidian[ii], yeah that sounds more eloquent and rolls off the tongue. Lidian my love no fuller could I be of thee…’
“Uhhumm!” She injected politely. This snapped him back to reality. “I know what you mean Ralph, I’ve read it twice. The part where he and Covey go at it and have that tussle, really sticks in my mind. I half-way close my eyes and hold my breath until I am through it; I rarely make it. I huff and puff my way through it, the way I imagine Old Covey did fighting Fred.[iii].” She turned her sparkling blue eyes back to Ralph as he was just staring straight at her.
She was speaking in simple terms but he heard nothing but the warmth of her voice; it was like nectar for his soul. She had stopped speaking and they just stared at each other. Lydiar looked away, out the window into the sunlight. The silence was quickly broken.
“So I hear that you and boyfriend are going into town to see the Mr. Douglass, eh?” Lydiar ribbed him as she tapped her fingers on the door frame.
“He is not my boy…..” Ralph stopped short his defense when he heard a rapping at the side door, besides they WERE inseparable. Ralph just shrugged it off and mutter under his breath. He grunted and turned his attention to reading.
“Edgar, is that you[iv]? “Lydiar called out to the visitor as she spun on her heel and went to check it out.
“No.” Replied the husky voice,” but I am looking for a man named Usher[v]. I hear he has some property that I might be interested in acquiring.” Henry David said through the thin glass window of the side door. Lydia threw open the door and embraces Henry in a warm hug. “I hear it is going at a cracked priced.”
“Come in, come in. Ralph is in,” she mouthed the words ‘the study’. “Can I get you something to drink or eat?” Lydiar asked with her arms still around the ruddy Henry David.
“No, my sweet lady…well yes maybe some coffee!” Henry gave her one last squeeze and chuckled as he turned his attention toward the study. “You know Lydiar, Ralph spends a lot of time reading the very books he supposedly eschews.” He raised his voice just loud enough for Ralph to hear it. Henry turned left from the side door and went down the short hall. The sunlight was bursting through the doorframe.
Ralph shouted back a slow response to Henry’s ribbing, “Being a hermit has not only made you nobler but wittier[vi].” At that moment Henry turned the corner and stood in the spotlight of the study.
“My good man are you about ready, you know we have to be in to town by two o’clock. You know how much I hate to rush our walks.” Henry said. He looked down to try and figure out what Ralph was reading.
“Oh keep you hat on good fellow only ten more pages and I shall be done in a flash,” Ralph answered and noted the curious posture of his friend and replied with sarcasm, “Yes, it is HIS narrative…and yes I know I have read it many times before, but I just wanted to refresh before we went to town. I should feel he is doing the same for us. Though I hope he is not reading ‘Walden!’ It may delay our meeting…He may be found asleep.”
“Well, if he decides to read ‘Nature[vii]’ them maybe we should reschedule for next week.” Henry shot back with a biting tone but not too sharp.
The warm and comforting aroma of coffee filled the house just as Ralph put the book away. Henry noticed something on his desk, a letter that was opened and sticking out. It started out, “to my dearest Ralph, brother of my soul…” This was one Henry had not read, he would definitely read it later but now there simply was not time.
“Boys, the coffee is done.” Lydiar’s voice carried like a heavy brewed aroma.
“We are coming Lidian dear!” Ralph said as he hurried Henry out of the study.
“Lidian…Lidian…Ralph what is all that about?” Henry peered at his friend in disbelief, “You don’t like her name?” He asked.
Ralph shrugged his shoulders and unleashed an uncontrollable smile; the kind that a child can’t hide because their bodies are too small to contain it.
Ralph and Henry entered the kitchen area where one mug of coffee sat on the enormous oak dining table. Lydiar had also set a plain glass of water waiting for Henry[viii]. Lydiar grinned, “You boys behave on your Walk; no punching, biting, hair pulling or pushing. Hopefully you will not be on such topic to invoke this behavior…oh and not tattling if you do?” Lydiar burst in to laughter and hugged Ralph and kissed him vigorously. She did not consider this public affection because Henry was family.
“Lidian, don’t you have some womanly duties to do…and don’t act so WOMANLY in front of the boy dear, you’ll put rotten ideas and dreams in his head.” Ralph said as he placed on last peck upon her delicious lips. ‘Tastes like sweet marmalade,’ he thought.
Henry who coughed a suspicious cough said, “More like nightmares if I have to watch the likes of you…” Ralph pushed Henry out the door as Henry called back to Lidiar, “and by the way I am not the choir boy…as a matter of fact I don’t go to church on Sundays or any other day.” They crossed the clearing and into the dark, rich Walden Forest.
The approached the well-trodden path with long strides. Ralph looked up to the heavens and sighed. He then gave thanks to God for this blessed treasure. Henry looked deeper into the forest and listened to the melody of the trees that swayed and the songs of many birds. The harmony of the rustling leaves in time with the adventurous song of the blue jay intoxicated both Men.
“This Ralph is a prime piece of land my friend and may be the best place to harvest our walks in the world.” Henry said as he drank in the sounds of the forest.
Ralph nodded his head but replied oddly, “how many musket balls do you think I have purchased since making Walden my abode…you know by my paying taxes to the Joint-Stock Company[ix].”
Henry’s face turned a bit sour, “go ahead you vile human and return home, you are going to ruin my Walk[x].”
“Now you know that even while you were paying your hermitic dues here I was also paying taxes…So have many muskets do you think that you have aided me in purchasing or that have been purchase to aide you in your HOLY quest,” Ralph chided Henry. It sent Henry in to fit as Ralph continued to prod, “and maybe your night in jail doesn’t mean as much, I mean if you take into account the two years I paid taxes on Walden and you….”
“Now listen here old chap…I have never aided you in any allegiance with the Company to back any war with any other country…and how dare you defile MY civil disobedience with your lascivious, lunatic ramblings. You have gone quite mad.” Henry replied with all the dignity he could muster.
He had never thought of it like that, but he could not be swayed so quickly in the Walk to succumb to the banter of his mentor. “And by and by how did you Utopia village pan out for you…oh that is right you never got started! So I am the true NON-CONFORMIST. I followed my own genius[xi], but you, a woman talked you out of it[xii]. A little tiny woman dissuaded you from your own voice…some Man that you are.” Henry let out a “humph” to put the finally emphatic emphasis that the match had began and it was every Man[xiii] for himself. “The fact of your kindness, company and board while I was a hermit…I guess you should have equipped me with more skill and with greater utensils.”
Ralph was silent a minute watching a squirrel eating an acorn. “OH, here it goes. The sage of all sage is going to speak,” Henry says mocking the silence from his Walking partner, “Look out everyone here comes Ralph and his hairy-legged, giant, transcendent eye-ball[xiv]…ahhhh!”
Ralph slowly stood from his crouched position. He observed a mischievous squirrel, “You say I have no conviction, no gumption, because I did not go where my genius was going to lead me…I did not listen to my Whim[xv], “Ralph reiterated each implied accusation as they descend down the trail leading deeper in to the dark, green shadowy, Walden forest, “my dear boy it is called a whim for good reason, in that it does not take reason into account always and the fact remains that I am sure it was not my genius that called to me, I believe it was my ignorance and self-righteousness. There is a grand difference in knowing how to determine between the two…and sometimes you need help…and yes that may even be from someone seemingly inferior.”
Henry laughed as he replied, “So you needed the perspective of petite, independent woman to wrangle in the capricious, Giant Eye of Genius?”
“Well, there are times…” Ralph began but Henry cut him off.
“Spare me the lecture doc, but I think that inferior woman had you wrapped so tight that you would have barked like a bitch, had that been her request.” Retorted Henry.
“Well, ummm, well…I suppose…umm,” Ralph continued for a few seconds to retract and stumble over his words, “now she was a pretty little thing though.” but Ralph finally conceded, “I do love my Lidian.”
“Argh…would you quit saying that! Her name is Lydiar…Lydiar…what is that not good enough for you,” Henry lashed out in fun.
There have walked nearly a fourth of the way through there walk and the both become aware of this fantastic ray of sunlight that cut through the dense forest. It illuminated parts of the path before them and the creek below them.
The path that they walked descended with a mild grade near the mouth of the forest and then had a sharp drop just before it reached the creek. The Forest was filled with oak and elm tree with their long reaching roots. Sometimes they protruded the well-traveled soil of the path.
The silence lasted for a few minutes as the Men soaked in the beauty of nature. Ralph spotted a very nice elm branch that could be harvested for a grand walking stick. He pulled the small, brittle branches away and then started picking away at the bark. “Henry, you know that I walked away?” Ralph said not looking up. He just picked away at the branch.
Henry looked puzzled and said, “You mean from the Margret?”
“Ah! No! My family, my congregation, my friends…I left it all for my genius,” Ralph’s voice grew somber and there was a little sorrow in his tone. “I took up my cross and I walked away!”
“It was honest.” Henry said lying all joking aside.
“There that should do it,” Ralph proclaimed as he held up his freshly naked stick, the dermis of the branch was exposed. The path before them was damp and steep and the stick would prove useful for Ralph. The footholds of the each Man became more deliberate. Just in front of the Men there was a brilliant ray of sunlight coming across the path and glinted off the mossy tree beside it. “Such beauty…,” Ralph replied as he glanced upward to find the source of the sunlight, “such a beautiful Creator,” he ended his search upon the tall oak swaying in the adequate breeze.
“YOUR Creator…oh you mean the one that will leave your rotting corpse on this earth and let you decompose like that decaying tree stump, “Henry said as he gestured toward the blackened elm stump that have been rotten for years,” your only job will be to fertilize others; you will be the food that births the wildflowers of your meadow.” The more he talked the less he paid attention to the path, “The farmers say that humans and animals give a soil good nutrients…but I am sure that a Man of your caliber would…..whooaaa[xvi]!!!” Henry’s voice trailed off as a huge thud is heard all through forest. A root that was protruded the path grabbed his available foot. Henry had landed face first in the mud and muck of the path. Leaves and bits of rocks cushioned his fall. He plummeted down the steep incline to the bank of the creek. Ralph, who was mesmerized by the sunlight, heard the thud and chased after Henry. Ralph minded his steps down the hill; still he slid most of the way.
“Henry?” Ralph called out of breath again,” Henry, are you all right?” Henry had planted himself at the edge of the creek bank with his arms dipping into the creek, he only moaned. “My good man, I say are you okay?” Ralph called out again. He stopped and placed his hands on his weakened knees.
When Ralph reached the creek bank Henry was shook the creek water from his shirtsleeve and crawled upon to his knees. He swiveled his head around to look at Ralph and spit a chunk of rock and muck from his mouth. “thoooffff!” Henry hacked and coughed. Ralph glanced at Henry’s bloody and muddy head. Henry’s looked so disgusted, “Blasted! What a thing to ruin a Walk.”
Ralph burst out in laughter and slapped his knee. He could no longer contain the comical nature of this event. “You devilish fiend, stop you foolery and help me up…ruined my shirt.” Henry barked to Ralph. Ralph grabbed his stomach as he sat down on the creek bank short of breath from the hard laugh.
“Henry can I get you a towel…” Ralph asked before he let out a hysterical laughing fit. Henry rose to his feet and shook out his shirt. He sighed as he let the sunlight smack him in the face and he just grinned.
“Let us cross over the creek and swing around back to your house,” Henry suggested,” and there may be time yet for my shirt to dry.”
“Non-sense my good man,” Ralph replied, “I think I can spare a shirt, besides you weren’t going to wear that to see Fred were you?” Ralph slapped the bare skin of Henry as they walked across the mossy stones of the creek and continued the Walk.
They walked in silence up the ravine; slipped occasionally on the roots and loose soil. The sound of Walden was peaceful except, well except for the noon train as it rumbled past. Henry glanced toward the train whistle and sighs,” It would be as pure as ancient Puris out here if not for Fitchburg[xvii].” Henry thought out loud. Ralph continued the path with heavier issues on his mind.
“What makes a man a Man? Can an inferior man become Man?” Ralph asked as he pinched his bottom lips. The men trudged up the hillside. Ralph began to lean more upon the staff. The dirt on his hands from stained the pure naked wood a smudgy, chocolate brown.
Henry quipped, “Well I thought you already had the first question nailed down! You could have fooled me!” Henry poked Ralph in the side with his forefinger.
Ralph grunted and used his classic hand wave to dismiss the comment before he clarified his concerns. “What I am saying is do you think that Frederick is a Man? Has he or can he transcend his status enough to Higher Law[xviii]?”
“I do not think of Frederick as inferior[xix]!” Henry retorted.
“No, no, not inferior…well maybe just…scientifically speaking they are weaker and less intelligent.” Ralph answered back to Henry who shook his head as if to say that Ralph could not be serious about his scientific theory. His staff sunk deeper and deeper in to Walden soil. It becomes encrusted the sharp tip with layers of mud and grass.
Henry grunted at this suggestion and replied,” Science or no science, they should not be able to come and hunt this people like a herd of mavericks; beating them and stripping them down to check to see if their brand is still there. THEY crush their spirits and destroy their Soul, no human frail or strong should be subjected to that heinous torture.” Henry stopped for a second and looked at his friend then spoke. “Ralph what if you were you? What if you’re a child on a plantation growing up in horror off losing your life? Or seeing those you loved killed for minimal demerits? Do you think that you could think yourself out of it…Transcend that pain?”
Ralph was silent.
Henry continued on, “everyone in Concord wants to talk about slavery and pity it. It is a conversation topic. It is proper to oppose it but do nothing about it. Intellectual murder and consent by those who do nothing to stop it. How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.[xx]”
The rest of the walk was somber and intense.
They reached the end of the forest and cross the plush meadow that led to the safety of Ralph’s home. Once inside the house Ralph grabbed Henry a dry, clean shirt and placed the stained one in the dirty laundry, for Lydiar to wash.
The Trio walked into town and enjoyed light and playful conversation; the more dense topics would be brought up later with Frederick. In the distant background a determined locomotive whistled along the Edge of Walden forest[xxi].
“Ahhh…something about that whistle sounds so relaxing and the hypnotic ‘chug-a-chug-a…” Lydiar said as she melted into Ralph. He acted as if he paid her no attention but felt completely filled inside with affection of his wife. Henry ruined the moment with some third-wheel comic relief.
“AAAKKKKK, AAAAAKKKKK!!!!” Henry flaps his arms and mimicked the cries of an anger hawk[xxii]. “That dreadful sound kept me up many nights; the sound and smell of commerce in the morning (Walden).” Lydiar and Henry chuckled together. Ralph ginned but his mouth started to form a sentence as his mind is raced forth. He was interrupted by Henry,” No, no, not another lecture on the benefits of Coal, and how it will revolutionize industry!” Henry rolled his eyes as he said with biting sarcasm, “I say the only thing it will bring is more despair and slavery; Man’s slavery to man (Delong).” All three burst out in laughter. Ralph chased Henry and got him in a headlock. No one else extracted this behavior from Ralph, but just being around Henry made him feel younger.
They arrived into the Village at around two o’clock. The group had traveled along the Concord River and had just crossed over the North Bridge when Lydiar pointed to the Old Manse[xxiii]. Ralph looked up at the monstrosity of a home and he stopped. He could no longer hear the birds of summer nor feel the sun upon his skin. No, his blood ran cold. “PFFOLLT…SWEEEEEZZ, PHFFOLLT…SWEEEZZZ.” His ears were consumed with English musket balls tearing into the brave flesh of those enlisted men of the Continental Army[xxiv]. His hand shook. Lydiar grabbed his hands to steady them. “Are you alright Ralph? You look really pale!”
Ralph grew pale and speechless; a repressed memory was spewed forth. Henry broke the dreary mood with a joke. “It looks horrible; Nathan sure has let this place go!”
When the Walking party reached the town limits. They passed length-wise the locomotive that made that entire racket earlier. It had just come to a complete stand still and the madness that surround it was about to explode. Young hired hands approached the back cars with dollies and cart to relieve the train of its goods. Those that were passengers or awaiting goods or people were covered with a thin layer of soot. Pollution it is a necessary evil for such comforts and commerce.
The trio trudged on through the town greeting their neighbors with ample salutations and conversation. The sun was high in the sky, it was well past noon, and it was directly above the village. It illuminated the village; it refracted off the store windows. It caused the majority of the citizens to cover their eyes with their free hand. It was the only way to deflect the glare. The sun glared though brought a juicy richness to the tree and grass, empowering it with the truest hue of their DNA.
Lydiar and Ralph strolled arm in arm down State Street while the Walking stick remained in his open and free hand. He had used it very little on the city roads, just enough to dull the sharp pointed end and de-crusted the residual mud from Walden Forest. They strolled along Lydiar spotted one of her good girlfriends, “Ralph, you Boys have fun tonight and if it gets to late just stay the night at the Inn, I will be with Rose for the rest the day.” Lydiar tipped toed up and kissed Ralph good bye. She gave him smile then bounded off across the road to Rose. The two disappeared into Redding and Company store; shopping.
“Well, Henry we are bachelors now! Free to go and get our beard damp with some lively libations.” Ralph said as they headed to Wright’s tavern[xxv].
“Doe she know her husband is a coward or is she just being silly,” asked Henry,” I have walked from here and back to Walden in the blackest of nights. Sometimes it was only the light within me that showed me the way[xxvi].”
“(You) Must have gotten lost every time then!” Ralph shot back with a little bite. “And no we won’t be staying town unless Frederick asks us to, beside the my house is not far and regardless of how dark the night or dim you intrinsic light we will find our way home.” They entered in to the tavern and picked a table in the very back of the room. Ralph propped his walking stick against the wall and sat down while Henry grabbed a couple of drinks from the bar.
[i] Frederick Douglass, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself (1845).
[iii] Frederick Douglass, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself (1845).
[iv] Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven: The Treasury of American Poetry (1978) pg 156.
[v] Edgar Allen Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher, Anthology of American Literature, Volume B, 6th Edition (2004) pg.
[vi] Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854).
[vii] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836).
[viii] Michael Moncur, Quotations Page Henry David Thoreau (1994-2005) E:\Henry David Thoreau Quotes – The Quotations Page.htm
[ix] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, Anthology of American Literature, Volume B, 6th Edition (2004) pg 1160-1176.
[x] Henry David Thoreau, Walking, Anthology of American Literature (W.W. Norton And Company, New York New York 2004) pg 1993-2016.
[xi] Self-Reliance, pg 1160-61
[xii] English 421 Lecture Notes, Margret Fuller: she talked him out of going through with it (November 3, 2005).
[xiii] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar, Anthology of American Literature, Volume B 6th Edition (2004) pg.
[xiv] American Transcendentalism, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Nature (1836) pg 996.
[xv] Self-Reliance, pg.
[xvi] David D. Cooper, Thoreau’s Ecstatic Witness (the Duke University Press 2003) http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/american_literature/v075/75.3cooper.html.
[xvii] Walden, Sounds (1854) pg.
[xviii] English 421 Lecture Notes, November 1, 2005
[xix] English 421 Lecture Notes, November 3, 2005
[xx] Michael Moncur, Quotations Page Henry David Thoreau (1994-2005) E:\Henry David Thoreau Quotes – The Quotations Page.htm.
[xxi] Walden, Sounds (1854) pg.
[xxii] Walden, Sounds (1854) pg.
[xxvi] Walden pg.