Meal and a Walk with Mr. Thoreau
Another Saturday with blue stretching across the sky, so Mr. Thoreau and I step out to take a walk. It being near lunch, I persuade my friend to suspend his conversation until we can sit down at the buffet of a local barbeque place. Well, not at the buffet, but if I had been allowed that may have been the case.
I picked a black styrofoam plate and mused that the three compartments were not worthy of the wonders I was about to place on it. A pile of green beans slow cooked with bacon and ham. Creamy macaroni and cheese with real cheddar melted in and on top. Hush Puppies thick with onions and cornmeal and peppers that did not burn but excite the tongue. Okra fried the color of tanned leather, the little bits popping with flavor in your mouth. And fried catfish fillets as big as my hand that tastes like home and summer and everything good in the world.
I sit down with this feast on a heated screened-in porch,and Mr. Thoreau tuts at me. That is his way, his simplified custom. He has a bit of green bean and a splash of sweet iced tea when I am careless and not paying attention as he talks, but otherwise he does not eat.
What he does do is talk. He takes the time when we are surrounded by other diners to talk about the wonders of solitude. My attention drifts to the people on the heated porch around us. Three people in their mid-twenties are to our left, a doctor in scrubs is in front of us on the far right and two teenage girls are on the far left.
The doctor and his wife talk in hushed tones, a polite conversation that you can tell has been had a dozen times before. The teenage girls are excited by their cell phones, jumping up to run around the table to show each other a picture or what have you. My focus turns to the twenty somethings as they discuss the jobs they now have after high school, there impending high school reunion now one year closer and another barbecue joint that I have to agree is better than the one we are at but also pricier and a longer drive away. Too far for Mr. Thoreau and I to walk, anyway.
Mr. Thoreau continues on and off during the meal, but I find it difficult to concentrate on him. He understands and does not push as I gorge myself. He is content to wait until we are out on the street, out on the trail walking in the quiet wood.
I finish and we leave. I think about taking a drink with me, but then weigh juggling my attention with Mr. Thoreau, a drink and my jacket at the same time and decide against. With our recent storm trouble there is more traffic than usual, but we get to the walking trail soon enough with little discussion. Once there, however, Mr. Thoreau begins talking in earnest.
His discussion on solitude is broken yet thought provoking. When are we at most alone? Is their a difference between being along and being lonely? Of course, but why? Why can we work all day alone, but not sit home alone with our thoughts? How can we spend all day discussing topics, yet never know the person we are talking to?
I latch on to the idea of solitude with one sentence by Mr. Thoreau... He is going on about space, the space between two men and sets about saying, “I have found that no exertion of the legs that can bring two minds much nearer to one another.” I ask him then, why we are here? Why exchange ideas as we walk along this path? It seems a silly endeavor. At that moment we are passed by a woman in grey exercise gear, a long braid that she has managed to knead into a knot of sorts that if you turned your head one could think it a noose. Mr. Thoreau says nothing more on the subject, but instead goes to his dealings with other people.
Mr. Thoreau muses on his various visitors and I watch a boy in front of us on the trail. A teen, the music pours from his head phones. I can hear the heavy beat from at least 30 feet ahead. He stops, looks back at me and gives me a little wave. Before I can wave back, he darts into the woods beside the trail. Mr. Thoreau continues talking about his visitors, and I am listening, but I am also wondering why a teenager is running in the woods on a Saturday.
A few moments later, I am wondering if it is possible to be stalked by the sound of a leaf. My mind follows its own path and I must pull it back to keep a handle on Mr. Thoreau’s discussion topics.
Mr. Thoreau has my full attention finally when he stops flitting from topic to topic and settles on his French Canadian woodcutter friend. I love the small moments, descriptors and beliefs that Mr. Thoreau places on this man. I love how Mr. Thoreau seems enthralled by a man with little education that is somehow happy. Our poor pompous Mr. Thoreau is overjoyed by the man’s simplicity to the point of comedy and yet there are a few moments of deep philosophy.
The lovely girl with the noose braid met us once again on her return trip. She smiled and we smiled and continued our discussion.
The rest of our time Mr. Thoreau filled with his ruminations about the lack of quality company and/or who came to see him and the lack of their quality as company. My personal favorite was “ministers who spoke of God as if they enjoyed a monopoly of the subject.” I laughed when I read that and scared two old ladies who scowled at me but appeared nice in all other respects.
As the end of our walk drew near, I bid Mr. Thoreau adieu. He wished to continue talking about his bean field, but I convinced him to put that off until next week. He quietly agreed and left me to my thoughts as I walked.
I say “left me to my thoughts,” but I have none of importance to share. I concentrated on my breath, on the sound of the air leaving my body as compared to the wind blowing in the trees. I felt the wind, enjoying how it mirrored the cold part of my shower from the morning. Cold fluid washing over me and around me and into the little places in myself. I caught snippets of conversation of walkers and runners and wrote them down in my little daily notebook because I thought them amusing or relative.
As I neared the end of my walk, a white balloon with a red string fell from the sky. It landed fifteen or so feet up in the branches of a tree, well out of my reach. It was deflated, and I could not see if it had a note, but I wondered where it had come from just the same. I will never know.