Today, Henry David Thoreau, born 200 years ago, receives the treatment. Op-ed pieces on the theme of Thoreau's relevance today. Satiric sallies playing off the writer's alleged misanthropic personality. Looks at how his philosophy fits with today's political climate.
Recently, Shakespeare, Martin Luther, World War I and the Battle of Waterloo generated great date frenzies. This might focus attention on important people and events, yet throws them into the daily rush of celebrity sensation and media trivia.
Hey, I'm doing it too.
Many hate Thoreau after being forced to read his "Walden: A Life in the Woods" in high school. It's a difficult book. The spate of attention and variety of opinions about his work show that he's a writer who says different things to different readers.
Others love him, seeing him as the father of civil disobedience, the environmental movement and individualism.
While I've struggled with Henry David, I count myself among this camp. Visiting the reported site of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond near Concord, Mass., was one of my life's great moments. Viewing the mysterious dark Walden, filled with happy summertime swimmers, also filled me with wonder.
I need to return to the book. Along with reading parts of "Walden" in high school and college, I listened to it on the now outmoded Walkman in my days running around the track at Oglethorpe University here in Atlanta. The audiotape reader's odd, hectoring voice put me off, although I was transported by Thoreau's words. Now, I want to revisit the work, give Thoreau's disturbing ideas deeper contemplation.
My favorite Thoreau book is "A Walk on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers," an account of his raft trip with his brother, John, from Massachusetts to Maine and back. He wrote the book during his stay at the Walden cabin. His account of rushing along the rivers, the wildlife and natural terrain is among the greatest American writing. Soon after their return to Concord, his brother John died from tetanus after receiving a minor cut.
I also love Thoreau's recently published journals and his observations of Massachusetts flora and fauna. Like Benjamin Franklin, he made major contributions to scientific knowledge.
Every time I walk in my neighborhood, blessed with trees, wild areas, ponds and creeks in the middle of a major American city, I think about Thoreau, as if he's walking beside me. His philosophy of global awareness and local action I aspire to follow.