I found this quote at a hotel we were staying at last week when out of town. I have always liked Emerson, a 19th-century America philosopher. He and Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau were men of wise words – who also liked to challenge authority and march to the beat of their own drummer – to quote Thoreau. They were the conscience of the country, so to speak, not afraid to speak their minds in contrast to the prevailing opinions on serious issues like slavery. They were ahead of their time.
I resonate with the sentiment of Emerson’s quote. I am an explorer, a bunny-trail wanderer, and a seeker of new things and new places. I hate routine and the notion of “we’ve always done it that way”. Set practices, schedules, and places are helpful in training others and maintaining order when needed. But discoveries are never made within the confines of walls. Advances in medicine were usually made when people challenged the status quo. Bloodletting as an aid to health was an established practice in colonial days and anesthesia was not discovered until well into the 19th century, due to archaic views of the human body. It took courage for people like Joseph Lister to start using more humane surgical practices.
I often wonder who was the first to harvest and ingest wild mushrooms or determine which berries were safe and which were deadly. Somebody must have sampled fearlessly. We take most of our food for granted, and we have federal standards of safety for food, but those only were developed in the early 20th century. And even now there are plenty of people who won’t vary their eating habits to include new foods when the only danger is that their taste buds might revolt.
Another thing that we need to explore is what is important to us and what we are willing to sacrifice for. Thoreau famously spent a night in jail over taxes he opposed. It may have been connected to his opposition to the Mexican-American War in the 1840s -which Abraham Lincoln and others also opposed. It was related that he was visited by Emerson, who said “what are you doing in there?” To which Thoreau replied, “why are you out there?” In other words, he was chiding his mentor for not being willing to sacrifice freedom for a cause.
This gets me thinking that I should re-read Waldon Pond – Thoreau’s most famous work and rediscover nature some more. I would recommend it to you along with his Civil Disobedience. You may not agree with him, but it might give you food for thought. And perhaps lead you to make some new trails where there is no path.