In a recent post, I compared a weekend spent hiking in the Catskills to Henry David Thoreau’s two-year sojourn at Walden Pond, as both were experiments in natural living and self-sufficiency.
But then my daughter Emeline brought to my attention a recent article entitled “Pond Scum.” The author, Kathryn Schulz, questions why we still admire the literature of a man who was mean-spirited and a fake. She summarizes her opinion in no uncertain terms:
I leaped out of bed before dawn and by first light was on the highway racing toward the Catskills. The goal was to summit seventeen peaks within 24 hours. This would be a test to determine whether I was ready to challenge an ultra-distance mountain-bagging record in this rugged region of the Hudson Valley. If things went well, I’d be back in a few weeks for a multi-day adventure, this time to officially break the record and set a new one.
What’s interesting about the Catskills is that many of the peaks have no trails. To reach a pathless summit, the runner “bushwhacks” through the woods. This entails following the lay of the land, staying oriented with map, compass, and GPS, and surmounting the obstacles tossed up by the constant flux of nature.
I was eager not only to challenge records, but also to experience the wilderness. I had been reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the well-regarded 2nd century Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher. Live in harmony with universal nature, he had argued almost two thousand years ago, and you can achieve serenity and tranquility, no matter what obstacles you encounter. And what better strategy for achieving harmony with nature, than to run through mountains and plunge into trackless forest?