Thoreau would have a deep understanding of what I’m describing, though he also wrote in his journals about how people found him cold—or that was his sense. He couldn’t go through motions for the sake of doing so. Thoreau had to care and there had to be a point to anything he did, or else he deemed it not worth doing. I concur. For some reason, people think that Walden is the Thoreau book to read. Well, let’s be honest. I know the reason. People are lazy and they rarely think and they repeat what they’ve heard. They don’t investigate. We must investigate. Christmas brings out the investigative spirit, whether you’re a kid trying to determine if Santa is real, or an adult aiming to think up the perfect gift for someone. Ghost stories are big at Christmas—they’re investigative by nature—and so are mysteries, no explanation needed. Ghost stories and mysteries harbor wonder. Both are safe havens for wonder. That was nature for Thoreau, and also what makes his journals among my favorite writings of all-time.
I read them often. Unabridged, but a one volume collation may serve you well, and I say give it to those you love, too. Rarely, on Christmas day, does he even mention Christmas in those journals. He tramps through he woods and he finds miracles. How Christmas-y is that? Further, it’s Dickensian Christmas-y. Scrooge comes to recognize the value of keeping Christmas all the days of the year. Thoreau thing does the same thing without even citing the holiday.
Aged thirty-nine, Thoreau’s journal entry on December 25, 1856, consisted of only these words: “Take long walks in story weather or though deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.”
Do you know what he means there? Feel the elements. In feeling the elements, we may become ourselves a force of nature ourselves. We fuse with nature. We are nature. Often, though, we are not cognizant of this truth. We self-diminish, which is not something nature ever does. Nature knows itself. Do we? Rarely. But that is because we so infrequently go investigating. Think about Sherlock Holmes at the scene of a crime. He’s outside some English manor house, and he throws himself on the lawn with magnifying glass. Watson frequently likens him to a blood hound. Nature. Holmes becomes a part of it. He is it. We are all it. Ratiocination begins with this universal truth.
Like myself, Thoreau spent many Christmas alone. I don’t advise this for you. There’s a brutality in doing so that is unnatural. Endurance is tested. But I also investigate on those solitary Christmases. I run stairs in the early morning in an empty city. “You are a force of nature, sir,” I tell myself, because if you don’t rally in this life when you need to, you will die. I take a train to a place such as Concord, and I walk where Thoreau walked as others open their presents. I bend to the ground and touch the actual earth. I remind myself that I am here, and now is not forever. I don’t mean in the death sense. May I tell you a secret? I don’t believe in death. I believe in work that lives forever. And if I am more so myself in my work than in anything else, what can death really do to me? But I must live to make my work, and to get my work where my work belongs. You are creation itself when you must create, and never is a person more alive than when they can say, “I must.” Let me qualify that: never is a person more alive than when they can say, “I must,” for a greater good, and they are resolved not to let anything stop them. Even as I write this, I feel as if I am human precipitate, ready to come down all over the world. White Christmas, indeed.
So I rise from the ground again, with a handful of Concord dirt in my hand, soil upon which Thoreau may have walked. “If you would keep your spirits up.” That is what he is talking about—what I do on these days. And at other times. When I battle and write for twenty hours on nothing but coffee, drive, faith, and ability. Are we not speaking of a Christmas gift that transcends our Christmas morning world of wrapping paper and ribbon?
Again, these are Christmas memories I have. Later, they will possess a different cast, or so I choose to believe. Someone I come to care about may first read of these memories here. “Did you really go to Concord and walk the woods like that?” she might ask, while still knowing that I was telling the truth. “Yes, I did,” I will tell her, understanding that I wouldn’t have known her if I hadn’t. Because first I had to be a force of nature and realize that I was.
Do you see what I mean about how memories change? Investigate yours. Investigate yourself. The Christmas season makes for as useful a starting date as any.