The Upland Farm

Thoreau on Cultivating a Better Life

by Peter Saint-Andre

Chapter Twelve: Harvesting (September 18)

Previous: Chapter Eleven: Fruit

The ripening of existence, the late and perfect maturity of experience, imparts a certain mellowness and stronger flavor to life. It is time to harvest your ripened fruits, to reap what you have sowed, to pluck the days and works of your achievements, to appreciate the beauty of your life with an Indian-summer serenity even in the face of joy or sorrow, past or future, pleasure or pain.

The true harvest of your daily life is, like the most subtle tints of morning and evening, a gratitude for existence, a simple and irrepressible satisfaction with the gift of life — like a calm September afternoon in which the surface of a woodland lake is as smooth as glass.

This is the pure liquid bliss of a serene happiness, not animated by the thrills of an agitated joy or frenzied delight — a wonderful purity attained by being reserved and austere, by living with gentleness and a humble gratitude for the fruit of character which feeds you and the tree of life which shadows you, by practicing justice and innocence and a greater humanity.

This is a gratitude not only for rest, but also for toil; a harvest not only of the sweetest fruits, but also of the scarlet leaves of the thoughts and acts you planted in the seed-time of your character, which have acquired consistency and hardness, a concentrated flavor, and a mellow ripeness. You must gather that rich crop of experience which your life yields; you must confidently and heartily live up to your ideals — for if you are in error you will learn, and if not you will improve.

Do not spend your time atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, but in the evening of your works and days allow your prospects to brighten on the influx of better thoughts and a rejuvenescence and faith in the current time. As with the hero Arjuna in Thoreau's treasured Bhagavad-Gita — the great archer who was able concentrate so deeply that he could always hit the target — so the wise person focuses on the present moment as the single point at which life ever happens. For the Stoics, as well, a focus on the present was the key to happiness.

Daily recover your innocence through serene work in the true field of life and self. Live in the present with a pure morning joy — for this season, too, is a season of growth, a second spring. Launch yourself on every wave. Find your eternity in each moment. Know what game to play today, and play it. Postpone no opportunities. Look not to some other land; for there is no other land, no other life. Take any other course and life will be a succession of regrets. Harvest as early as possible if you would escape the frosts.

If you are not happy on harvest day, you will not be so tomorrow. And is not every day a harvest day?

Next: Chapter Thirteen: Independence

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