The Upland Farm

Thoreau on Cultivating a Better Life

by Peter Saint-Andre

Chapter Four: Sprout (April 19)

Previous: Chapter Three: Preparing

Late in life, while studying the forests around Concord, Thoreau noticed that trees which shoot up from stumps or roots are not as vigorous as those which begin in seeds; the shoots inherit the diseases of their parents, whereas the seedlings are thoroughly original and have an organic resilience and elasticity.

Thus the importance, for Thoreau, of developing your own roots and of listening to the faintest but constant suggestions of your own genius. Not for him the grafting of parent stock and the repetition of old errors; instead he preferred to grow resolutely wild and faithful to his own nature, to seek new adventures, to make new discoveries, to try new experiments in living and doing, to cultivate the enterprise and faith to live free.

This is how he approached the year: welcoming the hope and promise of spring, feeling his prospects brightened by the influx of better thoughts, nurturing some innocent fair shoots that would try another year's life — tender and fresh as the youngest plant.

So too did he approach each day: awakening in an atmosphere of divine dreams, rising free from care before the dawn, blessing his whole day with a morning walk, returning again and again to goodness and simplicity, taking pleasure in the most glorious season of the day. As the sun rose he said to himself: "Let us be faithful all round; we will do justice and receive it."

At the lowland farm there are raised beds and greenhouses to protect your seedlings from exposure to heavy rains and late frosts; yet at the upland farm it is not so easy to dodge the pressures of conformity and to maintain your own recovered innocence. It takes a true strength of spirit to spring up and forward with vigor and energy and hope in the future.

For Thoreau, the true harvest of your daily life is to explore your own higher latitudes: the upper regions of thought, the continents and oceans of the moral world, the private sea of your solitude. He turned his back on wealth and power and success so that he could follow his good genius and thus be king of the celestial empire within. Although he felt sympathy with all living things, his greatest sympathy was with the spirit that animated his own clay and his greatest obedience was to the yet more sacred laws of his own being.

The germ and kernel of what you will leave behind in the autumn of your life or year or day is to be found in the leaves that sprout in the earliest spring, when the sap runs in your limbs and life buds in your furthest extremities. The impulse and the impetus of your life is found in each moment, for to affect the quality of the day is the highest of arts; and it is through the never-ending accumulation of moments that you feed the countless rootlets forming the foundation of your higher being. Blessed are those who live in the present always, for they remember their creator in the days of their youth and ever see the world with youthful, early-opened, hopeful eyes.

Next: Chapter Five: Planting

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