“Do you keep a journal?” is what Ralph Waldo Emerson asked Henry David Thoreau on October 22, 1837. Thoreau’s answer was to begin keeping a journal that same day.
This blog is a journal of ideas about Thoreau and Hebrew. I keep finding connections between these seemingly unrelated topics. Maybe you will, too. This is my first post.
The boat ramp at Walden Pond officially opened for the season today at 5:00 AM. I was in my kayak and on the water around 11:00. My first paddle of 2012! A few other boats had already launched, mostly fishermen in ones and twos. Luckily I had mostly sunny skies during the two hours I spent in the boat.
First, I davened my short (and belated) version of Shaharit (morning service in Hebrew). There’s no sweeter place to pray than outdoors. There’s no sweeter place outdoors than Walden Pond. Normally I pray on land, and stand up for the parts of Shaharit where one does, but today I didn’t want to rock the boat. I’ve been looking forward to this day all winter.
Then, as usual, I had to jot a few things in my journal. All bundled up in my silk long johns, two layers of fleece jackets, and a life preserver, it was a little challenging to write in my lap until I made more room by balancing my paddle over the front of the boat. I’d forgotten to bring along the paddle leash — as well as a lot of other stuff on this first day of the season — but there wasn’t too much wind and the paddle balanced perfectly.
Drifting around, I overheard those sounds that travel so intimately across the water: the small dry cough of a man in a canoe as he adjusted his fishing pole, Sunday-morning saunterers calling to each other from places along the Pond Path. A woman in a black wetsuit splashed through the water, wearing a black diving mask and black snorkel; all you could see were her red lips. She said the water was cold.
Focusing on my journal, I drifted past a small boat slowly propelled by a silent electric motor, not meaning to eavesdrop but hearing every word distinctly in the two fishermen’s conversation:
“Do you keep a journal?”
“You should keep a journal.”
“A lot of guys I know keep a journal. A fishing journal.”
“Well, now you know a guy who doesn’t.”
“I’m just asking because, if you keep a journal, please be kind when you write about me.”
Reaching awkwardly behind my seat I pulled out the Thoreau book I’d brought along to read in my kayak: Selections from the Journals, edited by Walter Harding. A “Dover Thrift Edition,” it’s a very slim 55-page paperback. I turned to page 1 and read:
October 22. “What are you doing now?” he asked. “Do you keep a journal?” So I make my first entry to-day…