"We need the tonic of wildness...to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest.... At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of Nature."
Thoreau’s message in Walden gives me pause every time I spot a weed in my garden. My knee-jerk reaction is to pull the thing because I didn’t plant it and it’s a threat to what I did plant. How sinister the weed seems in a certain mood, mimicking the cultivated plant by taking on the shape of the leaves. You have to look very closely to detect the difference. It could be a subtle as a slight coating of fuzz on the stem or 3 petals instead of 4. Weeds are brilliant at counterfeit. I look around my garden and imagine how it would look weedless and what it would take to make it perfect. Someone else’s idea of perfection would require completely clearing it, cutting down the gnarly old lilacs and plum tree, getting rid of the topsoil to level the ground. They would create a blank canvas and design a new landscape. And then the systematic chemical war would be scheduled to prevent weeds from even trying to mar their sterile aesthetic.
It takes a shift in perspective to allow different kinds of life to grow in our garden, not to obliterate the wild to preserve what we’re trying to cultivate. Thoreau hopes to wake us up to the intrinsic value of the wild by writing Walden. Creativity and inspiration sprout from that wild place. Without the wild, what is the dogged execution – the cultivation - of our gardens, our work, our lives – worth?