Saturday, February 11, 2023

With Thoreau on weekends

Christmas 2023

I reserve Henry David Thoreau’s journals for quiet moments during the weekend, such as this afternoon, which finds me alone in the living room. The inverter air-conditioner is on full blast and hums with the reading voice in my brain, which is soaked in imagination, meandering, and travel. 

Soon my cousin Hannah, who was up last night for online meetings, will emerge out of her nap, or Nanay will ask me to drive her to her friends’ houses, or Manong will get ready for his tennis sessions. (He has become a favorite in the city’s tennis club. They call him “attorney.”) The neighborhood is quiet. Paul is outside, enjoying the afternoon heat.  

At 34 years old, Thoreau takes long walks. He “perambulates.” His diaries record what he sees: the willows, the red maples, the swamp white oak. It is like Instagram but without the temptation to impress and show off. As for me, I wish I could take on nature walking regularly. We have plenty of nature in South Cotabato. Yes, I can do that. Some doctor colleagues take the weekends off to hike, bike, go to the beach, or play with their children: why shouldn’t I? Some days, I might do something like bird watching, or take the weekends off to eat in struggling restaurants (such as in the Netflix series, The Road to Red Restaurants), or drive and see where the road leads me (such as in the HBO series, Off the Grid). 

Thoreau’s walks are not always enjoyable. In his September 26 entry, he writes:

Since I perambulated the bounds of the town, I find that I have in some degree confined myself—my vision and my walks. On whatever side I look off I am reminded of the mean and narrow-minded men whom I have lately met there. What can be uglier than a country occupied by grovelling, course, and low-lived men?

But I like his characterization of Minott, the “most poetical farmer” he knows. In his October 4, 1851 entry, he registers his observation. 

He does nothing with haste and drudgery, but as if he loved it. He makes the most of his labor, and takes infinite satisfaction in every part of it. He is not looking forward to the sale of his crops or any pecuniary profit, but he is paid by the constant satisfaction which his labor yields him. 

I can make the argument that the same applies to any vocation, not just farming. There are days, however, when work feels like work, but drudgery and indifference must be resisted. In the words of young Thoreau (August 17, 1851): 

I thank you, God. I do not deserve anything. I am unworthy of the least regard; and yet I am made to rejoice. 

Photo taken from a restaurant in San Vicente, Banga, South Cotabato, December 2022




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