Journeys of Simplicity

SIMPLICITY: Annie Dillard by Philip Harnden

January 18, 2018

From Journeys of Simplicity (b. 1945) American writer, poet, and pilgrim. Dillard wrote the second half of her Pulitzer Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in a second-floor, cinderblock room with a window that overlooked a tar-and-gravel roof and a parking lot.  “Appealing workplaces are to be avoided,” she maintains.  “One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.” In this writer’s cell she kept her fielder’s mitt (for afternoon softball games), some books, a bag of chocolate-covered peanuts, two or three quotes taped on index cards, a dozen different-colored pens, some piles of big index cards, and her messy yellow legal pads.  One day she shut the window blinds and never opened them again. [...]

SIMPLICITY: Henry Beston by Philip Harnden

January 11, 2018

From Journeys of Simplicity (1888–1968) American naturalist and writer best known for The Outermost House, his chronicle of a solitary year on a Cape Cod beach. “The world today,” wrote Henry Beston, “is sick to its thin blood for lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water welling from the earth, for air, for the dear Earth itself underfoot.” To immerse himself in those elemental things, Beston had a neighbor build him a small house atop a dune on the farthest eastern reaches of Cape Cod, just thirty feet from the great Atlantic beach.  His “outermost house” measured twenty feet by sixteen and contained two rooms (a bedroom and a kitchen / living room) with a brick fireplace in the wall between.  Its [...]

SIMPLICITY: John Muir by Philip Harnden

December 21, 2017

From Journeys of Simplicity (1838–1914) Scottish-born American naturalist, inventor, writer, rover, and crusader for wilderness preservation. John Muir was a lifelong pacifist who moved to Canada during the Civil War conscription.  He was a mechanical wizard who refused to patent his inventions because “all improvements and inventions should be the property of the human race.”  When a factory accident temporarily blinded him, young Muir resolved to devote the rest of his life “to the study of the inventions of God.”  Upon regaining his sight, he set off alone on a thousand-mile botanizing walk from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico. “Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the [...]

SIMPLICITY: Thomas Merton by Philip Harnden

December 14, 2017

From Journeys of Simplicity (1915–1968) French-born American Roman Catholic priest and Trappist monk Father Louis, as Thomas Merton was known to his fellow monks, lived his last years as a hermit in the woods near his Cistercian abbey.  His hermitage was small and unadorned, a cinder-block building with cement floors.  He cut his own wood for the fireplace, hauled water from the abbey, cooked on a Coleman stove, and read by kerosene lamp.  Eventually, as his health deteriorated, electricity was installed.  Typically, he arose at 3:15 a.m. to begin the prayers of the day. He was perhaps the first Trappist hermit of the modern era.  He was surely a monk whose living and passing brimmed with irony.  Vowed to silence, he was known [...]

SIMPLICITY: On Traveling Light by Philip Harnden

December 7, 2017

From Journeys of Simplicity Twelve hundred years ago in China a middle-aged man named P’ang Yün loaded everything he owned onto a boat and sank it all in the Tung’t’ing Lake.  After that, we are told, “He lived like a single leaf.” See him there in the early morning, treading water in the middle of the lake, watching the last bubbles rise from the depths.  The air crisp and quiet.  The lake misty and as still as sky.  Then turning, stroking toward the shore. Justine Dalencourt, a French Quaker, was forced to leave her home at Fontaine-Lavaganne when the German army invaded France in 1914.  But first she planted her garden, saying, “I would rather they found something to eat at my house than that they should have to steal [...]