To Live Like Thoreau…

At Juniata College in Pennsylvania, there is a senior student by the name of Dylan Miller, who lives outside off-campus. For the past 10 months, he has lived in a self-made shelter of dead-fall timber, leaves, and a tarp roof as part of his senior year project at the university. He is a Philosophy and English major, studying Henry David Thoreau’s works and attempting to get a much clearer understanding of the man by way of immersion, just as Thoreau described.

“It’s a lot like jumping into a cold lake, and after a minute you’re used to it and you’re swimming around happily. I just wore shorts all winter because my body was so well acclimated.”

College officials were at first rather alarmed of Dylan’s idea to live in the woods about 30 minutes away by foot from the campus, but he submitted a 21 page essay addressing their concerns and explaining his well being. Of course, he would keep a cellphone with him in case of emergencies, and during the winter, he spent a week at a friend’s place when temperatures plummeted well below freezing.

What I find most interesting is that this man has made this choice a comfortable one. Some might think that living outdoors during the winter to be over-the-top extreme, but Dylan has remained self-reliant. His shelter has a wooden floor to act as insulation from the ground, and it is warmed by a propane burner when the temperature drops below -7 C/20 F. As for food and water, Dylan buys his own, carrying gallons of water to his shelter and consumes rice, beans, and dehydrated soups. Trash is removed and properly disposed of, and human waste is buried in an outdoor latrine.

In May, when Dylan will graduate, he plans on disassembling his shelter: “Everything in the woods rots and changes and becomes everything else, so I wouldn’t have it any other way with the shelter.”

I think there is a lot we can learn from this man. His commitment to live a simple life removed from modern luxuries is in many ways a purification, one we all need from time to time, and is no doubt why many of us head outdoors. To fully appreciate our modern technology and conveniences, we need to remove ourselves from it and remind ourselves of what we as people used to be. I, myself, have a had but a brief taste of living without luxuries during late October and November of 2011, though under different circumstances. Still, the impact was the same. That experience has taught me think more of our modern lifestyles. We are surrounded by conveniences and extravagances, yet many of us do not give them a second thought, yet when we are suddenly removed from them, we act like spoilt children. In my eyes, we have become slaves to these luxuries…we cannot imagine living life without them because we have become spoilt. We no longer have to hunt and gather for our food, heat our homes with wood, or travel on foot or horse.

As a final closing thought, I’ll leave you something to ponder: “Not till we are completely lost or turned around… do we begin to find ourselves.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

One thought on “To Live Like Thoreau…

  1. Interesting article. I also admire young people who are more thoughtful and intentional about how they choose to live than I was, at a similar age.


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