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Chapter Six: Visitors
This chapter is devoted to a description of some of the more memorable visitors Thoreau entertained during his time at Walden Pond. First, he describes in detail the sparseness of his home, emphasizing the fact that his cottage was really only meant for a single person. It would have been impossible to cook for a crowd. He does explain, however, that around his table there were three chairs: "one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society". If more than three people called at once, they would have to squeeze into the small cabin and stay standing. When a large group of visitors came to call (as many as thirty or forty), Thoreau would entertain them by visiting the woods where there was adequate space for all.
Thoreau points out that it was not easy for a visitor to get to his cabin, but many people came to see him; obviously, if someone came calling, it would be for a specific purpose or important reason. Often a visitor wanted to discuss with Thoreau some big idea or significant thought. When there were important matters to cover, Thoreau always liked to go out in nature and talk since the small size of his house did not seem large enough to contain big ideas.
Unknown travelers passing by Walden Pond often stopped to visit Thoreau, including "half-wits," escaped slaves, beggars, travelling businessmen, fishermen, hunters, and young children. He reflects that the simplicity of the half-wit sometimes conceals a wisdom and contentment that more advanced minds will never know. Thoreau contrasts the supposed half-wits with some other of his guests who were known to be wise, but on their visit put him to inconvenience with high expectations of entertainment and hospitality. Some of these visitors thought themselves to have attained spiritual elevation, but Thoreau detected very little depth to their thinking.
Thoreau also valued the visits of the escaped slave, the outdoorsmen, and the children. He sympathized with the runaway Negroes and helped them on their journey northward to freedom. He also enjoyed visiting with the hunters and fishermen, who loved the outdoors as much as he. Thoreau also found the children, who loved running and playing in the woods, to be natural and exciting. In contrast, the businessmen who stopped for a visit would complain about the long distances they had to travel, never noticing the beauty of the natural surroundings.
A particularly memorable visit came when a Canadian woodchopper called on Thoreau. The man was simple and lived a contented life close to Nature. For obvious reasons, Thoreau was drawn to this woodchopper, who shared similar interests and thoughts about natural living. When Thoreau asked the visitor if he would want a better life, the woodchopper replied he felt no need for anything more than he had in the natural world that surrounded him. Thoreau greatly appreciates such self-contentment and love of nature and wishes more men could be like the woodchopper.
This chapter is primarily concerned with the people who called at Walden Pond. Even though it was difficult to get to Thoreau's cabin, he had many visitors. They ranged from young, innocent children playing in the woods to educated gentlemen who sought out Thoreau in order to discuss important ideas. Thoreau finds that the honest ways of the natural folk who love nature, like the children, the half-wits from the almshouse, the woodchopper from Canada, and the outdoor sportsmen, are usually preferable to the pretentious ways of the scholarly visitors who call.
Thoreau points out that although the physical company of people often leads to verbal communication with each other, it does not bring the more important communication with the "self". In a like manner, mere solitude without awareness of one's surroundings also fails to waken the soul. True communication with oneself can only occur when there is a complete awareness of the natural world, which can enlighten man and lead him to a new level of spirituality.