After putting the grandchildren to bed, there is nothing I like better than sitting on my wraparound porch in the gathering dusk, gently tapping my old meerschaum against the arm of my favorite rocking chair to dislodge the cold ash embedded within.
Oft times I will spy a young deer at the edge of my property, bending to graze upon a tender huckleberry shrub. On evenings such as these, as I rest and contemplate, my thoughts invariably drift to Henry David Thoreau, and what a weirdo he was.
One night, in fact, I may have had too many heavy sweets with my dinner, or perhaps it was the Welsh rarebit, or the jeroboam of champagne I consumed, but I swore as I began to doze that a hazy figure walked toward me across the lawn, coming from the direction of my ancestral woods, and as this figure neared, I saw that it was none other than Henry David Thoreau himself.
Keats tells us that “things semi-real” require “a greeting of the spirit to make them wholly exist.” It was with this in mind that I shouted a friendly “hallo” to my spectral visitor and bade him enjoy a respite in the rocking chair next to mine.
“Don’t mind if I do,” he said. Hearing his crisp New England intonation, I no longer harbored any doubt that this was the very man.
“Say,” he said, before settling in, “it’s awful hot weather.”
“That it is,” I agreed. “Do you mind if I take my shirt off?” he inquired.
“I would be insulted if you didn’t,” I entreated.
Henry David Thoreau removed his shirt, revealing a lithe torso. He left on his old-fashioned suspenders, or “braces,” to surprisingly sexy effect.
“There, that’s better,” he said. “I used to be on the swim team, but I have really let myself go.” “Are you kidding me?” I cried. “You have a fantastic body. I don’t know why, but I thought you’d be hairier.”
“In my day, it was perfectly natural for respectable gentlemen to speak to one another in such a fashion, and nothing was thought of it,” he informed me.
We sat awhile in companionable silence, listening to the crickets make their merry song and observing the twinkling of the stars.
“Nature sure is great,” I said.
I thought I heard him sigh. I interpreted his thoughts as, I have nothing on this guy!
“Nature is different in Heaven,” he said after some long moments of contemplation. “For example, you can eat anything. You could eat a handful of sand if you wanted to, and delicious it would be. Everything is a different color than it is here. Water is orange and trees are blue, for example.”
“Sounds like something out of Willy Wonka,” I observed.
“Yes, exactly. It’s one thing to encounter such wonders in fiction. To live in it, however…” Here, Henry David Thoreau gave a mighty shudder. “Too whimsical for my taste. Call me old-fashioned if you will, but I prefer life on Earth.”
I experienced a sensation of surprise upon discovering that Henry David Thoreau had understood my Willy Wonka reference.
As if reading my mind, he graced the purpling air of eventide with his famously warm chuckle. “Everyone knows about Willy Wonka,” he said.
“Have you ever heard of Mandy Patinkin?”
“I do not believe so. Who is that, pray tell?”
“He’s this guy we have now. I thought maybe if you know about our modern entertainment, you might also know about Mandy Patinkin. He can sing and act and do it all. But for some reason you don’t see him around very much. I think he has high standards, or perhaps he’s eccentric.”
“And a fascinating character he sounds,” said Henry David Thoreau. “His name is like unto that of a woman. Remarkable! This Mandy Patinkin of whom you speak, so seemingly irascible yet abounding in high spirits, puts me in mind of my old friend Amos Bronson Alcott, one of the pioneers of transcendentalism. You can read more about him on Wikipedia.”
I turned to ask him if there was Wikipedia in Heaven, but he was gone. Dawn’s first rays, like so many french fries, had split the violet mists of evening, on the wings of which, no doubt, Henry David Thoreau had ascended once again to his home above the clouds. Also, I was not on my porch. I was out behind a diner in Albuquerque, lying in some gray stuff.