>…if the ocean was your pond

Thoreau was not a surfer.

Recently I’ve started re-reading Thoreau’s seminal and quintessential American polemic, Walden. This has coincided with an emerging desire within me to get my kids (and myself) out into nature more, especially into awe-inspiring nature. I am coming more and more to the conclusion that nature is designed to fit with our psyches and vice versa. It seems that one of the advantages of so-called progress is that our lives are contrived such that nature can be experienced as an end in itself, that is, as a ground for unfettered experience, as it were, rather than merely the context of labor. In other words, nature can be both a source of pleasure and offer some deeper connection to our souls.

Sometimes I think it makes sense to pull my family out of society and go deep into nature – permanently. But then I wise up. For all that I love nature, I also love the city. Still nature has its call, which can be powerful. And this makes me think of the Paskowitz family.

Doc Paskowitz, modern Thoreau
or eccentric despot?

Living a life unfettered from society, close to nature, and not far from a kind of animal existence, living in cramped quarters, constantly on the go, and surfing all the time, sounds like the perfect existence for the young surf bum. For a family of eleven (9 kids) it sounds crazy, but that’s what the Paskowitz family did. Here’s a sampling from the recent documentary Surfwise (2007):

There is something in there that I love and long for. There is also something there that I fear. I want my kids to grow up immersed in nature, I want them to run around like beautiful beasts, to live fully and wild. I also don’t want that. They should also be educated, well mannered, savvy, and have the groundwork laid for future opportunities. Balance is key.

So I am both in awe of the Paskowitz clan and I shake my head. What a great life on the one hand, and a limited life on the other. If I could I would do something like they did for a summer, but not a lifetime. Remember, Thoreau lived at Walden pond for only two years.

Of course, I have yet to try surfing.

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