As I write by the fire in my living room, candles burning, the day cold and dreary, Walt Whitman pays me a visit. I was thinking about the simple life and what that meant for most Americans today, when the voice of America himself, shows up as my well suited muse.
I was looking for inspiration on simple living, so who am I to say no? He inspires like no other. He’s been gone some 100 years and yet, lives forever on the book shelves of homes, classrooms and libraries around the world.
Whitman first came to me last night in a dream. He was roaming around his birthplace in Long Island, a small farmhouse in rural West Hills, Long Island which I visited years ago. I don’t know why I dreamt about him and his life, but I did. I woke with Whitman on the brain. He answered my subconscious call to be with me today.
Much has been written about the simple life. When I think of the advocates of plain living and high thinking, I think of the Amish people, or iconic individuals such as Thoreau, Emerson, Jefferson, Truman, to name a handful, but I think first of the national poet, Whitman. (He’s smiling at me as I write this.)
In 1871, he said, “Singleness and normal simplicity and separation, amid this more and more complex, more and more artificialized state of society–how pensively we yearn for them! how we would welcome their return! Modern civilization, with all its improvements, is in vain, and we are on the road to a destiny, a status, equivalent, in its real world, to that of the fabled damned.” If he wrote this 130 years ago, what would he think of our artificial state of society, our civilization today? (Whitman shakes his head in disgust.) I sigh.
It has taken me years to fall in natural step with the simple life in the wine country. Thirteen years to be exact. I have to consciously choose this way of life each and every day, whether it be the daily walking with my dog through the neighboring wineries, the making of a home cooked meal to be shared at the table with my family, or the harvesting of grapes in my small parcelled vineyard. I take steps each day to introduce the fresh flowers from my garden into each living room, or read “Song of Myself” for my preferred form of entertainment, instead of t.v.. (Walt Whitman is smiling with approval).
I don’t think you have to be in your golden years to live the simple life, or a stay at home mom while the husband works (please, raising children simple?), or live the artist’s life, or be a monk in a monastery. I see this single-minded way of being as a moment by moment choice, whittling away what does work and looking hard at what matters to you in this one precious life.
Whitman is growing impatient. I am the only one doing the writing here. He looks at me in his black solid suit, long gray beard and piercing eyes and asks, “Do you want to know what I think you should do when it comes to plain living?
I immediately think of his poetic words, O Captain! my captain! Rise up and hear the bells! I nod with certainty. “This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
Nobody says it better than Whitman. I subscribe to what my bearded muse has recited and with that affirmation, I am left alone by the fire, satisfied with the answers to my simple question on how to live the simple life.