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Michael Shaffer and Steven Herb

Dear H. D. Thoreau,

In writing Walden, you set out, if nothing else, “to brag as lustily as a chanticleer in the morning, if only to wake [your] neighbors up.” The effects of your writing have far outreached the call of a rooster. Your proud and vigorous call has reverberated for over a century, and it has awakened much more than your neighbors. The experiences you have had imparted you with a wisdom that you were able to convey succinctly in your work. Your words have spoken to me and have changed my whole perspective on life.

Steven Herb presenting award to Michael Shaffer from Palmerton Area High School

Before reading your work, I gave too much priority to a thousand and one trivial things, such as other people’s perceptions of me. I also needed a personal calendar to schedule all of my extra-curricular and sports activities, and I would fret over each one. It was as if I were sprinting through my youth, trying to become more and more organized, though all I was really doing was adding useless worries to my daily life. I was attempting to live heartily, but I was going about it in the wrong fashion. Life was speeding by me, and I could not taste the essence of anything I did.

Such was the state of my affairs until I read Walden. Your book has given me some profound ideas—concepts that, once introduced, seemed to be woven directly into the fabric of my soul. Through the accounts of your experiences along the shore of Walden Pond, you showed me the “simplest terms of life.” I had always had a plan, and I would review that plan repeatedly. I used to lose sleep by thinking about what I had to do the next day and what that day might hold. You have shown me that such pensive and counterproductive actions are wasted energy. You have told me that the future is not reality, and that “all these times and places and occasions are now and here.” I have realized that the present moment is all that I should worry about because any other moment could exist only in my imagination. Living for the present has brought out the amazing details of life that had gone unnoticed, such as the pith in a handshake, or the beauty of a hawk in flight. My deeper appreciation of love, nature, and genuine people and my aversion to the ridiculous hubbub of society have stemmed from reading your book. Above all, you have taught me the importance and beauty of simplicity.

I have begun to “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” I have reduced my activities, and now I am truly absorbing the value of each experience. I have cut away the superfluous baggage that weighed me down, and I tend to worry less. By ridding myself of this excess, my pace has slowed down. I now enjoy life as it comes and no longer try to control it. Subtleties of my environment, such as the intermingling of clouds in the sky, or the loving eagerness on the face of a curious puppy now touch me in a way that before been foreign to me. I have begun to stroll through the forest of my life instead of sprinting through it. By thus wending, I will have less risk of becoming lost in the woods or provoking the wolves to chase me. I may take longer to get from one point to another; nonetheless, I will arrive at my destination, and will have had a safe and enjoyable journey.

I must thank you for showing me how to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” The people, places, and events in my life, even each leaf that falls around me, have a new and powerful meaning. I no longer feel suffocated by the pressures of something so transparent as the air. Your work has improved my attitude and my life profoundly.


Michael Shafer accepting award

Michael J. Shafer



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