By Ed Runyan
Nineteenth-century author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau visited downtown Warren on Thursday night, sharing with a crowd of about 600 his thoughts on nature in a thought-provoking and eloquent way.
Thoreau, portrayed by Kevin Radaker, is best known for his book “Walden,” about the pond near Concord, Mass., where he lived for about two years. He was a guest in Warren courtesy of the Ohio Chautauqua, which is finishing up its five-day, free, living-history tour today.
Radaker is a professor of English at Anderson University in Indiana who also lived on Warren’s west side for several years while growing up.
“Thoreau” introduced himself Thursday night with an explanation of why he cares so much about natural things, saying the trees, moss and rocks, seashores, oceans, creatures and bugs are the “operas of nature.”
His talk presumably made it apparent to most people how little we notice or appreciate the value of our physical world through quiet time alone in the woods or fields, a “journey of self-exploration” that, for him, can last hours without so much as moving from a seat.
He lived alone in a cabin he built on Walden Pond. “I did not go to escape civilization,” he said. “I love society as much as the next” and “went to the village almost every day,” he said.
“I went into the woods to study the antics of the squirrels” and went into the village “to study the antics of man.”
It was important to him to know the world “by experience and give a true account of it to my fellow man.”
He railed against materialism, which he said enslaves us and wastes our time. “They have become the slave drivers of themselves,” he said of those who focus on material possessions.
Coming out of character at the end, Radaker answered questions about Thoreau. He said Thoreau, who died in 1862, was influential among the environmentalists to follow, including John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. Muir’s activism helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas.
William Mullane, president of the board of the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County, said a talk such as Radaker’s “does a lot for the community for promoting our own history, scholarship and bringing the community together to think about our own history.”
He said Thoreau’s perspectives encourage us to think about issues in today’s age from Thoreau’s enlightened historical perspective. For example, Thoreau’s writings condemning slavery have much in common with today’s immigration debates, he said.