For two years Thoreau lived by the shore of Walden Pond by doing what job?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Thoreau did not have any jobs during the time he lived by Walden Pond. He was trying to live as cheaply as possible in order to be able to devote all his time to reading, writing, meditating, and studying nature. He spends some time describing how he planted and tended beans. These were a staple in his diet. He also baked his own bread and he must have caught quite a few fish in the pond. As a naturalist he would certainly have found many things to eat in the open country around his cabin. For example, he would have found berries and chestnuts. He would obviously know where the best trees and bushes were to be found. In one place he speaks of "watering the sand cherries" during a dry season. These are also edible. Thoreau would not have had to spend any money for food if he had not been a vegetarian, but he did not eat any of the wild birds and animals that were abundant.

I have made a satisfactory dinner, satisfactory on several accounts, simply off a dish of purslane (Portulaca oleracea) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted. 

He also went into town frequently, since it was only one mile away. He admits that he was often invited to dinner, but Thoreau must have reciprocated by bringing things from the countryside, including berries, mushrooms, fish, and various kinds of herbs.The land on which he built his cabin belonged to his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. He did not have to pay rent. He paid a very small amount for the materials he used in building the cabin. This evidently came out of his savings. He did not need a job because he needed virtually no cash income. He states that he made some money by selling some of the beans he grew himself. He did not buy any clothing during the time he lived at Walden. The whole purpose of his so-called "experiment" was to find out how cheaply a man could live if he did not covet luxuries.

Thoreau gives a detailed account of his expenses in "Economy,"the first chapter of his book. He states that he earned a total of $13.34 by "day labor." The typical wage for day labor in those days was a dollar a day. So he must have worked at something for thirteen days. He stated, "I have as many trades as I have fingers." He shows his skills in his detailed description in "Economy" of how he built his cabin all by himself. He was a skilled surveyor and could often earn a few dollars surveying land. His total expenses for the time he lived by Walden Pond were miniscule. He ended up with about the same amount of money as he started with. 

At one point in his book he states that as a graduate of Harvard, he was entitled to borrow books from the Harvard library without charge. He also knew a number of intellectuals in Concord from whom he could have borrowed books. These included Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Thoreau makes living seem very simple. However, it was a fact that he never married. Life becomes more complex for any man if he marries and has children, and that is what happens to most men.

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