I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or, if it were sublime, to know it by experience,
and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
Henry David Thoreau captures his motivation for a two-year experiment in simple living at Walden Pond in these words from his essay “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” later published in Walden or Life in the Woods. The record of his time at Walden was never meant for himself alone. Thoreau’s intention to “publish” or “give a true account” of the world as he found it show reminds his readers that he documented the experience with them in mind, understanding its shared significance as well as its personal meaning.
Though Thoreau was writing to an audience, only a handful of his readers could communicate directly with him in return and this long after his sojourn at Walden Pond had ended. The book Thoreau wrote based on the Walden years was not ready for publication for seven years after Thoreau left the pond. While it did find its way into a small circle of like-minded souls during Thoreau’s lifetime, it was not until after his death that the work became iconic in American literature and nature writing.
Like Walden itself, the idea of conducting a personal experiment in ecologically-conscious living which is then shared with others has not only survived Thoreau’s lifetime but gained popularity. A growing number of individuals, from professional writers and activists to online journalists are recording their experiments in green living in the interactive public space of the blogosphere, offering a vast array of answers to the question of what it means to be an environmentalist. They, too, are sharing the stories of where they live and what they live for. However, their words can reach an audience on a scale and with an immediacy that Thoreau never could have dreamed of. (Though, here, one blogger imagines how Thoreau’s journals would have read as a blog.)
I am interested in the contemporary, online incarnations of green living experiments. In what ways are these blogs personal projects that help to shape the writers’ ideas about certain environmental issues? In what ways are they political projects, intended as activism? How do the blogs’ digital format shape the way the writers’ stories are shared? Received? Discussed?
Perhaps the most famous example of a “Thoreau 2.0”-style green living experiment recorded via blog (and video, and eventually as a book)is Colin Beaven, A.K.A. “No Impact Man.” Here is the trailer for the documentary made about Beavan's and his family's experience.
Beavan is quite self-reflexive in his choices to make this private experiment public via the web and other media. I asked nine other green living bloggers to add their experience with these issues to the mix.
Though blogs on green living are many and various, I focused on those in which most posts were personal stories about the author’s own attempts to live more sustainably (rather than blogs that feature mostly news items, product reviews, general how-to’s, etc.). And, I included only blogs to which the authors had recently posted. You can follow my conversations with the bloggers by clicking each of the following links.
The Accidental Environmentalist
The Clean Bin Project Blog
The Crunchy Chicken
Green Bean Chronicles
It’s Not Easy To Be Green
The Last Biscuit
One Green Generation
And, MANY thanks to Cynthia of Withywindle Nature for joining this conversation! She has been kind enough to share some thoughts in the comment section below.