Perplex

Waldo

Jon Debly

 Author’s Note

“Waldo” is a parody of Thoreau’s Walden, a work in which Thoreau describes the physical and spiritual benefits of his time living a simple life in a cabin near Walden pond. In it, I consider the potential circumstances of a ridiculously frugal student. Though the work is in first-person, the speaker’s situation has no real relevance to my own, and the most I could hope from the very short “essay” is that the humour in it does not fall completely flat. My original motivation when writing “Waldo” was the entertainment of myself and my friends, but, after reflecting on it, I see that my feelings towards the unrealistic financial burdens placed upon many of my classmates are apparent. Thus, the simplest way to describe “Waldo” would be to explain it as a satire that uses a completely bastardized version of Thoreau’s philosophy to question the palliative financial recommendations suggested to undergraduate students.

 

Waldo

Man is born free, but, everywhere I look, I see him chained to the stakes that are lower laws (social obligation and financial necessity), living lives of quiet desperation. Thus, in writing the following few pages, I hope to demonstrate, by recounting, briefly, my time near the pond named Waldo, how a student can minimize the cost of their living by acquiring what they need to live with their own labour and finding comfort in the “inner riches” they innately possess.

To begin, it must be acknowledged that the perceived financial burden of undergraduate studies is an utter fabrication of the profligate mind. Since the end of education is still, despite society’s perpetual degradation, the enhancement of one’s knowledge and the pursuit of a life well-lived, it seems reasonable to compare the needs and desires of the contemporary student with those of the ancient Chinese, Persian, Greek, and Roman philosophers. Did the old sages not discover metaphysical splendors that exist below and behind the material world and constantly indulge in the opiates of introspection and simple magnanimity? Point to the enduring philosopher who expected physical, culinary, and domestic luxuries equal to those demanded by the 21st-century student, students who say grace (or do not), every evening, before a sumptuous feast of monarchical proportions.

This is not to mention that the greatest teacher of all is Nature, the indifferent sublimity of which never fails to elucidate the most stubborn mind. Indeed, it is a shame when a student graduates with a bachelor’s, or, worse yet, an honours degree, without understanding how to till the soil, survey the land, and enumerate the many beasts and plants of the Canadian forest? Can you differentiate between Strix varia and nebulosa? Is it not a shame to be forever barred from indulging in such a natural, God-given pleasure?

Do you doubt me when I say that, aside from funds earned during the summer, which can be set aside for tuition, a student can live at a net gain if he or she lives as frugally as I did at Waldo? Such problems as rent, groceries, and debt are soon easily forgotten. Does the Bible not say, “there is nothing better for a person to do than to enjoy their work” and “anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands”(Holy Bible, Eccles. 3.22, Eph. 4.28) ? The pains of the greedy are endless and multiplying, while those of the hermit who toils in self-reflection are, as you will soon see, very few.

It is no secret that there is an extremely low vacancy rate in Charlottetown (the lowest in the country), and those apartments that are vacant are typically either dilapidated or unaffordable. Indeed, even the most ramshackle, crumbling hovel can cost a student upwards of five-hundred dollars! Now, please don’t think, even for a moment, that this situation is the result of poor government planning, monopolization, or corporate greed; as I hinted at before, the true issue lies in the typical student’s decadent desire to eat three meals a day, occupy a well-heated room, and pay their tuition all while consuming gallons of alcohol, “going out,” buying gifts, shopping for new clothing, and, all in all, living comfortably.

It was August 2020 when I first decided to question the merits of my housing situation. Living in a Queen-Street apartment had resulted in an all-out armed conflict between myself and the local vermin. Every day became Verdun; the mice around the place—after being emboldened by a successful campaign of guerilla warfare—began performing military parades by night in the ceiling. Thus, for practical and spiritual reasons, it had become clear that my mode of living needed to be utterly simplified. “Is there any better way of doing that,” I thought, “than to build a home with my own two hands?” I cannot deny that I was motivated by more than dollars and cents; Nature, for me, has always been a divine pantheon in and of itself, representing the zenith of a holistic, fundamental truth that exists in all living things. Did Hippocrates not believe Nature is the best physician (Grube)? I also understood that, although the practice is antiquated, it was once common for physicians to recommend an excursion into the natural world as a remedy for a number of illnesses; thus, in establishing my domicile at Waldo, I was solving two problems at once.

Let me describe to you, as briefly as possible, Waldo pond and the process of my building a residence thereabouts. Waldo is so deep that I have never heard of anyone reaching its bottom with any implement whatsoever. When a hiker or fisherman falls into Waldo, any attempt at rescue is futile; one must simply throw up his hands and assume they’ve already popped up in Perth. I once witnessed a citizen dump four loads of garbage (a couch, chairs, large appliances, and smaller items) in the water; the trash was simply swallowed up, as if into the vast mouth of Charybdis.

Waldo’s water is clear and irradiant, sometimes deeply blue and other times, especially in the evening, as green as emeralds. If only I could describe to you its taste—I do urge you to visit it and avail yourself of a dipper that is likely still there, or cup your hands and deliver to your mouth, in the simian fashion, a cold refreshment that rivals the crispest bottle of Fiji Water™. Other than that, it is enough to say that Waldo is secluded without being too far from town, surrounded by pine and sugar maple, and frequented by many creatures, large and small.

As much as I despise obsessing over facts and figures, it may be difficult for some of my colleagues to imagine how I have sustained myself for the last three months at almost no cost—in fact, at a profit—so, below, I have outlined the expenses incurred and profits garnered while building a residence at Waldo.

 

1 Shovel – $17.99
1 Large Club (the most versatile of tools) – $0 Fashioned from a branch
Chalk – $0 borrowed from a child drawing on the street
Boards – $0 Claimed by squatter’s right
Shingles – $100 Acquired second-hand
Nails – $0 Collected from roads
1 Door – $0
Tile and brick – $0
3 Windows – $0
Sum paid to myself for removing a number of the items above from the property of a generous neighbour $150
—Total— $32.01

 

Therefore, as you can see from the table above, aside from my own labour and the help of a few companions, I made $32.01 by establishing my hovel at Waldo. I do acknowledge that the land on which I built my shack was graciously provided to me by a kind benefactor. That being said, I know from experience that 0.1 ac of land can be acquired for less than one would waste on an entire year’s rent.

Now, my dear reader, I will answer the reasonable questions which have undoubtedly arisen in your mind: How did you eat? What did you do for entertainment? How did you pay for your necessities? What about Wi-Fi, plumbing, and electricity?

Well, to answer many of these qualms in one fell swoop, I reduced the financial burden placed upon me enormously by eradicating, from my mind, many of the extraneous desires that plague the minds of countless students. Desperation, I would argue, is almost always self-imposed, and a natural abode naturally occupied according to the virtues of frugality and austerity has a way of combatting such feelings.

Let us now touch on the food I consumed during my time at Waldo. Before living there, I seemed to have developed an uncanny ability to achieve, simultaneously, poverty and obesity, but after living at Waldo, frequent desperation ridded me of both. To the student who says, “I don’t have enough money to eat! Tuition is far too much!” I say, “impossible; food is all around you!” Indeed, the hungry student, more often than not, lacks creativity instead of money. Expand your culinary horizons, my friend! “Delivery” and “fast-food” are dirty words. When Waldo refused to provide fish, I feasted on what I could find, sometimes, in the true spirit of culinary ingenuity, on stuffed goose or deep-fried beaver (patriotic dishes), mouse shawarma, fox frittata, mink and muskrat medley, and the occasional stray dog. The Canadian forest is the supermarket of the brave:

Arrow head, Bedstraw, potato and bean,

These are free foods for a student in need,

Pigweed, musk mallow, and common sweet clover,

These are all plants that can tide hermits over.

Regarding plumbing, the forest is at your disposal—watch out for poison ivy. If you require, like I did, electricity, simply make use of a long extension cord and an unguarded outlet. The same goes for Wi-Fi; passwords are often as easy as “123,” so to speak (sometimes “1234”). “And what of entertainment?” you might ask. You will find endless entertainment in watching the critters who soon become your neighbours (and sometimes your supper), and, very quickly, you will begin to see the humour in the frivolous, material pursuits of your colleagues. Most of all, material and spiritual wellness will be removed from the company of other Sisyphean dreams you fight for tooth-and-nail and will become the natural boons of a simple academic life. As it was once said by a wise man, “I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him” (Thoreau 455).

 

Works Cited

Grube, G. M. A. “Greek Medicine and the Greek Genius.” Phoenix, vol. 8, no. 4, 1954, pp. 123–35. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/1086122. Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.

Holy Bible, New International Version. Preface by The Committee on Bible Translation, Zondervan, 2011.

Thoreau, Henry David. “January, 1853.” The Writing of Henry David Thoreau, edited by Bradford Torrey, Houghton Mifflin, 1906, pp. 437-86.​

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