Week 11: Going Up Garret at Once

This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up garret at once. Thoreau.

Going up garret at once. A garret is an upper room in a house, usually under a pitched roof. I picture Emily Dickinson in one, writing poems brilliant and bright — plucked clean of excess, white bones in the desert — for a world not ready. She wrote and wrote, tying her words in neat little packets with twine, and tucked them in the locked chest.

I’m glad she had no pressure to “make a living” on her own. I’m grateful she was allowed to haunt the house and garden in her white dresses and live in seclusion so she could carefully copy down her flashes of lightning. She went up garret at once.

Thoreau made the same choice.  Dying at 44, had he waited to live his life he would have missed it. As it was, he lived more than most of us ever will if we live twice as long.

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 out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like 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. Thoreau

Thoreau was 27 when he hacked out the cellar for his little cabin and embarked on his experiment in simple living.Have I gone up garret at once? These are the things in which I have.

Homeschooling instead of working — countless hours of cuddling on the coach and reading together. Belgium waffles with blueberries and whipping cream instead of morning hour rush. Kisses between each math problem accomplished. Tears during Charlotte’s Web. Laughter during questions about the Bible (kids ask the darnedest things). I still sneak into my almost-16-year-old daughter’s bedroom at night and kiss under her little chin and pray for her well-being and marvel at her beauty. I’ll do it ’til she’s gone. The rest of the girls will get the same treatment. I can do this because we’ve had time together. Lots of it. With all our activities and all our busyness, we’ve lived with each other and haven’t just shared common space.

Delicious meals together — homemade stock, biscuits from scratch, pleasant laughter around the table, prayers before meals, Paul and I chopping vegetables together while we talk, candles lit, messy table settings by children who want to return to drawing and painting, meaningless songs from the heart and idle prattle, Paul smoking his pipe while he barbecues and one of the girls paint.

Money towards things that matter — my wardrobe needs inspiration, our house needs cleaned and decorated, our cars need a facelift but … Paul and I’ve traveled to Chile (because my grandparents believed in the same concept). Paul’s sea kayaked on the Sea of Cortez and camped in a quinzee in the Bitterroot Mountains. We’ve visited Malheur almost every year. We’ve taken road trips to California and Texas. We’ve birded in S.E. Arizona (Paul twice). I’ve been to Italy. Elsa’s been to Italy. Greta’s going to Italy. I’ve been to New York. We’ve been caught in a tornado while camping on a beach. We’ve been rained out while camping in leaky tents. We’ve had our tents ripped by windstorms. We’ve suffered through cold nights and slept out of doors under the stars many times. We’ve hiked mountains (the girls and Paul far more than I) and we’ve seen baby wood ducks following their mama down a stream. We welcome the harbingers of spring every year — the red-winged blackbirds, the meadowlarks, and the mountain bluebirds. We’ve lived in the Ochoco Mountains and learned some of its secrets. We’ve knelt over mountain flowers and whispered their names.

Are there things in which I haven’t “gone up garret”? Yes. Plenty of things. In money lost over things which don’t matter. In work which took more than it gave. In work where there was no ring of truth. In movies, which I receive into myself and digest the depravities of our culture. In books that simper. And articles that sneer. In sentimental nonsense. And reality without spirit. When I’ve listened to facts instead of poetry. When I’ve tried to fix problems not my own. When I’ve walked into prisons and let them shut the door behind me. When I’ve been blind to beauties and deaf to sufferings and visa versa.

But I’m working to remedy it. Here, in what I write … in that I write. I’m simplifying my life in order to place myself in a position to receive miracles, and when they come, to recognize them, and when they are recognized, to be thankful and treasure them in my heart.



  1. Just wanted to thank you, Danielle for your wholesome and inspirational words. May you continue going up garret with your family. Don


  2. “we’ve knelt over wildflowers and whispered their names.”

    Beautiful turn of phrase. I can picture it. Their names are so wonderful too, sounding more like the names of fairies than plants! I thoroughly enjoyed this post D.


  3. This is a fantastic post. I actually printed it out a few months ago to remind me of this basic life lesson periodically. Walden (which I am listening to on audio book) has already been a life changing experience for me and I haven’t even finished it! This topic of going up garret at once stirred some core part of my being and my desires for what I want to accomplish in life. Walden is helping me to strip away the unnecessary parts of my life and live essentially. Paired with similar biblical admonitions also to live without too many earthly entanglements, this is helping me hone the way I chose to live my life. Thanks for the post!


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