The "Henry" and friend the narrator is referring to are bears. And this contest is the simple premise of the lovely Weston Woods film version of D. B. Johnson's award-winning picture book, Henry Hikes to Fitchburg. But this isn't an action game show, and who will get there first is not the real test. Rather, it's who will have a deeper, richer, happier journey -- the one who works his fool, furry head off, or the one who takes the time to smell the roses and eat some blackberries along the way? This tale is based on an actual event in the life of the noted American writer, naturalist, and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau whose birthday it is today.
Thoreau is one of our country's legendary outside-the-box thinkers, who would
insist in his journal: "Let us know and conform only to the fashions of
eternity." In 1845, Thoreau made a now famous move away from his home in
the village of Concord, Massachusetts (the center of America's literati at the
time). He built a cabin near Walden Pond a few miles away, and, in the process,
made what we have come to see as a revolutionary statement. By planting himself
in nature, as Henry the Bear also does in D. B. Johnson's sequel, Henry Builds
A Cabin, Thoreau challenged the lock-step thinking that he felt was driving
and draining American culture at the time. Rather than dropping out, though,
many would argue that he really had dropped back in to something much larger
by reclaiming an idea that is a fundamental yearning of our national nature.
As Steven Shnur suggests in the author's note to his engaging picture book for
young people, Henry David's House, it's a "vision of [someone] walking
into the woods and fashioning for himself all that he needs to live honestly
and completely." As our adult and our children's lives become increasingly
complex, these are important fables to have, for balance, from a bear (and a
philosopher) named Henry.
Copyright © 2002 John Cech
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