The Cracker Barrel: Eddie’s gifts
Columnist Craig Nagel, of Pequot Lakes, reflects on all he learned from a friend, particularly a love of Henry David Thoreau
I remember every detail.
I was a sophomore in high school, about to enter the library, when my friend Eddie Andresen walked out of it holding a book. Eddie and I both played cornet in the school band, outfield on the school baseball team, and shared a growing interest in West Coast jazz.
“Hey,” he said, handing the book toward me. “I just checked this out for the second time. You oughta read it.”
I took the book from him and looked at the title. “What the heck does ‘Walden’ mean?” I asked.
“It’s the name of the lake the author lived by,” he said. “A guy by the name of Thoreau. I think you’ll like it.”
Thus began a lifelong interest in Henry David Thoreau and the insights he shared through his writings — insights that Ed and I spent hours discussing the following summer while gathering night crawlers at night.
The night crawler business was Ed’s idea, and proved to be fairly profitable. Since we lived in Lake County, Illinois, surrounded by lakes attractive to fishermen, worms were in high demand.
Ed managed to talk a local golf course manager into letting us hunt on the sprinklered fairways at night, crawling on hands and knees with a coffee can hung from our necks, one hand holding a flashlight and the other free for grabbing worms.
Local bait shops paid a penny apiece for our pickings, and on a good night we could make 15 or 20 bucks, which at the time was excellent money, though we ended up with jeans and sneakers plastered with wet grass clippings.
But I digress.
Time passed. We finished high school and went our separate ways. Eddie married and moved to Bemidji, Minnesota, where he and his new wife attended college. Along the way he developed a lifelong interest in hunting and fishing and became a committed watcher of birds.
When, years later, I, too, moved to the north woods, our paths reconnected for good.
Looking back, I’m astonished at how much my life — and the lives of my wife and my brothers and son — were enriched and enlivened by knowing him.
It was Eddie who taught me most of what I know about fishing. It was Eddie and his wife, Sha, who got Claire and I seriously interested in learning about, feeding and identifying birds — an interest that’s added countless hours of excitement and quiet joy to our lives here in the woods.
It was Eddie who introduced us to the music of Nina Simone, Biff Rose, Norah Jones, Miles Davis, Willie Nelson, Elton John and many others, affording us unending delight singing or humming along.
But of all the gifts Ed shared with me, the excitement of reading Thoreau proved the most enduring. Along with countless others, I find myself returning to Walden over and over and over, and always find something worth thinking about.
My most recent visit included the following insights, all in the first 20 pages:
- “What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”
- “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”
- “It is never too late to give up our prejudices.”
- “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
- “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”
- “To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”
And, lest you imagine old Henry lacked humor, a final thought: “It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.”
Collections of Craig Nagel’s columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com.