Mike ErvinThis is why Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” he wrote, “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 wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

Well hell, who wouldn’t want to do that? And the way to do that, Thoreau wrote, is, “to live so sturdily and Spartan-like … “
That ain’t so easy when you’re crippled. But I’ll give it my best shot. Thoreau lived in a house that he built himself. Not me. I’m retreating to an accessible cabin that was built by a bunch of volunteers on a campground in a state park in Wisconsin called the Bong Recreation Area (named after Richard Bong, a World War II flying ace and recipient of the Medal of Honor … so stop thinking what you’re thinking). And it’s barely accurate to call it a cabin. Yeah, it looks like a cabin from the outside, with its sturdy log construction. But inside there’s a refrigerator and cooking burners and a microwave and a sleeper sofa and two beds and a roll-in shower and air conditioning and a whole bunch more.

This is Walden for cripples.

Thoreau wrote, “Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five.” But that ain’t so easy either. Because the more crippled you are, the more impossible it is to travel light. Every night I sleep hooked up to a CPAP machine I call the Breathe-a-tron 3000. I don’t know what the real name of it is, but that’s what I call it. My doctor says if I sleep without it I might stroke out or have a heart attack and die. So even though my Breathe-a-tron 3000 is a big, bulky pain in the ass to lug around, lug it with me I must. I can’t suck out all the marrow of life if I’m dead.

I also have to bring a battery charger for my wheelchair. And the cabin is 99.9 percent BYO, so we have to bring sheets and towels and cooking utensils and plates and bottle openers, etc. Mercifully, the cabin is well stocked with toilet paper. I imagine Thoreau wiped himself using stuff like oak leaves or dead chipmunks. If that’s what you have to do to successfully suck out all the marrow of life, no thanks.

So between my wife Rahnee and me, our accessible cripple van is packed full with our stuff. Our poor assistants bring a small suitcase and backpack each. They sit cozily on the back seat. And still I’m upset that there isn’t enough room for me to bring my shower chair. There’s a shower chair at the cabin, but it’s a rickety old rolling commode. It’s uncomfortable as hell. But if I bring any more stuff, I’ll have to tie it to the roof like the Beverly Hillbillies. So I guess I’ll have to rough it come shower time.

Thoreau stayed at Walden for two years and two months. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources allows the accessible cabins in their state parks to be reserved for a maximum of four days and nights. So if I’m going to suck out all the marrow of life, I have to do it fast.
During my time at Walden for cripples, I read a lot. I try not to think about what time it is. I take cigar walks, meaning I roll around the campground smoking cigars. I do some things I can’t do in the city, like just be still and listen until none of the sounds I hear are manmade. I lie with my eyes wide open when I first go to bed at night so I can see the pitch blackness. I do some things I can do in the city, too, like eat a lot of food and drink a lot of beer.

I don’t know if I sucked out all the marrow in life per se. But after four days and nights, I felt generally content. Maybe that’s the best a cripple like me can do.