A crow is looking at my nipples and it’s all the fault of Henry David Thoreau. As part of preparing to move house I’ve been spending a lot of time renovating my garden, and this has inspired me to read Thoreau’s Walden, in which he spends two years living in a primitive hut in the woods, whittling decorative aphorisms for Robin Williams to abuse two hundred and fifty years later in 'Dead Poet’s Society'.
(I say “reading”: in fact it’s proven sufficient simply to follow several of the Walden-themed Twitter accounts on my 3G iPad in various inner-city cafés, just as Thoreau intended.)
As I clamber up the slopes of the steeper parts of my back yard with a potted aloe under one arm I suddenly feel kinship with Enlightenment born-again rustics like Thoreau, though I picture them as the only reference point I have for outdoors types: the stream of near-identical shirtless men in early-eighties Solo commercials. I’ve tried, but I really can’t help but imagine poet-philosopher Thoreau piloting a kayak off a waterfall or sawing through a semiotically significant tree trunk with the aid of another beefy poet-philosopher to whom he is clearly giving the eye.
I plant the cactus and wipe a soiled arm across my brow. I am here; I have come to the yard to live deliberately and face the essential facts of life; I have indeed worked it hard to be a Solo Man.
I am filled with the joy of nature. I have shed the obsessive self-awareness of the virtual world for the pure simplicity of the physical. I can barely even hear the Guardian Books podcast I set up on my iPhone to play over the computer speakers I put on a long extension lead because quiet makes me feel weird.
The weak late-autumn sun, casting itself from cloud to cloud, sheds a pale beam on me. My soul is bursting. Wordlessly, thoughtlessly, I follow an instinct and tear off my shirt to bask.
A crow alights on the fence above me. We look at each other. In the same year that Thoreau was slamming down light-on-the-fizz masculinity, Edgar Allan Poe wrote 'The Raven'.
The sun has reached the next cloud. It’s chilly. The podcast has finished. I’m standing in my silent garden, shirtless and shivering, while a crow looks at my anxious, erect nipples. I may not be about to marry my underage cousin but if it’s a choice between Thoreau and Poe I now know who I am. I run for the back door.
Safely inside my house, a jumper and the internet, I look up Walden and discover that Thoreau’s wilderness hut was ten minutes' walk from his comfortable town house. In many ways, Thoreau was a prick.
Originally published in the King's Tribune, which you should definitely read even though there's hardly anything else about crows or nipples in it.