It's a Good Thing Thoreau Never Had to Move a Family

Amanda and I hiked up the ranch this past winter, and we found a bald-faced hornet's nest built into the willow bushes along Lone Pine Creek.

We wondered how the hornets built the deteriorating nest and what had happened to them with the onset of winter. Back at the house, I looked up hornets in the Audubon Nature Encyclopedia, and we learned they use dead and deteriorating wood to make the fine, gray-to-white paper from which they build their nests. And all but the queen die when the weather turns cold. The species carries on from eggs the queen lays in the spring.

Amanda asked me, ''Why are these books in the garage?''

I said, ''We're reducing our material possessions, and we're trying to recycle books we won't use any more. This set is 30 years old. Mama bought it used for very little money in Oregon about 10 years ago.''

''These books are still useful and valuable,'' she said. ''You found what we wanted to know about the hornets.''

''Yes. You're right.'' We brought the box in and put the set of books back on the bookcase.

We started reducing our possessions after I helped friends move. They regretted that they had not sorted and trimmed their possessions before it was time to move, because they packed and moved what they would happily have disposed of. I came home determined to keep our possessions trimmed to necessities and only the most treasured ''not necessary to existence'' items. Any of us might be required to move sooner than we can effectively deal with our material possessions.

Laura, my wife, and Juniper and Amanda, our daughters, cooperated. Boxes of unusables went to secondhand stores, friends, and the dump. Amanda and Juniper were called away by college schedules before they finished sorting their belongings. After they left, Laura and I continued the project, moving books and other goods into the garage to await approval for recycling.

During spring break, quite a few books migrated back onto bookshelves. One small box, approved for recycling, still waits in the garage.

When we left Whitney, Ore., on our way to a year-and-a-half stay in central Oregon, everything we owned fit in one pickup truck with side boards and one sedan -- dog, cat, and four humans included. When we left central Oregon, we filled the pickup and a small rental van. Almost two years later, when we moved north to the Rocky Mountains, we needed a much larger rental truck and our car.

Did Thoreau really say a sane man could load everything he owned in a wagon, discover the wagon wouldn't fit through the gate, and walk away and leave it? I gave that book to the Salvation Army store, so I can't check my uncertain memory. Only a man without a family could say that.

Amanda's piano transcends its material existence. It is music, as is Juniper's violin, my guitar, and Laura's autoharp. All of us own boxes of drawings and manuscripts, which transcend the materiality of the paper they are written on.

And books and magazines. Could anyone be asked to give away stacks of Cricket magazines full of childhood memories, or be expected to turn away callously from Kenneth Grahame, E.B. White, J.R.R. Tolkein, Emily Dickinson, and many other who have been friends, teachers, and companions? It is easier to part with tables, chairs, desks, and couches, but we need those things too.

We have trimmed our possessions. We have the opportunity every time we move to consider the value of everything, and to review our lives and our achievements.

I have learned something about the blending of memory and values with material goods -- which are external markers of time and internalized treasures. I've reinforced my knowledge that plans and ideas will always be valued, but considerably modified by my family. From that process, I will learn and grow.

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