DEPICTING A POORLY pitched tent, Henry David Thoreau leaned forward on all fours, eyes fixed on a plump, black spider with crimson legs. It was then, during this temporal transcendence, that his cell phone erupted. Reflexively, as if expectorating a persimmon, Thoreau harrumphed: "Emerson!"
For months Emerson had been pestering him, "No cell phone yet, Mr. Laid Back?" And yet when Thoreau did purchase a phone plus one hundred monthly variable-rate minutes, Emerson scoffed, "Why do you always order half a loaf, Henry?!" In a tinny alto Thoreau rejoined, "In toto one hundred minutes are superfluous, Ralph, but if I forgo calls between 5am and 11:30pm, the plan sustains this simple being." Emerson scoffed, "Rate plans mean you have to plan. Come now, Henry, simplify, simplify." The words cut. Cut like the nettles embroidering Walden Pond. "Simplify, simplify" was Thoreau's signature aphorism.
Thoreau ignored his jangling Nokia. He thumbed his journal, seeking a fresh page. His fingers trembled as he watched the spider languidly spin thread. But the relentless ringing stole Thoreau's focus and knotted his jaw; he pressed the talk button. "Henry David, are you wearing gloves? . . . Speak up. . . . Ya ever hear of blood-borne pathogens, son? Huh?" It was his mother, of course. "You know not to handle creatures without protection," she chided. There was a distant click, click, clicking sound. "I've a call," Mrs. Thoreau said brightly. "Hold on just a sec."
Glaring at the phone, Thoreau recalled his visit a few weeks before to the Concord Radio Shack. "Sir, my customers praise your simple, pond-side domicile," a spittle-lipped salesman had sibilated. "But does simplification signify success?" Thoreau, smiling dreamily, sighed, "Simplification is a calling." Then came the pitch: "Nothing—well, save extraneous toppings at a Puritan ice cream social—undermines simplicity like missing a call. To further simplify simplification, wouldn't a person need—not want—call waiting?" A shrug, a signature, and Thoreau had finally shuffled home with a new Nokia 6160 and six phone-simplification services.
Meanwhile, he continued observing the spider. Left hand splaying pages, right hand gripping his phone, Thoreau tucked his chin and opened his mouth as if preparing to ingest a mid-size gourd. His lips ringed the pencil clipped to his shirt collar. He closed his mouth. His teeth gripped the pencil. He shifted so the pencil hovered above the journal, and then he parted his teeth. The pencil struck parchment, where it wobbled drunkenly, until Thoreau—still on all fours— corralled it. He had managed to scrawl, "Hypothesis: When sprinkled with hot lobster sauce, the arachnid's crimson extremities melt(?)" when his phone again click, click, clicked.
HIS MOTHER'S VOICE herded Thoreau to the now. "That was a horse dealership," she explained. "There's free hay if we trade in Ned." Ned was the family's base-model steed. Thoreau's father rode mass transit. His mother preferred walking. And they were considering a new horse? Thoreau was composing a protest when his own phone click, click, clicked. "Sorry, Mother, I've a call," he apologized, leaving Mrs. Thoreau— scheduled to demo a four-leg drive Appaloosa with a heated saddle and power windscreens—to punch End Call.
Thoreau scrutinized the spider, which was now knitting a recliner and a tiny nonshrink New England Patriots sweatshirt. "I have yet to document his methodology," Thoreau sniffed to himself, before checking his call waiting. Who else? "Henry David, it's Ralph Waldo here. Hope this call won't complicate your day—heh-heh!" Thoreau's eyes rolled to white. "Henry, I esteem the shelter you've built on my property, but could you, perchance, gentrify?! Some used brick, crown molding, and restored Shaker appointments, and Walden's market value triples!"
"Ralph, later, please. I'm trying to chronicle a spider's life."
"I understand, Henry. Simplify, simplify. Perchance someday your words will adorn stationery," Emerson giggled, pressing End.
Thoreau, face clouding, eyes hurling lightning, sneered: "Perchance! Perchance I'll civilly disobey you, Emerson, until you perchance cease saying 'perchance.'" Thoreau, who'd consigned next month for limning nettles, eyed his phone, then the pond. He crossed his fingers, then pressed *69. Four rings later Emerson intoned: "Transcendental Reading Room."
"Ralph, it's Henry David . . . I . . . I'm leaving Walden . . . I can't gentrify the cabin." Thoreau, detecting a faint click, click, click, smirked at Emerson's flustered answer: "Love to know the why, Hank, but I've a call."
So that's that, Thoreau cackled, nettles slashing his calves as he loped toward Walden Pond where, after pausing to accept a bee's sting, he drew back his arm, aimed toward the pond, and launched his cell phone into the bronze ether.
LATER, PHONELESS, Thoreau didn't hear of his mother's single-horse accident until after the funeral. Chewing a ham sandwich while conference-calling at unfettered gallop, Mrs. Thoreau was brushed off her 80 horse-power Appaloosa by a low-hanging oak limb. When authorities reached the scene, the Appaloosa was picking ham from its teeth, and Mrs. Thoreau's fingers were still clutching her StarTac. One month later, Henry David Thoreau, legs a crimson web of nettle cuts, booted up his PalmPilot to scrawl those celebrated words: "Devoid a cell phone I went to the woods. . . ."