EmI: Green Notebook – Arrival

Henrietta Davida Thoreau

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

–Henry David Thoreau

Henrietta Davida Thoreau

This dream that came to me of providing a home and learning center for children with no family and no home is in the process of becoming a reality.

I have constructed the foundations beneath this airy dream, and now, the Emerson Institute waits to be filled with the voices and laughter of children.

As part of the agreement, the Emerson Foundation selected the students who will live here. We decided to bring in one child each day, so that each would have individual time to get acquainted with me and our home. A licensing complication has required that I legally adopt each child. I am willing to make this commitment, though it means that I will not only be the institute’s director; I will also be these children’s mother. It is a formality; I had already in my soul made the commitment to support each child fully and completely throughout that child’s life. Becoming the child’s legal guardian and parent is simply a socially recognized means of representing this commitment I had already made.

An email message waited for me: the board of directors had completed the screenings, and the first child would be ready that day.

Henrietta Davida Thoreau

My heart softened in a way I have never felt before when I saw the photo of Dalton waiting for me. The institute’s first child. My first child.

Henrietta Davida Thoreau

So many thoughts competed for my attention while I headed out to bring him home. I have just completed fourteen weeks of speaking only to the plants in my garden, living only in my small cabin, spending my days of solitude writing, painting, and gardening. And now. And soon. Within minutes. A child. Dalton. Would I remember how to speak to another person?

Such a little boy. So complete, already, in who he is, in interest, enthusiasm, personality! It is not that we will be forming this boy, like we form a lump of clay into a sculpture. It is rather that we will provide the environment in which this young individual can grow and develop and bring out his own unique and particular way of being.

Dalton. Such a complete and perfect miracle of a boy.


Any child would feel unsure at meeting a new adult, coming to a new home. And what has Dalton’s past been?

I only know to be authentic. It’s what I responded to as a child, and it is the only approach I can imagine these children responding to. The authentic feeling in my heart at that moment was overwhelming love, gratitude, and compassion.

“Dalton,” I said, “I am so glad that you are here. This has been my dream for a long time, and you are the first one to step inside this dream. Thank you.”

Henrietta Davida Thoreau

“Is it still a dream?” He asked.

“It’s a dream come true,” I replied.

“I mean, is it real?” He asked. “I need to know if I’m still dreaming like before or if this is for real.”

“It’s for real,” I answered. “Shall we take a picture to prove it?”


“That’s me!” he said when he looked at the photo we took. “It’s me and you! Oh! It’s like A 440! It’s perfect!”


“When I like something,” he said, “I always say A 440! Not A 348 or 346, like back in Bach’s time. But 440. That’s like perfection in our time, right?”


“I don’t know,” I replied. “When I think of perfect, I suppose I always think of carrots! For to me, I have seen nothing more perfect than a bright orange carrot! Maybe I can call you carrot!”

“And I can call you A 440!”

We stood in front of the house and talked for such a long time! It was as if we had each been storing up words inside of us for longer than fourteen weeks, but for our entire lives!

After I had learned more about Bach than I had ever thought I could learn, I realized that Dalton was probably hungry. His smile as he sat down to the grilled cheese I served made me feel that all I had done to bring this about was nothing–that is I would do all of it and more a hundred times over just to see that smile as this boy looked at his first meal at the kitchen table in his new home.


After his supper, it was time for homework. I offered a selection of activities, and he chose to write about his first day here. He asked me to help, but what he really wanted was to share with me the activity of reflecting on this day of beginnings.

“Should I write that you are tall?” He asked. “No, I’ll write that you are beautiful! Do you think I should say that grilled cheese tastes like a low note, like maybe a low G played on a tuba? Cuz it’s all velvet like tuba low Gs.”


After his homework, he listened to music while I read. I had forgotten the joys of quiet companionship when two who are fond of each other practice individual activities in the same room. I had missed this during my time of solitude.


It was time for bed.

“We have lots of rooms and lots of beds,” I told him, “for other children will be joining us through the coming days. You can choose your bed, Dalton, and the one you choose will be yours, in your room.


He looked a little sad, or wistful, maybe, when I wished him good night. I wondered who, in the procession of years that composed his life, had wished him to sleep well.

Later, when I went upstairs to tuck him in, I found him fast asleep, with a peaceful smile on his face.


Sleep well, perfect boy.