If Thoreau is lost in the maze of the University, it’s a good and bad thing, and the two are inextricably mixed. Like the Bay Horse, it’s because he’s lost that we love him. We love him because he beckons us to some unknown, perhaps irreal, place just out of sight, and we know we should go there, but can’t.
And it’s OK, too, if Thoreau is lost in the shuffle because he never wanted to be in it anyway, and frankly, he can’t really live there as a permanent village resident.
We’re looking in the wrong place if we expect to find him fully alive among the shuffle of disciplines and departments. It’s well and good if he half-shows up in a seminar here or there, or in a conversation like this, or in a conference. I embrace his appearance, or half-life, and line up for more.
But in the long run, he’s like a gnarled and enduring Bristlecone Pine, ancient and indestructible, rooted higher than anything should be, surviving and surveying gloriously, always just out of sight, nearly forgotten, illusive and elusive, not quite within touch, with no bitterness at all at not being transplanted by truck to the well-watered lawns of the quad.