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Not too long ago, a couple moved into a house near mine. They have a son named Walter who’s maybe two years old—and, as of a few weeks ago, they have another son named George. I don’t know them at all, but last week Walter hiked up to my porch and asked if he could come inside and color. He was only wearing a shirt (no diaper, no pants), and he was more articulate than I would’ve imagined, given his age. My daughters were running around, playing with their cousins. Sure, I told him, come inside. And then he colored for about fifteen minutes.

Am I crazy to imagine that Walter is that rarest of creatures, an artist of life? That he’ll love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, and give alms to everyone that asks? That he’ll wear his hat—and all else—as he pleases, inside or out? That the narrowest hinge in his hand will put to scorn all machinery? I wonder who he’ll be in twenty or thirty years.

In 1819, on this date, another Walter was born—in a two-story house with cedar shingles, on sixty acres of land, in the heart of Long Island. His mother described him as “a very good, but very strange boy.” He also had a brother named George, a practical soul who later worked as an inspector in a Camden pipe foundry. That Walter wandered the Long Island shores, gathered gulls’ eggs, dug for clams, studied the surf, and grew up to be Walt Whitman.

You never know!

Walt, young