Thursday, October 10, 2013

In Wildness is the Preservation of the World -Henry David Thoreau

I have been reading the 19th century trancendentalist and nature writer, Henry David Thoreau.  I come to Thoreau late in life, after an influential high school English teacher biased me against him (my teacher was a devotee of Thoreau's mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson).  A year ago I picked up Thoreau's most famous book, Walden, at the library.  Though at first I found some of it tough sledding, and ignored the more mystical bits as not speaking to me, I was still hooked at once. 
I reread it almost immediately, an effort to get more out of the book than I was first capable of.  I have since gone on to read A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, the only other book published in his lifetime, his Cape Cod, and some of The Maine Woods, both published posthumously, and--most riveting for me--some of his enormous journal.  I just picked up a biography--the second--and I expect to be working my way through his writings on and off for years to come.  To encapsulate my interest in him, I need only say I recently paddled in the Concord River in a home-made kayak I named after his (Musketaquid, the indian name for that river), I have gazed at his few belongings in the Concord Museum, and I have contemplated his grave.  I have not yet become a member of the Thoreau Society--but only because I'm short of cash.

The Concord River

My Musketaquid.  Henry's was also homebult, but more of a dory.

Ralph Waldo Emerson's grandfather's house, by the north bridge 
famous for the "shot heard round the world."

Henry's grave, beside those of his siblings and parents, is a pilgrimage site.

Thoreau has been hailed as an early environmentalist and ecologist, inspiration for Gandi and M.L.K, Jr., saw himself a philosopher in the large sense, something of a mystic, was a keen observer of his age and place.  He was devoted to "wildness" in the settled agrarian and industrial town of Concord, Massachusetts, where he lived his entire life.  (The title above is a quote that now graces the bumper of my car.)

I am most drawn to Thoreau's relationship to nature, but he was very much more than a naturalist and nature writer--in even the most "scientific" of his published work he seldom writes about nature alone.  His philosophy of life lived deliberately is a continuing goad to me.  Lately he has been my historical guide into the New England of a century-and-a-half ago, as well as the man who knows every flowering plant in Concord, and when it blooms.  In his journal, he is an odd but interesting and charismatic friend.  He is often over-simplified and sometimes caricatured, but Thoreau was a complex and paradoxical man, and I will return to some of his many facets in future posts. 

I leave you with another quote that continually comes to mind.  "Only that day dawns to which we are awake."

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