Posts Tagged 'Thoreau'

Counter Friction

“Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine,” H.D. Thoreau wrote in “Civil Disobedience.” Or at least gum it up a bit with your sabots, right?

Of course, we’re all deeply imbedded, imbricated, enveloped in a befouling system. But we do have some choices, don’t we?

Nobody makes you order from Amazon. Nobody forces you to watch television. What keeps you on Facebook now that you know you’re nothing but cattle to them to be sold to the highest bidding Nazi or Russian autocrat?

Did you ever wonder about the transformation of the word “brand”: from a mark of ownership seared into the flesh of slaves to a willingly sported symbol of attachment to corporate identity. Not such a long jump, really, except for the smell of burnt flesh in the air, and the fact that the slaves were bound.

How about “consumption”? The word means to burn up from within; it’s an old name for the scourge of TB, a horrible wasting away. Now it’s what keeps our deranged economy going by necessitating the burning of the very planet.

Sure, unless we would prefer not to, we have to eat. Yet a huge proportion of conventional supermarkets are filled with processed junk, entire aisles of pseudo-foods.

“No” is the beginning of liberation.

Inexhaustible Thoreau

Forty-seven manuscript volumes, seven thousand pages, two million words: the journals of Henry David Thoreau have been edited, extracted, and analyzed over and over again. Beginning with himself, since he used his journals for notes and drafts of articles, books, and speeches. It was his practice to write every day (life, of course, made exceptions); it could be a fine practice to read from him everyday, because he is quite inexhaustible. Let’s admit his published books sometimes make for hard reading; but not so the journals.

These voluminous writings serve as the basis of the exhibit at The Morgan Library and Museum, running until September 10th, entitled This Ever New Self. It’s moving to the Concord Museum, source of more than a few of the items on display, in late September and staying there until 1/21/18. See it!

The words are the things here, but you can also see such stuff as his walking stick, incised by the inch as a handy reference; his desk, pictured above, of Shaker-like simplicity; his ruler, inscribed D.H.T.; samples of the famous Thoreau & Co. pencils, and a lovely blue display box they would have been sold from; and two of his herbarium sheets. Above all, the flowing hand of his writing across pages of notebooks. This liquid scrawl is really quite difficult to read now. But judging from the finely-chiseled clarity of a letter sent to him, it was probably difficult to read Thoreau’s handwriting in his own time. Yet the words make an admirable pattern, a trace of vitality. It scootles across the page.
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156 years after his death, we are still reading. Some people don’t get this; wowza, are they missing out!

Sweet Bees

Sweat bees in the family Halictidae are attracted to the salt in sweat. This little one would not be put off from my arm. Blown and shook off, it returned several times. I have no problem offering up extruded salts, but I was slathered in sunscreen, and that can’t be good for anything, even when it claims otherwise.This one was most intrigued by my camera strap. Also wouldn’t leave. What was it finding here?

*
Here’s quite a bit about the rising threat of flooding to NYC from global warming, which you have to multiple manyfold considering all the cities on the ocean in this world.

Apropos to nothing of the above, and yet to all of it, too, here’s some detail of Thoreau’s brief time on Nantucket, where, some years later, I graduated from high school. (This project’s geographical approach to the wheres in HDT’s life, at least in Massachusetts, is most illuminating.)

The highest point on Nantucket is 111 feet, at Sanaky Head… which has been eroding since I was an elver.

The first of three Radio Open Source programs with Chris Lydon for the Thoreau bicentennial is rousing.

There’s a lot out there right now on HDT, like this piece from across the pond,  but you’ve got the weekend.

And at the Morgan Library & Museum, an exhibit I’ve not yet seen but can tell will be exciting: This Ever New Self: Thoreau and his Journal.

Mouse of Walden


“Someone memorialized Thoreau’s small friend by drawing a mouse on the the back of his door,” writes Laura Dassow Walls in her magnificent new biography. In honor of the Thoreau bicentennial and the mouse at Walden Pond, I asked my friend Marion to draw one on the door to my apartment.

Meanwhile, in Antarctica: Larsen A’s gone, Larsen B collapsed, and yesterday a big chunk of Larsen C broke off. But you know what? It’s really the West Antarctic ice sheet you should be worried about….

HDT200

Born two hundred years ago today, David Henry Thoreau entered the world some 182 years after Concord was settled by English colonialists. What a half-way point for America! Concord’s establishment was, by the way, half a dozen years after the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony: the Puritans were reluctant to move inland. At first.

In The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years, Robert M. Thorson points out that HDT (who changed the order of his given names after college; some Concordians continued to call him David) spent far more time on the waters of the Sudbury and Assabet and Concord rivers and their sprawling, sometimes flooded meadowlands than in the more famous woods. But more importantly, he argues that the Anthropocene had already commenced! In 182 years, the landscape had already been radically transformed, disrupted, deforested, depopulated (of its original inhabitants, two legged and otherwise). A local battle between farmers and early industrialists over control of the river waters, something Henry was a part of as surveyor, was a piece of this human transformation of the planet, at local and global levels.

In her new biography of Thoreau, Laura Dassow Walls, distilling her own lifetime as a scholar of Thoreau and his times, gives us a majestic life in the round. Her stated aim is a reading of “Thoreau as a writer — for remarkably he made of his life itself an extended form of composition, a kind of open, living book.” And she notes that the two Thoreaus we’ve invented for our own time (the nature writer; the social justice figure) really are one.* “His social activism and his defense of nature sprang from the same roots.” Indeed, a “knot of roots” (the description is Emerson’s).

A knot of roots! Aren’t we all, out here on our little twig on the great shrub of life? And sometimes we’re all a little prickly, too. (That was a tangle of plant metaphors, wasn’t it?) Thoreau was no saint. Who is? The testimony of his longevity and continued relevance, particularly at this moment of crisis in the Republic — indeed, the planet as we know it — is more than enough.Kevin Dann, in his wonderfully quirky Expect Great Things: The Life and Search of HDT wants to co-opt Emerson’s disappointed comment about his one-time protege as nothing more than a leader of a huckleberry party. (Emerson, meanwhile, wends his way to the nihilistic individualism of libertarianism….) Dann says this is precisely the point: get out there and gather huckleberries, real or imagined, and make it a party. (Lately, I’ve been cooking with sour cherries and making peach ice-cream, so I think I’m on the right track.)

*”Saving the world requires saving democracy,” echoes Carl Safina (quoted in Patrick Lynch’s A Field Guide to Long Island Sound, a book impossible to imagine without Thoreau), “That requires well-informed citizens. Conservation, environment, poverty, community, education, family, health, economy — these combine to make one quest: liberty and justice for all. Whether one’s special emphasis is global warming or child welfare, the cause is the same cause. And justice comes from the same place being human comes from: compassion.”

All the Thoreau here at B&B.

Birthday Boy

Tomorrow is Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday. This was his journal entry of March 23, 1856:

“I spend a considerable portion of my time observing the habits of the wild animals, my brute neighbors. By their various movements and migrations they fetch the year about to me. Very significant are the flight of geese and the migration of suckers, etc. But when I consider that the nobler animals have been exterminated here, the cougar, panther, lynx, wolverene, wolf, bear, moose, deer, beaver, turkey, etc., etc., I cannot but feel as if I lived in a tamed and, as it were, emasculated country. Would not the motions of those larger and wilder animals have been more significant still? Is it not a maimed and imperfect nature that I am conversant with? As if I were to study a tribe of Indians that had lost all its warriors. Do not the forest and the meadow now lack expression? Now that I never see nor think of the moose with a lesser forest on his head in the one, nor of the beaver in the other? When I think what were the various sounds and notes, the migrations and works, and changes of fur and plumage which ushered in the spring, and marked the other seasons of the year, I am reminded that this my life in nature, this particular round of natural phenomena which I call a year, is lamentably incomplete. I listen to a concert in which so many parts are wanting. The whole civilized country is, to some extent, turned into a city, and I am that citizen whom I pity. Many of those animal migrations and other phenomena by which the Indians marked the season are no longer to be observed. I seek acquaintance with nature to know her moods and manners. Primitive nature is the most interesting to me. I take infinite pains to know all the phenomena of the spring, for instance, thinking that I have here the entire poem, and then, to my chagrin, I learn that it is but an imperfect copy that I possess and have read, that my ancestors have torn out many of the first leaves and grandest passages, and mutilated it in many places. I should not like to think that some demigod had come before me and picked out some of the best of the stars. I wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth. All the great trees and beasts, fishes and fowl are gone; the streams perchance are somewhat shrunk.”

We have shrunk, diminished, and simplified the world. And, seeing just what we see, we are mostly unaware of it. For the imagination, too, has been hamstrung. At a recent Torrey Society lecture on lichens, I was reminded that our woodlands are now mostly denuded of these symbiotic fungi/algi combinations. Being very sensitive to air pollution, most of these canaries-in-a-open-air-coalmine are gone. There should be a profusion of splotching, hanging, dripping, lichens enriching the woods. Turkeys, at least, have come back.

A Week on the Thoreauvian Rivers

“The Indian pipe is still pushing up,” noted Henry David Thoreau in his journal on August 23, 1858. The ghost plant, indian pipe, Emily Dickinson’s favorite flower: Monotropa uniflora emerging. Often mistaken for fungi, this is actually a heterotrophic flowering plant. There are several thousand species of such non-photosynthesizing plants in the world. Most of these, like M. uniflora, are mycoparasitic, meaning they get their food from the mycorrhiza interwoven with the roots of photosynthetic plants.

This year’s commemorative stamp. That’s sumac. Compare with the 150th (1967) commemorative. Maybe they’ll get it right for the 250th?

By the way, the CO2 level in the atmosphere is higher than it has ever been in the 200,000 years of human history. (Not written history, obviously, but our history as Homo sapiens.) By the 2050s, your children or grandchildren will be living in a climate unseen by any hominid in 50 million years.


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