Tag Archives: WALDEN

An Appreciation: Reading “Thoreau and the Language of Trees”

Editor’s note: Thoreau and the Language of Trees is a new book by Concord author Richard Higgins.

By Sandy Stott

As I begin this book, a patient presence of white and pitch pines stands ten or so feet from my open window. One, a pitch pine, has died, though its trunk rises still to 30 feet, and it has become a lure for a pileated woodpecker whose exploratory peckings offer a braille I run my hands over, even as their poetry eludes me. The other 42 trees of this small, yard-girt woodland vie for light, for sky, and they stir whenever the wind blows. Tonight though, they wait, stilled in the late light of this summer’s solstice. Perhaps the owl who called from them a few nights ago will visit all of us later. They are of my yard; all will outlive me; even the pileated-stippled pitch pine trunk may endure decades. Making the acquaintance of these trees takes me beyond myself.

****

When I taught parts of Thoreau’s work to the sometimes hurried young, I had a favorite moment in the semester: some weeks of reading into the term, and some minutes into a class, I closed Walden and asked simply, “are you ready?” Most said, yes; a few demurred: “um…for what?” they asked. “Let’s go,” I said, and they followed me out from the rectangular classroom, down the stairs and to the door. Once outside, I offered them a choice — find any natural object, get comfortable, and concentrate on it (and only it) for ten minutes. I’ll let you know when time’s up.

ITree

Most often people picked trees. I would watch them watch their trees. Some lay on their backs and looked at the canopied sky; other stood at mimicked angle a few feet from the tree; a good number climbed into a tree of choice and sat or stretched out upon a limb. A few got inches away from the trunk or a twig. For an age group often slandered for their rabbity attention, they had remarkably little trouble “getting lost” in their trees. When I read their findings later, I realized that some of them had remained with the tree for paragraphs well after I’d summoned them back into the usual school world of call and response.

I knew, of course, of Thoreau’s fondness for and scrupulous attention to trees. What I didn’t know was that as I was working with the rudiments of this tree-teaching, Richard Higgins was afoot in nearby Concord and in the pages of Thoreau’s journal making a much deeper study. Would that I had been able to bring Higgins and his tree-findings to help my classes toward their trees.

That is, I realize, a rather lengthy preamble to what I mean to be a praise-song for Higgins’s new book, Thoreau and the Language of Trees, but I have taken a personal route to praise because this attractive, compact volume has touched me. Three presences are prominent in its pages — Thoreau, Higgins and a cast of character-trees too numerous to name. Higgins shapes his short essays at the outset of each chapter with an appealing clarity, using them to introduce small groves of short readings from Thoreau. The trees rise from their words. And they rise also in a generous offering of illustrations — photographs (many by Higgins) and, familiar to readers of Thoreau’s journals, a scattering of his quick sketches.

Here is an excerpt that perhaps offers enough window into Higgins’s book for you to see your way there:

Trees brought out another side to Thoreau, one we rarely hear about. They stirred a boyish joy in him. He found “an inexpressible happiness” in the woods. “Their mirth is but just repressed.” Lichen lifted his spirits, and trees seen from a mountain delighted him: “Nothing is so beautiful as the tree tops. A pine or two with a dash of vapor in the sky—and our elysium is made.” (p. 36)

tree 2

When work has confined me, boxed me into its rectangles, I’ve always pointed to the reward of a next woods-walk as part of what sustained that work. But what Thoreau and his modern companion Higgins have done is to enrich my relations with trees, to sharpen my eye, broaden my heart and encourage my narrative impulse to include my patient neighbors. Who may or may not — who knows? — be patient with me.

I return to the page. Here, deep in the book, I’ve found that Robert Richardson’s first sentence in the Forward rings true: “There is real magic in this book.”

I look out at my 42 friends a few feet away. So many stories. Now, it is time to go out.

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Filed under Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost

Winter patience in the not-so-great indoors

By Peter Brace

On the morning of the second “big” sno’easter of Winter 2016/2017 to hit Nantucket, with a forecast of 60 mph gusts and five to eight inches of snow, I was sitting at the edge of my bed re-bandaging a wound on my left foot.

Doxie 0056

Matt and Peter Brace skiing down Pine Mountain, Maine, during a back country adventure. (Circa 1979)

A podiatrist prescribed the daily bandaging procedure and forbade me from walking other than for daily needs for two weeks, an eternal Hell for my dog, Kismet, and me.

Normally, I’d be lacing up my hiking boots to go walk two or three miles; a year-round, circadian ritual I live for. And, I love winter! In fact, only spring barely approaches the nirvana of winter in my mind.

On Nantucket during the winter, the island is empty of visitors. With more than 60 percent of our 30,000 acres protected from development, 45 percent of it conserved as open space, and no dog harassing middle mammals, including raccoons, coyotes, skunks and porcupines, Nantucket is an ideal place to explore by shanks mare.

Having missed almost all of January to a debilitating cold and, recently getting back out into my hiking routine, to then be benched again was dispiriting given my new line of work.

In 2015, I’d launched a guided natural history hiking service on the island. After writing about the natural world on Nantucket for most of my career, guiding hikes around the island just sort of felt right.

My parents were my guides to the outdoors, but mostly my father.

I grew up in Concord, MA, where conservation land exists in abundant acreage relatively on par with Nantucket’s. With the parents divorced by the time I was 10, Pop didn’t slacken into the single dad who squandered father-time with his kids at malls, movies, the zoo or museums. Instead, we explored every inch of Concord open to hiking, cross-country skiing, orienteering, skating and swimming.

Our Thoreauvian adventures included but weren’t limited to the Hapgood Woods, the Walden Pond woods, the Estabrook Woods, the woods between there and Middlesex School, the Wright Woods, the Seton Woods, the Great Meadows and the Upper Spencer Brook Valley, 18 acres of which land my grandmother Elise Huggins donated to the Concord Conservation. I know he felt every second of exploring the outdoors with his children were teachable moments and that he reveled in his new role albeit forced as it was.

Now, through my business, Nantucket Walkabout, I think I’ve gotten inside Pop’s Thoreau psyche and learned some of the boundless pleasures of teaching adults and children as I guide them around the island.

A few months before his passing on Aug. 21, 2014, I saw my dad using a brand new purple Swiss Army pocketknife, cursing while explaining that he’d recently lost his original maroon one. A few days after his death, I found that knife under the cushions of his couch by the wood stove where he took his naps. Upon inspection, I realized that this was the knife he’d had most of my life because the main blade’s tip was rounded over and the blade itself well worn from decades of use and sharpening.

He had countless uses for it on our hikes together hut to hut in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, on Mt. Katadin and the mountains in Acadia National Park in Maine. I imagined it’d been a talisman for him, a direct link to his more active days, cherished and yet still handy.

So, here I was using my father’s pocketknife — maybe hoping for a little trail magic — to diligently keep to my bandaging schedule so I could finally get out walking again to get in shape for my season, my winter patience now worn thinner than his old blade.

Editor’s note: Peter Brace is a prize-winning journalist and environmental writer and the author of  “Walking Nantucket: A Walker’s Guide to Exploring Nantucket on Foot,”  and  “Nantucket: A Natural History.”

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Filed under Environment, General, Nature, The Roost

Living Deliberately, Again

By Corinne H. Smith

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~ “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” WALDEN

At the end of our house tours, we encourage our visitors to consider how Thoreau’s philosophies apply to their own lives. How have they chosen to live deliberately? How have they turned thought into action? To share their answers, guests write their declarations on cards and tack them up on our bulletin board. In the “off season,” we collect selections to share with our online audience. Here are our favorites from our visitors in 2013. (To go back and read the ones from 2012, click here.)
[http://thoreaufarm.org/2012/11/giving-thanks-deliberately/]

– Ride a bike. The world becomes simpler …

– Listening to the land helps me learn how to live on my own.

– I try to speak up when I think my thoughts will make a difference. I listen to my instincts when I am not sure what to do.

– Realizing the great abundance and blessing I have – by just being aware. I have decluttered and simply given away “stuff,” realizing that relationship with “stuff” is not as important as relationship with people. (G)

bulletinboard

– We checked off all we could from our own “list” and have now opened our home to teach about solar power / farm living. We can all do more, but at some point have to share “how” and hope to pass it on.

– We try to eat sustainably for our own health and for the environment. We keep up with current issues and thoughts and occasionally delve into history for insight.

– I try to maintain an open enough mind, so that even those who may cause me to doubt the goodness of humankind, also have something to teach me about my own nature.

– By having a nice walk into the wood of Mendon every weekend.

– I try to stay in the moment, especially by going on nature walks and paying attention to Life! (TR, Waltham MA)

– I teach, always from the perspective of the silenced. “Much Madness is divinest Sense…” ~ Emily Dickinson

– I try to treat others as I would want to be treated and RESPECTED.

– I make sure I find some time every day to listen to the birds and see what nature has brought into my backyard. It brings me peace and happiness – Living deliberately. (Amy, Stoughton)

– I have stopped using plastic where I can – storing in mason jars. I deliberately make friends and spread kindness and positivity. (Karen)

– Take care of the place you live and know where your consumption materials come from and where your trash goes. (Oliwa)

– I turn the heat way down at night without my wife knowing.

– I was an English teacher for 31 years and called my classroom “The Athena Academy.” I taught my students that the goddess of wisdom had gray eyes because that is where wisdom lies: in not thinking in black and white but instead in the infinite shades of gray. This was central to my teaching approach – deliberately echoing some of Thoreau.

– I use my time in ministry with students – helping them mature, grow in their knowledge of God and their values. I find my greatest connections with God through nature and meditation and am motivated to love others and have compassion because most men live lives of quiet desperation. (Corrie O.)

– Run with my dog off-leash through the woods observing flora and fauna, reflecting each night in the wonders I live in. Grow herbs, fruits and vegetables organically with our own compost. (Sandra B.)

– I have chosen a career that is in line with my values and also would meld well with Thoreau’s ideas. I have always strived to live simply with relatively few possessions, and put more energy and intention into human and natural interactions. (Anoush)

– Do what you love; love what you do.

– I am living the life I’ve imagined!

– By staying attuned to the needs, both physical and emotional, of others. By not taking too much, thereby leaving enough for others. “Leave only footprints, take only memories, kill only time.” (MS, Kauneonga LA)

– Live as if today was the last day you had. Absorb as much as you can, enjoy the learning. Make your life and the lives of others more meaningful in a way that better suits your interests and talents. (Jolante)

– What did Thoreau say? “…only when I came to die, to find out I hadn’t lived.” So I thought about what I wanted to be sure to have “done,” “been,” “experienced,” “felt” – and then I spelled it out and am trying to be “deliberate” now.

– I believe Henry would smile just knowing how much he influenced my generation. (Bob M.)

We feel inspired by our friends’ examples. What about YOU, blog readers? How have YOU chosen to live deliberately? Our online bulletin board awaits your input.

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Filed under General, The Roost