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Cloud Story

Low-anchored cloud,
Newfoundland air,
Fountain-head and source of rivers,
Dew-cloth, dream-drapery,
And napkin spread by fays;
Drifting meadow of the air,
Where bloom the daisied banks and violets,
And in whose fenny labyrinth
The bittern booms and heron wades;
Spirit of lakes and seas and rivers,
Bear only perfumes and the scent
Of healing herbs to just men’s fields!
- Henry David Thoreau

Cloud Story

Summer often summons the inner-child, at least this one, and just the other day that child-me returned to reading the sky, shaping characters who strove across the horizon. It was a middling sort of day – warm but not hot, a few clouds by noon, a little sun, a breeze that couldn’t decide on direction – and I was idling by the sea. The small harbor across which I looked is backed by low ridges of traditional Maine pines, and the water’s ripples were particolored pastels. I set aside the book I’d brought down and looked out and up; the horizon’s few clouds were singular, each keeping pace with the slowest of metronomes; some cirrus etched the blue above.

The story begins

The story begins

Some time later, in a fashion similar to an old Western, cloud-figures (riders?) appeared atop the ridges. My mind supplied the insistent thrum of drums. Shifting then to Butch Cassidy, I said (perhaps aloud), “Who are those guys?”

"Those guys"

“Those guys”

Those guys continued their slow rise, looking down from their ridge – at me? I seemed the only one paying attention, which is another of the conceits when it comes to cloud-stories, and as they advanced I began to feel exposed. Their bellies darkened; they even “loomed,” a verb I usually cut from my vocabulary as overused.

Then, I began to wonder aloud. “What’s your story?” I asked, and then looked around to see if anyone else was near to hear. No one. That’s good, I said to myself, I can get on with my story, which had become one of four genies who spot a lone lounger on a seaside ledge…and then grant him…four wishes.

Let’s see, I mused, what, beyond the entertainment of Trump’s “candidacy,” would I wish for? And I drifted off into summer reverie.

Near rumbling broke the spell. The genies had vanished; actually they had coalesced into a into a …vast face that really did loom. As I watched, a forked finger of lightning tickled the ridge across the water. “Whoa,” I said aloud, said to self. Veils of rain hung from the cloud; day-ending darkness lidded over. Still, it was still. We all hesitated.

Genies gathered

Genies gathered

Then came the wind, bearing the story’s final sentence: Time to beat feet; time to get indoors. The cloud rumbled, yes, run, small fry.

Here, then, are the rest of those clouds. You’re invited to create your own narrative…or poem to match Thoreau’s.

A genie leans in for a look

A genie leans in for a look

 

Light show

Light show

Varied light and color

Varied light and color

 

The wind arrives

The wind arrives

Storm's edge

Storm’s edge

 

A "sucker-hole," the piece of sky that lures you out, just when you should turn in

A “sucker-hole,” the piece of sky that lures you out, just when you should turn in

 

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Filed under Arts, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Quote

Falling in with Henry – Summer Outside of Town

It was unplanned, but over these July days, some 170 years after his move to Walden, I’ve fallen in with Henry and his stretched summer of ’45. Later, it would become part of Walden’s endless (nearly) summer, lasting for more than half the book before fall’s abrupt, punctuating chill arrived. But now, in his raw journal pages and in the mild light that forgets to dwindle each evening, I keep hearing susurration, summer’s saying, “ssssshhhure it’s okay to idle, maybe turn the page…maybe not.”

Well-thumbed Princeton Edition of the Journal

Well-thumbed Princeton Edition of the Journal

On or about July 16th that year, Alek Therien, who would become the woodchopper (and conundrum – is he as simple as one of his posts, or as wise as Homer?) in Walden, visits Thoreau, and, even in these unguarded pages, he’s unsure of what to make of his blunt guest. Therien offers advice on hoeing beans – wait ’til the dew dries – which Thoreau doesn’t credit, and he wants to be read to, which invites a visit from Homer himself.

“And now,” Thoreau writes, “I must read to him while he holds the book – Achilles’ reproof to Patrocles on his sad countenance
‘Why are you in tears, – Patrocles? Like a young child (girl) &c. &c

Or have you only heard some news from Phthia?”

And on this question I pause. Phthia is Achilles’ and Patrocles’ home town, and they are far away at Troy. What might be happening when they are so far from home? Might their fathers be ill, or have died? Might invaders have appeared, just as they the Greeks have at Troy?

It seems significant that Achilles appears here near the inception of Thoreau’s Walden years. He will become a recurring reference in Thoreau’s book, a heroic ideal that casts light on Thoreau’s own purpose at Walden, where, following the archetype, he has set out to locate some secret, some sense of how to live, which he will bring back with him when he returns to town.

Okay, you may say, I know that.

But what has me falling in with Henry Thoreau these days is the implied wondering about the world he has left, the everyday Concord and its dusty roads and clanking cutlery. For me, summer creates the same sense of remove as the shift to Walden. Even when I don’t leave town, I leave its routine, its minute-by-minute machinations.

Instead I live in stretched time’s aforementioned Ss and the way a day’s light goes buttery in the near evening when corn and tomatoes and greens that absorbed that light even this morning form the table’s fare.

And sometimes the question rises: what is happening back in the little town of the everyday? Will I return? Who will be waiting?

For now, however, I am happy to be here, only perhaps an imagined mile or so out of that town, it’s true, but emphatically elsewhere. As was Henry Thoreau when he wrote from beyond Concord of a similar present on the 14th of July in 1845:

Here I know I am in good company – here is the world its centre and metropolis, and all the palms of Asia – and the laurels of Greece – and the first of the Arctic Zones incline thither.

Expansive summer.

July's Pages

July’s Pages

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A Singing Bridge

By Corinne H. Smith

July 11, 2015, 6:30 a.m. North Bridge, Concord, Massachusetts.

I was due at Walden Pond at 7 a.m. to lead the annual silent Memorial Walk during The Thoreau Society Annual Gathering. I had fifteen minutes to spare before I had to pick up a fellow walker at her hotel. So I headed over to my favorite place in the area: the North Bridge.

Thankfully, the hour was too early for tourists. And the timing must have been off for joggers or dog-walkers too, because I had the place blissfully to myself. Or, I should clarify: I was alone, only as far as fellow humans were concerned. Once I tiptoed to the crest of the bridge, I was instead surrounded by birdsong.

Looking down the river

Looking down the Concord River at dawn

The usual little brown chatterers were perched in the tall trees by the riverbanks. A catbird mewed from the thicket. A pair of red-wing blackbirds chased each other through the marsh on the opposite shore. Pigeons cooed from underneath the bridge boards. Every few seconds one of the pigeons would whappity-whap-whap to one of the other wooden posts below.

Looking up the Concord River at dawn

Looking up the Concord River at dawn

As I had hoped, the clear and cloudless sky made for a beautiful scene. My favorite scene. One so full of peace that it confounded me to think that the Revolution started here with weapons, confusion, gunshot, injury, and loss of life.

It was at this hour on the morning of April 19, 1775, that the colonial minutemen gathered in anticipation on the other side of the bridge. The red-coated soldiers would soon arrive in Concord from Boston, after having exchanged shots with the minutemen lining the road in Lexington. The paths of the two groups would cross here in about three hours. What happened would eventually be described by Ralph Waldo Emerson as “the shot heard ‘round the world.” Had the birds been singing on that morning, too?

I looked downriver, to the right. The Concord was beautiful. I looked upriver and toward the Old Manse boathouse, to the left. Suddenly I realized that a heron was fishing along the far shoreline, just beyond a bit of rising mist. I hadn’t noticed it before. I had had too much history on my mind.

Heron fishing

Heron fishing

Still, the birds sang, all around me. After a quick look around to make sure there were no further witnesses, I decided to join them. I chose the chorus from the John Denver song “Summer,” which I thought was one of the most transcendental sets of lyrics he ever wrote:

“And oh, I love the life within me,
I feel a part of everything I see.
And oh, I love the life around me,
A part of everything is here in me.
A part of everything is here in me.
A part of everything is here in me.”

Most singing bridges come with decks of metal grates that make automobile tires “sing” when they travel across them. This morning I changed the definition to include this other kind of singing: vocal, not physical. I sang the chorus several times, getting louder with each one. The heron must not have been a John Denver fan. When I looked back to the far shore, he was gone.

Still, I have a sense for what Henry David Thoreau may have thought if he’d been able to look down from this “rude bridge” and see the reflection of the morning sky in the Concord water:

“Heaven is under our feet, as well as over our heads.”

The Concord is an impressionist river, reflecting both trees and sky.

The Concord is an impressionist river, reflecting both trees and sky.

 

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