Category Archives: Environment

But For…

I sit in my boat on Walden, playing the flute this evening and see the perch, which I seem to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon traveling over the bottom, which is strewn with the wrecks of the forest, and feel that nothing but the wildest imagination can conceive of the manner of life we are living. Thoreau, Journal, 5/27/41

But for a few mosquitoes, these evening hours are the year’s most inviting. Even midnight reminds that this is the season of light; the night sky never wears the tight-fitting wool cap of winter – it is always some wash of gray. The old day filters up still into the western sky until, taking over, the new day promises from the east.

If I lived by a pond, I would be out on it in these hours. Which tend also to be wind-quiet ones. Still, the nearby coves of sea will do, and some evenings, I go there. Whatever has blown through during the day (fronts warm or cold) to stir the leaves and waves dissipates as the sun slips down, and the water goes glassy. Now the only wavelets are those of the vee that trails me wherever I go, announcing my passage, pointing to my presence, predicting my way.

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Then, a little offshore, I stow my paddle and float only.

Even the mosquitoes seem entranced. They circle lethargically; perhaps, after a long day of battling winds and biting warm-blooded water-goers, they are sated. I may may have the same appeal as a third dessert. I wave them away half-heartedly; they fly likewise. And then whatever it is that tethers me to the everyday disappears.

The tide ebbs and I float out under a sky shot with light. I am reminded of a friend who likes to take a rowboat out into the middle of a lake and then lie down and watch the sky until the boat’s bumping on some shoreline tells him to raise his head and see where he is. While the boat drifts the mind goes free. But for the shore…

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Living Space

Another pondside that brought on contemplation...and painting - Monet's.

Another pondside that brought on contemplation…and painting – Monet’s.

As we near solstice I find myself returning often in mind to the Walden image of summer-Henry “rapt in revery” in the doorway of his pondside house.

what square-footing did he need
in the world, living little
indoors, large
outside – anachronism even
as a young man,
another way of saying
timeless which some
see as eternal – lair
fitting nicely the proportions
of his human animal
five foot six and
let’s say 140 pounds
there he is “rapt”
in his doorway on
his limen “in revery.”

It’s deep summer, nothing
lasts; he knows autumn
tints are on the way,
the tubercular seed will
flower and drop, the
scarlet oak will hold its
red a long time,
but today he is exactly
between worlds, so
at home that even the birds
flit “noiselessly through
the house,” suspended
above its rectangular
footprint.

“I grew in these seasons
like corn in the night,”
he will write
effectively closing
the loop of a day,
encircling a lifetime,
squaring its effect
again and again.
It ripples out still,
reaching me in my slat
of sun by an open window
these 161 summers later.

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A Spruce House Made in the Rain

“But give me a spruce house made in the rain.” Thoreau in an 11/4/60 letter to H.G.O. Blake.

When he wrote these words, Henry Thoreau was thinking back to his summer trip to the White Mountains, and he was musing about, for him, a usual annoyance:

several nuisances that make traveling there-abouts unpleasant…The chief of these was the mt houses. I might have supposed that the main attraction of that region, even to citizens, lay in its wildness and unlikeness to the city, & yet they make it as much like the city as they can afford to. I heard that the Crawford House was lighted with gas & had a large saloon, with its band for music, for dancing.

I go to these same mountains later today, aiming for a mix of research and rambling. And a glance at the forecast says I may see some rain; on high there’s been some June snow and ice, a brief refresher for the last scraps of winter shaded still in high crevices. Remnant winter may suggest that I stay low.

Looking up

Looking up

What I most need to remember, even as I slip on the straps of the little settlement of my pack, is that I am going to a “spruce house,” not a “mt house,” some little replica of what I already know perched on a high slope. In the White Mountains, many of the “mt houses” of Thoreau’s time are gone, though their foundation stones still form rectangles on top of Lafayette and Moosilauke, for example. And Mt Washington remains a “mt house” outpost in the sky, with buildings old and new. But other peaks feature mostly water- and wind-worn stone and stunted spruce.

Atop Moosilauke

Atop Moosilauke

There is, however, new encroachment – for many who walk to these summits the “mt house” now takes the form of a mt screen, carrying in it news of the valley; on a screen, “they make it as much like the city as they can afford to.” And now, even on mountain summits, I often see people in the familiar screen-hunch so common along our sidewalks and cafes of our cities. We seem ever more reluctant to go to the “unlikeness to the city,” to leave it behind.

Why is that?

If a band plays on up there, its music should be the wind in the trees and across the rocks. And I would have a different kind of dancing in a spruce house.

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