Category Archives: The Roost

A blog at Thoreau Farm, written and edited by Sandy Stott

Finding Joy in a Cut Landscape

I will confess to a little gloominess in recent days – it’s hard to turn a page or click a link and find good news in the next page or screen. And yet, as I work each morning near an open window, or read at night and hear the peepers soliciting each other, my low mood rises.

As part of my work, I’ve been rereading some of Thoreau’s journal from 1854 – a year when he is, perhaps, at the height of his powers. Publication of Walden’s not far away; the long trudge through draft after draft’s nearly done. It is time to look up…and out.

Our world tends more and more toward scolds, even as decades of experience make clear that most of us don’t respond well to even the most well-meaning of them. And, surely, we’ve all read passages where Thoreau points a finger at us and shakes it. But as I’ve read through the spring of ’54, with its burgeoning life, it’s clear Thoreau can scarcely contain himself. Here is odd example: on 4/14/54, he is annoyed at the distraction of a body that has had the temerity to turn up in the Sudbury River near Fair Haven Pond. How dare human death and woe distract from the birthing of the world? That seems a bit callous, but Thoreau isn’t being mean spirited, I think; he is simply intent on his season.

Today’s Fairhaven Bay is immeasurably, or nearly so, wilder and more forested than in Thoreau’s time, but he finds so much joy in even this scalped landscape; he can’t stop noting what’s there, instead of what’s not, even as what’s not there could be a book in itself. But as spring runs its sap through him, he is joyful…and remarkably observant of each plant’s advent. All these little births; all this uplift. It’s enough to make you think that life does go on.

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So it is with the violets, who just now are enjoying their high season in the yard. One section is wearing a coverlet of purple and white; it looks regal. I watch them as I have my morning coffee.

Added note: and today, one of the rhododendrons came out; soon, the lilacs. Purple phase all through my brain – (apologies to J Hendrix).

Shady with white violets

Shady with white violets

 

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Aroma After Dark

Corinne H. Smith

“The lilac is beginning to open to-day.” ~ Thoreau’s Journal, April 24, 1854

It was going on 9 p.m., and I was in the mood for a candy bar. Alas, my cupboards were bare. Fortunately for me in times like these, I live just one block behind a strip mall anchored by a large grocery store. (When the garbage trucks come in the middle of the night to empty the metal dumpsters, this proximity doesn’t seem to be quite as wonderful and convenient as it is during daylight hours, however.) So I put on my shoes and jacket and went out into the night. It was a chilly but nice walk of a hundred or more steps along the macadam on my side of the street. It was quiet, too. No one else was out and about. Nice.

By contrast, the store was as startlingly bright and blazing as usual, although business was winding down toward closing time. I searched the checkout aisles for my favorite grab-n-go chocolate, then circled around to the only clerk still standing. He looked tired and bored. “I don’t have a card. And I don’t need a bag,” I told him. In less than a minute, I was back out on the sidewalk and heading toward the house, equipped with my treasure. I would wait to slice open the wrapper when I reached the kitchen.

Back here away from the parking lot, only corner intersections have streetlights. So I kept my eyes on the wide dark strip I recognized as macadam, to make sure of solid footing. Next to me were the various shades of gray representing my neighbor’s evergreens, lawn, and sundry bushes. I was almost next to his house when I was practically knocked over by an aroma. “Whoa.” I stopped and backed up a few steps. The lilac bush! I had forgotten that John had a nice purple lilac bush planted here. And who would have thought that the buds would be opening now? But of course they would. It’s the right time of the season, silly. I grabbed a thin branch and put its petalled tip to my nose. OMG. This is one of my favorite fragrances, ever. I inhaled it a few times and basked in the marvel, then reluctantly let the branch spring back to its brothers. My stomach was growling, and I needed to get home.

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Lilacs always surprise me. By the time they burst forth, we’ve already seen the traditional colors of suburban Spring: yellow daffodils and forsythia, blue hyacinths and crocuses, pink flowering and Japanese cherries, and lots of other vivid flowers and trees. Many have lost their petals and are in leaf by now. And just when we’re getting used to living in a green world again, the lilacs show up. And boy, do they pack a punch! Maybe the others serve as mere appetizers, and the lilacs are the main event. This is not a bad thing, to my mind.

As much as I like lilacs, I have never attended a lilac festival. I know that the two big ones are in Rochester, New York (May 6-15) and on Mackinac Island, Michigan (June 3-12). But now that I think of it, I remember seeing a fair number of lilac bushes in various yards along the route of my usual mile-long neighborhood walk. I haven’t sauntered out there in a while. It’s time to go out again on a regular basis. You can be sure that I’ll take time to sample the fragrances of each and every bush. And this time, I won’t wait until the cover of darkness to do it.

“The lilac is scented at every house.” ~ Thoreau’s journal, May 22, 1853

We’re on our way to this reality, Henry.

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The Season for Everything

This is the season for everything…There is time to watch the ripples on Ripple Lake, to look for arrowheads, to study the rocks and lichens, a time to walk on sandy deserts, and the observer of nature must improve these seasons as much as the farmer his. Thoreau, Journal, 4/24/59

Or try this one: by the time Geoff and I reach the south end of Scrag Island, we’ve stopped twice to warm our hands. The buoys say the water’s reading around 42 degrees, and, even with the sun square on our hands, that 42 trumps whatever the sun’s coaxed into the air. But the green water shines, and we’ve just watched an osprey brings strands of grass to its nestbound mate, perhaps a final lining for anticipated ospreylets. Both birds have keened at our nearness, and we have paddled farther off their island’s shore.

Island, water, sky

Island, water, sky

Our next aim, once we warm hands, is the eagle’s nest on Little Iron Island, a drama-site during 2014, with two eaglets compressing all the outrage of adolescence into a month before they finally fledged. One day we watched tantrum sticks fly from the nest, as an eaglet showed his displeasure…at what we didn’t know. The parent eagles, who shlepped out and back repeatedly with food, looked exhausted by July. For them it seemed the season for one thing only. Constant hunger, no sleep, and all these squalling demands – when will they fly, their posture seemed to say. And then, one day they did.

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Perhaps 2014 put the parents off on this egg-to-eaglet thing, but whatever the reason, the nest was vacant in 2015. What about now, we wonder.

We float the incoming tide slowly by the iron-streaked islet; the nest is empty, even as it looks solid, looks like a house I would buy.

Well, on to the next of everything, and there it is, the up and down flight of the season’s first kingfisher as it hurls itself forward. With its outsized head and long tine of beak, it seems to need extra speed just to stay airborne; or perhaps it’s simply necessary speed in pursuit of everything.

For Henry Thoreau, Ripple Lake was Goose Pond, neighbor water to Walden, and for us it’s the cold water of Middle Bay. Everywhere, though, it’s time to watch the ripples.

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