Category Archives: Walden

Yoyo Days – Solstice

As a boy I never mastered the yoyo. I could make it snap up, slap neatly into my palm, and I could make it “sleep,” which on lucky occasion let me “walk the dog.” But that was it, and so the siren call of more expensive, more obedient yoyos never reached my ears, stopped as they were with impatience.

5:44 a.m., December 21st. I am up for this moment. No sleeping now. Even as I spin at the very bottom of the year. Solstice, and the closest I can get to my inner pagan is recall of childhood and its taffy of time, all stretched and sticky….why is everything and everyone so slow so slow so?

“You will see,” said my patient grandmother, whose arthritic toes overlapped each other, giving her a wobbly gait; “you will see.” Already, I was on to whatever my little marimba mind noticed. Climbing smartly up my string and slapping into the palm of my next impulse.

These years later, back down at the base of light’s slow ebb, I pause, and in the snow-sheen of 1/8th-light at this hour, I can just read the opening paragraphs of “The Pond in Winter.” It is, I know from readings and readings, the right line of words into this day; I spin down its opening sentences…skip the quotation (blasphemy, I know)…and arrive at a favorite sentence:

After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what — how — when — where? But there was dawning Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad windows with serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips. I awoke to an answered question to Nature and daylight. The snow lying deep on the earth dotted with young pines, and the very slope of the hill on which my house is placed, seemed to say, Forward!…

Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in search of water, if that be not a dream. Thoreau, Walden

Here on the shortest day, to begin “my morning work,” to be awake even in the time of sleep, when much and many are bedded down. That, of course, is the book’s work too. Well, “first I take an axe…” and, as an essay I read long ago pointed out, this beginning is an unusual sentence for Thoreau – it is, like the blows of an axe, single syllables, with the exception of its two syllable goal, “water.” Deliberate, singular work, that is how we start. With it we uncover water, Walden water!, elixir. One after another – steps, words, breaths – “Forward!”

More day to dawn

More day to dawn

I do see – answer to my earlier grandmother – even on this shortest day, when “dawning Nature” is taking her time with the light. Down here at the year’s end I am spinning, but I am not sleeping.

Comments Off on Yoyo Days – Solstice

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

Signal Days

At length the winter set in in good earnest, just as I had finished plastering, and the wind began to howl around the house as if it had not had permission to do so till then. Thoreau, Walden, “House-Warming”

On my way out from the valley of no reception, on the season’s coldest morning thus far, I stop by the lake to pick up messages before a day of driving and appointments. My small screen shows no cancellations and no further national tectonics, so I close it and look out over the big screen and the lake, which writhes like a restless dragon.

I step from the car, and a soundtrack of muddled roar emphasizes its everywhere. The wind drives waves of slush ashore where they rattle like cobblestones as they draw their ice back toward the water.

The air coursing over it from the northwest is well below zero, but the water, roiled with waves, is still open, and a constant exhalation of steam flies in many shapes above it. This steam is a water-story too fast, too extreme for telling; writing it would be sentences full of transitions, with few stable nouns in between. Even as it will end in a single mass of ice.

To the east, the sun has topped the ridge, and its brilliance, the way it whitens the steam as it twists and spins, makes it colder still. I feel myself leak away with the wind and roar. Winter is howling in; it has “permission to do so.”

Comments Off on Signal Days

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

A(nother) Stamp for Henry

By Corinne H. Smith

“For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it. To speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters in my life — I wrote this some years ago — that were worth the postage.” ~ Henry Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” Walden

Just before Thanksgiving, the United States Postal Service unveiled the slate of new Forever stamps that will be released in 2017. Thoreau fans were delighted to discover that the post office had remembered to honor Henry’s upcoming 200th birthday. Sometime next year, we’ll be able to put his face on our envelopes once again.

The new stamp

The new stamp

This view of Henry was created by accomplished illustrator and artist Sam Weber. Weber was born in Alaska and grew up in rural Ontario. He holds an MFA from the School of Visual Arts and now works in New York City. Among his many past projects are cover illustrations for the books Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King and Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, as well as several covers of National Geographic issues. How did he come to land the chance to create a new look for Henry Thoreau?

“That’s a good question, although to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how this opportunity came my way,” he admits. Weber suspects he was already on the USPS radar because of his previous work for the office: the painting for a special 93-cent stamp of American author Flannery O’Connor, released in June 2015. He got the Thoreau assignment sometime afterward.

flanneryoconnorstamp

When Weber looked for a photographic reference of Henry Thoreau, he decided to use the popular 1856 Maxham daguerreotype as a guide. He finished the painting this past spring.

Those of us of a certain age remember the last time Henry Thoreau was so honored. It was back in 1967, when he turned 150. The artwork was created by American multi-genre artist Leonard Baskin, who drew it in one of his familiar styles. A lot of Thoreauvians didn’t think the image did Henry any favors. Sam Weber disagrees. “I love the Leonard Baskin stamp,” he says. “It has so much personality and character. Baskin’s visual sensibilities are quite different from mine, but I am a big admirer of his work.”

1967's controversial stamp

1967’s controversial stamp

Weber had not been too familiar with Thoreau and his writings before he began work on this project. But he learned more about both as he went along. “I’ve come to truly admire his thoughts on the environment and on civil disobedience,” he says. Like this piece, many of the others in Weber’s portfolio are portraits. “Portraits have always interested me. I love that feeling of locking eyes with someone from the past through an image, painted or otherwise. In this way especially, I think this project resonated with my artistic voice.”

He continues, realizing how much Henry Thoreau means to a great number of people: “Historical portraits are always difficult, as my artistic abilities inevitably fall short in capturing the special quality individuals like this have on our hearts. I’m grateful for this unique opportunity, and I hope that I’ve done the man some justice.”

So far, we’ve heard only positive reactions to the new stamp. We can’t wait until we can see it and use it ourselves. USPS officials tell us that they have yet to solidify the date and location of the first-day-of-issue stamp dedication ceremony. Stay tuned for more details on this front, as we receive them. In the meantime: many thanks go out to them and to Sam Weber. This one will make letters truly worth the postage.

“There are two worlds — the post-office & Nature. I know them both.”
~ Henry Thoreau, Journal, January 3, 1853

5 Comments

Filed under Arts, Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Historic Preservation, Literature, Living Deliberately, Nature, News and Events, The Roost, Thoreau Quote, Walden