Tag Archives: Henry Thoreau

Bose in the Berries

“[Berrying] is a sort of sacrament, a communion – the not forbidden fruits, which no serpent tempts us to eat.” Thoreau, Wild Fruits

In many instances and groves, I find myself aligned with Henry Thoreau. But, when it comes to canines, we part ways. For Thoreau, dogs were all Boses and Treys, indistinguishable animals who coursed through the woods, running game and baying monotonously. Often, one suspects, they were cast as stand-ins for their human hunter companions – keen on one thing only, missing the heaven through which they ran.

For me, not so much. Instead, I see dogs as spirit animals, who arrive, often unbidden, at both usual and gravid moments.

The other day was my first of our berry season. For a few days prior, I’d seen bumps of blue in the bushes that line the paths of our Commons, and I knew the seemingly sudden ripening of blueberries was on us. Although our backyard high bush berries are still green, their ground-hugging cousins have taken in the ground’s added warmth and become themselves.



There are few times I find more meditative and self-completing than a stretch of picking berries on a warm afternoon. My eye finds blue behind and beneath the leaves, and as I pick, I get picky – I want what I call “fat-berries,” the sun-sugared ones as big as your pinkie’s fingernail. They are not the something-infused, suspect colossi you find in the supermarket, shipped north in all seasons. These delicate berries are shipped nowhere, except across the grove by birds, or combed into a happy maw by the bear I always imagine just out of sight.

Anyway, accompanied by overlapping songs from the wood thrush, I was settled into my picking, when I heard brush rustling nearby. I looked up and through it came a yellow lab’s head, replete with the canine smile of discovery usual when they uncover a hidden human. Labs are not shy dogs, and she came right to me, nudged my right hand as prompt for affection, and sat down to receive. Which she did. A minute passed, and I patted on.

Not THE lab, but close friend Harlow nonetheless

Not this story’s lab, but close friend Harlow nonetheless

Then, slowly, a figure drew near on the path 100 feet away; the lab’s human companion (HC in dog literature) was scanning the woods. “Ah,” she said spotting us. “There you are. You’ve found another HC.” The lab, extracting every second of affection, stayed until summoned. Then, she bounded off in pursuit of a tossed ball.

Pause over (I resist, as Thoreau might not have, the pun), I looked down again, and the sky-blue winking gathered me back into the berries. A quart or so later, I straightened and figured it was time to walk home. I marked this patch – only partially picked – on my mental map and set out. First berries, wood thrush songs, a dog’s visit – if I could whistle, I would have.

There is one thing in this piece on which Henry Thoreau and I agree: berries, blue and huckle, are the very spirit of summer, which carries in it (in Walden and elsewhere) the spirit of independence and self-realization. And, just as the yellow lab followed her nose to me, I follow mine to these berries; we are both summer animals.


They Say It Was My (re)Birthday

Birthday one at the pond: Henry Thoreau is 27 and an eight-day resident of Walden. His journal that year offers no record of revelry on the 12th, no record, in fact, of anything. But one suspects a bit of a celebratory mood or moment in the aftermath of his 7/4 move that would become a rebirthing of self. July’s elastic light and Walden’s cool waters must have made this birthday feel expansive.

One imagines Henry Thoreau at the door of his cabin looking, perhaps, at a little early fog on the pond. Like our fog this morning. Where shall I walk today? When? Perhaps first I’ll watch the sidle of early light as the sun climbs the back of Pine Hill; perhaps this will be the morning later caught so clearly in Walden, where Thoreau is “rapt in a revery amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness” until noon. O, the possibilities.

Looking up into July's pines

Looking up into July’s pines

Henry Thoreau has awoken to no one, to the empty slate of this day; he will be its script. And he will be also its writer, later to become our writer, whose words will lead to a million Waldens. That’s quite a (re)birthday present.

Afternote: Thoreau’s journal picks up again 170 years ago today, on the 14th. It’s a rainy morning and he has this to say: “What sweet and tender, the most innocent and divinely encouraging society there is in every natural object, and so in universal nature even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man…While I enjoy the sweet friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me. This rain which is now watering my beans, and keeping me in the house waters me too.”

On Regard of Self Rather Than Self-Regard

As noted in our previous post, summer’s central month always makes me think of Henry Thoreau settling into his “experiment” at Walden. There must have been a pinch-me feeling to awakening pondside to the birdsong and early light.

I often wonder what Henry Thoreau would make of our era-of-the-selfie. We know from the outset (page one) of Walden, Thoreau was no stranger to himself, to the sort of self-examination that’s needed to figure out how to live. He warns us of his upcoming centrality in his book with these words: “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew so well. I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”

But the picture of him that forms as one reads is not a face smiling for his own camera; rather it’s more of praise song for life’s particular possibilities and gifts, as lived by one person with an inclination for the universal.

Thoreau goes on to offer requirement: “Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life…some such account as he would send to a kindred from a distant land.”

Here then, in that and summer’s spirit, are a few postcards from my distant land to something other than my face. If I were to take a selfie, it would be of my legs, to be used as illustration for a card of thanks.

Postcard Paeans (to My Legs)

Today I propose
an amble, a walk, a
run; today let’s be
away. Let’s lope
to the e
that joins us,
let’s match motion
with its e,
and let’s fete e’s
very way across
this day.

Bear with me or simply
bear me up this little
rise I can’t quite see
over. Every day
I ask, every day
you unbend
set me

Legs-eye View

Legs-eye View

of you
for one
of me that
seems rich
seems offer
of more

And there’s this: hope
that the strung
muscle holds
its tune
permits ongoing
twoness and
keeps cadence
with motion’s