Thoreau: In Wilderness is the Preservation of the World

Posted on July 16, 2014

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Don’t you love the little star in the middle of that fish’s back?

Reconsidering America’s First Naturalist

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting I was not as wise as the day I was born.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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Recently, my sister gave me a copy of  In Wilderness is the Preservation of the World, from Henry David Thoreau, Photographs by Eliot Porter. It’s a collection of  Thoreau quotes, mostly from Walden and his journals, dating back to the 1840s, paired with Porter’s landscape photography. The book was originally published in 1962 and has that great shot-on-Ektachrome look, with saturated blues and greens. This is a fascinating book. I already learned about a book I never heard of, Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, a must-read since my family lives on the very shores of the Merrimack, and I had no idea he had written on Cape Cod and Maine. I think I will pick up some of these other books and root myself more firmly in the lands I call home. (Update: I got A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, but I’m reading a book on Rye right now.)

I haven’t read Walden since high school, and yet I’m always stunned and amazed that it was written 150 years ago, the assertions being so timely and germane to our world today. What did Porter say, something about Thoreau’s language being something to “chew on?”  There is poetry in the sagacity and bare reflection throughout  Thoreau’s writing which I’m sure has contributed to his longevity. And perhaps even to my own penchant for walking the land and the waters seeking the sublime in the ordinary as a balm for my own trials. (It’s not for nothing that I start my book Still Falling with a Thoreau quote: “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” )

I’m going to savor this book, reading a passage a day, but I recommend the next time you are in a used book store, pick up a copy of Walden (god forbid, a book like this should never be read online but held in the hand, outdoors, or at worst by a window on a rainy day) and reflect on the fact that where we are is not so far from where we started, that perhaps it is not the planet that we are corrupting, but that the state of the environment reflects a corruption in the very soul of man. That, perhaps, is the problem we need to solve.

“Most men, it seems to me, do not care for nature and would sell their share in all her beauty for a given sum. Thank God men have not yet learned to fly so they can waste the sky as well as the earth.”  – Henry David Thoreau, Huckleberries (Notes On Fruits)

Alas. Were there but time.

P.S. Who Are You and Where are You From?

Who is visiting me from the Ukraine?
Who is visiting me from the Ukraine?

WordPress gives me these awesome reports and I can see how people find me, where they live, how they found the blog, what pages they visited. I see people from Europe, Asia, South America, and I always wonder who they are. I would love to get comments from  you! Kind of like a WordPress stamp album.


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Posted in: Photography, Writing