Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Henry David Thoreau’

Let us consider…

In Adventure, Books, Life, The Examined Life, Wisdom on July 30, 2012 at 6:00 am
20120728-140244.jpg

Mt. Keneo, Moosehead Lake, Maine

There is much to share with you. It’s been a two week vacation and a universe can collapse in less time.

Yet, I worry that perhaps I’ve exposed too much already. I came to think on this during my time away.

I took a few days, after family visits and guests, to go into the woods alone. Upon hearing this a friend mentioned to Carole that “he just wants to get away from everybody, doesn’t he?” The week before, in jest, I mentioned a long-term project I was considering whereby I would go into the north woods and live in a cabin–or camp, as they’re called here in Maine–for a year. I envision a coming-of-middle age sort of experience. Carole’s response was supportive: “There’s no reason you can’t. I’ll come visit you.” (It is not lost on me that my absence might be just the ticket for her.) I mentioned it to a friend as a possible book subject. His response was, “Why write a book? Just go do it.”

I am not a misanthrope. I like people. One of my few skills is my ability to get along with them well. But most of the time I’d rather not. I don’t avoid people–but much of the time I’d rather be without. In reality, I don’t think I’m too different from many people. I suspect being an only child made my stamp a little deeper. I’ll take a comfortable chair and a book over a party, a fire in the woods rather than a reunion any time.

Part of this conundrum, for that is what it is, a conundrum, involves my blog. I enjoy this form of communication a great deal. And from the bits and pieces I can put together, I am under the impression that many of you, my reader-friends, enjoy reading my missives. Yet there is toil involved, and eventually our natural inclination to avoid toil must be considered. Too, there is the pressing business of how much one reveals and invests in a forum such as this, particularly if disappearing into the woods is on your mind.

One of the activities I enjoyed during my absence from “…the house…” was hiking up Mt. Keneo in Moosehead Lake. Keneo tops out at almost eighteen hundred feet. The trail starts at the elevation of the lake, about a thousand feet above sea level. It is a mile and short change to the top. An eight-hundred foot vertical climb in a mile or so, is a good workout. It gets the blood going. I like that. The physical appeals to me. It was also appealing that one hundred and fifty-five years–and two days–previously, Henry David Thoreau made the same climb. That night when I returned to camp, after I’d filled my belly, after Lucy had turned in (on the trail, when she’s ready for bed, she stands in front of the tent), I opened Thoreau’s essay, Life Without Principle. My eyes fell to an underscored sentence, a note I’d made in a previous reading: “Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives.”

That, friends, is the mission at hand.

Let’s go do something.

In Adventure, Happiness, Life, Nature, The Examined Life on July 16, 2012 at 6:00 am

Cabin fever strikes.

Please excuse my brevity. My quickening pulse. It’s the time of year.

It is the season of cabin fever. I’m burning to move. It doesn’t take much, moving being one of the few things I do well. Sitting still is always difficult for me, and when good weather strikes, watch out. Life affords us but a finite number of seasons. My number, whatever it is, remains one less than last year. Going forward the number diminishes. That alone is pressure enough. I have time, but I don’t have forever.

Consequently, sitting at my desk is not something I embrace this time of year. In the winter, snow falling, temps low, the study is cozy and inviting. Ideas are easy pickings. But now I have a map of the Moosehead region at my elbow. “I need to go to Moosehead every afternoon and camp out every night,” wrote Thoreau. How can I concentrate when my attention is so severely listing?

I report this in the hope that you will understand my lack of focus, grant me my distractions. (See below.)

Yvon Chouainard has a book titled, Let My People Go Surfing. I’m not a surfer, but I concur. Let my people go do something!

___________________

I need some vacation, got to get out of “…the house…”. I trust you understand. It may be a week. It may be two. I’ll get back to you soon enough.

Thanks for reading. Now go do something!

Once upon an oven bird.

In Life, Nature, The Examined Life, Writing on July 13, 2012 at 6:00 am

The wood thrush.

Some days are better than others. I’ve had a run of less-better days recently and this morning I woke up at 3:30 to give this situation further consideration. I came to no conclusion. Getting up mid-morning in contemplation of troubles and distractions sets the course for the day. Surely it will be another day of troubles and distractions. And so it goes.

For me, the best remedy is to get outdoors. The American thinker and scientist Jared Diamond speculates that perhaps the worst fate to befall Homo sapiens was the transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer. His theory hinges on what followed–land accumulation, individual wealth, social status. Everything changed, and not entirely for the good. It is not a stretch to consider that likewise came a transition to sleeping indoors. Although I don’t believe Diamond considers waking up under roof in the same context, it is obvious to me that getting to open sky as soon as possible upon waking is key to a clear head. It is, I believe, how we are wired. Troubles become trapped in four walls that  are blow afar in open air.

Thursday is nature-walk day at the local Audubon center. For two hours every Thursday morning one can stroll with a naturalist and spend time breathing fresh air. We start at 7:00 am. Getting there on time is not an issue if you’re awake at three-thirty.

This morning we identified twenty-four bird species. We also identified a handful of wild flowers. I don’t know anything about wildflowers, so I took some notes, snapped some photos, and will attempt to impress that information on my struggling gray matter. This time of year most birding is done by ear. I’ve spent considerable time attempting to learn bird song. A simple mnemonic device sometimes helps. For instance, the red-eyed Vireo has a call that can be remembered as: Here I am, where are you? Look up here. At the top. The little oven bird screams, teacher, teacher, teacher.  You don’t need a  trick to remember the call of the wood thrush. It is one of the most beautiful sounds in nature. Of the wood thrush’s song, Thoreau wrote,

“Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him.”

The call of the loon is another sound that is deeply evocative. There are things left best unsaid, and the call of the loon does not translate to the nasty roughness of the written word. That is the matter of poetry, of which the loon is master.

And of my troubles and distractions with which my day began? …What trouble? What distraction?

July 4th, 1845

In Philosophy, The Examined Life, Thinkers on July 4, 2012 at 6:00 am

Walden Pond

Henry David Thoreau went to Walden Pond on this date in 1845.

He lived there two years, two months and two days. I was reminded of this once, while traveling in Tibet. Peering up a Himalayan cliff I spotted the cave of a meditating monk, a receding dark entrance agape against the bleached crag face. I was told that a monk, in order to become a lama, must meditate in solitude for three years, three months and three days. It does not feel at all awkward to think of Thoreau as the first American lama.

I learned recently of a theory suggesting that Thoreau went to Walden to practice yoga. “I am a mystic,” he wrote.

On the 150th anniversary of his death, Henry David Thoreau

In Philosophy, Writing on April 29, 2012 at 6:00 am

On his deathbed, Henry David Thoreau was asked by his aunt Louisa if he had made peace with God. “I did not know we had ever quarreled”, he replied.

His last words were, “Now comes good sailing.” And then two lose words “moose” and “Indian”. He died on May 6, 1862 at age 44.

Of writers.

In Memoir, Travel, Writers, Writing on April 3, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Bruce Chatwin observed that there are two types of writers, “the ones who ‘dig in’ and the ones who move.” Chatwin was a mover. When I read him I hear the cadence of his restless feet traversing ancient causeways, just as when I read Melville, I smell salt air.

Once, in London, traipsing around Bloomsbury, I sought out the home of Virginia Woolf.  It is not open to the public, and is now converted office space. But the brass plague confirmed the address. I was reduced to peering in through a barred street window. There were fax machines and furniture, a woman in a beige sweater pounding away on a computer and the flurry of activity one associates with commerce. I tried to imagine Mrs. Woolf there but failed–a “dug in” writer who slipped through my fingers. The failure was particularly poignant in that she had so famously observed, “A woman is to have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Likewise, I found Gertrude Stein’s Paris house, her salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, the place she shared with Alice B. Tolkas. Stein called Alice “Pussy” and Gertrude was “Lovey.” There is that awful scene in A Moveable Feast, where the young Hemingway, standing in the foyer of Miss Stein’s house, overhears her upstairs: “Then Miss Stein’s voice came pleading and begging, saying, ‘Don’t, pussy. Don’t. Don’t. Please don’t. I’ll do anything, pussy, but please don’t do it. Please don’t. Please don’t, pussy.’” She was dead eighteen years when Hemingway’s memoir of Paris and being hungry was published–“But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” Of his writing, Miss Stein said, “Hemingway’s remarks are not literature.” He got her back in the end.

Hemingway is nowhere to be found at his Key West home, despite its well-preserved museum condition. I suspect his spirit has been trampled by hoards of tourists over the years. Papa too was plagued by their presence and had bricks shipped from Baltimore, where they’d been taken up from newly paved streets, to construct a wall around the place, protecting his privacy.

I went to Prague seeking Kafka, the writer who perhaps more than any other, ushered us into the modern era. But he too had disappeared. The City of a Thousand Spires, however, remained true to a fashion and I gave myself to its dark alleys and endless cobblestone streets. “Prague doesn’t let go,” he wrote. Though Prague invites the exercise of transmutations, to this pilgrim the city is more given to music. Smetana and Dvorak are easier to find than the man of The Castle. I do not think this unusual as music, once released abides ripe in the atmosphere, whereas the written word must be sought out.

The spirit of Joyce is to be found in Dublin, though ironically he wrote in self-exile. Thoreau’s cabin at Walden is lost to history, but Emerson’s house in Concord remains and it is easy to imagine the great man dug in, to use Chatwin’s phrase, surrounded by his books and working intently.

And of Chatwin? I found him a desert stretch removed from the Minaji Plain in Rajasthan. But that is another story for another time.