Reflection 7: Thoreau as Blogger

October 15, 2008

(Copyright © 2008)

Like Job, Samuel Pepys, and Eleanor Roosevelt, Henry David Thoreau would have been a blogger in his day if he’d had access to the Web. As it is, he took pencil and paper with him on his excursions through fields and woods, so logging the progress of his experiences from 1837 to 1862. As in Walden, Thoreau is ever witness to two worlds at once, both to his sensory world and his charged mindfulness of that world. On November 21, 1850, a month from the winter solstice with the sun shining at a slant to the landscape, he wrote:

 

Some distant angle in the sun where a lofty and dense white pine wood, with mingled gray and green, meets a hill covered with shrub oaks, affects me singularly, reinspiring me with all the dreams of my youth. It is a place far away, yet actual and where we have been.

 

In the next sentence he replays the image, trying to get it right:

 

I saw the sun falling on a distant white pine wood whose gray moss-covered stems were visible amid the green, in an angle where this forest abutted on a hill covered with shrub oaks. It was like looking into dreamland. It is one of the avenues to my future.

 

Which opens onto the following comment:

 

Certain coincidences like this are accompanied by a certain flash as of hazy lightning, flooding all the world suddenly with a tremulous serene light which it is difficult to see long at a time.

 

Perhaps he has been nibbling on certain mushrooms, but whatever the reason, on this day Thoreau’s consciousness is flooded as by hazy lightning, requiring great effort to couple the concrete being of the scene with the meaning he has to offer it as derived from his prior experience. Yet he is deeply moved. In fact, in the very next paragraph being and meaning become wholly decoupled and Thoreau finds himself at a loss for ready understanding of his world. He is wholly unprepared to stand under it on the basis of who he is. Which is not a bad thing because it leads to a profound insight into his relationship with the world.

 

I saw Fair Haven Pond with its island, and meadow between the island and the shore, and a strip of perfectly still and smooth water in the lee of the island, and two hawks, fish hawks perhaps, sailing over it. I did not see how it could be when I cease to understand it and see that I did not realize or appreciate it before, but I get no further than this. How adapted these forms and colors to my eye! A meadow and an island! What are these things? Yet the hawks and the ducks keep so aloof! and Nature is so reserved! I am made to love the pond and the meadow, as the wind is made to ripple the water.

 

I am converting Thoreau’s journal entry into a blog because it so clearly reveals the structure of conscious experience in balancing (or synchronizing) concrete sensory input with abstract or conceptual meaning supplied by the observer because that is how we are made. That is the essence of consciousness as selected for over the millions of years it has taken to evolve into the form we employ today. Indeed, each of us is made (has evolved) to understand the world she lives in precisely in terms of the life experiences she has accrued to this day. That balance, then, is the basis for extending our individual streams of consciousness into unknown tomorrows.

 

Above all, we are made to do all this with a strong feeling of love (or perhaps fear, yearning, hurt, anger, curiosity, etc.) that sets the tone for this particular excursion. In consciousness, it all comes together—sensory phenomena, personal meanings, feelings, and a sense that the coherent unity of these different elements represents a fitness to who we are as representatives of our people (tribe, society, culture, species) in this way at this time in this place.

 

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