Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature is a series of eight essays that touch upon a variety of thoughts on nature in writings on Nature, Commodity, Beauty, Language, Discipline, Idealism, Spirit and Prospects. Emerson’s essays were initially published anonymously and were influenced by his early form of Transcendentalism. He composed the essays in Nature after leaving the Unitarian ministry. (Emerson p. viii) Emerson’s Nature has influenced Emerson’s friend Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, John Burroughs and many others since its first publication. What Emerson entreats in Nature is that man must foray into nature in order to understand the “perpetual presence of the sublime.” (Emerson p. 6)
I am forever caught up in the “perpetual presence of the sublime,” that Emerson speaks of, for nature never ceases to amaze me and in that, my heart is like that of a child, as Emerson alludes: “The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other, who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.” (Emerson p. 7)
Emerson speaks to my soul when he says, “In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages,” (Emerson p. 8) for I see the wilderness as the most blessed of places where beauty is forever changing moment by moment. Nature is such that it is constantly changing with its own forces at work constantly, the wind, the skies, the oceans, the forest, the fields. All ever changing. All ever beautiful even in its decay. Continue reading
Thoreau speaks of walking in nature as a “sort of crusade,” a pilgrimage of sorts, in search of all that is holy in the midst of nature. (Thoreau p.72) In fact, Thoreau calls walking a noble art, one that is not unlike the Knights of old. (Thoreau p. 73) On this, I cannot disagree for I feel my walks in nature take on a higher order in my life and connect me to all of my senses at once and without a doubt to a higher order within the universe.
It is in walking in the afternoon Thoreau says that, he would “fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society.” (Thoreau p. 78) In fact, if the thought of things other than nature invade his time walking, he would find himself returned to his senses through nature, recognizing he has no business walking in the woods, if he is “thinking of something out of woods.” (Thoreau p. 79) For it is the “subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it,” that “will direct us aright.” (Thoreau p. 85) Yes, I can concur for when I walk I find the ills of my life are lessen, the pains in my heart are healed, and my senses are awaken by the smallest gift of nature that speaks to me as I stroll through nature’s woods and pastures.
Moreover, in the midst of Thoreau’s exhalations of the restorative power of nature on our psyche, he takes time to remind us of our duty to preserve nature, for “all good things are wild and free.” (Thoreau p. 107) Without nature, the question begs, what place does man have in the world. Thoreau implores us to preserve nature and to respect nature. Thoreau draws the parallel of walking in nature as a spiritual connection to the world in which we live, a connection that is vital to our very lives.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Walking.” Emerson, Ralph Waldo and Henry David Thoreau. Nature / Walking. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1991. p. 71 – 122.
Each day as I walked along the Merrimack River last fall, there were a few dozen Red-winged Blackbirds singing in the top of the tree alongside the river. They trilled, they chattered, they called out a sharp “chak chak chak” sound, making certain that all knew of their presence along the river as they formed their flocks each evening, swirling about, diving head long into the marsh grasses and Phragmites like some daring stunt pilots dazzling an audience of spectators. I watched them spell-bound as they careened about along the edge of the river, flashing their red wing patch as they veered left and then right and swirled in to the marsh grasses in a flurry.
They were a loud group, a boisterous crowd, which broke the reverie of the quiet as I walked along the river’s edge. Despite the fact that I expected each day to see and hear my raucous friends as I walked, I was startled from my own mind that often spun like the chattering flock of glossy Red-winged Blackbirds. Once brought to my senses I would stop to marvel at the racket they made and laugh at their antics swooping about in the large swath of Phragmites along the river.
Day in, day out, as I walked past their riverside haunt the red-winded blackbirds did not cease to entertain me. It was just that simple it seemed, that nature provided the stimulus to take me outside of myself long enough to look at my life from a different direction. As the flight of a flock of birds shifts and change direction, so too does life. Typically, the clarions of spring, I wondered each day why this flock of red-winged blackbirds had not made their way south yet. They were still hanging on to the river’s edge, out of season, as if they might risk wintering in the cold New England winter.
And then, one day they were gone. I walked the path I always took, I marveled in the silence as I passed by the large stand of Phragmites usually infested with Red-winged Blackbirds. I stopped and listened for their chatter and trill. I heard only silence. The cold winters of winter had finally sent them south, I thought to myself. Soon the spring would come again and those clarions of spring, the Red-winged Blackbirds, would return. I would wait, as I do in all aspects of my life, for change to come.
All that glitters, sparkles before my eyes as I sit each day at my desk watching the Merrimack River in its constant state of passage. I am like a passenger, perpetually voyaging along the river, though the motion runs afore my eyes, it too runs through me.
There are rivulets that run within the mighty river that races downstream giving visage to a fluid landscape that flows to the ocean and then turns abruptly with the tides and flows back upstream again. How can that be, you might ask. How can a river run upstream? A river at the mouth of the ocean or sea is affected by the tides. As the tide turns on coastline, so too turns the water in the river until it reaches a certain point where the tide can no long flow against the force of the river’s natural downstream direction. There is always, always flow. Like life. Continue reading
From my Nature Writing Journal…
As I gazed out from my desk at the vista before me, I could see that just across the road to the waters of Merrimack river where I live. The sky was striped with soft pink and slate blue stripes. A flock of Canada Geese was flying just above the tree line. They were heading west with the sun announcing their presence with their loud call that sounded somewhat like an old car horn… “honk, honk, honk.”
Even as the sun was setting and geese were flying overhead, their call trumpeted through the still. Soon it would be dusk. The colors of the sky transmuted to darker hues that transfixed me. I sat on my porch bench and watched the sky dark until the blue hour had settled in. Another flock of geese could be heard off in the distance, or perhaps it was the same flock, flying back my way.
What message were they conveying to each other, I wondered. What message were they conveying to me? Stop, sit, and listen. Be in the still. Soak in the moments when there is nothing but sheer silence surrounding your presence. In that silence is where you find the answers to your deepest questions. In that silence is where you find peace. In that silence, is where inspiration soars like the geese winding their way along the river.
From my Nature Writing journal…
The lapis blue water of the Merrimack River flowed towards the ocean in gentle ripples. I could hear the soft lapping sound of the water on the river’s beach. The tide was still heading out towards the mouth of the river, but the current had slowed to a gentle tug. The sun reflected golden ridges on the ripples of the lapis water.
Was the water ever still, I wondered to myself? I knew the answer… Never. Even when it looks to be not moving, simply static and still, there is an undercurrent flowing with the tides. By nature water moves, always.