“This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself.” —Henry David Thoreau, “Solitude,” Walden
I wonder how many people have traveled to Walden Pond hoping to find this and went away disappointed, thinking maybe Thoreau exaggerated it, or modernity killed it, leaving those magical evenings lost forever in some pre-technological past. The truth is that he found it because he trained himself to find it.
I’m serious about this. Think about what he’s said so far in this book. He is someone who has practiced paying attention. Appreciating nature, like appreciating art or music or anything, is a skill that can be learned. You learn it partly by learning something about the thing you’re paying attention to (reading a little about plants and wildlife in your local area will help you to better understand what you’re looking at, or what you’re hearing, and thus to notice even more), but mostly it’s learned by actively doing it.
“The whole body is one sense” — he’s become an open channel. The boundary between self and nature disappears, or at least is blurred. Observed and observer become one — not necessarily in some mystical or literal sense, but in an experiential sense.
I’m sure it was a fine evening, but each of us has probably seen an evening just as fine. But did we truly experience it? That’s the question. It wasn’t just the evening, it was Henry’s receptivity to that evening. He was prepared for it. He had practiced for it. His senses were honed. How many other people in about Concord lived through that same evening and didn’t even notice it?
(About “A Year in Walden”)