“Instead of calling on some scholar, I paid many a visit to particular trees….”
Taken out of context, this is one of those quotes that makes Thoreau sound like a crazy hermit. See? He didn’t like people. He talked to trees!
It should be clear from the rest of the book that Henry didn’t lack sociability. He went into town almost every day, remember.
But he took time to visit particular trees that were favorites of his, ones “which are rare in this neighborhood, standing far away in the middle of some pasture, or in the depths of a wood or swamp, or on a Hilltop.”
Why would anyone do this? Last year I blogged about Mark Hirsch, a photographer who visited and photographed a particular grand old tree every day for a year, observing it up close and at a distance, in every season and variety of weather, at different times of day (and his photos are much better than mine!). That Tree is now a book. Hirsch told me, “I can tell you that photographing That Tree was a transformative experience for me. I now see things in a different perspective and light. In the simple things in and around That Tree, I’ve discovered complex beauty that I’ve overlooked since my childhood. Others perceptions may be what is he doing but mine is they don’t know what they are missing.”
Thoreau also understood the importance of getting to know particular trees and other features of the landscape in such an intimate way. You can only notice so much at once. But if you come back again and again, one of two things will happen. Either you’ll stop seeing, because you know what’s there, or — if you make a point of it — you see it fresh each time, and those layers of experience build and build, one outside the other like tree rings, until your understanding of that place thickens into a stout and venerable trunk.
(End of chapter: “The Ponds”)
(About “A Year in Walden”)