Keeping appointments with trees in the depth of winter (Walden 169)

Thoreau’s celebration of deep snow is perfectly consistent both with his desire to remove himself (to some extent) from the busyness of society, as well as his love of marveling at the raw power of nature.

But keep in mind that, as biographer Robert Richardson points out, Thoreau’s wintertime journals are filled with observations of the barest evidence of the approaching spring, which Henry obviously looked forward to with as much hopeful fervor as any Northerner. Even in December he would notice buds on trees that wouldn’t open for months. It was one way of dealing with the cold and darkness of winter.

Another way was to get out of the house.

Bur oak in Wilderness Park, Lincoln, Nebraska

Bur oak in Wilderness Park, Lincoln, Nebraska

Same tree, November 2013. It's more stark, but without all the leaves you can see deeper into the woods, and your sense of space and distance is altered, sound carries differently - it's quite a new tree and a new space with the changing of the season.

Same tree, November 2013. It’s more stark, but without all the leaves you can see deeper into the woods, and your sense of space and distance is altered, sound carries differently – it’s quite a new tree and a new space with the changing of the season.

“But no weather interfered fatally with my walks, or rather my going abroad, for I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines; when the ice and snow causing their limbs to droop, and so sharpening their tops, had changed the pines into fir trees; wading to the tops of the highest hills when the show was nearly two feet deep on a level, and shaking down another snow-storm on my head at every step; or sometimes creeping and floundering thither on my hands and knees, when the hunters had gone into winter quarters.”

Henry’s right. I park half a mile away from my office and walk that distance in all weathers. (OK, truth be told, I’m too cheap to pay for a closer but more expensive parking garage.) That means walking in high winds, in temperatures as cold as 10 below zero (-23 C). I walk briskly (Most people don’t walk. They stroll.), and you know what? I’m always warm, if not hot, by the time I reach the office, coat unzipped. Wear a good hat and keep your ears covered, keep moving, and the cold can’t touch you.

Now why would Henry walk miles to visit a tree in winter, at a time when trees are stark and bare? Why not? Maybe there wasn’t much else to do. Henry couldn’t write all the time, and maybe he got to feeling house-bound. Of course he loved trees and might have gone anyway, but I think he moved to the woods in part because the isolation would encourage this kind of intimacy with nature — to have one’s special places, one’s special trees, that you want to visit in all seasons.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

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