More about the previous post: After talking about the “miracle” in which we “look through each other’s eyes for an instant,” Thoreau goes on to say, “I know of no reading of another’s experience so startling and informative as this would be.”
A few paragraphs earlier he says that the “whole ground of human life seems to some to have been gone over by their predecessors…” an idea with which he strongly disagrees. What we need, he believes, is a fresh perspective, and he’s suggesting that we can achieve this through imagination and empathy. You think it’s all been said and done and thought before? You have only to question the things you took for granted and look at them with fresh eyes, and new worlds will open to you.
I’ve suggested this before, but it bears repeating: Walden isn’t primarily a book about going to the woods. It’s a book about looking at the world around you in a new way. Going to the woods wasn’t just for the love of nature. It was also a way of gaining perspective, of standing just enough apart from normal life to see it as a visitor, as if meeting it for the first time.
“To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. 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. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature” (1836).
Middle Creek, above Pawnee Lake, Nebraska, June 1, 2013.
Reach ahead gently with the paddle and draw it back slowly, a good long stroke, and you’ll keep the kayak moving with very little noise. Just a steady dip, dip, dip of the paddle blades, and the boat itself glides silently across the still water. Continue reading →
“There is such a thing as doing too much to make your life better. Running, vegan eating, meditating, two blogs, cooking for myself… I think I overwhelmed myself and ended up just feeling like a disappointment.”
This is another downside to all the wonderful information that’s available all around us, the million voices telling us how to improve our lives. Even if we granted that a lot of the advice out there is junk, there’s still a tremendous amount of helpful skills and habits you can acquire, wonderful things to experience, and books that YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST READ. Not to mention blogs that are devoted to drawing your attention to even more cool stuff.
We simply don’t have enough time or energy to experience even a fraction of what’s out there, and that can result in guilt and frustration. Living in a connected world means having to develop a new skill that doesn’t come easily to many of us: the ability to find something new, something that will enrich your life, improve your health, and make you a smarter, better, and more interesting and creative person… and then say to yourself, “This new thing is great… and I’m going to admire it for a moment as it floats on by.” Continue reading →
Life on the Mississippi is one of my favorite Mark Twain books. It’s a hodgepodge of history, tall tales, humor, autobiography (with some “stretchers,” I’m sure), and keen observations of human nature. Some of the best chapters are the ones about learning how to pilot a steamboat.
Riverboat piloting required a strong memory. A pilot had to memorize every detail of more than a thousand miles of river—every bend, shoal, and sunken wreck, towns, crossings, water depths—and all of it both ways, upstream and down, by day and night, and at all seasons and stages of the river. A good pilot knew exactly what his boat could do and what it couldn’t, and he knew how to read the water’s surface in a way that would baffle a landsman.
Several of the best (and funniest) of the book’s chapters are the ones in which Twain writes of his struggles to master this knowledge. But finally he did master it, and his vivid and poignant description of the result has stuck with me for many years. Here are the closing paragraphs of Chapter 9. Rather than being dated, if anything they’ve gained relevance in our world of ever-expanding knowledge: Continue reading →
A big part of both creativity and curiosity is the act of looking at familiar things in new ways. Consider time, for instance. Or better yet, a pile of snow.
Where I live, five hundred miles east of the Rockies, one can be forgiven for seeing mountains where there are none. Right now there’s one beside my driveway. It warmed up today and the pile is only about two feet high now, a shadow of its former glory. This tiny mountain has been here all winter. It shrinks as it melts a little, then grows whenever I scoop fresh snow onto it.
Mount Massive in the Sawatch Range of Colorado, via Wikimedia Commons. I wrote this little essay a few years ago, during a snowier winter than the one the central US is having this year, and I neglected to take a comparative photo of Mt. Not-So-Massive beside my driveway. Use your imagination.
It’s when the snow grows old and weathered that it most resembles a genuine mountain. The Rockies aren’t going to melt into a puddle under a warm sun, but the forces that sculpt mountains are in some ways similar to those that sculpt snow banks. The pull of gravity and the slow trickle of water give the snowbank something of a mountain’s familiar but ever-unique shape.
A good poem is highly compressed in its language. You can’t skim through it and hope to get anything out of it. It’s the antithesis of most online reading, which provides more content, more links, more options… and less likelihood that you’ll read one thing slowly and thoughtfully.
Poets.org has a large collection of animated textflow poems, classic poems that are “animated” in the sense that the text appears a few words at a time, so that one line of the poem is broken into a stanza of just a word or two per line, and which fades away when complete. Continue reading →