Few things in this frenetic modern world are sweeter than time spent with nature, unrushed and without agendas, as many illustrious writers have discovered. From the time he spent in the woodlands of Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau gifted the world with his journal, Walden (1854). Ralph Waldo Emerson echoed the Walden spirit as a poet as well as a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society. And fortunately for us, scores of modern authors have carried on this tradition of quiet reflections in the presence of the outdoors, names like John Muir, Anne Dillard, Alastair Reid, Mary Oliver, and others. Scroll below to ponder on snippets of their thoughts expressed in exquisite prose and poetry.
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. . . .
~ From Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1882). Thoreau was an American naturalist and author. His celebrated nature journal, Walden was published in 1854 after he spent two years living in a cabin in the Massachusetts woodlands.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer and philosopher. This excerpt is rom his essay, Nature (1836).
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.
Hills, the trees, sunrise and sunset, the lake, the moon and the stars, summer clouds – the poets have been right in these centuries: even in its astounding imperfection, this earth of ours is magnificent.
~ Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1954) was an American playwright and writer.
I only went for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
~ John Muir (1838-1914), American naturalist, author and environmental philosopher.
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out of the crabapple tree, … it is the greening of the trees that really gets to me. When all the shock of white and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets leave the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath, the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin growing over whatever winter did to us, a return to the strange idea of continuous living despite the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then, I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf unfurling like a fist to an open palm. I’ll take it all.
Ada Limón (b. 1976) is an American poet, and the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States.
Through these woods, I have walked thousands of times. For many years I felt more at home here than anywhere else, including our own house. Stepping out into the world, into the grass, onto the path, was always a kind of relief. I was not escaping anything. I was returning to the arena of delight. I was stepping across some border. I don’t mean just that the world changed on the other side of the border, but that I did too. Eventually I began to appreciate – I don’t say this lightly – that the great black oaks knew me. I don’t mean they knew me as myself and not another – that kind of individualism was not in the air – but that they recognize and responded to my presence, and to my mood. They began to offer, or I began to feel them offer, their serene greeting. It was like a quick change of temperature, a warm and comfortable flush, faint yet palpable, as I walked toward them and beneath their outflowing branches.
~ From Upstream (2016) by Mary Oliver (1935-2019). Oliver was an American poet, nature lover and essayist. She received the Pulitzer Prize, among many other literary awards.
The Blessing of Wild Things
May the blessing of soft rain
fall upon you, refreshing your soul.
May the sweetness of flowers
blooming bring you joy.
May the low grass and tall trees
leave you speechless with their
May the rivers and seas
lift your spirits like a tide.
May you mingle with stars and
feel their eternity shine on you
and give you peace.
~ Wallace Fong (with inspiration from Maria Mitchell and anonymous Irish blessing)