Hawthorne’s Observation of Thoreau

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal, published as American Notebooks (1835-42):

September 1, 1842. Mr. Thoreau dined with us yesterday…. He is a keen and delicate observer of nature–a genuine observer–which, I suspect, is almost as rare a character as even an original poet; and Nature, in return for his love, seems to adopt him as her especial child, and shows him secrets which few others are allowed to witness. He is familiar with beast, fish, fowl, and reptile, and has strange stories to tell of adventures, and friendly passages with these lower brethren of mortality. Herb and flower, likewise, wherever they grow, whether in garden or wildwood, are his familiar friends. He is also on intimate terms with the clouds, and can tell the portents of storms. It is a characteristic trait that he has a great regard for the memory of the Indian tribes, whose wild life would have suited him so well; and strange to say, he seldom walks over a ploughed field without picking up an arrow-point, a spearhead, or other relic of the red men–as if their spirits willed him to be the inheritor of their simple wealth.

With all this he has more than a tincture of literature,–a deep and true taste for poetry, especially for the elder poets, and he is a good writer,–at least he has written a good article, a rambling disquisition on Natural History, in the last Dial, which, he says, was chiefly made up from journals of his own observations. Methinks this article gives a very fair image of his mind and character,–so true, innate, and literal in observation, yet giving the spirit as well as letter of what he sees, even as a lake reflects its wooded banks, showing every leaf, yet giving the wild beauty of the whole scene. Then there are in the article passages of cloudy and dreamy metaphysics, and also passages where his thoughts seem to measure and attune themselves into spontaneus verse, as they rightfully may, since there is real poetry in them. There is a basis of good sense and of moral truth, too, throughout the article, which also is a reflection of his character; for he is not unwise to think and feel, and I find him a healthy and wholesome man to know.

After dinner (at which we cut the first watermelon and muskmelon that our garden has ripened) Mr. Thoreau and I walked up the bank of the river; and, at a certain point, he shouted for his boat. Forthwith, a young man paddled it across the river, and Mr. Thoreau and I voyaged farther up the stream, which soon became more beautiful than any picture, with its dark and quiet sheet of water, half shaded, half sunny, between high and wooded banks. The late rains have swollen the stream so much that many trees are standing up to their knees, as it were, in the water, and boughs, which lately swung high in air, now dip and drink deep of the passing wave. As to the poor cardinals which glowed upon the bank a few days since, I could see only a few of their scarlet hats, peeping above the tide. Mr. Thoreau managed the boat so perfectly, either with two paddles or with one, that it seemed instinct with his own will, and to require no physical effort to guide it. He said that, when some Indians visited Concord a few years since, he found that he had acquired, without a teacher, their precise method of propelling and steering a canoe. Nevertheless he was desirous of selling the boat of which he is so fit a pilot, and which was built by his own hands; so I agreed to take it, and accordingly became possessor of the Musketaquid. I wish I could acquire the aquatic skill of the original owner.

The Daily: Big Moose Lake

Then again he went down to the frozen waters of Big Moose Lake to see if he could be seen. And when he determined that he could not see or be seen, he returned to the lean-to of branches he built against the uprooted base of a fallen pine tree. He knelt, in the shelter, and placed his hands on the mesh of smooth stone, tangled roots and dry dirt. He looked up, listening, and heard only a pair of aging hardwoods, aroused by the breeze, necking in the distance. It was a polka-dot Heaven through a thatch-work quilted evergreen ceiling. And he breathed deep, as if to pull the stars a millimeter closer. For the companionship of the reflection of a friend’s face that might be found in a faraway moon. For the warmth of a stranger’s hug that might reach for him on a meteoric thundershower of a little bit of love.

Then he lay down on the earth, cleared of snow, his head resting on a pile of fir branches he had gathered many hours ago. His nostrils stung of pine and his ribs pressed hard through his flesh against the frozen ground below. There was little he could do now, but look up, keep his eyes open, and dream of being found.

Forever, he thought of escaping, and now – here in this wilderness that was so brutally foreign – all he wanted was the familiar, generic, daily routine he had left behind. He started to softly sing:

It’s a world of laughter, a world or tears
It’s a world of hope, and a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all

It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small, small world

There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone.
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It’s a small small world

This is a 20 minute story, which means I wrote it in roughly 20 minutes. I’ve done this before, and you can read those entries here. This entry was originally written from 10:15 am to 10:45 am on Sunday, January 15, 2012 in the clubhouse at Stokely Creek Lodge in Canada. I revised it on January 17, 2012. It was inspired by nordic skiing in the Canadian wood, where there were many lakes and fallen-over pine trees. The lyrics to “It’s a Small World” were added at the last minute, probably from a subconscious need to lighten the tone of the vignette. At play here is a desire to escape the routine, yet the fear that if or when that is accomplished that there will be nothing there. That it will be for naught. And in realizing that, to recognize the fullness of the present.

The Daily: Write On The Lines

Sam sat on the ledge of building 400 on his college campus. He had kept a key after being a physics TA during his junior year and made his way to the roof when he needed mental space. Sam felt like he was on top of a great pinnacle. An old fashioned modern marvel of plate tectonics, steel beams and brick thrust up from the center of something much larger and much older than he could ever dream of being in any one of his many lives to come. The rough edge of the red brick corner cut into his leg as he leaned back and gazed up, over campus, and at the bright stars and blacked-out moon.

The exposed night was what the little town on a ledge had to offer. And it seemed that the harder he tried to look further into space at the stars, the more he was overcome with memories of the past four years. His first physics class in an auditorium below. Mooning that same class, somewhat inadvertently, as his demonstration of centrifugal force went horribly wrong. Playing poker all night and the incredibly solid feeling of a futon mattress at 9am. The laundromat and gravy omelets.

For awhile, he tried to think of a memory for each star he could see. He sat there on the edge and carefully wrote them down in a notebook. He dragged the blue ink of the ballpoint pen across the smooth white paper – between the light blue lines – and he thought that so much of life had to do with staying close to the lines. That he could wander a little. And he did by writing a page of memories on the lines.

He had done so much, and had so many dreams to come, that there was no way it would all fit between, on or around the lines in the rectangle on his lap. He stopped remembering for a moment. He looked down past his flip-flopped feet at the silhouette of a graduate still wearing her cap and gown. She was laughing into her cellphone and waving her arms sporadically. It was a welcome disruption.

This is a 20 minute story, which means I wrote it in roughly 20 minutes. I’ve done this before, and you can read those entries here. This entry was written from 10:13 pm to 10:45 pm on Wednesday, January 10, 2012 in my home office in Traverse City, Michigan. It was inspired by a the sticker on a Cutie clementine that I ate this morning. The sticker read, “Win a college education” and I thought it would be interesting to write a story about a young man that went to college thanks to citrus. However, as is often the case when I start writing, where I think I will end is not where I actually do end. Thank you for reading.

The Daily: Fire Pit and Folk Songs

That’s Lindsey and me warming our hands on cold winter Sunday evening. The kind of evening that we should be inside making a pot roast and drinking red wine. Instead, we’re outside trying to make a small fire larger so that we can eat more sugar and chocolate . . . s’mores!!!!

This is one of those things that I didn’t know I wanted until I wanted it, and then I had to have it. To my surprise, such a fire pit can be acquired for less than $100 at our local home store (Lowes.com in our case).

The power company trimmed some trees before we bought the house and left several stumps by our mailbox. Yogi and I transported five of them up the driveway, so that we could offer our guests some comfy seats from which to toast their marshmallows. It would be cool if Yogi, being the industrious St. Bernard that he is, would have offered to drag the stumps up the hill. Instead, I hoisted them in my old beater of a ‘mobile, the Great White Explorer, and let Yogi ride in the backseat to watch.

We look forward to having you and you and you over for a bonfire one of these days – winter, spring, summer or fall!

P.S. – The fire pit set in our woods makes me want to buy a guitar, memorize the lyrics to “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald,” and grow a beard. Oh, if only I had all the time in the world!

The Daily: Right of the Dot

Today, I learned that the lords of the internet will be approving for sale new top-level domain names. For example, the following are common top-level domain names currently permitted: .com, .net, .org, .biz. Many of us are accustomed to the dot-com boom (and bust) and the colloquialized terms and references relating thereto.

What the introduction of new top-level domains means is that there will likely be many more different website addresses, some that will be specific to a business or type of business. Instead of visiting “Disney.com,” you may visit “Magic.Disney.” Dot-Disney displaces the dot-com. Or instead of going to “Macys.com” to shop online, you might type in “Macys.shop”.

Apparently it costs a lot to gain control of the content to the right of the dot. At least for the most obvious terms. Entire businesses have been built around and for acquiring the management rights thereto. I think we’ll pass on that for now. Instead, I’ll just brainstorm about what names would be right-domains for us: .law, .golf, .love, .yogi, .mich, .goblue, .yoga.

What would you grab if you could get a right-of-the-dot domain?