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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Deeper into the Meadow We Go: my week in Nova Scotia with Henry David Thoreau

Life in this Nova Scotia meadow seems to unfold according to a very different logic than Marissa and I are accustomed to back home in Long Island. Up here Nature is that much more accessible - it happens in the open meadow, where every critter struggles to define and defend its niche. We witnessed a perfect example of this soon after we arrived when Marissa threw open the double barn doors and started setting up her summer studio.  Almost immediately a flock of swallows appeared, hovering overhead, as if responding to a neighborly invitation. A few of the braver birds took turns dive bombing us, flying in one door and out the other. One briefly perched in the rafters, and then, just as suddenly as they appeared, the flock took wing, apparently declining the invitation on the grounds that the accommodations weren't spacious enough.

The countryside here is only half tamed. It always seems to be renewing itself through its ready association with the wild. The humming birds are ubiquitous. The dogs must stay fenced in the backyard and cats remain strictly indoors lest they become prey to larger predators lurking at the meadow's edge. The boundary line between the human and the natural realms has clearly been redrawn in a number of interesting ways.

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My first week in Nova Scotia has been greatly enriched as a result of what I've been reading. Walden Pond it turns out is still a pretty reliable guidebook when it comes to a spending an extended period in or around the country. It was Marissa who had the foresight to pack a copy of it, a beautiful new edition she came across recently which was published to comemorate this year's bicentennial of Thoreau's birth.  I picked it up as soon as we unpacked and immediately began enjoying the opportunity to reacquaint myself with Thoreau. What a remarkable presence he is  - still vital after 200 years.  And it's even more remarkable how a great book like Walden Pond can actually transform your experience of Nature right down to the present day.

Let me give you a concrete example of what I mean. A few days ago I went down the coast for a short hike in Delaps Cove. There's a footpath there that runs through the woods and then drops into a ravine and ends by a waterfall on the coast. I went on this walk largely at Thoreau's urging to explore the great outdoors. As I was hiking along a rock outcropping that overlooked the Bay of Fundy, I noticed two brownish birds bobbing in choppy water about 30 yards offshore. I watched as both of them in quick succession dove underwater and counted to myself as almost a minute elapsed before they resurfaced, far distant from where they first submerged.  It was then that I realized I was watching two loons at play. I only knew it because just the night before I had been so completely engrossed by Thoreau's description of chasing a loon in his rowboat all across Walden Pond. And here I was experiencing the very same delight, with two loons of my own, as it were, watching them at play in the Fundy surf.  Nature is full of such wonders; we discover these deep correspondences everywhere around us almost as soon as we begin to look. It defies ready explanation.  Suffice it to say El Shaddai of the forest and meadow seems to be keeping busy performing amazing new work.

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Next week I plan to follow up with a further blog post about Thoreau. I was really deeply impressed by the depth of Walden Pond this time around, much more so than when I read it last back in college.  As Thoreau himself sought to remind us - it is a pond with an amazing capacity that never disappoints in its ability to surprise and refresh us.

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