Posts Tagged ‘Henry David Thoreau’

March Walk

I am not referring to the “outdoors” for millions of Americans, that world which is surrounded by cement, concrete, metal, steel, brick and mortar or any other of man’s useful building materials.  Despite the usefulness of these necessities for community living, we can become so acclimated and overwhelmed by them that we are in danger of forgetting there is another “outdoors”—that which God created not simply to provide resources for the above-listed essentials, but specifically to nurture our bodies and souls.

Speaking from personal experience, I must not only bring God’s created world of outdoors in, I must keep it in to remain balanced and whole.  Thus our home is filled with natural treasures:  a variety of sea shells, coral, hunks of quartz and petrified wood, stones and polished agate, jars and bowls filled with chestnuts, fresh flowers blooming in their season, houseplants, and beauty like the above-pictured gleanings of last summer’s dried bounty harvested yesterday—in the prairie just a three minute walk from home.

We bring the outdoors in when we visit wild places, hike or ski through them, or even just view the natural countryside from a car window if that is all we can do.  Exposures to natural and wild beauty can imprint our hearts and minds for a lifetime—renewing and refreshing over the years.  Even though I can only remember from years ago a vacation at the rocky Maine seacoast, or living with the majesty of the Colorado mountains a few miles from my back yard, I am surfeited by theses experiences recalled.

With a vivid and lively imagine we can bring the outdoors in via books that take us anywhere in the world we desire to go!  I am a person most blessed because I have vicariously traveled the world through books.  When I read I am THERE—wherever I have decided to go—and my soul is richer for the trip!

Over 160 years ago, an American whom I love wrote these timeless words:  “Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.”  Throughout the many decades since Henry David Thoreau penned WALDEN and many other writings, Americans have enjoyed God’s gift of nature so wisely preserved by federal, state, and local governments.  But Thoreau also celebrated and wrote about natural creation which can be found at home, wherever there are gardens, birds, and life!*

I often muse over the era in which Thoreau lived and wrote: the mid 19th century.  Technology back then consisted of trains and factories.  In Thoreau’s lifetime one got around by:  train; horse–or horse drawn conveyance, boat, or foot.  Although the telegraph had been invented, most personal and everyday communications were still largely conducted via the spoken or written word.  Thoreau wrote about the human need to periodically remove oneself from human technology and society.

Thoreau loved to walk, engrossed in every natural sight and sound along the way.  What would the perceptive philosopher think about our world today?  Could he ever have envisioned a culture where countless people walk along a lovely park path, heads down and preoccupied with texting or otherwise puttering with their phones?  Or tuning out the birdsong with earphones and streamed music?

Whether or not Henry David Thoreau could have envisioned such advances, he very clearly understood the human drive to discover the potential of and harness resources for man’s use—with all the more urgent necessity to bring the outdoors in, for the good of our souls!

Margaret l. Been — March 23, 2018

*Thoreau’s writings are not just “reads”; they are “re-reads” over and over and over!  One always discovers something new and fresh with the re-reading.  For Christmas one year, my Joe gave me the complete huge 2-volume set of Thoreau’s diaries.

It is fairly well-known that this “beloved Yankee” died at age 45 in early May, 1862, of tuberculosis.  The diary entries (from 1837 to 1861—two volumes approximately 1750 pages each in small font) center on the natural environment with occasional references to books or articles read by Thoreau, or people in his community and individuals he has met in his travels.  The journals include writings dated until a year before Thoreau’s death, and nowhere in reading have I found anything about Thoreau’s illness or personal distress. 

The final entries in 1861 indicate that Thoreau is no longer out and about.  Friends, one of whom is Horace Mann, bring him natural specimens and gleanings from their nature walks, and Thoreau writes from his past observations when out in nature.  In these final entries we see evidence of the outdoors brought into the immediacy of his home:  descriptions of birds viewed from a window; prevailing weather (always a natural phenomena observable from anywhere above ground); and (most poignant of all I think), delightful descriptions of a batch of kittens born during Thoreau’s final days of writing.

NOTE:  Another and hugely significant reason to love Henry David Thoreau was his dedicated and very vocal advocating for the abolition of slavery.

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“The life in us is like the water in the river.  It may rise high this year . . . and flood the parched uplands.”  Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN.

What a delight to have water in our neighborhood!  Five minutes in most any direction will lead us to a lake, river, or marsh.  And just a few feet from our door we have a man-made pond with a soothing fountain, surrounded by plantings of trees—complete with benches for reclining.  Much as I love the colors, scenery, and architecture of New Mexico, there’s a major reason why I’m happy to visit rather than live there:  Water!

My little digital SONY® goes everywhere with me these days.  I’ve learned to keep it in my handbag, so that whenever I see a gnarled tree or a watery view on one of our outings I can capture the moment.  It all goes back to my Girl Scout motto:  “Be Prepared“.  🙂

Margaret L. Been, 2012

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Our patio door opens out to a courtyard, facing east and enclosed on three sides.  Beyond the courtyard is a pleasant park with a walking path around its perimeter—leading to a forest, a prairie preserve, and a small trail down to the wild end of a lake.  The park path is about 1/3rd of a mile around.

It’s fun to watch the walkers on the path.  This morning two young moms pushing strollers circumvented the park six times, at an unbelievably rapid clip.  It seemed like they were just there before our eyes, and then there they were again—laughing, chatting, and pushing their fry.  How refreshing!  The trips around the park were good for the children, and good for the moms—both in aspects of sociability and physical health.  As the moms circled the park I recalled those fun times when I walked our children on a fine spring day, and enjoyed the company of other stay at home moms—a resounding majority, in the days when I was raising little ones.

However, as I grew older I began to think of a “walk” in vastly different terms.  An ideal “walk” became, for me, a saunter—a time for observing and immersing myself in the sights and sounds around me—a means of restoring my soul, rather than a social activity.  I often wonder what Wordsworth, who wandered “lonely as a cloud” in England’s Lake District would think of the way many people walk today—at an agenda driven pace, with Ipads or cell phones dominating the attention of the walker. 

Unless I can stroll with a quiet, kindred spirit—such as my husband, a daughter or son, or a soul friend—I prefer to walk alone rather than with other adults.  Children are normally great walking companions.  They scamper and weave, covering far more territory in a few yards of trail than I do, yet they tend to be aware of their surroundings.  Most children are alive to the moment—noticing the cardinal’s “cheer cheer”, watching the clouds race overhead, or pausing to pick up a leaf or rock along the way.  In most every circumstance of life, I’m rejuvenated in the presence of a congenial child, and the circumstance of walking is no exception.

Perhaps the best walking buddies of all are dogs.  For starters, they don’t talk.  Like children, dogs weave in and out, at least my Dylan does.  He exists totally in the present and his senses are finely tuned.  His ears perk to the slightest bark issuing from far away, and he responds with a throaty rumble.  Especially keen is Dylan’s sense of smell.  He makes me realize how passive we humans are when it comes to smelling things; we let olfactory stimulation come to us—be it an odor (as in skunk) or a fragrance (as in lilacs wafting in the breeze).  Although we may intentionally inhale the fragrance of flowers or bonfires (as I frequently do) we often fail to actively seek out smells.

The smells that appeal to my dog would probably not be my favorites.  Sometimes Dylan (not a large dog) is so insistent and tenacious in sniffing out a small bit of earth that it’s all my 90 pounds can do to drag him away by his leash.  Undoubtedly some small critter recently died in that spot, or some live critter marked the territory with its own badge of ownership.  The canine obsession to investigate thoroughly with his nose reminds me of Hercule Poirot, meditating intently until his “leetle grey cells” light up with a solution to a crime.

I know that my life thrust contains a substantial bit of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote:  “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering . . . .”

In his essay, “Walking”, Thoreau celebrates the freedom of sauntering in wild places, where one can shed the cares of the day and rejoice in the wondrous details of unfettered Nature.  For years, I walked like that—in relatively wild and secluded woods, on solitary trails. 

Yet there is still another stage of human experience, when we cannot physically walk as far or as often as we once did—yet we have been blessed with such inner contentment that we can saunter in our imagination—via books, memory,or creative hobbies—and renew the refreshment of wandering or sauntering—in the manner of Wordsworth and Thoreau. 

As my feet once sauntered, and my senses went out seeking sights and sounds, I now happily experience many of them from my patio—or during just one trip around our 1/3rd mile path.  Even yesterday, as I sat sipping peach flavored CRYSTAL LIGHT® on my patio rocker, I traveled in pure ecstacy when an oriole serenaded me from the American elm just a few feet away.  Nearly every day, my paint brushes explore and revisit many of the wild places I’ve known and loved—the woods, the swamps, and the wild meadows. 

Are we walkers or saunterers?  We can be either or both at different stages of life.  It’s all in our point of view!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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I couldn’t resist.  After tucking into our Saturday morning pancakes, my little red SONY® and I plowed through drifts and wandered in our park.  I was besotted with the abject beauty, which SONY faithfully recorded for me.

From this snowy scramble, I clipped three small shoots of red osier dogwood which are now set into flower frogs in a Victorian transferware pitcher.  Soon the shoots will sprout tiny buds and leaves, and we’ll be on our way to the very next thing:  SPRING.

Much as we anticipate Spring, we can never deny or ignore the charms of the season at hand—although yesterday was a good day to celebrate the season at home rather than on the roads.  I may tire of winter, but I never grow weary of living in Wisconsin.

Early this morning I updated my WordPress Profile—so that whenever my Gravatar is clicked, my five blog sites will appear for readers’ easy access.  While on the Profile page I wondered if I should change the Northern Reflections’ explanatory blurb, which presently reads:  “gleanings from Wisconsin’s wild rivers, lakes, marshes, and woods”. 

When I began blogging in Autumn, 2008, we were firmly entrenched in our far Northern lifestyle of living on 14 plus acres surrounded by a plethora of wildness including black bears, wolves, fishers, more Virginia whitetails than people, and all kinds of winged life.  Eagles soared over constantly year around—and our marsh, lake, and river abounded in waterfowl and songbirds in spring and summer. 

Now we live in Southern Wisconsin, in a semi-rural area with easy access to Milwaukee.  Yet we are still surrounded by wildlife. Only the bears, wolves, fishers, and eagles are missing here—although eagles have been sighted in our county and somehow a very hapless black bear wandered into the Milwaukee suburban area a few years back.  There has been cougar evidence just a few miles north of us in Hartford—and coyotes roam the bountiful Milwaukee Parkway System, terrorizing small dogs and their owners.

Yes, we have wild rivers, lakes, marshes, and woods all over our state—even in our Southern county.  In fact, we live in the middle of the Lake Country with water all around us.  Our home faces a park near Lake Nagawicka, with a wildlife sanctuary along the entire side leading to the lake.  Waterfowl and other large birds fly overhead constantly in spring, summer, and autumn:  great blue heron, ducks unlimited, and of course the Canada geese.  I’ve seen cattle egrets in farm pastures around here—and we have an abundance of hawks and owls. 

Any day now, we’ll hear that “Hallooo-hallooo-hallooo” of the sandhill cranes—like reedy bamboo pipes, rolling their notes with a French “R” while preparing to land in a swamp for some raucous partying before heading to the cornfields. (We actually did see cranes in a nearby cornfield yesterday, so they must be “Hallooo-ing” up there already.) 

When they land, the sandhills may possibly only be “out-raucoused” (if there is such a word) by the tundra swans who sound like Canada geese with asthmatic bronchitis.  But oh, that winsome flight song of the cranes, soothing as our bamboo windchimes rustling in the breeze.

Yes, I’m still gleaning Wisconsin’s wild places.  No matter where I live, I’m wildness, bred and born.  My mother knew the name of most every wildflower and bird, and my dad was a hunter who loved the out-of-doors.  Although a city, Wauwatosa, was my home for most of my growing years, I had an eight year interim in a small upstate community—and there I grew to love the quintessential Wisconsin small town. Precious childhood memories include hunting and fishing with my dad.  Although I hope I never have to shoot anything, I totally respect our local culture of hunters—responsible hunters, that is.  As a kid, I traipsed along behind my father when he went pheasant hunting along the fieldstone hedgerows of hilly Kettle Moraine North near Sheboygan Falls.  I still recall the woodsy, hilly beauty which grabbed ahold of me and never let go.

Summers were spent on water, which I was “in” as much as “out of”.  In our state, learning to swim is a huge GIVEN. It’s a matter of survival, as we are surrounded by rivers and lakes.  Wisconsin kids learn to swim along with learning to read, and often before.  Ever desiring to have a companion, and lacking a son, my dad taught me to fish at an early age as well. 

Yes, I believe I can continue to blog my “gleanings from Wisconsin’s wild rivers, lakes, marshes, and woods” even though I no longer live in the wild north.  Wisconsin’s wildness is an integral part of my soul.  And there is plenty of wildness within easy walking distance of our home!

“Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.  We need the tonic of wildness—to wade sometimes in the marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe . . . At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed, and unfathomed by us because (it is) unfathomable.”  Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

Note:  Below you will see my original copy of Thoreau, which I purchased in 1967.  A few years back I bought a new, hardcover edition of the book you see pictured here.  Same everything, but lacking in the ambience of my special dog eared book—with pages falling out, pages ripped, pages annotated by me, and pages flapping.  Time and again I try to read from the new hardcover, and then return to the old worn out copy I love best.

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(Karen’s Garden in Waukesha Wisconsin — photo by Karen and Lee Veldboom) ↑ 

Poems, by Margaret L. Been 

(Karen’s Rose Arbor — photo by Karen and Lee Veldboom)

Feel the ecstacy of cloud, and rose’s beauty pain! 

Inhale the damp of ginger cool, the poignancy of rain.    



(Our Northern Retreat — photo by Margaret L. Been) ↑

June unravels lush across the land . . .

beauty stakes a summer tent and Love

has seized my hand.


(Margaret’s Condo Garden in Nashotah, Wisconsin — photo by Margaret L. Been) ↑

Last Eon

Last eon old ladies kept gardens—

indolent sweet

lilies of the valley,

Virginia bluebells

ringing up June-wafting peonies,

wicker chaired haunts

for pausing with timeless cups

of tea, mint scented

lemonade and cookie gardens

enticing well-patched fry

from lace-curtained homes kept

by mothers.

Last eon old ladies kept gardens.


(Walden North — photo by Margaret L. Been) ↑

Another Walden

(In honor of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote “I had three chairs in my house:  one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.”)

Eaves sagging,

spidered shingles veiling

squirrel-hewn beams.

A one-hinged door

sashays and scrapes

the spintered floor

where field mice scamper

with their seedy stores.

Three chairs are here

for you and me

and company,

and battered cups

for toasting joy

of mislaid schemes

among the shards

of dusty dreams.


(Our Big Elk River — digitally enhanced photo by Margaret L. Been)  ↑

The Glory that is August . . .

. . . rejoicing in gleaming paint pots

of paisleys, morning glories tripping ankles,

riotous color circles cascading brilliant orange

from coppery berry-stained arms, ruby dollops

dripping from dangling gold, cheekbones

blushing mauve, stormy drapes valancing

languid summer eyes.

Behold her richly tangled gardens

nurtured randomly with whimsical

neglect, where cicadas thrum

and chipmunks scurry—where dynasties

of rabbits glean chamomile and mint

from shards of clay, and crackled

china plates line hidden treasure paths

unearthed by robins, hidden again

in masses of sage secluding

sweet woodruff’s piney green.

Behold her star-embroidered nights

teeming with song of wind and owl

and coyotes calling out the moon,

praising the Author of August beauty—

recalling yesterday, remembering

our long forgotten dreams.


(Up-North Trail — photo by Margaret L. Been) ↑

While Summer Stays

I have set a bread to rise

and gone with morning in my eyes

to find a place, while summer stays

where goldenrod lights meadow ways . . .

where birchwood’s warm obscurity

retreats from time, and beckons me

to abdicate a few last days

so haunting sweet while summer stays.

I have set a bread to rise

and gone with morning in my eyes.


(Karen and Lee’s Home in Waukesha, Wisconsin — photo by Karen and Lee Veldboom) ↑ 

(Karen’s Quiet Garden — photo by Karen and Lee Veldboom) ↑

I Will Sweep My Rooms

I will sweep my rooms, and tend

my cloistered gardens, brew my tea,

and one who mocked my dreams

will never know the heart of me!


(Joelly and Nathaniel Mining Wild Raspberries — photo by Margaret L. Been) ↑

Gardens are lovely

when they look as though nature made them . . .

lovelier, when nature did!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

(The selected poems are reprinted from 3 collections of poetry by Margaret Longenecker Been:  WILDERNESS AND GARDENS—an American Lady’s Prospect, published in 1974 by John Westburg Associates, Fennimore, Wisconsin; MORNING IN MY EYES, published in 1997 by Sheepy Hollow Press, Eagle, Wisconsin; and A TIME UNDER HEAVEN, published in 2005 by Elk River Books, Phillips, Wisconsin.) 

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“The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted, but few are the ears that hear it.”  Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN

Nearly two years ago, Joe and I moved back to a community after nearly 30 years of living in semi-wild places.  I had no misgivings about having people around, although we’d enjoyed solitude and space for so long.  People do not intimidate us; we remain true to ourselves in the midst of any crowd as well as alone in the woods.  Both of us have a blessed capacity for inner solitude which is the only kind that matters!

My concern in moving from a woodsy home to a suburban community centered on the fact that we’d completely relished our natural surroundings.  We had never tired of wild creatures for neighbors.  We had thrived on fellowship with sun, rain, and wind! 

In retrospect, I need never to have questioned the wisdom of our new environment.  We have deer tracks in the park outside our door, great blue heron and sandhill cranes flying over all summer, songbirds galore, muskrats in the nearby lake, and WIND!

Wind is something like your pet cat:  it is never completely domesticated.  Murmurs and innuendoes of wildness accompany wind wherever it goes.  The big windows in our condo home face a narrow lane, a wind tunnel open to the west wind as it whoops east.  The channel of the lane crescendoes the wind into moans, whistles, rumbles, rattles, and screams—the likes of which we have, in the past, heard only on select occasions.  Here the wind howls outside our walls most every day, in all seasons.  We’ve come to realize that there are very few windless days in Wisconsin!

I love listening to the wind while falling asleep at night.  I close my eyes and recall other occasions when wind was foremost in my mind:  changing a tire on a desolate road in high blown Kansas summer heat; venturing out on Lake Superior among the Apostle Islands, on an X-16 foot sailboat with two of our children and a dog—not realizing until our craft sailed out beyond a prominent point that wind is king on that great lake; watching from a hospital window during a horrendous blizzard, as the hospital flag whipped and swayed in the violent gale.

Along with reliving the winds I’ve experienced, I think vicariously of wind on the Yorkshire Moors–setting the atmosphere for Emily Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS.  And Scarlett, Rhett, and the Old South—in Margaret Mitchell’s GONE WITH THE WIND. 

Wind–one of the most destructive, enigmatic, and unpredictable forces on earth.  The voice of God.  The “poem of creation”!  I’ll never feel too civilized, trapped, or removed from raw nature in a home that is dominated by the whooping west wind!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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“A township where one primitive forest waves above while another rots below–such a town is fitted to raise not only corn and potatoes, but poets and philosophers for the coming ages.”

Henry David Thoreau

All of my life, I’ve had a passion for trees.  Many of my childhood hours were spent in a horse chestnut tree where I would retreat to daydream, sulk, or ponder the meaning of life. 

Trees are lush, lovely, and easy to identify in the leafy seasons.  But I also study trees in winter, while marveling at the grace and form of bare branches pressed against the sky.

Some trees such as the birches around our Northern Wisconsin home (pictured above) are instantly recognizable because of their bark or general shape.  For 21 years we lived in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest, surrounded by shagbark hickory and burr oak.  The ragged bark of our native hickory was a giveaway in all seasons, and so was the contorted heft of the burr (or prairie) oak.

Many a day, in those Kettle Moraine years, I wandered up the moraines and down into the kettles behind our home—pausing often to sit while leaning against a sturdy burr oak.  Frequently while sitting, I would spot treasures popping up from the ground—pasque flowers and May apples in spring, and Indian pipes in autumn.

When we lived full time in Northern Wisconsin for 8 years, I relished hours among the birches, maples, and jack pines—savoring their beauty in all seasons.  Our forested acres up north yield more wildflowers than I can list.  Among them are bunchberry, wild geranium, Canada anemone, bloodroot, trillium, forget-me-not, and my beloved columbine—all flourishing in the woodsy soil.

Now we live next to a park with an assortment of lovely young trees, recently planted with foresight to future generations of people who will enjoy the area.  At the far edge of the park is a wildlife sanctuary with prairie and woods, accessible via trails which invite exploration.

While the branches are still bare I’m sketching the outlines and shapes of trees, learning to identify them without their leaves.  An American elm grows near our front door.  Its branches curve gracefully upward like cupped fingers or, as described in my tree book, like an upside down hoop skirt.  The American elm (pictured below) tells me that a single tree can be as wonderful to behold as an entire forest!

Years ago when one of our Colorado grandsons—then 5 years old—was visiting us in Northern Wisconsin, we took him for a ride in the Chequamegon National Forest just a few miles from our home.  As we navigated the semi-primitive forest roads, Nathaniel shared his editorial observation:  “There are too many trees in Wisconsin.”

Coming from a small boy acclimated to sagebrush, rocky canyons, and high mountains, Nathaniel’s statement was understandable and a bit hilarious.  Now he is 14, and he has spent many pleasant summer weeks with us in Northern Wisconsin.  We trust that as he grows older, Nathaniel will have at least some nostalgic memories of Wisconsin and our trees!  🙂 

As for me, I love every tree I see—even the giant Tamarack that fell on the porch roof of our northern home a few summers ago.  As Joyce Kilmer wrote in his poem Trees, “Only God can make a tree.”

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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