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Joy and Mud - All That is Life - with Thoreau

"Wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.”

~ Words spoken at Thoreau's funeral by his friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Henry David Thoreau left behind a valuable gift to the world. In October 1837 he started a Journal which became his life's work. While Thoreau's Journal was written over 180 years ago, its elements are timeless and universal.

Inside you'll find all that is life - beauty and boredom, muddiness and joy; it is a sweeping philosophic and poetic legacy of someone who paid attention to life. For twenty-four years Thoreau made entries, some pages and page long. When he became seriously ill, he spent the last six months of his life making lists to cross reference his work.

Initially, Thoreau's journal writings were notebooks for quotes and poetry. They evolved into a book that synthesized the rhythms of his life. Twelve years into his habit of journaling, he developed a daily routine of taking notes about his nature observations on long afternoon walks. His mornings and evenings were dedicated to study and writing.

Thoreau found connections in nature and self that he turned into poetry. He valued his writing habit as a way of connecting what before seemed disconnected. He wrote about his aspiration:

"To set down such choice experience that my own writing may inspire me and at last I make wholes of parts."

Thoreau referred to his Journal as "a record of my discoveries". It totalled over 7,000 pages with more than 2 million words. John R. Stilgore undertook the work of abridging Thoreau's Journal, taking care to preserve its spirit.

Stilgore writes:

"There have been many editions of selected bits of the Journal, but it is ill served by selections because it is above all a book of rhythms: the long ebb and flow of the year and the quicker rhythms of Thoreau's roving from topic to topic."

The Journal is a consummate treasure. I keep it on my bedside table and enjoy comparing Thoreau's nature observations with my own on random anniversary dates. Here are a few of Thoreau's entries each accompanied by a similar personal observation.

Thoreau - July 10, 1854

The following are the birds I chanced to hear in this walk. The seringos on fences, link of bobolink, crow, oven-bird, tanager, chewink, huckleberry-bird (pretty often and loud), flicker cackle, wood thrush, robin (?) before 3 P.M.; then red-eye, veery trill, catbird rigmarole, etc. etc.

Here is a sampling of bird songs I heard on Thacher Road in Cape Cod near the homeplace of Thoreau during the Summer of 2019.

Thoreau - Aug. 6, 1853 - More dog days

I see the sunflower's broad disk now in gardens, probably a few days, - a true sun among flowers, monarch of August. Do not the flowers of August and September generally resemble suns and stars?

Pictured above is the queen who reigns over all of the flowers and vegetables in my home garden. She is more than a 15 feet tall!

Thoreau - June 12, 1852

Hardly too much attention can be bestowed on flowers. . . . Flowers were made to be seen, not overlooked. Their bright colors imply eyes, spectators.

Pictured are flowers found close to where Thoreau lived in Concord, Massachussetts. Their colors were not to be overlooked!

Find a copy of Thoreau's journal at your local library or bookstore. Enjoy your own discoveries and perhaps start your own journal! Here are some guidelines.

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