The New York Review of Books posts in its entirety a spectacular essay from Robert Pogue Harrison, this time on Thoreau on his centennial birthday, and en or so books and exhibits about The True American.
Thoreau (to my blinkered view) is that exceedingly rare writer/philosopher capable of seeing afresh the most fundamental elements of our lives, such as the ground on which we walk and the air we breathe. For example:
Paradise exists all around us, in America’s “wildness,” the natural environment of the continent. In the contact between his own body and America’s forests, meadows, lakes, rivers, mountains, and animals, Thoreau discovered what he called “hard matter in its home.” That home was the “hard bottom” or “reality” that we crave. “I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound,” he wrote in his journal. “Daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it,—rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks!… Contact! Contact!”
That contact between body and wilderness speaks to me, having spent the last week and half on the PCT, sleeping on the ground (and sleeping well). I’ll try to post a picture to give some idea. But let me conclude this post with another compelling — even alarming — quote from Mr. Thoreau,
If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter [scimitar], and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality.
If only this were true! But from the world I stand in awe of, with him, here’s a sunset at mile 1600 of the PCT.