Walking by a Lake in New Hampshire: Thoreau and the Individual Connected to Nature
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
*Walden, Henry David Thoreau
Nature for Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau was an American poet and philosopher as well as one of the pre-eminent naturalists of the 19th century who prefigured contemporary environmentalism and ecology. Thoreau saw an inherent goodness to both people and nature, though he didn’t see the two as exactly separate. To him, humans aren’t separate from nature, we aren’t on the outside looking in, rather we are together with nature, we are nature looking at nature. Corruptions of this goodness and our kinship with the natural world are the result of modernity, of human action and technology. This is apparent now even more than in Thoreau’s day.
In his own life, Thoreau built a cabin on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s property, near Walden’s Pond, and lived a modest life for two years, two months, and two days. All the while he precisely observed nature and wrote about it copiously. Thoreau tells us that through simplicity, self-reliance, and spirituality we can live in ways that are conducive to the prosperity of nature as well as our own.
Henry David Thoreau, by Benjamin D. Maxham
A Walk in New Hampshire
Let’s stroll through the gorgeous natural scenes that New England has to offer. Before us a trail presents itself. Its weaving way winds through the Pinus strobus that scatter their botanical needles as fresh toppings to our footprints. The fall air is cold to breathe but carries with it the wet, woody fragrance of both forest and wetland. We follow the path as it carries us downhill. The friendly tendrils of a Comptonia peregrina hugs our leg as we pause to survey the rising lines of bark and thinly fanning branches. The lake is not far off.
As we continue our journey, the ground beneath grows softer and the colours around us gain in vibrance. The autumn exuberance of reddish hues explodes across the fallen foliage and the still-hanging leaves of Larix laricina and Acer saccharinum. A sudden rustling of leaves signifies the scurrying of muskrats or mink in the underbrush. Whatever the little creatures are, they quickly disappear from our perception.
A break in the orange treeline opens onto a clearing with direct sight of the calm shoreline. A breeze comes off the water and parts a sodden leaf from the top of our shoe. We approach the lake as it shines with golden hour light. The gentle slope is a frozen flow from earth to lake where a spectrum of different Cyperaceae extend the floral reach towards the depths. We plan to stargaze later with friends but, before that, we linger by the lake for a while.
Gazing at the Lake
In Thoreau’s seminal work, Walden, he writes the following: “A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” Lakes can have a sublime, almost overpowering beauty that challenges how we view nature. From the rippling shimmers on the water’s surface, to the bubbling hints of creatures below, to the winding shoreline that contains the reflective magnificence and loops around like the cyclical processes of nature.
Thoreau is saying, however, that the lake is more than just something to behold with awe and admiration. A lake is mirror to tree, sky, and human; it reflects us, looks at us, and makes us look at ourselves. When we see our reflection in those waters, when we measure the depth of our own nature, what do we want to see? We should all wish to see a soul who works with nature and wishes for its prosperity from fox to fern.
An Upcoming Adventure
Our upcoming project involves important work on a 3.2-acre piece of land amidst the beauty of New Hampshire’s landscape. We will be surveying the land and plan to rejuvenate the local flora by introducing a plethora of native plants. From the upland and forest trees, that will one day stand tall and proud, to the wetland ferns, we look forward to working with some endangered species and playing a part in maintaining the natural heritage of this small patch of New England’s ecosystem. A lakeside sauna will serve as a much welcome site of relaxation. The crisp autumn days will have a sweltering counterpart.