THE NATURAL LIST

You’ve heard of Charles Darwin. Also, concordantly, Henry David Thoreau. If you’re really into national parks, naturally you’re familiar with John Muir (“Father of the National Parks”). If you have an avian fixation, you’re birds-of-a-feather with John James Audubon, world famous ornithologist and painter of our feathered friends.  But I suspect that the name of John Burroughs probably drew a blank when you saw it in my last post.

Fame is fickle. In his day, Burroughs (1837-1921) was as well known as any of the above naturalists who remain well remembered today. But, according to biographer Edward Renehan, he was more “a literary naturalist” than a scientific one, which (along with his rejection of religious orthodoxy) may account somewhat for his fading into relative obscurity.  Whatever the case, Burroughs, who was a contemporary of Thoreau and Audubon, a good friend of Muir (as well as of Walt Whitman and Theodore Roosevelt), and has been called “America’s Darwin,” has been left in their shadow. More’s the pity.

The last of his many books was ACCEPTING THE UNIVERSE (1920), from whence the quote in my 9/20 post. Other quotes I like from Burroughs’ works include these:

Nature is not moral. There is no moral law until it is born of human intercourse. The law of the jungle begins and ends in the jungle; when we translate it into human affairs, we must take the cruelty of the jungle out of it, and read it in terms of beneficent competition. Man is the jungle humanized.

The greatest of human achievements and the most precious is that of the creative artist. In words, in color, in sounds, in forms, man comes closest to emulating the Creative Energy itself. It seems as if the pleasure and the purpose of the Creative Energy were endless invention.

How beautifully the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.

Only a living tree drops its fruit or its leaves; only a growing man drops his outgrown opinions.

I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.

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I close with a curio: a 1919 prizmacolor film of “a day in the life of John Burroughs,” which ends with words wise in the ways of what really matters:

NOW

Go in our woods and witness the varying fortunes of the trees. How many are diseased or dying at the top or decaying at the root. How many have been mutilated by the fall of other trees. In fact, the fortunes of individual trees are much like those of men and women. –John Burroughs, naturalist, ACCEPTING THE UNIVERSE

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We see roots
surge through dirt
in time-lapse photography
seed to distance
in mere moments

but trees understand
this above all
as a long
journey of attachment
living with the

vagaries of fate
knowing that where
they are now
is one with
where now began…..

ODE TO A TOAD

Me thinks me heard a splash
Hard by yon lily pad;
Me thinks me saw a toad or frog
(Or was it a crawdad?).

Who told that toad to shake a leg
Or seek a change of venue?
Never, ever, would I put toad
Or frog legs on my menu.

Verily, I am but
A harmless nature lover.
When I am nigh, or passing by, why
Must they always jump for cover?

What bound fools we mortals be
Who cling in spring to mother earth,
When we might swim or fly away
To live ‘nother day for what it’s worth.

So hear ye, fellow slow pokes
Such as tortoises and snails,
Let us sing a song to our friends
Long gone….so long, and Happy Trails.

 

 

TWO FOR EARTH DAY

CATHEDRAL OF THE WILD

Holy is the mountain
To spirits dwelling there;
Sacred are the living things
That bide its rise/that ride its air.

Endless are the glories
Of rock and spire and space;
Soulless is the man who
Would desecrate this place.

‘WOOD-BE’ PUBLIC SERVANTS

Joyce Kilmer’s poem notwithstanding,
Most politicians couldn’t care less.
They don’t know a tree
From poetry….
And, if they do, they’re not impressed.

They think that they shall never see
A tree lovely as a board….
Which is fine in moderation
But rain forest devastation
Is a plank the earth cannot afford.

Pray let their eyes be opened —
Save the forest for the trees.
A little reflection
Beyond their election
Would serve better by degrees.

 

BEAUTY AND THE DEIST

According to Leszek Kolakowski (Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?, Basic Books, 2007), Socrates was interested in the study of nature as a young man, but later abandoned this for the study of ideas. This makes me wonder how someone can cease to be a nature lover (if indeed that was the case) even if one grows into additional or other interests. Surely this need not – indeed, should not – be a case of either-or. Once a nature lover, always a nature lover – if one was truly a nature lover to begin with.

It might be argued that one can “fall out” of other types of love – romantic love of a person, for example – so why not love of nature? But doesn’t the death of romantic love involve disillusionment? How does one become disillusioned with natural beauty?

As a deist, I don’t pretend to know why the Creator created this mixed bag of a world, but we seem to have little choice but to take the bad along with the good. For those suffering the brutish and often fatal injustice of man and/or maker, natural beauty may be an irrelevant luxury. Does it not follow that, as bad as the bad is, the relatively fortunate among us have all the more reason to appreciate that which offers some measure of something to be inspired by and thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!