Respite in the Woods
In honor of Henry David Thoreau’s birthday (b. 1817), I am revisiting a piece from May 28, 2020, when, after months of Covid19 quarantine in Sicily, I was finally able to travel again. In a cabin outside of San Giovani Gemini, surrounded by trees, I felt soothed and at peace. Here’s what I was thinking…
Most of us are familiar with Thoreau, notably for his time of living in the woods for two years, two months, and two days. His journal of this time was published in 1854 under the title Walden, or Life in the Woods, in which he famously wrote:
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.
Thoreau had become friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and was largely influenced by his essay “Nature.” Emerson and Thoreau believed that when living simply and in harmony with nature, we are better able to transcend the illusion around us and connect with the soul of the world and the soul of every man. In this way, we are better able to trust the intuition of the soul and hear God.
It seems to me now that my time in Italy has become my own version of Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Certainly not intentionally. I planned a 6-week holiday, that was all. Yet, as I’ve experienced over and over again, life rarely goes according to plans.
After nearly three months of Covid-19 quarantine in Balestrate, looking out at the sea, it was time. Not time to return to the States. Time to return to the trees. Time to hear nature reveal the whisperings of my soul.
Tonight as I write this, pigeons are conversing with a passionate kind of hooting. Other birds are chirping. And others still are singing. A cat is meowing incessantly. Last night I fed her milk and tonight, the remains of my asparagus risotto. Now she purrs and won’t leave me. The air is fresh and soft and clean. The cooling night air tickles my exposed feet.
I needed this.
I have lived. My life has been rich and, in some ways, extraordinary. But I haven’t lived this. This global pandemic. None of us have.
This moment in time is like no other. Will it pass too quickly? Is a return (to normal, to our lives as we were living) really what we want? I still believe we are at a threshold. Each of us, living in a liminal space. May we take the time to ponder, to reflect, to choose carefully our next steps.
I came to the trees to rest and reflect. Which may seem odd after so many weeks of doing nothing but watching the sea. Only, as much as I love the water, it’s not my element. I need land and trees and things growing around me. This is my childhood imprint. Here, I am home.
Bruno, the property canine, is watching with me. Looking up, sniffing around, napping. Dog is my totem. And this is my landscape. Here is where I recapture, remember, and recommit to what I know. May you, in your special place, be able to do the same.
To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. – Ralph Waldo Emerson “Nature” (1836)
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More than a year later, how has your life changed due to Covid19?
Do you feel more, or less, connected to nature? To all human beings?
Do you find yourself needing more rest, more quiet time? Or are you comfortable with activities returning to what was normal before Covid19?
Where is your Walden Pond?