This Week's Show •

Walden & the Natural World of Transcendentalism

Henry David Thoreau, our specimen of American genius in nature, wrote famously short, and long.  “Simplify,” in a one-word sentence of good advice.  But then 2-million words on 7-thousand pages in his quotable lifetime journal. ...

Henry David Thoreau, our specimen of American genius in nature, wrote famously short, and long.  “Simplify,” in a one-word sentence of good advice.  But then 2-million words on 7-thousand pages in his quotable lifetime journal.  

It’s one of many odd points to notice about Thoreau at his 200th birthday: that the non-stop writer was equally a man of action, a scientist and a high-flying poet whose imagination saw that “the bluebird carries the sky on his back;” and still a workman with callused hands, at home in the wild, a walker four hours a day on average, in no particular direction.  His transcendentalism was all about the blossoming intersection of nature-study and introspection, fact and idea, detail and ideals.  In his pine grove, on his river, at his pond, the outdoor Thoreau.

N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945) Walden Pond Revisited, 1942

What does a Transcendentalist do, we were asking in the first of three bicentennial Thoreau shows?  All the answers are to be found in the canoe trip that became a masterpiece, titled: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. What the Transcendentalist does is soar – between water below and sky above; between this day and eternity, between Nature, and human society.

We start our journey at the South Bridge Boat House near Thoreau’s house on Main Street in Concord, just upstream from the Concord River itself.  A naturalist philosopher in the Thoreau lineage, Alex Strong from Maine, is one of our guides.  During our trip down Thoreau’s “little Nile”,  Alex tells us about what the strapping, young 22 year old was learning on his voyage: 

He was learning about big-N Nature when he was studying the Perch, studying when flowers bloomed, where the bees were. The notes he took, the meticulous notes, weren’t just about the little details; they’re about understanding the whole picture and keeping nature sacred while understanding it, in all its finite mundane details.

Next up, the still-water Walden, a pond in Concord, Massachusetts where Henry Thoreau wrote his great book in a cabin by the shore. In 1845 Walden was a woodlot next to the new railway where the 28-year-old poet went to “suck out the marrow of life,” whatever it turned out to be. Our guide to the pond and the book, the young philosopher John Kaag had been in and out of the Walden water the other morning before we got there.

 

Photo by Michael J. Lutch

While we’re here, at Walden, we decided to stop and consider the statuesque, very tall, dark-green, almost black, pine trees all around Walden Pond, trees that Thoreau came to consider cousins, virtually human.  Richard Higgins, widely traveled in Concord today, has written a book on Thoreau and the Language of Trees, and he has no doubt that Thoreau spoke it fluently, from the heart.

Finally, we conclude with a Thoreauvian meditation on walking. Real walkers are born, not made, Thoreau liked to say.  “If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again, — if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.”  These days the woods and the bookstores are full of such walkers.  Andrew Forsthoefel made his reputation in public radio walking 4000 miles from Philadelphia to San Francisco, with a sign that said “walking to listen” and recording back-road stories. And then there’s the literary traveler Paul Theroux, of Cape Cod and Hawaii, of the Mosquito Coast and The Great Railway Bazaar. He has spent a lifetime on trains, and in kayaks, and a lot of it on his own two feet in China, in our own Deep South and specially in Africa.  In our conversation, Theroux extends Thoreau’s idea that walking is in-born, into some more than others.

See a full transcript of this show on Medium.

March 27, 2014

The Transcendentalist Ripple Effect

Check out a growing timeline of the Transcendentalist lives and legacies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott, in a tangled infographic above.      

Check out a growing timeline of the Transcendentalist lives and legacies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott, in a tangled infographic above.

 

 

 

March 26, 2014

Cornel West on Emerson’s Enduring Importance

Emerson is called the founder of the American religion, sometimes the American God, and surely he’s the voice of American individualism in “Self Reliance.” A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of ...

Emerson is called the founder of the American religion, sometimes the American God, and surely he’s the voice of American individualism in “Self Reliance.” A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within,” Emerson wrote, “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Cornel West, like Emerson, is a preacher with a national audience, and without a church. Emerson is his number one American writer, a soulful modern and a model public philosopher.

This podcast is a short excerpt from Emerson Redux, a full hour show on Ralph Waldo Emerson created in 2006.

March 18, 2014

The Transcendentalists Are Coming!, Again

This week on Open Source, revisiting the birthplace of the American mind. Five houses on three streets within a period of five years in Concord, Massachusetts launched American literature and poetry, the environmental movement, progressive politics, feminism, and new ideas about religion and education. Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, the Alcotts, and their friends and neighbors. Where is the center of the rebellious mind today and what is it saying?
Robert Richardson on Emerson's Apostasy
Harold Bloom: "Emerson Speaks to Me"
A Walk in the Woods with Robert Richardson
Cornel West on Emerson's Enduring Importance
The Transcendentalist Ripple Effect

This week on Open Source, we’re taking advantage of a sick-leave rerun to revisit the birthplace of the American mind a year after we first broadcast this show. The story of the Transcendentalists starts in five houses on three streets within a period of five years in Concord, Massachusetts. And it launched American literature and poetry, the environmental movement, progressive politics, feminism, and new ideas about religion and education. Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, the Alcotts, and their friends and neighbors. The Transcendentalists are coming. What is the legacy of this American renaissance? What do these thinkers mean to you?

The Transcendentalist Ripple Effect

Check out a growing timeline of the Transcendentalist lives and legacies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott, in the tangled graphic below (click here for full-size). Transcendentalists Big Bang-01

July 4, 2006

Emerson Redux

Nothing says the 4th of July like Ralph Waldo Emerson, that's what we maintain at Open Source. So while you enjoy your barbecues and fireworks -- or watch Confederate re-enactors get ready for the Civil War (Civil War?), as I found myself doing in the Adirondacks yesterday -- you can also listen to our special hour about the Sage of Concord.

emerson

Nothing says the 4th of July like Ralph Waldo Emerson, that’s what we maintain at Open Source. So while you enjoy your barbecues and fireworks — or watch Confederate re-enactors get ready for the Civil War (Civil War?), as I found myself doing in the Adirondacks yesterday — you can also listen to our special hour about the Sage of Concord.

We’re back live, with Death, tomorrow.