Friday, April 1, 2011

Sympathy with the Seasons

"I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil, -- to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society."

Henry David Thoreau


(above) Freshly cleared of winter's ice, the waters of Stockade Lake now reflect the dawn light and become a painter's canvas for this beautiful Black Hills high country setting.

"Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."

Henry David Thoreau


When Henry Thoreau first took up his now famous abode in the woods at Walden Pond, he called that excursion an experiment.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately," he said, "to front only the essentials 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."

"Live in each season as it passes," advised Thoreau, "breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. Open all your pores and bathe in all the tides of Nature, in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons. For all Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well. She exists for no other end. Do not resist her."

With this end in mind, we embark today on an experiment of our own -- The Spring Creek Chronicles. This endeavor will be a journalistic excursion, a sojourn in which we shall attempt to keep sympathy with the seasons. Through a combination of pictorial and written essays, Spring Creek Chronicles will observe the cycle of the seasons throughout the year in a way similar to what Thoreau did at Walden. The theme will be nature, what it did on a given day and what it meant to humanity. As Thoreau said, "It is in vain to write on the seasons unless you have the seasons in you."

Always, the Chronicles will be anchored by a strong visual orientation, with images from the Black Hills of South Dakota, the northern prairies and other great North American wilderness settings. Pictures will frequently take literary quotes and passages for their captions.

It is fitting that the last work of Henry Thoreau is"Faith in a Seed," -- how nature uses and disperses them, and the miracles nature derives from them. For Thoreau himself was a seed -- one that has germinated and blossomed to give shape to a unique genre and expression of American literature and one of its most important contributions to the literary world -- the nature essay.

It was Thoreau who -- by bringing about a synthesis of dissimilar and previously distant elements, such as private diaries, extended letters, scientific data and conventional essay forms -- sowed the seeds that paved the way for 20th & 21st century writers such as Aldo Leopold, Norman Maclean, Edward Abbey, Linda Hasselstrom and Barry Lopez.

The nature essay has become, as author and book editor John Murray describes, "a remarkably diverse and elastic literary form that is natural, loose and open in its structure with boundaries much broader than they have ever been previously... Just as nature grows, the literature is also growing. The three major themes of Walden -- communion, renewal and liberation -- continue to pervade the genre even now, at the dawn of the 21 century."

As we journey through the seasons of the years to come it is my belief that if the Spring Creek Chronicles can help us later think, say or write what Thoreau did of his own excursion, then something wonderful will have been accomplished.

"I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours... the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; for that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

May the Spring Creek Chronicles be part of such a foundation.

(above) In late March a western meadowlark heralds the start of spring from atop a small rock on a South Dakota grassland. For many who make their home on the prairies, the day they first hear the melodious song of the meadowlark marks the beginning of spring.

(below) This seemingly delicate little blossom of the spreading pasqueflower pushes its way up through choking clumps of dead grass to give the first color to an emerging spring.

"The eternity which I detect in Nature I predicate of myself also. How many springs I have had this same experience! I am encouraged, for I recognized this steady persistency and recovery of Nature as a quality of myself."

Henry David Thoreau

(below) Spring on the prairie is foremost a time of procreation with the courtship rituals and dance of the sharptail grouse being among the most spectacular. Although the antics are mostly display, the birds do become combative at times.

(right) A huge tom turkey does a full fan as he struts for the hens during another of the prairie's classic mating displays in the light of a setting sun on the edge of the southern Black Hills.

"Life consists of wildness. The most alive is the wildest. In literature it is only the wild that attracts us."

Henry David Thoreau

(above) Among the most colorful of the prairie's spring wildflower displays are the brilliant yellows of the hymenoxys surrounded by the purple of the showy peavine.

(left) The brilliant colors of the spiderwort blossom, about the size of a quarter, become a staple sight across the prairies by mid May.

(above) A recently born bison calf and its mother share a moment of bonding in the spring grass of Custer State Park where the birth of about 300 of these golden tykes takes place from late April to mid June.

"We need the tonic of wildness -- to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.

Henry David Thoreau


"Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star."

Henry David Thoreau

(above) A rising sun begins the day with an equally firey sky over the South Dakota Badlands.

"This world is but a canvas for our imagination."

Henry David Thoreau

(right) In typical play, this little bison calf aggressively chews at a stalk of fresh grass on an early summer morning.

(left) Though many beautiful wildflowers are found across the North American prairies, among the most striking has to be the bluestem pricklypoppy which grows to a diameter of nearly four inches. This wonderful blossom opens shortly after dawn and closes with the heat of the afternoon sun.

(above) A summer moon rises over the pink and red bluffs of the Indian Creek Wilderness area in western South Dakota near the Stronghold portion of the Badlands National Park.

"To one whose elastic and vigorous thoughts keep pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not the labors and attitudes of men, morning is when I am awake and there is dawn in me."

Henry David Thoreau

(left) A double-crested cormorant air dries its wings after diving for breakfast shortly after dawn at this prairie pond. These remarkable birds actually swim underwater to catch their prey.

(right) Now about six weeks old, this little antelope buck fawn has reached the stage of insatiable curiosity as he peeks through the sage at the photographer.

(above) A huge monarch butterfly takes a sweet reward from a sunflower during late summer in a Custer State Park meadow.

"Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it will elude you; but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder."

Henry David Thoreau


"The landscape is so handsomely colored, the air so clear and wholesome, the surface of the earth so pleasingly varied that it seems rarely fitted for the abode of man."

Henry David Thoreau

A golden aspen leaf floats down this high country creek in the central Black Hills as autumn comes to South Dakota.

(left) Early autumn marks the rutting time for "the prince of the prairie", the pronghorn or antelope, as the high plains are filled with this uniquely North American animal. Here, a buck makes his move on this doe.

(right) By late autumn, the Black Hills high country canyons near Blue Bell are filled with mighty centurions like this bighorn ram doing battle for the "hand" of the lady.

(above) The amber light of dawn grows as it spreads across this prairie meadow containing a single cottonwood tree in the southwestern corner of South Dakota.

"I am struck by the simplicity of light in the atmosphere of autumn, as if the earth absorbed none, and out of this profusion of dazzling light come the autumnal tints."

Henry David Thoreau

(right) Fallen leaves strewn this Spearfish Canyon hiking trail leading to Roughlock Falls in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota.

(below) The canopy of this huge aspen tree grove is ablaze with autumn color in the high country of South Dakota's central Black Hills.

"The hillside forest is all aglow along its edge, and in all its cracks and fissure, and soon the flames will leap upwards to the tops of the tallest trees."

Henry David Thoreau

(above) On their way south to wintering grounds in Texas and New Mexico, these sandhill cranes stop in for a couple days rest as the sun sets along the Missouri River flyway in central South Dakota.

"The brilliant autumnal colors are red and yellow, and the various tints and shades of these. Blue is reserved to be the color of the sky, but yellow and red are the colors of the earth-flower. Every fruit on ripening, and just before its fall, acquires a bright tint. So do the leaves; so the sky before the end of the day, and the year near its setting. October is the red sunset sky. Color stands for all ripeness and success."

Henry David Thoreau


"Winter is thrown to us like a bone to a famishing dog and we are expected to get the marrow out of it... if its fruit is harder to get at, then it is no doubt the more concentrated and nuttier."

Henry David Thoreau

(above) In the southern Black Hills, two bison bulls engage in some winter play on a snowy morning in South Dakota's Custer State Park. Come July when their rut gets underway, tussles like this one will be much more serious.

"To make a perfect winter day like this, you must have a clear, sparkling air, with a sheen from the snow, sufficient cold, little or no wind; and the warmth must come directly from the sun. It must not be a thawing warmth. The tension of nature must not be relaxed."

Henry David Thoreau

(left) The final light of the day washes across one of the pillars of Slim Buttes as the sun sets on this pristine Harding County landscape in the northwest corner of South Dakota.

"Great winter itself looked like a precious gem, reflecting rainbow colors from one angle."

Henry David Thoreau

(below) Two bighorn sheep ewes cross the icy waters of French Creek near Blue Bell in the central Black Hills of South Dakota.

(left) Born during late May or early June, this six month old mountain goat kid pokes about in a winter landscape, feeding on lichens that grow on the granite rock surfaces. Come early spring, he will join up with a bachelor group of other billies.

(above) This icy formation was formed on Stockade Lake in the central Black Hills during early winter because of thawing and re-freezing effects.

"There are two different seasons in the winter; when the ice of the river and meadows and ponds is bare -- blue or green, a vast glittering crystal -- and when it is all covered with snow and slosh; and our moods correspond."

Henry David Thoreau


No comments:

Post a Comment