Henry David and I don’t quite share the same worldview. He wears the lens of a humanist. My spectacles are Calvinistic- the kind with no lines on them. (Aren’t they called “progressives”?) We do however see eye-to-eye on the extravagant beauty of nature and its renewing quality for the human spirit - especially when experienced on two feet.
Recently I finished Thoreau’s essay titled “Walking”. It may best be known for its oft-used quote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Again, not sure I’d sign off on that one, but at least he wasn’t wishy-washy. Thoreau’s pen makes strong work thru the first third of the essay, but then Henry wanders off the path and starts to blather. I had to work to finish the piece, but was rewarded with this jewel at the end. Thoreau describes a particular light that I did not have the pleasure of experiencing until I moved west in to big sky country. Every once in a while the sun will peek out just after sunrise or just before sunset in a space between the horizon and a blanket of vapor. These long rays dance off the cloud ceiling and the earth below creating a magical golden light that sets everything aglow. Photographers call it “gap light”. Much of the diffusely diffracted white light is eliminated, frequently leaving a yellow color cast and a more polarized light that brings out relief in objects and makes colors pop. Not surprisingly, Thoreau describes it better than I just did:
“We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. I was walking in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun at last, just before setting, after a cold, gray day, reached a clear stratum in the horizon, and the softest, brightest evening sunlight fell on the dry grass and on the stems of the trees in the opposite horizon and on the leaves of the shrub oaks on the hillside, while our shadows stretched long over the meadow eastward, as if we were the only motes in its beams. It was such a light as we could not have imagined a moment before, and the air also was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that meadow. When we reflected that this was not a solitary phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen forever and ever, an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious still.
The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible, with all the glory and splendor that it lavishes on cities, and perchance as it has never set before — where there is but a solitary marsh hawk to have his wings gilded by it, or only a musquash looks out from his cabin, and there is some little black-veined brook in the midst of the marsh, just beginning to meander, winding slowly round a decaying stump. We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright, I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of Elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman driving us home at evening.”