“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.  It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.  The fluviatile trees next to the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows.”
—  Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Crater Lake panorama from three photos, 1998

“The eyes are the window of the soul.”
— Proverb

If eyes are the window of the soul, and lakes are earth’s eyes, then lakes are one of the windows of Nature’s soul.  We cannot live without water.  It is no wonder that we are stirred when we peer into a lake’s depths.  In the words of another proverb, “Still waters run deep.”

“A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.”
— William Wordsworth

“Perhaps truth depends on a walk around the lake.”
— Wallace Stevens

The most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen is Crater Lake in Oregon.  It is the deepest lake in the United States (with a depth of 1,932 feet), and it is the bluest blue in the color spectrum.  Crater Lake is situated in the caldera of a volcano that last erupted about 7,700 years ago.  The waters accumulated from springs, snow melt and rain.  Part of our national park system, Crater Lake is held in trust for everyone’s enjoyment.  In the summer, you can drive around it on a 33-mile rim road.

Wizard Island, a cinder cone in Crater Lake (photo 1998)

Map of Crater Lake National Park rim drive

I’m thankful to Thoreau for reminding me about beautiful lakes.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taken the time to visit Crater Lake.  I think it’s time to plan another road trip there.

“Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds are the granary of the birds?”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Weeds, reeds, and seeds

“We are wont to forget that the sun looks on our cultivated fields and on the prairies and forests without distinction . . . In his view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I love that Thoreau appreciated weeds.  He took the time to get to know their hidden virtues — food for foraging birds and animals, shelter for wildlife, and their natural beauty.  There is a lesson here about what we might commonly consider pests.  It is not so black and white.  Life is full of complexity and shades of gray.

“What is a weed?  A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Seed head in snow

Slender reeds with calligraphic lines

“But no weather interfered fatally with my walks, or rather my going abroad, for I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines . . . “
–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Pines with wavy boughs

“Instead of calling on some scholar, I paid many a visit to particular trees . . . Sometimes I rambled to pine groves, standing like temples, or like fleets at sea, full-rigged, with wavy boughs.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thoreau was an early tree-watcher.  He called trees “the shrines I visited both summer and winter.”  Thoreau is a wonderful role model for a self-taught naturalist.  I admire his curiosity and powers of observation, and I read with delight the many passages in Walden devoted to descriptions of his natural surroundings — birds, trees, ponds, soil, etc.

As I observe my “adopted” trees this year, I will try to emulate Thoreau’s natural curiosity and fresh eyes.  If you haven’t already noticed, I have created a special “Tree-Watching Project” category for my tree posts — you can find it on the right-hand side of the page, beneath the monthly archives.

“Live each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

What is your special taste of the season?

What are those special influences of winter?  Can I befriend the cold and darkness instead of enduring or resigning myself to them?

When winter means rain instead of snow, I find it more difficult to evoke the cozy feeling of hibernating under a blanket of whiteness, the quiet calmness of a silent landscape, or the playful joy of an unexpected snow day.  I have to work harder at appreciating the gifts of this damp season.

But after a bit of thought, I compiled the following  Winter “To-Do” List to help me make the most of the next couple of months:

  • Sleep late, and don’t feel guilty
  • Splurge on a chai tea latte with soy
  • Light candles
  • Make kale chips
  • Take a night walk
  • Bake a gingerbread dessert
  • Finish a hand-quilting project
  • Plan a summer vacation
  • Make soup from scratch
  • Play a board game
  • Learn to use my MP3 player and listen to some music

“We cannot wait for the weather to change before we begin to live.”
— Tim Farrington, A Hell of a Mercy:  A Meditation on Depression

“Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.”
— Pietro Aretino, 1537

“I bloom indoors in the winter like a forced forsythia; I come in to come out.  At night I read and write, and things I have never understood become clear; I reap the harvest of the rest of the year’s planting.”
— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek

“At Christmas I no more desire a rose than wish a snow in May’s newfangled mirth.”
— William Shakespeare

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Frosted edges

“I believe that a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”
— Walt Whitman

I stand in awe of the Great Mysteries of Life.  It seems so miraculous that the swirling atoms that make up our physical bodies are just so much “empty” space, echoing the vast spaces between stars and planets.  That when we die, our atoms will not disappear, but simply change form.  And what is the spark that animates our body?  By what mystery did it arrive?  And by what mystery does it leave, and where does it go?

We live in a wonder-full world.  And Thoreau reminds us that Nature can connect us to that wonder, to that mystery.  Other writers and poets also state it well:

“One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand — to see heaven lies about us here in this world.”
— John Burroughs, Leaf and Tendril

” . . . the most solid, reliable things in existence — a seashell, a tree branch, a pothole in the middle of the road — partake of God’s mystery.”
— Deepak Chopra, How to Know God

“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.”
— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God.”
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“The lesson which life repeats and constantly reinforces is ‘look under foot.’  You are always nearer the divine and the true sources of your power than you think.  The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive.  The great opportunity is where you are.  Do not despise your own place and hour.  Every place is under the stars.  Every place is the center of the world.”
— John Burroughs

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind.”
— Henry David Thoreau

Footpath at Green Lake in Seattle

Gravel footpath -- an alternative to the paved path around Green Lake

A crow on the beaten path, Green Lake

The less-travelled route, a footpath at Green Lake

“To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
— Henry David Thoreau

“Every thought that passes through the mind helps to wear and tear it and to deepen the ruts which as in the streets of Pompeii evince how much it has been used.”
— Henry David Thoreau, July 7, 1851 journal entry

Today’s quotes are not from Walden, but from Thoreau’s other writings. His observations seem timely, as we look forward to the New Year and think about resolutions for the year ahead.

Habits are interesting.  Sometimes you feel like you are in a rut and want to make a change, to feel energized by bringing something new into your life.  Other habits make life efficient — so efficient, in fact, that we breeze through our days without stopping for conscious thought.  That’s the opposite of awareness, really living and appreciating each moment.  I have a few “bad” habits that I’d like to change — eating too-large portions, eating on the run, eating a sweet treat with coffee, etc.

Like anything, you can outgrow your habits.  It may be time to make some changes, to adopt some new habits, to carve new pathways in your brain.

I like what Leo Babauta says about how to become successful making lasting changes in life.  He’s narrowed it down to four steps:

1. Start very small.
2. Do only one change at a time.
3. Be present and enjoy the activity (don’t focus on results).
4. Be grateful for every step you take.

Happy New Year, and I wish you success with your resolutions!

 

 

“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Two chairs for friendship

As much as Thoreau appreciated solitude, he said of himself, “I am naturally no hermit,” and he welcomed visitors.  I admire people for whom hospitality is an ingrained virtue.  Perhaps because I struggle feeling comfortable in large groups and among strangers, I greatly esteem those who can extend a warm welcome to visitors.

“If it were not for guests all houses would be graves.”
— Kahlil Gibran

“The ornaments of your house will be the guests who frequent it.”
— Author unknown

I find that I can take large gatherings, even of beloved family, in small doses.  I am a better friend in one-on-one situations.  I am afraid that the following quotes resonate too well with me:

“Fish and visitors smell after three days.”
— Benjamin Franklin

“Visitors are insatiable devourers of time, and fit only for those who, if they did not visit, would do nothing.”
—  William Cowper

“Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were.”
— Author unknown

Perhaps I should rid my house of all but three chairs, so that, like Thoreau, when I have visitors in larger numbers, they stay only as long as they can stand!  I’m joking, of course.  One of my tasks in this life is to learn to be more gracious, and this includes making more of an effort to become a better and more welcoming host to any future guests.

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
— Hebrews 13:2

I had three chairs in my house:  one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

One chair for solitude

“Many of our houses, both public and private, with their almost innumerable apartments, their huge halls and their cellars for the storage of wines and other munitons of peace, appear to me extravagantly large for their inhabitants.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

How much is enough?  We have 21 chairs in our house, not counting sofas or camping gear or folding chairs and broken chairs in the basement.  Most of them sit empty, day after day.  And even if most of these chairs were acquired at no or low cost, having this many chairs is an extravagance.

And chairs are just one category of household goods — is it fair to say that we have too much of just about everything?  Too many cake pans, too many bath towels, too many pairs of shoes . . .  I think, in general, Americans live in houses that are too big (just think of the wasted energy to heat them) and filled with too much stuff.  And I am as guilty as my fellow citizens.

I think that the middle of the Christmas shopping season is a great time to think more mindfully about stuff and whether we should be buying more of it.  In this era of overabundance and consumerism, I am struggling with what gift-giving means.  So few of us delay or defer buying what we want, when we want it.  And how do you buy gifts for loved-ones who already have everything?

I support the trend toward “No New Gifts” holidays, and all of the creative alternative gift ideas, such as the gift of consumable foods, the gift of experiences, and the gift of shared time.  This is a step in the right direction.

What I like about Thoreau is that he has a defined use for each of his three chairs.  He reminds me that there is more work to be done in tackling the abundance of stuff that surrounds me in my everyday life, stuff that is unused for most of the year.

“The vast majority of us simply have too much stuff — more than we can possibly keep track of, much less thoughtfully possess . . . Unless we employ conscious strategies to streamline and slim our living spaces — and put clutter-control mechanisms in place — our homes have become virtual sinkholes of stuff, clogging the flow of energy and movement in our lives. . . . Job No. 1 for most of us is paring down what we have to a set of possessions we can thoughtfully own.  (Part of responsible stewardship of our possessions involves redirecting what we no longer need to worthy recipients.)  Once we’ve purged our systems of the excess, the focus will be on creating lives that are dynamic and streamlined, where the carbon cost of a thing is weighed alongside its dollar price tag, where the focus is on usability rather than ownership, where we seek to reduce our personal waste streams.”
— Wanda Urbanska, The Heart of Simple Living: 7 Paths to a Better Life

 

 

“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.  To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating.  I love to be alone.  I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude . . . A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.  Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows.  The really diligent student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervis in the desert.  The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is employed . . .”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Patron at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle

When my mind is engaged, I am so engrossed that I don’t have time to be lonely or bored.  I believe that Thoreau felt the same way.  Because my job at the library is to provide customer service, my paid work requires that I interact with people.  Perhaps that is why I am drawn to solitary pursuits in my free time — reading, taking photographs, writing blog posts, painting, quilting, jogging . . .  My most satisfying work is accomplished when I am alone.

Is it even possible for an artist to create in anything but a solitary environment?  It makes sense, then, that we should be fostering more opportunities for solitude in our children and in ourselves.

Studying alone at a university library

“Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius . . .”
— Edward Gibbon


“Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rainstorms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Raindrops on spider web

Necklace of raindrops in the rosemary bush

Thoreau would have been home in the rains of the Pacific Northwest.  He would have had plenty of opportunities to shelter in his house and succumb to revery while listening to the rain dripping down trees and gutters.

Artists need dormant times like these rainy days, as the following quote from Dale Chihuly, glass artist, proclaims:

“One of the great attractions of being in the Northwest is rain.  I find the rain very creative. . . . If I don’t feel good or I don’t feel creative, if I can get near the water something will start to happen.”
— Dale Chihuly, from an exhibit sign at “Dale Chihuly’s Northwest,” Tacoma Art Museum

Rainy days can be down times, like the unexpected snow days of winter.  “It is a fine thing to have a full day of nothing stretched before you.”  — Ken McAlpine, Islands Apart:  A Year on the Edge of Civilization