If you’re stuck inside social distancing then you may not get the chance to enjoy your usual walk in the park. Reading about nature in the comfort of your own home is the next best thing. Here are my two favourite books on the topic.
Thoreau famously secluded himself for a little over two years in a cabin in Massachusetts. The cabin was near Walden Pond (hence the name of the book) and was where Thoreau spent his nights and days, all his activities being detailed in the book. It’s divided into 17 chapters (plus a conclusion), each taking on a unique topic from Solitude and Visitors to Brute Neighbours and Higher Laws. They each serve as a stage from which Thoreau muses on topics that affect each of our lives, from a perspective that can only be brought about when one is extracted from said life and placed at a distance.
Thoreau traces the steps of human development, offers wisdom and observations, and draws from his natural surroundings to paint an honest portrait of man that makes us, the reader, reflect upon our own lives as we read along. I found that the power in this book was how universal human thoughts and emotions were shown to be – Thoreau, a white man writing in the mid-1800s, was able to capture my sentiments with such clarity. And I have no doubt that he was able to do so only because he was wrapped up in nature and its beautiful stillness.
“In dealing with truth we are immortal.”
“Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”
“The value of a man is not in his skin, that we should touch him.”
Perhaps my favourite writer ever, Ralph Waldo Emerson (who happened to be a friend and mentor of Thoreau’s…small world) gave a lot to literature with his work. But the one piece that stands out to me is his essay Nature. You can probably guess what it’s about by the title…but it covers a much broader spectrum than you could imagine. From the “axioms of physics” and the “laws of ethics” to the “corruption of language” and “the creation of beauty”, the essay explores the nature we see before us and the nature that exists within us, offering a beautiful composition on how the two interact.
Nature shows us how beauty, language, the spirit and nature itself can be better understood by simply going for a walk. To take in one’s natural surroundings was, as Emerson thought, to understand one’s place in the world – the ways in which the earth serves us, and us it. As Emerson put it, “A man is fed, not that he may be fed, but that he may work.” It’s an extremely insightful essay to read, and I found myself highlighting, underlining and jotting down notes in the margins whilst reading it. If I could suggest you read any book, it’s this one.
“In the woods is perpetual youth.”
“Nothing divine dies. All good is eternally reproductive.”
“The many in the one. Nothing is quite beautiful alone; nothing but is beautiful in the whole.”