“I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
That poetic passage is from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in the chapter “The Pond in Winter.” I’ve wondered why I waited so long to read this iconic work—- another of the many great books I probably should have read ages ago but never got around to. Finally, I decided the time had come —- now that we are in grave danger of completely severing our vital connections with nature through carelessness, waste, and our wanton depletion of natural resources — many of which have already been irretrievably compromised.
Although I began Walden somewhat tentatively, Thoreau continually pulled me into his tiny but grandiose universe with his startling insights, and the sheer beauty of his writing.
Obviously, we can’t all live in the woods in a one-room house — imagine! Thoreau built his for $28 and 12 1/2 cents –– or exist as parsimoniously or in such solitude as he did—- but what we may learn from him is , simply, to make do with a great deal less than we think necessary, including big houses and new clothes, and too much food.
Wasting all too easily becomes habit —- one that can be difficult to break, when excess itself is a habit unconstrained by “want.” It’s easier to throw things away than to save them, or think how best to re-use them, and we have become a culture driven by convenience. One of my grandmother’s favorite sayings was “waste not, want not.” She saved everything, including paper napkins for re-use. (That used to drive me crazy, but now, at least, I do use cloth napkins).
On a recent television series, several astronauts rhapsodized about their view of earth —- the jewel-like blue planet — from space. ( From up there, you can’t yet see the garbage that clogs our oceans and encroaches on so many of of our over-developed, over-populated cities.)
Thoreau looked down too —- from a lesser distance, but with a deeply penetrating vision. We must re-learn how to be better stewards of the heaven under our feet—-which is our earth and its waters—-the only one we’ve got.