On the journey to harmony–Thoreau, the Sound Map and opening up the inner eye

I recently tried a couple of the exercises in Corinne Hosfeld Smith’s book, Henry David Thoreau for Kids–“Record Wild Animal Behavior” and “Draw a Sound Map.” It was a wonderful time outdoors and I was surprised how much I heard! Here’s my Sound Map:

panoramic photo (uses first and third photo)2-720

I wrote more about this on my other blog (Be as One) – you can read it here: On the journey to harmony–Thoreau, the Sound Map and opening up the inner eye — Be as One

You can read my review of Henry David Thoreau for Kids and get to know Corinne in this fascinating interview.

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Book Review: Henry David Thoreau for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Corinne Hosfeld Smith

Henry David Thoreau for Kids is geared towards children ages nine and up but I am going to review this book as one for adults as well.

thoreau for kids

Abridged version of Thoreau

Cutting right to the chase—I loved this book. As a perpetual student of Louisa May Alcott and as someone who appreciates nature, I have been fascinated with Henry David Thoreau since childhood. I do find his writing however to be difficult to plough through at times as it is very dense; Thoreau’s works demand complete attention from the reader and this can be hard to sustain at times. Therefore I look upon Corinne Hosfeld Smith’s book to be a welcomed abridged version of Thoreau.

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Channeling a little Thoreau, a little John Denver while gardening

Memorial Day weekend means getting all our gardens into shape.  I’ve got more of a black thumb than green (meaning I’ve killed the vast majority of things I’ve planted :-)) but there are some plants I can keep alive! I decided to rely on the tried and true this year so that my gardens will stay pretty all summer long.

My husband has a thing for fountains and bought a couple for our deck. I love having them and enjoyed filling the deck with plants to accompany the flowing waters. One of the fountains has a light so you can see the flowing water at night – very cool!

Lately I’ve gotten into listening to John Denver and whenever I hear his hit, “Rocky Mountain High,” I feel like he’s singing about a modern day Thoreau. It was nice to have the spirit of Henry with me while digging my fingers into the soil, hoping to add color and new life to our surroundings.

Here’s how it all came out. After the flower slide show, there’s a video I posted of John Denver singing “Rocky Mountain High” at his Wildlife Concert.

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Torn between two lovers

So what’s a girl to do?

Louisa May Alcott is my passion but so are spring birds!

Two weeks out of the year, the spring migrants come through my area. I am fortunate to live in what’s known as a “fly zone” where all sorts of colorful birds with lovely songs spend a few days before continuing on up north to Canada to nest.

The weather is key as to how this all shakes out. All last week we had dreary, gray and cool weather with temperatures in the 50s. Just 300 miles away, temps were in the 70s. The cold front we were stuck in acted like a wall, and the birds were waiting.

Saturday morning, temperatures rose slightly, opening the door. And the birds streamed in!

Every birder dreams of witnessing a “fall-out” where literally, all different kinds of birds rain down upon the observer. I had that experience on Saturday. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Pictured are all the birds I saw in a 2 hour period.

I have to imagine that Henry David Thoreau must have experienced at least one “fall-out” in his lifetime (and probably more). Maybe Louisa experienced it with him (dreamy :-)). Did he talk excitedly to himself as I did watching 2 brilliant red Scarlet Tanagers singing and chasing each other? Thank goodness no one was around to see!

Did he lie on his back to watch the birds so high up in the trees? I did (stupidly, forgetting about the danger of deer ticks!). Glorious! And luckily, I found the two deer ticks on me.

So, in the morning, when I’m indulging in my Louisa passion, reading, writing for this blog, or just writing, I hear the spring birds singing outside, longing to grab my binoculars for another look.

Remember that song, “Torn Between Two Lovers”? That’s me! At least, until the spring migration is over.

What a glorious time of year!

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A last journey on the Sylvia Yule before the winter comes

I had the very rare opportunity yesterday of actually having 2 hours of free time lining up with beautifully warm weather in the middle of October! I jumped on it. 🙂 I grabbed the Sylvia Yule and went down to the local boat launch to take a final kayak trip before the cold weather settles in.

My husband keeps wishing we had a waterfront home. I think we have the best of both worlds – a home only a few minutes away from water – all the perks without  the work and hassle. Not a bad deal at all. 🙂 I launched the Sylvia Yule just as the sun was about to set.

We had just had a big rain storm so the water level was high and the current strong, making for a vigorous paddling workout. The colors at sunset were golden and lovely.

I loved how the water reflected the clouds and the sky. I only wish I had been able to capture the Great Blue Heron that I scared off a couple of times. Alas, an iPhone camera can’t do everything! 🙂

Of course my head was full of Thoreau (as it always is now when I kayak). This time though I recalled Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s Flute and imagined myself as a young Louisa with Mr. Thoreau in the Musketaquid, listening to music from his flute and the quasi-fairy tale stories he told about the natural world.

And how could I do a post about a kayak trip without quoting Moods? 🙂

“All manner of sights and sounds greeted Sylvia, and she felt as if she were watching a Panorama painted in water colors by an artist who had breathed into his work the breath of life and given each figure power to play its part . . . never had she felt so truly her happiest self, for of all the costlier pleasures she had known not one had been so congenial as this, as she rippled farther and farther up the stream and seemed to float into a world whose airs brought only health and peace.

Anxious to reach a certain point, they rowed on into the twilight, growing stiller and stiller as the deepening hush seemed to hint that Nature was at her prayers. Slowly the Kelpie floated along the shadowy way, and as the shores grew dim, the river dark with leaning hemlocks or an overhanging cliff, Sylvia felt as if she were making the last voyage across that fathomless stream where a pale boatman plies and many go lamenting.”

The red, orange and golden leaves, while lovely to look at, sparked a little sadness at the thought of winter approaching. They remind me of the leaves I pressed into wax paper and gave to my mom in the last few months of her life, so she could still see the beauty of the season.

Still, winter makes the spring all that much sweeter. I will need to find a way to appreciate the snow and the storms and find beauty in them also.

This weekend, I will clean off the Sylvia Yule and put her in the basement until the spring. What a glorious way to end the season, filled with wonderful memories of great times drifting down river.


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Children’s story suggests Louisa’s inspiration for her first poem (and inspires a little song)

Remember Louisa May Alcott’s first poem, written when she was 8?

To the First Robin

Welcome, welcome little stranger,
Fear no harm, and fear no danger,
We are glad to see you here,
For you sing, “Sweet Spring is near.”

Now the white snow melts away;
Now the flowers blossom gay;
Come dear bird and build your nest,
For we love our robin best.

In a delightful children’s picture book, Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s Flute, authors Julie Dunlap and Marybeth Lorbiecki offer an intriguing suggestion as to what inspired Louisa to write her first poem, and discover “her own inner music – a wild melodious river of words that could carry her wherever she longed to be” (p. 29).

The setting

Dunlap and Lorbiecki’s charming story begins in Concord when the Alcotts lived at the Hosmer cottage (pre-Fruitlands). Right away they introduce the idea of Louisa’s exuberant spirit as the seven year-old girl  jumps from the ceiling beam of the Hosmer farm because of a dare from Cyrus Hosmer. The consequences included two sprained ankles and the writing of a long list of rules (given by her father) on the things “good” girls are supposed to do. Here it’s revealed how tedious Louisa finds the exercise of writing.

This would soon change.

Enter Mr. Thoreau

Because Louisa’s older sister Anna was being taught by Henry David Thoreau and his brother, John at Concord Academy, the Alcott girls had the good fortune of accompanying Mr. Thoreau on nature field trips.

Magic time

The authors did a wonderful job of describing Mr. Thoreau’s oddities (“Some even said he combed his hair with a pine comb.”). He had a magical way of opening up the world of nature to the children, mixing a fairy tale mentality (describing a cob web as a fairy’s handkerchief) and the soothing sounds of his flute. It is the music he played on this flute that particularly captures Louisa’s heart. She noticed too that Henry jotted down quick notes in a notebook about what was seen along the way. Did he write such magical words in that notebook?

Life changing

Henry David Thoreau opened up a whole new world to Louisa, one that beautifully accommodated her boundless physical energy. Louisa discovered how freeing the outside world could be. She soon found the indoors with its chores and rules confining, especially during the long, cold winter. But while she could be outside, she reveled in all her experiences with Mr. Thoreau, from berry picking to excursions in his boat, the Musketaquid, to his stories about elves dancing on toadstools.

Unlocking the door

Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s Flute does such a beautiful job of setting the stage for Louisa’s first experience of creative self-expression. Knowing personally the power of music, I could feel the sense of longing inside  brought to life by Mr. Thoreau’s flute. It was a key that unlocked the door to the rest of her life.

The birth of a poem

I found myself shedding a tear when, after the long cold winter, the first signs of spring awoke the writer in her which produced her first poem. It fueled my own longing to allow those creative urges inside of me to be expressed more fully.

An inspiration to children . . .

Even though Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s Flute is a children’s picture book (and the pictures by Mary Azarian are beautiful), there is plenty of good and accurate biographical information in this story.

I would hope that any child would be inspired to unlock their door to creativity by reading this wonderful book.

And adults

I immediately went to Amazon and bought Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s Flute – I wanted a keepsake to remind me not to suppress, but to develop and express, my artistic, musical and writing abilities.

A simple song

Here’s a little fruit from my reading, a very simple little melody for “To the First Robin.”  I made a rough recording of it on my iPod and I thought I’d share it with you.


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A clear introduction to Transcendentalism . . .

. . . and in only about 500 words! This is from the Spiritual Travels blog:

The Hippies of Nineteenth-Century America

Posted on August 19, 2011 by lori

Spending time with Bronson Alcott yesterday made me realize that before moving forward we need to get a bit clearer on what that ten-dollar word “Transcendentalism” means. Spoiler alert: abstract ideas ahead.

I’ve asked my philosopher husband, Bob Sessions, to tell us everything we need to know about Transcendentalism in 500 words (how hard can this be?). Here’s his response:

As Lori has written in previous posts, there’s a school of philosophy lurking behind the Concord stories she’s been telling. Emerson gathered artists and intellectuals to discuss, develop, and live Transcendentalism.

So what is this home-grown philosophy with such an imposing title? Having come of age in the 1960s I recognize many familiar themes in their project.  One might say, in fact, that the  Transcendentalists were the hippies of their day.  They believed in free love and being close to nature, they turned away from both traditional religion and materialism, and their central goal was self-realization of the individual by transcending the ego to attain union with the whole.

Henry David Thoreau (Wikipedia Commons image)

For those of you who recall the 1960s counter-culture, there’s a lot that is familiar about the Concord scene of the 1840-50s: Bronson Alcott’s refusal to accept the idea of private property, his commune Fruitlands, and his radical vegetarianism; Thoreau’s desire to follow the guidance of nature; and Hawthorne’s searing critiques of the dominant religion.

Even if reference to the 1960s doesn’t resonate for you, much of what the Transcendentalists sought remains central to the spiritual lives of many seekers today.  Thoreau is famous for suggesting that beneath the surface of everyday life there is a deeper, more coherent reality that can only be accessed by a kind of intuition, and that if we use this natural intuitive faculty we will gain a conscious union of our individual psyche (Atman in Sanskrit) with the world psyche (Brahman).  You can see that Emerson and his friends learned much from Eastern thought, which was just becoming known in the West during their day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Wikipedia Commons image)

Like many people in our time, members of Emerson’s “genius circle” were not atheists, but their focus was on the individual as the spiritual center of the universe. They believed that if we truly know ourselves we will have the knowledge we need to comprehend nature, history, and, ultimately, the cosmos itself.  Like Neo-Platonists, Transcendentalists believed that the structure of the universe literally duplicates the structure of the individual, and that nature is a living mystery full of signs.

Our 19th-century Transcendentalists knew full well the suffering and evils of human life, but rather than buy the Original Sin perspective of the Calvinists and Puritans, they believed that if people lived up to their promises—that is, if they attained self-realization—much suffering and evil would disappear.

Concord’s Transcendentalist community ended with the onslaught of the Civil War and the deaths of its charismatic and brilliant stars.  If you’re like me, though, a century and a half later their attempts to live fully human lives still resonate.  I highly recommend you re-visit their writings even if you cannot travel to Concord.  They got a lot of things right.


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