Meditation on Emerson’s “Nature”: a Foreword of Explanation

I am about to post something on this blog which could seem boring and boorish, so I want to explain myself a little bit.  First, Jill’s rule for this blog is that we write anything that moves us.  I believe what I am about to post qualifies under that rule.  There is no rule though that anyone is required to read what we write.  No one certainly is required to read what I write, especially since I write it primarily and maybe solely for myself.  It will be a kind of journal, left out on a park bench for others to peek into if they wish, or not if they don’t.

What will this journal be about?  It seems, from its beginnings, that it will be sort of a meditation on what I am reading these days, which is primarily works of and about Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, with some Nietzsche thrown into the mix.  I have read Nietzsche since high school, but somehow until recently had never much read Emerson or Thoreau.  Recently I’ve been reading them with passion, while re-reading some Nietzsche, at long last beginning to take a look at his journals and notebooks.  

But any undertaking requires some focus, especially for someone as unfocused as I am.  Accordingly I will try to focus on Emerson’s first major publication, his essay Nature.  I propose a meditation on Emerson’s Nature.  My model for this is José Ortega y Gasset, whose own first major publication was Meditations on Quixote, a thinking through of Cervantes’ novel which, at the same time, thought through so many other things, including core aspects of Ortega’s own budding philosophy.  Just as Don Quixote guided Ortega through a world of thoughts, I hope Emerson’s Nature will guide me.

But be forewarned: most everything is fair game.  I had a college classmate whose name is César Muňoz.  We were both attracted to this particular college because of its setting near the woods and trails of the Green and White Mountains of New England.  We both were somewhat active in the college’s outing club, which maintained a stretch of the Appalachian Trail and organized regular hiking excursions up into the mountains.  One fine day (I can’t remember whether it was late spring or early autumn, but the day was sunny and warm, and the woods were vibrant) César and I took part in a group day-hike up one of the White Mountain summits, maybe ten hikers all told.  While almost all of the group hustled up the trail as if the summit might not be up there if they didn’t get to it quickly, I lagged behind.  César lagged a little further behind even me.  It was usual for me to lag, it was my custom, always has been.  Back then I could walk thirty or more miles and still not feel tired at the end the day, but I would need every minute of daylight to do it.  At one point someone from the group above, frustrated that César and I were slowing them down, hollered down the trail, “Hey, you guys, what’s taking you so long!?”  While I wasn’t sure quite how to respond, I looked back at César, who was crouched over a tiny flowering plant next to the trail, unnoticed by any of us until César stopped and noticed it.  Remaining in his crouch, he looked around and up in the direction of the hollered question and said, without a hint of shame but also not boasting, “I need to get better acquainted with my little friends here,” slightly nodding toward the ground.  What César Muňoz said on that trail on that day was one of the highlights of my college career.

So, I’ve already told you that I can be unfocused and I’ve already told you I’m constitutionally a laggard.  This Meditation is going to be slow going.  I know this already from my first foray into the project which I’m about to post.  Emerson’s Nature begins with a little, six-line verse.  I saw fit to give this little verse a bit of attention before moving on to Emerson’s actual text.  Several days and fifteen single-spaced font 11 pages later I am satisfied that I’ve said everything I want to say, for now at least, about the first line of this little verse!  Only five lines of verse, maybe seventy-five more pages to go and I’ll be ready to move on the the text itself!  Progress is being made!  

Well, progress is in fact being made, hopefully a kind of progress which can claim César Muňoz for its inspiration.  I will take Ralph Waldo Emerson for my guide up the path he is leading me on.  I will do so at my slow but steady pace.  But if either of us sees a little flower calling out for our acquaintance, we will pause and get acquainted.  And if any critter large or small beckons us away from the main path, through brush and along faint animal tracks, we will leave the trail and follow.  Emerson’s path will always be our focus.  We will hope never to lose that trail, to go astray.  But we will understand the path to be much, much more than the narrow treadway underfoot.  If all we do is stay strictly on the trail, we are not truly on the trail and may as well stay home.

Please come along, if you will.  Don’t, if you don’t.  They say that life is short.  I say that life is built of choices and I can choose for myself but for myself alone.  I have no right to expect anyone to take the time needed to come along, to share in my choices.

To slow things down even further, I will try my best to cite sources every time I use them, which will be often.  I do this for two reasons: to show gratitude to everyone teaching me a thing or two or more, and to show anyone else how she or he can go to the source directly.  I will make no effort to be academically correct in my sourcing as long as a citation suffices to give proper thanks and adequate direction.  Much of my reading, though, is on Kindle and it is no easy matter to cite page numbers from e-books.

I initially had hoped to do all this in nine separate postings, one covering Emerson’s little  verse, then one for each for the eight chapters of the essay.  Clearly, that’s not going to work.  As I’ve said, if I waited to complete my musings on the initial verse, my first posting would threaten to be ninety pages long.  Smaller bites are needed.  Still, I will do my best to end a post at a place which makes some sense and start up the next one sensibly as well.

Now, let’s strap on the boots!

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