A reader sent me a beautiful description of the tranquility he finds walking in and communing with nature. It seems my friend has become a forest dweller in the Hindu tradition! I think that if we don’t find peace in this way, we probably won’t find it anywhere, for many seers and sages have found something vastly preferable in nature and solitude.
Here then are the words of a modern-day Thoreau.
I can heartily second Seneca’s suggestion of an outside walk, although I enjoy an opportunity not readily available. I live on 40 acres of mixed forest with a creek running across the middle. When I go outside, I am not confronted by the galling presence of even more members of this appalling species; I am surrounded by pure nature. I have rooted here; by walking over every square inch of this land, I have come to know it intimately. I recognize every tree; I know where different kinds of rock lie on the surface or just beneath it.
The blatant seasonal changes no longer attract my notice; now I recognize subtle shifts in the foliage with the passing seasons. Some places retain their green longer into the summer because the buildup of humus from the fallen leaves and needles holds more water. I note how the Douglas firs in some areas are dying, and make a note to thin the trees in that area so that the survivors will have enough sun and water to stay healthy.
In past years, I felt somewhat guilty about thinning the forest; every time I brought down a live tree, I felt like a murderer. But now I see the forest as a complete organism. The individual trees are only parts of the whole. I am nurturing the entire organism when I cut down a badly placed tree.
I see the sunlight reflecting off the foliage and see in my mind the photosynthesis taking place in the greenery. Carbon dioxide from the air and water brought up from the ground are energized by photons of light to build adenosine triphosphate molecules that are then used to power the activities of each cell. That energy goes into energy-bearing carbohydrates that spread between cells and help grow more cells. Bees and other insects collect some of those carbohydrates, drawing energy from them. Birds and lizards collect some of the insects, drawing energy from them. The energy from the sunlight spreads through the entire organism, nurturing it.
The forest is a huge calculator. It experiments with every square inch of ground, trying to find the perfect plant to place there. The precise conditions of sunlight, groundwater, and soil are all taken into the calculation, and the ideal plant grows in that place. Dozens of different species are scattered around the land, each in its own perfect place.
I have become part of this organism. I plant seedlings, water them in the summer, cut away thick brush, and clear away fuel to protect my forest in the event of a forest fire. The forest can live quite well without me, but my nurturing makes it stronger and more vigorous. The forest has sent its tendrils into my soul even as my hands have helped it grow. We are becoming one, the forest and I. We are both stronger for it, combining our “strength of life”, whose syntony is greater than the sum of our separate contributions. Communing with my forest renews my confidence in the overall goodness of the world. Let the humans stew in their own sewage; the natural world continues regardless of human idiocy.
Here on the same topic is one of my intellectual heroes, Will Durant.
We suspect that when our fires begin to burn low, we shall want the healing peace of uncrowded mountains and spacious fields. After every idea has had its day with us and we have fought for it not wisely or too well, we in our turn shall tire of the battle, and pass on to the young our thinning fascicle of ideals. Then we shall take to the woods; we shall make friends of the animals; we shall leave the world to stew in its own deviltry, and shall take no further thought of its reform.