A conversation with Karen M. the other night somehow came 'round to the Transcendentalists, which reminded me of one of my favorite kids'-fantasy books, Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window. While I was too groggy to focus on anything else the other day (I wrote a three-sentence email to my manager saying I couldn't make it to the office, and managed to include six typos), I re-read the book; it's still lovely, though I cringed a little at the sexism.
(Which deserves a further comment: the book was published in 1962, which turns out to have been the same year that Summer of the Falcon, by Jean Craighead George, was published. In both books, there's a girl protagonist who seemed to me a perfectly good strong female character when I first encountered the books, which was probably in the late 1970s; but in both cases, re-reading as an adult has revealed that the girls not only have far fewer options available to them than the boys in the books, but have much narrower ambitions. In one chapter of Diamond, for example, Eleanor wants two things: (1) to get rid of the freckles on her nose; and (2) to grow up and have kids. Her little brother Eddy also wants two things: (1) to grow up and be a daring bold adventurer of the sort who goes on safaris, and (2) to become President of the United States. I suppose both Diamond and Falcon were simply products of their times; and both do have slight touches of feminism lurking around the edges. But I would still have to think about it before presenting a modern kid with either book.)
Anyway. The real reason I'm posting this entry has nothing to do with any of that; it's that a line in Diamond sent me in search of a quote from Thoreau, which turned out to be about keeping a journal:
Of all strange and unaccountable things, this journalising is the strangest. It will allow nothing to be predicted of it; its good is not good, nor its bad bad. If I make a huge effort to expose my innermost and richest wares to light, my counter seems cluttered with the meanest homemade stuffs; but after months or years I may discover the wealth of India, and whatever rarity is brought overland from Cathay, in that confused heap, and what perhaps seemed a festoon of dried apple or pumpkin will prove a string of Brazilian diamonds, or pearls from Coromandel.
If Thoreau were alive today, I wonder if he would have a satellite feed to a laptop out there in Walden, and if he would post blog entries every day about the glories of Nature.
Some day I need to make time to read Walden; this year, being the 150th anniversary of its publication, would probably be a good time for that. (I think I've already read and liked Civil Disobedience, but I could use a refresher on that too.) But for now, two quotes from that Walden page, by other authors:
Thoreau, very likely without quite knowing what he was up to, took man's relation to nature and man's dilemma in society and man's capacity for elevating his spirit and he beat all these matters together, in a wild free interval of self-justification and delight, and produced an original omelette from which people can draw nourishment in a hungry day.
—E. B. White, The Yale Review, 1954
his mind is always
in new directions, as if
the whole point
is to cross life's river of confusion
on the stones
—Amy Belding Brown, "Thinking About Thoreau"