We are hesitatingly, hopefully believing that spring is now fully here to stay in the mountains of Floyd County. We have heard repeatedly about the early warming of last year and then the devastating freeze of that April which wiped out local apples, peaches, blueberries and more. A couple of weeks ago we had thought maybe spring was here but then temperatures dropped and it snowed. Would our heating oil and our hopefulness hold out until we can put all of this aside until next year, I wondered?
I think the daffodils have kept me going frankly. There are quite a few planted here around the house by past generations. From the large bay window over the kitchen sink I can see one particularly nice looking clump tucked away between the “granny house” and the outdoor bamboo shower. The heirloom daffodils on the east side of the house, though, particularly exemplify to me sturdiness, persistence, hope, a natural rhythm despite all appearances and the intense color and simple lines of more natural times gone by. Each day I am grateful for their teaching by example.
This past winter (I am going to go ahead and call it “this past winter”) was probably the toughest I have ever gone through in terms of surviving whatever nature dished out with whatever resources were at hand. It was not, by any means, the worst winter ever in terms of degree of cold or inches of snow but it was the toughest in terms of our lack of resources to meet the challenge. For me with a very low functioning thyroid that pitches me towards vulnerability to cold and a perhaps over functioning sense of responsibility about keeping family and livestock well fed, scarce resources with regards to heating oil, food and hay made me feel kind of desperate off and on all winter long. The constant cold both inside and outside wore me down. The constant concern about where and how we would get our next installment of hay wore me down. Winter became what it truly is - a time of testing, endurance, survival. It became a time of looking within to search out the most fundamental levels of energy, strength and faith in order to not only survive the season but to yield to it and draw from it what it had to give.
The warm temperatures, the greening grass, the wildly yellow daffodils are not just the harbingers of “oh, lovely spring” to me this year. No, this year spring is a fall-on-your knees-and-kiss-the-earth experience with a “Thank you, God, for renewing life both this spring on this patch of earth and eternally within the hearts of all people.” As long as we yield to the natural rhythms by paying close attention to them both outside of ourselves in the natural world and within in the spiritual world, spring will come eventually and it is a profound event. It is hard to appreciate the profundity of spring at this time in human history in which we have used wealth and technology to distance ourselves, indeed insulate ourselves, against the rigors of a natural life. So much is lost with this fussy, resource gobbling insulation.
Henry David Thoreau certainly did not insulate himself from the rigors of a natural life. Rather he plunged into them with a fullness that was uncharacteristic of his time, place and station in life. Several years ago, scholar David Robinson wrote Natural Life: Thoreau’s Worldly Transcendentalism to great reviews. Just reading the reviews of this book bolsters my strength and perspective.
To live the natural life meant two things to Thoreau: to study nature by observing and recording natural phenomena in the life around him, and to bring his life into a harmonious accord with all the movements, patterns, and events of nature.
Imagine what human society and the state of the earth would be like today if all lived in this way, with this fervor, with spirituality as the focus, with yielding to nature as a means.
As a professional keeper of a nature journal, it is reassuring to revisit Thoreau’s thoughts on how he used his journals as ‘a calendar of the ebbs and flows of the soul.’ Thoreau’s work speaks across centuries, reminding us that, in Robinson’s words, ‘our continuing kinship with nature will support and enrich our public lives. Such a relationship with nature has been, throughout human history, the source of poetry, wisdom, and moral prophecy.
I have this book on my (extensive!) Amazon wish list and hope I can get it soon. I look forward to reading it and finding companionship with someone else so focused on living a natural life in its deepest sense. I look forward to gaining a deeper appreciation for Charlotte Mason’s insistence upon nature studies for children. There is much more to it, I think, than just preparing their beings for close academic work and a comfortable appreciation for Divine creativity. In the first pages of Chapter One, Robinson notes that a comment Thoreau made about being able to withstand any rigors a New England winter could dish out went
beyond any usual concerns about seasonal conveniences and comforts. We can detect the barest of outlines for what would eventually develop into an arduous spiritual discipline in which seasonal change and other cycles and events of nature became signs and patterns for his own acts and attitudes, a spiritual language that required the most careful and attentive study. This particular Sunday, Thoreau saw the promise of a renewal of life, in which he would be both an enthralled spectator and a committed participant.
I look forward to reviewing what we are doing here on Natural Path Farm and in The Lionsgate School in light of Thoreau’s thoughts and experiences as pondered in Robinson’s book. I have no doubt they will weave together beautifully with the other approaches to living a natural life we embrace here, i.e. Sahaj Marg, a Charlotte Mason approach to education, organic homesteading and so on. The last time I read Walden, I was deep into spiritual life but was living in a city and dreaming about homesteading and homeschooling. It will be a treat to revisit this old friend, Henry David Thoreau, through reading Natural Life: Thoreau’s Worldly Transcendentalism since making such drastic changes towards the satisfactions, challenges and rhythm of a more natural life.
This revisiting, in and of itself, will be like a change of season. Natural rhythms generally have a way of touching on the past while moving towards the future. This revisiting will be like that. I welcome sinking more deeply, nay rising more highly, into a natural life with the guidance of the many who have gone before with so much insight, dedication and inspiration.
When I go outside this morning to admire once again my beautiful heirloom daffodils and look over at the cows who can now graze contentedly on intensely green spring grass, I will imagine many others including Henry David Thoreau and Charlotte Mason and the spiritual Masters all there beside me rejoicing equally at the new opportunity for real life this vibrant, new spring so graciously offers us. May we all loosen our bent over winter postures into the openness of a frolicking spring.
From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,