Not many men see beauty in the fogs
Of close, low pine-woods in a river town;
Yet unto me not morn’s magnificence
Nor the red rainbow of a summer’s eve,
Nor Rome, nor joyful Paris, nor the halls
Of rich men, blazing hospitable light,
Nor wit, nor eloquence,–no, nor even the song
Of any woman that is now alive,–
Hath such a soul, such divine influence,
Such resurrection of the happy past,
As is to me when I behold the morn
Ope in such low, moist roadside, and beneath
Peep the blue violets out of the black loam.
Thus Emerson opens his essay “Concord Walks” with his own poem. Just as Country Life was more about walking rather than life in the country, “Concord Walks” is less about walking than it is about the joys of place. Walking merits a brief mention about two-thirds of the way through the essay when Emerson suggests it is “desirable to go on a tramp” with either a naturalist who carries “Nature in his head,” or an artist who “has an eye for beauty.” That’s it for the walking.
This is an essay light on ideas. Most of the essay is Emerson waxing rhapsodic over the joys of a garden and his wood-lot. A Good garden is a delight to behold but there are more people who enjoy a beautiful garden than have the skill to create one. Still, Americans don’t need “the proud niceties of an European garden,” we can have happiness all year round in our “square fruit-gardens” (also known as orchards).
If you want a truly noble garden though, you should have an arboretum. The trees Emerson suggests cracked me up. Plant yourself a Sequoia. And every personal arboretum should also have a banyan tree. Obviously your arboretum would need to be quite expansive or there will be no room for any other trees. And don’t try this on a city lot!
Your arboretum should not be confused with your wood-lot. Emerson considered the acreage he bought around Walden Pond to be his wood-lot. Where today men might go out to the workbench in the garage to tinker and putter around, Emerson finds that
a thoughtful man in the country feels the joy of eminent domain is in his wood-lot. If he suffer from accident of low spirits, his spirits rise when he enters it. He can spend the entire day therein, with hatchet or pruning-shears, making paths, without remorse of wasting time.
Emerson concludes by saying that the reason having that garden, arboretum and wood-lot are so important is because we are forced by Nature to be real, to be “naturel.” Cities make us talkative and artificial.” Conversations with Nature make us ourselves.
Next week’s Emerson is “Boston.” I will not be surprised if it turns out to really be about New York City.