Video: The Larvae in the Pitcher Plant
What struck me most in Brown’s Bog, beside the silent presence of the glacier’s lasting carvings, was the life all around us — dormant, yet busy as ever. Professor Borne lamented that there were fewer ferns and leafy branches to impress us and simulate a North American Eden. While I admit each season has its special contributions, I was no less put off by the winter scene. I had put on my winter boots this time to avoid my toes going numb, and I felt sufficiently protected from the widespread mud. I went into the bog with no preconceptions, just the desire to be outside, away from schoolwork where I could just walk around nature and only think of nature and our complicated relationship to it. The ferns were still present all over the forest floor, but they were hidden by fallen leaves and other detritus. We see it as an escape, yet provide it no escape from our own exploitive expansion that threatens the very oases of “true nature” that we still expect to remain. Brown’s Bog itself only remains because of its private ownership and its over-saturated land disdained by loggers.
Yet it was not until our gathering at ever-shrinking Brown’s Lake that I really began to notice the still-active animal life. A cardinal’s call from the edge of the clearing. Another sound — a bird I do not recognize. An unknown species of woodpecker, now a black silhouette against the late afternoon’s bright grey, overcast sky. As we walked back towards the forked path we passed, a desire came upon me to look closer into the pitcher plants. One I noticed had collected water in it, in addition to its predatory enzyme juices, likely from the rain earlier that day. Leaning in closer, I noticed that there was some type of larvae growing in the pitcher plant as if it were some ready-made nursery. Professor Bourne noted it was too cold for mosquitoes, and my Google research told me it was likely some type of fly, as they are known to use pitcher plants for their young. Seeing all the little noodle-like larvae squirming around, and thinking back on the different birds, I realized how much of the bog was much more active than it seemed to let on. Perhaps if I had set up a folding chair and read a book for a few hours, I might have seen more.
“To anticipate, not the sunrise and the dawn merely, but, if possible, Nature herself! How many mornings, summer and winter, before yet any neighbor was stirring about his business, have I been about mine! No doubt, many of my townsmen have met me returning from this enterprise, farmers starting for Boston in the twilight, or woodchoppers going to their work. It is true, I never assisted the sun materially in his rising, but, doubt not, it was of the last importance only to be present at it.” -p.117, 118
Thoreau here speaks of his affection towards his simple life away from the overbearingness and vices of society. To rise with the sun is a frequent narrative used by those who feel at one with nature because they are independent from dull routines and alarm clocks. Instead, Thoreau awakes alongside other animals and creatures, in tune with non-human nature. By attuning to nature’s rhythms, he sees himself as sensing nature itself. His focus on nature, tending to his dear crops, and going about his calm business, rather than wasting time worrying about the face-paced life of Concord. That does not mean Thoreau did not come across various struggles in his lifestyle, but they were inevitable results from simple-living, not societal excesses that could be avoided. In the end, how Thoreau lived made him satisfied and feel he was living his life to the fullest.
Henry David Thoreau focuses a great deal of his chapter “Visitors” on a French Canadian woodchopper and post-maker. Thoreau admires the man’s simple worldview and practical reaction to lofty philosophical ponders. The lumberjack is simple-minded, and Thoreau cannot decide whether he is more like a child or a wise man. He eventually comes to the conclusion that by nature keeping him as a child, the man retains his genuineness and avoids the over-sophistication of society. Society often clouds the humanity’s natural calling to enjoy nature without exploitation and contributes to the selfish and misguided obsession with social and financial advancement. Thoreau goes into extreme detail to describe the man and his relationship with him. While this may appear excessive, it allows Thoreau’s audience to understand him better and how he sets an example that Thoreau believes society should follow.
The very reason Johnson Woods still stands is because of its less than ideal terrain. The low-lying area’s susceptibility to water collection made it a poor lumber candidate. The oaks that stood there before the Pilgrims were spared by sheer luck. And so, the trees were allowed to grow, more from a lack of human interest than a genuine connection to nature. Humans tend to ruin things they come across, and this collective of oaks, beech, maple, and hickory remained pristine because its swampy character was not seen as pristine enough to humans. But is it untouched anymore? The boardwalk slices through the ancient groves, a constant reminder of human presence. Yes, it limits most human activity to the boardwalk and thus protects the fauna and flora away from it. However, with the boardwalk came bench arsonists, more graffiti, and constant disruption of visitors. While many visitors rever the trees, there are unfortunately always bad apples. Yet, one can not witness nature if they are not there at all, but with increased involvement in nature comes more foot traffic. My father argues a house is considered nature just as much as a bird’s nest. I suppose I am too romantic to immediately agree, growing up to see nature as some god-like other, an escape to serenity. But when humans further evolved, they did not simply book a ticket to civilization and wave nature goodbye. It did not go anywhere and we still exist within it even though we rever the image of nature before humanity. The more untouched the better, it seems. It is up to us now to defend nature from ourselves before we outgrow our welcome once more.