This was my first time visiting Brown’s Bog, and, I must admit, it was much more pleasant than my last encounter with a bog, when I found myself waist-deep in the muck, having to be pulled out by my classmates when I was in middle school. This visit was much more tame, and I was able to appreciate the specific, barren beauty that accompanies winter. The trees were bare and spindly, and the pitcher plants, red and delicate, were a striking bit of color among the shades of brown.
Over our last fall break, I accompanied the WOODs club at Wooster to Red River Gorge, Kentucky. It was my first time camping, and one day I decided to partake in a more challenging hike. On the trip that our class took to the bog, a part of me was immediately transported back to that hike in Kentucky, particularly when we decided to take the short hike that looped back to the bus at the end of our excursion. The somewhat bare expanses of land, the trail itself, and even the rain seemed, in that moment, almost identical to that hike in Kentucky. I was experiencing nostalgia in a place where I had never been before. I think it is interesting to consider the universality of beauty, and how there can be such similar beauty in two entirely different places. I think that, in this way, as well as many other ways, nature can be unifying.
“So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.” -page 113
The discussion of change has been a prominent one throughout our time reading both Thoreau and McKibben. Here, Thoreau establishes change as a “miracle.” I want to focus on change in the context of nature. He was living in a time before climate change was radically affecting nature and its processes; however, his discussions of our discomfort towards accepting change are pertinent in today’s political and social climate. McKibben speaks of how quickly change can take place, and how, in terms of climate change, these changes are often completely overlooked in favor of greed and comfort. In this case, the changes that we are witnessing are not “miracles,” but I do think that it is poignant that Thoreau speaks of the refusal to accept change when that is, in fact, one of the largest problems surrounding the climate crisis today, and one of the largest threats to the nature that he reveres so highly.
On page 243, Thoreau describes the lake as “the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is the earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next to the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows.”
When I first read this, I was sure that he was likening nature to a human face. Looking back at it, there is not necessarily any language that would indicate that this is necessarily a human face; rather, it could be describing the face of another animal. It made me wonder whether this anthropomorphic perspective was completely my own, or whether Henry David Thoreau was, in fact, intentionally trying to compare this natural setting to a human face. Perhaps he assumed that readers would automatically connect this description to that which they are familiar with: a human face.
When we first walked into the forest, one of my first thoughts was, “I would like this so much better in the spring.” Something about bare trees and overcast skies typically makes me long for warmth and foliage. I do still think that I might find the forest more beautiful in the spring, when wildflowers are emerging, bright and sprightly, from the ground, and sunlight can dapple through the leaves, and more creatures are scurrying over the forest floor. But as I walked, I was surprised by the extent to which I grew to appreciate the barren beauty. I was particularly struck by the frozen water and the strange fungi—a bizarre show of life—growing on logs. Perhaps I had simply not spent enough time in these environments during winter before, but I do believe that our excursion gave me a greater appreciation of a beauty that I might have otherwise overlooked.
In terms of the boardwalk, I do think that it is unnatural, and that it stifles growth that would have sprung up in its place. However, I believe that it is quite valuable in terms of accessibility, which I think is something we do not think about enough when we think about natural spaces. I also think that it prevents a significant amount of damage that would occur to surrounding vegetation and wildlife. Also, a concern with “natural” trails is that they can widen over time as people use them, spreading chemicals and, over time, killing more vegetation. I believe that the boardwalk is useful because it is not malleable; it is a clear, unyielding trail. Finally, I think that, in terms of graffiti and harm to the trees, people who want to do that will do it with or without the presence of the boardwalk. Even if the boardwalk makes it easier for them to do these things, it also allows people with disabilities to more easily experience nature. I think that this worth the possible downfalls of the design.