Thoreau's great insight for the Anthropocene: Wildness is an attitude, not a place

phys.org | 3/8/2019 | Staff
TitanSwimr (Posted by) Level 3
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When Americans quote writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, they often reach for his assertion that "In Wildness is the preservation of the world." This phrase elicited little response when Thoreau first read it during a lecture in 1851. A century later, however, it had become a guiding mantra for the American environmental movement, adopted by the Sierra Club as its motto and launched into the cultural stratosphere via bumper stickers, T-shirts and posters.

Unfortunately, the line was cherry-picked from its original context, conflates wildness with wilderness and predates Thoreau's later, more nuanced insights about wildness. His mature views, which I stumbled onto when researching my book "The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau's River Years," can more effectively help us cope with a world so changed by people that geologists have proposed a new epoch, the Anthropocene.

Mature - Thoreau - Wildness - Entanglement - Realities

To the mature Thoreau, wildness was an entanglement of different realities and more of an attitude than an attribute. A pervasive condition lurking beneath the surface – especially in the midst of civilization. A creative force, willed not by intent but by impulse, accident and contingency. As a card-carrying geologist who has written two books on Thoreau as a natural scientist and lifelong "river rat," and the first "Guide to Walden Pond," I believe the mature Thoreau lurking beneath distorted cultural motifs has much to tell us.

Shortly after sunset on April 23, 1851, members of the Concord Lyceum gathered at First Parish Unitarian Church. One of their most loyal members, "H. D. Thoreau," stepped up to the podium to read his newest lecture "The Wild." His late-spring timing was perfect, this being the wildest time of year for the romantics and naturalists of his 19th-century agroecosystem.

Word - Nature - Absolute - Freedom - Wildness

"I wish to speak a word for Nature," he opened boldly, "for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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