(oops, sorry, just discovered that AS has not made this review available online yet. buy the journal itself; it's worth it, as it also has great essay "Reading in a Digital Age." actually, this essay is available on AS's website)
And odd book at first glance, it appears to be nothing more than a collection of accounts of 3 different trips Thoreau took to wilds of Maine, but in...moreAnd odd book at first glance, it appears to be nothing more than a collection of accounts of 3 different trips Thoreau took to wilds of Maine, but in the fact all 3 are unified by T's increasing fascination with the primitive world (something hard to imagine these days, I know) and the "wild," both environmental and psychological. The first section, Ktaadn, is the most well-known, as it describes T's trip to the top of this famous mountain, where T. experiences one of his trademark connections with the sublime wild, but this one is rather more awesome in tone than the celebratory exhiliration of Walden. The next two sections, Chesuncook and Allegash / East Branch focus primarily on the Indian guide for each trip. In what amount to extended character profiles, mixed with much natural history, T. subtly reflects on the changing state of American natives who though still retaining their wilderness skills are also gradually becoming domesticated (corrupted?) by white civilization. While showing off the impressive skills of these guides, T. does not romanticize them at all, showing the quirks and at times annoying traits in their personalities. It's revealing to consider how even in T's day, questions of development and conservation were already becoming important issues.
Also on ample display is T's capacious curiosity for and diligent recording of the natural world. Though these works don't have the sustained lyricism of Walden (what work, by anybody, does?), there are plenty of, may I say, "transcendental" moments of description and reflection that match anything found in Walden. And just when you think that this earnest love of nature is getting to be a bit much, that droll T. sense of humor pops its head offers some quite witty and sardonic asides.
In the end, one can't help but marvel at T's sheer powers of physical and mental endurance. Whereas Emerson experienced the transcendental world mostly through the play of ideas, Thoreau lived it body and soul. Ironically, though, these near heroic feats of exploration also subtly portend what would become a relatively early death for T. at the age of 46 from a form of chronic bronchitis / pneumonia. Such awareness lends a tinge of sadness for the reader. Nonetheless, while T's arduous travels (no Patagonia fleece or gortex rain gear for those folks!)probably contributed to his mortality, they also proved the source of immortality in his words.
I probably would't recommend starting with this work if you've never read T. before, but for the serious Thoreau fan or environmentalist, this is a must read.(less)
I don't mean this as a flip comment, but if you subscribe to a "seasonal" approach to reading, in addition to all its other superb qualities -- beauti...moreI don't mean this as a flip comment, but if you subscribe to a "seasonal" approach to reading, in addition to all its other superb qualities -- beautiful descriptions, thought-provoking meditations on spirituality -- this is a great book to read in summer. It will cool your body and your soul!(less)