In honor of Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday earlier this month, and in honor of the lovely summer weather, we wanted to highlight some books that fit the season and carry on Thoreau’s legacy. Thoreau is well known for Walden, a book chronicling his year of living alone in nature, and of Cape Cod, a collection of his reflections on those beaches. In both, he uses his experiences in nature as a way of meditating on life’s big questions
Robert Finch follows in his footsteps, walking along miles of the Cape Cod shoreline. He has chronicled some of his rambles in Outlands: Journeys to the Outer Edges of Cape Cod. In this collection of essays, Finch writes of moments of isolation, even danger, as on one walk he finds himself miles from the nearest person but near some agitated harbor seals. Finch uses these moments to probe his, and our, responses to these moments in nature.
However, the best-known successor of Thoreau is Henry Beston, whose Herbs and the Earth and The Best of Beston Godine has had the honor of publishing. Beston is a meticulous observer who has written on a wide variety of places, including (of course) Cape Cod, but stretching to the St. Lawrence River and beyond.
Beston’s thoughtful nature writing is close to home in Herbs and the Earth, where he uses gardening as a way to focus his thoughts on what he grows and its deep roots in areas like history, religion, and medicine.
You can learn more about Beston, the man from Daniel G. Payne’s scrupulously researched and incredibly readable biography, Orion on the Dunes. Payne tracks Beston’s career and development, from his beginnings as Henry Sheahan, a World War I soldier who went on to write children’s stories, to the pioneering conservationist and iconic nature writer as we know him.
Happy birthday, Henry David Thoreau, and may your legacy live on!