“Wherever there is beauty, you will find a home,” those words, bestowed upon me by a close friend in my childhood, struck the depths of my soul. Hailing from a quaint home in Lincoln, MA, I developed a deep connection to nature in my ongoing effort to escape the emotional distress trapped inside those walls. As a child, I spent many of my days riding my horse, Mica, down a trail that ushered us towards absolute tranquility, otherwise known as Walden Pond. As I would reflect amidst the shore, I sat steps away from the simple home of the late Henry David Thoreau, the man who first spoke those words that I could carry with me for thirty some years.
On July 12th, Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday will be celebrated by all those who have been deeply mentored by his legacy. In his honor, I’ve been celebrating nature and mentor-ship while on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard.
Channeling his energy, I could not wait to get lost at sea and start a series about how nature mentors the world. Packed with Thoreau plans of nature walks in solitude, writing for hours about a single dragonfly or gentle sea breeze, completely unplugged, (the internet, I am sure, would cause him to convulse) searching where the land meets the shore for the mystical soul nourishment that injects a massive dose of vitamin SEA.
The first day of my adventurous July sizzled, we crossed the channel on the big white ferry that delivered us from Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard. The waves were sloppy, beating the shore like an old blues song and I got into the vibe. A distant weather conflict provoked a commotion in the sea that was increasing in size and seemed eager to wipe the beach clean, erasing all traces of man, from the day before. Most would be unhappy about the lack of sun but I was thrilled by the forceful stormy day knowing that the inclement weather meant less people on the beach!
The air was still and then it was not. A sign? A gust caused shadows to rise and fall between amethyst ripples, that drizzled into emerald shadows that spiraled into the deep teal blue abyss. The sea glowed and sparkled like a field of blue diamonds… was this the spirit of Thoreau?
The ornate characters on the boat would have amused Thoreau and possibly made him wild-eyed… I could not help but wonder… If he rose from the dead and landed on this boat, would he think us unconscious, sad and vacant? The bohemian parade of students, tourists, families and elite all stuffed on a ferry delivering them to the vineyard so that each could claim their part of the exclusive island.
I wonder how many knew what Thoreau knew, we are all just visitors here, as Don Henley, another student of the great Thoreau, sings, “one might have title to the deed, but one can never truly own the land.”
I start to dream about the large meadow that fascinates me every time I visit. This earthy truth is arranged and organized victoriously in the field outside my writer’s window that captivates me day and night. While the house is asleep, the bronzed deer venture close to the house unaware that I am spying on them under the moon. Down a long country road, far away from the tourist activity, removed from the fancy and noisy life that part of me deplores and the other craves, I exhale and consider not shaving my shins, doing my hair or getting out of the T-shirt and cut-offs for the entire week.
Our high price material world is wildly addictive and the “wants” are endless, but under the influence of Thoreau’s mentoring, I crave simplicity and solitude, the regeneration that only the sounds of nature can bring. I know that a quiet moment in nature is a gift that no career nor billionaire can buy me. I am here to be reprogrammed. For me, simplicity is hungrier than owning a castle in the sky because at the end of the day I remember the words of another great mentor of mine, my Aunt Irene, who says, “you can’t take it with you when you go.”
I recall towards the end of her life, my aunt telling me that one day the earth just calls, mystically it starts to magnetically pull, injecting a sort of wisdom that you can’t explain, a woman of deep faith she said it was God’s whisper. I often wonder if that happened to Thoreau, and is it now happening to me?
I hear the loud chorus of my elders, voices like Thoreau, Emerson, Aunt Irene and God, penetrating my chaotic life and forcing change upon me. Collectively, their influences force me to observe more, to crave more of the things money can’t buy; the sensory gifts of nature. As I grow older, my ability to measure success has been called into question and nature has become my greatest mentor.
The Vineyard offers a sea of delights that I have no idea if Thoreau ever got to see. I imagine that he, like me, would lose his composure when staring at the sparkling sea and the moody skies would make him smile. That the perfumed breeze, hot sand, and soaring hawks would intoxicate the soul and the hum of the hummingbirds would make him feel at home.
In this moment, channeling his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, I am the soul of Henry David Thoreau. As I recount my adventures, I celebrate his legacy and observe 200 years of beautiful mentor-ship. In memory of Henry David:
I playfully whip down the dirt road that leads to this seclusion, narrowly missing the sun-kissed, pick and shovel man working on the property. We share a quick, “What’s up?” nod to each other as I race past, kicking up a storm of dust pretending to be fleeing from an enemy as if I were the lead character in Sy Montgomery’s book, Soul of an Octopus. I snicker in the rear-view mirror as my life fades into the dust and into the wind where the dominant dirt shoots out behind me like an octopuses confusing ink.
Surrounded by the pregnant meadow, I am in “Thoreau” state-of-mind! For the first time, I see the field bursting with life – I hear the fracas of the inhabitants and understand that they are the vital organs and the heart and soul of this island paradise. It is the enthusiastic intuition of this unique breeding ground where the birds and the bees are all serving a single master, mother nature.
Just beyond my touch, the jeweled hummingbird announces herself with flappy percussion at 53 beats-per-second. It is cocktail hour as she sips the freshly brewed sugar water we’ve just made. Along with a hornet and a delicate butterfly, they prance, tickling the tops of the grass spikes as they sagaciously work their way across the meadow. Paying their respects, the songbirds chime in, not ones to be left out of a conversation, sounding profound as if they were violins in the symphony. They intermingle overhead as they hunt and flirt in the nearby woods exchanging conversations while mimicking each other.
Pouring from the trees, a gentle wind pushes the screen in my office giving a tribal beat that antagonizes the earthy moment. Drafts of the sea breeze embrace the leaves and stir them into a frenzy that seems celebratory, like they are cheering bravo in some procession.
All under the eye of my deceptive predator cat whom watches the parade of nature, licking her lips, stretching her claws with monstrous intentions that are bogus. Her bloodthirsty instincts are half-witted and will quickly be erased as soon as the domestic can of food snaps open and distracts the fantasy of being the new great white land shark here in the land of the famed horror film Jaws. Perhaps cruel, this couture cat has never been out of the house, she merely watches, fantasizing about all that wiggle and fly about in the gardens. She is all talk, no action of which I am grateful for as someone who is reluctant to accept the natural food chain of command.
On this special 200th birthday celebration, I wish to conclude my reflection with the immaculate mentoring message that Henry David Thoreau had first inspired and the trajectory of my life has since taught me.
The greatest luxury of all is appreciation. While I might occasionally dream about sipping my wine from gorgeous Amethyst Waterford glasses, that second of satisfaction is nothing compared to the euphoria I feel while imagining the creatures in the sea. As for the four-bedroom house sitting on the shores of Chilmark draped in hydrangeas, roses, and weather-beaten barn boards, the one that screams, “why the hell don’t you own me?” I say screw you! Despite my 80-hour work week, I have come to accept that it will never happen and maybe it isn’t meant to.
To the two door, pearl white Cadillac that begs, “come play with me, I’ll be the ride of your life,” well I know young, lawless love exhausts both your heart and your bank account. Instead, study an Iris and its quick, yet glorious bloom. In these observations, the words of Thoreau come alive, and we realize that peace cannot be purchased.
Perhaps Thoreau’s greatest mentoring is this, “Do not become a prisoner of your belongings and resist the envy of things you do not know or may not truly enjoy once you have.”
As I was concluding my visit to this island I picked a flawless evening to enjoy a ride in a 1940 open air Bi-Plane. High in the sky, peering down on the rooftops of the secluded mansions, I still wondered if I was missing something, did happiness live under the roofs of such privilege? Would Thoreau warn us that there would be a price to pay for the summer cottage or the size of a hotel draped in luxury when there are so many living without any glimmer of such hope? I remind myself that Thoreau would ask, what is our responsibility in this life…what is at the core of true satisfaction?
I can hear this mentor say, “consider my crystal ball, worry about the environment before it all tumbles into the sea.” As I fly around the island I love, with a man I am about to marry, I marvel at the colors of the clay cliffs in Aquinnah, I wave to the seals dancing in the waves, I smile at the tones of the earth and bless the silence, stillness, beauty. I am thankful for all that I have and I can thank Henry David Thoreau for this re-calibration, mentoring, and love of nature for this development of my peaceful state of mind.
Happy Birthday Henry David!