Tag Archive 'natural philosophy'

Feb 07 2017

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Burroughs Book Finally in Print

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At long last, the Burroughs book is in print. I’ve been reading his essays for decades, and toying with the idea of selecting and publishing excerpts from his work for nearly that long. He wrote over 30 books on nature. I’ve been crazy enough to read most of them.

The full title of this book is Universal Nature: Philosophical Fragments from the Writings of John Burroughs. As the title suggests, the excerpts I have selected tend towards the abstract. While Burroughs was the master of the quaint nature essay – quite often writing about songbirds – he delved deeply into philosophical matters as well.  In his later years he became interested in the tension between science and religion. His was an utterly naturalistic worldview, of course, so he leaned as heavily towards pantheism as I do. Hence my obsession with him.

While Burroughs comes off as a simple, white-bearded countryman observing birds and the like, he was a surprisingly complex character in real life. My biographical introduction puts his work in context, showing how his thoughts emerged from friendships, travels and fruit farming in addition to extensive reading. The excerpts are organized chronologically, making it clear how his perception of wild nature evolved over time from the particular to the universal.

You can get a copy by going to my website WoodThrushBooks.com. It is also available at Amazon. I hope you find the natural philosophy of John Burroughs as intriguing as I have.

 

 

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Mar 15 2015

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Big Questions

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gastropod1What’s the weather like? What’s for dinner? What’s on TV? These are the kind of questions that most people ask themselves nearly every day. As long as I keep to this program, I’m just a regular guy. But I have a tendency to stray. I have a tendency to ask big questions, very big questions – questions for which there are no simple answers.

Last year I completed a manuscript about my immersion into amateur astronomy a decade ago and the big questions that arose from it. At the same time, I read all sorts of theological works, sampling the world’s major religions. The result as been a long winter of intense metaphysical inquiry and difficult writing about things that no one really understands.

Last fall I visited Fisk Quarry and saw the fossilized remnants of creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Those swirls embedded in rock reminded me of spiral galaxies, hurricanes and other natural phenomena. All this suggests to my impressionable mind that there’s such a thing as natural order, that the patterns I see in the world around me are not just a figment of my imagination. That gets me thinking about why patterns exist.  And that, in turn, gets me thinking about the Absolute.

The great thaw has commenced here in the North Country. Soon I’ll be wandering around the woods looking for spring wildflowers, blathering like a fool about how wonderful and beautiful the world is. Then I won’t be so lost in my abstractions. Then again, everything in nature reminds me of divine order. I see spots on the back of a ladybug, a heavy mist clinging to a forested mountain, or the waxing moon rising after dark and sense the sublime. I’m a hopeless romantic.

 

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Jul 05 2014

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Rain Rumination

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forest gladeAfter spending the better part of the morning reading a book about natural theology, I went for a short hike. My dog Matika needed the exercise. So did I. Besides, Vermont’s warm season is short. It’s best to get outside when one can.

I took a cigar with me. I had something to celebrate. For a week or so I had a dull yet persistent pain in my abdomen. It worried me. When tests showed it was only an ulcer, I breathed easy again.

A mile into local woods, I reached a fallen tree upon which I often sit and think. I did just that as a warm summer rain commenced. Had no raingear with me but didn’t care. It’s good to groove with the elements every once in a while. The rain kept the mosquitoes at bay, anyhow.

I stared into a small forest glade as the sky darkened and the rain intensified. Matika nudged me with her nose hoping to get us going again. I ignored her.

I pondered the definitions of God that I’d read about earlier and how they measure up to the natural world. Immersed in green, I puffed my cigar. The only God-talk that makes any sense to me is that which is perfectly in sync with wildness. The rest is just talk.

The rain kept falling. Eventually, I got up and continued my woods walk. Matika was happy to be on the move again. I was happy to be alive and well in such a magnificent world. I snuffed out the cigar then returned home to spend the rest of the day with my loving and beautiful wife.

 

 

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Jan 27 2014

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Loon Wisdom Now In Print

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LW coverLoon Wisdom: Sounding the Depths of Wildness has just been published. Thanks to the efficient print-on-demand services offered by CreateSpace, I was able to get this book out there rather quickly.

This is the best, most comprehensive collection of my short work ever put into print. Two-thirds of these personal essays and narratives have appeared in earlier collections of mine, but the other third are relatively new or previously unpublished.

There are twenty-five pieces in this collection altogether.  The earlier work focuses upon elemental nature and our various interactions with it, while latter work delves into the importance of wildness to being human – a favorite theme of mine these days. Nearly all of these pieces catch me hiking, fishing or simply being in the woods.

Ordering WTB titles is much easier than it used to be. You can get a copy by going to Amazon.com or visiting my website, WoodThrushBooks.com and using PayPal.  

 

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Nov 16 2012

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Still Reading John Burroughs

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For over a year now, I have been reading and rereading the works of John Burroughs, along with critical and biographical essays. He continues to fascinate me because he was a curious mix of contradictions: literary man and dirt farmer, naturalist and abstract thinker, recluse and socialite. His work is a sea of mediocrity seasoned with flashes of brilliance. He was deeply religious yet wholeheartedly embraced Darwinism. Few nature writers have ever been as popular as he was at the peak of his career, yet his work is largely unknown today. He chummed around with both Walt Whitman and Henry Ford. That alone makes my head spin.

“There is no light more mysterious than the light of common day,” Burroughs wrote in his journals. That sums up both his approach to understanding the world, and the man himself. In many ways he was a common man with many commonplace beliefs. Yet there is no mistaking the rarity of his vision. I have read a lot of naturalists and philosophers over the years. Few have been as scientific in their thinking as he was without discarding the concept of God altogether. Even fewer have speculated about the nature of the universe at large while growing grapes. He was a rare bird, indeed.

It is no mistake that I have been drawn to Burroughs and his work. His spiritual father was Ralph Waldo Emerson. In my latter years, I too have gravitated to Emerson’s way of seeing the world. All three of us have one thing in common: a deep and abiding pantheism. And while that word does none of us justice, it comes as close as any word can to explaining how they felt and I still feel while beholding the divine in nature

The danger in reading the likes of Emerson and Burroughs is that one loses touch with the spirit of these modern times. It’s hard to imagine either man yapping on a cell phone, watching television, or surfing the net. Burroughs drove a car in his old age but had a hard time keeping it out of ditches. That said, I think either one would make a good trail companion if they were alive today. Some things never change. Our relationship to the wild is one of them.

 

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