Water Closet for January 22, 2016
[pullquote]”The more we learn about his animals, plants, rocks, water, air, and their interrelationships on this man-threatened planet, the more we can be thankful for his time with us.”[/pullquote] Kathryn Schulz, writer for The New Yorker, launched her career there with a hatchet job on one of the Water Closet’s heroes, naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Last week a Stream Teamer shared her strong essay with an old Closeteer who has long been in awe of Thoreau. Maybe not being politically correct is now in the air. Presidential candidate Trump certainly thinks so. He violates all the gentlemanly rules we were brought up with. Thoreau, no lover of political correctness, violated many sensible social rules as he made fun of almost all who weren’t geniuses like himself. Schulz and her editor, perhaps breathing the poisonous Trump-Thoreauvian air, cruelly entitled her mud slinging piece “Pond Scum: Henry David Thoreau’s Moral Myopia”. (THE NEW YORKER, October 19, 2015) A New Yorker illustrator piled on with a picture of Thoreau’s head, scum-mud covered, arising from Walden Pond.
Schulz, a very good and thoughtful writer, had much to work with as she used her subject’s own words. There are millions; in addition to his books there are sixteen volumes of his notes in the process of being published. It is obvious that Schulz hadn’t read much of his work. “Walden” was largely her source. Thoreau’s most famous book does seem in parts the ravings of grouchy-contrarian-hypocrite who pretends to be out in the wilds for two years yet is only a twenty minute walk from his family’s warm Concord house and apple pie. We are reminded of a grammar school boy on a first camping adventure in his back yard woods who thinks he is in wilderness. Thoreau was hardly alone; a commuter train ran by the tiny house he built and the bean field he was so proud of. In warm weather many swimmers and picnickers enjoyed Walden Pond just down the slope. He contentedly, or so he claims, stoically ate beans day after day washed down with pond water. A Puritan born a century too late, he prided himself upon being a brilliant yet simple soul, needing little from his fellow men and women.
He wasn’t simple, or should we say isn’t? He lives on in his voluminous notes, poems and books. Thoreau might well have been America’s most complicated man. He accused others of living lives of quiet desperation. Schulz comes down hard on him for writing that. He seemed to pooh-pooh much of what most people cherish, such as, family, productive work, friends, love, comfort and good food and drink. Schulz misses much of his satire and humor.
In the Water Closet we are glad she has spoken out against someone we like to think was a somewhat kindred soul of ours, a man who daily walked in the Concord River Watershed a day’s hike to our west. “Pond Scum” calls peoples’ attention to yet another marvelous human flawed as most are. After Schulz criticism perhaps more people will read Thoreau than just those required to in high school and college English courses. He was an original voice who spoke his fevered mind, not crudely like a Trump, but eloquently and lyrically like our very best writers. He observed nature closely throughout his relatively short life and took the time to write down his sharp observations in superb prose. Scholars in sciences like ecology, not yet named in his time, go back to his journals seeking information. Schulz grudgingly acknowledges his genius as an observer, writer and naturalist in just a few lines of her half-dozen long pages. Her disgust in other aspects of his seemingly cantankerous narcissistic life drowns them out.
We respect young Schulz for her daring criticism. Kathryn vs Goliath. People like Thoreau who claim special relationships with the gods need to be watched closely as do would-be politicians who daily claim “They love me!” Alas, angered by Walden’s inconsistencies and even nonsense at times she chose to attack a giant who after almost two centuries still looms above us; one whose words teach around the world and may for centuries. The more we learn about his animals, plants, rocks, water, air, and their interrelationships on this man-threatened planet, the more we can be thankful for his time with us. We ordinary mortals might do well to respect and celebrate his ego and eccentricities. If it wasn’t for these and “Walden” we may never have heard of him at all despite his friendship with Emerson and other 19th century bright lights. We recommend his book “The Woods of Maine” over “Walden”. To brave Kathryn Schulz we recommend she read more of Thoreau’s work and then return to us with a whole book not as narrow as her provocative essay. She might also walk a few hundred miles following his tens of thousands, eyes open, notebook in her hand. It needn’t be near the Concord River, any watershed will do. When calmed down she may learn that Thoreau was much more than the odd author of “Walden”. He was a scientist-philosopher who wanted, like Schulz, to know how the life swirling around him worked.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Oct||Nov||Dec||Jan|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.40||4.55||4.12||3.40|
|2015/2016 Central Watershed Actual||3.11||2.49||4.72||2.5**as of Jan 18|
For Jan 18, 2016 Normal . . . 52 CFS Current Rate . . . 64 CFS
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Dec..
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Jan.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584