The Wisdom of Henry Beston

If you like this essay, share it with others

I read quite a few books that express the ideas of great minds who offer profound insight into the aesthetic, spiritual, and scientific voices of Nature. These books resonate with my experiences in Nature and inspire the core ideas of an interconnected Nature that are presented in my blog essays. Over time, I wish to  curate and share  some of the ideas and passions of these great thinkers with my dear readers.

If you love Nature as well as prose that flows like poetry, you must let Henry Beston transport you to a quiet place where the wind through the trees or the movement of the ocean’s waves are the only sounds that strike your ear. Beston communicates not just his intellect, but his emotion and his intuition. As a master of the metaphor, he appeals to the aesthetic voice of Nature which is usually the first voice that draws an observer of Nature into Her being.

The two Henry Beston books that I love to read are:

The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach Of Cape Cod

The Northern Farm : A Glorious Year on a Small Maine Farm

Animals Are Other Nations

Henry Beston is an acute observer of man’s arrogance in the great chain of an interconnecting Nature. His essay on the relationship between other animals and ourselves will grab you.

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth. For the gifts of life are the earth’s, and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and dawn seen over ocean from the beach.”

Mankind Cannot Predict Nature

Modern systems science has made it clear that we humans cannot predict the directions of Nature or the outcome of our attempts to control Nature. Years before systems science became well known, as a master of the metaphor in his “Northern Farm”, Beston beautifully portrays the fact that it is impossible for humanity to control Nature:

“To use a metaphor, we were all of us passengers on a great ocean liner. There is plenty of food aboard, meals are served at given hours, and all goes on much the same as ever in the usual haphazard and familiar way. On the bridge there are quarrels as to who shall steer, and powerful and secret currents seize upon the keel. The pleasant-enough days go by; people read novels in sheltered corners of the deck. The ocean, however, is unknown, and no one, not a single soul, knows whither the ship is bound.”

We Have Lost Our Connection With Nature

Beston’s deeply profound thinking describes the reason that there is a big disconnect between modern mankind and Nature. HIs essay on this subject precedes the  modern view of environmental education where schools and other organizations conduct programs to bring children back to Nature in hopes of creating a new legacy of stewardship.

“What had gone out of American life as one sees it in the city and the suburb? Essentially, thought I, musing by the window, a sense of direction…I find I am shaking off the strange oppression which came over me when I lived by an urban sense and understanding of time. In a world so convenient and artificial that there is scarcely day or night, and one is bulwarked against the seasons and the year, time, so to speak, having no natural landmarks, tends to stand still. The consequence is that life and time and history become unnaturally a part of some endless and unnatural present, and violence becomes for some the only remedy.”

On Time

Nature keeps its own time without the influence of mankind.

“Country living is a pageant of Nature and the year; it can no more stay fixed than a movement in music, and as the seasons pass, they enrich life far more with little things than with great, with remembered moments rather than the slower hours. A gold and scarlet leaf floating solitary on the clear, black water of the morning rain barrel can catch the emotion of a whole season, and chimney smoke blowing across the winter moon can be a symbol of all that is mysterious in human life.Here in the country, it all moves ahead again. Spring is not only a landmark, but it looks ahead to autumn, and winter forever looks forward to the spring.”

On Size

“When this twentieth century of ours became obsessed with a passion for mere size, what was lost sight of was the ancient wisdom that the emotions have their own standards of judgment and their own sense of scale. In the emotional world, a small thing can touch the heart and the imagination every bit as much as something impressively gigantic; a fine phrase is as good as an epic, and a small brook in the quiet of a wood can have its say with a voice more profound than the thunder of any cataract. Who would live happily in the country must be wisely prepared to take great pleasure in little things.”

On Darkness

“Learn to reverence night and to put away the vulgar fear of it, for, with the banishment of night from the experience of man, there vanishes as well a religious emotion, a poetic mood, which gives depth to the adventure of humanity. By day, space is one with the earth and with man — it is his sun that is shining, his clouds that are floating past; at night, space is his no more. When the great earth, abandoning day, rolls up the deeps of the heavens and the universe, a new door opens for the human spirit, and there are few so clownish that some awareness of the mystery of being does not touch them as they gaze. For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars — pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time. Fugitive though the instant be, the spirit of man is, during it, ennobled by a genuine moment of emotional dignity, and poetry makes its own both the human spirit and experience.”

Worth Your Extra Attention

Thanks for reading this blog post.

There is a section in my blog entitled “Musings”. You can reach it by clicking on the menu tab near the top of my blog site. This area contains my growing list of posts that list web material that I have found interesting. You might stop by an take a look.

Please Comment and Subscribe

The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive twice-monthly announcements of new blogs that I post. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.