Posted by: greentangle | July 12, 2017

Letter to Henry

Happy 200th birthday, Henry. A few days ago I read a new essay about your influence on conservationists and writers. It was a good article, but very conspicuously didn’t mention Edward Abbey in a long list of authors despite the article’s author having written the introduction to an edition of The Monkey Wrench Gang and Ed’s own long essay Down the River with Henry Thoreau. Henry, there have been more books written about you than you had in your large library, including a long new highly praised biography which I’ll start reading in a few days.

As Abbey wrote, “Henry thou should be with us now”. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the buffoons running the federal government (the linked article refers to the need to protect a couple areas you loved from profiteers and bandits). I suspect you and Ed might each be writing from a jail cell if you were both around today. You might not recognize much of Concord and New England. Despite more people and highways, there are a lot more forests and wildlife than in your day. It’s warmer, though. People have used the phenology records you kept to show how much earlier many plant species are blooming, and that others have disappeared from Concord.

That rewilding of New England is one of the topics mentioned in Witness Tree, a fine short book which features a century-old red oak in the Harvard Forest in western Massachusetts as its central character in a look at climate change, but explores a wide variety of subjects. There is pleasure in living there through a very snowy winter, interacting with cows, and climbing the tree, but one of the sad topics is the tree species we’ve lost since your time, Henry. You’d want to know what happened to the chestnuts, the elms, and now the hemlocks. I heartbreakingly witnessed that last one happening myself in the Arnold Arboretum a few blocks from my former home.

There’s something new called a podcast, Henry. You could listen to a good interview about this book with its author here. She even mentions you in the book.

I’m living in Minnesota, which you visited near the end of your life. I was on a boat on Lake Superior recently and it made me long for the whale watches I used to go on when I lived in Boston. How I’d love to see you seeing a humpback whale for the first time, Henry!

Oh, and there’s another quirky book you might enjoy for its attitude toward wildlife. It’s a mix of natural history and neuroscience and psychology titled Carnivore Minds.

There’s going to be a big crowd at Walden Pond today. Thanks for trying to make this a better society.

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