Saturday, July 29, 2006

The drifting white downy clouds

There are a growing number of blogs based on the journals of old, out of copyright authors. From a landscape perspective, the Henry David Thoreau blog is of obvious interest and in fact I would go further and highly recommend it. As you would expect, the entries are poetic and insightful, and they range from specific observations of plants and animals to general reflections, like this extract from the entry for 24 June 1852:
The drifting white downy clouds are to the landsman what sails on the sea are to him that dwells by the shore,—objects of a large, diffusive interest. When the laborer lies on the grass or in the shade for rest, they do not much tax or weary his attention. They are unobtrusive. I have not heard that white clouds, like white houses, made any one’s eyes ache. They are the flitting sails in that ocean whose bound no man has visited. They are like all great themes, always at hand to be considered, or they float over us unregarded. Far away they float in the serene sky, the most inoffensive of objects, or, near and low, they smite us with their lightnings and deafen us with their thunder. We know no Ternate nor Tidore grand enough whither we can imagine them bound. There are many mare’s-tails to-day, if that is the name. What would a man learn by watching the clouds? The objects which go over our heads unobserved are vast and indefinite. Even those clouds which have the most distinct and interesting outlines are commonly below the zenith, somewhat low in the heavens, and seen on one side. They are among the most glorious objects in nature. A sky without clouds is a meadow without flowers, a sea without sails
On reading this passage today, we are perhaps less likely to think about the clouds, which drift on as they ever did, than of the disappearance of white sails from the coastal landscape.

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