Delve into the Introduction to Midlife with Thoreau by Diane P. Freedman
The latest release of Hiraeth Press is Midlife with Thoreau by Diane P. Freedman. This is a book about writing as righting. At midlife Diane P. Freedman turns to the books of Thoreau, not to mention his landscapes. Practicing the nature cure and the narrative cure, she writes, in poems, essays, and journals, about family, feminism, and literary history, loss, divorce, dating,accidents, animals, waterways, local landscapes, and teaching environmental literature in ruburban New Hampshire. She sojourns with books and domestic beasts, tramps brambles and trails, and basks in language, love, and lake-front sun. Thoreau loved a “broad margin” in his life and Whitman, another influence, “a certain free margin.” Out of these, Carl Bode maintained—and Freedman shows—poetry could grow. Taking direction also from new environmental writers such as Ian Marshall, John Elder, Janisse Ray, Sandra Steingraber, and Amy Seidl and from other hybrid or narrative and autobiographical critics, this is a book of intense observation, advocacy, lyricism, sweetness, and sadness.
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Delve into the Introduction below:
Introduction: Essais d’après Thoreau
At midlife I turn to the books and moods of Thoreau, not to mention his landscape or thereabouts. He died at what should have been but midlife for him. I am at that place on the road now. Walden: or, Life in the Woods was published, neatly enough, 100 years before I was born. In 2017, it will be 200 years since Thoreau was born. Like Thoreau, I am an inveterate walker. Unlike Thoreau, I am still on the road. This book is in fact a chance to, sauntering, take a good look at place-based writing, the meaning of life in the woods – by pond, by college, even. Walden, The Maine Woods, Thoreau’s journals, and the essays “Walking,” “Wild Apples,” and “Civil Disobedience,” among others, repeatedly urge me to the large view while still being quite grounded: “We hug the earth, – how rarely we mount! Methinks we might elevate ourselves a little more” (“Walking”).
Robert Finch and John Elder, in their compilation The Norton Book of Nature Writing, describe contemporary nature writers’ “excursions,” the term borrowed from Thoreau, as walks through landscapes of association, beginning with observed phenomenon and moving to its personal meaning for them. A hallmark of the modern nature essay, they continue, is “its insistent open-endedness” (26). Here I join the wandering, word-pondering, nature advocacy work of Thoreau and his centenary celebrant E.B. White (see “A Slight Sound at Evening”) – or so I hope. I sojourn with books and domestic beasts, tramp brambles and trails, and bask in language and lake-front sunshine. Thoreau loved a “broad margin” in his life as Whitman did “a certain free margin.” Critic Carl Bode maintains that out of this, poetry – that is, any work by a poet, including prose – could grow (21). I like to think of the margin a bit like the inter-tidal zone, fluid and recurrent, the resultant prose returning and advancing in memory and time. Or I see the margin as a musical scale, these notes going up and down in time and memory.
It was Thoreau who advocated time in nature and who anticipated, among myriad other movements, nature and narrative “therapy,” that nature and personal writing, together, can be healing. Practicing the nature cure and the narrative cure for midlife anxiety, loneliness, and befuddlement, then, I write about family and literary history, loss, divorce, fear, accidents, and nature – animals, waterways, local landscapes, and teaching environmental literature in ruburban New Hampshire. I try to follow Thoreau’s directive to “make the most of your regrets” (j1 13 November 1839) and confess “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else I knew so well” (Walden 258). Thoreau also maintained that “he is the true artist whose life is his material – every stroke of the chisel must enter his own flesh and bone, and not grate dully on marble” (j1, 23 June 1840). This image suggests pain as subject and means; no one reaches the middle of life without both pain and self-reckoning.
—Excerpt from Midlife with Thoreau by Diane P. Freedman