Thursday, June 19, 2008


[From the STMcC archive; 2007, January 14th]

*My grading scale is typical A through F, but with the very highest mark being an R, which is the equivalent of an A++. Why an R? Heck if I know. My Pa used to tell me that in high school he had a drafting teacher whose highest grade was an R. Pa never did learn what the R stood for, nor - sadly - did he ever achieve one.

Book: “WALDEN: 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition Of The American Classic” by Henry David Thoreau; photographs by Scot Miller; 2004

Grade: R

* “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

* “I have thus a tight shingled and plastered house, ten feet wide by fifteen long…”

* “A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it, preferring to wipe my feet on the sod before my door. It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.”
~ Henry David Thoreau; “Walden”

“Walden has become as much a state of mind as it is a place.”
~ Scot Miller, photographer; “Walden – 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition”

For my birthday in 1984, my dear friend, Marty (“rhymes with party”), gave me the 1981 Avenel books hardcover edition of “WORKS OF HENRY DAVID THOREAU.” This compilation contained all of the famous Transcendentalist’s most significant writings and the thirty intriguing Herbert Wendall Gleason black and white photographs that graced the 1906 publication of Thoreau’s complete works.

My dear friend died in an auto accident five years later, but part of his legacy is the passion for Thoreau’s philosophy that his gift awakened in me, and that book which occupies a prestigious place in one of my bookcases right between my "Holy Bible" and my 1st edition copy of Mark Twain’s 1872, "Roughing It." And my book, though yellowed now, looks pretty good for a volume 23 years without a dust jacket (I nearly always trash the things immediately), and for having been completely read twice, and thumbed through hundreds of times!

A couple of years ago, GFM (Good Friend Melanie) gave me a softcover copy of “WALDEN AND OTHER WRITINGS," and I was glad to have it as it contained a couple of essays and excerpts I’d not previously read, and it provided me with a copy of Thoreau’s best works that I could loan out to others.

Therefore, when my friend, Pooh, and I flew into Philadelphia in late August 2005, to visit the birthplace of our nation, and then to drive north to visit Walden Pond and environs, I did not consider purchasing a copy of this 150th ANNIVERSARY ILLUSTRATED EDITION of WALDEN for myself while in Thoreau’s hometown. I already had two copies of this true classic and couldn’t see buying a third despite the stunning pictures included in this publication. I did, however, bring home a copy as a gift for GFM. (The woman in the bookstore in downtown Concord, Massachusetts, pointed out to me that the original publishing price, printed on the inside flap of the dust jacket, was $28.12, half a cent less than Thoreau tells us it cost him to build his little house at Walden’s shore in 1845. He officially moved into his homemade home on the appropriate date of July 4th, and an American classic was born!)

One day, shortly after returning from my memorable trip, I borrowed from GFM the copy I had given her, so I could gaze upon the nearly 100 Scot Miller photographs once again. And I was so awed by the indescribably gorgeous and practically breathtaking pictures of the Walden area and its flora and fauna, that I realized I needed to own this book like Thoreau needed solitude. And that’s how I came by Thoreau’s "WALDEN" for a THIRD time! While Marty’s gift reigns for sentimental reasons, the 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition is tops in exquisite beauty – a lovelier and more profound coffee table book is simply unimaginable; a richer gift for a valued friend couldn’t be purchased at ANY price! This edition is simply a divine marriage of Thoreau’s insight into the nature of Man and his place in nature, and Scot Miller’s illustrations of the natural world wherein Thoreau made those treasured observations over a century and a half ago. Hey, I even left the dust jacket on this book despite the fact that the jacket’s photograph (which barely even hints at the wonders inside) is also reprinted on page 2.

In Thoreau’s "WALDEN," the naturalist makes the following observation in the chapter titled, “Sounds”:

“I had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre, that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel. It was a drama of many scenes and without an end.”

And in these photographs, Scot Miller has brilliantly captured with his camera the splendor of that “drama of many scenes” at Thoreau’s old stamping ground.

I’m not knowledgeable in the techniques of photography, so I can’t explain to you HOW Miller was able to make photographs like these (it seems obvious to me, however, that he must employ an array of various filters and such). All that I CAN tell you is that words can’t describe the virtual explosion of colors (like nature vibrantly celebrating that 1845 4th of July within Herself) and the uncommon degree of visible detail to be found (staring at those rocks and leaves in “Still Life Under Ice”, I can almost feel the bone-numbing cold that would penetrate my hand if I held any one of those stones). “Magical Fairyland Pond” is the perfect caption for that dreamlike picture of Walden’s sister pond. When I’m lost in the “Sunrise On Frozen Walden Pond,” I can almost hear a lonely dog barking from across the glittering snow while hidden deep in the distant wooded shore. I’m not even going to attempt to describe the “Nature’s Palette, Heywood’s Meadow” photograph on page 32. Suffice to say that God is “THE” Master Painter. Incredible! (And Scot Miller, you’re a wonder, too!)

This beauty of a book represents the pinnacle of the publisher’s art, and it includes a photograph of the exact site of Thoreau’s 1845 cabin (previously obscured by a cairn), and a picture of Henry’s simple tombstone, which I visited at the Author’s Ridge section of the Concord cemetary where our hero’s physical body gradually became a part of the nature that his spirit loved so much.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

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