Notes Toward The Upland Farm


Four months ago on August 24th, I made the following notes in my journal as a rough outline of my planned book on Thoreau, now tentatively entitled The Upland Farm: Thoreau on the Art of Living (since there's already a book entitled Walking With Thoreau). Although in my previous thematic exploration I had envisioned the book as a set of four seasonal walks, at the moment I am pondering a journal entry for each month, along with one poem for each season. Here are the notes...

January: a description of the upland farm; quotes from Thoreau's letters to Harrison Blake; the progression from lowland farm (practical life) to the upland farm (transcendental experience) and the need to focus on both; beauty and use, heaven and earth, ideal and real, the transcendental and the natural; the meaning and role of philosophy in Thoreau's art of living; the seasons and their corresponding virtues in Thoreau's outlook (spring = trust / budding; summer = magnanimity / flowering; fall = independence / fruiting; winter = simplicity / dormancy).

February: the beginning of the agricultural year according to Varro; the tension between natural seasons and human seasons; the need of preparation and planning for life; sharpening your tools; the importance and role of intention in human activities; the soul as a garden or orchard, not a wild field or forest.

March: the budding of life; trust, truth, and tree as linguistic cognates (roots, solidity, steadfastness); the running of sap (as in New England maple trees); hope and the promise of spring; the arrival of the earliest spring birds; thawing and melting and the attendant messiness of youth.

Spring Poem: springing up and forward with vigor and energy and hope in the future; elasticity as a leitmotif in Thoreau's thinking; awakening to potential; planting and establishing yourself, becoming solid and rooted; growing up, greening up, drawing from the air and soil of your youth; the dawn and morning of life; correspondences between morning, youth, spring ("in the morning of my life, in the young days of the year, in the springtime of the day").

April: early growth; shielding yourself from outside pressures (cf. Randolph Bourne); storms and rains and late snows; the ice-out of rivers and lakes (final thawing); perhaps a reference to Patriots' Day in Concord (a personal revolution?); indoor nurturing of seedlings (preparation for planting, another instance of humans pushing the seasons forward); the role of home life and other early influences; trust as growing, hopeful, putting down roots (the opposite of independence as a fall virtue).

May: first planting; natural sprouting vs. human planting; the risk of late frosts (as at Walden in his second year there); May 6th the date of Thoreau's death; the shortness of life, the urgency of growth and creation; perfect days of late spring, trust in nature; the flowering of all things; bees and their busy-ness; nature and self pregnant with expectations; early adulthood.

June: first hot days; the turning of the seasons from spring to summer; tremendous growth; pruning and weeding and other forms of active cultivation in life (the upland farm is indeed a farm requiring intentional guidance - pure nature is not enough); flourishing; birth of the next generation; formation of fruits that will be harvested later in life.

Summer Poem: the longest day; midsummer; reflection forward and back to the winter solstice; complexity, profusion; yet an incipient turn toward simplicity; the great noon (as also in Nietzsche); generosity and benevolence of nature and humanity.

July: the high heat of summer; lightning and thunder (his play on Thor and Thoreau - his birthday on July 12th); magnanimity as greatness or nobility of soul; activity and ambition yet also days of enervation; constant work outside; the time of greatest "spending" of life energy; magnanimity = great hearted, high minded, having noble feelings, generous, giving; great-hearted activity (the opposite of simplicity as a winter virtue).

August: cooler days and longer nights; hint of autumn; first fruits of summer growth; making hay; looking forward to fall; transition from great-hearted ambition and activity to reflection and independence; a slowing down and mellowing of life; a sense of growing maturity.

September: growing independence; thoughts of harvesting the fruits of one's efforts; further mellowing, growing darkness, lengthening shadows, drier air; tinges of autumnal tints; harvests; departure of summer birds; emergence of a more reflective attitude to life; independence of thought and action as autonomy, self-governance, self-reliance, even heroism (the opposite of trust as a spring virtue).

Fall Poem: independence; reflection; meaning; dedication to greater knowledge and wisdom; beauty over usefulness; color, vividness, peak of one's character; differentiation; love of change and late growth; autumnal tints.

October: height of autumn; the actual fall of the leaves; high and peak color of the New England forest; migration of birds; great harvest and celebration of achievements; early frosts and Indian Summer; more night than day; slowing pace; the movement of life indoors again (warmth of home life); a looking back more than forward; memories of spring and summer; late fruits such as apples and nuts (a certain piquant nuttiness and savor to one's days).

November: snow and cold; little remaining green; great simplicity; reflection; increasing focus on essentials of life; recognition of coming dormancy; little time outdoors; rest from labors, repairing; sloughing off of error and experience.

December: end and beginning; summation of day/year/life; sleep and dormancy; time for choices and resolutions; making peace, dying well; celebration of life; segue to new year and renewed life (even if not one's own); ideals; essential simplicity as having few wants, having true needs, also being earnest and sincere (the opposite of great-hearted activity as a summer virtue).

Winter Poem: darkness and light; the darkest hour, yet a celebration of light that will return; cold but not coldness; an evergreen approach to life; learning from experience; life and death; rebirth; transcendence.

Peter Saint-Andre > Journal