By 1852, he seems more in tune with his own physical and spiritual experience and how that fits into the universal fabric. The mountains are not symbols, nor are they mythic. They are, however, for Thoreau evidence of the divine, "We could at length realize the place mountains occupy on the land, and how they come into the general scheme of the universe. When first we climb their summits and observe their lesser irregularities, we do not give credit to the comprehensive intelligence which shaped them; but when afterward we behold their outlines in the horizon, we confess that the hand which moulded their opposite slopes, making one to balance the other, worked round a deep centre, and was privy to the plan of the universe..." This is a more mature Thoreau, out from under his education and mentors.
For me, coming from a zen perspective, I appreciate Thoreau's reliance on his direct experience, but he loses me a bit with the notion of a creative "hand" involved in their making. However, on the other hand (what is the sound of that hand?), in zen there is a saying, "Before I studied Zen, mountains were mountains, and water was water. After studying Zen for some time, mountains were no longer mountains, and water was no longer water. But now, after studying Zen longer, mountains are just mountains, and water is just water." This speaks of a deeper understanding of things not having a separate self, but arising from a myriad of things that are not that self, what in buddhism is called sunyata which translates as emptiness. The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls this co-arising Interbeing. It is at the heart of zen and what I was referring to in my post on Dogen's Genjokoan.
This is an image from the road leading to Mt. Wachusett. If a hand didn't "mould" the mountain, hands definitely created the ski trails, 3 of which I crossed over on the hike.
If my last hike on North Pack Monadnock was about water, moss, blueberries and ultimately Dogen's Genjokoan, this one seemed all about stones. On the way up I took the Bicentennial Trail to Mountain House Trail which I took to the top. As I documented in my first Mt. Wachusett post, the Bicentennial Trail is rocky and rooty and this day was a bit slick after a brief, overnight shower. To my great pleasure the dampness brought out an unexpected sight: a red eft making his way between the roots. the red eft is the juvenile, land-dwelling stage of the eastern newt. Apologies for the poor image. I was balancing on a slippery root as I made this shot.
Mountain House Trail is an almost entirely human-built trail ("the comprehensive intelligence which shaped them?"). It is a riprap of stones creating a path up the mountain. American poet Gary Snyder who worked on trail crews out west in the 1950's found a way into his mature poetry through working on ripraps. His breakthrough collection was in fact titled Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems. When I saw this trail the poem immediately came to mind. Snyder, and his work: poetry, essays, and environmental activism, has been and continues to be an important figure for me.
by Gary Snyder
Mountain House Trail
It was quite fun to clunk my stick on the stones as I ascended. It counted my steps and rang out like a gong. It occurred to me that I've had that stick for nearly 20 years. Near the summit I made another little friend. This peeper was hunkered down in the moss. He was no more than 2 inches long, an over-estimate. One of the things I miss, living away from the country as I now do is the sound of peepers in the spring (and tree frogs and owls and crickets and...).
I took the long way round coming down, deciding to visit Balance Rock.
A line drawing. The knot-like area is me circumabulating the top.
a topo version
and the terrain