Illustration by Susan Coyne

Over the river, through the woods, and to Walden we will go! Come along with Alex Strong, John Kaag, Paul Theroux and Andrew Forsthoefel. Listen today at 2 pm on WBUR or anytime on our website. Or read a transcript of the show here (thanks to super intern Kevin Doherty).

More Thoreau-topia this week, people. We were all over the flora and flauna of Concord to discover what we could learn from the intersection of Thoreau’s natural world with his philosophical one. If you missed part one, you can find it here.

Chris Lydon and John Kaag. Photo by Michael Lutch

Our friend the incredibly talented photographer Michael Lutch came with us to Walden Pond and helped us see it in all its vivid intensity. Frank Horton has made a delightful slideshow from Michael’s photos. Give us one minute and Frank will give you the Walden world, or at least our day there.

Photos by Michale J. Lutch/Music by Atta Boy (“Walden Pond”)/Spirit by HDT
The Open Source Crew and John Kaag. Photo by Susan Coyne.

MM: My newest transcendental discovery comes from close friend, philosopher, scholar, and wise woman Lydia Moland who turned us on to another star in this intellectual firmament, but one who clearly didn’t get her props: the abolitionist Lydia Maria Child. Lydia’s written a terrific new piece about Child for the Paris Review.

Lydia wrote to me and my own circle of transcendentalist women friends recently about the other Lydia:

Yes, that would be her! Don’t know if I mentioned that she also wrote pivotal household manuals, including with recipes. She wrote The American Frugal Housewife (which Thoreau himself probably read in preparation for his Walden adventure) to get out of debt after her husband was sued for libel by one of Andrew Jackson’s cronies. Its sales plummeted when she wrote the first American book-length condemnation of slavery, An Appeal for that Class of Americans Called Africans — a book so progressive and so scathing against northern racism that it got under Boston Brahmin skin. The Athenaeum revoked her borrowing privileges.

She also wrote a home nursing guide. Plus a guide to aging. Also a two-volume history of women and a three-volume history of religion. All this while rigorously objecting to the mistreatment of Native Americans, arguing for fair treatment of prostitutes, and decrying urban poverty . . . all in a range of genres (novels, short stories, children’s periodicals, abolitionist journals, travel writing, newspaper articles, open letters . . . ) that is just mind-blowing.

Plus, just as a reminder, she wrote “Over the River and Through the Woods.”

Some people wonder if Shakespeare was just one person. I wonder the same about LMC. Shakespeare never wrote cookbooks. Just sayin’.

Chris started the Who is Thoreau Today Sweepstakes, and so far one t-shirt has gone out to David Vos who nominated saxophonist Paul Desmond and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente. Tim Castner suggested the poet Wendell Berry for his observation of the natural world and his prophetic critique of American life. Matthew Hoyer nominates Jonathan Krakauer:

He, like Thoreau, focuses on the meaning of and essential need to be in nature, although Krakauer emphasizes the physical challenge more Thoreau. But, like Thoreau, Krakauer has explored the moral issues of the day, in addition to his audacious wilderness adventures. Both yearn for moral clarity in society at large and seek it in themselves in nature. I see a clear line linking the two.

From Dominique Dorman: the ladies!

Dervla Murphy — an Irish woman who set out a life almost independent of her times though also capturing the ever present human interest in exploration, self-challenge, trust in communities and appreciation of what is around. On her bike Dervla cycled across Ireland to India and has explored various parts of the world on bike, mule or with her daughter, seeing it intimately through these grounding means of travel.

You spoke of Thoreau as a man ahead or outside of his time. Without making a thing of it, Dervla Murphy who was based in rural Catholic Ireland — never married, had lovers and chose to have and raise a daughter, in 1960’s Ireland by herself. She set out a life of exploration that was all her own dream, before anyone could have conceived living in that way. She also writes beautifully, as she lives.

Another recommendation would be Robin Wall Kimmerer, she is a scientist and teacher who brings out the poetic, nurturing and creative spirit in her field — even when it did not know that it had such a self. During an interview at a Forestry School for a Botany course she said she wanted to know why asters and goldenrod, which looks stunning together, so often grow together in nature. They told her she should study art, not science but thankfully accepted her anyway. In her own work, fruits of her study, she uncovered that there was a reason these flowers grow together.

Chris’s own pick is Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s longtime collaborator (Duke is Chris’ nomination for an Emerson stand-in). To find out why, watch this short video Zach made from an interview he conducted with CL about his love for the Concord transcendentalists:

More Thoreau-viana

Follow in the footsteps of E.B. White following in the footsteps of Thoreau in this puckishly charming little-known essay.

The forest and the trees. Richard Higgins knows his stuff. Check out Thoreau and the Language of Trees.

And don’t miss this conversation from the archives with Chris and author Damion Searls on Thoreau’s Journal.

Mark your calendars! The Thoreau Journals exhibit This Ever New Self currently on display at the Morgan Library in NYC will be traveling to the Concord Museum, September 29, 2017–January 21, 2018.

Our show this week ended with a consideration of Thoreau’s essay on Walkingthe art of walking and the spirit of it. Real walkers are born, not made, Thoreau liked to say. “If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again, — if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.”

The literary traveler Paul Theroux has spent a lifetime in trains, kayaks, and on his own two feet in China, in our own deep South and specially in Africa. No suprise: he’s a serious Thoreauvian. And he wrote a marvelous introduction to The Maine Woods. What is in this man’s brain is simply a wonder.

Walking should be read by everyone who can read. It should be taught in schools. It’s a gospel of the environment. It’s the gospel of wildness. It’s almost mystical and in places actually mystical, speaking of the virtue of wildness and even the virtues of a peculiar kind of ignorance. when Thoreau says, “I believe in the forest and in the meadow and in the night in which the corn grows.” He’s in a way paraphrasing a poem and he’s using the language of religion to speak about wildness. Think how prescient he is when he’s saying “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” In wildness is the preservation of the world. People are saying that now; he was writing that 150 years ago.

Paul Theroux

More Theroux and Chris Lydon here.

We were also pleased to catch up with another walker we know. We met Andrew Forsthoefel a few years ago, just after he was back from walking 4000 miles from Philadelphia to San Francisco with a sign on his back that said “walking to listen.” He was holed up in Woods Hole with our friend the radio genius, Jay Allison, who was in the midst of helping him cull 85 hours of tape into a very special radio documentary, which This American Life also presented on its Hit the Road show back in 2013. Andrew has blogged about his journey and his book Walking to Listen has just been published.


Becca DeGregorio: Perhaps it’s last month’s news, but that movie on Netflix about a “superpig” (the titular Okja), a little girl and an industrial food system gone dystopian is A+. Don’t scroll past it for fear of Jake Gyllenhaal at his creepiest. Just. Press. Play. South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s latest film will make you laugh, cry, cringe, question your meat-eating habits and then cry again. Any good plot could elicit the same, but what’s truly haunting about Okja is its closeness to our already hyper-monetized world. Open Source listeners will likely find intrigue in Okja, the film and the impressively CGI-generated piggie herself.

In Case You Missed It:

Susan Coyne: I made the Matisse in the Studio exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts just in the nick of time. (It closes today, July 9th!). I count Matisse as one of my greatest inspirations, not least because he made economic, expressive use of line acceptable, but because he also remains the most masterful colorist in the game, a good half-century after he left it.

First I saw his pots, which figure in more than a few of his works:

Matisse’s pots, by Susan Coyne.
Matisse’s pot, by Matisse.

It also turns out he was quite an avid collector of North African and Spanish antiquities, furniture, and textiles. The MFA lightly touched upon his penchant for Orientalism (ever notice how many exotic odalisques figured into his paintings?), but mostly steered clear of any social commentary about that particular passion. It was a treat to see some of these artifacts up close:

Turkish chair
Matisse’s Lisette on the Turkish chair

Matisse said, “Drawing is the possession of objects. When you know an object profoundly, you are able to portray it with a contour that defines it entirely.” That is the great struggle of the artist who paints from life, and no one did it more joyfully, or with more enviable abandon, than Matisse himself.

Now get up and go for a walk!

Mary, Zach, Frank, Becca, Susan and the rest of the OS troupe.

An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon.