Andrew quoted this passage from Emerson in an e-mail to me today:
“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith . . . In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets and villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.“
I agree with that last sentence, to the utmost. But I sort of feel the opposite way from the first passages: That man in the wilderness does not become young, but instead becomes wise. Isn’t that the case? The wilderness is certainly exhilerating, but it is so partly for aesthetic reasons (the distant line of the horizon) but also because it brings us back to being face-to-face with the struggle to survive, and therefore requires and imparts a kind of rational wisdom. One can’t really be a child in the wilderness – Isn’t this why we’ve always gone there, to make men?