Seasonality and the Spirit: The Great Nature Writer Henry Beston on Change in Nature and Human Nature
By Maria Popova
“All true culture … is an effusion of light and warmth,” Nietzsche wrote in his beautiful meditation on how to find yourself. But from the figurative radiates a reminder of the literal — human culture is and has always been inexorably connected to the ultimate source of light and warmth, the Sun. From the practicalities of our calendars to the psychoemotional orientation of our moods, our lives revolve around our star. We are earthly bodies locked in a celestial dance of which we are never more aware than when the seasons turn.
Henry Beston (June 1, 1888–April 15, 1968) captures our indelible spiritual connection to seasonality in Northern Farm (public library) — his wondrous 1948 collection of short, lyrical essays and diary entires penned over the course of a year on a small farm in Maine, which gave us Beston on whimsicality and the limits of knowledge, nature and the power of community, and his increasingly timely manifesto for reclaiming our humanity from the tyranny of technology.
On the eve of the Summer Solstice — that annual zenith of the Sun over the Tropics, which ancient mythologies celebrated as a holiday of fire — Beston writes:
In the old Europe which inherited from the Bronze Age, this great feast of the Solstice was celebrated with multitudinous small fires lit throughout the countryside. Fire and the great living sun — perhaps it would be well to honor again these two great aspects of the flame. It might help us to remember the meaning of fire before the hands and fire as a symbol. As never before, our world needs warmth in its cold, metallic heart, warmth to go on and face what has been made of human life, warmth to remain humane and kind.
In another reflection on the flow of seasons, Beston writes:
With the change, there comes something particularly needed by the human spirit — an affirmation of that eternal change in nature which rules out stagnancy, and the appearance of the entirely new within the pattern of the old… I suspect that in human existence our problem is the finding of some like harmony between what is fixed and of the pattern and what is untried and eager to be born.
Complement this particular portion of the wholly beautiful Northern Farm with French artist Blexbolex’s graphic ode to the seasons, Adam Gopnik’s love letter to winter, and Italian artist Alessandro Sanna’s watercolor meditation on seasonality, then revisit Beston on how the beauty of darkness nourishes the human spirit.
Published June 20, 2016