Like reading Heidegger, my understanding of Emerson came trippingly along in fragmented ideas and phrases. I’m not entirely sure if it was simply the indolence of a holiday attitude, or a genuine struggle, but despite the difficulty I felt there was a lot to be gained in this reading even in between all my misunderstanding. All my life I have been a seeker of experiences that will make me feel small, and I can’t but agree with Emerson that being in nature is where I most readily find such experiences. My favorite passage from chapter one is this:
“In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”
I feel like this is a perfect description of the way one feels when they are truly experiencing nature. I don’t feel like you can look out over the vast and rolling expanse of the earth and feel anything other than small, or look at the lovely and ornate minutiae of a leaf and feel anything other than lost or simple, yet somehow connected. Those same intricate lines and patterns in the leaf can be seen in your own finger prints, it is all so wonderful and unbelievable that you can’t help but feel connected to that little piece of divinity within you, and within, (as you realize again and again with the same feeling of freshness and grandeur each time), within all things.
I liked when Emerson talked about how all words, nature and the sublime all reflect one another, and bring life and meaning to the symbols we create. However, I am not sure I agree that all nature reflects some kind of particular mood. For me, midnight is most certainly not “grim.” However, as I looked for ideas of “the ordinary” as we have discussed it so far, the only thing that really jumped out at me was the line about the stars:
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile. The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible.”
It struck me as funny, that although they are there every night, hardly changing, thousands and thousands of years old, we always find so much exhilaration in their presence. Stars are most definitely “ordinary” yet not at all. One cannot describe the night without their mention; nobody would ever call a star “normal” or “mundane.” Every time you look up at the sky on a clear night you cannot but help gasp at their beauty, point into the sky and wonder aloud about them to others. But if it was cloudy, we would not miss them or notice their absence. I guess I just feel like there are certain things like stars, or mountains, or maybe even waterfalls among other things in nature that are in this strange place between ordinary and extraordinary. They simultaneously hide themselves in their constant presence, but call out for you to take note, and frequently if you be nearby.