When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.
Henry David Thoreau
Walden, where Henry David Thoreau planted beans on land that had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort and sweet wild fruits, is changing. The trees and shrubs around Walden Pond are now out on average 18 days earlier than 150 years ago, when Thoreau made his observations. And, according to U.S. scientists in the journal New Phytologist, native species could lose out to invasive shrubs such as the Japanese barberry.
Between 1852 and 1860, Thoreau made detailed notes of the dates when leaves appeared on the trees surrounding Walden. Now a BU student named Caroline Polgar has found that, “all species—no exceptions—are leafing out earlier now than they did in Thoreau’s time. On average, woody plants in Concord leaf out 18 days earlier now.”
Between 2009 and 2013 she and her fellow author Amanda Gallinat made observations of 43 woody plants in the region. They also tested 50 species by collecting dormant twigs and placing them in water to see when leaves unfurled in unusually warm laboratory conditions.
“The experiments show that as spring weather continues to warm, it will be the invasive shrubs that will be best able to take advantage of the changing conditions,” Gallinat concluded.
“We see that climate change is creating a whole new risk for native plants in Concord,” said Richard Primack, a third author and professor of biology at Boston University. ”Weather in New England is unpredictable, and if plants leaf out early in warm years, they risk having their leaves damaged by a surprise frost. But if plants wait to leaf out until all chance of frost is lost, they may lose their competitive advantage.”
What is there in music that it should so stir our deeps? We are all ordinarily in a state of desperation; such is our life; ofttimes it drives us to suicide. To how many, perhaps to most, life is barely tolerable, and if it were not for the fear of death or of dying, what a multitude would immediately commit suicide! But let us hear a strain of music, we are at once advertised of a life which no man had told us of, which no preacher preaches. Suppose I try to describe faithfully the prospect which a strain of music exhibits to me. The field of my life becomes a boundless plain, glorious to tread, with no death nor disappointment at the end of it. All meanness and trivialness disappear. I become adequate to any deed. No particulars survive this expansion; persons do not survive it. In the light of this strain there is no thou nor I. We are actually lifted above ourselves. [Journal, 15 January 1857]
Thoreau’s early environmentalism and his position among the Concord Transcendentalists have inspired a great many musicians. Charles Ives is one important composer who’s set Thoreau’s words, as in this beautiful song:
I grew up in Lincoln, Massachusetts — and visits to Walden pond were a regular feature of my childhood. One of my aunts, a staunch Democrat and environmentally aware lady, died a couple of years ago at 101; her memorial service was held near the site of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden, and included readings from Walden and other books.
Here’s a young man named Erik Quisling, with a musical setting of Thoreau’s “Epitaph on the World.”