Trees were central to Henry David Thoreau’s creativity as a writer, his work as a naturalist, his thought, and his inner life. His portraits of them were so perfect, it was as if he could see the sap flowing beneath their bark. When Thoreau wrote that the poet loves the pine tree as his own shadow in the air, he was speaking about himself. In short, he spoke their language.
In this original book, Richard Higgins explores Thoreau’s deep connections to trees: his keen perception of them, the joy they gave him, the poetry he saw in them, his philosophical view of them, and how they fed his soul. His lively essays show that trees were a thread connecting all parts of Thoreau’s being—heart, mind, and spirit. Included are one hundred excerpts from Thoreau’s writings about trees, paired with over sixty of the author’s photographs. Thoreau’s words are as vivid now as they were in 1890, when an English naturalist wrote that he was unusually able to “to preserve the flashing forest colors in unfading light.” Thoreau and the Language of Trees shows that Thoreau, with uncanny foresight, believed trees were essential to the preservation of the world.
Richard Higgins is a former longtime staff writer for the Boston Globe, the coauthor of Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion after 50, and the coeditor of Taking Faith Seriously. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Christian Century, and Smithsonian. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts.
“This beautiful book brings us face to face with one of Thoreau’s true passions—his love for trees, leaf by leaf and in the whole. Richard Higgins interweaves a generous selection of Thoreau’s writings and drawings, classic Herbert Wendell Gleason photographs of trees long gone, and his own extraordinary photographs of trees in our time. To round off the feast, each chapter opens with one of Higgins’s graceful and deeply informed essays. Few books satisfy the eye, the mind, and the heart so fully as this one: one part elegy, two parts celebration, deep-rooted in the earth, and brimful with sheer joy.”—Laura Dassow Walls, author of Henry David Thoreau: A Life
“In Thoreau’s era, unbroken forest stretched from New England to the Mississippi. Trees were always his best companions. He studied them with love and care, and from that knowledge built noble lessons for us all on how to live. As a writer and photographer, Richard Higgins has made of that material a brilliant, evocative book about the precious natural heritage of North America.”—William Howarth, author of The Book of Concord and Walking with Thoreau
“Thoreau wrote that ‘trees indeed have hearts.’ In compiling this expressive compilation of Thoreau’s writings on trees, Richard Higgins has indeed found the heart and the soul of the tree. We have much to learn about ourselves from the tree: from its strength as well as its pliancy; from its life stages from seedling to sapling to eventual death; and from its place in the community. Higgins helps us to see the forest for the trees.”—Jeffrey S. Cramer, editor of The Portable Thoreau
“Thoreau and the Language of Trees provides an unusually patient and devoted reading and interrogation of Thoreau’s primary works. The world as reported here is both Thoreau’s and Higgins’s; a capable and objective reporter in his own right, Higgins traverses the century and a half that nominally separates him from Thoreau with an ease that enables him to convey his subject’s lifelong interest in trees and their language to modern readers.”—Ronald A. Bosco, Distinguished Research Professor of American Literature, University at Albany, SUNY
“Thoreau and the Language of Trees elegantly fills a significant, previously unoccupied niche. The perceptive introduction and thematic chapter essays combine with quotations and sketches by Thoreau and with new and vintage photographs to form a masterfully guided tour—a tour whose visionary sylvan revelations speak to the imagination and the intellect.”—Ronald Wesley Hoag, East Carolina University