I saw a brown and orange squirrel on the South Jetty of the Columbia River. In over 200 visits, it was my first squirrel sighting there.
He stopped on top of a huge rock and looked at me. Our eyes locked. I said “hello” and he darted into a crevasse and disappeared. Had I remained silent, I might still be watching him with the ocean in the backdrop. How many people can say they saw a squirrel at the ocean? I can now.
The sight of this tiny critter and my intense connection to it immediately brought to mind Thoreau’s famous encounter with a woodchuck that he recorded in his journal, never expecting anyone would read it. He watched the woodchuck for 30 minutes and actually played with it.
The more I read Thoreau and about Thoreau’s writing, it becomes clearer that his journals contain his best writing. There are so many recorded moments of joy and awe in nature that didn’t have a larger point or role in a book. They just are. Their informality is their beauty.
Thoreau completed 37 journals (he died at 44) and they comprised 13 manuscripts that have all been published. You can read them for free online or just about any used bookstore has some edition of them. The ones printed in the 1970s are very groovy. I think in that era even Hallmark came out with a line of cards with quotes from his journals!
I wonder if some of the writing in my journals is better than the writing in my books and essays. I recently started my 146 or 147th journal, an estimated three million words written from the ages of 15 to 53. I suppose I’ll never know. I might if I found the right editor. That right editor is out there, somewhere. That editor might even be reading this.
In the end, I may stack the journals on the beach and light up the night with them. Who knows? I have never read all of them, but one time, a few years ago, I picked up a volume from 1993 at read it all the way through. The quality somewhat shocked me. It was some of my best writing, unfiltered, unaffected, rock and rolling, rippling, and I was still ten years away from publishing a book.
We shall see what happens to the journals. For now, I keep writing in them without any thought of publication. Perhaps that is the best kind of writing. It is entirely possible Thoreau knew that.
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