Reading my Lapham’s Quarterly – Book of Nature, I came across “Main Street” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. As this very blog is a testament, I am fascinated by the passage of time and it seems Mr. Hawthorne sees it in much the same way and was as enthralled by it as I.
Here are my favorite entries from “Main Street” by Nathaniel Hawthorne:
In my daily walks along the principal street of my native town, it has often occurred to me that if its growth from infancy upward, and the vicissitude of characteristic scenes that have passed along this thoroughfare during the more than two centuries of its existence, could be presented to the eye in a shifting panorama, it would be an exceedingly effective method of illustrating the march of time.
He goes on to explain how a puppet show might accomplish this and then begins with a description of the first scene.
This is the ancient and primitive wood – the ever-youthful and venerably old-verdant with new twigs yet hoary, as it were, with the snowfall of innumerable years that have accumulated upon its intermingled branches. The white man’s axe has never smitten a single tree, his footstep has never crumpled a single one of the withered leaves, which all the autumns since the flood have been harvesting beneath.
He continues to describe the ancient, un-spoilt land until enter a few Native Americans. My favorite passage here is this:
But greater would be the affright of the Indian necromancer if, mirrored in the pool of water at his feet, he could catch a prophetic glimpse of the noonday marvels which the white man is destined to achieve; if he could see, as in a dream, the stone front of the stately hall, which will cast its shadow over this very spot; if he could be aware that the future edifice will contain a noble museum where, among countless curiosities of earth and sea, a few Indian arrowheads shall be treasure up as memorials of a vanished race!
No such forebodings disturb the Squaw Sachem and Wappacowet. They pass on beneath the tangled shade, holding high talk on matters of state and religion, and imagine, doubtless, that their own system of affairs will endure forever.
As I wrote the quotes above I was reminded that I had written something similar earlier this year about Lake Tahoe. Here is a quote of mine from this very blog: http://www.mcurtin.com/2016/03/journal-entry-3-10-2016/
On this trip I had learned that Lake Tahoe wasn’t inhabited until the 1800s except for perhaps a few small Indian tribes who came to trade with each other only in the past 300 years or so. To see the grandeur of Lake Tahoe, it’s uncountable, innumerable boulders and pines, and breathtaking mountain slopes leaves me awestruck. To further think that there was nobody here for most of history, only a few animals, makes me want to travel back in time and sit on a mountain ledge overlooking the lake in quiet meditation. I would sit in meditation from the end of the last ice age and watch the lake be formed while the melting ice released many ton boulders all over the landscape. I’d hear the wind rustling through the pines on a beautiful summer day just after I heard the snow falling off them as it began to melt at the end of winter. I’d notice the generations of bears as new ones are born while the aged ones die off in an endless pattern, repeating itself decade after decade and century after century.
I would welcome the Indians who come in spring to trade with their neighbors on the other side of the mountain range. They did not linger as winter was unforgiving. It would only be with the arrival of the first white man, who would go on to subsequently decimate the landscape that I would end my meditation and turn to the current year. A year which if I ride my mountain bike to a very remote part of the mountain trail and pause in thought; that I can repeat my journey and in a moment, experience thousands of years of solitude in the timeless landscape that is Lake Tahoe.