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While I ultimately see Ralph Waldo Emerson’s and the transcendentalists’ ideas as pretty little bubbles devoid of any substance, I enjoy reading Emerson’s thoughts on nature, beauty, and perception. Being in Norway this year, Emerson’s words keep coming back to me almost everyday as I walk to and from work, hike in the mountains, and just travel round Bergen and Norway. I wonder if this feeling will wear off. Will I become acclimated to my surroundings and cease to gaze upon them in awe and admiration? Will they become just another part of my daily commute? Will the mountains, water, clouds, and beauty fade into the background?
In Nature, Emerson appeals to us to view nature and our surroundings not as background but as a representation of the divine. However, as he says, most adults cannot do this: “To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.” I have not reached the stage, at least here in Bergen, where I become devoid of awe and wonder as I gaze upon Fløyen, Ulriken, or the mountains and water stretched across the horizon. I still view these things with “the heart of a child.”
Later, in the same paragraph, Emerson writes about feeling exhilarated on a cloudy, cold night: “Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.” For me, I always think about this passage on days like today when Fløyen rests under a cloud of fog and all I can make out, through the rain and wide, are little lights that dot the bottom on the mountain. Even with this dreary view, “I am glad to the brink of fear.” I realize the power of the weather, the magnificence of the mountain, and the fear of coming to some profound realization about my place within the universe.
As these feelings flutter through my brain, I start to ponder Emerson’s most famous image, the transparent eye-ball: “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.” Being so close to nature brings about feelings of gladness and fear, and this connection causes me to loose all of my ego, bringing me into contact with God and those around me. We all live on this ball, floating through space, rapidly spinning, as if on a string, around the sun. We all encounter nature, in one way or another, everyday. We enlist nature into our service. We connect, one to another, through nature. We connect with the Divine, through nature.
Perhaps this is my most salient takeaway from Emerson. It’s not a new idea, and it wasn’t a new idea when Emerson penned the essay. The Bible has countless examples of individuals communing with God in the wilderness: Jesus, John the Baptist, Moses, and more. Even in American literature, nature served as a space, albeit fearful at times, of communion with God. One need only look at authors such as Mary Rowlandson, Jonathan Edwards, and John Marrant. Where Emerson differs, for me, is his insistence on nature linking us together as one. This, of course, is where Rebecca Harding Davis and even Herman Melville appear to differ from Emerson. While nature can do connect, does everyone have the opportunity to experience nature in the same manner? No, they do not. Thus, they do not have the chance to sit, meditate, and contemplate nature. For them, it becomes background, white noise, something that passes by the window as they go to a fro working to just survive.
I have always enjoyed driving the back roads wherever I am, because it’s on those roads where you see nature. Being in Norway this year, it is different. I do not have a car, but somehow I feel closer and connected to nature. I can walk fifteen minutes and be on my way up to the top of a mountain. I can walk fifteen minutes and be in Nygårdsparken. I can take a bus and be in another valley. I am literally, even amidst the bustling of Norway’s second largest city, nature. I feel, at times, like the narrator of Emily Dickinson’s “Some keep the Sabbath going to church-”
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –I keep it, staying at Home –With a Bobolink for a Chorister –And an Orchard, for a Dome –Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –I, just wear my Wings –And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,Our little Sexton – sings.God preaches, a noted Clergyman –And the sermon is never long,So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –I’m going, all along.
So far, I have had the chance, everyday, to enjoy nature in Norway. Whether the sun is shining or the rain is falling as I walk across the bridge to work, I always cast a glance over at Fløyen and Ulriken. Each time, I stand in amazed at the sheer magnitude and beauty of what I see. With that said, I want to take the time to share some of these views with you. The pics below are from Fløyen, Osterfjorden, and the University Museum of Bergen’s garden. I hope you enjoy them. More, of course, to come throughout the year.Make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.