Back to Nature

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The site of Thoreau's cabin, Walden Pond. Photographed by LSD

Back to Nature

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This was a series of essays written for New Zealand's national Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Star Times in 2005. Each of the eight essays focused on a particular person who had been a vocal advocate for Nature.

• Walt Whitman [Dead poet society: or, How Walt Whitman saved my life]
• David Attenborough [With a little help from my friends]
• Rachel Carson [The pioneer who named our poison]
• Stephen Jay Gould [Biology, baseball – and a taste for bullying]
• E.O. Wilson [Selfish do-gooders win the gene pool]
• Ansel Adams [Portraitist to the wild]
• John James Audubon [More colourful than his art]
• Henry David Thoreau [How to live a simple life]

Each of the essays was illustrated by a specially commissioned caricature from renowned cartoonist/artist Murray Webb.
I was 18 when I discovered poetry. Sure, I’d had Shakespeare’s sonnets and Rupert’s war verses at school, and even a little bit of Kipling on the side. But I was 18 before I discovered that words could move me; 18 before I discovered Leonard Cohen. Except, who’s going to go to bed with someone who says, “How you murdered your family / means nothing to me / as your mouth moves across my body” – although, I might have.

The thing about Walt Whitman's words is that they moved me more than any others. And it wasn't their erotic nature that so attracted me – although has anyone now, let alone in Victorian times, ever written anything quite so sensual as “A woman waits for me, she contains all, nothing is lacking, / Yet all were lacking if sex were lacking, or if the moisture of the right man were lacking”? What attracted me to Whitman, mainly, was that his words were grounded in the rawness of nature and infused with a love of humanity.

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