Thursday, January 01, 2015

A Remembered Path

One of the photographs in an exhibit of Annie Leibovitz's photography at the NY Historical Society gallery (next to the Natural History Museum) is of the "Sandwalk" that Darwin would walk several times daily. It was his "thinking path", one of many examples of how walking in nature has long been associated with expediting thought. Writing about the exhibit at the VeblenHouse website stirred a childhood memory of another scientist who loved walking in the woods so much he continued to do so even after going blind:

Growing up next to Yerkes Observatory, on the outskirts of a small town in Wisconsin, I would walk to school along a path used fifty years prior by the astronomer Edwin Frost to get from his home to the observatory. He became blind later in life, but would still walk through the woods to his office every morning. A wire was strung from tree to tree along the path, so he could guide his way with the crook of a cane held against the wire. Pieces of the wire could still be found in the trees when I was exploring around there as a kid. For many years, my youthful mind mixed one Frost with another, believing that the Frost who walked that path was Robert Frost, the famous poet.

There were many wildflowers, planted or growing naturally, along that path. Walking it years later, in my twenties, the canopy of oak/hickory was full of birdsong, one of which sounded just like a lick Charlie "Bird" Parker would often end his phrases with, using the third, fifth and second notes of the major scale. Old articles, easily found now on the internet, describe the blind astronomer's ability to tell temperature by the tempo of cricket sounds. One goal for the new year, along with working on trails at Herrontown Woods, is to revive some of these stories of connection to nature.

A happy new year to all whose paths cross with Princeton's nature and PrincetonNatureNotes.

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