Field Studies: Sauvie Island for Critical Inquiry



The following journal entries by Henry David Thoreau are estimated to have been written between 1850-1851.


August 23

I live so much in my habitual thoughts, a routine of thought, that I forget there is any outside to the globe, and am surprised when I behold it as now- yonder hills and river in the moonlight, the monsters. Yet it is salutary to deal with the surface of things. What are these rivers and hills, these hieroglyphics which my eyes behold? There is something invigorating in this air, which I am peculiarly sensible is a real wind, blowing from over the surface of a planet. I look out at my eyes, I come to my window, and I feel and breathe the fresh air. It is a fact equally glorious with the most inward experience. Why have we ever slandered the outward? The perception of surfaces will always have the affect of miracle to a sane sense.


September 13

I must walk more with free senses. It is as bad to study stars and clouds as flowers and stones. I must let me senses wander as my thoughts, my eyes see without looking. Carlyle said that how to observe was to look, but I say that it is rather to see, and the more you look the less you will observe. I have the habit of attention to such excess that my senses get no rest, but suffer from constant strain. Be not preoccupied with looking. Go not to the object; let it come to you. When I have found myself ever looking down and confining my gaze to the flowers, I have thought it might be well to get into the habit of observing the clouds as a corrective; but no! that study would be just as bad. What I need it not to look at all, but a true sauntering of the eye.

Shepard, Odell. The Heart of Thoreau’s Journals. Dover Publications, 1961.


Friday's Critical Inquiry class ventured to Sauvie Island where students and faculty contemplated 'Object as Ritual' through letter writing, lines made by walking, poetry, and objects found at the farmstead.