Sauntering, Thoreau-Style

23 April 2020

Sauntering, Thoreau-style
by Victor Carl Friesen
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$25.00 ISBN 9-781988-783468

I embraced daily outdoor explorations decades ago, so was delighted when Rosthern, SK writer-photographer Victor Carl Friesen’s book, Sauntering, Thoreau-style, arrived in my mailbox. Friesen, a multi-genre writer, has several books behind him – including nonfiction, short stories, poetry and children’s literature – and in this latest title he revisits a favourite subject: the writer, naturalist, and legendary Massachusetts walker, Henry David Thoreau. Many will be familiar with Thoreau’s Walden – his literary response to a two-year sojourn at Walden Pond. Friesen’s book – a compilation of essays; mostly Saskatchewan photographs; poetry; and Thoreau’s own quoted, poetic observations – is an homage to Thoreau, and the images “were chosen to reflect Thoreau’s world”.

Friesen explains that Thoreau was a highly sensorial writer who practiced activities like looking at objects with “the under part of his eye,” and “[smelling] plants before and after a rain in various stages of growth,” to get different perspectives. Thoreau’s writing itself emulated “the course of a saunter,” and Friesen writes that his subject considered the act of consciously walking in nature as an art. I understand!

The colour photographs (there’s a single black and white), interspersed between Friesen’s engaging, Thoreau-centred text, are presented like a pleasant album. Each index-card-sized photograph is centered on the page within a thin black border. Ample white space on each page gives the nature scenes a “gallery wall” effect. Lily pads, shadowed reflections, and a moose in water are among the images in the first set, titled “Waters”.

In the chapter “The Art of Sauntering,” we learn that Thoreau tried to find a balance between observing nature and attempting to “‘walk with sufficient carelessness’”. The American writer kept “a notebook in his pocket … for much of his writing was a joint product of head and legs”. Interestingly, regarding sustenance on Thoreau’s longer walks, “If he had to buy bread or milk, he would readily find some odd job to earn the necessary coin”. It’s certainly easy to comprehend why Friesen found Thoreau such a compelling character. In the photos that follow in this chapter, Friesen provides a moody photographic study of clouds, ie: pg. 39 … a proper, dark-navy sky, and a cloud dropping torrential rain on the bare, golden prairie.

Solitude was sacred to Thoreau in his walks – “[his] communion with nature was lessened if others were present” – and he was extremely fond of the Concord township area. The “‘peripatetic philosopher’” was so tuned into the natural world, the connection elicited “a feeling that he was part of the woodland world and a feeling that that world was part of him”. Friesen says aside from woodlands, seas and rivers were also integral to Thoreau: he tried to “get the sea into him” while he “[perceived] it with all his senses”.

I admire the way Friesen sees the world through his discriminating lens. Leaves, sunsets, rivers, snow, flowers … these are the stuff of Thoreau’s world, and of Friesen’s well-written and well-photographed tribute to Thoreau’s “sensuous approach to the world of nature”.


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