Tuesday, May 22, 2018

In the woods

As we get ready to wrap up the 2017-2018 academic year, I am quickly turning my attention to the activities of the summer.  This one will be interesting for me as it is the first summer in over a decade that I haven't filled up with summer camps and a great deal of teaching.  This summer, instead, will be full of family activities and taking a bit more time for me.  I am looking forward to attending my son's baseball games, hanging out with my wife, and organizing a few family outings and trips.   In addition, I will have some time to do things that I haven't done in many years. One of those activities is mountain biking. I used to spend a lot of time on the trails (and on the roads), but in recent years I've gotten away from it a bit.  Life, work, and general busy schedules and taken over and cycling is one of the activities that took a hit.

This summer, I intend to get on my bike and out in the woods and as many days as possible. I was out for a ride last weekend couldn't help but think how my whole system changes when I am in the woods. I am fed by sounds of the forest in the morning, the various shades of light throughout the day, and the way my mind and body seem to relax when I am there.  I think that some of this is due to my childhood camping trips and great memories that I have of being in the woods, camping with my family.  I am reinvigorated by the woods. I am inspired by the woods. 

As I was out of the woods on a recent ride, I couldn't help but think how Beethoven and Mahler we're both impacted by their time spent in the woods.  Both composers found inspiration in nature.   The Project Gutenberg EBook of Beethoven:the Man and the Artist, by Ludwig van Beethoven, Edited by Friedrich Kerst andHenry Edward Krehbiel, states,

"Beethoven was a true son of the Rhine in his love for nature. As a boy he had taken extended trips, sometimes occupying days, with his father “through the Rhenish localities ever-lastingly dear to me.” In his days of physical health Nature was his instructress in art; “I may not come without my banner,” he used to say when he set out upon his wanderings even in his latest years, and never without his notebooks. In the scenes of nature he found his marvelous motives and themes; brook, birds and tree sang to him. In a few special cases he has himself recorded the fact."

As I pulled out of the woods on a recent ride, I thought of this Beethoven quote: “How happy I am to be able to wander among bushes and herbs, under trees and over rocks; no man can love the country as I love it. Woods, trees and rocks send back the echo that man desires.”  I felt like in some way, he was affirming my need to be there on that day. 

In recent years, I have become more and more interested in the symphonies of Mahler and have learned that he, too, was highly impacted by nature.  Mahler would spend his summers on retreat away from the city, away from his usual conducting duties, composing his great symphonies.  In many ways, his time with nature reminded him of his childhood and brought him a similar calm and inspiration.  The sounds of nature were the sounds of a symphony orchestra.  He, as composer, was the conduit between nature and the audience.  “My music is always the voice of nature sounding in tone…” The phrase "Wie ein Naturlaut" was written over the first bars of his Symphony No 1. This can be translated "as if spoken by nature".  As one listens to the opening of the First Symphony, they can hear the sustained octaves representing the awakening of nature and the descending 4th sounding like birds calling as the forest wakes up.  The sounds are not those of man, but those of the world around us.

Our upstairs air condition went out of service a couple of weeks ago and we are waiting for a new one to be installed in a couple of weeks.  We are fortunate that is is not too hot yet in North Carolina, especially at night.  We have been sleeping with the windows open and fans running since the unit broke down.  One happy result of the broken AC unit (And trust me, there aren't many!) is the opportunity to hear the sounds of the night with the windows open. Our back yard is full of activity throughout the night and the sounds are spectacular.  There is so much activity.  If find the sounds to be calming when I wake up in the middle of the night.  Again, it reminds me of childhood camping trips and wonderful times spent in the woods and around nature.  We should all sleep with our windows open more!

I am really looking forward to experiencing "Wie ein Naturlaut" on a daily basis this summer while on my bike in the woods.  I find it inspiring.  I find it rejuvenating. I find it sustaining.  As Beethoven said, “Nature is a glorious school for the heart! It is well; I shall be a scholar in this school and bring an eager heart to her instruction."  

And you thought I was just going to be riding a bike!


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