“I only know two things,” Vladimir Nabokov is reputed to have said (although I have never been able to find where), “that life is beautiful and that life is sad.” Walking yesterday evening in Acadia National Park, amid firs and spruce and pines, and hardwood trees whose multi-colored leaves sparkled in the muted light, it dawned on me that Nabokov was describing, not a contradiction but a connection. Fall is northern New England’s special season, and people travel great distances to experience it. It’s more than the foliage. The light is different now, the way it plays across the land and water, not overwhelming them with its summer intensity but drawing out the intrinsic beauty of the natural world. I walk on a path filled with fallen needles and dead leaves, as the earth prepares for its winter and I prepare for mine.
As I walk, I think that original sin is the evolution of a consciousness that set one species – ours – not just above all the others but separated from the rest of creation. It takes the passing beauty of an autumn evening to remind me that, despite all I have lost by this, I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I think of Thoreau at Walden, writing: “I went to the woods . . . to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”