What Thoreau’s Amateur Botany Says About Your Creations

Sometimes when I’m feeling especially pensive, I come to the woods to think and write deliberately, so, today, this is where I’m blogging from. And this setting is particularly apt because of topic of today’s blog post is Henry David Thoreau.

I have recently come across two articles, one from a fellow blogger and one straight off of the Smithsonian webpage, in which the authors detailed Thoreau’s fairly recent contribution to climate change science—that’s right; some 150 years after his death, he’s still making contributions, and scientific contributions at that.

One of Thoreau’s more unknown eccentricities is that he was a dedicated amateur botanist. He would travel by foot, sometimes thirty miles a day, to catalog the progress of hundreds upon hundreds of species of plants. “But what does this have to do with climate change?” you might ask. Well, Thoreau would painstakingly chart the flowering dates of numerous plants. Modern-day scientists are now travelling Massachusetts, cataloging current flowering dates and comparing them to Thoreau’s. What they have found is that flowering dates are, on average, a week ahead of Thoreau’s, thus providing further evidence in support of climate change.

This, I believe, is a testament to the utter absurdity of life. Thoreau, we can assume, never hoped to affect climate change science with his amateurism, thus begging the question: Do our intentions matter? If Thoreau’s hobby could affect a scientific concept that was completely outside of his intentions, isn’t it true that anything we do or create could be used for good or evil, tomorrow, in a week, or years from now? The answer seems to be yes. But where does this leave us? Should we create more, in hopes that it is used for good? Should we create less, so that it can’t be used for evil? Or should we cease creation altogether?

I answer yes to solely the first question. Let me explain why: Suppose you are a retired detective and you are deliberating between writing two very different books, one titled How to Kill and Get Away With It and another titled, How to Catch a Murderer. Obviously, the latter book has a higher chance of doing good, although there is a chance that a murderer may read it in hopes of figuring out how to avoid capture. And, conversely, the former obviously has a higher chance of doing bad, although there is still a chance that a detective might read it to “get inside the head” of a criminal.

The moral of the story: Create! Create good things! Or, like in Thoreau’s botanical case, create neutral things! Don’t let life’s absurdity or the fear of what may come of your work dissuade you from creation. Although there is a chance that your work could be used for things outside of your intentions, probability is on your side: chances are, your intentions will shine through.

Picture citation:

“Walden Pond” by Detroit Publishing Co. copyright claimant, publisher. – .This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID det.4a22665.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.العربية | čeština | Deutsch | English | español | فارسی | suomi | français | magyar | italiano | македонски | മലയാളം | Nederlands | polski | português | русский | slovenčina | slovenščina | Türkçe | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | 中文(繁體)‎ | +/−. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Walden_Pond.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Walden_Pond.jpg



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