Prompted by Lyman Mower’s post, let me freelance a bit about ‘living in the present’ and ‘memorializing instincts’ and seeking a ‘deep history.’
There is no doubt that Thoreau (among other of our favorite sages) values living in the present. Where else could we live, anyway? Well, I suppose we could obsess on what comes tomorrow or the next day or on that goal way down the road. We find little of that in Thoreau — living in the future at the expense of the here and now. And I suppose we could obsess on yesterday and last year and crimes (or glories) of centuries ago, to the neglect of living here and now. Without neglecting the present, Thoreau seeks deep history. He starts A Week bringing Concord River into the company of the ancient Nile, and he memorializes the ‘extinct race’ that once fished in Concord River (known earlier as Musketaquid, “Meadow-river”). But that makes my present perception of the river richer — it doesn’t deflect the present by an intrusion of the past.
My hunch is that Thoreau will inhabit the present moment, and knows that full inhabitation means seeing past and future in the present moment. If he looks at dozens of fish and names them one by one (like Genesis giving us genealogical lists), that is to establish the depth of his present experience (not to escape the present by dwelling in the past). And in forecasting the disappearance of fish with the building of new damns, he does not neglect the present but allows a present moment to embrace its anticipations of its futures. So what are we to say?
Does the present become eternal, timeless, because it pulls into itself (and hence erases) the absoluteness of temporal divisions? What happens to death and birth if I pull them into the present moment? Is that something like eternity, a kind of present immortality?