T is for Thoreau, author of Walden and many many journals in which “[he omitted] the unusual – the hurricanes and earthquakes – and described the common.” He had always recorded the weather and the natural scene in a sporadic and fragmented way, but in July of 1852 he declared a year of observation, a ‘year’ that lasted through 1861. Amidst the the poetry of his prose, and his record of his own responses to the world, he began a careful record of the passing seasons, noting temperatures, leaf break, frost, and blooming seasons of many plants.
I love Walden and reread it from time to time, but I have not read much in the journals. It was with some surprise that I read in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review an essay by Andrea Wulf about the use that modern science is making of the journals. “Richard Primack, a professor of biology at Bsoton University, has collaborated with colleagues at Harvard to use the observations in Thoreau’s journals as the basis for groundbreaking studies in climate change,” she wrote.
What the scientists have discovered is that the average tempeature of our springs is 48 degrees, but Thoreau recorded an average of 42 degrees during his day. Also the first flowering of 32 species of flower has moved to 11 days early. Early blooming flowers have been more affected by the change in temperatures, than later blooming flowers, but the change is undeniable.
I have written about Andrea Wulf’s brilliant and engaging books about gardens and plant and American history here in a review of The Brother Gardeners featuring America’s first botanist John Bartram and his botanical adventures, and a review of The Founding Gardeners about Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madision here.
To see what else begins with T click here at the A to Z Challenge.