American writer and naturalist Henry Beston was born in 1888 and raised in Quincy, Massachusetts. After a stint as an English professor in Lyon, France, he served as an ambulance driver for the French Army during World War I. In 1925, still disturbed by his war experiences, Beston retreated to an isolated cottage on Cape Cod, a twenty-by-sixteen-foot shanty with running water but no electricity that he called “the Fo’castle,” a nautical term for a ship’s living quarters. He had planned to stay for only two weeks but was so enthralled by his surroundings that he remained for a year. His best-known book, The Outermost House, was first published in 1928 and chronicles his time living alone on the beach and meditating on nature and the changing seasons. He later married poet and novelist Elizabeth Coatsworth and moved to a farm in Nobleboro, Maine, where he lived the rest of his life. Beston died in 1968 at the age of seventy-nine. Ten years after his death, high tides swept the Cape Cod cabin into the sea. The following is excerpted from The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston. Published in 2003 by Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright © by Henry Beston. All rights reserved.
Some have asked me what understanding of Nature one shapes from so strange a year. I would answer that one’s first appreciation is a sense that creation is still going on, that the creative forces are as great and as active today as they have ever been, and that tomorrow’s morning will be as heroic as any of the world. Creation is here and now. So near is man to the creative pageant, so much a part is he of the endless and incredible experiment, that any glimpse he may have will be but the revelation of a moment, a solitary note in a symphony thundering through debatable existences of time. Poetry is as necessary to comprehension as science. It is as impossible to live without reverence as it is without joy.
And what of Nature itself, you say — that callous and cruel engine, red in tooth and fang? Well, it is not so much of an engine as you think. As for “red in tooth and fang,” whenever I hear the phrase or its intellectual echoes I know that some passerby has been getting life from books. It is true that there are grim arrangements. Beware of judging them by whatever human values are in style. As well expect Nature to answer to your human values as to come into your house and sit in a chair. The economy of Nature, its checks and balances, its measurements of competing life — all this is its great marvel and has an ethic of its own. Live in Nature, and you will soon see that for all its nonhuman rhythm, it is no cave of pain. As I write, I think of my beloved birds of the great beach, and of their beauty and their zest of living. And if there are fears, know also that Nature has its unexpected and unappreciated mercies.
Whatever attitude to human existence you fashion for yourself, know that it is valid only if it be the shadow of an attitude to Nature. A human life, so often likened to a spectacle upon a stage, is more justly a ritual. The ancient values of dignity, beauty, and poetry which sustain it are of Nature’s inspiration; they are born of the mystery and beauty of the world. Do no dishonor to the earth lest you dishonor the spirit of man. Hold your hands out over the earth as over a flame. To all who love her, who open to her the doors of their veins, she gives of her strength, sustaining them with her own measureless tremor of dark life. Touch the earth, love the earth, honor the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all.