by Chet Raymo
“John Burroughs - John-o'-the-Birds - America's most beloved nature writer, was just my age when in 1910 he wrote in his journal: "Joy in the universe, and a keen curiosity about it all- that has been my religion. As I grow old, my joy and my interest increase. Less and less does the world of men interest me, more and more do my thoughts turn to things universal and everlasting."
Things universal and everlasting. Burroughs did not look to find those things beyond the grave. They were here, now, just outside the window of his study at Riverby- the seasons endlessly turning, bringing a burgeoning bounty of the universal by his door, the river bearing its dusting of Adirondack gneiss to the sea, and the birds, always the birds, in their multiple generations. Nature had better things to do than preserve individual souls, he wrote. Like a wave, a self rises and subsides: "We settle back into the deep, as a wave settles back, or as it breaks and is spent upon the shore. The waves run and run, the force or impulse that fills and makes them is coequal with the universe."