I’ll begin with Einstein who insisted that past, present and future are illusions however persistent. Time does not flow. It just is. Maybe I am writing this yesterday or tomorrow.
So Thoreau (he pronounced it Thorough) is very much alive. This is his 202nd birthday. Also alive is Emma Lazarus. She never died nor her poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. And yes, Donald Trump has always been with us. He wore the dunce-cap in the little red schoolhouse and beat up kids in the yard. He roused the rabble, bought slaves and led the lynch mobs. The card sharp is Donald, the con-man selling phony cure-alls and breaking picket lines, the robber baron and slumlord. All of them are Trump.
Taking a break from his lucrative pencil business Thoreau thoroughly visits Staten Island seven times. He lives with Emerson’s brother and tutors his children. Here he is roaming the streets of Manhattan dodging stray pigs and trying to sell his writings. No buyers.
I live in NYC for my first twenty-one years and go to Staten Island just once. I take the ferry one day with my brother just for the ride. It was s nickel back then, gradually inching to five bucks. Now it is free. An acceptable instance of creeping Socialism, n’est-ce pas? But time doesn’t creep, I almost forgot, it just is. Now I am passing the Statue of Liberty. I can hear the huddled masses yearning.
Thoreau’s last visit to the Island was in 1843. At first he isn’t very charmed by the place though he notes the variety of flora and fauna, different from Massachusetts. While he’s heading back to Concord to start building his cabin at Walden Pond he is also considering another cabin in Staten for a spell of solitude? The man is a visionary. Does he envision the Statue of Liberty? Of course he does.
Staten Island now has half a million people. It is the wealthiest and greenest borough with 170 parks. By any measure it really should be part of New Jersey. At one point it has the highest altitude of all the boroughs; higher than Mt. Vernon, Washington Heights or Forest Hills, all of which are barely useful for sleigh rides. It’s the only borough with wildlife not in a zoo. Snakes, fox, feral turkeys and coyotes have been spotted in the Fresh Kills Landfill. Thoreau is changing his mind about this place with its forests and estuaries, bird sanctuaries, salt marshes and tidal wetlands.
Let chronology collapse. Thoreau is jailed in protest of the Mexican-American war and all others to follow with the exception of those fought against slavery and Fascism.
On nearby Bedloe/Liberty Island the Statue of Liberty, with its torch held high, is an inadvertent lighthouse to woodcocks and phoebes in their migration. Trump would call them illegal birds who deserve to die anyway. Thousands fall disorientated at Mother of Liberty’s feet as they smash into the 25 glass windows at the crown of the Colossus. That is corrected as dotted glass replaces the original which birds alone recognize.
The Statue is a global gesture. The island upon which it stands was first settled by the Lenape tribe. Sculpted by Frederic Bartholdi in France with an early model in Germany it is gifted to the U.S. to be erected in this Dutch-occupied harbor, grabbed by the British to serve as a beacon to Irish, Italians, Polish, Russian refugees and inscribed by the Portuguese Sephardic Jewish poet.
Did Thoreau visit Emma Lazarus in his Manhattan treks? Why not? Here he is presenting a box of his world-class pencils having discovered the perfect mix of graphite and clay. And she writes….
Keep your storied pomp says Emma to Donald. Yes, you high in your Tower. And get your hands off these tired and poor yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of these teaming shores are pleading. But Donald is deaf to the cries as he sends his wretched garbage golf balls and caviar leftovers off to the Fresh Kill Landfill where a ragged forest is being born. A gigantic garbage dump as mulch. Pieces of Twin Towers among the 150 million tons of Big Apple trash.
Is that you, Henry David Thorough, living in a grove of pine and willow, surrounded by native and undocumented woodland groping for new life? It’s called Phoenix Regeneration. The forest floor reveals an occasional shoe, shopping bag and Styrofoam cup. The latter takes 1000 years to decay. Thoreau is writing with his super pencil in his notebook about restoration. Nature persists. It repairs our human folly. The message is hope. There is a lamp lifting beside this golden door.