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  • Author or Editor: Rochelle L. Johnson x
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Rochelle L. Johnson’s “Grieving with the Kingfisher: Thoreau’s Mourning Work in an Age of Political and Environmental Violence” asks what use we might make of Thoreau in a time of geopolitical strife and climate crisis. Challenging Emerson’s 1862 contention that “the meaning of Nature was never attempted to be defined” by Thoreau, Johnson points to Thoreau’s receptivity as itself part of an attempt to make meaning. In exploring how Thoreau’s receptivity enables meaning, Johnson mines his published books and essays, substantial Journal, and manuscript materials, tracing Thoreau’s apprehension of a single bird—the kingfisher. As Johnson reveals, Thoreau remains alert to kingfishers even as he encounters scenes of destruction in Cape Cod; rages over repressions in “Slavery in Massachusetts”; and mourns the human developments destroying habitats along his local Concord River. She also uncovers Thoreau’s interest in the mythology associated with the kingfisher, whose Latin name of Alcedo recalls halcyon days. Johnson’s reading reveals how the kingfisher’s ancient connotation of nurturing presence informs Thoreau’s multifaceted concepts of both “the West” and “the Wild,” as well as the need for conditions and spaces of restoration and resilience that our age, no less than his, requires.

In: Thoreau in an Age of Crisis