The Outermost House

unknown-5Henry Beston (1888-1968) lived on the beach of Cape Cod for a year, documenting his observations, his thoughts, and his personal stories in The Outermost House, following the example of Walden by Thoreau, a fellow nature enthusiast. In the book, Beston writes poetically of the nature around him, nature made enchanting, nature that enamors the reader, instilling feelings of nostalgia and tranquility, a devoted appreciation for the world so often taken for granted. Most of the book comprises greatly detailed vignettes of the beach, the behavior of the birds, the sailing of the ships, and the noting of the flora and fauna, but occasionally one can find great quotes, quotes worthy of serious reflection.

On Studying Animals

“Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ours. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animals shall not be measured by man” (Beston 25).

“In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth” (Ibidem).

On Isolation

“Should anyone ask how I endured this isolation in so wild a place and in the depths of winter, I can only answer that I enjoyed every moment to the full. To be able to see and study undisturbed the processes of nature–I like better the old Biblical phrase ‘mighty works’ –is an opportunity for which any man might well feel reverent gratitude, and here at last, in this silence and isolation of winter, a whole region was mine whose innermost natural life might shape itself to its ancient courses without the hindrance and interferences of man” (Beston 91).

“It is not good to be too much alone, even as it is inwise to be always with and in a crowd, but, solitary as I was, I had few opportunities for moods or to ‘lose and neglect the creeping hours of time.’ From the moment that I rose in the morning and threw open my door looking toward the sea to the moment when the spurt of a match sounded in the evening quiet of my solitary house, there was always something to do, something to observe, something to record, something to study, something to put aside in a corner of the mind” (Ibidem).

On Life

“I lived in the midst of an abundance of natural life which manifested itself every hour of the day, and from being thus surrounded, thus enclosed within a great whirl of what one may call the life force, I felt that I drew a secret and sustaining energy … A sceptic may smile and ask me to come to his laboratory and demonstrate …  but I think that those who have lived in nature, and tried to open their doors rather than close them on her energies, will understand what I mean. Life is as much a force in the universe as electricity or gravitational pull, and the presence of life sustains life. Individuals may destroy individuals, but the life force may mingle with the individual life as a billow of fire may mingle for a moment with a candle flame” (Beston 95).

On Night

“Learn to reverence night and put away the vulgar fear of it, for, with the banishment of night from the experience of man, there vanishes as well a religious emotion, a poetic mood, which gives depth to the adventure of humanity … When the great earth, abandoning the day, rolls up the deeps of the heavens and the universe, a new door opens for the human spirit, and there are few so clownish that some of the mystery of being does not touch them as they gaze. For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars–pilgrims of immortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time. Fugitive though the instant be, the spirit of man is, during it, ennobled by a genuine moment of emotional dignity, and poetry makes its own both the human spirit and experience” (Beston 173).


For further reading: The Outermost House by Henry Beston (1988)


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