“Knowledge does not come to us in details, but in flashes of light from heaven,” said Henry David Thoreau, one of America’s most eloquent advocates for the natural world and the many ways it benefits human beings.
Chris Korrow is familiar with such flashes; one of them transformed his life.
“I was 28 years old when I went into the forest and simply stopped. I sat still. In that stillness I realized that everything I’d based my life on was illusionary: my photography business, my preconceived ideas of how to live, my scripted existence. All of it.”
Korrow walked away from his business, gave away his goods and money, stripped down to the bare necessities. He embarked on a bike trip around the country, a journey that marked the beginning of what would become a life-long quest to reunite human beings with nature. During his 6,000-mile trip, he found a freedom borne of the discovery that “in nature, there’s no debt, no superiority, no judgment. In nature, you are brought into the basic qualities of who and what you are.”
Perhaps without knowing it, Korrow followed a trajectory similar to Thoreau’s, who famously commented in 1854: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
That first flash of enlightenment led Korrow, over the next 27 years, to write books (“The Organic Bug Book,” “The 30-Square Foot Garden,” “A Guide for Observing Nature,” “Awakening to Nature”), develop a series of lectures and workshops for adults and children, and make two films (“Frost Flowers” and “Garden Insects.”)
It’s easy to imagine that Thoreau—a man who urged the contemplation of nature and at the same time engaged fully with life as a poet, author, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, surveyor, inventor and historian—would heartily approve. And it’s easy to see why Korrow chose Thoreau—his life and his writings—as the central organizing principle of his latest film, “Dancing with Thoreau.”
“In my life, I try to echo many of things Thoreau wrote and spoke about: simplicity, timelessness, calculating the true cost of material things that rob us of our lives. When we connect with nature in a way that shows us we’re part of the whole, our lives change. We become more community minded, eat better, often start a garden, simplify our lives and become less materialistic.”
In addition to his work as a photographer, writer, speaker and filmmaker, Korrow cultivates a third of an acre near Langley. “A good farmer connected to nature becomes a soil scientist, an inventor, a promoter, a marketer…and on top of it all has one of the most physically demanding jobs in our society. You see adaptability in farmers; they have a problem, they come up with a solution.”
[Thoreau himself possessed a “Yankee” love of practical detail. He grew up in a modest New England family. His father was a pencil maker. As an adult, Thoreau discovered a way to improve upon the pencil by binding graphite with clay.]
According to Korrow, the capacity for creativity is enhanced by a connection to nature. Richard Louv, interviewed in the film, refers to this enhanced capacity as “Vitamin N.”
Korrow’s affinity for farming is evident in the photos he chose to include in the film. Freshly picked tomatoes cradled in dirt-stained hands. A dewy strawberry. A saucer of seeds of compelling colors, unique shapes, and implicit promise. A row of leafy kale plants that appear both invincible and delicate.
Indeed, Korrow’s keen visual sense and photographer’s sensibility extend to the stars—literally. As well as the universe above, he shows us translucent quartz grains scattered around a commonplace dime, the patterns left by the sea on beach sand, the beauty of speckled stones in a heap.
“Dancing with Thoreau” is a work of art that honors the artful in nature. Korrow’s use of still photos, interviews, quotations and moving images provide a means by which to enter the timelessness he feels is essential to a fulfilled and meaningful life.
If knowledge comes to us in flashes of light from heaven, as Thoreau suspected, Chris Korrow’s film has to be a bright—and wondrously brilliant—series of flashes.
“Dancing with Thoreau” can be seen at Langley’s Clyde Theatre on Sunday, June 22 at 2:00 PM. To view the trailer and to find out more about how to support the film, visit http://breathedeepproductions.com.
Image at top: Chris Korrow (photo by Steve Shaffer KET PBS)
Dianna MacLeod holds a degree in journalism and environmental advocacy. The earth has been a good friend to her.
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