Henry Bugbee - an atheistic mysticism, free of mythical trappings
|Henry Bugbee (1915-1999)|
During my years of graduate study before the war I studied philosophy in the classroom and at a desk, but my philosophy took shape mainly on foot. It was truly peripatetic, engendered not merely while walking, but through walking that was essentially a meditation of the place. And the balance in which I weighed ideas I was studying was always that established in the experience of walking in the place. I weighed everything by the measure of the silent presence of things, clarified by racing clouds, clarified by the cry of hawks, waters of manifold voice, and consolidated in the act of taking steps, each step a meditation steeped in reality (The Inward Morning, p. 139).
As Daniel W. Conway says of this:
Walking is not merely a calisthenic propaedeutic to the heroic labors of philosophizing. Rather, walking functions as the engine of immersion, which enables him to take the phenomenological measure of the wild he temporarily inhabits (Wilderness and the Heart, p. 6).
Like Bugbee, and Thoreau before him, I feel have done my best philosophizing whilst walking and on Tuesday I needed to continue seriously to think through what is becoming increasingly important to me - namely, how to move towards and express a completely naturalistic, secular religion - something about which I spoke on Sunday. Bugbee is proving to be a great help in this but, without actually being myself immersed in nature as I think about it, it is obvious to me that any responses which show up are not going to be of the appropriate kind. I need to be out there, immersed in nature. Of course, I realise that the wilderness that surrounds Cambridge is hardly the kind of wilderness which surrounds Missoula (where Bugbee lived and worked) but one has to take whatever kind of 'wild' one has, so I headed out to Wandlebury and on to the Roman Road. As I thought and walked, walked and thought, I also took, as always, a few photos and add them here. But, before we get to them. Here is W. V. Quine's short piece entitled "In Celebration of Henry Bugbee":
Henry came to Harvard in 1947 for five years as assistant professor. Thirty-seven years later, in The Time of My Life, I described him as "lean, contemplative, and best visualized in leather jacket with pipe, rod, reel, and creel. He had a mystical sense of the poetry of being."
Henry is the ultimate exemplar of the examined life. He walks and talks slowly and thoughtfully, for he is immersed - a Bugbee word - in the wonders of the specious present. The Inward Morning, true to form, is a day-by-day compilation of his philosophical reflections, each fresh that day. His thoughts conform to the discreetness of the concrete, eschewing the factitious continuity of abstraction. His is an atheistic mysticism, free of mythical trappings. Like mystics before him, he is drawn to the mountains and wilderness. In and about Missoula he found the ideal blend of academe and wilderness, and after some forty years I made my way there as Henry Bugbee Lecturer.
He was the authentic Henry Bugbee for all his years, and we walked and talked along the banks of a trout stream flanked by the Rockies and the Bitter Roots in their autumn splendor (Wilderness and the Heart, p. vii)