Walden still inspires conservation

Yosemite's massive rock formations might leave you in awe, but Walden Pond's glory is in the details - a clump of vibrant moss, a collage of pebbles under paper-thin ice, a flourish of leaf confetti on a gusty autumn day.

That's how nature photographer Scot Miller came to feel. Having spent years framing nature's more impressive feats, he turned his attention to Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., in 1999. Over the next five years he tried to capture the minutiae of forest life by a famous pond.

He also picked up a copy of Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" - something he hadn't read since high school. What he learned from the philosopher's experience, he says, was to slow down, appreciate nature's fine print, and not take the natural environment for granted.

Ironically, the forest that fans out for 140 acres around Walden is far more lush now than it was in Thoreau's day. Photos from the 1890s show bald patches near the pond where trees had been cut for fuel.

Often held up as the "father of the environmental movement," Thoreau was one of the first to suggest that towns put land aside for green space. That idea is now so much part of public consciousness, it seems almost absurd to act otherwise.

Yet Mr. Miller says that, for all his years photographing nature, it was not until he came to Walden that he was inspired to become more of an environmental activist. He recently wrote his first letter to the editor, he confides with a smile. It was in support of the restoration of Great Trinity Forest, 7,000 acres of trees that hug Dallas's city limits and have been neglected.

Great Trinity Forest is his Walden, Miller says. And, as he writes in "Walden: 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of the American Classic" (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), which contains his photographs: "Walden has become as much a state of mind as it is a place."

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