The essays in HEAVEN IS UNDER OUR FEET: A BOOK FOR WALDEN WOODS may be read as Rorschach by an assortment of celebrated people about Henry David Thoreau and his best-known work, WALDEN. Thoreau is variously presented as original philosopher, pioneer environmentalist, astoundingly gifted writer, seminal naturalist, committed activist, and misanthropic cynic. This provocative figure here inspires earnest pleas, didactic tracts, gorgeous evocations of natural landscapes, and ironic perceptions about America and Americans.
Messages are conveyed, in varying degrees of persuasiveness, in cartoons, vignettes, parables, statistics, and speechifying prose. Styles range from rhetoric-laden (politicians are among the contributors) to lyrical. Reasoning varies from simplistic to appreciatively complex.
The arrangement of these sixty brief essays, by editors Don Henley and Dave Marsh, follows no discernible logic. True to Thoreau’s democratic spirit, writing by such top-40 stars as Paula Abdul rubs shoulders with the work of Pulitzer winners Gary Trudeau, Wallace Stegner, and James Michener.
In keeping with the media attention which the book as a fundraiser no doubt seeks, the preponderance of contributors are film, television, or recording stars. In fairness, many also head socially concerned foundations.Also, they are joined in the book by those less likely to capture headlines, such as Martin Rosen, president of the Trust for Public Land.
As a prelude to the book, a preface by Don Henley, founder and co-chair of the Walden Woods Project, explains that proceeds from its sale benefit the preservationist cause. Also included are a foreword by former President Jimmy Carer and a two-part introduction: “A Brief History of the Walden Woods Project,” by its executive director Kathi Anderson (former staff member of Senator Edward Kennedy), and “Sand and Water, Fire and Ice: Walden Pond and Walden Woods, Gifts of the Glacier,” by Edmund Schofield, president of the Thoreau Society.