"The true essence, the secret recipe of the forest and the light and the dark was far too fine and subtle to be observed with my blunt eye – water sac and nerves, miracle itself, fine itself: light catcher: But the thing itself is not forest and light and dark, but something else scattered by my coarse gaze, by my dumb intention."
There are many references to transcendent aspects of the natural world, reflected in the lives of Howard and his father.

The American Romantic and Transcendental movements were popular in the mid-nineteenth century; they were a reaction to neoclassical ideals of order and reason. Transcendentalists believed there is knowledge beyond what humans can see, hear, feel, smell, touch, and taste; that an individual is capable of achieving moments of direct insight into divinity through an immersion in the natural world. They rejected tradition and convention especially in matters of doctrine; and believed that spirituality was innate, not the product of formalized ritual and churches.

Authors, poets, artists and philosophers of the time included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as American romantic landscape artists, including Asher Brown Durand and Frederic Edwin Church of the Hudson River School.