Category Archives: Environment

Up Side Down

Later today the rains will sluice away what’s left of our snow, and we will be back in our “open-winter.” Perhaps there’s a little symmetry at work after our burrowing February last year, but mostly I feel I’m riding a yo-yo, with its dual motions of rise and fall mixed with constant spin. Yes I know that I live in Wait-a-Minute New England, where volatility is the old normal, and yes, I know that El Nino is nosing about in the Pacific and sending, perhaps, his tears our way. Still…the everyday that touches my skin whispers that this air’s unusual. Even when the wind blusters and tries to threaten real winter, the show’s over in a day.

But my readings of Henry Thoreau’s journals remind me that his era also entertained thaws and mildness that sometimes stretched for days. His immediate weather, to which he paid close and famous attention, whispered little oddnesses too.

What Henry Thoreau didn’t have, however, was an eye in the sky; or, more accurately, a peacock fan’s worth of eyes up there. Henry Thoreau surely transcended earth in spirit and imagination, but the day-by-day parsing of change on the planet was seeable only in a local version. Our satellites, flung up at times willy nilly, have changed that – we now see not only the planet’s roundness, but also the ebbs and flows of its processes. There’s now a lot of data on looking down just a few clicks away.

The other day, I was looking back over (down on) this January past, when I came upon a thermal map of our hemisphere for those days. I looked first at where I live…of course…and noted the warmer than normal temps and nodded. But the color scheme of the whole map wouldn’t let me click on to whatever was next. Surely, I thought, the map’s inverted, upside is down, and I looked more closely: the whole arctic and subarctic region was some version of red-verging-to-darkness, meaning warmer (much) than normal; and the whole temperate portion of the US was (Maine excepted) a cool winter blue.

A screen shot of what I saw. Link at base of this piece.

A screen shot of what I saw. Link at base of this piece.

I expanded the screen so the temperature scale was readable. “Look,” the sky-eye records said clearly, “Look at that.”

All of this is old news, I know. But the news sinks in variously for each of us; for me, this map remains vivid and alive in my mind, even as each day’s air and rain and snow touch my skin.

Link to vivid maps:

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Filed under Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Living Deliberately, Nature, News and Events, The Roost

Once More to the Book

My residence was more favorable, not only to thought, but to serious reading, than a university; and though I was beyond the range of the ordinary circulating library, I had more than ever come within the influence of those books which circulate round the world, whose sentences were first written on bark… Thoreau, Walden

On the Saturday past, we arrived at Henry Thoreau’s birthplace just as Corinne Smith began her author talk about her new book, Henry David Thoreau for Kids. We squeezed into the only remaining seats in the house’s family room and listened as Smith outlined the process through which her book came together. As I’ve often found, when listening to authors describe their work, that process, which, for Smith, had yielded orderly, attractive result, can be nonlinear, with inspiration and answer to question arriving from many directions and sources. Smith, like many Thoreauvians, has a broad network of Thoreau contacts, and many of them had helped her find answers and activities for her book. A number were in the room.

Corinne Hosfeld Smith's photo.

Corinne Smith at Thoreau Farm for her book’s launch


So too was Henry. Not the Henry who was born in the room upstairs, but a modern Henry, who was one of Smith’s first readers. I’d read first about this young, modern Henry in one of Smith’s blog-posts last year, and now, as one of this book’s intended readers, here he was. That was fun.

So too were Smith’s descriptions of finding some of the activities that suit the book to kids of all ages (many older kids peopled the room too). I particularly liked the outline-the-house activity that helps someone gain a sense of the scale of Thoreau’s famous house at the pond. There, outside the birthplace, was the green outline Smith had made, and even though the reading room was crowded, I knew that we could all fit within the outline.

Memory sent me back to a November morning a few years ago when I had taken 33 students to see sunrise at the pond. First, we had walked out to the house-site, with its outline-posts of granite and the chains that link them. There, we’d all stepped inside the chains, and I’d read from the Walden passage in Economy where Thoreau begins the house’s construction. Some students had said in surprise, “Hey, we all fit in here easily.” And it was true; there was even room for more, if some early visitors had wandered by. That, I thought, is the value of experience, which often brings words to life, and, in doing so, allows us to fit ourselves into that life.

Just so with Corinne Smith’s book: Henry David Thoreau for Kids surely brings its clear, resonant words and ample illustrations to life in its joined activities for kids (of all ages). And surely some of its sentences began their lives written on bark. Your copy awaits you.

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Filed under Arts, Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, Nature, News and Events, The Roost, Thoreau Quote

Playing Snow-Storm Inspector

By Corinne H. Smith

“For many years, I was self-appointed inspector of snow-storms and rain-storms, and did my duty faithfully …” ~ Thoreau, “Economy,” Walden

Saturday’s Big Northeastern Snow gave me a chance to go out and play storm inspector, a la Henry Thoreau.

I had already measured the snow depth in the front yard at 8 a.m. – 15.5 inches – and I had shoveled the driveway. I came back inside and did some reading and some writing. But I couldn’t stop looking out the window and marveling at the diligence of the snow. It was steady, it was piling up fast, and it was beautiful.

Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to be out in it. And I had to prepare myself for the conditions. First I had to retrieve my snow boots from storage in my three-season writing porch. I kicked a lot of snow away from the porch door just to slip inside. Then, when I looked closer at my boots, I saw that someone else had used them. It had been so long since I needed them that a mouse had used the left boot for a home … and an outhouse. I shook out his settlement. The right one was empty and clean. Go figure.

I bundled up in my winter coat, scarf, gloves, and knit cap. I put my camera, driver’s license, and a five-dollar bill in my pocket, just in case. I hadn’t checked the batteries in the camera, though. They died fairly quickly. So I had to rely on myself to be the camera for the trek. I could pay closer attention this way. The photos could wait.

The temperature was in the mid-20s, and the wind did occasionally gust around me. But overall, I was fairly comfortable. The kitchen clock had said it was noon, but it could have been anytime outside. Everything was white and there was no sun. It had been two hours since the snowplow had come our way. And the flakes just kept falling, falling, falling. I took to the middle of the street and trudged up the block. Westward.


My usual dry-weather walk traces a mile-and-a-half loop through suburbia. Today this probably wasn’t practical. I decided instead to make one trip around our large residential block. Every half block, I stopped, looked, and listened. I wanted to EXPERIENCE this snowfall. The air was filled with flakes. And I was the only person out in it. I guess everyone else was inside, watching TV broadcasts and online videos of the weather-folk and giant pandas having fun in the snow. Go figure again.

Henry Thoreau didn’t happen to wear spectacles. Here he had the advantage over me. It’s difficult to inspect a snow storm when it keeps building up on your lenses. I had to wipe them off with my gloves at every turn. Then I could spot small movements. Little birds hopped on top of the snow near someone’s porch, perhaps picking up stray seed the homeowner had thrown to them. An acrobatic squirrel leaped from an evergreen tree to a branch of a snowy maple, scuttling snow from both. I knew of several bunnies who lived under certain bushes. But they were hunkered down and were hidden from view. Very much like the people in the houses just behind them.


I listened. The flakes made soft whispers against my coat and on the growing drifts. Off in the opposite direction, I could hear distant beeps from equipment clearing the grocery store parking lot. The wind jostled someone’s wooden wind chimes, adding a light melody to the scene. And when I walked, I thought I heard someone shoveling the sidewalk right behind me. I turned around and saw no one. It took me a few instances of this to realize that it was the sound of my own coat scraping against itself. I laughed. Then I thought of another Thoreau quote that I had read just a few days earlier.

“As I walk the RR causeway, I am, as the last two months, disturbed by the sound of my steps on the frozen ground. I wish to hear the silence of the night, for the silence is something positive to be heard. I cannot walk with my ears covered. I must stand still and listen with open ears, far from the noises of the village, that night may make its impression on me.” ~ Thoreau, Journal, January 21, 1853

Thoreau crunched on ice and snow and was annoyed. I was distracted by my coat. To-may-to, to-mah-to. We both stopped to listen to what was mostly silence.

At the third corner, I came upon a man attending to a mini-four wheeler. It wasn’t stuck, but the motor kept cutting off. He had to get off the seat and fiddle with something to get it started again.

“Need help?” I asked, even though I know nothing of such toys.

“Nah, I’m fine,” he said. “I only live right there anyway.” He nodded to the house on the corner. I took him at his word and kept on my path. Soon I heard his high whiny motor behind me as he took off down a side street. To each, his own method of inspection.

Now I realized I had forgotten to bring along something that was vital to the adventure: tissues. My nose was running to beat the band. I ignored it as best as I could as I rounded the last corner. Still watching, still listening.

As I headed up the driveway, a little brown bird flew out of the carport and into the nearby arborvitae bushes. I knew there had to be others sheltered in that thicket, too. Everyone had a place to weather the storm, it seemed. And I was back at mine, having spent a lovely, leisurely hour strolling through the storm.


I hung up my snowy and noisy coat, kicked off my boots, and settled in with a steaming mug of green tea and the book I was close to finishing: William Least Heat-Moon’s collection of travel pieces, “Here, There, Elsewhere.” I soon came upon this paragraph and was startled by the connection:

Americans believe in the spiritually redeeming efficacy of travel almost as if it were prayer. We are prone to try to modify our lives simply by just GOING, whether on a walk around the block or on a coast-to-coast trek. And why not? We’re all descendants of travelers who reached these shores from the other hemisphere. Were stars not so splendidly cosmic a symbol, the blue union of our flag could well be composed of little footprints.

What an apt thought!

On this snowbound day, I had been guided first by one American author and validated later by another one. And I smiled knowing that I had left my own footprints on snow-covered streets during a wonderful northeastern blizzard. I deemed the inspection a success.

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Filed under Arts, Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, Nature, News and Events, The Roost, Thoreau Quote, Walden