Category Archives: General

We Imagine Our Woods as We Walk Them – Bear With Me

In 1846, as summer waned, Henry Thoreau headed north, for his now famous climb of Ktaadn. And as he entered those woods, he found a far wilder world than that of his Concord walks. In a way, Thoreau had gone back in time to an era when large animals populated the woods, an era long vanished in the farm-focus of Concord. Among those animals were bears, seen for their size and power to be fearsome. Now we know black bears as essentially timid animals, even as a few who come to link people with food in backpacks or bird-feeders can become more assertive and garner the label of “problem bears.” We will leave aside that discussion, however, and think only about being in the presence of the large and wild.

As Thoreau worked his way up Ktaadn, he arrived at the belt of black spruce that often defines the highest reach of forest in the north country. These slow-growing, ground-favoring trees can be so thick as to be walked upon (or they can be impenetrable). In this passage from The Maine Woods, Thoreau is atop the trees, looking down:

There was apparently a belt of this kind running quite round the mountain, though, perhaps, nowhere so remarkable as here. Once, slumping through, I looked down ten feet, into a dark and cavernous region, and saw the stem of a spruce, on whose top I stood, as on a mass of coarse basket-work, fully nine inches in diameter at the ground. These holes were bears’ dens, and the bears were even then at home.

This is, atop these trees, a bit of a flight of fancy, because bears don’t generally den at such heights on a mountain, but the point is that Thoreau saw himself in the company of bears. And the mix of treetop-walking in dense spruce and imagined bears made the day exceptional – a few lines later, Thoreau calls it, “certainly the most treacherous and porous country I ever travelled.” Which, given his foot-happy ways, is something.

All of this made me recall one of my own mountainside flights of fancy, when I too found myself in the company of bears

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At age fourteen I was off in the hills for the day with a friend; there, I encountered my first bear. That he turned out to be imaginary made him no less impressive, perhaps more so.

Brad and I were 9th-grade classmates, and on this late summer day, we were also valley neighbors in the pocket wilderness beneath midstate New Hampshire’s Cardigan Mountain. His parents had a small cape set on the side of Cream Hill, which rose above our ramshackle place not far from the Fowler River. Summer days, which always held “chores” – usually some form of cutting or dragging brush – also promised either time at the river and in its pools or rambles along the ridges that defined our valley.

On that day, we were climbing the north ridge of Firescrew, the sister peak of Cardigan, whose name casts back to an 1855 forest fire that burned off its crown. The fire grew so intense that the twisting screw of smoke rising from it was visible across the state; hence the name. The north ridge is largely unpeopled, even as, a half-mile away, Cardigan is often overrun with families ascending their first “big” mountain by a short route from the west. Over the four miles up to the ridge, Brad and I had seen no one, and a remote feeling had set in. In the quiet and absence, we’d stopped talking and drifted some yards apart. Each of us, I suppose, was in the strange and fevered little place where fourteen-year-old boys consider the world, which holds distant promise and makes immediate demands in unequal measures. Brad was somewhere up ahead; I was wondering about Lyndy, the girl next door, who sometimes responded when I flicked the lights of my room on and off. That was the closest I could get to speech.

All of this wondering was upended when Brad rushed around the corner, his eyes wild his mouth wide. “B…bb…b…,” he said as he ran toward me. Brad stuttered when excited, so I’d learned to wait for the word. “B…b…b…ear,” the conclusive syllable reached me just as Brad did; then they were gone, around the bend below, the sound of his feet dopplering away. I turned to look up trail, thought I heard something and a huge power-surge blew into my brain.

Later, I’d read about fight or flight response to fear, but the mild phrase does little to describe the moment. Below me, the trail bent left, and I ran toward that opening in the trees. But where the trail angled off, I went straight, running over a fifteen-foot sapling and bashing on through branches and bouncing off trunks. I was a human pinball, a panicked one, if pinballs can be panicked.

I would have kept on had I not pitched off a 3-foot ledge and landed face first. Suddenly, it was quiet; I strained to hear sounds of the pursuing bear. Nothing. Then, floating through the trees, I heard laughter. Bruised, scratched and a little stunned, I couldn’t figure this sound – what was funny? who was laughing?

Imagined or real?

Imagined or real?

Well, by now the story is clear to you, and it arrived not long after that in my woods. All those Bs added up only to Brad; there was no bear. “B…b…b…but that sure was funny.” Perhaps.

I don’t recall speaking to Brad for the rest of the day, and I took a fair amount of cleaning up and antiseptic when we finally got home. That night I dreamed of being chased by a bear. And, for summer’s remainder, whenever I climbed into the hills, I kept expecting the bear. That he never appeared made him no less real.

But some years later, when I really saw my first bear, I was so attuned to their possibility in mountain woods, that I simply sat down and watched him/her amble and mumble through some blueberry bushes.

So it is in woods imagined and real.

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Filed under General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Quote

Elegiac August

For me, and I think for many, late August always has an elegiac feel: days shorten, school nears and, suddenly, a spray of red leaves appears in a favorite maple. It is also a rich time, of course – harvest alone ensures a feeling of plenty – but summer’s waning shadows it. Still, even as time tightens, I’ve found that I sometimes vanish into late August, entering the woods of experience in one place, and later appearing somewhere, or as someone, else. What happens in the interim can feel like local magic. Here, in compressed fashion is such a vanishing.

August’s Losses

And so I wandered a good time
in the pawed blueberry scraggle
of a northern hilltop
in a field nodding too
with rich goldenrod high grass
and I got
my quart or two
by picking out single berries
small blue globes hung
still on raked bushes
by stepping also
into the pressed stalks
where he paused in each patch.
In this way I lumbered
across the hill’s brow
pale back humped to the sun, and
lost track of the hours lost
the wires’ humming voices
lost the delicate hitched chain
of my own thought
lost too my upright divide
from the life
of bears.

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

Our “Deliberate” Visitors – A Third Gathering of Their Thoughts

By Corinne H. Smith

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~ “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” WALDEN

At the end of our house tours at Thoreau Farm, we encourage people to consider how Thoreau’s philosophies apply to their own lives. How have they chosen to live deliberately? How have they turned thought into action? To share their answers, guests write their declarations on cards and tack them up on our bulletin board. Every once in a while, we collect selections to share with our online audience. Here are our favorites from our most recent visitors.



~ More nature & less stuff! Nature can calm us, protect us, and completely sustain us. We need to care for it now, more than ever. Thank you for the lessons, Henry! ~ Melissa

~ I turn to observe the natural world and share moments and revelations captured through a lens. ~ Raymond

~ I choose to do what aligns most with whatever force it is inside me that compels me to live at all. I don’t hesitate to do things differently. ~ Abby

~ I enjoy being in a private place in nature. I think about the wonderful mixture of gases that I inhale and the biochemical processes of photosynthesis that produce our oxygen, food and water. As I exhale, I thank the plants by giving them the carbon dioxide that they need to live and to continue to extend life on our unique and beautiful planet. ~ Al

~ By continuously reminding myself to come back to the present with no conceptual framework, looking at things (and people!) with wonder and full attention, and realizing the truth and beauty of the unfettered self. ~ Jonathan

~ I make sure I spend some time every day, to listen to the birds & see what nature has brought to my backyard. It brings me peace & happiness – living deliberately. ~ Amy

~ I try and probably fail more often than not. But keep trying because the alternative is unimaginable.

~ I take long walks & hikes. I write poetry. I reared two sons to recognize the earth as their precious second brother. Thank you for such a wonderful tour of Henry’s birthplace!

~ I bought my grandparents old house and am restoring it. Developers wanted to bulldoze it. I am inspired by not only HDT but those who keep his legacy alive! ~ Charles

~ Appreciating and enjoying the little things in life, which really are the big things! ~ Susan

~ I have chosen a career that is in line with my values and also would meld well with Thoreau’s ideas. I have always strived to live simply with relatively few possessions, and put more energy and intention into human and natural interactions. ~ Anoush

~ If you don’t need it – don’t throw it away – find a home for it – someone’s trash = another person’s treasure!

~ I chose to devote my life to helping my fellow veterans, who struggle with their own scars of war, both seen and unseen. I try to tell and show them that someone cares about them very much, and that we never leave our comrades behind. If I can make a difference in their lives, then I have accomplished something worthwhile. ~ JB
~ Using “old technology” in a new way. Rain barrels, battery powered lawn mower, string trimmer

~ What did Thoreau say, “only when I come to die, to find out I hadn’t lived.” So – I thought about what I wanted to be sure to have “done” “been” “experienced” “felt” – then I spelled it out — & am trying to be “deliberate” now!

~ I try not to judge people that my co-workers don’t like. ~ Mandalena

~ I have changed my life to take care of my mother who has dementia, 24 hours a day. ~ Karen

~ Listen to the birds near – and far away – learn their language – teach this to children & sow seeds for the joy of stillness, quiet, meditation for the Thoreaus yet to come … ~ Carolina

~ I believe Henry D. would smile just knowing how much he influenced my generation. ~ Bob

~ Writing a book to bring awareness to the tragedies of war I experienced as a woman & the simplistic travel around the world I needed to do to get my spirit back & how to enjoy nature & other cultures. Respect the Earth.

~ We sold our home & bought a trailer to see the world. To live deliberately takes courage. To say no to stuff & possessions is freeing.

~ Live in the moment, and be as happy as you can be. Surround yourself with people who embrace sanity.

How have YOU chosen to live deliberately?

To see more visitor responses, see our previous compilations:


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