Category Archives: The Roost

A blog at Thoreau Farm, written and edited by Sandy Stott

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: http://models.weatherbell.com/temperature.php

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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

Kid Stuff…with Thoreau

Every child begins the world again, to some extent, and loves to stay outdoors, even in the wet and cold…Who does not remember the interest with which when young he looked at shelving rocks, or any approach to a cave.  Thoreau, Walden

A number of years ago, I attended a lecture. Henry David Thoreau’s work was the subject, and the speaker was a prominent academic, an acknowledged Thoreau expert. He lost me early, when he said that Thoreau was an unsuitable subject for anyone under college age – translation: for anyone except people like me or those we teach.

I was in mid-career as a high school teacher and in no little awe of the insight and engagement that swept through the classroom as we read Walden and Walking and Civil Disobedience.

Really? I recall thinking. Would the writer who famously loved kids and celebrated the child’s clearest eye like being locked away with this particular academic? I thought not.

That moment returned to me when, a year or so ago, I got the happy news that Corinne Smith was writing a book called Thoreau for Kids. How just right, I remember thinking. And now that promise has come to publication; Corinne’s book nears its launch this Saturday.

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You all know Corinne as a master, Thoreau-inflected storyteller on this site. And many of you know her previous book about Thoreau’s last journey west, Westward I Go Free – Tracing Thoreau’s Last Journey. Here is a chance to return to the insights and joys of childhood that Thoreau might help you rediscover. And, if you have or know children, here is a chance, complete with 21 activities, for them to discover a writer and presence who can last a lifetime, a writer for all seasons of life.

Corinne’s publisher, Chicago Review Press, has an interview with her at the other end of this link: http://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/blog/behind-the-scenes-thoreau-for-kids/

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