Category Archives: The Roost

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

Why My Daily Run Is Better Than Climbing Everest

We near May, and it’s the Himalayan silly season again, the narrow slice of time before the monsoon makes already extreme weather impossible for climbing. And in the various base camps beneath the planet’s grandest mountains, expeditions are arranged like little summer camps for adults. I say this because most of the climbers there are with commercial expeditions led by guides who function as counselors – they make all the decisions, set the schedules, assess the ground and sky before them. And the “campers?” They follow along, plod and haul themselves, or are guide-hauled, through unimaginable weather and terrain; occasionally, often in clusters, they even lose their lives – it is after all an extreme camp. But mostly they do as they’re told. Some come back having “climbed” to the world’s highest summit.

Today, at noon and under the springiest of skies, I stepped from my door and set out on foot for local woods. I had in mind an hour’s run, mostly of trails softened by recent rains and outlined by a cold front’s scrim of snow. Some minutes later, I reached the old railroad grade that runs alongside the Assabet River, and I turned upstream. The grade is slight and only a few root-bundles disturb its reliable surface. And so it wasn’t long before I’d fallen into a lulling cadence and my mind had drifted free. I had mountains on my mind, mostly from my habit of carrying a topo map with me for those spare moments when I’m waiting for something – a class, a colleague, a pizza. My maps usually feature the White Mountains or local USGS quadrangles, but recently the Himalayas have been in my pocket.

Pocket-world, Home Mountain

Pocket-world, Home Mountain

Perhaps that’s because I’ve been thinking about the long ago, when my parents realized a lifelong dream and walked 175 miles from Kathmandu to the Base Camp of Everest, took in those awesome uplands from 16,000 feet (took hundreds of photos too) and then walked the 175 miles back to Nepal’s capitol. I was in high school at the time and relieved to be allowed to stay there. And, of course, they brought back maps, which I read avidly. For my parents an essential part of the dream was walking the Himalayan landscape and approaching Everest under their own power. Yes, they had a Sherpa guide and small party of porters, but this was 1965, well before the trekking era set in; only sporadic expeditions of real mountaineers or oddball dreamers visited in those days.

For some reason, around that time, and despite a fascination with and affinity for the upland world, it became clear to me that I was happy confining farflung mountainscapes to maps, that I liked my local hills enough for a lifetime. And that, unlike many of my younger self’s convictions, has held.

East from Moosilauke, Another Home Mountain

East from Moosilauke, Another Home Mountain

Many years later, when Henry Thoreau’s writings became walking companions, I found expression for the deep local travel that I had intuited as a teenager. It began to seem to me that where I walked and ran was all one landscape, and that, when I traced the contours of one of my maps, I could also use my feet to follow on nearby trails. One day in midwinter I was looking out at the roof-dumped snow just beyond a plate glass door; up its vertical ice, a cold-stunned fly was climbing, making his way higher across the seracs and up the gullies. Surely, that fly was on his own Everest; it was nearby.

So too is mine. No need to hire planes and outfitters; no need to arc across the world; just unfold the local quadrangle and aim for those two bunched contours you’ve never visited…or the ones that puddle like silk dropped to the floor. They all run together underfoot.

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The Giant Leopard Moth

By Ashton Nichols

On a huge abandoned tractor tire, in the scrubby woodlot back behind the house, I find a jet-black wooly-worm style caterpillar, as long and as thick as my thumb, his prickly bristles pin-sharp to the touch. An hour later, I return to the spot and he is gone, having wandered off somewhere to weave his thick cocoon, hiding deep in the dark underbrush that separates one large farm field behind us from another.

My field guide tells me that this is a Giant leopard moth larva, Hypercompe scribonia (archaic: Ecpantheria scribona), a member of the family Saturniidae that ranges from southern New England to eastern Mexico. These are among the largest of all moth species in North America, and the family includes such beautiful giants as the luna moth, the cecropia silkmoth, and the two-eyed Polyphemus moth. We used to catch these and mount them in cigar boxes when I was young, amazed at their size and wild coloration, stunned by their furry antennae and always wondering at their astonishing lifestyles.

Leopard Moth Caterpillar - Sasha Azevedo

Leopard Moth Caterpillar

This caterpillar has hibernated here in our woodlot all winter, and now that it is one of the first warm days of April, he has emerged from his underground hiding place to feed for only a few days. Then he will get to his busy work, forming a dense and silky cocoon in which to metamorphose (what a verb!). He will emerge from his chrysalis stage in two or three weeks, now a fully-formed moth, ready to fly off and find a mate, fully developed and prepared to continue a life cycle that has been going on for who knows how many millions of years.

How can this small creature change so much—from this prickly black and red larva to a delicately winged flying machine—and how can this change possibly happen so quickly; it takes less than a full month. Where do his caterpillar body parts go? What happens to all of those prickly spines and those jagged caterpillar mouthparts, what becomes of all of those wooly worm legs? There were certainly many more than six of them. The adult moth will have just six perfectly formed legs. And what about the bright red rings that marked off his caterpillar segments; where have they gone? Where have all of these earlier parts disappeared to in their cocoon stage?

Leopard Moth Adult

Leopard Moth Adult

He emerges from his cocoon as a beautiful black and white adult with shining blue and yellow stripes on his abdomen. Sometimes this iridescent blue—almost a sapphire shiny blue—continues as spots on the top and back of his head. Such metamorphoses remain one of the truly great mysteries of nature. What genetic forces, what chemical combinations, what signals from chromosomes and developmental triggers transform that jet black and fire-engine red caterpillar into this stunning adult creature, with its delicate white wings, its fat orange abdomen, and its oh-so-sapphire blue spots. I do not know.

In his Journal for February 19, 1854, Thoreau says that it is the “mind of the universe” that is responsible for the creation of each moth’s cocoon, for the fashioning of “each particular object.” He adds that, “a kindred mind with mine” determines “how cocoons had best be suspended.” As for me, I just wonder as I wander.

Leopard Moth - Kevin Collins

Leopard Moth – Kevin Collins


Ashton Nichols holds the Walter E. Beach ’56 Distinguished Chair in Sustainability Studies in Environmental Studies and Science and is a Professor of Language and Literature at Dickinson College.





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Living Deliberately, Again

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, we encourage our visitors 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. In the “off season,” we collect selections to share with our online audience. Here are our favorites from our visitors in 2013. (To go back and read the ones from 2012, click here.)

- Ride a bike. The world becomes simpler …

- Listening to the land helps me learn how to live on my own.

- I try to speak up when I think my thoughts will make a difference. I listen to my instincts when I am not sure what to do.

- Realizing the great abundance and blessing I have – by just being aware. I have decluttered and simply given away “stuff,” realizing that relationship with “stuff” is not as important as relationship with people. (G)


- We checked off all we could from our own “list” and have now opened our home to teach about solar power / farm living. We can all do more, but at some point have to share “how” and hope to pass it on.

- We try to eat sustainably for our own health and for the environment. We keep up with current issues and thoughts and occasionally delve into history for insight.

- I try to maintain an open enough mind, so that even those who may cause me to doubt the goodness of humankind, also have something to teach me about my own nature.

- By having a nice walk into the wood of Mendon every weekend.

- I try to stay in the moment, especially by going on nature walks and paying attention to Life! (TR, Waltham MA)

- I teach, always from the perspective of the silenced. “Much Madness is divinest Sense…” ~ Emily Dickinson

- I try to treat others as I would want to be treated and RESPECTED.

- I make sure I find some time every day to listen to the birds and see what nature has brought into my backyard. It brings me peace and happiness – Living deliberately. (Amy, Stoughton)

- I have stopped using plastic where I can – storing in mason jars. I deliberately make friends and spread kindness and positivity. (Karen)

- Take care of the place you live and know where your consumption materials come from and where your trash goes. (Oliwa)

- I turn the heat way down at night without my wife knowing.

- I was an English teacher for 31 years and called my classroom “The Athena Academy.” I taught my students that the goddess of wisdom had gray eyes because that is where wisdom lies: in not thinking in black and white but instead in the infinite shades of gray. This was central to my teaching approach – deliberately echoing some of Thoreau.

- I use my time in ministry with students – helping them mature, grow in their knowledge of God and their values. I find my greatest connections with God through nature and meditation and am motivated to love others and have compassion because most men live lives of quiet desperation. (Corrie O.)

- Run with my dog off-leash through the woods observing flora and fauna, reflecting each night in the wonders I live in. Grow herbs, fruits and vegetables organically with our own compost. (Sandra B.)

- 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)

- Do what you love; love what you do.

- I am living the life I’ve imagined!

- By staying attuned to the needs, both physical and emotional, of others. By not taking too much, thereby leaving enough for others. “Leave only footprints, take only memories, kill only time.” (MS, Kauneonga LA)

- Live as if today was the last day you had. Absorb as much as you can, enjoy the learning. Make your life and the lives of others more meaningful in a way that better suits your interests and talents. (Jolante)

- What did Thoreau say? “…only when I came 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” – and then I spelled it out and am trying to be “deliberate” now.

- I believe Henry would smile just knowing how much he influenced my generation. (Bob M.)

We feel inspired by our friends’ examples. What about YOU, blog readers? How have YOU chosen to live deliberately? Our online bulletin board awaits your input.

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