Welcome to the relaunch of The Roost, the Thoreau Farm Trust blog begun by Wen Stephenson earlier this year. Wen, an accomplished writer and journalist, agreed to conduct a series of interviews for Thoreau Farm to launch our site, and we are grateful for his wonderful work and for the many visitors who enjoyed it and left comments. We have archived Wen’s series here so you can read them at your leisure should you have missed them earlier. Please take a look!
We at Thoreau Farm hope you will be able to visit the birth house, where you can step into the room where Henry was born, have a picnic on the expansive grounds, and learn more about the influence Thoreau has had on people around the world. But until you can come by, we hope you will continue to enjoy The Roost, which seeks to promote Thoreau Farm as a “Birthplace of Ideas” to explore ways of “living deliberately,” whoever and wherever we are.
In coming months, The Roost will be hosted and written by Sandy Stott. Sandy, chair of the English Department at Concord Academy, teaches a course called “Thoreau and Kindreds.” A hiker, outdoorsman, and writer, he was also editor of the journal Appalachia from 1990 to 1999.
Sandy’s posts will include his own musings on living life in Thoreauvian spirit, reports on what is happening at Thoreau Farm, and invitations for you to submit your own thoughts on how you interpret Thoreau’s admonition to “live deliberately.” We welcome your response!
by Sandy Stott
t seems right that before climbing to this roost to proclaim anything, or to ask questions, I should go for a walk; perhaps along the way, I’ll see something or hear the keening whistle of our local redtail. After a walk I should have something to say. After all the man who inspired the preservation of his birthplace, who lived in such close contact with his “one life at a time,” walked daily as a way to be in and of the world. And Henry Thoreau brought back reports from those walks, reports of a precision and depth that amounted to poetry, even as he wrote most of them in prose.
A walk, as Thoreau tells us at the outset of his essay “Walking,” is no simple expenditure of time and foot-power. Famously, Thoreau sets criteria that can only be met by a walker ready to cast himself or herself fully into the experience:
We go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return — prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again, settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.
The redtail actually is keening outside. If I leave my door, turn right on Main Street here in Concord, turn right again and cross the Sudbury River, and then turn right once more, I will reach the former railroad grade that runs for a mile beside the Assabet River on its way to confluence with the Sudbury, where they become the Concord River.
Perhaps, if you’ve read this far, you too should straighten your affairs, leave a note and go for a walk. We can compare notes when (if) we return.
The air has grown thick with the coming rain, and the sky is a sullen gray; yesterday’s clear, photographic air that gave every leaf an edge is gone. The mosquitoes and deer flies have returned to patrol the path by the summer-shrunken river. Does this sound promising?
And yet it is. Trees – white pines and oaks – I’ve not seen in the weeks I’ve been away in Maine are stolidly there, a few looking outsized beyond my memory, especially the white pine on the spur trail up from the river. It is a favorite tree, its single trunk rising a hundred feet in the air, its girth requiring three of us to form a hand-touching ring around it. Today, I settle for a solitary embrace of its bark-rough side. A decent year for acorns, I think, as I walk on scuffing a few into flight – good for the squirrels, who are good for the hawks.
A half-mile farther on I come upon two redtails that have trapped a gray squirrel on a tree with no escape hole. One hawk has the upper branches of the tree with their possible links to other trees covered, while the other hawk has the ground. The squirrel in a dance of anxiety runs up then down repeatedly, though as the hawks shrink the distance between them, the squirrel’s running room grows shorter too. Finally, from close range, the upper hawk drops and the squirrel leaps out hoping, it seems, to hit the ground and run off. But the lower hawk reads the arc of flight and settles to the ground, where it meets the squirrel and catches it.
That is the first time I’ve seen hawks hunt in tandem instead of being a single blade dropping from the air. I hope the squirrel had settled his affairs.
What I take from life’s uncertainty is the need to live it fully. Just steps ahead there are hawks, or perhaps a new flower, or the fox I met one day as each of us turned this trail’s corner absentmindedly and suddenly found only a few feet between us. There is no such thing as a routine walk if you are fully alive and alert, fully committed to it.
And you? What happened on your walk?