A blog at Thoreau Farm
editor, Margaret Carroll-Bergman
founding editor, Sandy Stott
“I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.” –Walden, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”
By Ashton Nichols
Lovey (a.k.a. Lovey Dovey) is in residence at “Creekside,” our c. 1840 farmhouse. Lovey is a mourning dove, of the family Columbidae, and this year she has had the misfortune—largely self-imposed—of moving into last year’s sparrow’s nest for her spring mating and rearing of chicks.
She is twice the size of the sparrows who built this well-made nest last spring in our screened-in-porch. One morning Lovey’s head is hanging over the edge of the nest tucked into the brick wall of Creekside. The next morning her tail is hanging out of the nest, so far in midair that it looks as though she might plummet to the ground at any moment. But she stays firmly at her task, sitting tightly on top of those eggs, keeping the center of her small, down-lined nest at least close to her own body temperature.
The mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is one of the most common birds of wildflower fields and suburban lawns, evident in in almost all of the lower forty eight states all year round, and in summer well into British Columbia in the West—along the Alaska passage—and in the East to the top of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The call is a muffled oo-wooo-coooo-wooo, and it lasts a long time; the book says often from four to six minutes. The birds also make a loud, flapping whistle every time they take off.
Chandler Robbins’s wonderful Birds of North America (a Golden Guide to Field Identification) reports that while these doves nest singly, they feed “in flocks.” Whether in a nearby flock or off completely on his own, Lovey’s mate showed up for the first time this morning, looking extremely well fed. He sat on the nearby waist-high metal fence for a long time. Then, he flew back into the neighboring maple tree, cooing all the while, and suddenly he flew up to Lovey’s nest, landed directly on top of her, and pushed her off into the air. She flapped twice and landed nearby in the yard’s largest maple tree.
Mourning doves are one of those bird species in which the male shares egg-sitting duties with the female: she typically sits all night and he during the day. He literally nudges her out of the nest when he lands. She acts almost surprised, and yet this must have happened every day since she laid her eggs. Now he sits there quietly, turning his head from side to side, and she flies off across the yard to gather food for herself and her offspring to be.
Yesterday, for the first time, we realized that two eggs had hatched in the sparrow/dove nest and that two newborns were lying still in their down-lined space. Lovey looked as though she could not get comfortable for most of the morning. She would stand, turn around, flap her wings — singly, or in unison — then peck toward the center of her nest as though something was annoying (or pleasing) her? By the afternoon, we could see two balls of fluff, their heads barely visible amid each feathery ball.
By noon today, Lovey as mother was feeding them for the first time. She disappeared without her mate replacing her and returned within the hour to begin feeding her magic dove’s milk. Mourning doves, like their close relatives — pigeons — make a milk-like substances in their digestive tract to feed their young. It looks more like cottage cheese and it has more proteins than cows’ milk; it also has more antioxidants and immune-producing substances. So Lovey is now putting her closed beak into her squabs’ tiny mouths, opening her bill, and regurgitating this life-giving fluid into each chick’s waiting gullet.
It is a spring full of birds at Creekside this year; some mornings we virtually feel like an aviary. A nearby robin occasionally fly out from her chest-high nest into the wide yard, coming back with a worm that she swallows. Soon these worms will not be for her. So far this spring, in addition to countless robins, we have seen the usual starlings, grackles, blackbirds, and sparrows, also several cardinals, mockingbirds, nesting house wrens, and—excitingly—a fluty-throated wood thrush, the flash of two Baltimore orioles and one gorgeous brilliant bluish-violet indigo bunting.
So, keep your eyes open all spring and—with any luck—you are likely to have ornithological sights galore surrounding you!
Ashton Nichols is the Walter E. Beach ’56 Distinguished Chair in Sustainability Studies and Professor of Language and Literature at Dickinson College
By Sandy Stott
Make no mistake, Solid Seasons by Jeffrey Cramer (Counterpoint Press, release date, April 9, 2019) is a scholarly work. By page 20, liberal use of Henry Thoreau’s and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s prolific writings, has generated footnotes accruing to 60; were such a span represented by a snowstorm, the going might be deep already.
Yet, Cramer’s lucid, spare writing and deep knowledge join one quotation to the next without seeming effort. The book’s two primary characters become familiars, each one easily approached, often via the observation of the other. Cramer has a knack for choosing and integrating his subjects’ words, and from that you get sentences and stories that are easy walking. That sums to a wonderful read, both for the general reader interested in Emerson and Thoreau, and for those who feel themselves academic family to these two famous 19th-century thinkers and writers.
I spent more than 20 years teaching Henry Thoreau’s work and helping 17-year-olds plumb his presence in his and our worlds. And so I knew a number of Thoreau backstories, those narratives that arced together to help shape him. Famous among them was the enduring one that I always thought of as Henry and Waldo, or, on occasion, Waldo and Henry. Surely, without this linkage, each man’s life would have been different, substantially so. For starters, Henry’s Walden experiment might instead have been called White; or, Life in the Woods (after White Pond), or Flint’s, after the nearby Lincoln, Massachusetts pond. Or perhaps those 2+ years might have gone over to other experience and work entirely instead of being sited at Waldo’s woodlot on Walden Pond.
As Cramer points out, “Any biography [study] that concentrates on either Thoreau or Emerson tends to diminish the other figure because that person is, by the nature of the biography, secondary.” Solid Seasons has a different aim: “In this book, both men remain central and equal.”
And that is so. To achieve this balance, and so to better know the deep effects each man had on the other, Cramer has done what he does so well: He has gone deep into each man’s writings, published and unpublished, and into the galaxy of others’ words surrounding these two central American thinkers. The result is a deeply pleasing three-part book.
Part I — Solid Seasons — offers “A Biography of the Friendship.” Part II examines “Thoreau on Friendship; Selected Writings on Friendship; Thoreau on Emerson”. Part III then looks at “Emerson on Friendship; Selected Writings on Friendship; Emerson on Thoreau”; it then closes with Emerson’s famous eulogy of Thoreau.
The tracery of Part I is most fascinating. Cramer finds each man’s musings about the other in their letters and journals, and he locates them also in the letters and journals of others, Lidian Emerson, for one. These insights are attached to a scaffold of time that climbs to conclusion with Thoreau’s death. The written record Cramer develops reveals the bumpiness of this friendship and the inevitable bruisings when two such capacious minds and varied personalities find (and finally) revere each other. Thoreau’s flinty contrarian presence was rarely an easy companion for Emerson’s more accepting, universal one. And yet the pull of one on the other is always evident. What a gift that they lived together in time and place.
As if to affirm this gift, near the end of Part I, Cramer repeats Emerson’s observation from 1852: “Thoreau gives me in flesh and blood and pertinacious Saxon belief, my own ethics. He is far more real, and daily practically obeying them, than I; and fortifies my memory at all times with an affirmative experience which refuses to be set aside.”
Jeffrey Cramer is also a precise reader and writer. Here and there throughout the book, he takes on some of the apocrypha that have grown around Thoreau and Emerson. One footnote’s example unhorses the supposed exchange between the two when Thoreau is in jail for nonpayment of taxes: Emerson: Henry, what are you doing in there; Thoreau: Waldo, what are you doing out there? Cramer: “That dialog did not take place.” The truth of this relationship, Cramer implies, is ample and deep; no need for fabrication.
So Solid Seasons begins with an interleaving of Thoreau’s and Emerson’s words and actions as they find, sometimes collide with and come to love each other. Yes, they encounter famous impasse and episodic disappointments; one would expect no less of two opinionated, brilliant people, who differ in age and temperament. The book also brings them together with their ongoing efforts to know each other, and finally with Emerson’s eulogy for Thoreau that affirms both men.
This return to each other gives body to the 1878 anecdote Cramer uses to conclude Part I. It comes from a writer’s visit with Emerson near the end of his life. Emerson’s memory was fading in some measures, but strong still in much.
As the two writers talked, Emerson called out to his wife in the other room: “What was the name of my best friend?”
“Henry Thoreau,” she answered.
“Oh, yes,” said Emerson, “Henry Thoreau.”
Just so, I thought as I closed the book.
Sandy Stott is the author of Critical Hours: Search and Rescue in the White Mountains. He is founding editor of The Roost and retired chair of the English Department at Concord Academy. Sandy lives in Brunswick, Maine.
By Lawrence Millman
Thoreau Farm and the Thoreau Society sponsored the 2nd Annual Super Cup Fungus Foray on Sunday, February 3, in order to provide citizens of the Commonwealth with a healthy alternative to watching a bunch of grown men smash repeatedly into each other in an event known as the Super Bowl.
Cup fungi are somewhat smaller than a football stadium, but considerably more interesting.
We found several on the Super Cup Fungus Foray that was held in Estabrook Woods in Concord, Massachusetts.
Altogether, we found 41 different fungal species — not bad for the dead of winter.
Here’s the species list:
- Angelina rufescens (cup fungus — uncommon)
- Apiosporina morbosa (Shit on a Stick — a parasite of Prunus species)
- Bisporella citrina (cup fungus)
- Botryobasidium sp. (crust)
- Camarops petersii (Dog’s Nose Fungus — uncommon)
- Cerrena unicolor (Mossy Maze Polypore)
- Chlorosplenium chlora (cup fungus)
- Crinula caliciiformis (asexual form of Holwaya mucida)
- Daedaleopsis confragosa (Thin Maze Polypore)
- Daldinia concentrica (Cramp Ball)
- Diatrype stigma (pyrenomycete)
- Diatrypella sp. (pyrenomycete)
- Exidia recisa (Brown Witches Butter — everywhere!)
- Holwaya mucida (ascomycete — uncommon)
- Hydnochaete olivaceum (Olive Toothed Polypore)
- Hymenochaete rubiginosa (crust)
- Hypomyces pallida (on Tyromyces chioneus)
- Hypoxylon fragiforme (pyrenomycete)
- Irpex lacteus (Milk White Toothed Polypore)
- Kretschmaria deusta (pyrenomycetre)
- Nectria sp. (ascomycete)
- Lachnelulla resinacea (ascomycete on pine resin)
- Panellus stipticus (Night Light — bioluminescent)
- Peniophora meridionalis (crust)
- Phaeocalium polyporaeum (ascomycete — on Trichaptum biformis)
- Rosellinia sp. (pyrenomycete)
- Sarea resinae (cup fungus on pine resin)
- Sarea difformis (cup fungus on pine resin)
- Schizophyllum commune (Split Gill)
- Stereum complicatum (Crowded Parchment)
- Stereum ostrea (False Turkey Tail)
- Trametes cinnabarina (Cinnabar-Red Polypore)
- Trametes concyifer (Tender Nesting Polypore)
- Trametes hirsutum (Hairy Turkey Tail)
- Trametes pubescens (Pubescent Turkey Tail)
- Trametes suaveolens (Anise-Smelling Polypore)
- Trametes trogii (Big Pored Polypore)
- Trametes versicolor (Turkey Tail)
- Tremella lutescens (Witches Butter)
- Trichaptum biformis (Purple Toothed Polypore)
- Tyromyces chioneus (Cheese Polypore)
By John Hanson Mitchell
One thing we know about Henry Thoreau is that he loved owls.
“I rejoice that there are owls,” he wrote after a description of a demon-haunted night at Walden, filled with dismal screams and the melancholy forebodings of calling owls. He loved to hear their wailing, it reminded him of music and singing.
In this regard he was (as usual) a little off center as far as tradition goes. Here in the West, owls do not fare well in legend and literature. Of all the birds that inhabit the fields and forests of the world, owls have probably more legends associated with them than any another avian – not always pleasant legends at that.
For example, I had read not long ago an account of an ominous event that took place in the Protestant cemetery in Rome in 1910.
One rainy night, the famous early twentieth century Swedish physician and author, Axel Munthe, was involved in a somewhat nefarious transfer of bodies from a grave in the cemetery at Porta San Paolo. He and the gravedigger were hard at work when, out of the gloom, from behind the Cestius Pyramid, a big owl began to sound off.
Munthe was a great lover of owls and birds in general. He traveled in the highest social circles, was classically educated and a skilled physician, but a chill shot through him nonetheless. He knew that owls were the traditional the harbingers of death.
Just before the Roman emperor Antonius died, an owl had alighted on his residence. Same thing happened to Valentinian, according to Roman histories. And before the death of the great Cesar Augustus, an owl called out.
Later in history the Italians had their revenge by consuming owls or using them in net lures, but even in Munthe’s time, and well into the twentieth century, Italian peasants traveling at night would sign themselves or touch a crucifix if they heard an owl call.
Owls fare no better in English and northern European folklore. You couldn’t even mention owls in Munthe’s native Sweden without putting yourself at risk of a sorcerer’s charm, and killing one was sure to bring on ill luck. Throughout northern Europe and even into the Near East owls were considered the associates of witches and dark deeds, harbingers of a death to come, and were even used as ingredients in witches brews. Shakespeare’s weird sisters used an owlet’s wing to strengthen their foul concoction in Macbeth, and later in the play, an owl — “the fatal bellman”— shrieks just before Macbeth murders Duncan in the second act. No doubt the scream of that notorious Irish herald of death, the banshee, had its origin in the wail of the little Irish screech owl.
There used to be a legend in England that the owl was in fact a Pharaoh’s daughter, and there was even a couplet to comfort children wakened at night by the owl’s scream:
“I was once a king’s daughter, and sat on my father’s knee,
But now I’m a poor hoolet, and hide in a hollow tree.”
Curiously there are only two exceptions to this bad reputation of a perfectly innocent creature which, by the way, does inestimable good for the human community by holding down the populations of grain eating mice.
In ancient Greece the owl was considered a sacred bird, associated with wisdom and the goddess Athena. In fact in some of the statues of Athena the goddess appear with an owl’s head. This association with intelligence was even used in a wordplay by one of the greatest of the Greek heroes.
When he reached Sicily after the fall of Troy, Odysseus and his men unwisely took shelter in a cave belonging to the one-eyed Cyclops, Polyphemus. When the giant came home from tending his sheep that night, finding the sailors inside, he rolled a rock in front of the cave mouth and proceeded to eat a few men for dinner. After his repast, he asked for the name of their leader. The wily Odysseus announced that his name was Otus.
In ancient Greek, the word Otus means owl, the symbol of wisdom and Athena. But it also means “nobody.”
“My name is Nobody,” Odysseus said, in effect. Those who remember the story will recall that after the crew managed to blind Polyphemus, all the other Cyclops, hearing his bellows, came to the mouth of the cave and asked what was wrong.
“I am blinded,” Polyphemus called out.
“Who blinded you?” they asked
“Nobody,” he answered.
His fellow giants departed the scene and Odysseus aka, Nobody, or Wise Owl, and his men escaped.
The other cultures that appear to have a certain reverence for owls are certain tribes of American Indians. Archeologists excavating an eight thousand year old rock shelter not far from Marlboro, Massachusetts, found, among the bones of more edible species, the tiny hollow bones of a screech owl. The owl could have been used for ceremonial purposes, or perhaps was even kept as a pet. In historic times there are records of pet owls kept by the Mandans in the Missouri River Valley and the Zuni, who had a special reverence for owls, used to keep them in their houses. Small children were warned that they were all knowing creatures.
On a darker side, shamans in certain Midwestern tribes used to transform themselves into owls in order to attack their enemies, according to Ernest Ingersoll, who researched bird legend throughout the world.
None of these mystic emanations should be surprising to anyone who has ever been awakened by the shivering descent of a screech owl call at midnight just beyond the bedroom window, let alone the bizarre, strangled caterwauling of a barred owl from a nearby wooded swamp.
No dread in the heart of Henry Thoreau, though. It was music to his ears.
John Hanson Mitchell is a travel and natural history writer and the author of Ceremonial Time: Fifteen Thousand Years on One Square Mile. He founded and edited the Massachusetts Audubon Society journal, “Sanctuary.” Mr. Mitchell lives in Littleton, Massachusetts.
By Tom O’Malley
It is good to walk with someone who knows how to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. For modern educators, it’s a downright necessity. What with all the theories, strategies, lesson plans, faculty meetings, parent associations, and student advocacy groups, one needs to find a companion who knows how to keep his or her feet on the ground.
Over the years, 36 and counting, I’ve never found a better schoolyard companion than Henry David Thoreau. He died in 1862, but luckily he left his voice with us in the form of two wonderful books and his grand opus Journals.
Henry’s journals were not published during his lifetime, and I suspect he might not appreciate the fact that they are readily available today. He was a precise writer, fond of editing and revising his work — honing it to literary sharpness. Perhaps that is why his voice still speaks to me here in the 21st century. My life in the classroom is often a combination of problem solving, handwriting, shoulder leaning, and all sorts of listening opportunities. Through it all, Henry remains my mentor, enduring wisdom sprung from the head of Zeus and deposited on the doorway of my classroom.
Here are two lessons:
In 1836, Henry was a newly minted Harvard graduate. He was also unemployed. One day, in desperation, he visited his famous friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lived in the same neighborhood. The philosopher asked, “What are you doing now?” That is the ultimate question for students and teachers alike, one that should be asked over and over.
Henry spent the rest of his life confronting that question and using it as a guide. The answer prodded him to explore self-reliance at Walden Pond, and to create the genre of American nature writing. It also led him to prison in opposition to slavery. Good questions can shape a life. Good questions can shape a nation. As a teacher, I use Emerson’s question as a guide. What am I doing now? It connects me to my students and pushes our studies forward.
Can we learn how not to be bored? In his journal for June 27, 1840, Henry confronted boredom: ”I am living this 27th of June, 1840, a dull cloudy day and no sun shining. The clink of the smith’s hammer sounds feebly over the roofs, and the wind is sighing gently, as if dreaming of cheerfuller days.” I never realized life could be dull in the 19th century, what with all the discovering and Civil Warring going on. Yet there it is.
This is the kind of day the history books gloss over. Students often suggest that this is a world without computers, Blu-rays, or social media. What can you expect but boredom? Still, not one to give in, Henry found that boredom could be a useful part of life. He did this by taking up journal writing in a serious way. I like people who turn a perceived bad into a perceptive good, and that’s what he did. Notice the good, careful observation on that 27th of June entry. It’s just an ordinary day, but Henry turned it into something special by paying attention and then writing about it. There’s a lesson in all this for my students.
Journal writing went on at an almost daily pace for Henry, and it does for my students as well. Often times writers sit and wait for those moments of inspiration. I often see my students waiting for the Muse to descend and inspire them. Yet, as Thomas Edison pointed out, “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” This applies to writing as well.
Henry found this out on January 29, 1851 when he wrote: “Of all the strange and unaccountable things, this journaling is the strangest. It will allow nothing to be predicted of it. Its good is not good, nor its bad bad. If I make a huge effort to expose my innermost wares to light, my counters seem cluttered with the meanest homemade stuffs, but after months or years I discover the wealth of India…”
See what I mean? There’s no waiting around for writing or most kinds of learning. It is really a matter of rolling up your sleeves and getting to work. There is magic in this work.
In the end, good writing requires patience, confidence and discipline. The writer needs faith that the ideas in his of her head can be fleshed out, sharpened and transferred onto the page. That is no easy task as anyone who has stared at the blank page will verify. Yet, walking with Henry will keep the journey interesting, and fuel the imagination every step of the way.
Tom O’Malley is an adjunct professor of English at Canisius College.
By Ken Lizotte
President Thoreau Farm Trust
As we all know, Henry loved children and they loved him. Though he never sired any of his own, a natural mutual attraction could not be missed that lasted his entire lifetime. Even on his deathbed, he asked that neighboring children be let into his room.
Which raises the obvious question that today echoes the title of Thoreau Farm’s current book of essays What Would Henry Do? That question is: if Henry were alive today, what would he think, what would he say, what would he do about what’s happening to our children?
What would Henry think for example about the hundreds of children literally kidnapped by our Federal government, separated from their natural parents just because they crossed our southern borders to escape tyranny in their home countries that threatened their children’s very lives?
And what would Henry think (and say) about the thousands upon thousands of children abused over so many, many decades by the Catholic Church? Only now coming to light are countless crimes covered up by Church authorities who could have, and should have, done something to stop them yet did nothing.
What would Henry think, say and do about the horrors of human trafficking, preying upon teenagers worldwide? Or gun violence that has slaughtered school children of all ages? Or parental abuse, drug epidemics, teenage suicide rates?
It is all so unthinkable that this goes on and on without the slightest hint of help from those who have sworn an oath to protect our children from such atrocities. Instead government authorities (Congress mostly) pay us only lip service.
Using this question in our book’s title as a guide — what would Henry do? — we must ask ourselves now what will we do? Please think of Henry when you respond, as in:
- Speak out against war, slavery and discrimination
- Engage when all else fails in civil disobedience
- Participate in a modern-day underground railroad
- Write a blog or letter or article or book
- Campaign for candidates who seem likely to actually do something, not just call for a “moment of silence” and then forget and ignore the issue
- Contribute to social and political organizations actively fighting for our children’s rights and lives, such as the ACLU and other human rights advocacy groups
If you agree, please join me in taking one step, however small, today, then another tomorrow. By banding together, we can end these horrors. Adhering to Henry’s notion of a life of principle, and imagining what Henry himself might think, say and do if he were with us today, we can surely overcome.
by John Hanson Mitchell
On a clear night recently, two local scientists spotted a strange, long-necked aquatic animal rising above the surface of Long Lake in Littleton, Massachusetts.
Dr.Timothy Ahearn. who holds a degree in aquatic biology, and Dr, Lawrence Millman, an ethnographer and an authority on aquatic animals, were boating along the shores of the lake around 11 PM when they saw a large serpent-like form rise out of the water. The creature stared at them briefly and then arched its back and submerged.
“It looked like your classic Loch Ness Monster, “ Millman said. “Or descriptions I’ve read of Lake Champlain’s creature, Champy, and I would have thought I imagined it, except that Tim saw it too.”
“Neither Larry nor I could believe what we saw,” Dr Ahearn said, “but after it disappeared, our mutual descriptions matched. The thing rose no more than four or five feet above the water and it had a slim snake-like body and a head that resembled some sort of reptilian otter. In fact, we both at first thought it was an otter, but its body was too slim and snake like and far too long.”
Long Lake, it should be said, does harbor some unique aquatic species. Every August, a host of nickel-sized jelly fish appear en masse in the waters. These were identified a few years ago as Craspedusta sowerbii, a rare species of freshwater jellyfish that occurs in the Yellow River in China, as well as Long Lake and a few other sites in North America.
And Dr. Ahearn, who lives on the lake, has seen a giant water scorpion just below the clear black ice, also immense water bugs. Eels, black water snakes and an unusually large snapping turtle have also been seen in the lake over the years. Furthermore, there was a legend among the local Nashobah Village Indians of a lake creature know as the Ap’chinic, although that “species” lived in Nagog Pond, and was more like a giant octopus.
Dr. Millman, who is a Research Associate at Harvard University, spent several afternoons reviewing the literature on Native American lore and historical reports of local sea serpents but could find no reports, other than the Ap’chinic, and several sightings of a sea serpent in Massachusetts Bay in the mid 19th century, later disputed.
Sea serpents, lake monsters, winged snakes, dragons and the dreaded, ship-swallowing, deep water squid known as the Kraken are, of course, the stuff of legend and myth. But as geographers, anthropologists and crypto-zoologists, point out, the legends and folk-tales of pre-literate cultures often reflect real creatures and prehistoric geologic events such as world-wide floods and ice mountains.
For example, the Nashobah people, a seventeenth century group of Christianized Indians believed that the four winds were trapped inside Nagog Hill and would periodically roar and thunder and shake the very earth. Geologist later determined that the area is an epicenter for earthquakes.
Loch Ness and Lake Champlain are known for their depths, and were both connected to the sea after the retreat of the glacie, the theory being that Pleistocene sea creatures were trapped in the lakes when the lands rose after the ice retreated. Long Lake, by contrast is shallow and spring fed, not prime territory for monsters of the deep.
One other detail, for what it’s worth, is the fact that the Long Lake serpent was seen around Halloween, a period when cultures around the world record extraordinary events; the dead can walk, spirits rise from the earth, and bats, witches, dragons, flying snakes and other “mythic” creatures course through the air.
It is also the time of year when the so-called Wild Hunt would pass over. Ghostly hunters, eternally damned, would touch down on earth in this season in the form of high winds and carry people away, only to have them return weeks, or even months later with no memory of where they had been.
So why not a local Long Lake primordial water dragon?
“This thing was benign,” Millman said. “Not dangerous. It just stared at us briefly in curiosity. Littleton should be honored to host such a rare being.”
John Hanson Mitchell is a travel and natural history writer and the author Ceremonial Time: Fifteen Thousand Years on One Square Mile. He founded and edited the Massachusetts Audubon Society journal, “Sanctuary.” Mr. Mitchell lives in Littleton, Massachusetts.
Celebrate 20 Years of Preserving Henry’s Birth House with NPR’s Jack Beatty, Authors Diane Ackerman and Lucille Stott
Join us for one or more of our many programs during your 20th anniversary weekend, Saturday, November 16 through Sunday, November 18.
A Principled Life: Panel Discussion
Saturday, November 17, 2018, 3 PM, Concord Academy’s Performing Arts Center, 166 Main Street, Concord, MA
Historians Robert Gross and Jayne Gordon and documentary filmmaker Joseph Stillman are the featured panelists. Audience participation is encouraged!
Suggested donation $10 at the door includes the 4PM film preview of “Citizen Clark… A Life of Principle”; students free. Please RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org .
Sponsored by Thoreau Farm, the Thoreau Society, and Maguire Associates.
READ ON FOR MORE 20th ANNIVERSARY EVENTS!
Citizen Clark … A Life of Principle
Saturday, November 17, 2018, 4 PM, Concord Academy’s Performing Arts Center, 166 Main Street, Concord, MA
Following the panel discussion will be a 4 PM preview of Citizen Clark … A Life of Principle, a documentary about former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, that features NYPD Frank Serpico, who is also a producer of the film. A Q & A with the film’s director, Joseph Stillman, follows the film.The Nov. 17 events are open to the public.
Suggested donation $10 at the door includes the 3PM panel discussion; students free. Please RSVP email@example.com
Sponsored by Thoreau Farm, the Thoreau Society, and Maguire Associates.
READ ON FOR MORE 20th ANNIVERSARY EVENTS!
Celebrate the 20th Year Anniversary of the Purchase of Thoreau Farm
Sunday, November 18, 2018, 1:30 PM, Thoreau Farm
Join Thoreau Farm Trust as the Town of Concord dedicates a plaque to those who contributed to the initial acquisition of the Breen Farmstead/Thoreau Birth House.
This event is free and open to the public. RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org
READ ON FOR MORE 20th ANNIVERSARY EVENTS!
Author talk, “Saving Thoreau’s Birthplace: How Citizens Rallied to Bring Henry Out of the Woods”
Sun., Nov., 18, 2 PM, Thoreau Farm, 341 Virginia Road, Concord, MA
Lucille Stott, former president of Thoreau Farm Trust and former editor of The Concord Journal, presents her new book, “Saving Thoreau’s Birthplace: How Citizens Rallied to Bring Henry Out of the Woods.” The book launch will be followed by an author reception and book signing.
This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.
RSVP info@Thoreaufarm.org .
Sponsored by Thoreau Farm and the Thoreau Society.
By Tom O’Malley
“The life in us is like the waters in a river,” HDT
What is it about rivers?
They pull us in and push us along. Sometimes, rivers will sweep us away, but I think that is only because they get excited when we accept their invitations. Rivers can be sociable, but can get out of control in their enthusiasm. Funny, I live right near a famous river, the Niagara. I have swam in it, boated on it, walked along it and have been hypnotized by it. My wife Meg and I love to drive along the Canadian side of the Niagara from Fort Erie to Niagara on the Lake. It is a time machine with passing glimpses of British forts and quiet villages. Such a slow and pretty drive.
Still, I don’t feel the warm attachment to this river that I do for the Concord River in Massachusetts. The Niagara is a powerful god, a Poseidon the earth shaker, a ribbon of fear that sweeps toward oblivion at the Falls. If the Niagara is a time machine, then the Falls are the fearful Apocalypse that lurks in the darker pages of the Bible.
The Concord is the river of peace, as its name suggests. I prefer its Algonquin name, the Musketaquid or river of grassy banks. This river moves so slowly that Nathaniel Hawthorne, an avid boater, was never sure of the direction of its current when he lived up at Emerson’s Old Manse in the 1840’s.
I have walked and paddled on the Concord many times. It is never a fearful place, even when I was caught in a rainstorm a few years ago. The trees and bridges seem to spring up whenever shelter is required. The gentle river is always inviting , protective and generous.
As I floated down the Concord just a short time ago, I couldn’t help but recall my secret image of this river as a concrete image of time. In fact, the Concord is timeless. We floated past 18th Century farm houses shaded by trees that were seeded during the American Revolution. I could clearly feel and see Emerson walking along the banks with Henry Thoreau. Their poetry was written on these waters and continues to nourish the generations that spring up along its shore. Geese still jet over our heads while frogs sit meditating on logs.
Soon we approach the Old North Bridge, surely the birthplace of American independence. It is hard to imagine that an epic battle was once fought in these pastoral fields. To our right, we see the Old Manse, a house built by Reverend William Emerson and home to his grandson Ralph Waldo Emerson and later to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who enjoyed writing haunting stories while watching the river float by his window.
Back on land, time seems like a straight line as we mark off the days, months and years. While we are carried along by this mystic water, time has no meaning. The Native peoples still make treaties near Egg Rock, while up ahead, stout Concord farmers trade their plows for muskets. The transcendentalists learn to see heaven on earth, and I float along through all of it in the company of those I love the most. Here there is no dreary human time, only the bells of shared experience and visible manifestations of wonder. Every time.
Tom O’Malley is an adjunct professor of English at Canisius College.
By Lucille Stott
I had the pleasure recently of meeting Huey Coleman — of Films By Huey — and his wife, Judy Wentzell, in Brunswick, Maine, where Huey was screening his feature-length documentary, Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul. Thirteen years in the making, this engrossing film celebrates Thoreau’s short but rich life in images, interviews, and music.
With the expert help of Thoreau biographer Laura Dassow Walls, who served as lead scholar consultant, Huey traces that life from Thoreau’s birth on Thoreau Farm to his death in the “Yellow House” on Main Street. Though a good portion of the film centers on Walden Pond, Huey doesn’t allow Thoreau’s legendary time there to overwhelm the fuller life story, which was more varied, nuanced, and communal than so many people realize. The Henry depicted on screen, much like the man who emerges from Walls’s groundbreaking biography, is the Thoreau that the birthplace has always sought to celebrate: the son, the friend, the citizen, the forward-thinking guide to a better future.
Throughout the film, we’re treated to interviews by more than thirty prominent scholars, writers, and activists, among them Robert Gross, Robert Richardson, Howard Zinn, Robert Bly, Bill McKibben, Ron Hoag, Beth Witherell, and Tom Blanding. But we also hear from local Thoreauvians, including Concord’s Joseph Wheeler, the first president of the Thoreau Farm Trust, who was born on Thoreau Farm, and the late, great Walter Brain, who notes that the correct way to pronounce Thoreau’s name is by placing the accent on the first syllable: THOReau. Those who have visited Thoreau Farm will recognize several shots of the interior, where both Joe Wheeler and Laura Walls were interviewed.
Like Thoreau, the film remains mainly in and near Concord but does venture outside its borders to places Henry visited, including the Maine Woods, Staten Island, and Minnesota. At one point, Huey visits the site of the Walden Project, an outdoor alternative public education program in Vergennes, Vermont, serving students in grades 10-12. As students read from well-worn copies of Walden, they show us that Thoreau, so popular among the children of his own time, can still win the affection of today’s young. In another significant segment, he interviews members of Maine’s Penobscot Nation, one of whom, Darren Ranco, is the great-great-nephew of Joe Polis, Thoreau’s guide on his third and last trip to the Maine woods.
There is also an intriguing visit with video game developer Tracy Fullerton, who has created a game that allows players to experience a virtual life at Walden Pond.
The cinematography, particularly when focused on the natural landscapes, is beautifully envisioned and edited, and the evocative music, coordinated by folk musician and composer Dillon Bustin (former executive director of Concord’s Emerson Umbrella), was taken entirely from the Thoreau family’s songbook.
To view a trailer for the film, purchase DVDs for home or classroom viewing, and find dates for future screenings, visit www.filmsbyhuey.com. It is well worth the trip.
Lucille Stott is a charter board member emerita and former president of Thoreau Farm Trust. Follow Lucille on new blog, “Touchstone.”
By Deborah Bier
“I’m looking for friends,” said the Little Prince. “What does tamed mean?” “It’s something that’s been too often neglected. It means, ‘to create ties’…” “…[i]f you tame me, we’ll need each other. You’ll be the only boy in the world for me. I’ll be the only fox in the world for you…” The Fox and the Little Prince (The Little Prince, Saint-Exupery, 1943)
The most prominent tree at Thoreau Farm, Birth House of Henry David Thoreau, is a tall and splendid Northern Catalpa, located beside our parking lot. It lends grandeur and scale to not just the 1878 Kitchen Garden, but to the entire property.
The Northern Catalpa is a fast-growing native tree with rot-resistant wood. She is one of the first features visitors see, and often they pause with her before moving on to the house.
Its trunk and branches can tend to twist and bend. Ours has a large branch a few feet above and parallel to the ground, that bends and swoops like an elephant’s trunk, tempting visitors to touch and pat her as they walk by.
Before the birth house opened to the public for the first time in 2010, we oh-so-wise board members agreed: that Catalpa tree should be cut down. However, for reasons none of us can actually recall, it was left standing. Looking at her, I am awash with relief, though no one now can remember what we were thinking when we all voted to have her removed.
“My life is monotonous…I’m rather bored. But if you tame me, my life will be filled with sunshine. I’ll know the sound of footsteps that will be different from all the rest…The only things you learn are the things you tame…” The Fox to the Little Prince
Because I created, manage, and tend our Kitchen Garden, I spend scores of hours annually near this tree. Bit-by-bit, she’s slowly “tamed” me, and I’ve come to adore her in every season. She’s a sweet friend who smiles over the garden. I have come to need her in my view.
But I have a confession to make: I used to heartily dislike Catalpa trees. I can’t quite say why. Their long, dried “string bean” seed pods make a mess. I found the enormous leaves too big to please my personal esthetic. And those flowers: I found them from a distance to be quite tacky.
But I’d never seen the blooms up close before, which totally revolutionized my view of Catalpa, and began my seeing our tree in a new light. She’s very amenable to a face-to-flower close-up for anyone taller than four feet, taming with her sultry and copious blooms in snowy white with orange and purple markings on their throats. They grow in lovely clusters, which decorate the tree in beautiful profusion in June. They have a light scent that for me is almost touches a memory I can’t quite grasp before the smell dissipates.
I still am not a fan of those seed pods, which can be up to 20 inches long! They fall in equal profusion in the fall. Between flower and pod fall, the leaves shed in the fall, too, after turning a stunning yellow. Any tree that requires three clean-ups a year (one each for flower, leaves, and pods) is what I consider “high maintenance.” But it turns out, I think she’s worth it.
And when the time to leave was near: “Ah!” the fox said. “I shall weep.” “It’s your own fault,” the little prince said. “I never wanted to do you any harm, but you insisted that I tame you…” The Fox and the Little Prince.
The Catalpa is not a long-lived tree, some living only 50 years, though they can live much longer in the best conditions. We had wondered how old ours was, and working in the garden one day a few years ago, two visitors provided clarity. They were a pair of the Breen sisters, part of the last generation of children who grew up in the house, daughters of the farm’s last private owner. They revealed that the tree was planted to mark the birth of their youngest sister. It’s in that way we learned the tree’s age, now around 65 years. Given that the Northern Catalpa typically grows to a height of 40–60′ with a spread of 20–40′ at maturity (according to the Arbor Day Foundation), we can see that our tree has likely reached her full glory.
This past fall, a storm brought down a massive branch, really an entire section of the tree. We discovered that our Catalpa is not fully well. In fact, her main trunk has become hollow, which can just barely be seen by looking up at the gaping hole that’s opened in her torso, located over six feet above ground. This tree’s time is perhaps not immediately neigh, but her end moves into sight.
When I think of her no longer gracing that spot, I am touched by grief. Despite her failing strength, she bloomed magnificently this year with her usual timing. I ponder that if I had never had the chance to fall in love with her, I wouldn’t have become so sad at her anticipated departure. But our relationship was entirely worthwhile; now no other Catalpa is “our” Catalpa, as the time I’ve spent with her has made her special to me.
I muse about the possibility of replacing her with another special tree, something native – perhaps a blight-resistant American Elm or Chestnut? But that would be a tree I haven’t met yet – one that is not yet special to me.
Said the fox, “Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
Deborah Bier is a rabid gardener and a board member of Thoreau Farm Trust. She is a best-selling author and a dementia behavior specialist.
By Richard Higgins
I was startled a few years ago when the man training me in CPR, a very safety-conscious person who had saved many lives, declared flatly that there were no accidents.
Car crashes are not accidents, he replied. “They always could’ve been prevented with adequate forethought or risk assessment. Yes, that could mean not passing, not taking a certain road or not driving at all, but if that’s the cost of your life, it’s worth it.” I grudgingly had to admit he was probably right.
Sandy Stott makes the case for prudence more firmly in his book Critical Hours: Search and Rescue in the White Mountains, a compendium of heroism and hubris in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. The hubris comes from hikers who perished (or nearly did) near those peaks, and over the course of the book their tales tumble together into an avalanche of poor choices and missed cues. The heroism comes from the hundreds of dedicated volunteers and professionals who test their own limits as they yank injured, dazed or frozen people from the jaws of danger again and again.
In recent years, search and rescue has become more necessary and more challenging, writes Stott, himself a seasoned hiker and former editor of the Appalachian Mountain Club journal Appalachia. The promise of safety from cell phones, locator beacons and other high-tech devices has made recreational hikers, and sometimes even experienced ones, overconfident. And the hell-bent, triathlon-before-breakfast extreme fitness culture has turned to mountains paths for endurance training.
Critical Hours is partly a history of hiking, from the Romantic era forward, and of search and rescue efforts when the hiking goes awry, as well as the culture behind each, partly an inquiry into why we ascend summits and partly a biography of Mount Washington—all wrapped around a series of rescue stories Stott analyses for lessons.
The mistakes take many forms: not knowing the weather forecast, hearing but ignoring it, being fooled by mildness at the base, setting off too late, being experienced or poorly equipped and leaning over a waterfall. A missed trail sign, glove dropped or twisted ankle can snowball into full-blown crisis. While most of those who make such mistakes live to tell about it, the rescues are not always pretty or even truly necessary. My favorite numbskull is the large man who reported a badly sprained ankle, which required alternating teams of 12 men to carry him down in a litter—and then, in the parking lot, pronounced himself better and got up and walked away.
Trouble above the tree line is not confined to the clueless or naïve, Stott tells us, noting that even Henry David Thoreau nearly lost the trail in a fog on Mount Washington. Even legendary climbers of the Whites are not immune. One famous hiker, Bill Curtiss, was so strong and fit at age 67 that doctors could not believe the deep musculature of his chest. Unfortunately, their discovery came during an autopsy. Curtis was consumed by winter’s fury atop Washington.
Stott is well equipped to narrate the tragedies.. Born into a family of hikers—his father performed one of the rescues in the book — he is steeped in the history and culture of the White Mountains. And insightful about why some of us are driven to extreme challenges.
He is very good at describing the twilight dimming effect of hypothermia of the body, how it slowly robs first our physical, then our mental, faculties. Indeed, the weather is almost a character in this book, and its personality is fickle and sometimes cruel as it teases or deceives us about its true intentions.
Self-awareness, the ability to see and take in actual conditions, regardless of preconceived thoughts or expectations, and alertness to potential perils, Stott says, is the only the way to avoid becoming an anecdote in any sequel to this book. A little fear doesn’t hurt either. In Moby Dick, the second mate, Stubb, declares that he won’t allow a man in his whaleboat who doesn’t have a healthy fear of the whale.
Those who ignore the perils will likely be rescued by the large and increasingly professional network of private and government rescuers. But these teams have their work cut out for them. Prometheus was in bad enough shape when he had merely stolen fire from the gods. Now that we, his descendants, have GPS, emergency locator beacons and various other high-tech gizmos, it seems inevitable that the vultures will have a lot more picking to do.
Richard Higgins is the author of Thoreau and the Language of Trees.
By Lorraine Martin
Some might wonder – why write about apples in late spring? Surely, that’s for the autumn, when we, here in New England, can think of little else. Well, perhaps it’s more that apple trees, rather than apples themselves, are speaking to me right now.
Their distinct shape is particularly noticeable at this time of year in late spring. There they are, small, wide, kinda gnarly-looking, prepubescent, gawky and tween-like. I grew up in the southeast of England, where apple trees are common in the back-gardens (yards) of suburban homes. At least, we had one.
Our back-garden was a delight; maybe 30x15ft, the neighbor’s stone garage making half a boundary to the left, a tall wooden fence and our coal bunker forming one to the right. The far end, for many years, looked onto what I saw as a big vacant “field,” but which was really an overgrown space in-between housing parcels, the last vestige of the field that existed before all the houses on “Longfield Road” were built. To me, as a young girl, this area which extended beyond the safe confines of our well-tamed garden, was a thrilling, wild, land of mystery, which the grown-up Thoreauvian in me still feels. My brother, 3 ½ years older than I, would camp out there with his friends, but only occasionally would I myself venture in.
I remember, it was this wildness at the back of our house which made our house unique to me. We were the only ones who had this extra “space,” and it gave me a sense of freedom from suburbia which I loved. Our house was also special to me because of the view from the front: from my bedroom window, as we were the only house with no house built directly opposite us, I could see way off into the distance, across the “Green Belt” fields, even spying, on a clear day, an ancient windmill in the next small town over.
My mother filled the front garden with flowers: roses, irises, red-hot pokers, daffodils and tulips, and she lined the pathway with pansies, and all manner of small, colorful plants. Roses were abundant in the back garden, too, and honey-suckle cascaded over the fence near the kitchen window, whose deep-scented aroma filled my girlhood summer evenings. But the back garden was dominated by two glorious trees: the apple and the pear. Mum and Dad planted the trees the year they moved into the new house, and the trees and the house aged together. Over the years, the garden filled up with red currant, black currant, and gooseberry bushes, even a huge, rambling blackberry bush whose soft, sun-warmed fruit was there for the snacking all summer long. But right in the middle stood the glorious, old, white-blossomed pear tree, alongside the pink-blossomed apple tree, both providing fruit and beauty from early spring to late fall. They grew taller and taller, wider and wider, and dad had to constantly prune, just to keep them manageable, until I noticed a turn; Dad couldn’t stop cutting, and the trees grew smaller and smaller, eventually, I realized, becoming a symbol for the axe-words which were cutting my parents’ hearts on the inside of the house.
And yet, the apple tree, along with all the other fruit in the garden, provided so much sustenance. Mum would say, “take the colander, and go get…,” and off I’d go, gathering apples for Sunday dinner’s pie, or rhubarb for that night’s “grutze.” Growing up in-between the wars in Germany taught my mother a thing or two about living off the land. Thoreau would have approved, I think. I now live in Stow, Massachusetts, or “Apple Country,” as it’s known. A transplant, just like the apple tree.
Lorraine Martin is the membership coordinator for the Thoreau Society.
By Tom O’Malley
No walls to interfere
With the sweeping winds of change
And the storm of ideas you found
Here — so long ago.
Your roof is the endless sky
Of succulent colors
Filtered through the breath
And the hidden language of birds
Who love to gather by your open
And sing you to wakefulness.
So fitting here
Where we stand silent
Receiving the welcome blessing
Of your words
And the life you still live
Tom O’Malley is an adjunct professor of English at Canisius College.
By Corinne H. Smith
When Richard Smith moved to West Virginia at the end of 2017, he left behind nearly a two-decade legacy of portraying Henry David Thoreau in Concord, especially at Walden Pond, where he greeted visitors as Henry in the Thoreau house replica on a regular basis.
Last summer while Smith was contemplating his move, another Thoreauvian, Brent Ranalli, was exploring the idea of taking his efforts at historical interpretation to the next level. Ranalli did not know there would soon be an opening for some one to portray Henry David Thoreau in June 2018.
Ranalli’s path first intersected with the Thoreau crowd when he participated in a panel presentation at The Thoreau Society Annual Gathering in 2009. The subject of the session was the publication of Environment: An Interdisciplinary Anthology, a textbook which Brent helped to edit. He quickly felt a camaraderie with the people involved and attending the conference. He has been a regular presenter at each Gathering ever since.
Ranalli is interested in Thoreau’s fascination with Native Americans. He admires how Thoreau was able to take on a walking style that many of his friends equated with that of an American Indian. Ranalli has written and spoken about Thoreau’s gait, as reported by the people who were close to Henry. His research made him wonder: Why not study Thoreau’s gait by donning Henry’s style of clothing and portraying Thoreau himself? Ranalli began to gather parts of the wardrobe and the props he would need for this venture.
Meanwhile, Visitor Services Supervisor for Walden Pond State Reservation, Jennifer Ingram was responsible for finding a new historic interpreter who could portray Henry and fill the void Smith had left. Over the winter, Ingram sent queries to members of the local historical collaborative in Concord. While she pursued some leads, none of the applicants seemed to fit the position.
Ranalli eventually heard about this new opening through The Thoreau Society, where he is a member, and contacted Ingram. She was immediately impressed. He certainly had the background and the interest; was in the right age range; and had the right build to portray Thoreau.
Ingram had a final test for Ranalli, however. The two met at the Pond office one day, and went to sit in the replica for an hour. Ingram felt that this experience would be critical for the prospective Thoreau. It would offer the reality of the interpretation. If the potential Henry didn’t feel comfortable being in this space, or if he felt he had to leave after a few minutes, then that would be that.
Instead, Ranalli stayed.
“It felt comfortable,” he said. “One could make a home there. With the replica furniture and the working wood stove, the house definitely feels authentic. It makes it easy to enter the world of the 1840s.”
He had not only passed Ingram’s test, but one of his own. And, he interacted well with the public who stopped by the house that day to meet Henry.
This month, Ranalli did his first Henry gig at an Acton elementary school. (He was careful not to talk to any classes that included his own sons as students.) He reports that the appearance went well. He was stymied only once. This was when someone asked what kind of car Thoreau would drive, if he were alive today. (I suggested that Thoreau would be likely to take public transportation.) Yet, Ranalli feels as though he has already gained a deeper understanding of the author-naturalist by stepping into his shoes.
Brent Ranalli will portray Henry Thoreau at Walden Pond State Reservation on Sunday, May 27, 2018, beginning at 1 p.m. Be sure to stop by and chat with him as he “is” Henry at the house replica. Just don’t ask him about cars!
Corinne Smith is the author of Henry David Thoreau for Kids among other books; a frequent contributor to The Roost; and is a tour guide at Thoreau Farm.
By Lucille Stott
“Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”
― Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”
I stood on the balcony of the Roberts’ apartment overlooking the Boulevard de Strasbourg, watching students and riot police face off against each other. On this mild, sunny afternoon in mid-May, the scene felt surreal, like a bewildering moment in a Buñuel film. I don’t remember who charged first, but suddenly the two groups were on each other. Students hurled rocks, wielded tree branches, and yelled obscenities. Riot police fogged the air with tear gas and swung their nightsticks as they charged forward in a bloc.
I had my Kodak Instamatic camera in hand and started snapping photos. Two of the riot police knocked down a protester, and while one held him down, the other pummeled him again and again with his nightstick.
When I raised my camera again, I heard a cry from behind. My French mother, Madame Robert, was yelling for me to get back inside. I had never seen her so upset, and she had never once spoken to me in anger in the more than six months my roommate and I had been boarding with her family during our junior year in Paris. After getting me out of sight and back into her living room, Madame Robert started to cry. What if the riot police had spotted me? She was sure they would have stormed upstairs, smashed my camera, arrested me, and punished the Robert family.
Usually calm and reserved, Madame Robert had grown increasingly anxious as the street violence in Paris had escalated and the blare of sirens had become the soundtrack to our nights. After hauling me in from the balcony, she told me she had been suffering terrifying flashbacks to her childhood during the Nazi Occupation, when sirens had raged all night throughout the city, and she’d cowered in her parents’ bed. Her son was out there with the protesters, she reminded me, and even at home during the daylight hours, she didn’t feel safe.
For the first time since the student-led riots had begun in early May, I felt connected emotionally to what was happening around me. At 21, I was in Paris with the Hamilton College Junior Year Abroad program mainly to have fun and grab a bit of learning on the side. Most of our university classes had been suspended by then, and my American friends and I felt justified in not cracking our books. As we told each other repeatedly, history was being made in front of our eyes. The slogans scrawled on walls bore us out: “Power is in the streets!” “It’s forbidden to forbid!”
Youth uprisings like this one had been occurring in other countries — Mexico, Poland, West Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Brazil, even the Soviet Union — since early in 1968, and were to continue throughout the spring. The rebellion at Columbia University in the U.S., which had erupted in early April, had definitely grabbed our attention from afar. Yet of all the youth protests that occurred around the world during the first half of 1968, the Paris riots in May have become the most romanticized probably because, well, they happened in Paris. Immortalized in books and on film, the student uprising in the City of Light became lasting symbols of student disillusion and alienation.
For weeks, our tendency to treat the street riots as performance art had kept me immune from the dark side of these events. But witnessing the reality of the violence and seeing Madame Robert so shaken changed all that for me. I felt her fear and hated that what was happening in the street below was causing her to relive long-ago trauma. And I still have the Kodachrome reminders of what it looked and felt like to watch brutality up close and be powerless to do anything to stop it.
A big factor in the way I experienced those weeks was the fact that I wasn’t sharing my life on social media. I had no cell phone, no email, no Twitter, no Instagram, no Internet. There was no such thing as a 24-hour news cycle. It took five days for an airmailed letter to cross the Atlantic. International calls were hard to manage and very expensive. Out on the street, I was on my own. I couldn’t text a friend, my French family, or the director of our program with a question or concern. Today, the joke is, “If it’s not on Facebook, is it really happening?” It was really happening.
This month, France is marking the 50th anniversary of May ’68. When I think back on the passion that galvanized a small, but visible segment of my generation in France and at home, so many years ago, I do so with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m sad to have lost the wide-eyed, youthful exuberance that made optimism so natural and imagined positive change to be within reach. On the other hand, I took away from that month in Paris a lifelong aversion to extremism, no matter what side it professes to support. Back then, we over-estimated how much our generation could change the world, and the causes we fought for were undermined at times by the things I found so troubling in Paris: fanaticism, exploitation, self-interest, macho posturing. But the world did change after May ‘68—sometimes because of us, sometimes in spite of us. As someone who came of age in 1968 and is now merely “of age,” my years place me squarely with the old but my hope still rests with the young. What would be truly radical would be for us to bridge our generational divide and share what we have — melding knowledge with vision; experience with energy —and change the world together. Now that would be a revolution.
Lucille Stott is a charter board member emerita and former president of Thoreau Farm Trust. Check out the three entries on Lucille’s new blog, “Touchstone,” for a more in-depth look at the events of Paris ’68.
By Tom O’Malley
In this time of war, I am not surprised to see the planet Mars burning brightly in the night sky. Ah, Mars, the red planet. No other heavenly body calls up such fantastic images in the human imagination. My Mars is the Mars of Ray Bradbury, a frail, sand-tossed world where elegant alien creatures await the demise of their species aboard fabulous ships that ply the wine-dark waters of their evaporating canals. Mars. I have seen your polar caps through the lens of a small backyard telescope, and have conjured pictures of ice and water flowing down to byzantine towns along the equator.
I remember back in 1969 when Neil Armstrong was kangarooing on the lunar surface, enthusiastic NASA men were predicting human landings on Mars by 1980. I planned to go myself, until I found out that advanced Math was required in the astronaut world. So here we are in the 21at century, and there are no footprints on the red planet yet!
Last year, Mars was one of the brightest objects in the night sky. I did not want to pass up the opportunity to get a good look at our celestial neighbor, so my daughter Nora and I headed out to our cabin in the country to get an undistorted view of this mysterious planet. We arrived a bit before dark. Everything was quiet as the sun descended into the treetops. Our resident barred owl hooted welcomes to the evening.
Back up in the woods, the chickadees and jays settled into their night time perches. Off in the distance, a lone coyote barked. Nora and I sat on the porch step waiting. She looked back to the house.
“Look,” she cried.
I turned, half expecting to see the god of war sitting on our roof. Instead, a daddy long legs spider meditated on the gutter.
“Let’s check it out,” I urged.
We approached cautiously.
“Is it sleeping?” asked Nora.
The spider remained still.
“I doubt it. I think it is just practicing patience.”
Nora thought about that for a moment.
“Then I think you should kill it now,” she urged. “Crush it before it gets into the cabin.”
I was shocked at first. Perhaps the approach of Mars had somehow transformed my daughter from a cheerful teenager to a blood thirsty spider killer. Then the spider moved gracefully along the gutter line. Her tai – chi movements, so slow and deliberate, charmed my Nora. Her bloodlust disappeared.
“No. Let’s not kill the spider dad. It’s a dancer!”
My heart buoyed. Peace was restored in our valley.
As we studied the spider, so domestic over our doorway, Mars crawled above the horizon, a drop of blood beaming in the darkness. It was the brightest object in the sky.
Perhaps war and peace are not really opposites. After all, the mythical war god and Venus were secret lovers. Imagine the weary warrior pulling off his armor at last. Finally, he opens his battle scarred arms to the goddess’s soft embrace. Mars had never allowed himself to be so vulnerable, so unguarded. And from this union, the grizzled warrior, perhaps, found peace at last.
That night, Mars beamed bright beyond hope. Nora and I sat silently and watched its journey through the Zodiac. Our spider danced undisturbed along the wall. And at least for these few hours, Mars put down his tools of war and embraced the steady heart of love.
Tom O’Malley is an adjunct professor of English at Canisius College.
While the rest of the country was distracted on Super Bowl Sunday, a small band of Thoreuavians led by mycologist Lawrence Millman headed into the Estabrook Woods for the inaugural Super Cup Fungus Sunday.
To its credit, the group found nearly 60 different species on the Winter Mushroom Count, despite the snow and icy conditions.
Pursuing fungi on this particular grey New England day was an exercise in Thoreauvian Olympics. Much time was spent sauntering, which is akin to walking a step faster than a teenage boy (hoping to miss the school bus), yet slower than the octogenarian couple (aided by canes), who seemed to be skipping past us in the forest.
Millman and the mycophiles stooped, knelt, and stretched to examine every rock, log, tree trunk, branch, and pile of decayed leaves with a jeweler’s loop or hand lens. When they found a fungus or a mushroom, (Millman says its futile to make a distinction), each fungi hunter would regard it with great enthusiasm and call out to the others, and explain the significance of the discovery.
“Here’s a dog’s nose,” said Millman, holding up a fistful of the rare black fungus, as if it were ambergris. “It grows almost exclusively on old oak logs.”
Millman would know. He gave “Peridoxylon petersii” its common name “Dog’s Nose.”
During the entirety of the mushroom count, voices echoed throughout Estabrook Woods, eager to announce a find: “False Turkey Tail,” “Parchment,” “Brown Witches Butter,” “Milk-white Toothed Polypore,” and so on.
Did you know one variety of fungus glows in the dark woods like phosphorescence in the ocean? It’s called “Night Light.” Another is an orange jelly substance. You can smell it and touch it, but don’t eat it.
For the uninitiated, and even for the experts, there was a lot to learn on this walk. Millman and the others collected several samples, carefully slipping them into paper bags or carrying them in wicker baskets. There were eight fungi which needed further study to be identified.
One woman was pleased to locate a little brown mushroom, or LBM, as Millman (who is also an Arctic explorer and writer) and the other fungi folks affectionately call it. The LBM was found under a cluster of pine needles, yet the group was more interested in the black specks of fungi or “White pine splotch” found on the tips of the needles.
“Are there truffles in these woods?” asked one of our companions.
“Yes, but not the kind you’re interested in,” said Millman.
Millman is loathe to identify which mushrooms are edible. And, won’t.
“Edibility is the least interesting aspect of a mushroom,” he said.
One of the hunters, the editor of the Boston Mycological Club Bulletin, explained to me sotto voce that many expert foragers will go along for years happily consuming mushrooms without incident, until the one time he or she mistakenly eats a poisonous one and either gets violently ill or dies.
The hunt stopped dead in its tracks when it encountered a pine tree encased in a veneer of dried sap and lichen.
One of the mycophiles, a grad student, took his loop and examined the tree for fungus with the stance of a dermatologist looking over freckled skin for a bad mole. It was a painstaking process, but he went about the task with extreme patience and was able to discern specks the size of black pepper. Yes. It was fungi, sprinkled along the bark.
This young man and the other mushroom counters on the walk reminded me of Henry David Thoreau — stopping, studying, examining, and recording the natural world around us, and doing so with great joy.
If “Joy is surely the condition of life,” there was evidence of life all around us on the Winter Mushroom Count.
What did we find in Estabrook Woods?
SUPER CUP FUNGUS FORAY: INVENTORY
by Lawrence Millman
Bisporella citrina (Lemon Drops)
Camarops petersii (Dog’s Nose Fungus)
Chlorociboria aeruginescens (Green Stain)
Crinula caliciiformis (anamorph of Holwaya mucida)
Lachnelulla resinae var. resinaria
Lophodermium pinastri (White Pine Splotch)
Mollisia cinerea (Grey Cup)
Phaeocalicium polyporaeum (Pygmy Parasite)
Rhytisma americana (Tar Spot of Maple)
Sarea resinae (Resin Cup)
Sarea difformis (Black Resin Cup)
Cerrena unicolor (Mossy Maze Polypore)
Daedaleopsis confragosa (Thin Maze Polypore)
Dacrymyces sp. (Orange Tree Brain)
Exidia recisa (Brown Witches Butter)
Flammulina velutipes (Velvet Foot)
Fomes fomentarius (Tinder Polypore)
Fomitopsis betulina (Birch Polypore)
Fomitopsis pinicola (Red Belted Polypore)
Galerina cf. marginata (Deadly Galerina)
Gloeophyllum sepiarium (Rusty-Gilled Polypore)
Haplotrichum sp. (Botryobasidium anamorph)
Hydnochaete olivaceum (Olive-Toothed Polypore)
Irpex lacteus (Milk White Toothed Polypore)
Mycena cf. leaiana (Orange Mycena)
Mytilinidion cf. parvulum
Neofavolus alveolaris (Hexagonal Pored Polypore)
Panellus stipticus (Night Light)
Plicatura crispa (Crimped Gill)
Schizophyllum commune (Split Gill)
Spongipellis pachydon (Spongy Toothed Polypore)
Stereum complicatum (Crowded Parchment)
Stereum ostrea (False Turkey Tail)
Trametes conchifer (Nesting Polypore)
Trametes suaveolens (Anise-Scented Polypore)
Trametes versicolor (Turkey Tail)
Tremella sp. (Witches Butter)
Trichaptum abietinum (Purple Toothed Polypore)
Xylobilus frustulatus (Ceramic Parchment)
Total: 59 species
Here is the list of Super Cup Fungi:
Chlorociboria aeruginascens (Green Stain)
Bisporella citrina (Lemon Drop)
Mollisia cinerea (Grey Cups)
Sarea resinae (Orange Resin Cup)
Sarea difformis (Black Resin Cups)
By Ken Lizotte
This month, as we transition into 2018, the various social and political challenges addressed in the book What Would Henry Do? published by Thoreau Farm Trust last year in time for Henry’s 200th birthday, loom today no less significant.
This unique collection of 41 essays — by many of this century’s great Thoreauvian thinkers — ponders critical issues by speculating how Henry might respond to them. After a stressful year of disruption on the national and international scene, the essays in our book might be more essential for us all to contemplate now than at any time in each of our lives.
As I explained in my introduction to the book, back in Henry’s time “societies in every corner of the earth had long been dominated by agriculture, ensuring a life where most everyone remained in one place from birth to death, living on and working off the land just outside one’s door. You interacted with the same friends and neighbors day in and day out, you thought the same thoughts, adhered to the same credos, held similar assumptions.
“Yet as Henry grew and matured in his little hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, the world around him seemed to break into pieces … For Henry and others, such upheavals both confused and disconcerted, raising new questions such as: What should I think about these times? What should I say about these times? And what, if anything, should I do about them?”
Today, at the dawn of a fresh year, we’re faced with the same sort of questions. How we answer them will either solve or exacerbate the many problems of our times. So on behalf of the Thoreau Farm Board of Trustees, I invite you to join us as we facilitate a dialogue throughout the coming year via panels and discussion programs, or by engaging with our blog, or during a quiet visit to Henry’s house and/or Walden Pond, or simply carrying the ideals and messages of Henry with you as move about the many corners of the earth.
Who can be found between pages of our book? For starters there’s: Wicked author Gregory Maguire; Laura Dassow Walls, (author of the current best-selling Thoreau biography, Henry David Thoreau: A Life); Larry Buell, author, (most recently, The Dream of the Great American Novel) and expert on Transcendentalism, Emerson and Thoreau; Robert D. Richardson, author of acclaimed biographies of both Henry and Ralph Waldo Emerson; Frank Serpico (yes, that Frank Serpico, former New York City police detective); actor-activist Ed Begley Jr.; and a former U.S. president who goes by the name of Jimmy! And many more.
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Shop at Walden Pond, the Concord Bookshop and independent bookstores throughout the US and Canada.
Ken Lizotte is President of the Board of Trustees at Thoreau Farm and lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with his family.
By Kristi L. Martin
American society is currently embroiled in a political tumult over the suitability of certain public monuments and what to do with those that are questionably objectionable to present sensibilities and values. This raises abstract questions about the values of American society, as well as the symbolic meaning and power invested in objects. These questions interest me as an American public historian.
Yet, thoughtful conversations seem hard to come by in this moment of impassioned civil strife, cultural disconnect, and often violent agitation. Ours is a moment in history that resonates with the writings and life of Henry Thoreau on many levels. Hailed as the forefather of “civil disobedience” and spokesman for living a life of principle, Thoreau was an ardent abolitionist who had little use for the form of politics. Thoreau was also an advocate of listening intently.
Amid the angry, echo chamber of voices on social media, I stopped scrolling on a post that was distinctly different in tone from all the others – serenely composed, without sacrificing the strength of the author’s principles. I read:
“I would have no problem living my life without statues of specific people. Give me more trees, flowers, open skies, waving grasses, freely flying birds, roaming herds of animals and all of God’s creation. If man feels that isn’t enough, make your artwork general. No human being is that important we need to see them immortalized in stone.”
I was struck by the uniqueness of this statement. Here was someone not arguing for memorializing this human over that human. Instead the author appealed to the transcendent humility of human history in the grandeur scheme of the life. Her words reached something in my heart that elevated my thoughts above the turmoil and disquiet. I was instantly reminded of Thoreau.
On September 18, 1859, Thoreau recorded in his journal that he was asked to contribute toward a statue in memory of his neighbor, the educational reformer Horace Mann.
Thoreau wrote, “I declined, and said that I thought man ought not any more to take up room in the world after he was dead. We shall lose one advantage of a man’s dying if we are to have a statue of him forthwith. This is probably meant to be an opposition statue to [Daniel] Webster. At this rate they will crowd the streets with them. A man will have to add a clause to his will. ‘No statue to be made of me.’ It is very offensive to my imagination to see the dying stiffening into statues at this rate. We should wait till their bones begin to crumble – and then avoid too near a likeness to the living.”
Thoreau died in 1862, three years before the end of the Civil War. I will not condescend to imagine what Thoreau might say about our present day debates regarding monuments. Though it begs the question of what Thoreau would think of the statue of himself that now stands near Walden Pond.
The proliferation of public monuments to statements that Thoreau lamented were part of nation building in the 19th century. New Englanders attempted to define their own historical heroes in granite and thereby what cultural values would be upheld in the future.
The passage from Thoreau resonates more deeply with present debates than its general comment on public statuary. Daniel Webster was a noted statesman and famed orator, who disgraced his reputation in the estimation of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau by enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law, requiring New Englanders to comply with slavery. Horace Mann, whose statue Thoreau presumed was to be erected opposite of Webster’s on Boston Common, literally opposed Webster over the Fugitive Slave Law in Congress. But this is more of an aside, than to the purpose.
What I’d like to draw out of this passage in connection to the social media post written by my friend Lisa, is not a debate or an answer to a debate. My purpose is to draw out the quality of reflection, humility, and transcendence present in both passages in response to the impulse conceit, and predictability of reaction.
Rather than prompt further debate, controversy, or angst, reading Lisa’s words took me outside of myself, outside of anger, worry, and fear. Her words inspired me to surrender my own ego, to let go of the loud opinions bombarding my virtual environment, and to reconnect to the nurturing beauty of nature and my higher self. Perhaps you, too, will want to decline relation to stone statues – at least for a moment. Perhaps you, too, will go outside and look up at the sky, smell the air, feel the wind, listen to the birds, taste the fruits of the season, and remember the blessing of being human … and be present, be peace, for a Thoreauvian moment.
Kristi Martin is a doctoral candidate in the American and New England Studies, Boston University and is a historical interpreter at Thoreau Farm.
Henry David Thoreau: A Life
Book Review By Lucille Stott
“I came here to meet him at last.”
A visitor to Thoreau Farm once left that note on the message board in the birthplace foyer. Those words came to mind as I read Laura Dassow Walls’s terrific new biography, Henry David Thoreau: A Life (University of Chicago Press). You will know what I mean when you take this book in hand, as I hope you will, for Walls has at last unveiled the Thoreau we celebrate at his birthplace. Hoping to put to rest the simplistic, one-dimensional caricatures of Thoreau that proliferate to this day (you will recall Kathryn Schulz’s outrageous hatchet job in the Oct. 19, 2015 New Yorker, entitled “Pond Scum.”), Walls offers readers a meticulously researched, elegantly written story of the complex, multi-layered man he was in life.
While acknowledging the fine scholars who came before her, notably Walter Harding, Robert D. Richardson, and David Robinson, Walls says in her Preface, “The Thoreau I sought was not in any book, and so I wrote this one.”
Richardson, whose 1986 biography, Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind remains a classic in its own right, offered a blurb for the book jacket that calls Wall’s work “a magnificent—landmark—achievement” and “the best all-around biography of Thoreau ever written.”
The Thoreau that emerges from Walls’s pages is indeed well rounded. As those who have read him in depth know, he was a busily engaged man who was known and loved by a great many of his contemporaries, including Ralph Waldo Emerson’s son Edward, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, and the young Louisa May Alcott. Though Concordians felt free to tease and judge him—he was after all, one of their own—they relied on him to build their sheds and fences, cut the village Christmas tree, offer up keen insights from the dais of the Concord Lyceum, entertain their children on nature walks, and expertly survey and record much of Concord’s landscape. For his part, Thoreau—who traveled more widely than is generally known—never wavered from his devotion to his hometown and took precious time and energy from his own writing to help earn money for his family, tend to the needs of his friends, and work behind the scenes with neighbors to help transport escaped slaves to freedom.
The creative genius and gifted naturalist we find in these pages is certainly familiar. But Walls succeeds in redressing the mischaracterizations that have long kept Thoreau out of reach for those who have seen him as too far removed from their own experience.
“Thoreau struggled all his life to find a voice that could be heard despite the din of cynicism and the babble of convention,” writes Wall. “That he was a loving son, a devoted friend, a lively and charismatic presence who filled the room, laughed and danced, sang and teased and wept, should not have to be said. But astonishingly, it does, for some deformation of sensibility has brought Thoreau down to us in ice, chilled into a misanthrope, prickly with spines, isolated as hermit and nag.”
Walls tells the story of a much less chilly Thoreau and so brings him closer to us. In struggling to overcome harsh criticism, bitter loss, and debilitating illness, Thoreau drew strength from love and joy and from the many human relationships that sustained him. The rough edges are still there, but Walls helps us understand why, providing a welcome corrective to common wisdom.
It took enormous courage and resilience for Thoreau to persist in his original thinking and pursue his own path in the face of relentless pressure to conform to others’—most significantly Emerson’s—ideas of who he should be and what he should do. All his life, Thoreau was made to stand in Emerson’s giant shadow. In the end, it is Emerson‘s intellectual brilliance that can come across as a bit cold, while Thoreau’s passion for life continues to ignite us to action. It was only after Thoreau died that Emerson, awed by the originality of his friend’s journals, realized that the thinker he may have undervalued “has surpassed me.”
Walls writes in her Preface, “Thoreau earned the devotion of friends who saw in him no saint, but something perhaps more rare: a humane being living a whole human life.” That is the Thoreau Walls sought and found, and readers everywhere will likely welcome him warmly.
Lucille Stott is a charter board member emerita and former president of Thoreau Farm Trust.
I’ve never put a rock on the rough pile of stones at Thoreau’s cabin site, until a 59-year-old man from Germany sent me one from a lake near his hometown and asked me to hike out and place it there for him.
Werner Meyknecht is an IT Project Manager who lives in Recke, Germany. A Thoreau enthusiast, Meyknecht wanted to celebrate the Thoreau Bicentennial with fellow Thoreauvians in Concord, Massachusetts. He had hoped to come to Concord and be a part of the festivities on July 12, but money, time, and distance kept Meyknecht in Germany. He reached out to the Town of Concord for help. One of the town employees put Meyknecht in touch with Thoreau Farm.
This seemed fitting, since Thoreau Farm is the birthplace of Henry, and what better organization to help Meyknecht and his desire to be a part of the Thoreau Bicentennial, without actually traveling to Concord!
After a volley of emails— Meyknecht doesn’t speak English well and I don’t speak German — Meyknecht via the miracle of Google translation services — was able to tell me that he was going to send a stone to Thoreau Farm, and asked if I could I place it on the cairn at the cabin site at Walden Pond.
Meyknecht is a solo sailor in a vast sea when it comes to finding like-minded Thoreauvians in his hometown.
“Unfortunately, I don’t know how popular he is in Germany,” wrote Meyknecht. “He who seeks finds. I would like to ask you to place a stone, which I have chosen from my homeland, to the place where his cabin was.”
How could I refuse?
The stone arrived two days before our birthday celebration at Thoreau Farm, but not without some anxiety on Meyknecht’s part. It was expensive to send the 3-pound rock in the mail, but Meyknecht’s friend, Peter Berkenharn of Mettingen, offered to help with the postage. It arrived packed in a styrofoam box, placed inside a simple cardboard box decorated with German and United States custom’s stickers.
Editor’s note: Thoreau and the Language of Trees is a new book by Concord author Richard Higgins.
By Sandy Stott
As I begin this book, a patient presence of white and pitch pines stands ten or so feet from my open window. One, a pitch pine, has died, though its trunk rises still to 30 feet, and it has become a lure for a pileated woodpecker whose exploratory peckings offer a braille I run my hands over, even as their poetry eludes me. The other 42 trees of this small, yard-girt woodland vie for light, for sky, and they stir whenever the wind blows. Tonight though, they wait, stilled in the late light of this summer’s solstice. Perhaps the owl who called from them a few nights ago will visit all of us later. They are of my yard; all will outlive me; even the pileated-stippled pitch pine trunk may endure decades. Making the acquaintance of these trees takes me beyond myself.
When I taught parts of Thoreau’s work to the sometimes hurried young, I had a favorite moment in the semester: some weeks of reading into the term, and some minutes into a class, I closed Walden and asked simply, “are you ready?” Most said, yes; a few demurred: “um…for what?” they asked. “Let’s go,” I said, and they followed me out from the rectangular classroom, down the stairs and to the door. Once outside, I offered them a choice — find any natural object, get comfortable, and concentrate on it (and only it) for ten minutes. I’ll let you know when time’s up.
Most often people picked trees. I would watch them watch their trees. Some lay on their backs and looked at the canopied sky; other stood at mimicked angle a few feet from the tree; a good number climbed into a tree of choice and sat or stretched out upon a limb. A few got inches away from the trunk or a twig. For an age group often slandered for their rabbity attention, they had remarkably little trouble “getting lost” in their trees. When I read their findings later, I realized that some of them had remained with the tree for paragraphs well after I’d summoned them back into the usual school world of call and response.
I knew, of course, of Thoreau’s fondness for and scrupulous attention to trees. What I didn’t know was that as I was working with the rudiments of this tree-teaching, Richard Higgins was afoot in nearby Concord and in the pages of Thoreau’s journal making a much deeper study. Would that I had been able to bring Higgins and his tree-findings to help my classes toward their trees.
That is, I realize, a rather lengthy preamble to what I mean to be a praise-song for Higgins’s new book, Thoreau and the Language of Trees, but I have taken a personal route to praise because this attractive, compact volume has touched me. Three presences are prominent in its pages — Thoreau, Higgins and a cast of character-trees too numerous to name. Higgins shapes his short essays at the outset of each chapter with an appealing clarity, using them to introduce small groves of short readings from Thoreau. The trees rise from their words. And they rise also in a generous offering of illustrations — photographs (many by Higgins) and, familiar to readers of Thoreau’s journals, a scattering of his quick sketches.
Here is an excerpt that perhaps offers enough window into Higgins’s book for you to see your way there:
Trees brought out another side to Thoreau, one we rarely hear about. They stirred a boyish joy in him. He found “an inexpressible happiness” in the woods. “Their mirth is but just repressed.” Lichen lifted his spirits, and trees seen from a mountain delighted him: “Nothing is so beautiful as the tree tops. A pine or two with a dash of vapor in the sky—and our elysium is made.” (p. 36)
When work has confined me, boxed me into its rectangles, I’ve always pointed to the reward of a next woods-walk as part of what sustained that work. But what Thoreau and his modern companion Higgins have done is to enrich my relations with trees, to sharpen my eye, broaden my heart and encourage my narrative impulse to include my patient neighbors. Who may or may not — who knows? — be patient with me.
I return to the page. Here, deep in the book, I’ve found that Robert Richardson’s first sentence in the Forward rings true: “There is real magic in this book.”
I look out at my 42 friends a few feet away. So many stories. Now, it is time to go out.
This article originally appeared in The Concord Journal May 14, 1942. The writer, Ruth Robinson Wheeler, updated it for The Thoreau Society Bulletin #31 April 1950. “The Thoreau Houses” was updated in 2017 by her son, Joseph Coolidge Wheeler, a Thoreau Farm Trust Board Member
by Ruth Robinson Wheeler
It takes a little hunting to locate all the houses in Concord, which have Thoreau associations.
John Thoreau, Henry’s grandfather, had been a successful merchant in Boston. His second wife was one of the six brothers and sisters of the Kettell family of Charlestown, who hired the Wright Tavern to run as a bakery. Deacon John White married Esther Kettell in 1778 and lived in the house, which is now the southwest end of the Colonial Inn, so when John Thoreau married Rebecca Kettell in 1797, he knew of a similar house, which now forms the opposite northeast end of the same inn. This was owned by Ammi White, a cabinetmaker, and had been built about 1716 by Mrs. White’s great-grandfather, Col. James Minot. The Whites sold it in 1799 to John Thoreau, who sold out his business at the head of Long Wharf in Boston for $25,000 — a tidy fortune in those days, enough for a man of 45 with five children to retire on. Though Grandpa John died in 1801, this remained the home of his family — his daughters, and his son John, Henry’s father. John was then 14 and soon went to work in Deacon White’s store. Later in 1835-1837 when Henry was in his last two years at Harvard, his immediate family lived here with aunts.
Henry’s grandfather Dunbar (maternal side ) died in 1767 in Keene, N.H., and 11 years later, Henry’s grandmother Mary married Deacon Jonas Minot of Concord and came to live with her children, Cynthia and Charles, at the Minot Farm.
This was a comfortable old farmhouse then located at 215 Virginia Rd. The house is still standing but it was moved in 1878 several hundred yards to the east where it still stands at 341 Virginia Rd. It is owned and operated by The Thoreau Farm Trust.
When Jonas Minot died in 1813, the widow Mary Jones Dunbar Minot inherited the “widow’s third,” which included the east half of the house. Her daughter Cynthia had married John Thoreau in 1812. John had tried keeping a store, which stood at the present site of the Town House and probably lived above the store.
This building was sold at auction to John S. Keyes in 1850. He moved it to its present location at 15 Monument Street.
Widow Minot asked her son-in-law to run the farm for her, while she moved down to Lexington Road to the “old red house”.
This house, now painted white and much enlarged is at 201 Lexington Road. It is called The Captain Thomas Wheeler House. She lived in the east half until she died in 1830. This house is opposite the Concord Museum.
Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817 in the old Minot house when it was still at 215 Virginia Road. In his Journal under the date of December 27, 1855, he wrote, “I was baptized in the old Minot House by Dr. Ripley when I was three months old and did not cry.”
The next spring, John Thoreau gave up the farm and lived with his family for seven months in the west half of the house where Cynthia’s mother lived on Lexington Road. Then came the move to Chelmsford, where the Thoreaus lived next to the meetinghouse; and the move to Boston in 1821. Back in Concord from 1823 to 1826, the family lived in the “brick house” probably the one, which stood on the corner of Main and Walden streets but was torn down. At this time, I believe, John Thoreau worked at pencil making with Charles Dunbar in a little shop, which stood near the present Scout House.
This shop now forms the kitchen ell of the Tuttle house at 128 Walden St.
From spring 1826 to May 1827 the Thoreaus lived on Main Street in the house next to Samuel Hoar, Esq., now numbered 166.
They then moved across the street to 185, which was then a simple square house.
Here they lived for eight years and from here in 1833 Henry entered Harvard, rooming in Hollis. In 1835 his family moved in with the aunts on Monument Street.
In 1837 the family moved to the old Parkman house. This house was moved in 1872 when the public library was built. In this house, Henry Thoreau began his school, wrote his first lecture, his first journal and his first essay.
From here he took his trip up the Merrimac in 1839 and from here he went to Emerson’s house, at 28 Cambridge Turnpike in 1841 to live for two years.
When he came back from Staten Island in 1843, the family moved to a combined house and shop on Belknap Street where the family lived until 1850. Thoreau meanwhile was at Walden from July 1845 to the fall of 1847 and at Emerson’s through 1848. Belknap Street was then called Texas Street because Texas was very much in the news at the time when the railroad and the new station were built in this district. The Texas house no longer exists.
In August 1850 the family bought “the yellow house,” now standing at 255 Main Street. The present ell on the right was built later by the Alcott’s. There was an ell at the rear, which the Thoreau’s used for the secret part of their pencil making process. Here Henry David Thoreau died on May 6, 1862, and here his sister, Sophia, carried on the graphite business, for several years. She died in 1876.
The Concord Library has photographs of the old Minot farm house, brick house and Parkman house and they may be seen in THOREAU by Henry Seidel Canby. You can find the brick house in the background of Main Street in 1862 (page 10) and the Parkman house (which no longer exists), on the Main Street side beyond the library (page 102).
By Harriet Martin
Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. ― Henry David Thoreau
It takes only one click of a button to be assaulted by conflicting and contradictory opinions from both sides of the aisle. The country we live in today is at a turning point in its history. With so many opinions vying for our attention, it provides great insight to look back at the words of a pioneer of civil disobedience for desperately needed guidance today.
A prominent writer and abolitionist, Henry David Thoreau was famous for his essays on various topics in his era. One of his most profound collection of essays was “Civil Disobedience,” which postulated how much loyalty an unjust, corrupt, or in any way ineffective government deserves from the citizen who cares about the future of the country he or she lives in. Henry was thrown in jail because he refused to pay a poll tax he found unjust.
In this day and age, more freedoms are allowed to people who wish to protest for the issues in which they believe. After a controversial election, many people were concerned about hot-button issues like women’s rights, science, the environment, and taxes. Following Thoreau’s model of non-violent civil disobedience, people took to the streets.
On January 2, all around the world, women and their allies left their jobs, homes, and families and organized in massive marches. The Women’s March in DC drew from 470,000 to 680,000 participants, The Atlantic reported. Each participant was armed only with a sign and her voice in the true spirit of peaceful protest. People chanted and marched down streets declaring in one unified voice, “We are Strong.” Other major cities that hosted a Women’s March were New York, Chicago, and in our back yard, Boston. In total more than 550 towns and cities registered protests and marches just in the United States. As well as us common folk, many celebrities turned out to show their support for women’s rights. Gloria Steinem was an honorary co-chair of the Washington March and Scarlett Johansson was an official speaker. Other celebrities marched with the people on the streets.
Another march that took place recently was the March for Science on April 22, 2017. This march focused on our planet and the steps that need to be taken to advance science and protect the environment. After a tumultuous election, the scientific community marched to demonstrate the importance of science to citizens of the earth. Protesters gathered to encourage policymakers to make policy based on scientific evidence; provide funding for research and discourage political attacks on scientific integrity. Many scientific organizations were represented, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the biggest scientific societies in the country. One outspoken co-chair of the march included Bill Nye. The march took place across the country and the world. Major gatherings took place in Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. The march in Boston had 70,000 people! Not only modern times have used the idea of peacefully protesting regimes.
From Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr., some of the most ardent advocates of civil rights have used the idea of peaceful protest. Gandhi read Thoreau’s essay on “Civil Disobedience” and it inspired him to persevere in his quest for civil rights. Martin Luther King also read Thoreau’s essays, which highlighted how widespread Thoreau’s ideas became and the impact they had.
Who knows, without Thoreau we might not have achieved much of the social progress we rely on today.
Harriet Martin is a student at Concord-Carlisle High School and a youth blogger for The Roost.
This day, April 29th, needs — as they all do — a bit of context. It is a Saturday, and the earth — its day and its dilemmas — has been much in the news. Back in late winter at a meeting of Brunswick Democrats, someone proposed a trash clean-up as one useful way to counter the spirit of disregard many see as loose in our world. Given a little Saturday sloth, I don’t feel like going out to meet this possibility on this day, but I do.
We — my assigned partner Nick, a retired law professor, and I — join ten Democrats and pick up our two capacious plastic bags at the gazebo on the Common. We take them to the town center where Pleasant Street joins Maine, where we’ll begin picking up scattered trash. Nick is wearing the pullover orange vest that identifies us as something other than pedestrians. We are quasi-official.
I am on the upside of 60; Nick is probably 10 years my elder, and we measure our pace to make this walk companionable. Today offers a first burst of warmth-going-to-heat, a sudden spring flower. But as we begin, it is the constant bending that gets our attention. “We should have picker-uppers,” Nick says. That’s true, I think, but when you do such work on rare occasion, you don’t know more than to show up and get your bag. We settle into a pick-and-talk-and-pick routine. Stooped often, we probably appear to be talking to the ground.
In town, the trash clusters wherever pause happens — stop signs, crossings, waiting areas. People molt constantly, it seems. Our “feathers” are everywhere:
Vodka seems the favored nip. Its little plastic bottles lie crumpled, the effect, perhaps, of someone trying to suck the last drop out.
Who cut the tiny cable once connected to an Apple device’s recharger?
Who is missing one earplug?
Near the town library’s entrance, we comb bits of paper and plastic from the thick sand of a melted plough-drift. The little garden looks like a once-green land going to desert. It will need heavy raking to free its ground-cover. Not long ago, the snow must have been piled five feet deep.
While we are at our work, “thousands march on the White House” to protest climate change. Our conversation turns to redemptive behavior. Nick tells me a story from his classroom. They are studying ethics, truth and law, and he has posed this question from the Nazi era: You are part of a household sheltering people and the authorities burst in. “Are there any Jews here?” they demand. He then gives a favorite answer from his years in the classroom: “If,” a student answers after some pause, “you mean by that, are there any people here who deserve to die, then no, there are no Jews here.”
“I stopped the class,” Nick says. “Did you hear that answer?” I asked.
Then there is the other side. “How would a group of Thoreaus do at forming a society?” he wanted to know on an exam. “What’s a thoreau?” one student asked.
We talk back and forth about what “a thoreau” is, and I offer one of my exam questions: Using Thoreau’s definition of a good school in Walden, examine and assess your own schooling. Thoreau knew that all true learning, finally, is personal.
We approach the franken-building of the local UU Church, which — it turns out when you walk in — composes a calm, light-filled interior. How the odd, angle-and-strut-rich exterior becomes a coherent, reflective space inside is one of those little wonders of architectural vision. “That’s my church,” Nick says. Now I know where I’ve seen him before.
Our way back to the Common takes us down Everett Sreet. Despite having owned a house in Brunswick for 14 years, and despite the street’s central location, this is my first trip down Everett. Well-kept, modest houses and apartments with little yards and tiny flower gardens line the street; it is a little urban gem wedged into town. Everett is also largely litter free; no one, it seems, loiters on Everett, flicking away ones and twos of the over 500 cigarette butts we have collected. A young man attached to a blue-tooth device walks by, nods, and, noting our bags, bends and picks up two scraps of paper.
At the end of Everett, Nick says, “I’m glad to be at the end of our route.” It’s been nearly two bending hours. I’m glad too, even as some of the habit that makes scut-work possible has already taken over.
We walk back to the Common, where the noon line at the burrito truck is a dozen deep. I wonder what they’ll do with their wrappers.
By Donna Marie Przybojewski
“I would make education a pleasant thing both to the teacher and the scholar. This discipline, which we allow to be the end of life, should not be one thing in the schoolroom, and another in the street. We should seek to be fellow students with the pupil, and we should learn of, as well as with him, if we would be most helpful to him.” — Henry David Thoreau, Correspondence to Orestes Augustus Brownson, December 30, 1837
These words set the tone for St. Benedict Catholic School in Garfield Heights, Ohio this school year, as we “Saunter the Year with Henry David Thoreau” to celebrate the bicentennial of his birth. At our year-end faculty meeting last May, I presented my multi-grade curriculum proposal about the upcoming bicentennial year. Everyone was overwhelmingly positive and enthused about this collaborative endeavor.
Reflecting upon our Thoreau Bicentennial during summer break, however, it became clear to me that the students were not going to be the only recipients of Thoreau lessons, which would teach them about this iconic American author, philosopher, and naturalist. If our year was going to be successful, then the teachers would have to become pupils. As a Thoreau Bicentennial Ambassador, I was able to help the teachers become comfortable with Thoreau and his ideas, so they could impart that knowledge to their students.
I imagine that Henry would have been proud of our venture — teacher becoming pupil. Teachers were given websites to research Thoreau, which included the Thoreau Society, Walden Woods, Henry’s Hat, and Concord Museum. Our faculty worked as a collaborative team: asking questions, offering suggestions, and assisting partner teachers in preparing lessons.
As this educational enquiry transpired, I had to smile because Henry seemed to be the master teacher in every room since the Maxham daguerreotype of Henry hung upon the wall of each classroom.
Everywhere teachers and students looked, there was Henry looking over their shoulders and guiding them, including the halls, since he had a place of honor in our trophy cabinet. Henry had become so much an integral part of our school environment that during a particularly difficult day, I would look at the daguerreotype and ask myself, “What would Henry do?” Even students, when encountering a dilemma in class, would ask me what I thought Henry would say about the matter and what he might suggest to do about it.
The learning not only occurred in the classroom, but as Henry advised, it happened outside as well. When parents asked their children what they did in school, the typical answer, “nothing,” was not the response. Rather, parents were given a barrage of information about Henry and his visits to St. Benedict School. The enthusiasm of their children was the incentive parents told me they needed to refresh their own memories of this American author, as well as read his works.
As an educator, this bicentennial year provided me with the greatest growth I have experienced in years in a relatively short time. Surprisingly, even though I had incorporated Thoreau into my own Language Arts curriculum at the junior high level, I, too, became a pupil and learned. First and foremost, I knew that if Henry was going to be relevant, he had to become a real and tangible person to especially the primary school children. He could not just be an author in a book or a face on a wall. So, I became Henry.
At the September kickoff to the Thoreau Bicentennial, students met Henry at an assembly, and he took them for a saunter around the baseball fields of the school. Then, as he had done during his own time, he threw a watermelon party for everyone, and from that moment on, the year has been unbelievably filled with joy. Many accounts of Thoreau describe him as being aloof, caustic, and abrupt. Our year has proved these depictions as not entirely accurate. One could see how children would gravitate to him during his life as the students of St. Benedict Catholic School would flock to him when he walked through the halls or entered a classroom to read to the students.
They grabbed his hands and hugged his knees. Smiles permeated the faces of the children, and I had the distinct privilege of witnessing this firsthand as Henry.
As a Thoreau Bicentennial Ambassador, I saw the need to simplify Thoreau enough to make young minds receptive to him, if his legacy is to be preserved for future generations. In addition, I was learning more about myself and creative abilities through this special year. Creating and publishing three children’s books about this author was not something that I had ever anticipated doing. These books are enabling St. Benedict’s primary teachers to incorporate writing, history, art, and discussion into their curriculum while introducing Thoreau to their young students. Also, I became the pupil as my publisher guided me through my writing and illustrations. In turn, I taught my students the writing process in a very personal way and to always be awake for the unexpected opportunities that may enter into their lives.
Throughout our celebration of Henry’s 200th birthday, teachers were expanding their knowledge of Thoreau across disciplines.
Science teachers studied the biome of Walden with their classes, and then had students put Henry in an alternative biome explaining similarities and differences.
Math teachers had students graph the dimensions of Henry’s cabin at Walden then create their own tiny house on graph paper. Another teacher grew beans in the classroom just as Henry did in his garden and measure their growth. Social Studies teachers incorporated Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and “Plea for John Brown” during Black History month in February. In fact, one class attended a program on the Underground Railroad and actually “met” John Brown. Teachers were discovering that Thoreau, although primarily known as an author, could be introduced in all subject areas not just Language Arts.
It goes without saying that Language Arts teachers really soared in their classes. Students learned to model Henry and describe nature in unique ways as he had done with such clarity.
One student wrote, “When I was on a flight, the most beautiful thing I saw was the sun rising, making the sky orange, and all the clouds underneath me look like rolling pieces of cotton from a pillow.”
Another wrote, “The soft sounds of rain hitting my window, while light flashes and rumbles from the clouds. That sound soothes me even in my darkest days.
One young man described this feeling about the ocean saying, “I love watching the waves as they crash into each other, the various hues of blues are calming to me.”
Another student when explaining Henry’s profound words composed the following: “The world when I were born was clean and fresh. I hadn’t made an impact on it yet. Every day I fill it with myself and what I experience. I paint my life on the canvass before me. It is mine to create.”
Students were also able to journal their thoughts, sometimes disagreeing with Henry.
One response to Henry’s statement that his greatest talent was having few wants indicated the following: “Although I admire Henry for not wanting a lot of things, I could not do that. There are many things that I want, so need a good paying job to purchase them.”
Granted, this was not response that was desired, and the concept of simple living still needs to be understood; however, Henry would have desired such honesty in writing whether he agreed or disagreed with it, not just blind agreement but thinking for oneself. Another example included a debate about whether Henry had three chairs in his cabin or six. Some students were adding the one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society to equal six chairs. It was a good brain exercise as students finally came to the realization of what he actually meant through discussion.
In addition, students illustrated narratives they wrote to describe what they would do with Henry if he visited them today. A few students wrote beautiful accounts of taking him to the library.
One student tenderly stated: “I would take Henry to the library to show him the books he wrote on the shelf. Knowing how much he appreciated libraries, I think he would feel proud that people were still reading his books 200 years after his birth.”
Students across grade levels also received a Flat Henry to take home and record what they did together. Henry became a part of their family as he attended basketball games, went on park walks, to the library, and even to the emergency room as one kindergartner relayed, “I had to get an X-ray on my arm but having Henry with me made me feel better.”
Even art played a factor in learning about Thoreau. Students were involved in sketching items from nature as Thoreau had doodled in his journals, illustrating their narratives, and even creating editorial cartoons about what might be Henry’s comments on modern society. Also, students recycled their own paper to create covers for their journals. The list is limitless to what the students are learning about this American icon through various activities and lessons. What is wonderful is that we are all engaged — teacher as well as student. Teachers are learning from their students and students are learning from their teachers. All are actively sharing as Henry thought we should be.
Children can relate to the simplicity of Henry. He was a dichotomy, being complex, as well as quite simple. His innocence and pure joy for life endears him to children. Henry is continuing to inspire children as well as adults to grow creatively and intellectually.
Therefore, this year has been “a pleasant thing for both scholar and teacher,” as Henry put it. Through the years, we will all continue learning and sauntering with Henry David Thoreau since we have made him our resident author at St. Benedict Catholic School. He has a permanent place in our trophy cabinet and in our classrooms. More importantly, however, he will continue to impact our intellects and spirits. Isn’t this what education is all about? Henry knew this. Now, so do we. Henry’s daguerreotype will persist to look upon us as educators and scholars in the years to come silently encouraging us to grow with each other.
Donna Marie Przybojewski is the author of three children’s books. Mrs. Przybojewski will be speaking at Thoreau Farm on Thursday, April 20, from 3-4:30pm on how to introduce Henry David Thoreau to children and launching her latest book, Henry David Thoreau Loved the Seasons. Email email@example.com to reserve a seat.
by Natasha Shabat
For the past 16 months, I’ve been video-interviewing visitors to Walden Pond. Approaching random strangers at the pond requires going out of my comfort zone. Normally I photograph nature at the pond and post my photos on Facebook — on my own page, on the Thoreau Society group page, on other Concord-related pages — and print them on greeting cards. And, with the encouragement of some Thoreauvian friends, I created a Facebook blog called “Walden Pond People” and turned my camera toward people, talking with them about why they were visiting the pond.
Come summer of 2016 and the Annual Gathering of the Thoreau Society (AG16), I invited attendees to meet me at Walden Pond, Monday morning after the Gathering, to be interviewed at Thoreau’s Cove. I chose this rendezvous point since it’s easy to find, and it’s quieter near the western end of the pond.
Meanwhile, thanks to my Walden Pond photos on the Thoreau Society Facebook group, I had befriended Punit, a man from India, who had been in the U.S. for less than two years and was starting to explore the country.
“Walden Pond is one of my dream places to visit,” Punit told me last April.
In July, Punit traveled to New England to attend AG16. He had never been to Boston, Concord, or Walden Pond and attended AG presentations over the weekend, including mine on “Walden Pond People.” He waited to make his pilgrimage to the pond for when we met at Thoreau’s Cove for his “Walden Pond People” interview.
“I wanted to read more about philosophy. I picked up Gandhi, because of the impact he made on the destiny of India, the future of India, so I wanted to know more about him. When I read his autobiography there was something on ‘Civil Disobedience,’ which I later came to know was inspired by Thoreau’s essay. Another reason why I was attracted to Thoreau’s writings is because one of my friends recommended Walden to me. There were a lot of things which were telling me ‘Hey, go read Thoreau!’ So, first I got my book. I just bought it and put it on the shelf. I didn’t do anything with it!”
When Punit described his path toward Thoreau, he reminded me of my own experience. I, too, had bought a copy of Walden, put it on the shelf, and proceeded to not read it. I simply continued going to Walden Pond to swim, kayak and read and write, as I’d already been doing for a couple of decades.
Punit continued, “But my friends influenced me. They started reading Walden before I did. Then there were three of us reading this book at the same time. There are certain things in the book which are difficult to understand. So what we would do is, we would discuss these with each other through email, or by phone, or during the in-person meetings. Yeah, it was a fun way to read a book. I’ve never done anything like that with any other book. It was a really interesting way to study these ideas. ‘What does this guy even want to say in these lines?’”
As Punit, I was influenced by others finally to take my book off the shelf. In my case it was a bunch of Thoreauvians presenting at AG11, which I had spontaneously attended. There at the Masonic Temple in Concord I was surrounded by people who knew Walden and had plenty to say about it. I was intrigued enough finally to read Walden for my first time. I read it in small bites, chewing on Thoreau’s words, while sitting in my kayak on Walden Pond. I did this over the next six weeks, until I turned the last page on September 1, 2011.
“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.” — Walden, “Reading”
Punit: “I think of Walden, and Thoreau’s writing in general, I think of them as something which is connecting the dots. Think of civilizations which existed in a different time. On a scale of time. Think of Chinese civilization, Indian, or Hindu civilizations, or American, or European civilization. So Thoreau’s trying to connect the dots. As if he were saying ‘Hey! There really isn’t much difference between these different civilizations. The core philosophy remains the same.’”
After I finished reading Walden that summer of 2011, I, too, observed some dot-connecting, but of another sort: I was overcome by the parallels between Thoreau’s masterpiece and the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. (More on this another time.)
Punit: “That core philosophy is one of the reasons that Thoreau got inspired by Eastern philosophy, even though he lived so much later afterward. That’s just amazing for me! And since I’m from India, Hindu philosophy especially attracted me to Walden. I think it’s really important to figure out what you want to do in life. This is one of those books which actually helped me to figure that out.
“Walden Pond is exactly what I was thinking of, how I imagined it to be: a simple place, just trees, pond, that’s it. It’s very peaceful, very nice, very green. Just the kind of place you want to be in when you want to think about the higher purpose of life, bigger things in life. Well, the cabin actually looks smaller than what I thought, so I’m wondering how Thoreau lived in such a small cabin. I would find it difficult. . . . he was here for a grander purpose, so it probably suited his purposes here.
“I really like the site of his cabin. I think he probably must have walked around the pond a lot of times. Probably there is some specific reason why he chose this as his site. I brought my camera – that’s really important, because I wanted to capture at least a part of what Thoreau felt. And I would love to visit this place again.”
I was impressed with Punit. Imagine living in India, learning about Thoreau as a result of studying Gandhi — and then, eventually, actually coming here to Concord, hoping to see what Thoreau saw and feel what Thoreau felt. Punit had graciously awarded me the privilege of accompanying him on his first-ever pilgrimage to the place where Thoreau wrote Walden. I felt honored.
By Scott Berkley
“Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest of five hundred or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation. … If any owners of these tracts are about the leave the world without natural heirs who need or deserve to be specially remembered, they will do wisely to abandon their possession to all, and not will them to some individual who perhaps has enough already.” — Henry David Thoreau, Journal. October 15, 1859
On the late-summer day last year when the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was announced, former Roost editor Sandy Stott was out paddling a kayak in the Gulf of Maine. When he returned to the news that the state of Maine had added a parcel of the immense North Woods to its stock of public lands, the connection to Henry Thoreau, who loved both the northern reaches of New England and the idea of land deeded to the public good rather than held by private interests, was immediately evident. To Thoreau, the purpose of setting aside public lands was to make them “a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation,” as he put it in his journal.
When I met up with Sandy in Maine later in the fall, we went land-ward to the Brunswick Commons, a parcel set squarely between the housing developments which ring that prosperous coastal town and the manicured playing fields of Bowdoin College. The Brunswick town Commons – which have made an appearance on The Roost in the past – are encircled by all the signs of a community becoming more and more of a paved metropolis. And yet the sandy trails meandering across marshlands dense with low sedge and scraggly pitch pines seemed, as I ran through the slanting autumn light, to exist as the beating heart of the town as a whole – a region that spoke back to the encroaching development. Let every town have its forest, says Thoreau; and let it be, by extension, not separate from the town, but at the basis of this larger ecological and spatial community.
This past month, I found myself thinking often of Thoreau’s public-lands dictum and what it tells us about land use in the twenty-first century. In the past four weeks travel took me to two of our nation’s most famed national parks: Yellowstone and Great Smokies. On the move in these hallowed places of wild land, I thought about the historical importance of these National Parks, this one-hundred-and-one year-old idea. Even more, I thought about how the millions of acres in the national park system speak to the tiny parcels of public lands in towns like Brunswick, and how the town-parks speak back to these iconic locales that take up so much space in our collective American consciousness.
On my way to Yellowstone, I found one such town-park in the city of Bozeman, at the south end of the Bridger Mountains of Montana. Over the past few years a local nonprofit, the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, has spearheaded an ambitious trail-building initiative known as “Main Street to the Mountains,” connecting urban bike paths and trails in places like Linley Park and Peet’s Hill to mountain trails leading to the Bridger Ridge. As of next year, when a new connector trail is finished, a trail runner or hiker will be able to go from downtown to Mt. Baldy at the south end of the Bridgers without having to find a way to drive to the trailhead.
Two weeks later, in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, I recalled the significance of Bozeman’s urban trails when I visited Le Conte Lodge, perched near the summit of the park’s second-highest mountain. The continued existence of the Lodge, where up to sixty overnight guests can stay during the March-through-October full-service season, testified to the eleven million visitors who come to the Smokies each year. Le Conte itself is a kind of town, even in the cold and foggy month of March; dozens of dayhikers came to visit the Lodge, even though it was closed for the winter, every day. Bozeman’s trail network creates a park experience even in the midst of urban development, while Le Conte Lodge recalls how humans can interact with expansive wild places on their own terms: by finding a way to make a home in the mountains.
Back in my hometown of Concord after the second leg of this two-park tour, it was again the familiar, lower-case parks that beckoned: Walden Woods; Fairyland, with its stone engravings of quotes from Thoreau and Emerson; Estabrook Woods, where those two once walked. One quote not engraved was Thoreau’s advice to wealthy landowners, to “abandon” their holdings “to all, and not will them to some individual who perhaps has enough already.” Fascinating word, abandon – as though the common, once given over to the shareholders of a town or country, were a place to be left alone rather than used and appreciated for generations. One hopes that, in this time of increasing socioeconomic inequality and political volatility, the town common is true to its name, binding us together in the shared joy of use.
Scott Berkley, a recent graduate of Middlebury College, has worked for the past five years in the huts of the White Mountains and is at home at all speeds on woodland trails.
By Corinne H. Smith
“For many years I was self appointed inspector of snow-storms & rainstorms and did my duty faithfully – though I never received one cent for it.” ~ Henry Thoreau, Journal, after February 22, 1846
When I heard the sound of a nearby gas-powered engine starting up, I hurried to put on my boots and my coat and to head outside. I wasn’t about to let my next-door neighbor use his noisy and environmentally-unfriendly snow-blower on my sidewalk and driveway.
Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you that I am a snow lover. And one of the activities that I love most is shoveling snow. I cannot explain this addiction, other than to say that I like the sound, I like the solitude, and I like the rhythm of the physical activity. So when I woke up after our most recent storm and saw that more than seven inches of the white stuff had fallen overnight, I was overjoyed. Over the moon, really. But at least I waited until after dawn to go out and to attack the pavement and the driveway.
There’s a science to shoveling snow, you know. You have to time your approach to gauge the duration and consistency of the storm. Shovel too soon, and you could leave the sidewalk vulnerable to an ice coating that will be too slick to walk on. Put off shoveling until the storm ends, and you will have more snow to remove, and you may also have to crush through a thick top coating of ice. Wait a day or two longer, and that snow will become reluctant cement. Good luck clearing any of it without a pick-ax.
My strategy is to keep up with the snowfall reasonably and regularly. I go out early. Once I do the major work, I have to go back later only for quick touch-ups. Whenever the sun comes out, I let the warmth of the rays do the rest of the work for me. If my timing is perfect, the pavements are bone-dry within a few hours, or at least, on the following day.
It’s impossible to shovel a snowstorm without inspecting it. This time, I was one of only two people out there on our block. Someone three doors down and across the street was shoveling quietly, too. The snow fell straight down, steadily and softly. The township plow hadn’t come through yet. Sounds from our part of suburbia were magnified in the cold air. A murder of crows flew over me several times, calling to one other. A flock of geese went over, too, but the snowy sky hid them from view. Their’s seemed like voices from the heavens. A woodpecker tapped at a distant tree. A blue jay cawed from the top of another one. The songbirds were huddled in bushes somewhere, I was sure. But some of the other wild ones were out and about.
While I tidied up the walk a bit, a woman with Small Dog in Sweater walked by. I said hello and asked the little one if he was having a good time.
“We’re looking for a place to ‘go,’” his pet mother said.
I laughed. “Well, there aren’t any green patches out here today, unfortunately for him,” I said.
They continued on.
I successfully defended my sidewalk from the noisy neighbor’s machine. (Had he chatted with the woman and dog? No, because he was too busy and couldn’t hear them.) And look at the difference between my part and his! Mine is organic. His is mechanical. Nature doesn’t make straight lines. And he leaves tire marks behind. I leave only boot prints.
The woman and the Small Dog came back around several minutes later. “Success?” I asked.
“No, not yet,” the woman sighed.
“Oh, well. I know how that feels,” I said. She laughed.
Later in the morning, I heard Neighbor John start up his coughing snow-blower. Although his machine is even more intrusive than the one my other neighbor has, I tolerate John’s because he respects my space. He and I also tag-team on behalf of Mrs. Jones, the elderly widow who lives across the street. Her driveway is more than two times longer than either one of ours. Once John and I have attended to our own properties, we move over to hers. I tackle the carport and its edges with the shovel, and he does the driveway and the sidewalk with his blower. This is actually the only time John and I ever see each other. We live in suburbia, after all.
John waved as he aimed his snow-eater toward her driveway. “Hey, I haven’t seen you since …”
“… last year at this time,” I finished.
“Yeah, that’s right.”
We worked together to get the carport, driveway, and sidewalks cleared off. Mrs. Jones came to the door in her housecoat, and I warned her to stay inside for the day. I also waved off her offer to pay us. John was wearing earplugs – another inconvenience a shoveler doesn’t have to worry about – so we couldn’t talk when the machine was on. Whenever he had to turn it off to maneuver, he and I caught up a bit on personal news.
“Didn’t you write a poem about this last year?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah, I did.” (I had forgotten.) “I’m in the middle of writing a blog post about the snow right now.” (At least I’m consistent in what I get passionate about.)
We were almost done with the job when John called, pointed, and turned the machine off again. “What?” I asked.
“We flushed out a rabbit.” It had taken shelter under one of Mrs. Jones’s yews. “He ran over there.” John pointed to another neighbor’s yard, where another nice bush could provide refuge.
Wouldn’t you know? I had missed seeing this encounter myself. I called over an apology to the bunny to let it know that we were almost done with our work. When every surface was cleared for Mrs. Jones, John and I said our goodbyes and returned to our own houses. I admired our good work on the way back.
The next morning, an early-riser co-worker e-mailed me from the office. “Be careful when you come in,” she wrote. “The sidewalks and the parking lot haven’t been cleared yet.”
“No worries,” I replied. “I’ll bring my shovel.” A good snow-storm inspector is always prepared.