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by Henry David Thoreau

Book Description
In 1845 Henry David Thoreau left his pencil-manufacturing business and began building a cabin on the shore of Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. This lyrical yet practical-minded book is at once a record of the 26 months Thoreau spent in withdrawal from society -- an account of the daily minutiae of building, planting, hunting, cooking, and, always, observing nature -- and a declaration of independence from the oppressive mores of the world he left behind. Elegant, witty, and quietly searching, Walden remains the most persuasive American argument for simplicity of life clarity of conscience.

From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, August 01, 2004 03:39 PM I still have about 160 pages left to read in Walden but wanted to post a note to officially start the discussion. This is definitely a book that lends itself to comment as it is being read, so please feel free to chime in whether you are on the first page or have finished the last. The follow is a concise background regarding Thoreau and Walden taken from Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in the village of Concord, Massachusetts. Under the influence of his brother John, an amateur ornithologist, he developed an early interest in nature and spent much of his youth exploring the town's ponds and woods. Thoreau began his formal education at Concord Academy and continued his studies at Harvard College, which emphasized the classics. An avid reader and notetaker, Thoreau was interested in subjects as diverse as Greek mythology and English ballads. While Thoreau attended Harvard, Ralph Waldo Emerson moved to Concord to begin his career as a writer and lecturer. Thoreau admired Emerson's 1836 essay, "Nature," which advanced the then-unique idea that each individual should seek a spiritually fulfilling relationship with the natural world. After graduating from Harvard in 1837, Thoreau returned to Concord, where he taught school, improved and expanded his family's pencilmaking business, and engaged in carpentry, stonemasonry and gardening. He began his lifelong friendship and association with Emerson, who introduced him to other writers and nonconformist thinkers who were making Concord the center of new ideas. Among them were Bronson Alcott, Ellery Channing, Margaret Fuller and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Emerson, who valued Thoreau's practical talents and companionship, invited him to live in the Emerson household. Grief brought them closer together. The Emersons' first son died just two weeks after the death of Thoreau's beloved older brother. Three years later Thoreau, still suffering from this loss, wanted to live in the woods and embark on a career as a writer. When Emerson offered him the use of a newly purchased woodlot at Walden Pond, Thoreau gladly accepted. Walden Pond was surrounded by one of the few remaining woodlands in a heavily farmed area. In March of 1845, Thoreau began planning and building his one-room house. On July 4 of that year, he took up residence at Walden. He studied natural history, gardened, wrote in his journal, read, and drafted his first book, A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, about an 1839 trip with his brother. He also made the first accurate survey of the pond. By no means a hermit, he frequently walked to the village, entertained visitors at his house, and hired himself out as a surveyor. In September of 1847, Thoreau completed his experiment in simplicity and became "a sojourner in civilized life again." Walden, the book that describes his experiences at the pond, was published in 1854. Thoreau and Emerson agreed that the vacant house should not remain on the site. Thoreau gave the house to Emerson, who sold it to his gardener. Two years later two farmers bought it and moved it to the other side of Concord, where they used it to store grain. In 1868, they dismantled it for scrap lumber and put the roof on an outbuilding. After his Walden experience, Thoreau plied his skills as a surveyor and pencilmaker to earn what little money he needed for the things that he could not "grow or make or do without." He spent his free time walking, studying and writing. He also lectured at the Concord Lyceum and elsewhere in New England, and once traveled as far as Philadelphia. Thoreau became increasingly involved with the social and political issues of his time. He often spoke out against economic injustice and slavery. With other members of his family, Thoreau helped runaway slaves escape to freedom in Canada. His 1849 essay, "Civil Disobedience," eventually brought him international recognition. On May 6, 1862, at the age of 44, the "self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms" died after a prolonged struggle with tuberculosis. He is buried on Authors' Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, August 01, 2004 03:45 PM The following is a drawing of the cabin that Thoreau built, done by his sister, Sophia: And, this is a current photo of Walden Pond: Both are taken from the website cited in the first note. Barb
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, August 01, 2004 03:57 PM I'm not a great reader of essays and of nonfiction, in general. However, the narrative nature of Walden makes it very much a story as well with philosophy interspersed. And, this is truly a piece of writing for our time. When I read about the decisions made environmentally by our leaders, I wonder continually how a people could be so amazingly short sighted. Thoreau's descriptions highlight the fragility and precious quality of the nature in which he lived. As I read about him, I understand that his point was to learn how to build a soul, rather than a diatribe on nature. However, he did look to the facts of nature for ultimate meanings. I look forward to hearing what parts of this writing most speak to you who are reading it. And, I hope you don't miss it. It's a gem. I marvel that I allowed myself to reach the age of 57 without experiencing it. Barb
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Sunday, August 01, 2004 05:29 PM HENRY JAMES on Thoreau: "Hawthorne . . . talks of many things and just touches upon some of the members of his circle – especially upon that odd genius, his fellow-villager, Henry Thoreau. I said a little way back that the New England Transcendental movement had suffered in the estimation of the world at large from not having (putting Emerson aside) produced any superior talents. But any reference to it would be ungenerous which should omit to pay a tribute in passing to the author of Walden. Whatever question there may be of his talent, there can be none, I think, of his genius. It was a slim and crooked one; but it was eminently personal. He was imperfect, unfinished, inartistic; he was worse than provincial – he was parochial; it is only at his best that he is readable. But at his best he has an extreme natural charm, and he must always be mentioned after those Americans – Emerson. Hawthorne, Longfellow, Lowell, Motley – who have written originally. He was Emerson’s independent moral man made flesh – living for the ages, and not for Saturday and Sunday; for the Universe and not for Concord. In fact, however, Thoreau lived for Concord very effectually, and by his remarkable genius for the observation of woods and streams, of plants and trees, and beasts and fishes, and for flinging a kind of spiritual interest over these things, he did more than he perhaps intended toward consolidating the fame of his accidental human sojourn . . ." >From “HAWTHORNE”, which James calls “this short sketch”. It runs for 156 pages. The Proceedings in Commemoration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Salem Mass.: Essex Institute, 1905. I think "for flinging a kind of spiritual interest over these things" is interesting. pres The future, like everything else, is not what it used to be. - Valéry
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Sunday, August 01, 2004 10:04 PM You’re right, Barb. This is food for thought from the first few pages. I haven’t gotten far but here are some comments. This is my first reading. From what I’ve heard about WALDEN, I always assumed I’d agree with it, so why read it? Lazy thinking. Right away Thoreau’s voice has authority, passion and originality. He seems the granddaddy of the late 1960’s counterculture; but much more, too. And I don’t agree with everything. I believe that fashion design can be art; still, I love his diatribe on clothes: “But if my jacket and trousers, my hat and shoes, are fit to worship God in, they will do; will they not?” And, I think he overstates his objection to following tradition: “I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors.” And: “The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior.” However, I love it, too. I have had to overthrow so much of what I was taught, reprogram myself, open myself to my own experience and trust it, that I am delighted by him. Question authority, by all means. But then, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; there is much we can learn from each other, too. And the epigrams fly like: “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” After railing against wasting one’s life in a rat race existence, I love: “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.” In true Thoreauvian frugality, I am reading a free copy of WALDEN that was left out front when a neighbor moved, and it’s all marked up and underlined, so that I’ve had to make my markings in red. Still, the original owner has underscored wonderful passages, too, and I’ve had to stop marking every other line and just read. Robt
From: Sherry Keller Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 08:28 AM I think I'm about where you are, Barb, but I read the first half over two years ago. It's the kind of book that doesn't need to be re-read to start anywhere and dig in. I'm not at all surprised that Thoreau is a young people's writer. He seems both naive and a little pompous, but with great thought and heart. In the first few chapters I came across so many phrases I had heard before, included the quiet desperation and the clothes quotation. Now he's talking about Walden Pond and all the fish and fowl living there, so it's more a treatise on nature. It's very pleasant and Walden Pond reminds me a lot of Bird Lake where our cabin is in Wisconsin. Pres, thanks for posting that bit from James. It was very interesting. Sherry
From: Barbara Moors Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 08:46 AM Yes, I am on the chapter about the pond, Sherry. It has been fun to look at that photo of Walden Pond (which actually sounds like a small lake) a few times as I read it. So far though, I've liked the chapters prior to this better. Maybe, his comments on society attract me more and The Ponds is primarily description. I'm not sure if that's it though. I read somewhere that his writing previous to this was very hard to read, little continuity to it. With this, he took about six years to condense 2 years of experience into the seasons of one year. The organization does make it flow. Robt, I think that he sounds most pompous in that opening chapter, Economy. After that, either I began to like him and accept it or he mellowed out a bit. It makes me smile that you are reading a found copy of Walden in true Thoreau style. It's also available on several sites on-line. It is difficult to keep from highlighting every line, isn't it? However, I am giving myself permission to do a lot of it because I think I am going to be picking up this book for years to come. Whenever life slows down for me (like my lovely summer vacations), I slowly began to remember my priorities, what's truly important. I have a feeling that this book will help me do that in future. I plan to keep my copy at hand. Barb
From: Dale Short Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 08:59 AM Robt: My copy of WALDEN has a proletariat feel, too. I got it for 25 cents at a used book store in the hills of North Carolina. It has half the cover ripped off, to keep it from being returned to the publisher for credit, and is underlined in two different colors of ink. I was aware that pages were falling out, but it wasn't until I took it off the shelf last night that I discovered the first 20 or so pages are gone. Looks like I'll be finding one of those online versions Barb mentions, to fill in the gap. My copy also contains the essay "On Civil Disobedience." >>Dale in Ala.
From: Barbara Moors Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 09:05 AM I realized that I should probably post one of those sites: / I'm glad to see you all are reading it with me, Sherry, Robt and Dale, and hope more will join us. Isn't it perfect summer reading, somehow? Barb
From: David Moody Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 09:54 AM Another first time reader here; just finished the long initial chapter on economy. Many things that Thoreau says strike a chord with me. I've certainly never put much stock in fancy Clothing, Shelter, Food, or Fuel. But I'm not living in the woods either, and I think that Thoreau would understand that. His complaint is not necessarily with those who seek the luxuries of civilization, but with those who do so without examining themselves to see which is the best path for them. The unexamined life is not worth living. Thoreau does not present his way of life as the best way for all; it's just the best way for him. That's why much of Walden strikes me as an Apology for Thoreau's way of life, in the sense of being an explanation. Thoreau must have had dozens of people call him a lazy bum and tell him to get a real job. David
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 12:32 PM David says: "That's why much of Walden strikes me as an Apology for Thoreau's way of life, in the sense of being an explanation. Thoreau must have had dozens of people call him a lazy bum and tell him to get a real job." And I very much agree. I also think that it is important to keep in mind two things: (1) Thoreau did work and was a good worker in that community and time, though peripatetic (a word that, given its roots, is particularly appropriate for Thoreau). (2) Thoreau wanted to be a writer; Walden was his only real work. Walden wasn't successful in its time. (Perhaps it is more successful today because it suggest a lost Eden?). And many writerly writers, while acknowledging the present appeal of Walden, don't think much of Thoreau as a writer. As a person, yes. As a writer, no. pres The future, like everything else, is not what it used to be. - Valéry
From: Jonathan Metts Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 01:49 PM I'm ten pages into my first reading of Walden and thus far agree with much of the previous posts. My patience for pure philosophy is thin, so I'm looking forward to when the narrative elements get mixed in. My copy is borrowed from a friend. Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: Something Wicked This Way Comes (Uh-oh)
From: David Moody Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 02:11 PM I should point out that my copy is borrowed from a library, a technique which Thoreau used extensively. David
From: R Bavetta Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 02:17 PM I have to admit my tolerance for philosophical musings is not as developed as it should be, so I have carefully avoided reading this all my life. This time, I thought I'd at least give it a try, but alas, I'm up at the cabin now where there are quite a few books, but no Walden. Didn't we stop to see Walden Pond on the infamous bus tour out of Boston? R
From: Barbara Moors Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 02:46 PM Oh, Ruth, the cabin would have been a perfect place to read this. Hopefully, some of the mood will carry over when you return home. In my reading about Thoreau, he seems to have been a peg that didn't fit into almost any shaped hole. He came the closest to fitting into the Transcendentalist category which Emerson represented, probably because they all so differed from each other. Barb
From: Sherry Keller Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 04:30 PM Ruth, I'll bring my copy. I don't know if I'll be finished before I leave, but at least you can start on it. Sherry
From: Ian Cragg Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 05:42 PM There seems to be a small industry in taking lines from Thoreau out of context and putting them on bookmarks and so on, but I liked "A man sits as many risks as he runs". What was interesting to me as somebody coping with not having work at the moment, was the whole idea of what to do with your days. It just shows how the world has moved on, that there are very few places nowadays where you could just build yourself a shack and start growing crops to feed yourself. I think there's a tendency to idealise Thoreau which the text doesn't wholly bear out- he never completely drops out of society, just retreats from it. He still does casual labour as required to earn enough cash to get seed crops and so on, and he sells the excess. It isn't an attempt to live permanently on that basis, either- he's quite clear that he saw this as something he had to do for a period of time, but he came away after a couple of years, one assumes because he felt that everything that would be revealed to him had been. At moments, Thoreau can be inspirational; at others, very succinct and perceptive, but I suppose it's the Transcendentalist in him which leads him to make a point and then rhapsodise on it- sections of the book are constructed almost symphonically, with a theme and development. It's no wonder Charles Ives kept coming back to the movement for inspiration.
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 06:43 PM Ruth asks: Didn't we stop to see Walden Pond on the infamous bus tour out of Boston? We sure did. While we were waiting for our tardy tour bus at the initial start off point, the tour guide asked who was associated with Walden Pond and in my most sit-in-the-front-of-the-class mode swiftly answered, “Thoreau.” To which she triumphantly snapped, “Wrong! It’s THOReau.” I had said, “ThorEAU.” Well, right there I wasn’t too keen on her—despite the fact that I carefully say THOReau now—and was none too surprised when she turned out to be psychotic. While the tour bus was on the road to Walden Pond I leaned over and said to her(with a hint of snideness): “Do they call this road the THOReau-fare?” “They should,” she said with approval. Seeing Concord, Mass and Walden Pond does help to ground this book for me, so, I’m very glad we went on the tour, and nearly said a prayer of thanksgiving when we got off that bus safely. Robt
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Monday, August 02, 2004 07:40 PM Robert: According to the American Heritage (computer) Dictionary which pronounces words on command, the Lady was not right. Without going into the pronunciation key, it sounds like "the row", accent on the first syllable. I never thoroughly said THOR row, but I also never elided the first syllable that much. Thanks for the opportunity to learn something. pres The future, like everything else, is not what it used to be. - Valéry
From: David Moody Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 07:50 AM Ian's mention of the small industry of taking quotations from Walden out of context reminds me of the one guy who used to annotate chess games with quotations from Thoreau. David
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 09:22 AM I finished "The Ponds" last night and take back what I said about that chapter not being as readable. His description of the effect of "myriads of small perch" and the various insects effect on the surface of the pond had me entranced. And, the final lines speak to what we are currently doing to our environment: Nature has no human inhabitant who appreciates her. The birds with their plumage and their notes are in harmony with the flowers, but what youth or maiden conspires with the wild luxuriant beauty of Nature? She flourishes most alone, far from the towns where they reside. Talk of heaven! ye disgrace earth. And, I'll bet there is a story behind his tirade against Flint of Flint's Pond fame! Barb
From: Dale Short Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 10:13 AM By the way, here's a scan of my worn WALDEN. No publication date, because that's one of the pages that have fallen out. >>Dale in Ala. WALDEN.JPG (0KB) Walden cover
From: David Moody Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 11:12 AM Dale, That might be the edition published by Lancer in 1968, if it has 445 pages. David
From: Dale Short Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 11:24 AM David: Wow! 445 pages, it is. Looks like I've got a 1968 Lancer edition. >>Dale in Ala.
From: Jody Richael Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 11:46 AM I first read Walden when I was in college and then I re-read it a few years later. The first time I read it I loved it but the second time I disliked it. When I was young and single it all seemed great but I found that my perspective changed dramatically on the second reading when I was married with children. I really agreed with Sherry's comment that he was naive and somewhat pompous. I should have re-read it again because I'm sure there are still many interesting ideas. I would love to see the Walden that would result from Thoreau living on the pond with a wife and child. Jody
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 11:56 AM " I would love to see the Walden that would result from Thoreau living on the pond with a wife and child." Should be written. pres The future, like everything else, is not what it used to be. - Valéry
From: Dale Short Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 12:07 PM Jody: Absolutely. The Walden experience with spouse and offspring would be a book of a different color, and one that I'd love to read. In the meantime, I highly recommend a female's homage to the Walden ideal with special emphasis on the "spiritual" that Pres references, via Henry James. Annie Dillard's PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK, which won the Pulitzer for nonfiction, is one of the few magical and trascendent books in my reading experience. >>Dale in Ala.
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 12:56 PM I've been thinking of Annie Dillard frequently as I read this. I loaned my copy to my sister who is not finding it as readable as I did. Did she make reference to Walden? I can't remember. Constant Reader introduced me to Dillard and it was probably you, Dale. I think when I was young I would have had to react in absolutes to Thoreau's writing. Now, I just feel that it's one more ingredient to add to my thought process. I don't expect those who inspire me to be perfect anymore, primarily because I've found that none of them are. That helps me keep from throwing the baby out with the bath water, as my mother used to say. Barb
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 01:13 PM One more interesting little bit of trivia about Thoreau discovered online: When his writing failed to win money or acclaim, he turned surveyor to support himself. As a result, Thoreau's later years increasingly were spent outdoors, observing and writing about nature. His seminal essay, "Succession of Forest Trees," describes the vital ecology of the woodlands, highlighting the role of birds and animals in seed dispersal. Published posthumously in Excursions, Thoreau's essay makes the forward looking suggestion that forest management systems mirror existing woodland ecology. Barb
From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 01:32 PM Ah Barb, I doubt HDT would have approved of our cabin with its garage, washer & dryer, forced air heat, cable TV & VCR. But then again, he might have loved my mother's mended pillows, 50 year old blankets, 70 year old sheets... R
From: Robert Armstrong Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 04:31 PM Dale, Loved seeing your tattered edition so much that I've scanned mine: Collier Books, 1962. Robt WALDEN(1).JPG (0KB)
From: Jody Richael Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 04:53 PM Thanks for the tip Dale. I definitely plan on reading the Annie Dillard - I hadn't heard of it before. Jody
From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 06:26 PM I definitely recommend the Annie Dillard, too. R
From: Dale Short Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 08:46 PM You're very welcome, Jody! Robt, I like your cover of WALDEN better than mine. Yours has a surreal/psychedelic frog and that awful/beautiful kitschy typeface for the title which I confess to using myself, in the 60s. Barb writes, I think when I was young I would have had to react in absolutes to Thoreau's writing. Now, I just feel that it's one more ingredient to add to my thought process. I don't expect those who inspire me to be perfect anymore, primarily because I've found that none of them are. You said a mouthful of wisdom there, Barb. Who says there aren't advantages to getting older? As to whether Dillard mentions Thoreau and Walden in PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK, I was able to use Amazon's nifty "Search This Book" feature to find out, and the answer is: yes and no. Dillard doesn't mention WALDEN, but the publisher's blurb does, saying that PILGRIM has prompted many comparisons to WALDEN by reviewers. She does, however, make several brief mentions of Thoreau (six, to be exact) such as the following: >>Dale in Ala.
From: Jonathan Metts Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 11:27 PM On 8/3/2004 8:46:00 PM, Dale Short wrote: >You said a mouthful of wisdom >there, Barb. >Who says there aren't >advantages to getting older? A: Thoreau Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: Something Wicked This Way Comes (Uh-oh)
From: Dale Short Date: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 11:44 PM Jonathan: Touche.
From: Barbara Moors Date: Wednesday, August 04, 2004 09:39 AM The chapter "Higher Laws" is a great example of what I accept, reject and ponder. His statements about eating animal and fish meat are interesting. I can certainly see them as an argument for being a vegetarian. However, he obviously has conflicting feelings about fishing. In this chapter, he says: "I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot fish without falling a little in self-respect." However, he opens the next chapter with: "Sometimes I had a companion in fishing who came through the village to my house from the other side of the town, and the catching of the dinner was as much a social exercise as the eating of it." I also will use his image of gluttony in the future when I am trying to remember how little of this food I am eating I actually need.. His comparisons to the insect world who eat large amounts while in the larva form but need little in the adult form were interesting. The last sentence rings in my head: "The gross feeder is a man in the larva state; and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without fancy or imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them." However, his condemnation of sensuality, in general, are where he and I part ways. I've never been able to imagine myself as an ascetic. I am though more than willing to let him plow that ground and bring what he learns back to me. Barb
From: Dale Short Date: Wednesday, August 04, 2004 10:44 AM Barb: I was attraced to asceticism and vegetarianism in my 20s, but the attractions wore off pretty fast. It's interesting to me that when most people hear the word "ascetic" they envision a figure such as a Buddhist monk, but I know several monks and that's a misconception. The Buddha himself experimented with an extreme ascetic lifestyle for years, but found it to be a spiritual dead-end. Instead, he advocated what he called "The Third Way," steering a path between deprivation and indulgence and emphasizing personal compassion. While on that path, monks have a refreshing, sometimes childlike, appreciation for simple sensory pleasures. In Buddhist thought, one of the most dangerous traps human beings fall into is behaving from reflex, preconception, or dogma without being continuously mindful of how your actions affect yourself and others. They believe that material objects are neither good nor bad in themselves, but become good or bad depending on the place we give them in our lives. Whatever Thoreau's shortcomings and blind spots, it seems to me he was sincerely into mindfulness in a major way, and I greatly admire him for that "examined life" that seems so out of fashion in our culture these days. Speaking of monks and asceticism, one of my fondest memories is the first time a van-load of them stayed at our house while en route to one of the "Mystical Arts of Tibet" events. In the evening they were very focused on their readings, prayers, and meditation, which can take a lot of time. But once that was done, half of them headed for our hot-tub out back and the other half watched a basketball tournament on ESPN. I like the "Third Way." >>Dale in Ala.
From: Sherry Keller Date: Wednesday, August 04, 2004 03:59 PM That's neat, Dale. Barb, I agree about the problems with pleasure. So many people feel the need to limit pleasure in others. What is up with that? As far as I'm concerned, sensory pleasure is one of God's greatest gifts. Enjoying a good cabernet is just as "moral" as enjoying a beautiful sunset, in my book. Moderation in all things, including moderation, is my motto. Sherry
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Wednesday, August 04, 2004 08:20 PM "Moderation in all things, including moderation" GREAT! pres The future, like everything else, is not what it used to be. - Valéry
From: Barbara Moors Date: Friday, August 06, 2004 10:54 AM I am going to keep posting on this thread with the irritating Error messages hoping that Tonya can restore them eventually (for which I will be pathetically grateful if it happens). I am nearing the end, in The Pond in Winter chapter, and am finding that what I value most from Thoreau are his observations of Nature. I could read them forever. The Winter Animals chapter with the descriptions of the squirrel, fox and hares is priceless. Barb
From: Barbara Moors Date: Friday, August 06, 2004 05:04 PM And, now I have to take that back (though I still love his observations of nature). His bit of philosophy about Spring as a metaphor for renewal and change will stick with me for a very long time: Why the jailer does not leave open his prison doors,--why the judge does not dismiss his case,--why the preacher does not dismiss his congregation! It is because they do not obey the hint which God gives them, nor accept the pardon which he freely offers to all. Barb
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Friday, August 06, 2004 06:53 PM "It is because they do not obey the hint which God gives them, nor accept the pardon which he freely offers to all." I prefer accepting hints to obeying them. pres The future, like everything else, is not what it used to be. - Valéry
From: Sherry Keller Date: Saturday, August 07, 2004 07:52 AM Last night I read the part about the ant war and the loon watching. It was delightful. What I like about Thoreau is that he can find entertainment in such small mundane natural things. It's a lesson we'd do well to follow. There's so much richness around (what we haven't destroyed yet) and if we could just slow down and notice it, our lives would be much richer. The loon section rather shocked me, since people were hunting them. In Wisconsin, anyway, loons are almost like cult icons. Side note: This summer I was chased by a loon, twice. The first time I took a kayak ride, I headed out to the big part of the lake a bit toward the opposite shore from my cabin. I could tell there was a loon way in the middle, and that three women in a paddle boat were not moving in the water, making loon-type noises from a distance. As I approached the shore, the loon started making his frantic noise. I really don't know how to describe it; loons have a language all their own. Then it dove towards me, waved his wings and made more noise, dove toward me again, until he was only about 15 feet from me and started following me. I thought, well, he obviously doesn't want me to go that way, so I'll turn around. He turned around, too, and still made that noise, and flapped his wings at me. I turned towards an inlet; he did too; at every turn he followed me. I paddled toward the women who were sitting still in the water (I knew one of them) and when I approached I said, That guy's chasing me. They said "We've been watching and it's like looking at a National Geographic special." Finally when I got farther and farther away, he stopped and went back. Turns out, his mate and two chicks were on the shore. He didn't want me anywhere near them. Another day, I saw a motorboat rather close to the whole family taking pictures of them. I did this whole swing around the lake to try to avoid them, but as soon as I got within 200 yards, the daddy started chasing me again. He didn't seem to mind the motor boat. When I approached the boat, the man said maybe the loon thought my kayak was a bird of prey. Could be. This was the first time in four or five years that the baby loons had not been raptor food, and maybe the parent loons were being very aggressive, because enough was enough. The loons were not obsessive about motor boats, just kayaks. Sherry
From: Ann Davey Date: Saturday, August 07, 2004 11:15 AM I didn't get this month's selection read because I was finishing up teaching summer classes and then went on vacation. It looks like you have a great discussion going here. When the notes get restored, I look forward to catching up on them. Ann
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, August 07, 2004 12:33 PM Pres, I agree with you about accepting hints rather than obeying them. Thoreau tends to be a man of absolutes. However, given the state of forgiveness in this country, I'm willing to overlook that one. Sherry, I am so glad that you brought up the ant war and the loon. I loved those sections! I kept wondering how accurate he was about ant wars. But, in any case, both accounts were magical. Thanks for including your own experience. I enjoyed reading it. And, it's nice to know that the loons are getting aggressive about not letting their young be prey. Ann, I knew you were probably going to be too busy for this one, but if you get a few minutes, you might dip into it. It's been surprisingly magical for me. Barb
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, August 08, 2004 09:25 PM We are reading a story on the Short Stories conference that is a perfect tie-in with Walden. It is The Second Tree from the Corner by E.B. White. You can find it in The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike and Katrina Kenison or in White's collection by the same name. When I reached the end of it, Thoreau kept echoing in my head. Then, I found this paragraph by White when I was researching him on Google: "Walden is the only book I own, although there are some others unclaimed on my shelves. Every man, I think, reads one book in his life, and this one is mine. It is not the best book I ever encountered, perhaps, but it is for me the handiest, and I keep it about me in much the same way one carries a handkerchief - for relief in moments of defluxion or despair." (White in The New Yorker, May 23, 1953) Hope you can find time to read the story. It is done in 5 pages. Barb
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, August 10, 2004 05:08 PM I finished too, Sherry, and don't know why I haven't posted anything about it yet. I do have some highlighted favorites. Was it particularly moving reading it out in the woods? Even though I'm mindful of Ruth's comments about relative luxury, that still seems like the perfect place to be reading this book. Was Civil Disobedience in your edition and did you go ahead and read it? I did and it was good to know what all of those nonviolent resistance people have been talking about all this time. However, so much of it seemed specific to the time in which he was living. And, of course, it lacked all the magic of nature that I loved in Walden. Here are 2 of my favorite excerpts from that final chapter: If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. and: Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise that as common sense? But, I want to hear everyone else's too, in the final chapter, but the others as well! Barb
From: Sherry Keller Date: Tuesday, August 10, 2004 08:54 PM No, my edition doesn't have Civil Disobedience in it. It's wonderful reading this in the woods, and lots of it put me in mind of my own cabin in Wisconsin. I don't have the book in front of me right now, but I like this: "Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even he Elizabethan men. But what is that to a purpose? A living dog is better than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can? Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made." Sherry
From: Ernest Belden Date: Wednesday, August 11, 2004 12:26 AM Looks like I am not alone questioning Thoreau's singlemindedness and polemics. I made the point that there is a need for human societies and interaction. Not all people are the same, some of them would be bored and unhappy were they to live by Thoreau's example. I like Dale's explanation of Buddhist practices and traps for human behavior. To be mindful how your actions affect yourself and others seems to be an ideal goal for men. Henry James' comments of Thoreau's looks are of interest in understanding his views. He must have suffered frequent disappointments and feelings of rejection which may have led to the extremes of self sufficiency. Ernie
From: Dale Short Date: Wednesday, August 11, 2004 08:59 AM It's good to hear your thoughts, Ernie. I was so charmed by Thoreau's observations that I had failed to realize the extent to which his principles isolate him from the larger community. I do notice, though, that he participates in the community to the degree that he's not averse to borrowing tools when he needs to build something. A guy after my own heart.{G} >>Dale in Ala.
From: Barbara Moors Date: Wednesday, August 11, 2004 09:21 AM Sherry, I'm glad you highlighted that quote. My oldest son, Jefferson, is home visiting us for a week and we had been having a discussion about that very topic. It will be fun to share that quote with him. It also reminds me of one of my favorite things about sharing this book. You read a gem and then there are so many more good ones that you forget about the previous ones until reminded! Ernie, even listening to contemporary reaction to Thoreau, it is obvious that he sets up a friction with some people. Can you imagine the reaction if he lived in your neighborhood? For some reason, I've always delighted in these "square pegs". I love knowing that they are there even when I don't agree with them. Dale, Thoreau didn't have a problem with sharing in what was available around him, did he? I got the impression that he would rather take from people than animals. Barb
From: David Moody Date: Thursday, August 12, 2004 07:45 AM I think I read Walden the wrong way, in giant gulps. It is probably best sampled in small doses, with time for lazy thought and reflection between paragraphs. You know what this really reminded me of? The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Not so much in philosophy, as in tone. Take this passage from chapter 1: Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after. Perhaps it's just my imagination, but that Thoreauvian, or what? David, who has always had an overactive imagination
From: Barbara Moors Date: Thursday, August 12, 2004 08:46 AM Wow, David, I really like that. And, yes, it does sound very much like Thoreau. Despite my mother's best efforts, the only parts of the Bible I've read have been here with Classics Corner. I feel like I miss a lot that underpins our literature by not being familiar with it, similar to not knowing Shakespeare. Do you think that Ecclesiastes would be a good book of the Bible to read here in the future? I can tell that I'm going to be very pulled at nomination time between proposing something that I think I should read and something that I think others will join me in reading. I just got a book on Thoreau through our library system. It's one of a series done by Harold Bloom called Bloom's BioCritques: Comprehensive Biography and Critical Analysis. Bloom edits it and writes an introduction. The rest is articles about the subject, including a short biography. It feels like the article section of a Norton edition, but with far more readable print (a must for me these days). As I'm reading the biographical information, it is obvious that anyone who tries to reduce Thoreau to a person who lived off others is being very simplistic. After he graduated from Harvard, he tried to teach in the public schools. He quit after two weeks when a board member criticized him for not being a strict disciplinarian and not using corporal punishment. Some time after that, he and his brother, John, started a school for boys in their home. They based it on the kinds of principals that you would love to have in a school for your children. They made a contract with the boys initially which involved an interview regarding what the boys' priorities for learning were. Then, they incorporated those priorities into the academic program and agreed to pursue them as long as the boys upheld their part of the bargain, studying, following basic rules, etc. I loved this part: On one occasion, when a boy was overheard swearing, Henry Thoreau gathered all the students together and reasoned with them, explaining that such communication was silly and ineffective. "Boys", he said, "if you wanted to talk business with a man, and he persisted in thrusting words having no connection with the subject into all parts of every sentence--Boot-jack, for instance--wouldn't you think he was taking a liberty with you, and trifling with your time, and wasting his own?" Henry then used the word bootjack inappropropriately and violently in a sentence, as a demonstration of the silliness of profanity. John was weakened by tuberculosis and died as a result of lockjaw contracted from a bad cut. Henry didn't want to teach by himself and disbanded the school. However, he continued to work in a variety of ways, coming up with all kinds of innovations for his family's pencil factory which enhanced the quality of the lead and lent efficiency to the pencil making process. He also did surveying work and was in demand as a lecturer, particularly for the Concord Lyceum. For the most part, he only worked to live, not the other way around. However, he was very aware of the accusations that he was living off others and tried to make sure that he contributed. Of course, he was also a difficult man who stood on his principals, did not want to be a member of any group and rarely did what he was told to do. I must admit that those are very attractive qualities to me though they are certainly not easy to live with. Barb
From: Dale Short Date: Thursday, August 12, 2004 09:08 AM Beautiful verses, David. Definitely in the spirit of Thoreau. Or vice-versa. By the way, here are some photos I came across--exterior and interior of the current-day cabin replica that's near the pond. >>Dale in Ala. WALDEN-INT.JPG (58KB) Replica interior WALDEN-EXT.JPG (121KB) Replica exterior
From: Ann Davey Date: Thursday, August 12, 2004 07:05 PM David, That was beautiful. Is it from the King James version? Barb, I always appreciate the biographical research you do. Ann
From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, August 13, 2004 08:19 PM Wow, Dale. I pictured the cabin as much more ramshackle than thbat. Plastered walls, yet! R Dancing_on_the_Sand.jpg
From: Dale Short Date: Friday, August 13, 2004 10:16 PM Hi, Ruth: I have no idea how accurate this "replica" of the cabin purports to be. But I had the same thought you did...very fancy, compared to the cabin my granddad rented on the Warrior River in North Alabama when I was a kid. >>Dale in Ala.
From: Sherry Keller Date: Saturday, August 14, 2004 12:32 AM He talked about plastering the cabin in the book. It made it warmer in the winter. Sherry
From: Sherry Keller Date: Sunday, August 15, 2004 07:58 AM There is a physical phenomenon he describes near the end of the book that I've never witnessed. Snow is melting on a cut bank and sand somehow comes up through the snow and makes patterns. I liked the way Thoreau made connections with the patterns here and all of nature. But I had a hard time imagining what he was talking about, because I've never seen it. Have any of you? Sherry
From: Dottie Randall Date: Sunday, August 15, 2004 10:51 AM Here's evidence of my earlier remarks concerning CC and how it works for me. Though I'd fully intended to read this one again with you all, I had been reading other things instead -- the pattern came out differently than I'd expected in life lately and the plan I had in mind changed in response. Real life, right? Doesn't mean I've not been following this discussion whenever I'm here. SO David comes up with Ecclesiastes and I have to go pick up a copy of Walden because Barb responds to David as she does about selections on CC and adds her wonderful biographical info -- which reminded me why I'd wanted to read this one. So now I'm so far back here I'm not going to have a lot to add except to say "thanks" because this is exactly why CC works for me. Still, two notes here. First, the school thing (it does sound right, doesn't it, Barb? A bit like Montessori in some respects as were some of Alcott's ideas) -- reminded me of the Emerson/Alcott schooling experiments -- not to mention the communal living ones juxtaposed to/combined with the simple living one propounded in Walden. Having been for many years a totally obsessed reader of Alcott info by LMA, about LMA, and about the entire family and their circle of famous friends, Thoreau and Walden and Emerson and his essays have always hovered at the periphery of my interests -- besides which they are classics which we all hear about through school whether or not we read them. Emerson's collected essays is on the living room shelf -- and for a while I imitated Mac in Rose in Bloom (LMA) by keeping it with me and reading it when time allowed. Around the same time I read the Bible through on my own for the first time and yes, I find correlations. But somehow Walden disappeared off the edge of the radar along the way and I can't even say if there's a copy in the house other than this new one. Second, David thank you for that thoughtful comparison between the Biblical book and Walden. I agree there is a congruity of thought there and am glad to be reminded that there were those whose intense integration of their religious ideals led them to apply those ideals to living a life which would be least harmful to themselves and others. While the levels of success vary (as with us all no matter what the guiding principles), I was reminded of some today who might do well to reacquaint themselves with the principles by which they claim to live, Biblical or otherwise. (oops -- I'll get off the soapbox) Barb, I think Ecclesiastes might be a good choice indeed for CC. Could be nearly as lively as Job {G} -- Ecclesiastes is one of my favorites for several reasons. Dottie Time is simply the yardstick of our separation. If we are particles in a sea of distance, exploded from an original whole, then there is a science to our solitude. We are lonely in proportion to our years. from THE RULE OF FOUR
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 04:54 PM I wonder how exact a replica of the cabin that is, Dale. If it's close, I'm very impressed with Thoreau's abilities as a builder. Dottie, my oldest son has been home for a week (just left today) and he's been encouraging me, for a long time, to read Emerson, specifically the essays "Self Reliance", "Experience" and "The Poet." Reading Thoreau makes me more interested, but I keep wondering how much I would miss the observations of nature interspersed. I didn't even know about Alcott (the father) which makes me a little embarrassed. I'm glad you decided to read Walden. I'll be thinking about this one for a very long time, so I'll be looking forward to your observations. Barb
From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 04:56 PM Sherry, I'd never heard of that sand and snow phenomenon either. I am also still wondering if those wars between types of ants are actually common too. Barb
From: Sherry Keller Date: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 06:13 PM Barb, I've read those Emerson essays. They are much denser than Thoreau, but well worth your time. Thoreau's writing is much more accessible, I think. Sherry
From: Barbara Moors Date: Wednesday, August 18, 2004 07:15 AM That was my suspicion, Sherry. Barb
From: R Bavetta Date: Wednesday, August 18, 2004 11:53 AM Emerson's Self-Reliance was important to me at a juncture of my life. R
From: Barbara Moors Date: Monday, August 23, 2004 11:31 PM It was a nice surprise to find this article in our Sunday Free Press this week: I wrote the author an email to let her know how much I enjoyed the column and invited her here to read our discussion. Barb
From: Sherry Keller Date: Tuesday, August 24, 2004 07:01 AM I'm glad you found this article, Barb. Yes, I do think that is why Walden has endured--the way it makes the young feel, and how it influences lives. I think it validates feelings people already have, but in today's world of consumerism, may have hidden and pounded out of consciousness by rampant advertising. Sherry
From: Ernest Belden Date: Wednesday, September 08, 2004 01:54 AM Barb & Sherry, As you have mentioned some articles on Thoreau I may mention one in the August 04 issue of the Smithsonian by Robert D Richardson: Walden's Ripple Effect pp 106. It helped me to get a very positive picture of Thoreau and learn a bit of his background and life. I like the following comment by the Richardson: "Walden, published 150 years ago this month, is Thoreau's report on the modest-almost backyard-experiment in getting back to basics." He goes on to call Walden a "Self Help Book" perhaps the ultimate Self Help Book. My less positive opinion may be due to being "Society Oriented" and consider social interaction as one of the primary aspects of life... Ernie

Henry David Thoreau

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