In praise of poverty? (Walden 142)

Last time Thoreau was complaining about Flint, the farmer whose name was undeservedly (in his opinion) attached to a beautiful pond on his property. Henry’s stinging indictment of Flint culminates with, “I respect not his labors, his farm where everything has its price, who would carry the landscape, who would carry his God, to market, if he could get anything for him….”

Ouch. And any of us who are opposed to the persistent idea that value can be measured only (primarily) in dollars, who are alarmed at the intrusion of commerce into every possible facet of life and culture, can cheer this rant.

But then Henry goes on to say something naive and I think rather callous. Continue reading

In which Thoreau gets all worked up about the name of Flint’s Pond (Walden 141)

What’s in a name? Does a name convey meaning, or is it just a label by which we identify a person or place? Does the source or etymology of a name even matter? I know of people who chose their children’s names from baby books based on the “meaning” of the name, by which they mean what the word meant in its original language. David is a Hebrew name meaning “beloved,” I’m told, but I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t know that. Does that make me more or less loved?

So today as we continue with the chapter “The Ponds,” Thoreau is getting worked up about the name of Flint’s Pond, another local body of water that he loved. Continue reading

“How can you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down?” (Walden 140)

As he wrote the final drafts of Walden, Thoreau lamented the changes to the pond since he moved out several years earlier. More trees had been cut down, and the town of Concord was even thinking about piping the pond’s water into town.

“Nevertheless, of all the characters I have known, perhaps Walden wears best, and best preserves its purity. Many men have been likened to it, but few deserve that honor. Though the woodchoppers have laid bare first this shore and then that, and the Irish have built their sties by it, and the railroad has infringed on its border, and the ice-men have skimmed it once, it is itself unchanged, the same water which my youthful eyes fell on; all the change is in me. It has not acquired one permanent wrinkle after all its ripples. It is perennially young….” Continue reading

Dreaming awake on the water (Walden 139)

2013-10 038sThis how to go boating:

“I have spent many an hour, when I was younger, floating over its surface as the zephyr willed, having paddled my boat to the middle, and lying on my back across the seats, in a summer forenoon, dreaming awake, until I was aroused by the boat touching the sand, and I arose to see what shore my fates had impelled me to; days when idleness was the most attractive and productive industry.” — Henry David Thoreau, from “The Ponds,” Walden Continue reading

Sailing above the clouds in Thoreau’s boat (Walden 138)

The French balloon Zenith during a nighttime flight in which a halo was visible around the moon. From the collection of balloonist Gaston Tissandier at the Library of Congress.

The French balloon Zenith during a nighttime flight in which a halo was visible around the moon. From the collection of balloonist Gaston Tissandier at the Library of Congress.

Among the somber colors of November, the surface of the pond all but vanished around Thoreau’s boat.

“In such transparent and seemingly bottomless water, reflecting the clouds, I seemed to be floating through the air as in a balloon, and their swimming impressed me as a kind of flight or hovering, as if they were a compact flock of birds passing just beneath my level on the right or left, their fins, like sails, set all around them.”  — “The Ponds,” Walden

As I’ve said before, my own experience with clear water is limited. And though I’ve been up in a variety of airplanes large and small, I’ve never been up in a balloon (though this didn’t stop me from writing a book about balloons). But in comparing the sensations of floating on clear water to ballooning, Henry reminds me of the most vivid description of a balloon launch that I’ve ever come across — one that eloquently captures an oft-remarked sensation among early balloonists that even though they knew they were going up, the balloon was so still and perfectly a part of the wind that it seemed to them that they remained still while the earth receded from them. But I’ll let the English writer John Poole describe it: Continue reading

“We shall, perhaps, look down thus on the surface of air…” (Walden 137)

Earth from the International Space Station. NASA

Earth from the International Space Station. NASA

“A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air. It is continually receiving new life and motion from above. It is intermediate in its nature between land and sky. On land only the grass and trees wave, but the water itself is rippled by the wind. I see where the breeze dashes across it by the streaks or flakes of light. It is remarkable that we can look down on its surface. We shall, perhaps, look down thus on the surface of air at length, and mark where a still subtler spirit sweeps over it.” — Henry David Thoreau, from “The Ponds,” Walden

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

A perfect forest mirror (Walden 136)

I found that I didn't have a photo quite like what Thoreau describes - but instead of "quicksilver" I'll substitute some sunset gold.

I found that I didn’t have a photo quite like what Thoreau describes – but instead of “quicksilver” I’ll substitute some sunset gold from Holmes Lake, Lincoln, Nebraska.

“In such a day, in September or October, Walden is a perfect forest mirror, set round with stones as precious to my eye as if fewer or rarer. Nothing so fair, so pure, and at the same time so large, as a lake, perchance, lies on the surface of the earth. Sky water. It needs no fence. Nations come and go without defiling it. It is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver will never wear off, whose gilding Nature continually repairs; no storms, no dust, can dim its surface ever fresh; — a mirror in which all impurity presented to it sinks, swept and dusted by the sun’s hazy brush — this the light dust-cloth — which retains no breath that is breathed on it, but sends its own to float as clouds high above its surface, and be reflected in its bosom still.”

— Henry David Thoreau, from “The Ponds,” Walden

(About  “A Year in Walden”)