Fishing by moonlight (Walden 124)

“In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute, and saw the perch, which I seem to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon travelling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the wrecks of the forest.” — Henry David Thoreau, from “The Ponds,” Walden

James Galway on flute, playing Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major (Op. 9, No. 2). Published in 1832, it’s possible that Thoreau knew this composition.

The video also includes Galway playing Debussy’s “Reverie,” which was composed well after Thoreau’s lifetime, but who here is going to complain about a gratuitous Debussy piece? Continue reading

Thoreau on virtue, law and order (Walden 122)

Thoreau is talking about law and order — how he was arrested for refusing to pay his poll tax (in protest of the Mexican War and of the federal government’s support of slavery), and how he habitually left his cabin unlocked and felt that if everyone lived as simply as he did, theft would be unknown. Maybe so: he had little to steal. He ends “The Village” chapter with a quote from Confucius:

“You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ punishments? Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass; the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends.” Continue reading

Society runs amok against Thoreau, it being the desperate party (Walden 121)

“One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cobbler’s, I was seized and put into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the State which buys and sells men, women, and children, like cattle, at the door of its senate-house.”

This is Thoreau’s matter-of-fact way of describing his arrest, which prompted his famous and influential essay, “Civil Disobedience.” He writes about the issues in more depth in that piece (and I wrote about his anti-slavery activism here), so this time I’m going to focus more on an important observation that Thoreau makes about the balance of power. He continues: Continue reading

The last blooms

Flowers won’t be blooming too much longer where I live. This late in the season a frost could do them in at any time. I find myself looking more closely in October than in, say, July, when the summer still seems endless. When you feel the nights growing colder, you know it’s time to enjoy the season before it changes.

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Thoreau on the benefits of getting lost (Walden 120)

“It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time.”

Are you kidding me, Henry?

In truth, “lost” is more a matter of attitude than anything else. It’s said that the great woodsman Daniel Boone claimed that he’d never been lost, though “I was once bewildered for three days.” Only those who can live off the land can afford to look at it that way.

So what does it mean to be lost? Henry was no Daniel Boone, and, as usual, he has something larger in mind. He continues: Continue reading

Columbus Day: How to distort the past without actually lying

thecuriouspeople:

Here’s a re-run from last year, which I think is apropos considering the current squabble over AP history standards. Many Americans still believe that the purpose of history is to teach patriotism. The best teachers, however, try to instill critical thinking skills and a willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if it ruins your preferred narrative.

But narratives can be tenacious, and it’s possible to cling to one in spite of overwhelming evidence. It’s possible to do so even while acknowledging that evidence. The story of Christopher Columbus shows how:

Originally posted on The Curious People:

Replicas of Columbus’s ships at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Via Wikipedia

Columbus Day is a US holiday which is celebrated with annual arguments about the propriety of honoring Christopher Columbus with a holiday. The atrocities that he and his men committed are so well documented that you’d think it would be impossible to defend the man, but people are still doing it. Today’s post isn’t about Columbus so much as it’s about how to defend Columbus (not that I’m defending him). There’s an important lesson here about history and about the way we talk about history.

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