Monthly Archives: December 2014

Nostalgia for an open fire (Walden 164)

What could be more nostalgic on a cold winter’s night than an old cast-iron wood stove with a blazing fire inside, radiating warmth and just a hint of smoke from when you last opened the door to throw in another stick of wood?

Can you imagine a time when said stove was a modern intrusion, a triumph of efficiency over aesthetics?

Thoreau lived in such a time, when the efficient stove was replacing the time-honored but wasteful fireplace: Continue reading


Thoreau on enjoying winter (Walden 163)

Thoreau’s been out gathering wood for the fireplace.

“How much more interesting an event is that man’s supper who has just been forth in the snow to hunt, nay, you might say, steal, the fuel to cook it with! His bread and meat are sweet.”

One of the tricks to enjoying winter is to get outside, even if it’s bitterly cold. Get out for a while and move around, because indoors will feel better when you get back. But you have to walk briskly or do something active — if you just shuffle along you’ll be miserable. Do it right and you’ll feel warm for the rest of the day. Continue reading

Walden Pond in winter (Walden 162)

Walden Pond winter 2005. Wikimedia Commons

Walden Pond winter 2005. Wikimedia Commons

“The snow had already covered the ground since the 25th of November, and surrounded me suddenly with the scenery of winter. I withdrew yet farther into my shell, and endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within my breast.”

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Winter’s new ice (Walden 161)

Ice at Holmes Lake, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Ice at Holmes Lake, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Merry Christmas! If you’re like me, by the evening of Christmas Day all the family festivities are over and you’re ready to do something else. (Granted, this post was written and scheduled in advance.) If it’s cold where you live, maybe it’s time to go outside and look closely at ice.

In today’s reading, winter comes to Walden Pond, and Thoreau examines the first ice, so much better than the later ice:

“The first ice is especially interesting and perfect, being hard, dark, and transparent, and affords the best opportunity that ever offers for examining the bottom where it is shallow; for you can lie at your length on ice only an inch thick, like a skater insect on the surface of the water, and study the bottom at your leisure, only two or three inches distant, like a picture behind a glass, and the water is necessarily always smooth then.” Continue reading

A carpenter’s skill (Walden 160)

Thoreau writes of shingling the exterior of his house and plastering the interior.

“In lathing I was pleased to be able to send home each nail with a single blow of the hammer, and it was my ambition to transfer the plaster from the board to the wall neatly and rapidly.”

In earlier chapters Henry has written extensively about his desire to avoid work in order to make time for “higher” things. But it’s clear that he takes pleasure and pride in mastering the skills of construction. Even sinking a nail is a good thing in and of itself. Continue reading

Thoreau’s idea for a big house (Walden 159)

After working on his own little house, Thoreau is thinking about houses in general. He imagines a big house, “A house whose inside is as open and manifest as a bird’s nest, and you cannot go in at the front door and out at the back without seeing some of its inhabitants; where to be a guest is to be presented with the freedom of the house, and not to be carefully excluded from seven eighths of it, shut up in a particular cell, and told to make yourself at home there — in solitary confinement. Nowadays the host does not admit you to his hearth, but has got the mason to build one for yourself somewhere in his alley, and hospitality is the art of keeping you at the greatest distance. There is as much secrecy about the cooking as if he had a design to poison you.”

I was surprised when I first read this. I thought he wanted solitude — but now he wants a house with no privacy?! Sometimes I think he is just whining, that he’s a contrarian for its own sake. But we could also see this as part of his habit of questioning everything. He wants to take nothing for granted. Why do we divide houses into rooms like we do? Is this a good idea? I think it is, but maybe it’s worthwhile to ask why we think so. I would point out, and I think Henry would appreciate this — considering that he spent much of his life living in the family home — that separate rooms create quiet spaces for reading and writing. Continue reading

Thoreau builds a chimney (Walden 158)

Thoreau writes about building his chimney with second-hand bricks. It was hard, slow work: “though I commenced at the ground in the morning, a course of bricks raised a few inches above the floor served for my pillow at night….” Continue reading