The impermanence of homes (Walden 166)

Still telling of the Walden’s former inhabitants, Thoreau writes of their homes, long gone, marked only by depressions in the earth:

“These cellar dents, like deserted fox burrows, old holes, are all that is left where once were the stir and bustle of human life, and ‘fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,’ in some form and dialect or other were by turns discussed.”

The internal quote is from Paradise Lost. And of course it happened that Henry’s little house suffered the same fate, apparently sold and carted off, so that it was long gone by the time this photo was taken in 1908, though admirers had raised a cairn to mark the spot.

Thoreau cabin site

The site of Thoreau’s cabin, marked by a cairn in 1908. Via Wikipedia

I think he would appreciate the impermanence of the little house he called home for two-and-a-half of his forty-four years. Speaking of another abandoned home site, he writes:

“Still grows the vivacious lilac a generation after the door and lintel and the sill are gone, unfolding its sweet-scented flowers each spring, to be plucked by the musing traveller; planted and tended once by children’s hands, in front-yard plots — now standing by wallsides in retired pastures, and giving place to new-rising forests; — the last of that stirp, sole survivor of that family. Little did the dusky children think that the puny slip with its two eyes only, which they stuck in the ground in the shadow of the house and daily watered, would root itself so, and outlive them, and house itself in the rear that shaded it, and grown man’s garden and orchard, and tell their story faintly to the lone wanderer a half-century after they had grown up and died — blossoming as fair, and smelling as sweet, as in that first spring.”

Oak Valley Wildlife Management Area, near Battle Creek, Nebraska. The area used to be somebody's farm. A rusty old windmill stands near this spot, creaking in the wind.

Oak Valley Wildlife Management Area, near Battle Creek, Nebraska. The area used to be somebody’s farm. A rusty old windmill stands near this spot, rattling and creaking in the wind.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

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