Tag Archives: ice

Thaw (Walden 190)


with his gentle persuasion

is more powerful than

Thor with his hammer.

The one melts,

The other but breaks in pieces.

— Henry David Thoreau, from “Spring,” Walden

(About  “A Year in Walden”)


The ice is melting at Walden Pond (Walden 187)

While we’re still in winter 2015, we begin the chapter “Spring” in Walden and all but a thin slice of pages of the book are behind us. This is the last chapter before “Conclusion.” Thoreau begins with a long description of the ice melting from the pond. Here is just a bit:

“In spring the sun not only exerts an influence through the increased temperature of the air and earth, but its heat passes through ice a foot or more thick, and is reflected from the bottom in shallow water, and so also warms the water and melts the under side of the ice, at the same time that it is melting it more directly above, making it uneven, and causing the air bubbles which it contains to extend themselves upward and downward until it is completely honeycombed, and at last disappears suddenly in a single spring rain. Ice has its grain as well as wood, and when a cake begins to rot or ‘comb,’ that is, assume the appearance of honeycomb, whatever may be its position, the air cells are at right angles with what was the water surface.”

I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating: Have you noticed how most of the things Thoreau describes in detail are things you wouldn’t see if you went to the pond for only a short visit? What he describes requires prolonged, close observation, the insights you earn from living with a landscape for an extended period of time, in this case through the changing seasons. This, too, is part of the book’s message.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

The ice men come to Walden Pond (Walden 186)

Harvesting on Lake St Clair, Michigan - circa 1905. Wikimedia Commons

Harvesting on Lake St Clair, Michigan – circa 1905. Wikimedia Commons

“To speak literally, a hundred Irishmen, with Yankee overseers, came from Cambridge every day to get out the ice. They divided it into cakes by methods too well known to require description…” — Henry David Thoreau, from “The Pond in Winter,” Walden

Today, of course, it does require description. The ice trade was a big deal in New England prior to the advent of refrigeration. Simply put, the region had bitterly cold winters and lots of lakes. Ice was cut in blocks and hauled to ice houses where they were stacked and insulated (often by being covered in sawdust), and then sold throughout the warm weather months.

Thoreau continues his description (paragraph breaks added): Continue reading

The Ice-Cutter (Walden 185)

Hauling ice to storage, Toronto, 1890s. Wikimedia Commons

Hauling ice to storage, Toronto, 1890s. Wikimedia Commons

He cuts and saws
the solid pond,
unroofs the house of fishes,
and carts off their very
element and air,
held fast by chains and stakes
like corded wood,
through the favoring winter air,
to wintry cellars,
to underlie the summer there.

— Henry David Thoreau, from “The Pond in Winter,” Walden

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Looking at ice (Walden 184)

Sometimes when Thoreau cut holes in the ice of Walden Pond, the holes would later freeze, and still later rain fell “and finally a new freezing forms a fresh smooth ice over all, it is beautifully mottled internally by dark figures, shaped somewhat like a spider’s web, what you may call ice rosettes, produced by the channels worn by the water flowing from all sides to a centre. Sometimes, also, when the ice was covered with shallow puddles, I saw a double shadow of myself, one standing on the head of the other, one on the ice, the other on the trees or hillside.”

Where I’m from, as in the place Henry was from, most people don’t spend a lot of time in winter looking at ice with a loving eye. Ice causes accidents. You slip and fall on icy pavement and hurt yourself. Your car slides through an intersection and gets T-boned by another car. Ice breaks limbs from trees and plugs the gutters on your roof and will burst the pipes in your house if they freeze. Ice is not your friend.

But if you really look it… what might you find?

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Walden Pond’s whooping, flatulent ice (Walden 174)

“I also heard the whooping of the ice in the pond, my great bed-fellow in that part of Concord, as if it were restless in its bed and would fain turn over, were troubled with flatulency and had dreams; or I was waked by the cracking of the ground by the frost, as if some one had driven a team against my door, and in the morning would find a crack in the earth a quarter of a mile long and a third of an inch wide.” — Henry David Thoreau, “Winter Animals,” Walden

What does Thoreau mean, “whooping of the ice”? He’s describing the noise from the thermal expansion and contraction of the ice (the same process that caused the ground to crack). BBC Radio 4 has actually recorded this at Walden Pond; the audio is at the Making Noise blog. Turn the volume up — the recording levels were set pretty low. To me it sounds more like the creaking of tree trunks in the wind. Nevertheless, the passage represents the only fart joke in Walden.

(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