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
While measuring the depth of Walden Pond, Thoreau noticed that the point of greatest depth lay exactly at the intersection of the pond’s greatest length and its greatest width. Intrigued, he began to wonder. “I said to myself, Who knows but this hint would conduct to the deepest part of the ocean as well as of a pond or puddle? Is not this the rule also for the height of mountains, regarded as the opposite of valleys? We know that a hill is not highest at its narrowest part.”
While he never fully resolved the question, he took preliminary steps to test it. Ecologist Daniel Botkin wrote a fascinating article about this, “Henry David Thoreau and the Depth of Walden Pond.” (adapted from his book, No Man’s Garden)
In it, Botkin explains how Thoreau’s work is a good example of using a scientific approach to answer questions. The entire piece is worth reading and goes into some of Henry’s other projects that aren’t covered in Walden, but here I will quote only the opening paragraphs: Continue reading
“It is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it.” — Henry David Thoreau, “The Pond in Winter,” Walden
As I wrote in an earlier post, “The hole in the bottom of Walden Pond,” there were plenty of strange stories about Walden Pond and its structure and origin. Here Henry comments that, “Many have believed that Walden reached quite through to the other side of the globe.” I don’t know if anyone actually believed that, or if that was just something they liked to say (though people have believed stranger things), but the point here — and one of the things I love about Thoreau — is that he’s the one who decided to actually find out. Here we see Henry the scientist, pursuing the raw data as he “fathomed it easily with a cod-line and a stone weighing about a pound and a half, and could tell accurately when the stone left the bottom, by having to pull so much harder before the water got underneath to help me.” Continue reading
“Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet is well as over our heads.” — Henry David Thoreau, “The Pond in Winter,” Walden
“Heaven is under our feet is well as over our heads.” — another Thoreauvian epigram with multiple layers of meaning. One layer is his ongoing blurring of water and sky — the way he describes one in terms of the other, so that by now water and sky seem like natural counterparts, two faces of the same aesthetic thing.
But there’s also the idea of heaven not as “sky” but as… well, as heaven. Thoreau has little or nothing to say about an afterlife. He’s more interested in the here and now — which is exactly is point here, I think. This is heaven, not only under our feet, but under our feet in unexpected places.
(About “A Year in Walden”)
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”)
“This was his looning — perhaps the wildest sound that is ever heard here, making the woods ring far and wide.” — Henry David Thoreau, “Brute Neighbors,” Walden
I don’t live in loon country, but the above video from New Hampshire features good loon audio (but jumpy video, unfortunately).
Thoreau writes of chasing a loon in his boat. The loon kept diving to get away from him, then popping up out of the water in unexpected places. Henry kept rowing for him, trying to guess where he would next appear, but without ever reaching him. The short video below, shot by some scuba divers, shows what wonderful divers loons are: Continue reading
What would happen if you found a great and perfect diamond, a jewel of such stunning beauty that it would surely command a huge price at auction… but, let’s say that by some magic it’s impossible for you or anyone else to take possession of it. No one can buy or sell the diamond. No one can take it away or hide it. And it rests in a spot where no one can prevent people from looking at it. It is beyond commerce and can provide no one with power or profit. What happens next?
I think what happens is that over time most people forget about it. Because the Unobtainable Diamond can have no market value, most people would cease to think of it as having any value. Oh, they might admire it if they happened to pass by, but since anyone could look at it at any time, most people wouldn’t even bother to go out of their way to see it. In today’s reading Thoreau writes: Continue reading