Wednesday, May 31, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #44

Illustration by Andrea Ventura

" . . . Thoreau was an abolitionist who brought Frederick Douglass to speak at the Concord Lyceum—a kind of community university—and participated in the Underground Railroad, to the point of risking charges of treason by helping enslaved people flee to Canada. While living at Walden, Thoreau hosted the annual festival of the Concord Female Anti-­Slavery Society, where the speakers included Lewis Hayden, who had escaped slavery in Kentucky. . ."

Friday, May 26, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: Happy Birthday Waldo #43


"Although Thoreau and Emerson were deeply involved in their work, they did not allow themselves to be distracted from the demands of friendship. They thought about it constantly and wrote about it at length. For both men, however, friendship presented a dilemma, since their expectations of it were never fully met by the reality.  This was as true in their own relationship as it was in their relationships with others. They dreamed of ideal friendship while experiencing the human variety."

                 from MY FRIEND, MY FRIEND by Harmon Smith

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #42

The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant

 3.77  ·   Rating Details ·  231 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews

Henry David Thoreau is one of those authors that readers think they know, even if they don't. He's the solitary curmudgeon with the shack out in the woods, the mystic worshipping solemnly in the quiet church of nature. He's our national Natural Man, the prophet of environmentalism. But here Robert Sullivan—who himself has been called an "urban Thoreau" (New York Times Book Review)—presents the Thoreau you don't know: the activist, the organizer, the gregarious adventurer, the guy who likes to go camping with friends (even if they sometimes accidentally burn the woods down). Sullivan argues that Walden was a book intended to revive America, a communal work forever pigeonholed as a reclusive one, and this misreading is at the heart of our troubled relationship with the environment today. Sullivan shows us not a lonely eccentric but a man in his growing village: a man who danced and sang, who worked throughout his short life at the family pencil-making business, and moved into his parents' house after leaving Walden, but always paid his father rent. Passionate yet whimsical, The Thoreau You Don't Know asks us to re-examine our everyday relationship with the natural world, and one another.
HD Thoreau with RW Emerson's amazing aunt Mary Moody Emerson

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #41


The Rediscovery of Margaret Fuller

The Rediscovery of Margaret Fuller

By Joseph Jay Deiss, Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 1974 
These are days when Margaret Fuller, America's first liberated woman, may well come into her own at last — that full flowering she found so impossible even in transcendental New England. The current rediscovery of Margaret coincides with the demands of our times. She was a woman who defied a man's world to express herself as a woman. In her short life (1810-1850) she did her "own thing" in Cambridge, in Boston, in New York, in Europe — to the horror of many and the delight of some.
Always candid about her feelings, she wrote to her friend William Henry Channing - "I love best to be a woman, but womanhood at present is too straitly bound to give me scope. At hours I live truly as a woman, at others I stifle. . . Men disappoint me so. I weary in this playground of boys! . . . I wish I were a man and then there would be one."
Margaret stretched the bounds of 19th-century womanhood to its limits. Her life was full of firsts for an American woman. She was the first woman to be admitted to the Harvard College library. She was the first woman in a public position to deplore the evil treatment of red men. As editor of the transcendentalist Dial, she was the first woman magazine editor. As crusading columnist and critic for Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, she was not only the first woman journalist but the first paid literary critic of either sex. Traveling abroad for Greeley, she was the first woman foreign correspondent.
Her dispatches covering the French siege of Rome in 1849 made her the first woman war correspondent. She became an underground agent of the exiled Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini, and thus the first American woman partisan in a foreign revolution. Her book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), was the first vigorous plea for women's rights in America; it was a sensation.
It could not have failed to vex and stir her contemporaries when she flatly demanded “We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man.” One of her extraordinary insights especially enraged the male chauvinists of her time. “There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #41

The frog had eyed the heavens from his marsh, until his mind was filled with visions, and he saw more than belongs to this fenny earth. He mistrusted that he was become a dreamer and visionary. Leaping across the swamp to his fellow, what was his joy and consolation to find that he too had seen the same sights in the heavens, he too had dreamed the same dreams!

                                                                           Journal, May 21, 1851

Friday, May 19, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #40

The Finest Qualities of Our Nature

"The finest qualities of our nature , like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly."
                                                                                         Economy, Walden

Thursday, May 18, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #39


by HD Thoreau

I am a parcel of vain strivings tied
By a chance bond together,
Dangling this way and that, their links
Were made so loose and wide,
For milder weather

A bunch of violets without their roots,
And sorrel intermixed,
Encircled by a wisp of straw
Once coiled about their shoots,
The law
By which I'm fixed

A nosegay which Time clutched from out
Those fair Elysian fields,
With weeds and broken stems in haste,
Doth make the rabble rout
That waste
The day he yields.

And here I bloom for a short hour unseen,
Drinking my juices up,
With no roots in the land
To keep my branches green,
But stand
In a bare cup.

Some tender buds were left upon my stem
In mimicry of life,
But ah! the children will not know,
Till time has withered them,
The woe
With which they're rife.

But now I see I was not plucked for naught,
And after in life's vase
Of glass set while I might survive, 
But by a kind hand brought
To a strange place.

That struck thus thinned will soon redeem its hours,
And by another year,
Such as God knows, with freer air,
More fruits with fairer flowers
Will bear,
While I droop here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #38

" A government which deliberately enacts injustice, and persists in it, will at length ever become the laughing-stock of the world.'

- Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, 1849

Monday, May 15, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #36


from EMERSON: The Mind On Fire by Robert D. Richardson, Jr.

“(Thoreau) was a disciple who was incapable of fawning or of uncritical admiration. He was brash, irreverent, rebellious, and amusing. But he was a disciple.”

Friday, May 12, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS" The Sages of Concord #35 


POND SCUM. Yes, you read that right. She is referring to Thoreau as pond scum. (click on the title to see the article) Granted, Scultz wrote the article and probably didn't come up with the Title. But whoever did come up with "Pond Scum" was surely reflecting the tone of her article. I recommend reading it, if only to familiarize yourself with some of the attitudes that many people, who only skim the surface of Walden, come away with. "Who did his laundry?"; "He didn't really live in the wilderness"; "He was a hermit who hated people and people hated him."

Donovan Hohn has a great rebuttal to this essay entitled, "Everybody Hates Henry" in The New Republic (Oct. 21, 2015):

"Of the many charges her indictment levels against Thoreau, the one Schulz gives greatest weight is the charge of Puritanical misanthropy. “Food, drink, friends, family, community, tradition, most work, most education, most conversation: all this he dismissed as outside the real business of living,” she writes. Biographically, she is mistaken on pretty much every count."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #34

"Warbling vireo and chewink. A very cold northwest wind. I hear they had a snow-storm yesterday in Vermont."  Journal: May 11, 1857

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #33drawing of Thoreau by his Quaker Friend, Daniel Ricketson

Drawing of Thoreau by his Quaker friend, Daniel Ricketson

It has been the lot of but few, dear Henry, to extract so much from life as you have done. Although you number fewer years than many who have lived wisely before you, yet I know of no one, either in the past or present times, who has drank so deeply from the sempiternal spring of truth and knowledge, or who in the poetry and beauty of every-day life has enjoyed more or contributed more to the happiness of others. Truly you have not lived in vain – your works, and above all, your brave and truthful life, will become a precious treasure to those whose happiness it has been to have known you, and wo will continue to uphold though with feebler hands the fresh and instructive philosophy you have taught them. . .
                                                Ever faithfully yours, Dan’l Ricketson

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #32


Advices from HD Thoreau.

1.      Confront the essentials
2.      If you’re despairing, make some noise.
3.      Simplify, simplify.
4.      Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.
5.      If you know of any risk to run, run it. If you do not know of any, enjoy confidence.
6.      If you can drive a nail and have any nails to drive, drive them.
7.      If you have any experiments you would like to try, try them; now’s your chance.
8.      Do not entertain doubts, if they are not agreeable to you. Send them to the tavern.
9.      As for health, consider yourself well and mind your business.
10.   Do what nobody can do for you. Omit to do everything else.

Monday, May 8, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #31

Mourning Doves

"What is the singing of birds, or any natural sound, compared with the voice of one we love?" 
                                                                                      Journal, April 30, 1851

Sunday, May 7, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #30

Moral Aphorism in Thoreau’s Walden
The Fox in Details, Details in the Fox

            Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is a philosophical treatise in the guise of a memoir. It is filled with aphorisms, witticisms, sweeping declarations, admonitions, poems, complaints, observations and more. He shows up, he observes, he sums up: “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes;” “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation;” “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.” These are all aphorisms, pithy observations that contain general truths.
            He uses logic in search of freedom, rationalization in search of wisdom. He turns things on their heads in order to get a new perspective and discovers the importance of tails, or lack thereof: “He was the lucky fox that left his tail in a trap.” The very things which we cherish most may be those things which imprison or chain or trap us by virtue of our attachment to them. The use of a fox, as opposed to a bear or a woodchuck, subtly (and cunningly) suggests slyness and cunning. The reader is thrown off, purposely, by the word “lucky.” We are apt to react in surprise: “How can it be luck to lose your tail in a trap?” We are forced to think and to consider the alternatives. We then realize that the “unlucky” fox  (or bear) lost more than its tail. We are reminded that “the muskrat will gnaw his third leg off to be free.” We are also reminded of the idea that it sucks to get old until you consider the alternative.
            Thoreau has begun this paragraph writing about furniture and about how it is not a necessity that we spend much time or money on it. “There is a plenty of such chairs as I like best in the village garrets to be had for taking them away.” We realize that, if chairs are being left behind by starving artists who live in unfinished attics, then we need not spend a lot of money on them. When we put two and two together, we realize that Thoreau is telling us, in no uncertain terms that, when trapped by the temptations of luxurious living, we had better forego the luxurious and keep the living. This is the moral of the “tail.” As beautiful or even functional as a tail may be, it is, in the final analysis, a luxury.

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #29

     The Wreck of the Elizabeth

"Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.. . . Do not trouble yourself to be religious; you will never get a thank-you for it. If you can drive a nail and have any nails to drive, drive them. If you have any experiments you would like to try, try them; now's your chance. Do not entertain doubts, if they are not agreeable to you."

     from Thoreau's Journal, July 16 (?) 1850 shortly after combing the beaches of Fire Island following the drownings of Margaret Fuller, her husband, the Marquis d'Ossoli and their two-year-old son, Nino.

     ". . .whatever actually happens to a man is wonderfully trivial and insignificant, --even to death itself, I imagine. He complains of the Fates who drown him, that they do not touch him. They do not deal directly with him. I have in my pocket a button which I ripped off the coat of the Marquis of Ossoli on the seashore the other day. Held up, it interrupts the light and casts a shadow, an actual button so called, -- and yet all the life it is connected with is less substantial to me than my faintest dreams. This stream of events which we consent to call actual, and that other mightier stream which alone carries us with it, --what makes the difference? . . .We are ever dying to one world and being born into another, and possibly no man knows whether he is at any time dead in the sense in which he affirms that phenomenon of another, or not. Our thoughts are the epochs of our life: all else is but as a journal of the winds that blew while we were here.. . .
    "There was nothing at all remarkable about them. They were simply some bones lying on the beach.They would not detain a walker there more than so much seaweed. I should think that the Fates would not take the trouble to show me any bones again, I so slightly appreciate the favor.
     "Do a little more of that work which you have sometime confessed to be good,which you feel that society and your justest judge rightly demands of you. Do what you reprove yourself for not doing. Know that you are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with yourself for no reason. Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.. . . Do not trouble yourself to be religious; you will never get a thank-you for it. If you can drive a nail and have any nails to drive, drive them. If you have any experiments you would like to try, try them; now's your chance. Do not entertain doubts, if they are not agreeable to you. Send them to the tavern. Do not eat unless you are hungry; there's no need of it. . . . As for health, consider yourself well, and mind your business. Who knows but you are dead already? . . .Do what nobody can do for you. Omit to do everything else."

Friday, May 5, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #28

Henry David Thoreau July 12, 1817 - May 6, 1862

"This poem was written by Louisa May Alcott, who may well have been in love with Thoreau. It appeared in the Atlantic in the summer of 1863."


We sighing said, "Our Pan is dead;
His pipe hangs mute beside the river;
Around it wistful sunbeams quiver,
But Music's airy voice is fled.
Spring came to us in guise forlorn;
The bluebird chants a requiem;
The willow-blossom waits for him;--
The Genius of the wood is gone.

Then from the flute, untouched by hands,
There came a low, harmonious breath:
For such as he there is no death;--
His life the eternal life commands;
Above man's aims his nature rose.
The wisdom of a just content
Made one small spot a continent,
And turned to poetry life's prose.

Haunting the hills, the stream, the wild,
Swallow and aster, lake and pine,
To him grew human or divine,--
Fit mates for this large-hearted child.
Such homage Nature ne'er forgets,
And yearly on the coverlid
'Neath which her darling lieth hid
Will write his name in violets.

To him no vain regrets belong
Whose soul, that finer instrument,
Gave to the world no poor lament,
But wood-notes ever sweet and strong.
O lonely friend! he still will be
A potent presence, though unseen,--
Steadfast, sagacious, and serene;
Seek not for him--he is with thee.

from American Transcendentalism Web:

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #27

“(I am) more of a Quaker than anything else. I believe in the ‘still small voice’ and that voice is Christ within us.”

Image result for rw emerson

(Emerson) "now saw that the real Reformation -- or at least the part that interested him -- stemmed from the English Commonwealth period and came not from the Puritans but from their enemies, the Quakers." 
                                               from Emerson: Mind On Fire by Robert D. Richardson

Thursday, May 4, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #26


As a group, the transcendentalists led the celebration of the American experiment as one of individualism and self-reliance. They took progressive stands on women's rights, abolition, reform, and education. They criticized government, organized religion, laws, social institutions, and creeping industrialization. They created an American "state of mind" in which imagination was better than reason, creativity was better than theory, and action was better than contemplation. And they had faith that all would be well because humans could transcend limits and reach astonishing heights.

TRANSCENDENTALISM is a very formal word that describes a very simple idea. People, men and women equally, have knowledge about themselves and the world around them that "transcends" or goes beyond what they can see, hear, taste, touch or feel.
This knowledge comes through intuition and imagination not through logic or the senses. People can trust themselves to be their own authority on what is right. A TRANSCENDENTALIST is a person who accepts these ideas not as religious beliefs but as a way of understanding life relationships.
The individuals most closely associated with this new way of thinking were connected loosely through a group known as THE TRANSCENDENTAL CLUB, which met in the Boston home of GEORGE RIPLEY. Their chief publication was a periodical called "The Dial," edited by Margaret Fuller, a political radical and feminist whose book "Women of the Nineteenth Century" was among the most famous of its time. The club had many extraordinary thinkers, but accorded the leadership position to RALPH WALDO EMERSON.

Margaret Fuller played a large part in both the women's and Transcendentalist movements. She helped plan the community at Brook Farm, as well as editing The Dial, and writing the feminist treatise, Woman in the Nineteenth Century.
Emerson was a Harvard-educated essayist and lecturer and is recognized as our first truly "American" thinker. In his most famous essay, "THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR," he urged Americans to stop looking to Europe for inspiration and imitation and be themselves. He believed that people were naturally good and that everyone's potential was limitless. He inspired his colleagues to look into themselves, into nature, into art, and through work for answers to life's most perplexing questions. His intellectual contributions to the philosophy of transcendentalism inspired a uniquely American idealism and spirit of reform.

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again.
It came into him, life; it went out from him, truth.
It came to him, short-lived actions; it went out from him, immortal thoughts.
It came to him, business; it went from him, poetry.
It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought.
It can stand, and it can go.
It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires
Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.
-Excerpt from The American Scholar, Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Transcendental Club was associated with colorful members between 1836 and 1860. Among these were literary figures NATHANIEL HAWTHORNEHENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW, and WALT WHITMAN. But the most interesting character by far was HENRY DAVID THOREAU, who tried to put transcendentalism into practice. A great admirer of Emerson, Thoreau nevertheless was his own man — described variously as strange, gentle, fanatic, selfish, a dreamer, a stubborn individualist. For two years Thoreau carried out the most famous experiment in self-reliance when he went to WALDEN POND, built a hut, and tried to live self-sufficiently without the trappings or interference of society. Later, when he wrote about the simplicity and unity of all things in nature, his faith in humanity, and his sturdy individualism, Thoreau reminded everyone that life is wasted pursuing wealth and following social customs. Nature can show that "all good things are wild and free."

Excerpt from "Walden"

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."
"Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify."
– from Walden (1854), by Henry David Thoreau
As a group, the transcendentalists led the celebration of the American experiment as one of individualism and self-reliance. They took progressive stands on women's rights, abolition, reform, and education. They criticized government, organized religion, laws, social institutions, and creeping industrialization. They created an American "state of mind" in which imagination was better than reason, creativity was better than theory, and action was better than contemplation. And they had faith that all would be well because humans could transcend limits and reach astonishing heights.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #25

Image result for ice-skating
Book Recommendation: The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man’s Unlikely Path to Walden Pond by Michael Sims

A must read for anyone who has strong feelings about Thoreau, negative or positive, or for those who are intrigued or puzzled or challenged by him. A wonderful book: an important, humanizing account.

“When I found a young Henry Thoreau ice-skating through the correspondence of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, it was like running into a long-lost friend. In the decades since first encountering Walden in my late teens, I had often glimpsed Thoreau as the bearded sage of literature, natural history or civil liberties. Except in his own writings, however, I had seldom met the awkward young man who loved to sing, who ran a private school and applied his engineering skills to the pencil business, who popped popcorn and performed magic tricks for Ralph Waldo Emerson’s children, faced his own illness and the deaths of loved ones, and tried to make it as a freelance writer in New York City.
            Sophia Hawthorne described a lively afternoon in Concord in December 1842 that captured my imagination: a twenty-five-year old Thoreau skating on the Concord River with both Emerson and Sophia’s own newlywed husband, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Emerson skated earnestly and Hawthorne grandly. Thoreau cavorted in what Sophia described to a friend as “dithyrambic dances and Bacchic leaps.” In ancient Greece a dithyramb was a wild choral hymn and dance, especially one dedicated to Bacchus. Thoreau didn’t drink alcohol, but otherwise Sophia Hawthorne found the perfect terms for his response to being outdoors, which was indeed ecstatic and pagan.
            Thoreau was not an ivory-tower thinker sitting with chin in hand. Contrary to myth, he was not a hermit. Caught up with his friends and his era, he lived most of his life in a busy village and admitted that he considered “homeopathic doses” of local gossip “as refreshing, in its way, as the rustle of leaves and the pepping of frogs.” He spent relatively little time in the wilderness – a few weeks here and there. His Walden Pond cabin provided a solitary working space away from his family’s boardinghouse, not escape from all society.
            Over the years, I found that some books about Thoreau sharpened rather than assuaged my hunger for more about the real-life young man. As I began writing my own book about him, I realized that I didn’t want to admire the marble bust of an icon. I wanted to gambol with a sarcastic radical who could translate Pindar and Goethe, track a fox to its lair and host an abolitionist rally beside a tiny cabin he had built himself. I didn’t want to applaud Thoreau, I wanted to find Henry.”

From The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man’s Unlikely Path to Walden Pond by Michael Sims

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #24

Image result for nathaniel hawthorne 1850

After dinner, . . .Mr. Thoreau and I walked up the bank of the river, and at a certain point he shouted for his boat. Forthwith a young man paddled it across, and Mr. Thoreau and I voyaged farther up the stream, which soon became more beautiful than any picture, with its dark and quiet sheet of water, half shaded, half sunny, between high and wooded banks. The late rains have swollen the stream so much that many trees are standing up to their knees, as it were, in the water, and bough, which lately swung high in air, now dip and drink deep of the passing wave. As to the poor cardinals which glowed upon the bank a few days since, I could see only a few of their scarlet hats peeping above the tide. Mr. Thoreau managed the boat so perfectly, either with two paddles or with one, that it seemed instinct with his own will, and to require no physical effort to guide it. He said that when some Indians visited Concord a few years ago, he found that he had acquired, without a teacher, their precise method of propelling and steering a canoe. Nevertheless, he was desirous of selling the boat of which he was so fit a pilot, and which was built by his own hands; so I agreed to take it, and accordingly became a possessor of the “Musketaquid.” I wish I could acquire the aquatic skill of the original owner.


                                                            Smith, Elder and Co., 1868

Monday, May 1, 2017

100 REFLECTIONS: The Sages of Concord #23

Home » The Quintessential Surveyor

The Quintessential Surveyor

March 24, 2003
Students examine the work of Henry David Thoreau, writer and surveyor.

Surveyors are often found tucked away in the quiet corners of history. Many figures that loom larger than life today once claimed surveying as a profession. The art of measurement, when practiced correctly, is as much philosophy as science in my view. A.C. Mulford, in his classic treatise “Boundaries and Landmarks”1 described the attributes of a true surveyor: “Yet it seems to me that to a man of active mind and high ideals the profession is singularly suited… It is a profession for men who believe that a man is measured by his work, not by his purse…”
Writer, philosopher and surveyor Henry David Thoreau was such a man. To say Thoreau’s mind was active would be an understatement. His interests were broad and he spoke with authority on many subjects. Thoreau was never satisfied with the status quo; he was the type of person who refused to take “yes” for an answer. Thoreau’s view of the role played by one’s occupation was simple. “Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it…”2
Thoreau is best known for his literary works such as “Walden” and “Civil Disobedience.” His contemporaries often judged him as eccentric and a recluse. Although Thoreau’s literary work wasn’t fully appreciated until the early 20th century, his work as a surveyor was well thought of during his lifetime. Soon after Thoreau’s death in 1862, his friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, another acclaimed author of the time, wrote a biographical essay in which he stated: “He [Thoreau] had a natural skill for mensuration, growing out of his mathematical knowledge… his accuracy and skill in this work [surveying] were readily appreciated, and he found all the employment he wanted.”6 History and surveying go hand in hand. The profession requires each surveyor to “follow in the footsteps” of those who have gone before. It is for this very reason the study of our predecessors, which is often neglected, is so important. 

In the Footsteps of Thoreau

On May 6, 2002, some of my surveying students from Cleveland State Community College and East Tennessee State University and I traveled to Concord, Mass., to study Thoreau and his surveys. To prepare for the trip, the students focused on the survey Thoreau did for Emerson during the winter of 1848. This is the property where Thoreau lived while writing much of “Walden.” Thoreau’s cabin and pond are on the south end of the property and the bean field, as described in “Walden” is to the north. The cabin is gone now and the bean field is wooded. The cabin was last seen as part of a hog pen for a local farmer.3
The students also studied Thoreau’s field notes as published in “Transcendental Climate” by Kenneth W. Cameron in 1963. The three-volume set contains facsimiles of the journals and notes of well-known writers during the transcendental movement of the 1800s. Reviewing Thoreau’s notes gave some insight as to why his work was so highly regarded. Thoreau was a Harvard graduate and was an excellent mathematician. He often conducted coordinate geometry, sans calculator, in the margins of his field notes. Thoreau also thoroughly documented his research, stating the source and date of the original survey. He took great care in determining the magnetic declination for his surveys. It appeared he often checked his declination using Polaris at elongation several times during the course of many of his surveys. A handbill he distributed stated his surveys were easily retraced due to his careful determination of magnetic declination. Thoreau carefully described each corner he set in his field notes. It’s obvious he understood the importance of preserving evidence. In R.B. Buckers book “Land Surveyors Review Manual”4 he described the importance of preserving evidence this way:
“One of the highest levels of professional responsibility of a licensed land surveyor is demonstrated by his or her willingness to take measures to preserve and perpetuate evidence of corner locations. That, in fact, may be the primary reflection of professionalism.” 

Instructor Barry Savage (center) talks with Bradley Dean , PhD (right) by Walden Pond while student Dave Sheely is hard at work. Thoreau's Cove can be seen in the background.
On the morning of May 10 we loaded the van and headed north. We arrived at the Thoreau Institute around 1 a.m. on May 12. The following morning I let the guys sleep in while I walked the site with Bradley Dean, PhD. Dean is a Thoreau scholar at the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods. I had contacted the institute in the fall of 2001 for information regarding Thoreau’s surveys for a series of lectures I was writing. One thing led to another and Dean invited us to the institute. Our reason for going was twofold. It was a rare opportunity for my students and Dean was to use the surveys in his writings and research. Visiting the site with Dean was a unique experience. He knows Thoreau’s life and writings very well so he pointed out subtle details I would have otherwise missed. Later when I pointed out these tidbits to the students, I stressed the often-overlooked responsibility of a surveyor to carefully measure, document and describe such detail for future generations. Mulford put it this way: “…in the hands of the Surveyor, to an exceptional degree, lie the honor of generations past and the welfare of the generations to come; in his keeping is the Doomsday Book of his community…”5 Following my initial site visit I decided to split the students into two crews. One crew was to concentrate on the pond and cabin site, the other crew focused on the bean field.
Once at the site we divided into crews. Both crews used a Topcon GTS-223 total station (Topcon, Pleasanton, Calif.) and HP48 data collectors (Hewlett Packard, Palo Alto, Calif.) with TDS Survey Pro software (Tripod Data Systems, Corvallis, Ore.). The first crew started at the south end of the Emerson lot. The second crew went to the north end, in the area Dean believes to be the bean field described in “Walden.” The southern crew began by locating two split stones supposedly set as markers by Thoreau. His plat of 1848 shows 552.54' between the stones. The crew found the distance to be 552.70', a little less than a quarter of a link. The crew used this line as a base to calculate the likely positions of other markers. Although no more monumentation was found, Thoreau’s drawings did show many natural features, especially near the pond he so dearly loved. The distance from the split stone to the water’s edge was 303.7' according to Thoreau’s drawing. When the south crew got to the pond and did a stakeout to look for the corner near the pond, the position fell exactly at the water’s edge, just as Thoreau’s 1848 plat shows. 

Students (left to right): Nick Roberts, Tyson Olinger, Seth Klien, Dave Sheely, Zac Morgan, Josh Morgan and instructor Barry Savage, PLS, on the shore of Walden Pond.
The crew to the north found Thoreau’s survey to be quite accurate as well. Thoreau carefully describes the bean field in “Walden” by giving several measurements. The bean rows were all described as being 15 rods in length. Judging from the topography of the area it would appear this is an accurate measurement. There were so many rows that if placed end to end they would total seven miles. Based on writings in Thoreau’s journals the rows were placed three feet apart. It was in Thoreau’s very nature to begin describing any place he wrote about by giving dimensions first. Emerson once wrote that Thoreau had a “habit of ascertaining the measures and distances of objects which interested him, the size of trees, the depth and extent of ponds and rivers, the height of mountains, and the air-line distance of his favorite summits…”6
The dimensions of the bean field were just as Thoreau described, with only one discrepancy. The dimensions for the field placed a small portion across the current roadway. During our short trip, we didn’t have time to research the location of the road as it existed in Thoreau’s day. The northern crew also located two sites known as the “Zilpha cellar” and the “Whelan cellar.” Zilpha was a runaway slave who lived near the bean field in the early 19th century. During the war of 1812 British troops burnt her home. Upon returning from work and finding her home gone, she wandered off in despair and was never seen again. The Whelan site was an area near the middle of the bean field. The Whelan family moved Thoreau’s cabin to this site after he left the pond. They lived there until one night during a snowstorm. Mr. Whelan had too much to drink and left his family, never to return. The last known residents of the cabin were pigs, after parts of the structure were used to construct a pen. 

Surveying Truth

I wanted the students to learn more than the mechanics of Thoreau’s work. I wanted them to understand the vital roles integrity, truth and thought play in becoming a surveyor. Emerson once described Thoreau as “a speaker and actor of the truth&mdas;born such—and was ever running into dramatic situations from this cause.” In Thoreau’s work “Life Without Principle” he writes: “As far as my own business, even that kind of surveying which I do with most satisfaction my employers do not want... When I observe there are different ways of surveying, my employer commonly asks which way will give him the most land, not which is most correct.” This is a dilemma every surveyor has faced. It is only a dilemma when a surveyor forgets his or her primary role to tell the truth, the entire truth; even if it’s not the truth our clients want to hear. Emerson was correct when he described Thoreau’s dedication to truth as a catalyst for confrontation. To a surveyor, always telling the truth has two universal outcomes. One is a good night’s sleep; the other is the guarantee that half the people he/she encounters will dislike the surveyor and his/her work.
It’s no secret that over the past 75 years surveying has lost much of its former status as a profession. Any surveying magazine you pick up today will most likely have an article or two on how to improve our image in the public eye. I believe it is important to study and understand those surveyors who came before us and had a positive impact on society. Thoreau isn’t remembered for his surveying. He is remembered as a person of thought and integrity. This might be a good place for all of us to start.
1 Mulford, A.C. 1912. Boundaries and Landmarks New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, 89.
2 Thoreau, Henry David. 1863. Life without principle. The Atlantic Monthly (October).
3 Thoreau’s plat of this survey can be viewed at the website for the Concord Free Public Library, and is survey number 31a.
4 Buckner, R.B. 1991. Land Surveyors Review Manual. Rancho Cordova: Landmark Enterprises, 325.
5 Mulford, Boundaries and Landmarks, 89.

6 Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1862. Thoreau – Part 1: A biographical essay. The Atlantic Monthly (August).