Posted by: atowhee | July 12, 2022


Henry David Thoreau. In not a “thinker” then certainly he finest feeler in America’s 19th Century. A few of his words:

Each man’s necessary path, though as obscure and apparently uneventful as that of a beetle in the grass, is the way to the deepest joys he is susceptible of; though he converses only with moles and fungi and disgraces his relatives, it is no matter if he knows what is steel to his flint.

~Henry David Thoreau’s Journal

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. ~Henry David Thoreau

I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines. ~Henry David Thoreau

“Going through a field this evening I was unexpectedly struck with the beauty of an apple tree.  The perception of beauty is a moral test.”                            –Henry David Thoreau, 1852

“Each man’s necessary path, though as obscure and apparently uneventful as that of a beetle in the grass, is the way to the deepest joys he is susceptible of.  Though he converses only with moles and fungi, and disgraces his relatives, it is of no matter, if he knows what is steel to his flint.”

From Thoreau on Birds.  Helen Cruickshank [HC]. 1964.  This book draws on Thoreau’s journals, none of which were ever public during his lifetime.

This curious world which we inhabit is more wonderful than it is convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.

Quick movements rather than conspicuous colors alarm birds.—HC

When I consider that the nobler animals have been exterminated here,–the cougar, panther, lynx, wolverine, wolf, bear, moose, deer, the beaver, the turkey, etc. etc.—I cannot but feel as if I lived in tamed, and, as it were emasculated country.

[On extirpated wildlife] I take infinite pains to know all the phenomena of the spring, for instance, thinking that I have here the entire poem, and then, to my chagrin, I hear it is but an imperfect copy that I possess and have read, that my ancestors have torn out many of the first pages and grandest passages, and mutilated it in many places.

Thoreau was a pioneer in field identification. His contemporaries restricted their identification of birds to collected specimens. —HC7

In the fall the loon (Colymbusn glacialis)* came, as usual, to moult and bathe in the pond, making the woods ring with his wild laughter before I had risen.                                * obsolete binomial for Common Loon

[In April] I heard the martins twittering over my clearing, though it had not seemed that the township contained so many that it could afford me any, and I fancied that they were peculiarly of the ancient race that dwelt in hollow trees ere white man came.

When I was young and compelled to pass my Sunday in the house without the aid of interesting books, I used to spend many an hour till the wished-for sundown, watching the martins soar, from an attic window.

To see wild life you must go forth at a wild season.  When it rains and blows, keeping men indoors, then the lover of Nature must forth.

[March, 1853] Would it not be well to carry a spyglass in order to watch these shy birds such as ducks and hawks?  In some respects, methinks, it would be better than a gun…You can identify the species better by killing the bird, because it was a dead specimen that was so minutely described, but you can study the habits and appearance best in the living specimen.

[Common Mergansers] A whole company would disappear at once…Now for nearly a minute there is not a feather to be seen, and the next minute you see a party of half a dozen there, chasing one another and making water fly far and wide.

All hawks were branded as bird-killers in Thoreau’s day, and the farmers of Concord believed all hawks wished to prey exclusively on their poultry. —HC

The circling hawk steers himself through the air, like a skater, without visible motion.

My neighbors would not hesitate to shoot the last pair of hen-hawks in the town to save a few of their chickens! But such economy is narrow and groveling.  It is necessarily to sacrifice the greater value to the less.  I would rather never taste chicken’s meat or hen’s eggs that never to see a hawk circling through the upper air again. This sight is worth incomparable more than a chicken soup or boiled egg.  So we exterminate the deer and substitute the hog.

May 20, 1856 [Looking for harriers’ nest after seeing a pair]  This induced me to climb four pines but I tore my clothes, got pitched all over, and found only squirrel; yet they have, no doubt, a nest thereabouts.

How is it that man always feels like an interloper in nature, as if he had intruded on the domain of bird and beast?

[scaring up snipe] They rise from within a rod, fly half a dozen rods, and then drop down on the bare open meadow before your eyes, where there seems not stubble enough to conceal [them], and are at once lost as completely as if they had sunk into the earth.

[passenger pigeon hunting] Sept. 12, 1851  Saw a pigeon-place on George Heywood’s cleared lot,–the six dead trees set up for pigeons to alight on, and the brush house close by to conceal the man.

I rejoice that there are owls.  They represent the stark, twilight, unsatisfied thoughts I have.

It is not nightfall till the whip-poor-wills begin to sing.

Were he here today Henry would shake his head sadly...the ash borer (click here) has hit Oregon. Our riparian forests are about to get denuded of ash.

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