Chapter Seven "The Beanfield"
The length of all of Thoreau's beans added together was seven miles and had to be hoed frequently. They attach him to the earth and growing them is his days work. He is aided by the dews, rain, and soil. His enemies are worms, cool days, and woodchucks, which have nibbled a quarter of an acre. On one night, as he plays his flute, he recalls visiting Walden at age four, when his family lived in Boston. The pine trees are still older than him and the johnswort which he saw then still grows. But the bean, corn, and potatoes now growing there are the result of his influence.
Thoreau has planted two and a half acres of beans in some land that was cleared fifteen years ago. He dug up some stumps but didn't use any fertilizer. But during his hoeing, he dug up arrow heads and realized that Indians had grown corn and beans there once and had somewhat exhausted the soil. Even though farmers say not to, Thoreau would get up early, while the dew was still on the leaves, and begin to weed and hoe his crops, working barefoot in the morning before the sun was too hot for his feet.
Because he didn't hire any people or animals to help him, he took longer than most people in his labor and thus got to know his crop better. Sometimes, travelers would drive by and see him constantly at work, and he might hear their gossip about him, planting beans and peas much later than most people, or be questioned by farmers about his lack of manure in the furrows. Thoreau sees his as "the connecting link between wild and cultivated fields" and his beans "returning to their wild and primitive state."
While he plants seeds, Thoreau listens to a brown thrasher sing "Drop it, drop it,--cover it up, cover it up,--pull it up, pull it up, pull it up." As he hoes, he digs up not just beans but the soil of ancient civilizations stones burned in Indian fires and pottery and glass from more recent farmers. He notices the "kindredship of Nature" in the birds which fly above a night-hawk which is the "aerial brother of the wave," hen-hawks soaring and descending like the embodiment of his thoughts, and a spotted salamander, a contemporary trace of Egypt.
The guns which the town shoots off on "gala days" sound like a burst puff-ball to Thoreau. The hum of the people sounds to Thoreau like bees and he is relieve when they finally quiet down and return to "the Middlesex hive," now able to continue his hoeing in confidence that the liberties of Massachusetts are in safekeeping. The whole village sounds like "a vast bellows" when there are several bands playing, but sometimes a "noble and inspiring strain" reaches Thoreau inspire him to think about Palestine and marching crusaders. Though this was supposedly a "great" day, the sky looked the same to Thoreau.
From planting, hoeing, harvesting, threshing, picking over, selling, and eating them, Thoreau attempted to know beans. He hoed them from 5 AM till noon and became well acquainted with different species of weeds in his war against them. While some of his peers spend their summer days to fine arts, contemplation, or trade in distant locales, Thoreau was engaged in husbandry, which he found "a rare amusement," though it might have bored him if it had continued much longer. Though he didn't give them manure and didn't hoe them all at once, he was ultimately rewarded for his work. All in all, he spent $14.72 _ on supplies and made $23.44 selling his crops, leaving him with a profit of $8.71 _.
As a result of his experience, Thoreau advises planting the white bush bean about June 1 in rows 3' X 18" apart, watching out for worms, filling vacancies with new seeds, watching out for woodchucks which will eat the leaves, and above all, harvest as early as possible to avoid frost. Another summer, he says he will not plant beans and corn with so much industry but instead will see if these seeds of sincerity, truth, simplicit, faith, and innocene will grow with even less work in the same soil. However, several summers have gone by and the seeds which he compares to the seeds of virtues did not come up. Men generally are only as brave as their fathers have been.
In New England, men continue to plant and tend corn and beans just as the Indians taught them centuries ago. One day, he saw an old man digging holes for possibly the seventieth time in his life. Thoreau wonders why people worry so much about beans for seed and not about a new generation of men? We would be happy to see a man possessing those virtues he mentioned, but instead of cultivating them in people, we expect them to appear out of thin air.
Unlike the ancient civilizations, we have no festivals or ceremonies, other than cattle shows and Thanksgiving, that honor husbandry as a sacred art. People regard the soil as property now and work it for profit, regarding nature as a robber and degrading the character of the farmer. We forget that the sun shines down the same on cultivated fields and uncultivated nature the same. "In his view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden." The beans aren't just for him but for the woodchucks too; the seeds of the weeds are for the birds. The true husbandman will stop worrying, "relinquishing all claim to the produce of his fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only his first but his last fruits also."
Once again, Thorea references mythology and ancient civilization in his efforts to rethink and reform conventional New England thought about farming. Though Thoreau is associated with the Transcendental school, he differs from Transcendentalists like Emerson because his worldview was heavily influenced by a number of different religious and cultural traditions particularly classical Greek history and mythology, Eastern religions, and the Native American way of life. Thoreau's rejection of the Industrial Revolution is not a Luddite anti-technology stance; rather, it is a rejection of the intellectual effects of new technology. Therefore, Thoreau does not simply embrace farming as a way of life because he rejects trade and the railroad. He in fact rejects the sort of farming that most Concord farmers practice through which "the landscape is deformed, husbandry is degraded with us, and the farmer leads the meanest of lives."
Again, Thoreau's goal is to establish the strength of the link between nature and human beings. Therefore, he anthropomorphizes the brown thrush, giving English words to its song. Likewise, he explores humankind's false anthropomorphization of Nature as a robber. Thoreau contrasts this view of Nature with his own personification of Nature as God. By alluding to mythological representations of Nature in divine form as the "earth Mother" or "Ceres" Thoreau argues for the historical precedents to his own particular Transcendentalist belief that nature is divine.
Thoreau likewise supports this notion of nature as divine with an example of metonymy. Thoreau writes, "The sun looks on our cultivated fields and on the prairies and forests without distinction In his view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden." The sun, a part included in and associated with nature, represents nature in Thoreau's statements. Everything on the earth is included in the eyes of nature. "Only Heaven knows," Thoreau writes when speaking of raising his beans earlier in the chapter. Thus, Nature looks down on the earth and sees all just the traditionally understood God does.
In discussing his attempts to rescue his bean plants from weeds, Thoreau employs an extended metaphor of warfare. In doing so, he alludes one again to classical mythology, likening the weeds to "Trojans who had sun and rain and dews on their side." The trenches between the rows of beans are the trenches of war, and the beans themselves are rescued by Thoreau, who wields a hoe like a sword. This metaphor of war in nature contrasts with the village's demonstrations of bellicosity, shooting off cannons and guns on days of celebration. While a weed may seem to Thoreau to be "a lusty crest-waving Hector," the real guns of the town remind him only of "puff-balls." Repeatedly, Thoreau employs this metaphorical chiasmas, comparing an aspect nature to something in culture and a related aspect of culture to something in nature. In doing so, he continually emphasizes the unbreakable links between nature and culture arguing that humans, despite their "civilization," are as much a part of nature as a weed or other plant.
In eliding the material and philosophical aspects of the world, Thoreau offers nature as a model for human life. Rather than attempt to incorporate aspects of nature into human commerce looking at land as property for example people should look at themselves as they do bean seeds, cultivating virtues in themselves with as much care as they grow their crops. Humankind's real fault, Thoreau suggests, is in seeing themselves as separate from the workings of nature, when in reality they would benefit from treating themselves as they do the earth the live on.
Chapter Eight "The Village"
After hoeing or reading and writing in the morning, Thoreau would usually swim in the lake to wash either dirt or intellectual wrinkles from his person. Every day or two, he went to the village, to hear gossip, which "taken in homeopathic doses" was refreshing. He watched people in the village the way he watched birds and squirrels in the woods, observing their habits. The village was like "a great news room." Redding and Co.'s on State Street sold the essential food items and the necessary news and gossip to satisfy people's appetites. He frequently saw people sitting in the sun or leaning against a barn who were the first to hear and digest whatever gossip is in the wind.
The "vitals" of the town are the grocery, bar-room, post-office, and bank. The houses and streets are arranged such that a traveler has to run a gauntlet through all the inhabitants. The most expensive houses are closest to the center, so that their inhabitants can see and be seen the most. Travelers are tempted by signs hung out by the tavern, dry-good's store, jeweller's, barber's, shoemaker's, or tailors, or by the open invitation to call at the houses. Thoreau mostly escapes these dangers by proceeding deliberately to his goal. Sometimes, he visits houses, entering suddenly, without lingering, and after learning the news, leaving by the back gate to return to the woods.
He enjoyed leaving town late at night, leaving a bright room full "crew" of thoughts, "sailing" back through the dark woods. Often he had to look up at the openings between trees, feel the path with his feet, or feel between trees with his hands to get home. Sometimes he found himself at home not remembering or knowing how he found the way. When a visitor stayed till the evening, Thoreau would have to show him to a cart-path behind the house and remind him to be led by feet rather than eyes. He did so with two men who had been fishing one night but found out later they'd wandered around half the night during rain showers. He's heard of people getting lost in town streets in the dark and people from the outskirts of town staying in town over night.
It's a valuable experience, Thoreau says, to be lost in the woods at night. It's similar to but infinitely greater than when a person cannot tell his way on a well-known road during a snowstorm, because it looks just as unfamiliar to him as Siberia. Usually, we steer like pilots by well-known beacons. All you need is to be turned around once with your eyes shut to get lost to appreciate "the vastness and strangeness of nature." "Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations."
One afternoon near the end of the summer, Thoreau went to town to get a shoe from the cobbler's and was thrown in jail. He had not paid a tax to the state "which buys and sells men, women, and children, like cattle at the door of its sentate-house." Wherever a man goes, others will pursue him and try to force him to belong to their dirty institutions. He could have resisted and run "amok" against society but preferred that society run "amok" against him. The next day, he was released, got his shoe, and went back to the woods.
He was never bothered by any person but those who represented the state. He didn't have a lock on his door or windows, only on the desk which held his papers, even when he went to Maine for two weeks. But his house was respected. Travelers could rest by his fire, readers could read his few books, and the curious could even look in his closet and see what food he had. Though many people of every class came by, he never lost anything but a volume of Homer. He's certain that robbery would cease if people lived as he does. It only happens now because some people have more than they need and other's don't have enough.
Thoreau's actions while living at Walden illustrate his concern with purification and rebirth. He has already stated that he swam early every morning in the pond. These actions function as a sort of ritual baptism, representing a new beginning and connecting Thoreau physically with nature. Here, he speaks about the swims he took after working or reading in the morning. That refers to these swims as "bathing" illustrates that this action serves to symbolically clean and revive him. Thoreau himself seems to realize the symbolic nature of these baths, for he swims not only on days when he is covered in dust from his bean patch but also to "smooth out the last wrinkle which study had made." Thus, the afternoon is "absolutely free" not only from occupation but from worry or concern.
Once again, we see that Thoreau's cabin at Walden and the woods themselves function as a refuge, though an imperfect one. He is always happy to "return home" at night, whether from a friend's parlor, a lecture, or from jail. It is clear that "home" to Thoreau is not just his cabin. It is the woods, too a place where Thoreau, unlike the villagers who will stay overnight in a friend's house in the center of town rather than venture to their own on the outskirts in the dark, is comfortable and able to function almost instinctually. He has symbolically become a part of the woods, knowing it so well that he need not think about it to find his way through the trees in the dark to his door.
Thoreau uses an extended metaphor of sailing to describe his progress through the woods and does so in a way that upsets expectations. For him, this sailing is not dangerous but "smooth sailing." Unlike Odysseus of his beloved Homer, Thoreau is never "cast away nor distressed in any weather." He finds Sirens to tempt him into danger not on these voyages through the woods but in the village. Like Odysseus, he is able to escape them and ultimately return home.
The village, then, is not home but rather is implicitly likened to the underworld. Thoreau alludes to the myth of Orpheus, who entered the underworld to reclaim his wife, and who combatted its dangers by playing his lute and keeping his mind on other things. The comparison such an allusion yields is not favorable for the village, which becomes tantamount to a hell-on-earth. Though it is not spoken directly, Thoreau's allusion to Orpheus, who ultimately lost his wife when he gave into temptation and looked back at her just as they were out of the underworld, suggests that Thoreau will not be able to fully and successfully escape village life.
Thoreau indeed makes such an explicit statement at the end of his chapter, when he talks of being imprisoned for not paying his taxes to a state that supports slavery. (Though Massachusetts was a free state, it was required by federal law to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law and also benefited economically from the raw materials provided by the slave labor of the South, such as cotton used in Northern cloth factories.) That experience, of course, became the subject matter for the essay we now know as "Civil Disobedience. Walden Pond may be an intellectual refuge for Thoreau but only two miles from Concord, he cannot truly escape the demands of society.
There is a degree of sarcasm in Thoreau's opening statements about the village. He calls it refreshing and says he went every day or two but his actions in and opinions about actual visits to the village show that he does not really enjoy it. Rather, he feels as if he is running a gauntlet of gossipers as he walks down the town streets and generally leaves his friends' homes by the back door, rushing off to the woods so as not to be seen. However, Thoreau's ambivalence about civilized life is evident. He sees even the most basic aspects of village life the barber, the dry goods store, the shoemaker as temptation. Though he is able to ignore and eschew them, he must do so because the comforts of civilization provide easy alternatives for himself and especially for his reader to the deliberate, contemplative life he attempts to live.
This is one of Thoreau's most explicitly political chapters. He writes, though obliquely, about his opposition to slavery and to the night in jail that was earned by his civil disobedience. His preference that "society should run amok' against me, it being the desperate party" is his way of condemning the existing system, suggesting it does not follow the greater values which Thoreau recognizes and follows. Additionally, Thoreau is suggesting radical change, some of which seems by today's standards to coincide with socialist thought, in his argument that redistribution of property, so that everyone had what he needed, not to little or too much, would reduce crime. However, Thoreau is not suggesting new system of government but rather suggesting that his readers integrate the example provided by his experiment in living into their own lives.
Chapter Nine "The Ponds"
When he's had enough of people, Thoreau ventures westward to unfrequented parts of town and ate huckleberries and blueberries on Fair-Haven Hill. The only way to really taste huckleberries is by picking and eating them; those that are sold in Boston have lost their true taste. Sometimes, after finishing hoeing for the day, he joins a companion who has been fishing on the pond. One older man often uses Thoreau's doorstep to wind his lines. Thoreau sometimes sits at the opposite end of his boat in the pond, and since the man has lost his hearing, they don't talk. Sometimes the man hums a psalm, which pleases Thoreau more than a conversation. When he is alone in his boat, sometimes Thoreau hits the side of the boat with a paddle until the woods echo with the sound.
In warm evenings, he sits in his boat and plays the flute, as the perch swim nearby and the moon shines overhead. In the past, he had come to the pond with the friend and built a fire on the bank to attract pout. Sometimes, he returns from visiting in the village and fishes at midnight, listening to owls and foxes, anchored in the middle of the lake as perches and shiners swim around. His philosophizing would be suddenly interrupted by a pull on his line, connecting him again with nature, and he would draw up a horned pout.
The scenery of Walden is beautiful but humble. The pond is very clear, half a mile long and one and three-quarters of a mile around, in the middle of pine and oak woods and surrounded by hills 40-80 feet high in the southeast and 100-150 feet high in the east. All waters in Concord have two colors, one which depends on the weather when seen from a distance and the other, looking directly down from a boat. Walden, when one does so, looks blue and green at the same time, combining the sky and earth, though the green might be a combination of the blue sky and yellow sand. In the spring, when the ice has begun to melt, the water reflects even bluer than the sky.
The Concord River, looked down upon, looks black and gives a swimmer a yellow tint, but the water of Walden is so pure that it gives the swimmer's body an alabaster glow. The water is so clear that you can see to the bottom at 25-30 feet and watch schools of perch and shiners. One winter in the past, when he was cutting fishing holes in the ice, Thoreau tossed his axe at the ice and it fell in a hole. He could look down through the hole and see the axe swaying on the bottom. He ended up fishing it out using a long birch branch tied with a slip knot.
The pond is surrounded by flat white stones and except for a couple beaches is so steep that you could jump right into water over your head. There's no mud or weeds, except where nearby meadows have flooded. Where the stones leave off, there is sand on the bottom, and a little sediment from leaves that blow into the lake at the center. White Pond, two-and-a-half miles away in Nine Acre Corner, is similar, but no other ponds Thoreau knows have as "pure and well-like character" as Walden, which he supposes was already in existence when Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, to be admired by unremembered civilizations.
Thoreau was surprised to notice a path which surrounds the pond, sometimes straying from the shore, sometimes close, going up and down over hills. It's "as old probably as the race of man here," and is most noticeable when one stands in the middle of the frozen pond in the winter and sees the band of snow around the lake.
The pond rises and falls, though not regularly. Thoreau recounts his memories of the different levels it has been at during his life. As he writes in the summer of 1852, it is five feet higher than when he lived there, the same height it was thirty years ago. Flint's Pond, a mile to the east, rises and falls at the same rate Walden does. When the water is high, many of the shrubs and trees which have grown around the edges are killed, clearing the shore, which is the property not of the trees but of the lake. The trees try to stand by sending out roots from their stems up to four feet high, and blueberry bushes by the shore which don't usually bear fruit produce a crop when flooded.
People wonder how the stones have been placed so regularly around the pond, and some tell a story about Indians holding a pow-wow on a hill where the lake now is, during which they used so much profanity (which Thoreau says they never did) that the hill shook and sunk. Only one old squaw, named Walden, escaped. This doesn't conflict with the other story he heard about the ancient traveler who came with his diving rod and dug a well that became the pond. Some people think the stones are there because of the waves hitting the hill, but Thoreau has noticed such stones throughout the hill and that the steepest parts have the most stones. If the pond wasn't named after an English locale, perhaps it was first called "Walled-in Pond."
The pond is Thoreau's well. It has the best and coldest water in town. There is also spring water which tastes wonderful even when left for a long time. If a camper were to bury a bucket of water in the ground, he wouldn't need ice to keep it cold. Thoreau also lists the fish which have been caught in the pound, primarily pickerel, and their sizes. Frogs, tortises, muskrats, minks, and mud-turtles live there, as well as ducks, geese, whitebellied swallows, and peetweets. There are round piles of stones sunk in the pond but Thoreau can't guess their origin. The shore is irregular and beautiful with few signs that people have been there.
You can look at the reflection of the landscape in the lake and literally see the wind in the ripples it creates. The fish jumping to catch bugs also create ripples, as do the water-bugs which skim over the surface on calm days. In September or October, Walden is a perfect mirror. By November, the bugs are gone, and the surface is completely calm, reflecting somber colors of the weather, with some schools of perch still swimming around, and once, on December 5, the jumping of some perch made him think it was raining. An old man who used to visit the lake sixty years ago told Thoreau how he used to fish in a canoe made out of two hollowed-out white pine logs and look for a chest that a potter who'd lived during the Revolution had told him was sunk there, but as soon as he got sight of it, it would always disappear into deeper water. Thoreau likes the idea of the log canoe, much like an Indian one, once a tree on the lakeside and now sunk at the bottom. Thoreau himself has spent many pleasant afternoons since he was young floating in a boat on the lake.
Walden preserves its purity better than any men Thoreau has known. Even though trees have been cut down and the railroad runs nearby, the water is the same as Thoreau saw when young. He has changed while the pond remains perennially young. It is the creation of a brave, good man, who bequeathed it to Concord. Thoreau then writes some lines that call Walden the closest he can come to God and Heaven. He hopes that its serenity do some good for the engineer who passes it in the train.
Flint's Pond in Lincoln is a mile east of Walden and much larger, with more fish and not as pure. Walking there, Thoreau came across a mouldering boat, through which plants have pushed up, and he has also seen strange balls of weeds near the shore. He scoffs at the name of the pond, after some farmer, who never loved it, thought only of its money value, and never thanked God for making the pond. If we are going to name features of the landscape after men, it should at least be after noble men.
Finally, Goose Pond rounds out Thoreau's pond country. With the effect of the woodcutters and railroad on Walden, the most attractive pond in the area is White Pond, with the same pure water and stony shores as Walden. Thoreau, who used to gather sand there, used to see pitch pines growing in the midst of the lake, and recounts a description, from 1792, of a tall tree which grows in the middle of that lake. In the spring of 1849, Thoreau met a man who had pulled the tree out of the lake; it turned out the tree was in upside down, with its roots sticking up. Walden and White Ponds are far purer than humans. Nature has no human inhabitants who appreciate her.
In this chapter, Thoreau uses minute descriptions of nature which would comprise the bulk of his later writing to reveal his understanding of human spirituality and its connection to nature. Despite his difficulties elsewhere, in this chapter, Thoreau seems successful in integrating the dialectic he has established between spirit and nature. In describing his night-time fishing expeditions, he talks of fishing both in the physical lake and the air of philosophy at the same time. Through his connection with Walden, he is able to integrate, at least for a time, the spiritual and natural within himself.
One recurring motif throughout this chapter is the idea of purity. Walden, Thoreau believes, is superior to other ponds primarily because of the purity of its water reflected in the water's color as well as in the sand under its surface. This emphasis on Walden's purity reveals Thoreau's fear of contamination physical contamination, as with the railroad's proximity to the pond, as well as intellectual contamination, as when society attempts to entrap him into its injustices. Interestingly, this emphasis on the pond's purity, which reminds us of Thoreau's attempts to purify his spirit and rid himself of his animal nature, come at a time when he has begun to synthesize the spiritual world with the natural world.
Thoreau also emphasizes the divine nature of Walden, calling it, among other things, "God's drop," and speculating on its existence in Paradise. Thoreau has already established the pond as a mirror for himself. Therefore, transitively the divinity of the pond also reflects the divinity of the person. This is a particularly Transcendentalist move for Thoreau and one which extended Transcendentalist beliefs divinity for him existed in nature, for there, far more than in people, true perfection and purity could be found.
Finally, Thoreau uses the metaphor of the eye to describe Walden referring, for example to the color of its "iris." Such a move anthropomorphizes Walden, thus extending its power in Thoreau's life. Walden, dynamic and influential, has a profound impact upon Thoreau's ever changing consciousness. Aware that it can "see" or reflect him, Thoreau becomes profoundly aware of himself and thus effects a transformation of his owns spiritual interior.