Thoreau's Journal

October 22: Twenty-year-old Henry David Thoreau began his journal on this day in 1837. He kept at it for the next quarter-century—forty-seven manuscript volumes, regarded by some as his most important writing, being an invaluable record of both the inner man and his time. It contains reflections upon national and international events—the hanging of John Brown, for example—but we read mostly of the woods, the seasons, and Thoreau's daily comings and goings, all spiced with his large and small observations.

 

On October 19, 1857, while walking the old Carlisle road at sunset, he meets Brooks Clark, "who is now about eighty and bent like a bow," and bare-footed: "When he got up to me, I saw that besides the axe in one hand, he had his shoes in the other, filled with knurly apples and a dead robin." After talk of the robin and the cold weather coming, Brooks heads home with his day's harvest, "carrying it home in the October evening, as a trophy to be added to his winter's store," and Thoreau continues on his way, so pleased "to see this cheery old man ... thus enjoying the evening of his days" that it "was worth a thousand of the church's sacraments and memento mori's." Several days later—October 22, 1857, twentieth anniversary of the journal's inception—we are told, "Celebrate not the Garden of Eden, but your own":

Look from the high hill, just before sundown, over the pond. The mountains are a mere cold slate-color. But what a perfect crescent of mountains we have in our northwest horizon! Do we ever give thanks for it? …I look up northwest toward my mountains, as a farmer to his hill lot or rocky pasture from his door. I drive no cattle to Ipswich hills. I own no pasture for them there. My eyes it is alone that wander to those blue pastures, which no drought affects. They are my flocks and herds. See how they look…. Ah, I am content to dwell there and see the sun go down behind my mountain fence.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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