2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 9:20 AM


INNERS, Jon D., 1915 Columbia Ave, Camp Hill, PA 17011-5421, jdinners@hotmail.com

Henry David Thoreau, American Transcendentalist and author of the literary classic "Walden," was born in Concord, MA, on 12 July 1817. Except for a few years as a child, his time at Harvard College, and a brief period of employment on Staten Island in 1843, he spent most of his life in the town of his birth—writing, teaching, working in his family's pencil business, surveying, lecturing, and leading huckleberry parties. Thoreau's entire life and literary output was shaped to a great extent by his relationship to the geography and geology of New England. Geology may even have contributed to his early death, in that breathing the finely ground graphite used in making pencils probably aggravated the “consumption” that killed him at the age of 44.

Thoreau “traveled a good deal in Concord.” His “sense of place” is nowhere better captured than in his descriptions of the Walden Woods and Estabrook Country in his hometown. Both areas abound in glacial landforms, erratic boulders, springs, and bedrock cliffs and outcrops, many of which he described in his writings. Though Concord was a constant source of literary inspiration, Thoreau also took many excursions throughout New England and beyond. Among these were a boat trip on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, culminating in an ascent of Mt. Washington (1839), and later trips to Mt. Monadnock (1844, 1852, 1858, and 1860), Mt. Greylock and the Catskills (1844), the Maine Woods (1846, 1853, and 1857), Cape Cod (1849, 1850, 1855, and 1857), Canada (1850), the White Mountains (1858), and Minnesota (1861).

Aside from some of his political and philosophical essays, Thoreau's literary works all show the pervading influence of nature and the landscape. Most of his books, essays, and lectures were culled from his extensive Journal, which was commenced in 1837 and ended in 1861, a few months before his death on 6 May 1862. Though his overriding interest in nature is expressed throughout the Journal, it is mainly in the years beginning with the sojourn at Walden Pond in 1845-47 that entries on botany, physiography, geology, and hydrography begin to dominate. His observations and writings on forest succession, the dispersal of seeds, and the hydrography of Walden Pond have led to his widespread recognition as a pioneer ecologist and limnologist.