2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 9:35 AM


CALDWELL, Marvin J., 26 Court St, Groton, MA 01450, mjcaldwell@verizon.net

In the late afternoon of 31 August, 1839, Henry David Thoreau and his brother John stepped into a rowboat they had built that spring and pushed off into the slow moving Sudbury River, then down the Concord and up the faster waters of the Merrimack. They were equipped with two sets of oars, food from their garden, a cotton cloth that served as sail and tent, and buffalo hides for beds. Although their ultimate goal was the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the text records only Henry David's observations and thoughts while on the Concord and Merrimack. He uses the river journey as a framework on which he drapes many more pages of reflections and digression than observations. His already great knowledge of the river and the river's surroundings evinces his growing love affair with Dame Nature. He has observed and studied fish, birds, and plants with great interest and is proud to know the waters of the Sudbury and Assabet which combine to form the Concord River, as well as the headwaters of the Pemigewasset, one of the two founding members of the Merrimack. His wide reading included Agassiz on fish, but not on glaciers. Even Agassiz was unaware that the Concord River probably once flowed south and may even have been an early bed of the Merrimack. As a person who delighted in marching to his own drummer, I think the fact that the Concord flows north, against the regional gradient, would have pleased him. The potholes at Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River in Manchester, NH fascinated him. He digressed to other potholes associated with falls, although he places them above the falls rather than below and in the wrong rocks. An island at the confluence of a tributary with the Merrimack permits a digression on islands and recognition that islands commonly occur in such locations. Rivers were the highways of Thoreau's day so the brothers shared the rivers, locks, and canals with commercial barges. In some instances they "lock themselves" through, no lock keeper being available. Even as they rowed and sailed up the Merrimack amongst laden barges, rail lines were being laid alongside the river. Today the locks and canals are barely visible. Thoreau had to self-publish his reflections. Seven hundred six volumes were returned to him unsold enabling him to say: "I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself."