October 22:Twenty-year-old Henry David Thoreau began his journal on this day in 1837. Hekept at it for the next quarter-century—forty-seven manuscript volumes,regarded by some as his most important writing, being an invaluable record ofboth the inner man and his time. It contains reflections upon national andinternational events—the hanging of John Brown, for example—but we read mostlyof the woods, the seasons, and Thoreau’s daily comings and goings, all spicedwith his large and small observations.
On October 19, 1857, while walking the old Carlisle road atsunset, he meets Brooks Clark, “who is now about eighty and bent like abow,” and bare-footed: “When he got up to me, I saw that besides theaxe in one hand, he had his shoes in the other, filled with knurly apples and adead robin.” After talk of the robin and the cold weather coming, Brooksheads home with his day’s harvest, “carrying it home in the Octoberevening, as a trophy to be added to his winter’s store,” and Thoreaucontinues on his way, so pleased “to see this cheery old man … thusenjoying the evening of his days” that it “was worth a thousand ofthe church’s sacraments and memento mori’s.” Several days later—October22, 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 ofmountains we have in our northwest horizon! Do we ever give thanks for it? …Ilook up northwest toward my mountains, as a farmer to his hill lot or rockypasture from his door. I drive no cattle to Ipswich hills. I own no pasture forthem there. My eyes it is alone that wander to those blue pastures, which nodrought affects. They are my flocks and herds. See how they look…. Ah, I amcontent 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.