Thoreau's Country: Journey through a Transformed Landscape [NOOK Book]

Overview

In 1977 David Foster took to the woods of New England to build a cabin with his own hands. Along with a few tools he brought a copy of the journals of Henry David Thoreau. Foster was struck by how different the forested landscape around him was from the one Thoreau described more than a century earlier. The sights and sounds that Thoreau experienced on his daily walks through nineteenth-century Concord were those of rolling farmland, small woodlands, and farmers endlessly working the land. As Foster explored the ...
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Thoreau's Country: Journey through a Transformed Landscape

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Overview

In 1977 David Foster took to the woods of New England to build a cabin with his own hands. Along with a few tools he brought a copy of the journals of Henry David Thoreau. Foster was struck by how different the forested landscape around him was from the one Thoreau described more than a century earlier. The sights and sounds that Thoreau experienced on his daily walks through nineteenth-century Concord were those of rolling farmland, small woodlands, and farmers endlessly working the land. As Foster explored the New England landscape, he discovered ancient ruins of cellar holes, stone walls, and abandoned cartways - all remnants of this earlier land now largely covered by forest. How had Thoreau's open countryside, shaped by ax and plough, divided by fences and laneways, become a forested landscape? Part ecological and historical puzzle, this book brings a vanished countryside to life in all its dimensions, human and natural, offering a rich record of human imprint upon the land.
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Editorial Reviews

New Yorker
Henry David Thoreau's lifework was his journals, which were two million words in length, and for years editors have quarried various selections from this mass of prose. Here Foster chooses passages that reveal the actual nature of the terrain he inhabited...What emerges from this compilation is both a fresh awareness of Thoreau as a writer and an account, shaped partly by Foster's elegant interpretation, of how landscapes change and change again.
Boston Globe
Foster's book, with its mix of Thoreau himself and thoughts about Thoreau will repay any visitor who has previously walked a mile in Thoreau's footsteps. Reading it will recall some scenes and it will remind the readers, and perhaps comfort the readers, that we are not alone. We walk behind giants. Not just Henry David, but whoever it was who had the courage even to begin that stone wall that marks the far edge of the field.
Ottawa Citizen
Mr. Foster took Thoreau's journals along with him when he went into the Vermont back country to make a home with his own hands. But he wasn't emulating their author. Thoreau's Country makes excellent use of quotations from Thoreau, but the remoteness of Thoreau's world, not its proximity, is what he writes about...Mr. Foster is such a pure and subtle writer that quoting just a few words from his book is not enough to suggest the flavour of his style.
M. R. Montgomery
Foster's book..., will repay any visitor who has previously walked a mile in Thoreau's footsteps.
Boston Globe
New Yorker
[A] fresh awareness of Thoreau as a writer and an account...of how landscapes change and change again.
I.G. Simmons
...It is worth its price for both scientist and humanist; furthermore, it is a lovely book to own.
Times Higher Education Supplement [UK]
H.J.B. Birks
[E]njoyable, interesting,...thoughtful...It reads...like an exciting ecological 'whodunit' and,...like a well-written scientific account for the non-specialist.
The Holocene [UK]
William Dietrich
Thoreau's observations alternate with Foster's of the remarkable comeback of the New England forest landscape today.
American Scientist
Library Journal
Foster teaches ecology at Harvard University and is the director of the Harvard Forest. This book results from his 1977 trip to northern Vermont to build a cabin in the woods. He took along assorted reading material, including the journals of Henry David Thoreau, who had constructed his own cabin at Walden Pond well over a century before. As Foster, indicates in his preface, much of the New England landscape that Thoreau knew has since been naturally reclaimed by forest owing to social change and population shifts from country to city as well as changes in agriculture and industry. Foster quotes liberally from Thoreaus original journal entries as he comments on New England and its characteristics before and since Thoreaus day. Foster discusses the regions cultural landscape, woodlands, forests, and wildlife then and now. More than an analysis of Thoreau, this is a commentary on change and the role humans play in shaping the landscape. A thoughtful, very readable volume; recommended for both academic and public libraries.William H. Wiese, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Kirkus Reviews
Any way you slice Harvard University ecologist Foster's evolutionary portrait of the New England landscape—psychogeography, an archaeology of place, glimmerings of the swiftness of nature's transformations—his choice of subject thwarts him: whatever he has to say, it has been better said before Foster's point is clear and sensible: "Nature can only be understood through an awareness of its history," and if we are to appreciate, conserve, and manage ecosystems, we must know that history. This used to be called, by its artful purveyors Derwent Whittlesey and Hugh Raup, sequent occupance, an old and fruitful approach to the reading of landscape that goes uncredited here. To illustrate this idea, Foster takes New England as an example and uses extensive selections of Thoreau's journals for their "insightful perspective originating from a pivotal period.' What Thoreau had to say about land use and the changes in its wake (such as the role of wildfire; the succession of trees in an abandoned field or one given over to pasturing; those features of the landscape that are now rare or nonexistent, such as field birds, coppices, meadows) makes fascinating reading. More so, in fact, than the annotated material that Foster appends to it, though he does provide small clarifications, such as what Thoreau meant by a primitive wood as opposed to a primitive woodland, and fleshes out some of the social forces Thoreau mentions at work behind the flight from the farm in the mid-1800s. And while Thoreau's journals give palpability to his country, no coherent contemporary picture of that country emerges from these pages—despite a slew of intriguing elements, including why bobcats haveappeared where once the bobolink sang—let alone the much more difficult to capture sense of place, something that John Hanson Mitchell (Walking Towards Walden, 1995) has done with great success for this very patch.
Geographical Review

Thoreau's Country is a wonderfully presented ecological and cultural excursion into Henry David Thoreau's backyard…What results is a book that can be read as an ecological treatise on nineteenth-century land-use practice or, alternately, savored slowly, topic by topic, for Thoreau's insightful analyses of such subjects as woodlots, dams, or passenger pigeons. Anyone who has ever encountered a stone wall in the middle of a New England forest will appreciate what Thoreau understood; Foster helps him share with us that understanding.
— Joseph S. Wood

Zoogoer

In Thoreau's Country, ecologist David R. Foster reveals that in limiting our notion of Thoreau by simply associating him with ["...in wildness is the preservation of the world"], we miss the charm, humor, and observational powers of this deep-thinking man...Foster selected passages from the journals that illustrate landscape scenes, natural history processes, and land-use activities that offer "...new and refined insight into the history and ecology of New England." He also included entires he found amusing. He couples Thoreau's passages with his own introductory essays, which are reader-friendly discussions of current issues in ecology...Foster concludes with a rich "Bibliographic Essay." The essays are accompanied by carefully crafted pen-and-ink drawings based on scenes Thoreau described.
— John Seidensticker

American Studies - R. W. Butterfield
The Thoreau revealed or brought forward here is a creature not of primeval wilderness but of broadly husbanded landscape, a fellow not of frontiersmen but of farmers--and a more respectful such fellow than emerges from the pages of Walden...Thoreau's Country makes for good browsing, rich grazing, appreciative ruminating.
Boston Globe - M. R. Montgomery
Foster's book, with its mix of Thoreau himself and thoughts about Thoreau, will repay any visitor who has previously walked a mile in Thoreau's footsteps. Reading it will recall some scenes and it will remind the readers, and perhaps comfort the readers, that we are not alone. We walk behind giants. Not just Henry David, but whoever it was who had the courage even to begin that stone wall that marks the far edge of the field.
Times Higher Education Supplement - I. G. Simmons
There is no shortage of editions of and commentaries on Thoreau but what we have here is an ecologist selecting passages from Thoreau and relating them to ecological history, discussing the effects of forest succession on animal populations, the role of fire in the ecology of New England, the history of abandoned farms and the management of forests then and now. This is not simply a piece of ecological commentary using the journal instead of the satellite image but an outworking of (if he will forgive me) the bog in the brain and bowels of David Foster, the director of Harvard Forest. We have interesting and solidly based ecological information here but suffused with the felt flow of the natural world. As such, it is worth its price for both scientist and humanist; furthermore, it is a lovely book to own.
American Scientist - William Dietrich
Foster--by expertly excerpting from the icon's two million words of journal entries--shows us a thinker who was a brilliant journalist, observant naturalist and eloquent writer. Thoreau's observations alternate with Foster's of the remarkable comeback of the New England forest landscape today. The book's descriptions of 19th-century life and landscape are fascinating. Here is a slowly industrializing New England of dense, intensively managed farms, frequently clear-cut wood lots and vanished wildlife in which Thoreau the nature lover is an eccentric, a minority of one.
Ottawa Citizen - Douglas Fetherling
Mr. Foster took Thoreau's journals along with him when he went into the Vermont back country to make a home with his own hands. But he wasn't emulating their author. Thoreau's Country makes excellent use of quotations from Thoreau, but the remoteness of Thoreau's world, not its proximity, is what he writes about...Mr. Foster is such a pure and subtle writer that quoting just a few words from his book is not enough to suggest the flavour of his style.
Boston Globe - Chet Raymo
In recent years we have seen a spate of books on Henry David Thoreau--his writings, his life, and the landscape in which he lived. The best of the lot is David Foster's Thoreau's Country...He is a clear-eyed interpreter of the so-called hermit of Concord--no rose-colored glasses, no sentimental gush...Foster's fine book lays the groundwork for a conservation ethic that is realistic, practical and --as it must be--sympathetic to human culture and informed by human history.
The Holocene - H. J. B. Birks
This is a remarkable and extremely readable book that discusses how and why the landscape of northern New England has changed since Henry David Thoreau wrote his journals from 1837 until his death in 1862...Foster discusses in an elegant and engaging way the development of the cultural landscape of northern New England and the ecological, social and economic reasons for such marked landscape changes in the last 150 years...It is a most enjoyable, interesting, and thoughtful book. It reads, in part, like an exciting ecological 'whodunit' and, in part, like a well-written scientific account for the non-specialist. Foster provides the perspective of an ecologist, palaeoecologist, and landscape historian to help put together the themes of ecological, social, and economic change that Thoreau noted and, in part, interpreted. It shows the remarkably dynamic nature of landscapes and how a contemporary landscape cannot be understood today without considering its history over various time scales...David Foster has produced a truly wonderful book that is a contribution to both landscape ecology and history and to the semi-popular scientific literature...[It is] scientifically excellent, stimulating and thoughtful, and a pleasure to read. Thoreau's Country should be read by all interested in cultural landscapes, landscape dynamics and conservation, and recent ecological change. Its relevance, interest, and importance spread way beyond the confines of northern New England.
Science Books & Films - A. Donald Caven
By means of annotated abstracts and commentary, Foster contrasts how Thoreau viewed the past, present, and future of his New England landscape with the way Foster himself and others consider it now. In so doing, he points out a number of misconceptions we may have about Thoreau's ideas and the cultural conditions of his time...Anyone interested in the interaction between people and nature in changing the landscape--especially those with an ecological bent--will thoroughly enjoy this book.
Choice - A. B. Stewart
This attractively composed and bound book is illustrated with beautiful pen-and-ink drawings that enhance the text...A book to be savored and also used as a guide to alert the walker to the historical hints in the present landscape.
The Greenfield Recorder - Irmarie Jones
Foster's interpretation of Thoreau emphasizes his keen understanding of the interface of human society and the natural environment.
Choate Rosemary Hall Bulletin - Alden Smith
David Foster's new book exposes some widespread misconceptions about Thoreau and offers fresh insights on the many volumes of journals that this remarkable writer kept from 1837 until his death from tuberculosis in 1862...Thoreau's Country works simultaneously as a meditation on a natural history of New England and as a polemic addressing our present-day need to reconnect with the New England landscape."
Booklist - Brian McCombie
[In Thoreau's Country] Foster charts the social and ecological histories of New England. Thoreau is Foster's inspiration, but by the time the philosopher-author of Walden moved to the Massachusetts woods and erected his small cabin, New England had already been transformed into a patchwork of agricultural fields and small woodlots. Indeed, farmers were seen as heroes for taming the land. But with the nineteenth century's industrial revolution, people deserted the countryside for new jobs in the cities. Over time, much of the land, including that around Foster's Vermont cabin, reforested itself. With the expanding forests, Foster finds a shift in human perception, too, one that encompasses the land's ecological importance. Foster uses many excerpts from Thoreau's journals, which reveal anew a man much in tune with the drastic changes humanity had already wreaked upon the earth.
Bill McKibben
Thoreau is for all time, of course, but the land he walked and loved has changed in fascinating ways. This accessible and engaging book bring Thoreau's account into the present, and even the future.
William Cronon
In this fascinating book, David Foster offers a striking rereading not just of Thoreau's journals but of American environmental history in general. He demonstrates that even the New England landscape which Thoreau described so lovingly, and which many Americans today regard as a symbol of now-vanished wilderness, was much shaped by human hands and much altered by human dreams. Anyone who cares about the environment will benefit from this beautiful meditation on the indispensable importance of history to our efforts to protect the natural world.
Geographical Review - Joseph S. Wood
Thoreau's Country is a wonderfully presented ecological and cultural excursion into Henry David Thoreau's backyard…What results is a book that can be read as an ecological treatise on nineteenth-century land-use practice or, alternately, savored slowly, topic by topic, for Thoreau's insightful analyses of such subjects as woodlots, dams, or passenger pigeons. Anyone who has ever encountered a stone wall in the middle of a New England forest will appreciate what Thoreau understood; Foster helps him share with us that understanding.
Zoogoer - John Seidensticker
In Thoreau's Country, ecologist David R. Foster reveals that in limiting our notion of Thoreau by simply associating him with ["...in wildness is the preservation of the world"], we miss the charm, humor, and observational powers of this deep-thinking man...Foster selected passages from the journals that illustrate landscape scenes, natural history processes, and land-use activities that offer "...new and refined insight into the history and ecology of New England." He also included entires he found amusing. He couples Thoreau's passages with his own introductory essays, which are reader-friendly discussions of current issues in ecology...Foster concludes with a rich "Bibliographic Essay." The essays are accompanied by carefully crafted pen-and-ink drawings based on scenes Thoreau described.
New Yorker
Henry David Thoreau's lifework was his journals, which were approximately two million words in length, and for years editors have quarried various selections from this mass of prose. Here Foster chooses passages that reveal the actual nature of the terrain he inhabited...What emerges from this compilation is both a fresh awareness of Thoreau as a writer and an account, shaped partly by Foster's elegant interpretation, of how landscapes change and change again.
American Studies

The Thoreau revealed or brought forward here is a creature not of primeval wilderness but of broadly husbanded landscape, a fellow not of frontiersmen but of farmers—and a more respectful such fellow than emerges from the pages of Walden...Thoreau's Country makes for good browsing, rich grazing, appreciative ruminating.
— R. W. Butterfield

Boston Globe

In recent years we have seen a spate of books on Henry David Thoreau—his writings, his life, and the landscape in which he lived. The best of the lot is David Foster's Thoreau's Country...He is a clear-eyed interpreter of the so-called hermit of Concord—no rose-colored glasses, no sentimental gush...Foster's fine book lays the groundwork for a conservation ethic that is realistic, practical and —as it must be—sympathetic to human culture and informed by human history.
— Chet Raymo

Times Higher Education Supplement

There is no shortage of editions of and commentaries on Thoreau but what we have here is an ecologist selecting passages from Thoreau and relating them to ecological history, discussing the effects of forest succession on animal populations, the role of fire in the ecology of New England, the history of abandoned farms and the management of forests then and now. This is not simply a piece of ecological commentary using the journal instead of the satellite image but an outworking of (if he will forgive me) the bog in the brain and bowels of David Foster, the director of Harvard Forest. We have interesting and solidly based ecological information here but suffused with the felt flow of the natural world. As such, it is worth its price for both scientist and humanist; furthermore, it is a lovely book to own.
— I. G. Simmons

American Scientist

Foster—by expertly excerpting from the icon's two million words of journal entries—shows us a thinker who was a brilliant journalist, observant naturalist and eloquent writer. Thoreau's observations alternate with Foster's of the remarkable comeback of the New England forest landscape today. The book's descriptions of 19th-century life and landscape are fascinating. Here is a slowly industrializing New England of dense, intensively managed farms, frequently clear-cut wood lots and vanished wildlife in which Thoreau the nature lover is an eccentric, a minority of one.
— William Dietrich

Ottawa Citizen

Mr. Foster took Thoreau's journals along with him when he went into the Vermont back country to make a home with his own hands. But he wasn't emulating their author. Thoreau's Country makes excellent use of quotations from Thoreau, but the remoteness of Thoreau's world, not its proximity, is what he writes about...Mr. Foster is such a pure and subtle writer that quoting just a few words from his book is not enough to suggest the flavour of his style.
— Douglas Fetherling

Globe and Mail
In an 'in the footsteps of [Henry Thoreau]' vein, Harvard ecologist David Foster recounts how he built his own cabin in the New England woods (back in 1977) and traces the mostly manmade transformation of the countryside, including the puzzling fact that what were for Thoreau open spaces are often now forests.
The Holocene

This is a remarkable and extremely readable book that discusses how and why the landscape of northern New England has changed since Henry David Thoreau wrote his journals from 1837 until his death in 1862...Foster discusses in an elegant and engaging way the development of the cultural landscape of northern New England and the ecological, social and economic reasons for such marked landscape changes in the last 150 years...It is a most enjoyable, interesting, and thoughtful book. It reads, in part, like an exciting ecological 'whodunit' and, in part, like a well-written scientific account for the non-specialist. Foster provides the perspective of an ecologist, palaeoecologist, and landscape historian to help put together the themes of ecological, social, and economic change that Thoreau noted and, in part, interpreted. It shows the remarkably dynamic nature of landscapes and how a contemporary landscape cannot be understood today without considering its history over various time scales...David Foster has produced a truly wonderful book that is a contribution to both landscape ecology and history and to the semi-popular scientific literature...[It is] scientifically excellent, stimulating and thoughtful, and a pleasure to read. Thoreau's Country should be read by all interested in cultural landscapes, landscape dynamics and conservation, and recent ecological change. Its relevance, interest, and importance spread way beyond the confines of northern New England.
— H. J. B. Birks

Science Books & Films

By means of annotated abstracts and commentary, Foster contrasts how Thoreau viewed the past, present, and future of his New England landscape with the way Foster himself and others consider it now. In so doing, he points out a number of misconceptions we may have about Thoreau's ideas and the cultural conditions of his time...Anyone interested in the interaction between people and nature in changing the landscape—especially those with an ecological bent—will thoroughly enjoy this book.
— A. Donald Caven

Choice

This attractively composed and bound book is illustrated with beautiful pen-and-ink drawings that enhance the text...A book to be savored and also used as a guide to alert the walker to the historical hints in the present landscape.
— A. B. Stewart

The Greenfield Recorder

Foster's interpretation of Thoreau emphasizes his keen understanding of the interface of human society and the natural environment.
— Irmarie Jones

Cambridge Tab
Foster's abiding love of Thoreau and nature inform this fascinating journal into how we see, take from, and live off the land and what it gives back to us--provided we understand its history and appreciate its treasures. His investigation of American history and its relationship to forests and nature makes for a compelling read. Naturalists, New England history buffs, Thoreau fans and just plain outdoorsy folks will encounter the pleasant surprise of having Foster charm and educate then at the same time.
Natural Selections
Foster, a forester from Harvard, skillfully weaves together Thoreau's observations of the rolling New England farmland and small woodlots around Concord (carved out of primeval wilderness) and his own ecologically informed look at the same land, now largely reverted to forest.
Woburn Advocate
Foster's abiding love of Thoreau and nature inform this fascinating journey into how we see, take from and live off the land and what it gives back to us--provided we understand its history and appreciate its treasures...[Foster's] investigation of American history and its relationship to forests and nature make for a compelling read. Naturalists, New England history buffs, Thoreau fans and just plain outdoorsy folks will encounter the pleasant surprise of having Foster charm and educate them at the same time.
Choate Rosemary Hall Bulletin

David Foster's new book exposes some widespread misconceptions about Thoreau and offers fresh insights on the many volumes of journals that this remarkable writer kept from 1837 until his death from tuberculosis in 1862...Thoreau's Country works simultaneously as a meditation on a natural history of New England and as a polemic addressing our present-day need to reconnect with the New England landscape."
— Alden Smith

Booklist

[In Thoreau's Country] Foster charts the social and ecological histories of New England. Thoreau is Foster's inspiration, but by the time the philosopher-author of Walden moved to the Massachusetts woods and erected his small cabin, New England had already been transformed into a patchwork of agricultural fields and small woodlots. Indeed, farmers were seen as heroes for taming the land. But with the nineteenth century's industrial revolution, people deserted the countryside for new jobs in the cities. Over time, much of the land, including that around Foster's Vermont cabin, reforested itself. With the expanding forests, Foster finds a shift in human perception, too, one that encompasses the land's ecological importance. Foster uses many excerpts from Thoreau's journals, which reveal anew a man much in tune with the drastic changes humanity had already wreaked upon the earth.
— Brian McCombie

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674037151
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • File size: 455 KB

Meet the Author

David R. Foster is Director of the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, and teaches ecology at Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

Preface
Prologue: One Man's Journal 1
Three Landscapes in New England History 8
The Cultural Landscape of New England 15
Views of the Nineteenth-Century Countryside 15
Daily Life 23
The Farmer as Hero 33
Meadows and Mowers 47
Stone Walls and Other Fences 60
A Natural History of Woodlands 72
Woodlands and Sproutlands 72
Forest Land Use and Woodland Practices 85
Firewood and Other Fuels 99
Wildfire: A Human and Natural Force 109
The Coming of the New Forest 122
Social Change and Farm Abandonment in New England 122
The Succession of Forest Trees 134
Losses and Change 149
Animals: From Bobolinks to Bears 149
The Passenger Pigeon 167
The American Chestnut 175
Stepping Back and Looking Ahead 184
Reading Forest and Landscape History 184
Landscape Change 209
Insights into the Ecology and Conservation of the Land 220
Bibliographic Essay 231
Bibliography 250
Index 261
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