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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Foster's interpretation of Thoreau emphasizes his keen understanding of the interface of human society and the natural environment.
— Irmarie Jones
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
[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
|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|
|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|
|Insights into the Ecology and Conservation of the Land||220|