ISBN-10:
0674006682
ISBN-13:
9780674006683
Pub. Date:
10/01/2001
Publisher:
Harvard
Thoreau's Country: Journey through a Transformed Landscape

Thoreau's Country: Journey through a Transformed Landscape

by David R. FosterDavid R. Foster
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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. Extensive excerpts from the journals show us, through the vividly recorded details of daily life, a Thoreau intimately acquainted with the ways in which he and his neighbors were changing and remaking the New England landscape. Foster adds the perspective of a modern forest ecologist and landscape historian, using the journals to trace themes of historical and social change.

Thoreau's journals evoke not a wilderness retreat but the emotions and natural history that come from an old and humanized landscape. It is with a new understanding of the human role in shaping that landscape, Foster argues, that we can best prepare ourselves to appreciate and conserve it today.

From the journal:

"I have collected and split up now quite a pile of driftwood—rails and riders and stems and stumps of trees—perhaps half or three quarters of a tree...Each stick I deal with has a history, and I read it as I am handling it, and, last of all, I remember my adventures in getting it, while it is burning in the winter evening. That is the most interesting part of its history. It has made part of a fence or a bridge, perchance, or has been rooted out of a clearing and bears the marks of fire on it...Thus one half of the value of my wood is enjoyed before it is housed, and the other half is equal to the whole value of an equal quantity of the wood which I buy."

—October 20, 1855

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674006683
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/01/2001
Series: Journey Through a Transformed Landscape
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.60(d)
Lexile: 1450L (what's this?)

About the Author

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

Table of Contents

Preface

Prologue: One Man's Journal

Three Landscapes in New England History

The Cultural Landscape of New England

Views of the Nineteenth-Century Countryside

Daily Life

The Farmer as Hero

Meadows and Mowers

Stone Walls and Other Fences

A Natural History of Woodlands

Woodlands and Sproutlands

Forest Land Use and Woodland Practices

Firewood and Other Fuels

Wildfire: A Human and Natural Force

The Coming of the New Forest

Social Change and Farm Abandonment in New England

The Succession of Forest Trees

Losses and Change

Animals: From Bobolinks to Bears

The Passenger Pigeon

The American Chestnut

Stepping Back and Looking Ahead

Reading Forest and Landscape History

Landscape Change

Insights into the Ecology and Conservation of the Land

Bibliographic Essay

Bibliography

Index

What People are Saying About This

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.

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 altered by human dreams. Anyone who cares about the environment will benefit from this beatiful meditation on the indispensible importance of history to our efforts to protect the natural world.
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Bill McKibben

Thoreau is for all time, of course, but the land he walked and loved changed in fascinating ways. This accessible and engaging book bring Thoreau's account into the present, and even the future. -- ( Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature )

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