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The Ponds Notes from Walden

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Walden The Ponds

Huckleberries only taste right if you've picked them yourself. They spoil during sale and transport, so you'll never really know what they taste like till you've gone out to pick them.

Thoreau often joined fishermen by the pond at the end of the day. They had trouble getting bites from the fish. However, there was one older man who was an excellent fisherman, and they often spent time fishing in a boat together. If he was alone, Thoreau made his own noise for company by hitting the side of his boat with a paddle.

There were also times when he played his flute at night while sitting in his boat. These moments make Thoreau remember that he used to come to the pond as a visitor. He would often spend time on the pond at night like this after he had returned from a visit late at night, and needed to fish for the next day's meal. One thing in particular that captivated him at night were the fish reflecting in the moonlight.

Topic Tracking: Intellectual Space 4

"It was very queer, especially in dark nights, when your thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes in other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again. It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into the air, as well as downward into this element which was scarcely more dense. Thus I caught two fishes as it were with one hook." The Ponds, pg. 159

Walden has no visible inlet or outlet, and is surrounded by steep hills and wooded areas.

Topic Tracking: Water 4

All the Concord ponds, including Walden, look like they have two colors: a far away color and a close up color. These are usually, respectively, blue and green. But the ponds can also be slate on stormy days when they reflect the stormy sky. The ponds might be these colors, Thoreau surmises, because they reflect the color of the sand, the sky, the green of the surrounding hills, or some combination of both. What is most interesting to Thoreau is that a tiny spoonful of the pond water will be clear, when at the same time it appears colored when you look at the pond.

The water in Walden Pond is clear enough to see the bottom at 25-35 feet. The shore is stony, and very steep. The pond is sandy otherwise, and deep, but not bottomless. White Pond is similar - pure and well-like. Thoreau is so taken with Walden that he is convinced it was in existence at the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It has been since then a "distiller of celestial dews." Also, it may appear to be pristine here, but the pond is grand enough that it could be the place where nations could have quenched their thirst thousands of years ago. To prove this idea, Thoreau mentions the faint path visible only in winter from the middle of the pond. -The path circles the pond, alternately coming up close and leaving the edge of the pond.

Thoreau discovered that the level of the pond fluctuates by about five feet over a period of 25 years. Although it takes many years to go up or down, this is a very dramatic shift. Flint's Pond and White Pond are like that as well, and follow the same fluctuations. With the fluctuations, the high water kills encroaching plant life and keeps the shore clear on other years.

Next, Thoreau refers to the stories he has heard of how Walden came to be, because it seems to him to be so irregular and singular due to its depth and clarity. Thoreau is certain that there was once no pond here. First, he tells the story of an Indian Pow Wow that took place atop a mountain that once stood on this spot. They all sunk into the ground because they used an excessive amount of profanity, and only one woman survived. The resulting pond was named after her. Thoreau also mentions the English town Saffron Walden, and the term "walled-in" (because of the stones lining the edges of the shore) as possible origins of the name.

Walden is his ready-dug well. He notices that the temperature fluctuates a lot during the spring and summer. It gets colder than other nearby water sources ever do, and the temperature rises more steadily and higher than in other ponds. Thoreau also chronicles some of the large fish caught at Walden, and talks about the large birds and animals that come to the pond: a loon and a turtle.

In addition, Thoreau notices circular heaps of stones about six feet in diameter that sit on the pond bottom. He wonders if they were formed on the ice by Indians and fell to the bottom in the spring, but decides that they are too regular and new for that. They can't be leech holes, as there are none in Walden.

The irregular shoreline of the pond - bays, inlets, and the woods coming up to the edge - indicates that there is no hand of man here.

Topic Tracking: Water 5

When water is quiet it is as glass. The fish and bugs make concentric circles on its surface that are beautiful. Water is the intermediate form between earth and sky. Unlike the earth, it is affected by the wind and ripples with it. And, we can look down upon it and examine it. Thoreau imagines having that opportunity with the air one day, but for now he can observe the water. When the water reflects the clouds, Thoreau imagines that he's floating through the air - and the fish look like they're hovering in air.

There is an old man who visits Thoreau who found a log canoe years ago, when the pond was full of waterfowl, which it no longer is. Thoreau is pleased to know about the canoe, and thinks it is part of a lineage of canoes, starting with an Indian canoe, and that the many logs he can see on the bottom of the pond could be parts of old canoes.

Speaking from the perspective of a few years since he left his cabin at Walden, Thoreau mentions that since he lived at the pond, the woods have been largely cut. Thoreau thinks this will quiet the muse he enjoyed at Walden forever. However, the water remains the same forever. There are no permanent wrinkles the water can take on.

Topic Tracking: Water 6

"it is the same liquid joy and happiness to itself and its Maker, ay, and it may be to me. It is the work of a brave man surely, in whom there was no guile! He rounded this water with his hand, deepened and clarified it in his thought, and in his will bequeathed it to Concord." The Ponds, pp. 170-171

Thoreau realizes that Walden is linked indirectly to Flint's Pond, which is higher up. He thinks there may have been a river between the two, in another geological period. Flint's Pond is much larger, however. It is Concord's "greatest lake and inland sea." It has more fish and is shallower, but not as pure as Walden. In addition, there is the old, molded frame of a boat on the shore (not a canoe).

"Flint's Pond! Such is the poverty of our nomenclature. What right had the unclean and stupid farmer, whose farm abutted on this sky water, whose shores he has ruthlessly laid bare, to give his name to it? Some skinflint, who loved better the reflecting surface of a dollar, or bright cent, in which he could see his own brazen face; who regarded even the wild ducks which settled in it as trespassers; his fingers grown into crooked and horny talons from the long habit of grasping harpy-like - so it is not named for me. I go not there to see him nor to hear of him; who never saw it, who never bathed in it, who never loved it, who never protected it, who never spoke a good word for it, nor thanked God that he had made it. Rather let it be named from the fishes that swim in it, the wild fowl or quadrupeds which frequent it, the wild flowers which grow by its shores, or some wild man or child the thread of whose history is interwoven with its own; not from him who could show no title to it but the deed which a like-minded neighbor or legislature gave him...." The Ponds, pg. 172

Thoreau lists Goose Pond, which is an inlet in the Concord River, and White Pond. These ponds total his lake country (like that area in England defined by English Romantic Poets). All these ponds are within two miles of Thoreau.

Because Thoreau, the railroad, and woodcutters have encroached on Walden, White Pond is the gem of all these. It remains almost totally pristine. There is an upside-down tree in the middle of the lake, which had been there for a good 100 years at least. Walden and White Ponds are what Thoreau calls "Lakes of Light." They are like gems on the surface of the earth.

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