A Farewell to my Thoreau...


Excerpts from Thoreau’s Journal.
The Adventure Continues!

January 2011

As this project draws to a close, please allow me a few more words than usual for this final issue of Journal Drippings.

I began reading and excerpting Thoreau’s Journal on July 17, 1997, and I finished the Journal, taking my last notes on its over 7,000 pages, on November 16, 2010. You might say I took my time, but the reading happened mostly during stolen moments, while grading papers or otherwise trying to escape what I was supposed to be doing. Parts of the Journal I read in a pine-scented reproduction of Thoreau’s Cabin built by a class of students at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional H.S., in Sudbury, Mass. What a rare privilege that was–and with Walden only five miles away!

During those 12 years, I sent my “Journal Drippings” out to subscribers at the beginning of each month in the academic year. Looking back on this “labor of love,” I see it now as one long saunter through a mind surpassed only by Nature for its infinite variety and inexhaustible vigor. I took a turn around the pond and ended up flying through the cosmos of one man’s thoughts about a world he tirelessly took the time not only to look at but to see.

Inexhaustible vigor...well, until the end. Increasingly, I noticed in the Journal that his friend Horace Mann was bringing him more specimens from the woods to examine. Then he set off on that fatiguing trip to Minnesota that his doctors hoped might improve his “consumption.” The last year of the Journal documented only scattered and occasional daily outings. The very last entry—May 14, 1861– appeared almost exactly a year before his death, and can be read below. How amazing that it seemed to suggest so much of the purpose behind his beloved compost pile of a journal!

His last strength was saved for other tasks. I have heard that Thoreau used what time remained to him to work with his sister on uncompleted manuscripts. He died on May 6, 1862, at the age of 44. His last unconscious words were “Moose ... Indian.” Perhaps he was dreaming of his trips to the Maine woods. Recently I learned that his last conscious words had also been recorded. According to Concord historian Tom Blanding, this is what happened:

“The morning Thoreau died... his thoughts were truly symbolic of this fact. His sister Sophia was reading to him out of  ‘Friday’ ...[a chapter in his book] A Week On The Concord & Merrimac Rivers about the brothers’ swift return down the Merrimack to Concord. She had come to the sentence, ‘We glided past the mouth of the Nashua, and not long after, of Salmon Brook, without more pause than the wind,’ when Thoreau, just before he breathed his last, whispered, ‘Now comes clear sailing…’”

“Now comes clear sailing.” Thank you, readers for being my companions on this journey. See you at Walden!

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look
through each other's eyes for an instant?”-HDT

Lastly, thank you, Henry David Thoreau, for this unforgettable sunrise of a chance to look through your eyes.


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