Henry David Thoreau on the American Chestnut

May 23, 2008 at 8:00 am 2 comments

The Blog of Henry David Thoreau features a daily excerpt from The Journal of Henry David Thoreau. I’ve found the blog and its excerpts to be fascinating. Thoreau’s entry on October 23, 1855 in particular stuck out to me. He spoke of sympathy for an American Chestnut tree:

Now is the time for chestnuts. A stone cast against the trees shakes them down in showers upon one’s head and shoulders. But I cannot excuse myself for using the stone. It is not innocent, it is not just, so to maltreat the tree that feeds us. I am not disturbed by considering that if I thus shorten its life I shall not enjoy its fruit so long, but am prompted to a more innocent course by motives purely of humanity. I sympathize with the tree, yet I heaved a big stone against the trunks like a robber,—not too good to commit murder. I trust that I shall never do it again. These gifts should be accepted, not merely with gentleness, but with a certain humble gratitude. The tree whose fruit we would obtain should not be too rudely shaken even. It is not a time of distress, when a little haste and violence even might be pardoned. It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injury on the tree that feeds or shadows us. Old trees are our parents, and our parents’ parents, perchance. If you would learn the secrets of Nature, you must practice more humanity than others. The thought that I was robbing myself by injuring the tree did not occur to me, but I was affected as if I had cast a rock at a sentient being,—with a duller sense than my own, it is true, but yet a distant relation. Behold a man cutting down a tree to come at the fruit! What is the moral of such an act?

I wonder how much more extensive his regret would have been, had he known what laid ahead for the American Chestnut?

Entry filed under: American Chestnut, trees. Tags: .

links for 2008-05-22 The Peace Eagle

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. scienceguy288  |  May 23, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Thoreau was a great author. The peacefulness that accompanies reading Walden almost puts you right in the woods.

    Reply
  • 2. geekhiker  |  May 23, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    What a wonderful piece.

    It reminds me of an incident a couple of years ago across the street. Like a lot of places in this country, my neighborhood is made up of old places built in the ’40’s. And, like a lot of places, they’re razing those buildings and putting mini-mansions on the lots (big house, no yard). When they did the property across the street from mine, they took out thee 40 year old trees – beautiful shade trees that provided a lovely view from my front windows. In their place? Giant driveways and two 2-car garages. *sigh*

    Reply

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