Saturday, July 21, 2018

Walden Pond - Water Level Changes

Imagine children at the seashore, digging a hole in the sand. Water quickly seeps in until the water level in the hole matches the ocean. Dug during a falling tide and the water in the hole will drop and may even go dry, only to refill hours later, with the rising tide. Writ larger and slower, this helps explain the rise and fall of the water level of Walden Pond.

In Henry David Thoreau’s time and ours, the water level of Walden Pond has a long-time average of 158 feet above sea level. What the occasional visitor misses – what the regulars well know – is that the pond can range as much as four feet above or below that average. Current conditions are at the low end of the range. The barren space between the treeline and water’s edge is wide.

Thoreau wrote that as a child of four, his family had picnicked at Walden, making a beach fire on a sandy spit of land not far from where he would build his cabin for his two-year sojourn in Walden Woods. Early in 1846 he drilled more than 70 holes in the ice in an attempt to locate the pond’s deepest point. He reported depth at 102 feet, but to today’s topic, the picnic location was at that time under seven feet of water.

Walden Pond is a kettle hole pond. There are many scattered across eastern Massachusetts, especially on Cape Cod. Envision the area now identified as Walden Woods being filled by gravel and sand, deposited during the melting of ice age ice some 18,000 years ago. Geological maps show this as the remains of Glacial Lake Sudbury. Where the pond is now was occupied by a massive, slower-to-melt mound of ice, so that when it finally melted, it left a deep depression in the alluvial plain which stayed filled with water. Voila! Walden Pond!! Kettle hole ponds typically have little to no surface-water inflows or outflows. Instead, they receive all of their hydrologic inflows from groundwater and precipitation.

Circles show height of water measured in feet above 'sea level' (see scale on right side). The long-term average is
158 feet. Prolonged droughts cause dips. Extreme amounts of rain in a short period of time cause spikes.
On average, the pond gains about 20 percent of its total volume each year from rainfall, snow melt, and groundwater seepage from the east, losing the same volume to evaporation plus subterranean seepage to the Sudbury River, to the west. There is a yearly cycle of water level change of about one foot, highest after snowmelt, lowest at the end of summer. Drought years and rainy years have a greater effect on the pond, but slower, to reflect the slow movement of groundwater in and out of the pond. For many years the U.S. Geological Survey measured groundwater levels in a well near Walden Pond, data expressed as feet above sea level. The recorded low was a consequence of the drought of 1964-65. Spikes in 1984 and 2010 represent the acute impact of severe storms – in June 1984, 5-9 inches of rain in a few days, and in March 2010, 15 inches of rain from a series of storms that also caused the last major flooding of the Assabet and Sudbury rivers. Present day, Walden Pond is below its long-term average.

From Boston’s weather records, over the past 120 years the region has become warmer, resulting in shorter winters and drier summers, but annual precipitation has significantly increased. Some wetlands have expanded, resulting in drowned forests, i.e., groves of dead but still-standing trees. However, it is hard to predict how climate will change in the future, or how those changes will impact Walden Pond.

Kettle ponds are characterized not only by depth, but by clarity of water, the reason being that all the inflow is filtered. In contrast, a mill pond (or a beaver pond) will have silty sediment deposited by the erosive action of the dammed river. The later will support plants, and perhaps algae blooms, whereas the former – nitrogen and phosphorus poor – stay pristine. One of Waldon’s problems today is too many people peeing in the pond.* Please don’t!  

*   Stager JC, et al. Climate variability and cultural eutrophication at Walden Pond (Massachusetts, USA) during the last 1800 years PLoS One. 13(4): e0191755. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

300th column

David Mark: Newspaper columnist for the
Beacon-Villager, serving Maynard and Stow.
Photo shows your columnist, wearing his collector's item "ONLY IN MAYNARD" shirt. I admit to being tall, but not taller than a doorway - only because of the height of the camera does it look that way.

Tempus fugit. 300 columns and almost nine years into this adventure of exploring local history and nature, let's revisit a few of the popular columns published since the 200th. These and many others still exist at Additional photos at Instagram #maynardlifeoutdoors.

Wildlife Acoustics: A February 2018 column, from a ten-part series on businesses at the Mill, introduced readers to Wildlife Acoustics, Inc., a company that moved from Concord to Maynard in 2013. Wildlife is an expert provider of devices that detects and analyzes all sorts of animal noises. When asked how all this got started, Ian Agranat replied that by 2002 he had completed his sale of a software company and was at loose ends. His brother-in-law, an avid outdoorsman and birder, casually wondered “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a device that could identify a bird by its song?” 

Wildlife Acoustics, Maynard staff, Ian Agranat, front-center
A million dollars or so later, Ian had a device that worked – sort of – but was far too expensive for bird-watching hobbyists. What he did have, however, was a device that was almost good enough to meet the professional research needs of environmental consulting firms, governments and academic researchers. A bit more R&D, and voila, devices to record and interpret animal noises in the air, on land and under water, ranging from bats and birds, to whales. Recently, Wildlife Acoustics launched Song Sleuth, a smartphone app developed in a collaboration with bird expert David Sibley. After recording birdsong, names and images of the three most likely species appear on the screen.

Shrinking Stow: February 2017 saw the publication of a three-part series about how the original Stow shrank more than half in size, giving up land to the towns of Harvard, Shirley, Boxborough, Hudson and Maynard between the years 1732 and 1871. Maynard – the last – was the only town that paid Stow for the privilege.

Thoreau’s “The Old Marlborough Road”: A March 2017 column annotated a poem by that title, first appearing in Thoreau’s private journal in 1850, published in changed form in his famous essay “Walking,” in 1862, shortly after his death. The theme of the poem is that by stepping out on disused/abandoned roads – as was already true of the old road to Marlborough in his day – you are in effect traveling on any road and every road. “If with fancy unfurled/You leave your abode/You may go round the world/By the Old Marlborough Road.”

Old Marlboro Road, Maynard, MA
The road still exists, parts in Maynard named “Old Marlboro Road.” It continues through the Wildlife Refuge as a trail named Winterberry Way; then out the Stow side, named Bruen Road, White Pond Road and finally Concord Road to Marlborough. All the people named in the poem existed in Thoreau’s time. The opening couplet “Where they once dug for money/But never found any” referred to people of Concord digging here and there in search of buried pirates’ treasure. The poem is grounded in reality, yet asks readers to exercise their imagination.

Mueller (left) and THE COREY (right) keeping company
Click on any photo to enlarge
Fire Hydrants: May 2016 featured two columns about fire hydrants. A highlight was the discovery of a hydrant dating to the 1890s. On an unpaved portion of White Avenue, buried under uncounted layers of white paint, a hydrant sports an emblem of a "C" entwined with a "V" which stands for Chapman Valve, A raised circle surrounds the emblem with the faintly legible words CHAPMAN VALVE on the top and BOSTON on the bottom. Outside this ring is a stylized snowflake design. All this detail dates the hydrant's manufacture to 1890-1900. Winter Avenue itself and neighboring streets were created in 1921. It is possible that this is one of Maynard's first hydrants, installed at the same time as the beginnings of the town's water system, in 1890, later relocated.   

Elsewhere, through paint, and sometimes through rust, most of the fire hydrants in Maynard read MUELLER, plus a year for when the hydrant was made. There are a few hydrants about town with "THE COREY" across the top, named after the inventor, William W. Corey. Stow does not have a public water supply system, and thus no centralized system of hydrants. New housing developments are required to have underground water storage tanks. For everything else, the fire department is equipped to pump water from streams, ponds and lakes. First responder trucks carry 500-1000 gallons of water, which is often all it takes to knock down a fire.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Four Centuries of New England's Trees

European 'copper' beech in July. Note top, in full sun, has
more red tint than the lower part of the tree.
See also The Hidden Life of Trees, 
June 27, 2018 post.

In 2013, Jonathan R. Thompson* and co-authors from the Smithsonian Institute and other research organizations published an article “Four centuries of change in northeastern United States Forests.” The title incorporates a bit of rounding up, as the Pilgrims landed at what is now Plymouth in 1620, followed by much larger numbers of Puritans arriving 1630-1640. Tree choppers all. These were the colonists who believed that every tree deserved an axe.

The colonists were flummoxed by the weather. Why, if New England was at the same latitude as southern France, was the land not temperate in climate, moderate in winter and summer? Instead, the land was wracked by horrific storms in all seasons, summers unbearably humid, winters long and so cold that “…water, cast up into the air, would commonly be turned into ice before it came to the ground.” (Minister Cotton Mather). Not knowing about the Europe-warming properties of the Gulf Stream, or how frigid Artic air comes swooping south from Canada, the colonists blamed the harsh weather on trees. In their minds, cutting trees and draining marshes would not only create farmland and pasture, it would shorten and temper winter.**

The deforestation of New England reached maximum around 1850. By that time more than half the forest cover had become field or pasture, the remainder mostly second or third growth, often what farmers referred to as their wood-lots, i.e., regrowth from stumps left behind, too small for lumber but large enough to cut for firewood. Reforestation was brought on by farmers abandoning the land, either to take up farming in the flatter and more fertile Midwest, or moving to cities to work in factories. Coal replaced wood as the preferred fuel for steam engines, and the invention of barbed wire obviated the need for rail fences for pastures.

Forest regrow is a process of succession. Fast-growing trees that prefer full sunlight are the pioneers, followed by mid-succession trees, and then the late successional beech, oak and evergreens. The latter, in time, displace the former and become the dominate forestscape. One might expect that the restoration would be near-complete 150-200 years later, but what with occasional forest fires, a smaller but still active lumber industry, and the massive impact of the 1938 hurricane, New England has not yet returned to a fully mature woodland tree mix.

What Thompson reported was a change in the percentages of tree species over almost 400 years. Chestnuts, elms and hemlocks lost to disease or insects. Beech trees declining from 22 percent of the forests to 6 percent. Oaks, 18 to 11 percent. Deer, which eat acorns, and gypsy moth caterpillars, which prefer oak leaves, contributed to this decline. Spruces, 8 to 4 percent. The biggest gain was for maples – from 11 to 31 percent. Ash, birch and wild cherry posted lesser increases. Regional differences lessened. Early colonial era forests were dominated by oak and hickory in southern New England versus spruce and fir in the north. Now, maple everywhere.       

And now for the big reveal – all this is why New England, moreso than other parts of the United States – is known for fall foliage colors. The centuries of deforestation and reforestation resulted in young forests populated by maple, birch, cherry, popular and ash trees. These species provide the reds, oranges and yellows sought by ‘leaf peeper’ tourists. Going forward, American beech, oak and spruce should displace the maples and birches. In time, fall will become a less colorful season.

Two leaves from the same maple tree - darker from the sunny
side, green from the shady side. Clink on photo to enlarge.
Summer leaf colors are also more varied now compared to 400 years ago because of the common landscaping use of European and Asian tree cultivars selected for color. Think red-leaf Japanese maples and European ‘copper’ beeches. Crabapple and plum trees also come in varieties with copper, red or purple leaves. More exotic are ninebark and redbud cultivars, same color palate. Chlorophyll – green in color – is still present in these leaves. It is the presence of anthocyanins – shades of red to blue – that give the leaves their darker hues. Many of these tree species are modest in size. The exception is European ‘copper’ beech, which can easily top out at more than 100 feet tall and almost as wide across. An example on Acton Street approaches 90 feet tall, with a trunk fifteen feet in circumference.

*Thompson JR, Carpenter DN, Cogbill CV, Foster DR. Four centuries of change in northeastern United States forests. PLoS One. 2013;8(9):e.72540. PMID:24023749.

**Buck S. The first American settlers cut down millions of trees to deliberately engineer climate change.  

Much of what Buck writes appears to be based on a 1998 book by James Roger Fleming "Historical Perspectives on Climate Change", which can be read on line at:

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Thoreau: A Walk to Boon's Pond in Stow

On July 12, 2018, David Mark presented a short talk "A Walk to Boon's Pond in Stow" at the 2018 Thoreau Society Annual Gathering, in Concord, Massachusetts, USA. The topic is Thoreau's journal entry for September 4, 1851.

Thoreau's journal entry: 2,800 words
Introduction and Annotation: 6,300 words


U.S. postage stamp issued May 23, 2017 honoring
the bicentennial of Thoreau's birth.
Among Henry David Thoreau's many journal entries are a few pertaining to Sudbury and Stow, small towns in eastern Massachusetts about ten miles west of Concord. On Thursday, September 4, 1851, Henry David Thoreau was 34 years old; four years past the end of his two-year sojourn at Walden Pond and three years before that experience was published as Walden; or, Life in the Woods. He was writing in his journal nearly every day. On September 4th he set out with a friend to walk to Boon's Pond (in Stow) and back, a distance of 20 miles.

The trip took them from Concord into Acton, Sudbury and Stow, and included parts of the last two towns that 20 years later would become Maynard. The region was primarily agricultural, interspersed with woodland and wetland.  On a few rivers there were various types of mills typical of the early stages of the industrial era (wool, cotton, gunpowder, paper, leather...). Concord had trains, newspapers, and has just been wired for telegraph. This document contains the transcript of his journal entry with annotations to place content in historical context of the time and present day status. 
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 1851: In his journal entry the day before the Boon Pond walk Thoreau describes an afternoon walk in the rain. He commented on the telegraph wires which were new that week to Concord. He quotes Wilkinson on benefits of pathways before ranting about Wilkinson's proposal to pave same: "'As for walking, the inhabitants of large English towns are confined almost exclusively to their parks and to the highways. The few footpaths in their vicinities are gradually vanishing,' says Wilkinson, 'under the encroachments of the proprietors .' He proposes that the people's right to them be asserted and defended and that they be kept in a passable state at the public expense. 'This,' says he, 'would be easily done by means of asphalt laid upon a good foundation' ! ! ! So much for walking, and the prospects of walking, in the neighborhood of English large towns." [1]

"A Walk to Boon's Pond in Stow"
as it appears in Volume 2, Chapter VIII, September 1851 (published 1906)

Sept. 4. 8 A. M.  A clear and pleasant day after the rain. Start for Boon's Pond in Stow
with C. [2,3] Every sight and sound was the more interesting for the clear atmosphere. When you are starting away, leaving your more familiar fields, for a little adventure like a walk, you look at every object with a traveller's, or at least with historical, eyes; you pause on the first bridge, where an ordinary walk hardly commences, and begin to observe and moralize like a traveller. It is worth the while to see your native village thus sometimes, as if you were a traveller passing through it, commenting on your neighbors as strangers. We stood thus on Wood's Bridge, the first bridge, in the capacity of pilgrims and strangers to its familiarity, giving it one more chance with us, though our townsmen who passed may not have perceived it. [4]

There was a pretty good-sized pickerel poised over the sandy bottom close to the shore and motionless as a shadow. It is wonderful how they resist the slight current of our river and remain thus stationary for hours. He, no doubt, saw us plainly on the bridge, in the sunny water, his whole form distinct and his shadow, motionless as the steel trap which does not spring till the fox's foot has touched it. [5]

_____'s dog sprang up, ran out, and growled at us, and in his eye I seemed to see the eye of his master. I have no doubt but that, as is the master, such in course of time tend to become his herds and flocks as well as dogs. One man's oxen will be clever and solid, another's mischievous, another's mangy, in each case like their respective owners. No doubt man impresses his own character on the beasts which he tames and employs; they are not only humanized, but they acquire his particular human nature. How much oxen are like farmers generally, and cows like farmers' wives! and young steers and heifers like farmers' boys and girls! The farmer acts on the ox, and the ox reacts on the farmer. They do not meet half-way, it is true, but they do meet at a distance from the centre of each proportionate to each one's intellectual power. The farmer is ox-like in his thought, in his walk, in his strength, in his trustworthiness, in his taste. [6]

Hosmer's man was cutting his millet, and his buckwheat already lay in red piles in the field. [7,8]

The first picture we noticed was where the road turned among the pitch pines [9] and showed the Hadley house [7], with the high wooded hill behind with dew and sun on it, the gracefully winding road path, and a more distant horizon on the right of the house. Just beyond, on the left, it was pleasant walking where the road was shaded by a high hill, as it can be only in the morning. Even in the morning that additional coolness and early- dawn-like feeling of a more sacred and earlier season are agreeable.

The lane in front of Tarbell's house [7], which is but little worn and appears to lead nowhere, though it has so wide and all-engulfing an opening, suggested that such things might be contrived for effect in laying out grounds. (Only those things are sure to have the greatest and best effect, which like this were not contrived for the sake of effect.) An open path which would suggest walking and adventuring on it, the going to some place strange and far away. It would make you think of or imagine distant places and spaces greater than the estate. [Thoreau had explored this idea of an abandoned road as symbolic of every road to anywhere in his journal in 1850 as a poem "The Old Marlborough Road."]  

It was pleasant, looking back just beyond, to see a heavy shadow (made by some high birches) reaching quite across the road. [10]  Light and shadow are sufficient contrast and furnish sufficient excitement when we are well.

Now we were passing the vale of Brown and Tarbell, a sunshiny mead pastured by cattle and sparkling with dew, the sound of crows and swallows heard in the air, and leafy-columned elms seen here and there shining with dew. [7]  The morning freshness and unworldliness of that
domain ! The vale of Tempe and of Arcady is not farther off than are the conscious lives of men from their opportunities. Our life is as far from corresponding to its scenery as we are distant from Tempe and Arcadia; that is to say, they are far away because we are far from living natural lives. How absurd it would be to insist on the vale of Tempe in particular when we have such vales as we have! [11]

Click on photos to enlarge. Parts of
the walk were on the at-that-time
abandoned Old Marlboro Road. The
above sign from road in Maynard. 
In the Marlborough road, [12] in the woods, I saw a purple streak like a stain on the red pine leaves and sand under my feet, which I was surprised to find was made by a dense mass of purple fleas, somewhat like snow-fleas, a faint purple stain as if some purple dye had been spilt. [13] What is that slender pink flower that I find in the Marlborough road, smaller than a snap dragon ? The slender stems of grass which hang over the ruts and horses' path in this little-frequented road are so laden with dew that I am compelled to hold a bush before me to shake it off. The jays scream on the right and left and are seen flying further off as we go by. [14]

We drink in the meadow at Second Division Brook, then sit awhile to watch its yellowish pebbles and the cress (?) in it and other reeds. The ripples cover its surface like a network and are faithfully reflected on the bottom. In some places, the sun reflected from ripples on a flat stone looks like a golden comb. The whole brook seems as busy as a loom : it is a woof and warp of ripples ; fairy fingers are throwing the shuttle at every step, and the long, waving brook is the fine product. The water is wonderfully clear. [15]

To have a hut here, and a footpath to the brook ! For roads, I think that a poet cannot tolerate more than a footpath through the fields; that is wide enough, and for purposes of winged poesy suffices. It is not for the muse to speak of cart-paths. I would fain travel by a footpath round the world. I do not ask the railroads of commerce, not even the cart-paths of the farmer. Pray, what other path would you have than a footpath ? What else should wear a path ? This is the track of man alone.

What more suggestive to the pensive walker ? One walks in a wheel-track with less emotion; he is at a greater distance from man; but this footpath was, perchance, worn by the bare feet of human beings, and he cannot but think with interest of them. [16]

Founded 1835, southernmost part of Acton, MA.
The grapes, though their leaves are withering and falling, are yet too sour to eat. [17]

In the summer we lay up a stock of experiences for the winter, as the squirrel of nuts, something for conversation in winter evenings. I love to think then of the more distant walks I took in summer.

At the powder-mills the carbonic acid gas in the road from the building where they were making charcoal made us cough for twenty or thirty rods. [18]

Saw some gray squirrels whirling their cylinder by the roadside. How fitted that cylinder to this animal! "A squirrel is easily taught to turn his cylinder" might be a saying frequently applicable. And as they turned, one leaped over or dodged under another most grace fully and unexpectedly, with interweaving motions. It was the circus and menagerie combined. So human they were, exhibiting themselves. [19]

In the Marlborough road, I forgot to say, we brushed the Polygonum articulatum with its spikes of reddish-white flowers, a slender and tender plant which loves the middle of dry and sandy not-much-travelled roads. [20] To find that the very atoms bloom, that there are flowers we rudely brush against which only the microscope reveals!

It is wise to write on many subjects, to try many themes, that so you may find the right and inspiring one. Be greedy of occasions to express your thought. Improve the opportunity to draw analogies. There are innumerable avenues to a perception of the truth. Improve the suggestion of each object however humble, however slight and transient the provocation. What else is there to be improved ? Who knows what opportunities he may neglect ? It is not in vain that the mind turns aside this way or that: follow its leading; apply it whither it inclines to go. Probe the universe in a myriad points. Be avaricious of these impulses. You must try a thousand themes before you find the right one, as nature makes a thousand acorns to get one oak. [21]  He is a wise man and experienced who has taken many views; to whom stones and plants and animals and a myriad objects have each suggested something, contributed something.

And now, methinks, this wider wood-path is not bad, for it admits of society more conveniently. Two can walk side by side in it in the ruts, aye, and one more in the horse-track. The Indian walked in single file, more solitary, not side by side, chatting as he went. The woodman's cart and sled make just the path two walkers want through the wood. [16]

Beyond the powder-mills we watched some fat oxen, elephantine, behemoths, one Rufus-Hosmer-eyed, with the long lash and projecting eye-ball.

Now past the paper-mills, by the westernmost road east of the river, the first new ground we've reached. [22]

Not only the prunella turns lake, but the Hypericum Virginicum [20] in the hollows by the roadside, a handsome blush. A part of the autumnal tints, ripe leaves. Leaves acquire red blood. Red colors touch our blood, and excite us as well as cows and geese.

A casualty of King Philip's War
1675-1676. Boon's Pond is now
Lake Boon, in Stow and Hudson.
And now we leave the road and go through the woods and swamps toward Boon's Pond, crossing two or three roads and by Potter's house in Stow; still on east of river. [23] The fruit of the Pyrola rotundifolia [20] in the damp woods. Larch trees in Stow about the houses. Beyond Potter's we struck into the extensive wooded plain where the ponds are found in Stow, Sudbury, and Marlborough. Part of it called Boon's Plain. Boon said to have lived on or under Bailey's Hill at west of pond. Killed by Indians between Boon's and White's Pond as he was driving his ox-cart. The oxen ran off to Marlborough garrison-house. His remains have been searched for. [2] A sandy plain, a large level tract. The pond shores handsome enough, but water shallow and muddy looking. Well-wooded shores. The maples begin to show red about it. Much fished.

The railroad was active 1850-
1965. Last of the rails removed
in 2014 preperatory to creating
the Assabet River Rail Trail.
Saw a load of sunflowers in a farmers [sic]. Such is the destiny of this large, coarse flower; the farmers gather it like pumpkins.

Returned by railroad down the Assabet. [24] A potato-field yellow with wild radish. But no good place to bathe for three miles, Knight's new dam has so raised the river. [25] A permanent freshet, as it were, the fluviatile trees standing dead for fish hawk perches, and the water stagnant for weeds to grow in. [26] You have only to dam up a running stream to give it the aspect of a dead stream, and to some degree restore its primitive wild appearance. Tracts made inaccessible to man and at the same time more fertile. Some speculator comes and dams up the stream below, and lo ! the water stands over all meadows, making impassable morasses and dead trees for fish hawks, a wild, stagnant, fenny country, the last gasp of wildness before it yields to the civilization of the factory, to cheer the eyes of the factory people and educate them. It makes a little wilderness above the factories.

The woodbine now begins to hang red about the maples and other trees.

White Pond Road bridge, 2007, is
newest version of bridges spanning the
Assabet River, 1716, 1800 and 1929. 
As I looked back up the stream from near the bridge, I on the railroad, I saw the ripples sparkling in the sun, reminding me of the sparkling icy fleets which I saw last winter; and I saw how one corresponded to the other, ice waves to water ones ; the erect ice-flakes were the waves stereotyped. It was the same sight, the reflection of the sun sparkling from a myriad slanting surfaces at a distance, a rippled water surface or a crystallized frozen one.

Here crossed the river and climbed the high hills on the west side. [27] The walnut trees conformed in their branches to the slope of the hill, being just as high from the ground on the upper side as on the lower.

Fall brush fire
On all sides now I see and smell the withering leaves of brush that has been cut to clear the land. I see some blackened tracts which have been burnt over. It is remarkable, for it is rare to see the surface of the earth black. And in the horizon I can see the smokes of several fires. The farmers improve this season, which is the driest, their haying being done and their harvest not begun, to do these jobs, burn brush, build walls, dig ditches, cut turf. This is what I find them doing all over the country now; also topping corn and digging potatoes. [28]

Saw quite a flock, for the first time, of goldfinches.

On the high, round hills in the east and southeast of Stow, perchance they are called the Assabet Hills, rising directly from the river. They are the highest I know rising thus. The rounded hills of Stow. A hill and valley country. Very different from Concord. [29]  

It had been a warm day, especially warm to the head. I do not perspire as in the early summer, but am sensible of the ripening heat, more as if by contact. Suddenly the wind changed to east, and the atmosphere grew more and more hazy and thick on that side, obstructing the view, while it was yet clear in the west. I thought it was the result of the cooler air from over the sea meeting and condensing the vapor in the warm air of the land. That was the haze, or thin, dry fog which some call smoke. It gradually moved westward and affected the prospect on that side somewhat. It was a very thin fog invading all the east. I felt the cool air from the ocean, and it was very refreshing. I opened my bosom and my mouth to inhale it. Very delicious and invigorating.

We sat on the top of those hills looking down on the new brick ice-house. [30] Where there are several hills near together, you cannot determine at once which is the highest, whether the one you are on or the next. So, when great men are assembled, each yields an uncertain respect to the other, as if it were not certain whose crown rose highest.

Under the nut trees on these hills, the grass is short and green as if grazed close by cattle who had stood there for shade, making a distinct circular yard. Yet, as there is no dung and the form corresponds so closely to the tree, I doubt if that can be the cause.

On hillside north of river above powder-mills the Pycnanthemum incanum (mountain mint, calamint) and the Lespedeza violacea. [20]

Saw what I thought a small red dog in the road, which cantered along over the bridge this side the powder-mills and then turned into the woods. This decided me this turning into the woods that it was a fox. [31]  The dog of the woods, the dog that is more at home in the woods than in the roads and fields. I do not often see a dog turning into the woods.

Some large white ( ?) oak acorns this side the last-named bridge. A few oaks stand in the pastures still, great ornaments. I do not see any young ones springing up to supply their places. Will there be any a hundred years hence ? These are the remnants of the primitive wood, methinks. We are a young people and have not learned by experience the consequence of cutting off the forest. One day they will be planted, methinks, and nature reinstated to some extent. [32]

I love to see the yellow knots and their lengthened stain on the dry, unpainted pitch-pine boards on barns and other buildings, the Dugan house, for instance. The indestructible yellow fat! it fats my eyes to see it; worthy for art to imitate, telling of branches in the forest once. [9]


FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 1851: The day after his Boon's Pond excursion, Thoreau starts his journal entry with the idea that we are sensitive to the air we breathe, the smells... Several more mentions of Wilkinson as an observer of nature. [1] Last entry of the day is about a night walk by moonlight, at Potter's Field toward Bear Garden Hill, 8 p.m., and hearing the whip-poor-wills sing.


  1. Telegraph wires: Samuel F.B. Morse conceived of the idea of sending electric signals over wire in 1832. Working models were achieved circa 1836. Short and long clicks (dots and dashes; comprising Morse Code for letters and numbers) were used to construct messages. In 1844 Morse successfully connected Washington to Baltimore with the initial message "What hath God Wrought!" Within a few years telegraph wires connected New York to Boston, and between many other eastern cities and towns. By 1851, the year Thoreau noted that the telegraph had reached Concord, there were over 50 separate telegraph companies operating in the United States. (Within 20 years all of this had merged into the Western Union Telegraph Company.) Morse and Thoreau were contemporaries, Morse being born before (1791) and dying after (1872) Thoreau (1817-1862).  

Wilkinson: James John Garth Wilkinson (1812-1899). Emerson was an admirer of the scholarship and writings of Wilkinson, including his 1851 book The Human Body and its Relationship to Man. Likely that Thoreau read the book at Emerson's house. Wilkinson supported the idea of preserving footpaths by identifying them as public property, and making these paths accessible in all seasons by paving with asphalt. From his September 3rd journal entry, Thoreau found the idea of being confined to paved paths such an anathema that he suggested he should die from mere nervousness at the thought of such confinement, perhaps even hesitate to be born if those terms were made known to him beforehand. Source accessed May 2015:

"Asphalt," a word so commonly used today as to be unremarkable, was a novelty back in 1851 - in fact, very unlikely that Thoreau had ever seen asphalt, let alone walked on a so-paved path. The first British patent for the use of asphalt/bitumen was issued in 1834. The process became common in England, France and Germany in the 1840s and 1850s, but appears to have not come into use in the United States until around 1870.
  1. Boon's Pond: Matthew Boon and his family were early settlers of land west of Sudbury. Around 1660 they started a homestead on a hill between the Assabet River and what came to be called Boon's Pond. In 1675-76, King Philip's War, Indians attacked and burned settlements in an attempt to stop colonial expansion. Boon moved his family to the colonists' garrison in Sudbury, then returned to his homestead with an oxcart to get his furniture and other valuables. He was presumed killed by Indians, his body never found. 
There is a stone marker on the west side of Barton Road, about 1000 feet north of Lake Boon, with an arrow and words BOON MONUMENT. In the woods, about 150 feet farther west is the stone monument which reads: ON THIS HILL LIVED MATTHEW BOON. ONE OF FIRST TWO SETTLERS IN STOW. WAS KILLED BY THE INDIANS ABOUT FEB.14.1676.
Thoreau does not provide enough information to determine if he and C. walked north along the eastern shore of Boon's Pond, or skirted the south shore and walked north on the west side. If the latter, they would have had to ford the small brook that connected the pond to the Assabet River so they could return by walking along the railroad tracks.
Drainage from the pond to the Assabet River was later blocked by an earthen dam, creating the much larger Lake Boon, which exists today. The exact date is not known, but an 1856 map clearly shows only the original body of water, as Boon's Pond. The original intent of the dam was to create more water reserved for powering the woolen mill, down river, but this function ceased and the lake was subsequently maintained at a near-constant water level throughout the year, allowing development of waterfront campsites, summer cottages, and later year-round homes.      
  1. C: William Ellery Channing, referred to in journal entries as W.E.C. or C. He was a classmate at Harvard, a neighbor in Concord and the author of the first biography of Thoreau, published in 1873. Also a walker and wanderer.
  2. Wood's Bridge: Refers to Concord's South Bridge, which carries Route 62 over the Sudbury River. (Or is it the Elm Street bridge?) There is a Wood Street close by, and the Wood family had houses at 41 Wood Street and 631 Main Street. Possibly Elijah Wood and Elijah Wood, Jr. On older maps bridges may be named after a prominent family that lived close by, no ownership implied.
  3. Pickerel: This fresh water torpedo of a fish has larger relatives - pike and muskellunge. There are actually three pickerel species - the chain pickerel being the largest, with adults of one to two pounds common, exceeding five pounds, rare. Pickerel will catch and eat any living thing in the water, including smaller pickerel.
Grass, redfin and chain pickerel are three species native to 
North America.Adult length 15-20 inches for the first
two, larger for chain pickerel.
Thoreau was a big fan of this fish. From WALDEN (Chapter: The Pond in Winter): "Early in the morning, while all things are crisp with frost, men come with fishing-reels and slender lunch, and let down their fine lines through the snowy field to take pickerel and perch... Here is one fishing for pickerel with grown perch for bait... The perch swallows the grub-worm, the pickerel swallows the perch, and the fisher-man swallows the pickerel; and so all the chinks in the scale of being are filled.
    "Ah, the pickerel of Walden! when I see them lying on the ice, or in the well which the fisherman cuts in the ice, making a little hole to admit the water, I am always surprised by their rare beauty, as if they were fabulous fishes, they are so foreign to the streets, even to the woods, foreign as Arabia to our Concord life. They possess a quite dazzling and transcendent beauty which separates them by a wide interval from the cadaverous cod and haddock whose fame is trumpeted in our streets. They are not green like the pines, nor gray like the stones, nor blue like the sky; but they have, to my eyes, if possible, yet rarer colors, like flowers and precious stones, as if they were the pearls, the animalized nuclei or crystals of the Walden water. 
    They, of course, are Walden all over and all through; are themselves small Waldens in the animal kingdom, Waldenses. It is surprising that they are caught here — that in this deep and capacious spring, far beneath the rattling teams and chaises and tinkling sleighs that travel the Walden road, this great gold and emerald fish swims. I never chanced to see its kind in any market; it would be the cynosure of all eyes there. Easily, with a few convulsive quirks, they give up their watery ghosts, like a mortal translated before his time to the thin air of heaven."
    OTHER MISC JOURNAL ENTRIES: “Swiftest, wariest, and most ravenous of fishes . . . stately, ruminant . . . lurking under the shadow of a pad at noon . . . still, circumspect . . . motionless as a jewel set in water.” He said he had “caught one which had swallowed a brother pickerel half as large as itself, with the tail still visible in its mouth,” and he noted that “sometimes a striped snake, bound to greener meadows across the stream, ends its undulatory progress in the same receptacle.”
  1. Ox, oxen, cows, young steers, heifers: Heifers (females) are bred after their third year, are then milk cows. At present, the average dairy cow in the U.S. produces 8-9 gallons of milk a day and produces for ten months before being dried off two months and then bred again. Back in Thoreau's day the numbers were 1-2 gallons a day for six months. This was prior to the invention of pasteurization, so milk was used raw or made to cheese and butter.  
Steers went to the butcher after a few years or else were trained as oxen. Oxen were the preferred work animal for tasks such as pulling stumps, moving stones out of fields and hauling timber, but were slower than horses for plowing fields or taking goods to market (or the family to church). Oxen were castrated young to make them more docile than bulls, but not considered properly trained and in adult strength until around four years old. Their working life was another three to four years, at which time retired from work and fattened for butchering. Each ox would consume about 75 pounds per day of silage and other food stuffs. A trained pair of oxen had significant value - at the time human labor on roads and highways paid $1.25/day the use of a pair of oxen cost $2.50/day.      
  1. Hosmer's man; the Hadley house; Tarbell's house; vale of Brown and Tarbell; Potter's house: [Is it possible the correct name was Puffer?]  In Thoreau's era families moved less frequently. Eldest sons inherited the houses of their fathers (unless the family 'daughtered out,' a Yankee term describing what happens to a surname if no sons survive to carry it onward). His reference to houses by names of owners made good enough sense at the time, especially for journal entries he had no expectation that others would be reading.   
  2. Millet and buckwheat: Millet seeds can be processed for human consumption, but is possible here that the plant was being grown as forage for cattle. Buckwheat is a grain crop with a short growing season.
  3. Pitch pines: Pinus rigida is a specific pine species, fast-growing and appreciated for its high resin content. This quality helps slow decay, but also means that the wood does not hold paint well. Use in Thoreau's time would have been for bridge beams, railroad ties and rough-cut planking for barns. In a plank, the knots are cross-sections of branches from when the tree was younger; as the tree trunk grows wider over time these branches became embedded in newer wood. Knots retain a higher resin content than the surrounding wood. For years and years after the wood surface has become dry, resin will seep out of the knots in hot weather and streak downward.
  4. Heavy shadow...high birches: Sunrise would have been about 6:15 a.m., so only taller trees
    Trunk of a white birch tree, about 18" diameter. In this
    December photo, female (wingless) winter moths are
    climbing the tree, to mate with winged males. When the
    white bark is peeled away it exposes a light tan underbark
    which soon bleaches to white in the sunlight. 
    would still be casting a shadow across a road. Best guess is white birch, which can exceed 60 feet in height. It is the largest birch native to North America. Its bark was used to make birch bark canoes. Grey birch also have white trunks but are shorter-lived and smaller, rarely exceeding 30 feet in height and six inches in diameter.
  5. "In Tempe or the dales of Arcady": Line from a poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819), by John Keats. Tempe: a beautiful valley in Greece, it was sacred to Apollo, the god of poetry and music. Arcady: the literary word for Arcadia, in the central Peloponnesus. Zeus was born there, in one account. The word connotes a place of rural peace and simplicity because of the ancient reputation of its inhabitants as innocent and peaceful.
  6. Marlborough Road: What is now Old Marlboro Road starts in Concord, close to Emerson Hospital, wends across northwestern Sudbury as Powers Road and then Route 117 before reverting to Old Marlboro Road in Maynard, only to end at the border of the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Within the Refuge it continues as a trail named Winterberry Way. Where it picks up again, in Marlborough, it is named Bruen Road and then Concord Road. This was typical of the era when roads were known by the towns they went to. On a 1794 map in the Archive of the Sudbury Historical Society it is identified as the Marlborough-to-Concord Road. Present day there is also a Marlboro Road in Sudbury, parallel to but further south than Old Marlboro Road. See the Coda for how the Old Marlborough Road was incorporated into a poem in Thoreau's essay, Walking.
  7. Purple fleas/Snow fleas: Thoreau was spot-on here in describing what he saw as akin to snow fleas, although both are actually springtails. These very small, insect-like species prefer moist woodland ground cover. After rainy days they may be found congregated on the surface in such high densities as to look like spattered or streaked paint - in his instance purple. The springtail name comes from anatomy and means of escape from predators. A tail-like appendage is kept under tension under the body. When released, it propels the springtail up to ten times its body length. Snow fleas are a winter-hardy springtail species. On sun-warmed days they can be seen atop snow-cover, feeding on plant detritus.     
  8. Jays: Thoreau was prone to referring to plants by Linnaean name, but not animals. The blue- and white-feathered blue jay is the only jay in the northeast; it is a distant Corvid relative to magpies, crows and ravens. Blue jays are very vocal about strangers (humans, crows) in their midst.  
  9. Second Division Brook: The headwaters of this tributary to the Assabet River are in Maynard and Sudbury. In Thoreau's time the land was owned by the Hayward family, who damned the brook and operated a mill. He does not say how they crossed, but there might have been a simple foot bridge. Present-day there are three dams and three ponds. The northernmost is Musketaquid Pond, then an unnamed pond, and then Kennedy's Pond (formerly Haywood Pond), after the Kennedy family that owned/operated a children's camp. Elevation at the headwater pond at Maynard's Rod and Gun Club is 185 feet, dropping to 115 feet above sea level at the point the brook enters the Assabet River.
The name of the brook stems from the 1655 expansion and division of land amongst Concord residents. When a colonial town was established there were appropriations of land to the founding families, plus land held in common. For Concord, this took place in 1635. Twenty years the population had grown and there was need for more land appropriation.   
  1. Footpath, cart-path, woodman's cart and sled, railroads of commerce: Those collecting wood for timber or burning would use a cart in the snowless months and a sled in winter. Winter was preferred, as no mud! A logger's sled was a low-to-the-ground contraption that could be harnessed to a single horse or a pair, more rarely four horses. On hard-packed snow and level ground a pair could pull what looks in old photos like impossibly large loads. Marlborough Road may have no longer been a route for commerce, yet still providing access to woodlots.     
Thoreau (born 1817) was older than railroads. In 1930 this nascent industry had fewer than 100 miles of track in the U.S., increasing to approximately 2,800 miles by 1840 and exceeding 9,000 miles by 1850. The Fitchburg Railroad, service between Boston and Fitchburg, started operations in 1844. A branch off the Fitchburg line extended southeast from South Acton - as far as Hudson by 1850, later extended to Marlborough. These are the tracks along the Assabet River that Henry and his friend walked along for the first part of their return trek.
  1. "Grapes, though their leaves are withering and falling, are yet too sour to eat": The local wild grape was Vitis labrusca, commonly known as fox grape. Early September would have been too early for the grapes to be ripe. These grapes are very astringent/bitter, the taste only partially compensated by a rise in sugar content as the grapes reach full maturity.
Thoreau was likely aware of the efforts of Ephraim Wales Bull to develop a superior American grape. Bull lived in Concord, neighbor to the Alcotts. He began a grape breeding program in 1843. Out of thousands, one vine had larger grapes in larger bunches which he named Concord grapes. This cultivar was commercialized in 1854 and became a major crop in upstate New York, near Lake Erie, where it benefits from a long, cool growing season. Concord grapes are used in jams, jellies and grape juice.    
Remnant frames, trees growing up through, are all that is
left of the scattered gunpowder mill buildings.
  1. "At the powder-mills the carbonic acid gas in the road from the building where they were making charcoal made us cough for twenty or thirty rods.": Thoreau worked on and off as a surveyor for hire. As such, he was familiar with a rod as a unit of measure. One rod was 16.5 feet; four rods equal to a surveyor's chain (66 feet). Thoreau uses a plural here (powder-mills) because the making of gunpowder involves many steps, often conducted in widely separated buildings so that if one caught fire or exploded it would not set off the others. The mill complex occupied close to 400 acres of the southernmost part of Acton. The founder was Nathan Pratt, the company name American Powder Company (incorporated 1841). Gunpowder was made at this site from 1835-1943. The present-day name for the road is Powder Mill Road, although most people know it as Route 62. The ingredients for gunpowder are charcoal (preferred from willow trees), potassium nitrate (from saltpeter) and sulfur.
Two years later Thoreau was back at the gunpowder mills. From Concord, he had heard an explosion, and hitched a ride on a horse-drawn wagon. From his journal: "Arrived probably before half past 10:00 a.m. There were perhaps 30 or 40 wagons there. The kernel mill had blown up first and killed three men who were in it said to be turning a roller with a chisel… and fragments mostly but a foot or two in length were strewn over the hills and meadows, as if sown, for 30 rods [165 yards]. Three other buildings were destroyed or damaged. Some of the clothes of the men were in the tops of the trees where undoubtedly their bodies had been and left them. The bodies were naked and black. Some limbs and bowels here and there, and a head at a distance from its trunk. The feet were bare, the hair singed to a crisp. I smelt the powder half a mile before I got there."
  1. "It was the circus and menagerie combined": By 1851, traveling tent shows featuring animal acts, exotic animals, acrobats jugglers and clowns were commonplace, first traveling by horse and wagon, later by train.
Squirrels, unlike most smaller mammals in North America, are active during the day and not people shy. Their natural activity had the appearance of putting on a show. However, Thoreau's attempt to coin a phrase, "A squirrel is easily taught to turn his cylinder." has no frame of reference. Squirrels were not kept in cages with exercise wheels, nor used in wheels to turn meat on a spit over a kitchen fire. The latter was a job for turnspit dogs, a long-bodied, short-legged breed.  
  1. These italicized names are Linnaean taxonomy, named after Carolus Linnaeus, who in the 1750s popularized giving all plants and animals two-part names, signifying genus and species. Polygonum articulatum is jointed knotweed; Hypericum Virginicum is marsh St. John's wort (native to North America, distinct from European St. John's wort); Pyrola rotundifolia is round-leafed wintergreen; Pycnanthemum incanum is mountain mint; Lespedeza violacea is violet bush clover. Thoreau names 15 other plant species by their common names (millet, buckwheat, birch, larch...).
  2. "You must try a thousand themes before you find the right one, as nature makes a thousand acorns to get one oak": The thought verges on natural selection, presaging Darwin's book "On the Origin of Species" (1859). Darwin's theory did not spring from nothing. Malthus had pointed out in 1798 that all species create more offspring than can possibly survive; what Darwin brought to the concept was that the rare survivor might not reflect blind chance, but rather a mutational change that makes it better suited to reach reproductive age. Thoreau did purchase Darwin's book in 1859 and was known to comment on it favorably.  
  3. Now past the paper mills: Thoreau mentions that this is the first new ground reached, suggesting that earlier walks have gotten at least this far west of Concord. [A September 1850 journal entry describes a walk to White Pond, Stow, on the Marlborough Road. That appears to conflict with "...first new ground we've reached."] In 1842 Thoreau and a companion had walked across the north side of what would become Maynard, on Concord and Summer Streets, on his way to Mount Wachusett. This time he will return on those familiar roads. The route is old – on April 19, 1775, Minutemen from Stow marched this route in the early morning hours on their way to confront the British soldiers at Concord.
The Assabet River’s course is from southwest to northeast, so Thoreau's "...east of the river..." , which he does not call by name yet, means south of the river. At the time land south of the Assabet River was part of Sudbury; land north of the river part of Stow, even though the cluster of close to 1,000 people living near and working at the various mills referred to their hamlet as Assabet Village. This was the core of what became the town of Maynard in 1871.   
    The paper mill was at what is now the site of a convenience store near the intersection or Routes 62 and 27. William May built a paper mill on the Sudbury side of the Assabet River in 1820. His dam on the Assabet predated the wool mill dam by almost 30 years. May sold to John Sawyer, who in turn sold the mill to William Parker. In February 1831, Parker and his partners Samuel Townsend and Peter C. Jones incorporated the operation as the Fourdrinier Paper Company. Why that name? At the beginnings of the nineteenth century the Fourdrinier brothers, in England, were perfecting and patenting a papermaking process that made a continuous roll of paper versus the old method of making paper one sheet at a time. Historical records state that the first Fourdrinier machine imported to the United States arrived in 1827. Parker's choice of name for his company promoted the message that he was using the most advanced paper making technology available at the time.
    Parker's mill ran for sixty years. At the time of Thoreau's walk-by it worked off a water wheel but later by coal-fired steam engine. The mill burned in 1894. The chimney was knocked down in 1914. The dam was destroyed by a flood in 1927. Remnant stones can be seen about 50 yards upstream of the Waltham Street Bridge. These was a bridge here, over the Assabet River, built circa 1840, but instead of crossing north and then walking west on what is now Main Street, Maynard (constructed 1849), Thoreau and C headed south on what is now Route 27.
  1. ...leave the road...Potter's house in Stow: Thoreau neglects to write that his trek started in Concord, then crossed part of Sudbury before reaching Stow. On the way back it crossed part of Acton. Concord became a named town in 1635. Sudbury became a named town in 1639, Stow in 1683, Acton in 1735. At the time of this journal entry the populations were 2250, 1580, 1455 and 1605, respectively. Maynard, created in 1871, took land and population from Sudbury and Stow; prior to that the settlement growing around the woolen mill was called Assabet Village. As of 2010, the population total for the five towns (the four plus Maynard) was 75,000; very different from back in 1851.
Without GPS, how did Thoreau and C know where they were going!? He had written a few sentences earlier that this was the "...first new ground we've reached..." meaning the  farthest he had ever walked in this direction. There were maps (and Thoreau was an experienced surveyor, skilled in use of maps). The easiest route would have been to cross the Assabet back at the paper mill, then walk west along the railroad. That way was saved for the return trip. Instead, they went south first, then left roads to travel due west to Boon's Pond, a distance of a mile or so. In Walking, his 12,000 word essay on that topic, first public reading in April 1851, Thoreau bemoaned tame excursions in which "Half the walk is but retracing our steps."    
  1. Returned by railroad down the Assabet: Not on the train, but walking alongside the tracks. The Fitchburg Railroad, with tracks from Boston to Fitchburg (and points far beyond, to Vermont and New York), also had a spur – a dead end branch – heading southwest from the station in South Action. Most of the traffic was freight to and from the various mills.
The Fitchburg Railroad merged with Boston & Main, hence
the caption for this photo of a coal-burning steam engine.
Thoreau frequently wrote about walking along railroad tracks. "The Fitchburg Railroad touches the pond about a hundred rods [1650 feet] south of where I dwell. I usually go to the village along its causeway, and am, as it were, related to society by this link. The men on the freight trains, who go over the whole length of the road, bow to me as to an old acquaintance, they pass me so often, and apparently they take me for an employee; and so I am. I too would fain be a track-repairer somewhere in the orbit of the earth."  Thus begins a longish discourse on the effects of railroads on Man, which takes up most of Chapter 4 “Sounds” in Walden.
     Back in the era of wood- and coal-burning steam engines, engine-started fires were common even though spent steam leaving the pistons was channeled upward into the smokestack, to mingle with cinder and ash. To reduce risk of fire, the railroads would have track-walkers head out with kerosene sprayers, to conduct controlled fires, thus creating a brush- and grasses-free border some ten yards wide on either side of the tracks. This made for easy walking, as Thoreau well knew. Fitchburg-to-Boston is part of the present-day MBTA railroad system, still running on the same right of way on the west side of Walden Pond.
     Interestingly, he names the river as the Assabet. Dating back to the mid-17th century, shortly after Sudbury was settled, the river went through several names: Asibeth, Assabath, Assabett, Elisabet, Elizabeth. Maps of Sudbury and Stow from 1830 show it as the Elizabeth River, but 1856 maps are in concord that the name is the Assabet River. There are claims that the origins are an Anglicization of a Native American name, meaning uncertain. At the time he walked though the hamlet was known as Assabet Village. It became the center of the Town of Maynard, created April 1871.  
  1. Knight's new dam: Known and shown on present-day maps as the Ben Smith Dam. What is interesting here is that Thoreau knew it as Knight's dam. William H. Knight (1792-1870) was the long-forgotten partner of Amory Maynard, for whom the new town was named after in 1871. In the late 18th century, Calvin Maynard constructed a gristmill on Fort Meadow Brook, in Marlborough. The grist (grain) mill was soon converted to a sawmill and its operation was eventually passed on to a relative - Isaac Maynard - whose death in 1820 left his young son Amory in charge. Amory, in addition to operating the mill, expanded into the construction business. He employed as many as 50 men. One of Amory's clients was mill owner William H. Knight, for whom he built the New England Carpet Mill in the Saxonville section of Framingham.
William Knight (date unknown)
Courtesy Framingham Historic Soc.
Knight had arrived on these shores from England in 1824, age 32. He was an experienced mechanic with skills in waterpower and textile machines. He started as a mill superintendant in Framingham, moved to Tariffville, Connecticut to partner in a carpet mill, but soon relocated back to Framingham where he married Elizabeth Stone and started his own mill in 1829, in Saxonville. Knight's original successes were modest, but by 1845 his operations had expanded to three mill buildings and 232 employees.
  Some time around 1846 the City of Boston purchased the land, dam and water rights to Fort Meadow Pond from Amory Maynard. The amount paid is disputed - various website-posted accounts say as little as $21,000 to as much as $60,000. Even at the low end of that range, Maynard, at age 42, was a wealthy man. At the same time, Boston also purchased Knight's mills and water rights to Lake Cochituate (formerly Long Pond). Knight, at age 54, received $150,000; the largest sum that had ever been paid by the City of Boston for water rights up to that time. An aquaduct completed in 1848 conveyed the water to Boston.
  In 1846 the two men, builder and mill manager, agreed to partner in a new mill operation on the Assabet River. They started buying land and water rights, including Asa Smith's mill on Mill Street and riverfront land from Ben Smith as a site for the dam. Maynard later bought land around Boon Pond, to be dammed to form a larger body of water, renamed Boon Lake, and also repurchased Fort Meadow Reservoir from the city of Boston. These upstream assets guaranteed a year-round water supply to power the mill. Knight and Maynard completed a wood-framed, three-story tall, 50x100 foot building which they named Assabet Mills. The new yarn and carpet making operation prospered.
  Knight retired in 1852 at age 60, just six years after co-founding Assabet Mills. It is possible he had lost interest in the day-to-day operations after the death of his wife in September of that year. He may have never lived in what was then a crude hamlet on a rocky river - one record has him moving to Boston in 1848 (downtown Boston initially, then in 1858 into an impressive town house on Walnut Street, Beacon Hill). He and Elizabeth had no children. History notes that he died in Boston, February 1870; heirs unknown, burial site unknown.
Osprey in flight
  1. Fluviatile…fish hawks: Thoreau using his Harvard education here. 'Fluviatile' stems from the Latin fluviatilis, meaning pertaining or peculiar to rivers; found in or near rivers. An unknowing person coming upon this section of the Assabet might think it a lake, but Thoreau knows these trees are standing dead because the dam had blocked the river just a few years earlier. Fish hawks are ospreys, a raptor that specializes in catching/eating fish. Ospreys prefer to nest in dead trees near rivers or lakes, and so likely that Thoreau saw these birds, and perhaps nests, during this walk.
  2. Here crossed the river. In doing so, leaving the railroad route...: Today, “Here” is the site of the White Pond Road Bridge, most recently rebuilt in 2013. There has been a bridge on this site dating back to 1715. At one time there were no other bridges over the Assabet River between this bridge and Concord, making this the only way to get from Sudbury and points south to Stow and points north. As of 2018 there are 12 road bridges, one footbridge and one railroad bridge spanning the Assabet River from White Pond Road, Maynard to Egg Rock, Concord, which is where it merges with the Sudbury River to become the Concord River.
The railroad stayed on the south side of the river for another mile before veering north to meet up with the Boston-to-Fitchburg route. The railroad was active 1850 to 1960s, serving the towns and mills between Marlborough and Acton. The old railroad right of way is now the Assabet River Rail Trail.
  1. The farmers improve this season...: The time between summer haying and fall harvesting was used for property maintenance. Thoreau mentions burning brush, building walls and digging drainage ditches – so as to convert wetlands to farmable fields or pasture.
  2. The rounded hills of Stow: Concord developed at the fertile flatlands surrounding the Concord River. Northwest and southwest was good land that would become Acton and Sudbury, respectively. But due west was a region of glacially rounded hills, describe by early surveyors as “meane” land, perhaps able to support only 20-30 farm families.
  3. New brick ice house: Nathaniel J. Wyeth who built a brick ice house on the banks of Maynard’s mill pond in 1849. He probably would have paid a fee to the Maynard family, who had created and owned the pond. Taking ice once a winter off the top of the pond would not have interfered with the mill's waterwheel power. In this season, water volume was in excess of what the mill could use or retain, with surplus water spilling over the top of the dam and into the Assabet River, thus bypassing the mill. From the opposite side of the ice house the ice could be loaded directly to railroad cars, for sale in Boston or elsewhere.
  4. "Saw what I thought was a small red dog...that it was a fox.": By 1851, the fox, red or grey, was the last sizeable mammal predator in eastern Massachusetts. Large prey had also been hunted to local extinction. In a March 23, 1856 entry to his journal, Thoreau wrote "But when I consider that the nobler animals have been exterminated here - the cougar, panther, lynx, wolverine, wolf, bear, beaver, turkey, moose, deer, etc., I cannot but feel as if I lived in a tame, and, as it were, emasculated country." 
"Extirpated" is the exact term for locally exterminated. Some of these species have become common again in eastern Massachusetts: beaver, turkey and deer. The black bear population in the western part of the state is growing rapidly, with sightings still rare but becoming more common in the east. Likewise, moose are re-entering the area from the north. Coyotes, which were not present in 1851, are now widespread. The local species is actually a coyote/wolf hybrid, as coyotes moving east, north of the Great Lakes, intermingled with a remnant wolf population in Canada before spreading south into the United States. Estimates for the state as of 2015 are 100,000 deer, 70,000 beaver, 20,000 turkey, 10,000 coyote, 5,000 bear and 1,000 moose.
     Thoreau's daytime sighting of a fox was not unusual. The red fox has rust/red fur on its back, sides and head. It has white fur under its neck and on its chest. It has a long bushy tail tipped in white, pointed black ears and black legs and feet. The species is omnivorous.  Although primarily crepuscular (dawn and dusk) hunters, red foxes will forage during daylight hours. The expansion of coyote territory to the Northeast has been to the detriment of fox (still present, but scarcer), and as secondary consequences, an increase in small rodents and birds (fox prey).        
  1. Trees: Thoreau was living through the end of the great deforestation of New England. The remnant large trees he commented on truly did pre-date the Colonial Era. Visitors from Europe had commented on the spendthrift ways of Americans with wood: log cabins, rail fences, even having fires going in more than one room of a house at the same time. His comment: "We are a young people..." reflects this. What happened later was not so much a deliberate replanting of forests as an abandonment of fields, subject to succession of wild growth. Valley fields and hilltop pastures - clear cut of almost all trees - were let to go back to forest as farmers moved to easier terrain in the mid-west, or else abandoned their land to work in the new factories in cities and towns. Today's woods are crisscrossed by stone fences that once kept cattle and sheep from straying. In eastern Massachusetts a forest tree over 150 years old is a rarity.
    The exception in Thoreau's day, which he described as great ornaments in otherwise-cleared pastures, were deliberately left standing by the owners. In the hot days of summer, pastured cattle would take their rest in the trees' shade.      


"Walking" is the title of a talk by Thoreau, first delivered at the Concord Lyceum on April 23, 1851. He spoke on the topic close to a dozen times, revising the piece as years passed, so it is referred to in some descriptions has having been written 1851-1860. At times it was two topics - "Walking," and "The Wild." As a written work, "Walking" was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862, shortly after Thoreau's death. And as published, the work includes a poem, "The Old Marlborough Road." The poem is about a symbolic road. In the text before the poem he wrote of himself as not a roadster, but rather a person who eschews roads to walk across fields and into nature. He went on to add "...there are [only] a few old roads that may be trodden with profit, as if they led somewhere now that they are nearly discontinued. There is the Old Marlborough Road, which does not go to Marlborough now, me-thinks, unless that is Marlborough where it carries me. I am the bolder to speak of it here, because I presume that there are one or two such roads in every town." The poem follows.

At a factual level, Thoreau walked much of the Old Marlborough Road on September 4, 1951. He had been on parts of it before - his 1850 journal has an early version of the poem he later incorporated into his essay. In his journal entry he described the road as "little-frequented" and "not-much-traveled."