Thoreau’s Birthday

Turdus migratorius

“I saw Brooks Clark, who is now about eighty and bent like a bow, hastening along the road, barefooted, as usual, with an axe in his hand; was in haste perhaps on account of the cold wind on his bare feet. When he got up to me, I saw that besides the axe in one hand, he had his shoes in the other, filled with knurly apples and a dead robin. He stopped and talked with me a few moments; said that we had had a noble autumn and might now expect some cold weather. I asked if he had found the robin dead. No, he said, he found it with its wing broken and killed it. He also added that he had found some apples in the woods, and as he hadn’t anything to carry them in, he put ’em in his shoes. They were queer-looking trays to carry fruit in. How many he got in along toward the toes, I don’t know. I noticed, too, that his pockets were stuffed with them. His old tattered frock coat was hanging in strips about the skirts, as were his pantaloons about his naked feet. He appeared to have been out on a scout this gusty afternoon, to see what he could find, as the youngest boy might. It pleased me to see this cheery old man, with such a feeble hold on life, bent almost double, thus enjoying the evening of his days. Far be it from me to call it avarice or penury, this childlike delight in finding something in the woods or fields and carrying it home in the October evening, as a trophy to be added to his winter’s store. Oh, no; he was happy to be Nature’s pensioner still, and birdlike to pick up his living. Better his robin than your turkey, his shoes full of apples than your barrels full; they will be sweeter and suggest a better tale.” ~ HDT journal entry, 10-20-1857

(Robins, like many other birds no longer considered game, were eaten then.)

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4 Responses to “Thoreau’s Birthday”


  1. 1 Kevin Dann July 12, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Thank you so much Matthew for honoring Thoreau’s birthday! In the spirit of Brooks Clark’s shoes full of apples, this tale: the day before yesterday we came 50 km over the Apennines, cycling right into a downpour at the summit, then endured the descent soaked to the bone, teeth chattering. The sun broke through just as we reached the little town of Ronta, so before checking in to our hotel, we plunked ourselves on a bench to catch the last ten minutes before it sank below the hill. A very loud tractor was making its way in our direction, and my greedy heart was thinking: ah, everything is perfect, except for that bloody tractor. 

    Just as this chimera of small-mindedness appeared, the farmer pulled up to us, leaned back, and produced a big wicker basket filled with just-picked plums, and insisted we help ourselves to handfuls. This country’s capacious heart breaks my wizened American heart. 

    Ciao, e grazie.

  2. 3 elwnyc July 12, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    No vets in those days, either, so it was probably the best end for the robin too.

  3. 4 Susan Shen July 13, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Matthew, You experience a wonderful
    world and bring it to us city concrete dwellers. Again, thank you, Susan


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