Category Archives: Quote of the Day

Thoreau the philosopher: The hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove

The following quote of Henry David Thoreau reflects a symbolism, rather deep I suspect, of three sentient beings: dog, horse and dove (bird).  Historians and literary scholars speculate these lost animals never existed.  Like so many queries, further research is necessary.  My quick and dirty (fast, not slow or deep) study assumes that they did exist AND they represent Thoreau’s tangential thinking.  In part, the dog is companionship, friendship, association; the horse is the passion and energy of men and women; and the dove is the transcendental quality, possessed by all men, to break the bonds of family, religion, nation and materialism.

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who have heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854).

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And, in association with such tracking and calling, I submit my own experiences with hound, horse and bird:

Come here, boy, come here. I hear the rustle of grass and juniper brush before I see my hound.

One long high whistle, followed by three low-toned whistles. The gallop towards me grows louder, the ground shakes and earth is a-flying.

The dove comes back to be with its own kind, a cooing ensues and a dance. I reach inside their loft — they are accustomed to me — and pick one gently up and as I stroke its breast, it sleeps, head tucked under its wing. I lay it gently down and in the morning’s light it disappears behind the clouds.

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Not trying to be didactic or professorial (I hate that, even in my own classroom), what do you think about Thoreau’s quote?  Should this quote be taken literally?  Symbolically?  Or both?  I’ll expect your comments by September 1, or I will have to check the non-compliance box next to your name.  So, let’s get on with the punishment, shall we?

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Notes, corrections and additions:

The original post contained only Thoreau’s quote and my three extrapolations about hound, horse and dove.  I added the first paragraph before the quote and added the questions at the end of the post.  The photographs have also been added — all additions occurred August 27, 2011.

I originally started re-reading Thoreau for a variety of reasons, especially searching for irony and wit in his writing, but I got side-tracked with this quote.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Nature Quote of the Day, Quote of the Day

Field as teacher

John Cheever in Massachusetts at the age of seventeen…

The spring of five months ago was the most beautiful spring I have ever lived in. The year before I had not known all about the trees and the heavy peach blossoms and the tea-colored brooks that shook down over the brown rocks. Five months ago it was spring and I was in school.

In school the white limbs beyond the study hall shook out a greenness, and the tennis courts became white and scalding. The air was empty and hard, and the vacant wind dragged shadows over the road. I knew all this only from the classrooms.

I knew about the trees from the window frames, I knew the rain only from the sounds on the roof. I was tired of seeing spring with walls and awnings to intercept the sweet sun and the hard fruit. I wanted to go outdoors and see the spring, I wanted to feel and taste the air and be among the shadows. That is perhaps why I left school.

In the spring I was glad to leave school. Everything outside was elegant and savage and fleshy. Everything inside was slow and cool and vacant. It seemed a shame to stay inside.

~ John Cheever, “Expelled,”  The New Republic, October 1, 1930.

* * *

I think it important, even redemptive, that I spend time in nature, away from the classroom or ranch house, walking in pasture and grove.  Yes, I know, it is all nature, even within four walls — the air, the sunlight, the particles of dust and skin floating within the house.  Without walls, however, weather intrudes, scents come sharply and trees present their foliage.  Wildlife intersects the trail.

When I lectured at T. C. U. one semester, I taught from a second-story lecture hall with an array of seven or eight windows looking out upon elms and green grass about the campus.  It was a western civilization class of thirty students.  Often I went to the windows while lecturing, propped my elbow on the ledge and instructed undergraduates while frequently glancing into the seasons outside the panes.  I liked that classroom and sometimes dream of it.

* * *

Field work in anthropology never tired me.  Surface surveys for isolated occurrences of stone tools or hearths carried me from arroyo to mesa in New Mexico.  Boots dusty, sweatband wet and Levis soiled at the end of the morning offered solid evidence of my toil.  I thought of people, long ago, that walked the same good ground, gazing at Cerro Pedernal.  My students that I led into the field, without fail, always returned to the classroom the next day invigorated, talkative and inspired.  The field instructed, not me.

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Notes:


John Cheever, “Expelled,” The New Republic, October 1, 1930, reprinted in The New Republic, January 5, 2011.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Nature Quote of the Day, Quote of the Day