Walden | Study Guide

Henry David Thoreau

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Walden | Chapter 13 : House Warming | Summary



It's October and Thoreau goes grape picking in the meadows. He gathers wild apples and ripe chestnuts. The woods are taking on their fall colors, and Thoreau and the wild animals are laying in their stores for winter. Thoreau's stores are a bit meager: potatoes, rice, molasses, rye meal, cornmeal, and "about two quarts of peas with the weevil in them."

The mention of winter reminds Thoreau of his adventure building the cabin's chimney: "I lingered most about the fireplace, as the most vital part of the house," he states. With the chimney complete, "all the attractions of a house were concentrated in one room." The coziest chapter in the book is an effortlessly pleasant read. Thoreau seems happy as he writes it. Winter draws close, but the cabin will be snug. He likes being able to see everything he needs in one room.

Walden Pond freezes early, and Thoreau seizes the chance to observe all he can about pond ice. When winter begins, he turns his attention to wood—not just firewood, but the topic of wood itself: its rising prices, the fun of building a woodpile, the way different wood varieties will burn. A fire on the hearth is like "a cheerful housekeeper." In his second winter at Walden Pond, he uses a cookstove to save wood and feels the loss of a fire to look at.


Thoreau must be a genuine ascetic to live on those particular winter stores—and proud of it, or he wouldn't have mentioned the weevils.

On the other hand, Thoreau brings more enthusiasm to the investigation of ice and wood than most people could manage. One of his great strengths is his curiosity about the material world. How do things work? What happens to frozen bubbles if you turn a cake of ice upside down? When he's studying the frozen pond, he tosses off a reference to lying full length on inch-thick ice. Many readers would turn that reference into a full-blown description, drawing attention to the oddity of lying on ice in the first place. But for Thoreau, what matters is what's under the ice.

A transition from ice to wood makes sense, as if Thoreau had gotten cold enough and is now ready to warm himself up again. There are occasional hints in this passage that he finds winter more emotionally challenging than he lets on. He tries to keep a fire "both within my house and within my breast." He mentions collecting dead wood and then, in the same sentence, repeats the word dead. He chops up "an old forest fence which has seen its best days" and collects "waste wood" in the forest. The topic of wood clearly fascinates Thoreau, demonstrated by the charming image of a hearth fire as a "cheerful housekeeper."

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