Walden | Study Guide

Henry David Thoreau

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Walden | Chapter 15 : Winter Animals | Summary



It's still winter and the distant sound of a hooting owl is "forlorn but melodious." At night the sounds outside are Thoreau's only company. Sometimes the sounds are the frozen pond "whooping," the frozen ground cracking, geese flying in the dark, and the demon-like barks of roving foxes.

For entertainment, Thoreau watches the animals that have been attracted to the corn he puts outside—red squirrels, jays, and other birds. The animals lose their fear of him because he is such a regular sight.

Thoreau sometimes sees packs of hunting dogs on the trail of a fox. Squirrels and mice jostle for nuts and pine bark. Hares come to his door to eat the potato parings he has thrown out.

Thoreau describes rabbits and partridges as essential forest creatures: they are the exact color of the forest floor, and they have been familiar since ancient times. They hardly seem wild, only "natural," and are "true natives of the soil."


"Winter Animals" is another pleasant, rambling chapter, partly because Thoreau resists his tendency to break off his lively tale to harangue or philosophize. A sense of loneliness still hangs in the chilly air, but Thoreau addresses it by putting out corn for the animals, thereby bringing himself at least some form of company.

Walden may be the only classic work to describe a fox hunt in winter. The reader senses that Thoreau's sympathies are with the fox. Another oddity worth noticing: Thoreau mentions "the last deer that was killed in this vicinity." In present-day New England, deer are so numerous as to be a problem—something Thoreau would probably view as a good thing.

His magically evocative language shows readers how intimately Thoreau knows the wild animals around his house and how much he loves them. Red squirrels frisk in an "uncertain trigonometric way"; a "poor wee" hare waits for food near Thoreau's door, "trembling with fear, yet unwilling to move." A good writer can find material anywhere.

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