Walden | Study Guide

Henry David Thoreau

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Walden | Chapter 16 : The Pond in Winter | Summary

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Summary

Winter mornings have particular routines at Walden Pond. Thoreau must clear a foot of snow and chop through a foot of ice before he can take a drink. He peers through the hole into "the quiet parlor of the fishes." Soon afterward, ice fishermen arrive with their gear.

Local legend has it that the pond is bottomless. Thoreau surveys it and finds that, of course, it has a bottom, but the bottom is 107 feet deep—an unusual depth, but then Walden is an unusual pond.

During Thoreau's second winter at Walden, 100 men, hired by a rich local farmer, arrive to cut ice. They remove the staggering sum of 10,000 tons, of which they'll lose 75 percent to melting. Thoreau observes that Walden's ice in winter is as beautiful as its water is in summer. People from as far away as India will be using that ice: "The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges."

Analysis

Of course Walden Pond is unusually deep with an unusually level bottom; unusually cold, clear water; and unusually beautiful pickerel. The pond is Thoreau's sacred spot. Even its ice is better looking than most.

It's interesting that Thoreau speaks so highly of the ice fishers on the pond. Many of his comments about people are disdainful, but he describes these men as wild men untainted by town life, and clearly he has had plenty of pleasant conversations with them.

This chapter has marked historical significance. Thoreau talks about an activity hard for the modern reader to imagine: ice cutting. Astonishingly, ice from New England was shipped worldwide. As Thoreau points out, much of the ice never got to its destination, but even so, the volume of ice that did arrive is considerable.

Ice cut from ponds and lakes was stored in ice houses before being shipped by ship or railroad. By the time Thoreau built his cabin, 3,000 tons of ice traveled from Boston to warmer areas each year: "They divided [the ice] into cakes by methods too well known to require description," Thoreau states. Actually, some description would have been welcome now that ice cutting has pretty much disappeared from the world!

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