Thoreau's Country: Journey through a Transformed Landscape by David R. FosterThoreau's Country: Journey through a Transformed Landscape by David R. Foster

Thoreau's Country: Journey through a Transformed Landscape

byDavid R. Foster

Paperback | December 21, 2001

Pricing and Purchase Info


Earn 154 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


In 1977 David Foster took to the woods of New England to build a cabin with his own hands. Along with a few tools he brought a copy of the journals of Henry David Thoreau. Foster was struck by how different the forested landscape around him was from the one Thoreau described more than a century earlier. The sights and sounds that Thoreau experienced on his daily walks through nineteenth-century Concord were those of rolling farmland, small woodlands, and farmers endlessly working the land. As Foster explored the New England landscape, he discovered ancient ruins of cellar holes, stone walls, and abandoned cartways--all remnants of this earlier land now largely covered by forest. How had Thoreau's open countryside, shaped by ax and plough, divided by fences and laneways, become a forested landscape?

Part ecological and historical puzzle, this book brings a vanished countryside to life in all its dimensions, human and natural, offering a rich record of human imprint upon the land. Extensive excerpts from the journals show us, through the vividly recorded details of daily life, a Thoreau intimately acquainted with the ways in which he and his neighbors were changing and remaking the New England landscape. Foster adds the perspective of a modern forest ecologist and landscape historian, using the journals to trace themes of historical and social change.

Thoreau's journals evoke not a wilderness retreat but the emotions and natural history that come from an old and humanized landscape. It is with a new understanding of the human role in shaping that landscape, Foster argues, that we can best prepare ourselves to appreciate and conserve it today.

From the journal:

"I have collected and split up now quite a pile of driftwood--rails and riders and stems and stumps of trees--perhaps half or three quarters of a tree...Each stick I deal with has a history, and I read it as I am handling it, and, last of all, I remember my adventures in getting it, while it is burning in the winter evening. That is the most interesting part of its history. It has made part of a fence or a bridge, perchance, or has been rooted out of a clearing and bears the marks of fire on it...Thus one half of the value of my wood is enjoyed before it is housed, and the other half is equal to the whole value of an equal quantity of the wood which I buy."

--October 20, 1855

David R. Foster is Director of the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, and teaches ecology at Harvard University.
Title:Thoreau's Country: Journey through a Transformed LandscapeFormat:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 9.25 × 6.14 × 0.04 inPublished:December 21, 2001Publisher:HarvardLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0674006682

ISBN - 13:9780674006683

Look for similar items by category:


Table of Contents


Prologue: One Man's Journal

Three Landscapes in New England History

The Cultural Landscape of New England

Views of the Nineteenth-Century Countryside

Daily Life

The Farmer as Hero

Meadows and Mowers

Stone Walls and Other Fences

A Natural History of Woodlands

Woodlands and Sproutlands

Forest Land Use and Woodland Practices

Firewood and Other Fuels

Wildfire: A Human and Natural Force

The Coming of the New Forest

Social Change and Farm Abandonment in New England

The Succession of Forest Trees

Losses and Change

Animals: From Bobolinks to Bears

The Passenger Pigeon

The American Chestnut

Stepping Back and Looking Ahead

Reading Forest and Landscape History

Landscape Change

Insights into the Ecology and Conservation of the Land

Bibliographic Essay



Editorial Reviews

In Thoreau's Country, ecologist David R. Foster reveals that in limiting our notion of Thoreau by simply associating him with [" wildness is the preservation of the world"], we miss the charm, humor, and observational powers of this deep-thinking man...Foster selected passages from the journals that illustrate landscape scenes, natural history processes, and land-use activities that offer " and refined insight into the history and ecology of New England." He also included entires he found amusing. He couples Thoreau's passages with his own introductory essays, which are reader-friendly discussions of current issues in ecology...Foster concludes with a rich "Bibliographic Essay." The essays are accompanied by carefully crafted pen-and-ink drawings based on scenes Thoreau described.