thoreau: ways with the wild

…Thoreau’s way with wildlife continually astonished his visitors. Mrs. Edwin Bigelow once said of him: Henry would tell all to sit absolutely quiet and close together- then he would go forward cautiously, sprinkle crumbs before them and then retreating, seat himself a little before the others and begin a sort of rolling or humming sound and so would draw squirrels to come and eat at last out of his hands.”



The favorite of all Thoreau’s wild pets was a mouse, which he said had a nest under his house and came while he ate lunch to pick the crumbs at his feet. It had never seen the race of man before, and therefore became familiar so much the sooner. It ran over his shoes and up the inside of his pant leg, clinging to his flesh with its sharp claws. When he held out a piece of cheese, it came and nibbled between his fingers, and then cleaned its face and paws like a fly. Like the Pied Piper, Thoreau could summon the mouse out of hiding with his flute and display it to his friends. One of the few decorations he permitted in his cabin was a drawing, made on the closet door, of himself and his pet mouse.

For the sake of science Thoreau was willing, occasionally, to sacrifice a specimen or two. Louis Agassiz, who had arrived in Boston from across the Atlantic in the fall of 1846, was anxious to catalogue the flora and fauna of America. James Elliot Cabot enlisted Thoreau’s aid, and in the spring of 1847, Thoreau shipped some specimens in to Agassiz’s laboratory. Among them, Agassiz found a number of new species including bream, smelt and shiners. Thoreau also offered to put the hunters and trappers of Concord to work collecting snapping turtles if Agassiz would pay seventy-five cents to a dollar apiece for them. But that offer was not accepted. ( to be continued)…

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