Squirrels
and the
Writings of Henry David Thoreau


This is the grave of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), located in the beautiful, historic Sleepy Hollow cemetery near Boston. It is a peaceful, shaded place with lots of huge, ancient trees. And of course, there are lots of squirrels and chipmunks.

The individual grave marker is very simple for such a famous person, although there is a larger family marker to the right with "Thoreau" in big letters. Around the headstone you can see small pebbles, some on paper, placed there by Jewish visitors as a sign of respect.

There are lots of tree roots in the ground, as the photo shows. Over time, carbon and other minerals from Thoreau's earthly remains (and anyone else nearby, of course) have been absorbed by nearby trees. The trees produce acorns, nuts, etc, which are eaten by the local wildlife.

At the bottom left of the photo, you can see a pecan that I've placed near the foot of the grave. A few minutes after I took this photo, a squirrel came over and scampered off with the nut.


Squirrels in "Walden"


Here are some selections from Henry David Thoreau's book "Walden" that talk about squirrels. There are many other references to squirrels "in passing" that I have not included. This book is certainly about much more than squirrels: it is a life-changer. Read it!

(From Chapter 7)
The true husbandman will cease from anxiety, as the squirrels manifest no concern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not, and finish his labor with every day, relinquishing all claim to the produce of his fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only his first but his last fruits also.

(From Chapter 15)
Usually the red squirrel (Sciurus Hudsonius) waked me in the dawn, coursing over the roof and up and down the sides of the house, as if sent out of the woods for this purpose. In the course of the winter I threw out half a bushel of ears of sweet corn, which had not got ripe, on to the snow-crust by my door, and was amused by watching the motions of the various animals which were baited by it. In the twilight and the night the rabbits came regularly and made a hearty meal. All day long the red squirrels came and went, and afforded me much entertainment by their manoeuvres. One would approach at first warily through the shrub oaks, running over the snow-crust by fits and starts like a leaf blown by the wind, now a few paces this way, with wonderful speed and waste of energy, making inconceivable haste with his "trotters," as if it were for a wager, and now as many paces that way, but never getting on more than half a rod at a time; and then suddenly pausing with a ludicrous expression and a gratuitous somerset, as if all the eyes in the universe were eyed on him -- for all the motions of a squirrel, even in the most solitary recesses of the forest, imply spectators as much as those of a dancing girl -- wasting more time in delay and circumspection than would have sufficed to walk the whole distance -- I never saw one walk -- and then suddenly, before you could say Jack Robinson, he would be in the top of a young pitch pine, winding up his clock and chiding all imaginary spectators, soliloquizing and talking to all the universe at the same time -- for no reason that I could ever detect, or he himself was aware of, I suspect. At length he would reach the corn, and selecting a suitable ear, frisk about in the same uncertain trigonometrical way to the topmost stick of my wood-pile, before my window, where he looked me in the face, and there sit for hours, supplying himself with a new ear from time to time, nibbling at first voraciously and throwing the half-naked cobs about; till at length he grew more dainty still and played with his food, tasting only the inside of the kernel, and the ear, which was held balanced over the stick by one paw, slipped from his careless grasp and fell to the ground, when he would look over at it with a ludicrous expression of uncertainty, as if suspecting that it had life, with a mind not made up whether to get it again, or a new one, or be off; now thinking of corn, then listening to hear what was in the wind. So the little impudent fellow would waste many an ear in a forenoon; till at last, seizing some longer and plumper one, considerably bigger than himself, and skilfully balancing it, he would set out with it to the woods, like a tiger with a buffalo, by the same zig-zag course and frequent pauses, scratching along with it as if it were too heavy for him and falling all the while, making its fall a diagonal between a perpendicular and horizontal, being determined to put it through at any rate; -- a singularly frivolous and whimsical fellow; -- and so he would get off with it to where he lived, perhaps carry it to the top of a pine tree forty or fifty rods distant, and I would afterwards find the cobs strewn about the woods in various directions.

(From Chapter 15)
They [birds] were manifestly thieves, and I had not much respect for them; but the squirrels, though at first shy, went to work as if they were taking what was their own.

(From Chapter 15)
The squirrels also grew at last to be quite familiar, and occasionally stepped upon my shoe, when that was the nearest way.

(From Chapter 17)
At the approach of spring the red squirrels got under my house, two at a time, directly under my feet as I sat reading or writing, and kept up the queerest chuckling and chirruping and vocal pirouetting and gurgling sounds that ever were heard; and when I stamped they only chirruped the louder, as if past all fear and respect in their mad pranks, defying humanity to stop them. No, you don't -- chickaree -- chickaree. They were wholly deaf to my arguments, or failed to perceive their force, and fell into a strain of invective that was irresistible.



The Maine Woods


(Pages 139-140)

/////We also saw and heard several times the red squirrel, and often, as before observed, the bluish scales of the fir cones which it had left on a rock or fallen tree. This, according to the Indian, is the only squirrel found in those woods, except a very few striped ones. It must have a solitary time in that dark evergreen forest, where there is so little life, seventy-five miles from a road as we had come. I wondered how he could call any particular tree there his home; and yet he would run up the stem of one out of the myriads, as if it were an old road to him. How can a hawk ever find him there? I fancied that he must be glad to see us, though he did seem to chide us. One of those sombre fir and spruce woods is not complete unless you hear from out of its cavernous mossy and twiggy recesses his fine alarum,--his spruce voice, like the working of the sap through some crack in a tree,--the working of the spruce-beer. Such an impertinent fellow would occasionally try to alarm the wood about me. "Oh," said I, "I am well acquainted with your family, I know your cousins in Concord very well. Guess the mail's irregular in these parts, and you'd like to hear from 'em." But my overtures were vain, for he would withdraw by his aerial turnpikes into a more distant cedar-top, and spring his rattle again.



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