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Chapter 12. Brute Neighbors 
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Post Chapter 12. Brute Neighbors
Summary

the poet fishing companion

Hermit and Poet dialogue

burdening the animals

wild companions

battle of the ants

hunting dog and winged cat

playing with the loon

ducks

http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendenta ... ter12.html
Walden Study Text



Sat Jul 19, 2008 8:20 pm
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Quote:
I was as near being resolved into the essence of things as ever I was in my life. I fear my thoughts will not come back to me. If it would do any good, I would whistle for them. When they make us an offer, is it wise to say, We will think of it?

This is delivered in a jaunty, homely way as part of an imagined dialogue between hermit and poet--but "resolved into the essence of things" does appear to be the business Thoreau was about.

The connotation of the word "brute" was probably different for Thoreau than it is for us. For him, the word doesn't signal inferiority, even though he does recognize that animals are not spiritually developed. The animals really are his neighbors, just as people are for us; he's quite serious about that.

I recall as a college freshman, attempting to test out of a required composition course, being given Thoreau's "Battle of the Ants" to analyze. I forget what in particular I was asked to do with it, but luckily I did manage to bypass the course. It's quite something, this long passage, isn't it? The scene with the loon is marvellous, too.
DWill



Sat Aug 30, 2008 9:05 am
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DWill wrote:
. . .but "resolved into the essence of things" does appear to be the business Thoreau was about.


Will, isnt this:

Quote:
12.5 Hermit alone. Let me see; where was I? Methinks I was nearly in this frame of mind; the world lay about at this angle. Shall I go to heaven or a-fishing? If I should soon bring this meditation to an end, would another so sweet occasion be likely to offer? I was as near being resolved into the essence of things as ever I was in my life. I fear my thoughts will not come back to me. If it would do any good, I would whistle for them. When they make us an offer, is it wise to say, We will think of it? My thoughts have left no track, and I cannot find the path again. What was it that I was thinking of? It was a very hazy day. I will just try these three sentences of Confutsee; they may fetch that state about again. I know not whether it was the dumps or a budding ecstasy. Mem. There never is but one opportunity of a kind.


about the same as this:

Quote:
2.23 Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. . . I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. . . .


I think that in both cases he is referring to a return to original experience.

Tom



Sat Aug 30, 2008 12:54 pm
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I liked this chapter very much - yes, the battle of the ants was fascinating . . .

I have a book called 'How Ants Work' and enjoy looking at it from time to time.

Watching ants . . . I like it when they make a puddle on the walk, and they all move 'as one' . . . what you have is a puddle - a dark shadow kind of thing that's moving along as if it were one animal.

Our cat, Skitter, goes bananas when she sees it.

This isn't the best of photos, but here she is with an ant colony on the walk when she was about a year old . . .

Image

....................................

Something that came to mind for me when Thoreau wrote of the animals he watched . . .

Many animals and birds can become 'used to' a human being there. We used to have a favourite pair of swans down at Grenadier Pond . . . they returned to the north end of that pond every breeding season . . .

The second year, we watched the Pen sitting on her eggs - the Cob would change places with her, when she wanted to eat.


During this 'changing', we got a glimpse of the eggs hatching!

A couple of days later, I begged off classes for the afternoon to go and study the pair with their cygnets . . . I was in a computer course at the time and our teacher was sympathetic with my need to be with 'my swans' . . .

I was on the shore, and the big Cob was sitting with the cygnets - there were about 8 of them (I still have a picture somewhere).

Swans, like most birds and animals, are agressively protective while breeding and when the cygnets are little, they don't miss a trick.

I was sitting cross-legged, not so much as a yard from the cygnets . . . there were people around me - when they came to see the babies closer, the father bird would hiss them away, yet he allowed me there.

The Pen was out in the middle of the pond, ducking her head for vegetation - a third swan came into the picture and began circling the Pen . . . the Cob promptly got up and swan/flew to the middle to defend his mate and left me sitting there with his tiny cygnets!

I had obviously gained the bird's trust!

Here is the best picture I got of them, while sitting there with the clutch of cygs . . .

Image

The people standing around were just amazed at this. I did not move the whole time the big bird was on the pond chasing off the intruder.

It was a wonderful experience.

But I do realize something . . . I was wrong to encourage this 'trust' . . . especially with young swans . . . if the young of a species get the idea that 'humans are ok', they could end up in big trouble when they meet up with the wrong kind of people.

It's really a good idea to scare off wild animals when they start getting too comfortable with you.

...............................................



Last edited by WildCityWoman on Sun Sep 14, 2008 6:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:07 am
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I think the reason loons make a terrific racket when they emerge from a long dive has something to do with their breathing.

Not sure though . . . but Thoreau didn't know either. He was puzzled by that - thought it had something to do with the bird 'laughing' at the human - ha ha!

It was a wonderful chapter.



Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:09 am
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WildCityWoman wrote:
I think the reason loons make a terrific racket when they emerge from a long dive has something to do with their breathing.

Not sure though . . . but Thoreau didn't know either. He was puzzled by that - thought it had something to do with the bird 'laughing' at the human - ha ha!

It was a wonderful chapter.


I have speculated that this loon section is a parody of Moby-Dick:

Hermit's interaction with his fellow humorist the loon is especially
elaborated in what is apparently a parody of Moby-Dick (1851. Modern
practice seems to be to drop the hyphen.): "Peace, thou crazy loon,"
cried the Manxman, seizing him by the arm. "Away from the quarter-
deck!" (Moby-Dick, chapter 125). As Ahab in the Pequod pursues Moby
Dick, so Hermit in his boat pursues the loon on Walden pond.

Tom



Tue Sep 02, 2008 7:47 am
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Oh, I see . . . well, I didn't think about that. I'm just going on with the audio presentation right now.

I'll probably be going over the chapters with the text as well.



Tue Sep 02, 2008 10:35 am
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Thomas Hood wrote:
I have speculated that this loon section is a parody of Moby-Dick:

Tom, did you find evidence that Thoreau read Moby-Dick? And can you tell whether he wrote the loon passage before or after the book's 1851 publication date?
Will



Thu Sep 04, 2008 9:27 am
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DWill wrote:
Tom, did you find evidence that Thoreau read Moby-Dick? And can you tell whether he wrote the loon passage before or after the book's 1851 publication date?


Will, I do not have access to scholarly sources that would permit me to know definitely that Thoreau read Mody-Dick and the date of composition of the loon passage. What I did do was present this idea to the picky scholarly types on Waldenlist and gave them an opportunity to shoot the idea down, and none of them did. Without access to a major university library or a better private library than I have, such important facts are hard to come by.

For this reason, most of my ideas about Walden are based on circumstantial evidence. In this case, 1. The idea accords with Thoreau's sense of humor. 2. Thoreau was a heavy reader of travel books and books of exploration. Moby-Dick falls in this category. 3. Thoreau is supposed to have read Melville's Typee: see Cramer, p.26, note 147, about tattooing. Also note,

Quote:
1.53 Contrast the physical condition of the Irish with that of the North American Indian, or the South Sea Islander, or any other savage race before it was degraded by contact with the civilized man.


This implies that Thoreau was interested in and informed about South Sea Islanders.

So to answer your question "Can you tell whether he wrote the loon passage before or after the book's 1851 publication date?" Yes, I could if I travelled and did the footwork, but to answer definitely such a simple question would be a major effort and expense for me.

Tom



Thu Sep 04, 2008 11:57 am
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Thu Sep 04, 2008 2:28 pm
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OK, Lawrence, let's kick in the afterburners and ascend to a
high-flying transcendental altitude. Don't try to bail out on me
by shouting "Eisegesis!". Make sure your oxygen's good and
let's fly. What is "Brute Neighbors" really about?

The Lost Meditation of "Brute Neighbors"

At the beginning of "Brute Neighbors" Hermit is interrupted and loses
track of his thoughts as did Coleridge in composing "Kubla Khan."
After taking thought, Hermit recovers sufficiently to state the
question of his meditation:
Quote:
"Why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world? Why has
man just these species of animals for his neighbors; as if nothing
but a mouse could have filled this crevice? I suspect that Pilpay &
Co. have put animals to their best use, for they are all beasts of
burden, in a sense, made to carry some portion of our thoughts."

This questioning is followed by a list of animals. Questions are
often followed by answers. How does Hermit's list answer the question
of his meditation?

Hermit, bless his sly Yankee soul, has left us a trail of clues. He
is surveying the boundaries of a world, he is going to heaven, it all
involves a list of animals, and these animals carry all the aspects
of the human self. Only one object satisfies these conditions: the
zodiac. Hermit, like an Adam in an Eden of animals, is defining the
zodiac in terms of the beasts and birds of Walden.

There are, however, fourteen animals in Hermit's list instead of the
obligatory twelve. Why should he make it too easy for us? Phoebe,
robin, and partridge all fall in the single category of small, highly
maternal (Taurean), domestic birds. The details of this category
concern only the partridge.

So considered, the list of animals is:

1. mice
2. partridge (and phoebe and robin)
3. otter
4. racoon
5. woodcock
6. turtledove
7. squirrel
8. ants
9. dog
10. cat
11. loon
12. ducks

The mouse (Rat: Aries), the creature of beginnings as Thoreau builds
his house, is the first animal of the Chinese zodiac, the
constellation looking as much like a mouse as it does a ram; the
partridge exhibits the maternal care of the cow (Taurus); the otter,
as playful as a boy, has the mecurial quality of Gemini; the racoon
seizes as does a crab (Cancer); the protective woodcock has a large
brood ('Increase' is the property of Leo and the Fifth House); the
turtledove represents the Virgin (Virgo); the squirrel balances
(Libra) on the boughs; ants sting like Scorpio; the dog hunts like
Sagittarius; the cat ascends like Capricornus; the loon is a water-
bringer like Aquarius; and the Piscean ducks evade human contact.


Tom



Thu Sep 04, 2008 3:26 pm
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DWill wrote:
Quote:
For him, the word doesn't signal inferiority, even though he does recognize that animals are not spiritually developed.DWill


I often think of this . . . how do we know whether animals are spiritually developed? The consciousness of an ant, is just as big as our own consciousness is . . . to the ant, I mean.

Am I saying that right?

When you watch an ant colony at work on the walk, it makes you wonder of that.

My cat goes bananas when she sees that 'puddle' moving along the walk.

But if you study books on the topic - for me it's 'How Ants Work', a book I have in the office and open every once in a while.

They have 'worker' ants, 'guard' ants . . .

I don't know if an individual ant actually has anything we would call a brain - I doubt it. But they must have a consciousness, that enables them to work together 'as one'.

(Forgive me if I've written this somewhere else in this thread - I tend to 'forget' and speak twice)



Sun Sep 14, 2008 6:24 pm
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DWill wrote:
Quote:
The scene with the loon is marvellous, too.
DWill


Yeah, it is . . . I remember once Jeff and I spent a whole afternoon by Grenadier Pond trying to get pictures of what we thought was a loon - it did the same thing as Thoreau's telling us about - dived, disappeared for a few minutes, then came up.

We watched, determined to track this bird. But I think what we were watching was actually a 'cormorant'.

They are also interesting birds.

Image

Not one of my greatest pictures. I think Jeff has some good ones somewhere, some recent ones he did. When I come across them, I'll put one here.

We missed a photo opportunity a few weeks ago - usually when we hit an area where there's lots of birds, I have my digital camera out of its case, set and ready to go.

We were going over a bridge on our bikes and there was a cormorant sitting on the side of it . . . it was strange, because those birds rarely come that close to humans.

It flew off as soon as we approached, of course.



Sun Sep 14, 2008 6:30 pm
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