April 30, 2013 8:55 AM   Subscribe

On this day in 1844, Henry David Thoreau burned down a forest.
posted by backseatpilot (14 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
"Men go to a fire for entertainment. When I see how eagerly men will run to a fire, whether in warm or in cold weather, by day or by night, dragging an engine at their heels, I'm astonished to perceive how good a purpose the level of excitement is made to serve. "

Journal- June, 1850.

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:12 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

He burned 300 acres. That's a pretty small amount of land.
posted by schmod at 9:24 AM on April 30, 2013

He burned 300 acres. That's a pretty small amount of land.

It's nearly five times the surface area of Walden Pond and six times the size of Boston Common. And 300 acres is roughly 1% of Boston's total land area, or 2% of Concord.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 9:35 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't suppose this means they're adding Far Cry 2's fire physics to the Walden video game?
posted by straight at 9:45 AM on April 30, 2013

I just want to say that this historical fact makes me ridiculously, unconscionably happy.
posted by MrVisible at 9:46 AM on April 30, 2013

I wish the mods would un-ban Faze just for this thread.
posted by MattMangels at 10:59 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thoreau was a century ahead of disco. To quote those naturalistic philosophers of the 20th century, Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three, "We don't need no water—Let the motherfucker burn."
posted by GuyZero at 11:12 AM on April 30, 2013

Great post, thanks for this.
posted by Daddy-O at 12:13 PM on April 30, 2013

Just incidentally, Woodsburner, which Pipkin was promoting with this piece, is a quite remarkably bad novel, and really only tangentially a novel about Thoreau. If any of you want to read more about the fire or Thoreau's intellectual development in general I'd really suggest reading Richardson's biography.
posted by RogerB at 12:33 PM on April 30, 2013

The natural world is not just the green space of plants and animals, divorced from the world of people; nature includes everything that is. Thoreau argues that the fire was part of nature and was only consuming its natural food.

I'm going to test this hypothesis by punching my co-worker in the face and blaming nature.

About 6-7 years ago my wife and I were visiting friends in Cambridge. After a few beers we drove out to a lake on a hot day to go for a swim. It was only while my ass was swimming right in the middle of the thing did I figure out that it was Walden. The assertion above is stupider than that.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:39 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's another, more fleshed-out account of the fire and Thoreau's attitudes toward it.

I find this event to be highly ironic because some 150 years later, Don Henley and other people from Away made a crusade out of preventing the owner of some of that same land (which they now called "Walden Woods," even though it's almost a mile from the pond) from building on it. The place was sacred, because Thoreau used to walk around there. They didn't mention his having burned it down...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:49 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

On one hand, 300 acres is a lot of land when you don't have firetrucks. On the other hand, during the same time period my ancestors were basically clear-cutting most of Vermont and New Hampshire for potash and sheep-pasturing, so I feel like some sort of meta-level hypocrite denouncing Thoreau's hypocrisy.
posted by maryr at 1:28 PM on April 30, 2013

Another fun fire fact: Mark Twain started a wildfire at Lake Tahoe.
posted by homunculus at 4:01 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

The right time of the year and eye contact with a member of the opposite sex is hot enough to start a fire at Lake tahoe.
posted by GuyZero at 4:18 PM on April 30, 2013

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