Thoreau's experiment at Walden Pond reveals two potentially contradictory desires, one of which can be linked to agrarian reform, and the other to ecological knowledge. Thoreau conceived his Walden project in a cultural milieu in which agrarian reform was receiving incrasing attention, and the Walden experiments was, in important ways, an attempt at subsistence farming. But as Thoreau's persistent criticism of the farmers around Concord suggests, he also felt that the economic purpose of farming as it was usually practiced ran counter to his ecological orientation, which stressed the knowledge and preservation of nature, not its economic use. Thoreau's description of his work hoeing beans in "The Bean-Field" chapter of Walden helped to bridge that gap, particularly in its disclourse of the ashes of the "unchronicled nations" who had farmed the area before Thoreau. This act of discovery is one that transcends generational and cultural differences in that it binds Thoreau, through his labor, to a larger pattern of human history. His recognition of the larger historical context of his field work also sharpens his awareness of the natural setting in which the works. Thoreau here exemplifies the way agrarian labor that is not exploitative can function as a mode of spiritual cultivation.
- Copyright 1993 The Regents of the University of California.