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Extracts

Henry David Thoreau Thoreau’s influence on the ecology movement started during his life. Indeed, his life itself was an influence on his fellow Transcendentalists. He also lectured in and around Concord, Massachessetts. But his influence comes overwhelmingly from his writings. Each generation of Americans seems to rediscover Thoreau and re-invent him for themselves. The following extracts from his best-known writings give the flavor of the man and his work.

On Wildness
In wildness is the preservation of the world.
“Walking”

On Good Government
I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe–“That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.
“Civil Disobedience”

On Camping in a Storm
As we lay huddled together under the tent, which leaked considerably about the sides, with our baggage at our feet, we listened to some of the grandest thunder which I ever heard, –rapid peals, round and plump, bang, bang, bang in succession, like artillery from some fortress in the sky; and the lightning was proportionally brilliant. The Indian said, ‘It must be good powder.’ All for the benefit of the moose and us, echoing far over the concealed lakes.

It is remarkable with what pure satisfaction the traveller in these woods will reach his camping ground on the eve of a tempestuous night like this, as if he had got to his inn, and, rolling himself in his blanket, stretch himself on his six feet by two bed of dripping fir twigs, with a thin sheet of cotton for a roof, snug as a meadow-mouse in its nest. Invariably our best nights were those when it rained, for them we were not troubled with mosquitoes.
The Maine Woods

On the Summit of Ktaadin
The mountain seemed a vast aggregation of loose rocks, as if some time it had rained rocks, and they lay as they fell on the mountain sides, nowhere fairly at rest, but leaning on each other, rocking stones, with cavities between, but scarcely any soil or smoother shelf. They were the raw materials of a planet dropped from an unseen quarry, which the vast chemistry of nature would anon work up, or work down, into the smiling and verdant plains and valleys of earth.
The Maine Woods

On Mountains
If I wished to see a mountain or other scenery under the most favorable auspices, I would go to it in foul weather, so as to be there when it cleared up; we are then in the most suitable mood, and nature is most fresh and inspiring.
The Maine Woods

On Cultivation
I would not have every man, or every part of a man, cultivated, any more than I would have every acre of earth cultivated: part will be tillage, but the greater part will be meadow and forest, not only serving an immediate use, but preparing a mould against a distant future, by the annual decay of the vegetation it supports.
“Walking”