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Brushes with History

  • Blog Post by: Rhonda Hayes
  • September 20, 2012 - 4:33 PM

 When you've moved as much as I have, what you lack in rootedness and continuity, you make up for in opportunity. I've had the chance to live in so many places and houses seeped in history. 

Our second home in Kansas, the second time around, had a whimsical quality with its random-cut, indigenous limestone. The design came from a hasty sketch of a British farmhouse viewed from a foxhole. When the soldier came home he realized that vision at #1 St James Place, but in the very middle of the Midwestern US.

Our home in the hills of Herefordshire, England started out as its eponymous name, The Malt House, sometime in the 1700's but the beams were the product of extremely early efforts at recycling. Those timbers were first used on old ships and already had 500 years on them.

Our brick Italianate Victorian in Illinois came with a deed that started out with "I, A. Lincoln..." The house was built in 1874 but the lot was platted by a young surveyor that would later find a higher calling.

Now walking the dog by the woods in my newest neighborhood, little did I know I was following in the footsteps of Thoreau. Say what? Yep, it turns out that Henry David Thoreau left Walden and ventured out to Minnesota seeking the clean air and pristine waters of our state as a possible remedy for his tuberculosis. 

 

 

I can't imagine embarking on a journey in throes of such misery but apparently he kept up appearances to his young traveling companion, Horace Mann, Jr., convincing him that he was faring well. Stopping in Minneapolis, they stayed at Mrs. Hamilton's boarding house situated somewhere around what is now William Berry Park between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.

It seems that during his visit, Thoreau was intent on finding a species of wild crabapple that he had first spied in Illinois. A record of his pursuit of Malus coronaria is documented in Wild Fruits, Thoreau's Rediscovered Last Manuscript. Following instructions from several individuals he explored the ridge above Lake Calhoun looking for the wild apple but struck out.  Eventually he found a cluster of trees he was seeking on his own. 

 

 

Back in New England a year later, Thoreau died. Believing as he did that heaven was "under our feet as well as over our heads", I'm glad he got the chance to explore the area while it still had an air of wildness.

 

 

So now when I walk the dog along the trail that winds through the leafy triangle I wonder what he would have thought of Lake Calhoun and the woods along the parkway. Would he marvel at the downtown skyline mirrored in the waters? And what would he think of the buckthorn that mars the understory below the oaks and maples? 

 

 

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