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Chapter Twelve: Brute Neighbors
Thoreau opens this chapter with a brief recounting of a visitor, a poet, who often comes to fish with him. Since Thoreau has many hermit-like traits, he sometimes finds the poet too bothersome, interrupting his great thoughts. Thoreau usually enjoys the animals in the woods much more than he enjoys his human visitors. He considers all the wildlife to be his friends. The mouse picks up crumbs from Thoreau's hands without fear, a partridge dwells outside his window, a phoebe builds its nest in his shed, and a robin makes its home in the pines next to the cabin. Thoreau lives in perfect harmony with the bird and animal inhabitants of Walden Pond.
Besides the wildlife close to his cabin, Thoreau gets to know the animals that live deep in the woods. He enjoys watching the rapid activities of the otters, raccoons, woodchucks, and squirrels and the slow, lovely movements of the loons and ducks. He is amazed by the once domesticated cats that now roam in the wild, like a native creature of the woods. He even notices tiny creatures on the ground and narrates a battle between red and black ants with the vigor of epic war commentary. Thoreau is truly a keen observer and participant in the natural world around Walden Pond.
The dialogue between the hermit and the poet contains deliberate humor. For instance, the poet is thought to be a lost pig while he is approaching from behind the bushes. Far from being consumed by higher thoughts and poetic sensibilities, the poet only wants to go fishing while the hermit wants to finish his meditations on great thoughts. It is generally understood that the hermit of the dialogue is Thoreau, and the poet is his friend and fishing companion, Ellery Channing.
The chapter generally deals with a description of the various animals that inhabit the pond and woods near Thoreau's cabin. He is particularly drawn towards the loon, a symbol of perfection that integrates both animal and spiritual instincts. Thoreau recommends that all men strive to cultivate both the wild and the refined sides of their lives, like the loon. It is for this purpose that Thoreau is at Walden Pond.