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Chapter Fourteen: Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors
Because of the cold weather, Thoreau must spend much of his time indoors, without the company of the wildlife to which he has become accustomed. As a result, he passes his time using his imagination and reflecting on the past. This chapter gives an accounting of some of the former inhabitants of the Walden Pond area. Thoreau first tells of a slave named Cato Ingraham, who lived in the Walden woods with the approval and encouragement of his master. The slave was allowed to own a small patch of land on which he grew walnuts, hoping to make enough money to live off of in his old age. Unfortunately, a conniving white man cheated him out of his property. Thoreau next tells of Zillah, a Black woman who loved to sing and make the woods echo her songs. One day while she was out enjoying Nature, some English soldiers burned her house, cat, dog, and hens. A third story is the tale of Breed's Location, a tavern that served New England rum. The owner's hut had been set on fire by some mischievous boys, and Thoreau remembers the excitement it caused. He also tells about Brister Freeman, a Black fortuneteller who lived with his wife Fenda and Colonel Hugh Quoil, an Irish veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, who died after Thoreau had moved to Walden Pond. These melancholy tales of local history blend with the melancholic mood of the winter woods.
Even during the winter when the weather is not too severe, Thoreau continues to take long walks through the woods. Sometimes he wanders "eight to ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, a yellow-birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines." Sometimes he spies a bird or animal during his walks; other times he even sees people. Once, returning from a walk, he notices the woodcutter leaving his cabin; he thinks it is good to be reminded that he is not alone in the cold of winter. Occasionally, a farmer, a poet, or a philosopher makes a winter call on him. With the farmer he discusses the "rude and simple times"; with the poet he talks about cheerful things; and with the philosopher he shares deep ideas, such as man's state. Thoreau also admits that he sometimes waits for a guest who never comes.
This chapter, with the sad stories of local figures and the general slowness of the winter season, has a melancholic tone. In spite of the weather, Thoreau refuses to be a prisoner in his cabin and often goes on long walks through the snow. As he looks at the frozen landscape, he reminds himself that there is life underneath the surface. He also looks for a lone animal or bird, who, like himself, comes out to brave the cold. When he spies the woodcutter leaving his cabin, he is reassured that he is not alone. He is also reassured when an occasional visitor drops by his home for a chat.