Henry David Thoreau describes in wonderful detail his day-to-day life during his time at Walden. In building his cabin, he obtained used brick to build a fireplace and eventually put in a stove for more efficient cooking. And he dug a root cellar for storing his food, describing some of the foot lost to moles and other rodents in the matter-of-fact way someone who fully expects some percentage of their food stores to be eaten by rodents.
Thoreau writes of the ice men who would come to Walden every winter to cut the ice to ship near and far for cooling deep into the summer. Before refrigerators root cellars and ice houses were the norm, and blocks of ice were the preserving savior of many a family’s harvest. Root cellars were generally disconnected from the main house, just as outhouses were. Not having an outhouse in your home makes sense, and really it makes sense for the root cellar as well. It’s meant to be a cold space, and the food stored there would naturally attract rodents. Best to have that disconnected from the house.
Not many people have an ice pick today, but it was so commonplace before refrigeration that it’s immediately thought of as a murder weapon in a mystery. Casually walking out to the root cellar and grabbing an ice pick to chop off a few chunks of ice for your mixed drink is foreign to us but the concept of using the same tool in a murder mystery makes perfect sense.
Today as I moved the laundry forward from washer to dryer to laundry basket to closet, I casually pulled the dryer lint from the filter. For all the modern comforts technology has brought to us, the lint filter is likely low on the list. But Thoreau would have marveled at it for all that it represented. We are all living a shared experience today with our modern conveniences, just as Thoreau shared similar experiences living in Concord. Most people today would be lost trying to use a wood stove for baking, just as HDT would be lost trying to figure out a microwave. It’s only when you step out into the wilderness that we share the experience of Thoreau in the 1840’s. For it’s there that we become closest to those who lived here before us.