Skip to content
  • News

Forest History Society’s virtual lecture series: Laura Dassow Walls

What: Free Virtual Lecture
Who: Laura Dassow Walls, PhD, University of Notre Dame
Topic: “A Vast and Indefinite Loss”: Henry Thoreau’s Connections
Between Nature and Slavery
When: Wednesday, March 31, 2021, 2 pm EDT.
Where: Watch on YouTube:


Contact: James Lewis, (919) 682-9319,

Laura Dassow Walls, the award-winning biographer of Henry David Thoreau, will deliver a virtual talk “‘A Vast and Indefinite Loss’: Thoreau’s Reflections on Nature and Slavery” as part of the Forest History Society’s virtual lecture series Unprecedented Seasons. Walls will explore the intimate connections between Thoreau, Walden Pond, and the inhumanity of slavery. This presentation is part of the Forest History Society’s Unprecedented Seasons virtual lecture series. The talk will be at 2 PM EST on March 31, 2021, and will be streamed live on Zoom. The event is free but registration is required.

In 1854, when federal marshals arrested a free Black citizen of Boston and deported him in chains back to the South and into slavery, Henry David Thoreau’s faith in both nature and nation nearly collapsed. At the very moment Walden was being printed in Boston, Thoreau stood on a nearby lecture platform and told an audience of thousands that he could no longer bear to walk to Walden Pond. “What signifies the beauty of nature when men are
base?” The anti-slavery address he delivered was the angriest of his life. Yet he concluded “Slavery in Massachusetts” on a note of hope, one found in a metaphorical fragrant flower plucked from “the slime and muck of
earth.” Overnight, America’s founding nature writer became one of its most famous abolitionists.

What does it tell us that the paradigmatic book about recovering freedom through solitude in nature was published to a broken nation which had just dedicated itself, as Thoreau charged, to “slavery and servility”? For weeks he felt haunted by “a vast and indefinite loss,” until he realized, as he said, that what he had lost “was a country.” He was now the advocate of nature who woke up to discover that he dwelled no longer somewhere between heaven and hell but “wholly within hell.” What can Thoreau’s torment tell us about dwelling in an America, and on a planet, on the brink?—and about imagining, nevertheless, a way to walk toward freedom?

Get news from the Thoreau Society and learn about ways you can help preserve Thoreau Country as part of our common heritage and as the embodiment of Thoreau’s landmark contributions to social, political, and environmental thought.

The Thoreau Society®, Inc.
341 Virginia Road, Concord, MA 01742
P: (978) 369-5310
F: (978) 369-5382

Educating people about the life, works, and legacy of Henry David Thoreau, challenging all to live a deliberate, considered life—since 1941.


Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Back To Top