Thoreau believes that man must be not only a reader, but also a seer and a listener, constantly alert and open to nature. He spends much of his time at Walden not reading or working in his field but sitting and enjoying his surroundings, such as the berry plants and hawks and frogs. His lifestyle frees him from worries about laziness or time passing or what he is accomplishing. One morning he wakes early, moves all his furniture outside, and cleans his floors, admiring how little he owns.
Even as much as Thoreau values the best kinds of work, reading and modest physical labor, they are secondary in his spiritual life to admiring nature. Nature is Thoreau's constant spiritual example, inspiring him both in its utter simplicity and in its peace, which separate it from the concerns of civilized people.
Nearby to Thoreau's house, the railroad passes. He knows the men who work on it and its daily whistle is a reminder that civilization is not so far away. The sight and sound of the train is a part of his daily rhythm like the sunrise, he says. Though he laments that the railroad is part of a culture of hard work and low ambitions, he says that commerce impresses him because of its industriousness and the cheerful attitude of the workers. He says both that the sound of the train refreshes him and that he is repelled by its smoke and steam and hissing.
Thoreau's relationship to the railroad epitomizes his ambivalent relationship to civilization: on one hand, he celebrates the company of men and admires many virtues in them, while on the other hand, he criticizes their priorities and believes they toil under false assumptions and are blind to the best parts of life.
After the train passes, Thoreau is more alone than ever, he writes. He listens to the bells of the nearby towns, the lowing of cows that he experiences as great music, the clucking of birds, the melancholy hoots of owls which sound like men moaning in grief, the rolling of wagons, the bark of dogs. He celebrates that there are no domesticated sounds, not even a tea kettle, and "no path to the civilized world."
Thoreau's catalogue of sounds is evidence to his alertness to his surroundings and the pleasure he takes in the variety and simplicity of nature. Solitude makes possible his break with the civilized world, and he celebrates it.