The narrative of Walden, which at first seems haphazard and unplanned, is actually quite consciously put together to mirror the cycle of the seasons. The compression of Thoreau’s two actual years (1845 to 1847) into one narrative year shows how relatively unimportant the documentary or logbook aspect of his writing is. He cares less for the real calendar time taken up by his project than for the symbolic time he projects onto it. One full year, from springtime to springtime, echoes the Christian idea of rebirth, moving from one beginning to a new one. (We can imagine how very different Walden might be if it went from December to December, for example.)

Thus each season inevitably carries with it not just its usual calendar attributes, but a spiritual resonance as well. The story begins in the spring of 1845, as Thoreau begins construction on his cabin. He moves in, fittingly and probably quite intentionally, on Independence Day, July 4—making his symbolic declaration of independence from society, and drawing closer to the true sources of his being.

The summer is a time of physical activity, as he narrates in great detail his various construction projects and domestic management solutions. He also begins his cultivation of the bean-fields, following the natural cycle of the seasons like any farmer, but also echoing the biblical phrase from Ecclesiastes, “a time to reap, a time to sow.” It may be more than the actual beans he harvests, and his produce may be for the soul as well as for the marketplace.

Winter is a time of reflection and inwardness, as he mostly communes with himself indoors and has only a few choice visitors. It is in winter that he undertakes the measuring of the pond, which becomes a symbol of plumbing his own spiritual depths in solitude.

Then in spring come echoes of Judgment Day, with the crash of melting ice and the trumpeting of the geese; Thoreau feels all sins forgiven. The cycle of seasons is thus a cycle of moral and spiritual regeneration made possible by a communion with nature and with oneself.