During the coldest winter in Massachusetts since 1918, painter and writer Ben Shattuck chopped off the top half inch of one of his fingers. He was on a lot of painkillers, and a string of nightmares led him to the works of Henry David Thoreau, specifically, “The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861.”

“I opened a page of the most beautiful description of bubbles trapped in ice in a pond outside Concord, and I thought, ‘I just read the most beautiful line in the book,’” Shattuck told Boston Public Radio on Thursday. “And then I turned the page and read a line about a butterfly landing on milkweed — and you can see where this is going — it was a brick of gold. There's a reason why he's so famous.”

Shattuck said most people are introduced to Thoreau's work in high school and may find his work too academic. He is grateful to have discovered this book during a particularly dark winter as an adult, when he was able to appreciate Thoreau's writing style.

The following spring, Shattuck decided to follow Thoreau’s travels in an effort to “ease the harshness of winter.” He hiked along Cape Cod, trekked to the summits of Mount Katahdin in Maine and Wachusett Mountain, and more. Out of these travels came Shattuck's memoir, "Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau," an exploration of nature and the self through the lens of Thoreau.

“There's something about walking, I think as I write in the book, that helps husk the dead skin of grief. There's something about moving through the world; it’s kind of one of the most ancient things that defines us as people. We stood up and then we went forward,” Shattuck said.

“I think Thoreau often talks about how his mind is smoothed out from movement, and anybody who's been on a long walk or camping can really feel that what Thoreau called 'the village' but we would call our relationships, and life can be smoothed out and sort of taken away. If you just go out and without a plan, just go out into the woods or into the plains or out along the seashore.”