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Jan. 2, 1853. 9 A. M. Down railroad to Cliffs. A clear day, a pure sky with cirrhi. In this clear air and bright sunlight, the ice-covered trees have a new beauty, especially the birches along under the edge of Warren's wood on each side of the railroad, bent quite to the ground in every kind of curve. At a distance, as you are approaching them endwise, they look like the white tents of Indians under the edge of the wood. The birch is thus remarkable, perhaps, from the feathery form of the tree, whose numerous small branches sustain so great weight, bending it to the ground; and, moreover, because, from the color of the bark, the core is less observable. The oaks not only are less pliant in the trunk, but have fewer and stiffer twigs and branches. The birches droop over in all directions, like ostrich feathers. Most wood paths are impassable now to a carriage, almost to a foot traveler, from the number of saplings and boughs bent over even to the ground in them. Both sides of the deep cut shine in the sun as if silver-plated, and the fine spray of a myriad bushes on the edge of the bank sparkle like silver. The telegraph wire is coated to ten times its size, and looks like a slight fence scalloping along at a distance.... When we climb the bank at Stow's wood-lot and come upon the piles of freshly split white pine wood (for he is ruthlessly laying it waste), the transparent ice, like a thick varnish, beautifully exhibits the color of the clear, tender, yellowish wood, pumpkin pine (?), and its grain. We pick our way over a bed of pine boughs a foot or two deep, covering the ground, each twig and needle thickly incrusted with ice, one vast gelid mass, which our feet crunch, as if we were walking through the cellar of some confectioner to the gods. The invigorating scent of the recently cut pines refreshes us, if that is any atonement for this devastation.... Especially now do I notice the hips, barberries, and winter-berries for their red. The red or purplish catkins of the alders are interesting as a winter fruit, and also of the birch. But few birds about. Apparently their granaries are locked up in ice, with which the grasses and buds are coated. Even far in the horizon the pine tops are turned to fir or spruce by the weight of the ice bending them down, so that they look like a spruce swamp. No two trees wear the ice alike. The short plumes and needles of the spruce make a very pretty and peculiar figure. I see some oaks in the distance, which, from their branches being curved and arched downward and massed, are turned into perfect elms, which suggests that this is the peculiarity of the elm. Few, if any, other trees are thus wisp-like, the branches gracefully drooping. I mean some slender red and white oaks which have been recently left in a clearing. Just apply a weight to the end of the boughs which will cause them to droop, and to each particular twig which will mass them together, and you have perfect elms. Seen at the right angle, each ice-incrusted blade of stubble shines like a prism with some color of the rainbow, intense blue, or violet, and red. The smooth field, clad the other day with a low wiry grass, is now converted into rough stubble land, where you walk with crunching feet. It is remarkable that the trees can ever recover from the burden which bends them to the ground. I should like to weigh a limb of this pitch pine. The character of the tree is changed. I have now passed the bars, and am approaching the Cliffs. The forms and variety of the ice are particularly rich here, there are so many low bushes and weeds before me as I ascend toward the sun, especially very small white pines almost merged in the ice-incrusted ground. All objects are to the eye polished silver. It is a perfect land of faery. Le Jenne describes the same in Canada in 1636: "Nos grands bois ne paroissoient qu'une forest de cristal."... The bells are particularly sweet this morning. I hear more, methinks, than ever before.... Men obey their call and go to the stove-warmed church, though God exhibits himself to the walker in a frosted bush to-day as much as he did in a burning one to Moses of old. We build a fire on the Cliffs. When kicking to pieces a pine stump for the fat knots which alone would burn this icy day, at the risk of spoiling my boots, having looked in vain for a stone, I thought how convenient would be an Indian stone axe to batter it with. The bark of white birch, though covered with ice, burned well. We soon had a roaring fire of fat pine on a shelf of rock from which we overlooked the icy landscape. The sun, too, was melting the ice on the rocks, and the water was purling downwards in dark bubbles exactly like pollywogs. What a good word is flame, expressing the form and soul of fire, lambent, with forked tongue! We lit a fire to see it, rather than to feel it, it is so rare a sight these days. It seems good to have our eyes ache once more with smoke. What a peculiar, indescribable color has this flame! a reddish or lurid yellow, not so splendid or full of light as of life and heat.
These fat roots made much flame and a very black smoke, commencing where the flame left off, which cast fine flickering shadows on the rocks. There was some bluish-white smoke from the rotten part of the wood. Then there was the fine white ashes which farmers' wives sometimes use for pearlash.
Jan. 2, 1854.... The tints of the sunset sky are never purer and more ethereal than in the coldest winter days. This evening, though the colors are not brilliant, the sky is crystalline, and the pale fawn-tinged clouds are very beautiful. I wish to get on to a hill to look down on the winter landscape. We go about these days as if we were in fetters; we walk in the stocks, stepping into the holes made by our predecessors.... The team and driver have long since gone by, but I see the marks of his whiplash on the snow, its recoil; but, alas these are not a complete tally of the strokes which fell upon the oxen's back. The unmerciful driver thought, perhaps, that no one saw him, but unwittingly he recorded each blow on the unspotted snow behind his back as in a book of life. To more searching eyes the marks of his lash are in the air. I paced partly through the pitch-pine wood, and partly the open field from the turnpike by the Lee place to the railroad from N. to S., more than one fourth of a mile, measuring at every ten paces. The average of sixty-five measurements up hill and down was nineteen inches. This, after increasing those in the woods by one inch (little enough), on account of the snow on the pines.... I think one would have to pace a mile on a N. and S. line, up and down hill, through woods and fields, to get a quite reliable result. The snow will drift sometimes the whole width of a field, and fill a road or valley beyond, so that it would be well your measuring included several such driftings. Very little reliance is to be put on the usual estimates of the depth of snow. I have heard different men set this snow at six, fifteen, eighteen, twenty-four, thirty - six, and forty - eight inches. My snow-shoes sank about four inches into the snow this morning, but more than twice as much the 29th.
On the N. side of the railroad, above the Red House crossing, the train has cut through a drift about one fourth of a mile long, and two to nine feet high, straight up and down. It reminds me of the Highlands, the Pictured Rocks, the side of an iceberg, etc. Now that the sun has just sunk below the horizon, it is wonderful what an amount of soft light it appears to be absorbing. There appears to be more day just here by its side than anywhere else. I can almost see to a depth of six inches into it. It is made translucent, it is so saturated with light.
I have heard of one precious stone found in Concord, the cinnamon stone. A geologist has spoken of it as found in this town, and a farmer described to me one he once found, perhaps the same referred to by the other. He said it was as large as a brick, and as thick, and yet you could distinguish a pin through it, it was so transparent.
Jan. 2, 1855.... Yesterday [skating] we saw the pink light on the snow within a rod of us. The shadows of the bridges, etc., on the snow were a dark indigo blue.
Jan. 2, 1859.... Going up the hill through Stow's young oak wood-land, I listen to the sharp, dry rustle of the withered oak leaves. This is the voice of the wood now. It would be comparatively still and more dreary here in other respects, if it were not for these leaves that hold on. It sounds like the roar of the sea, and is inspiriting like that, suggesting how all the land is sea-coast to the aerial ocean. It is the sound of the surf, the rut, of an unseen ocean, billows of air breaking on the forest, like water on itself or on sand and rocks. It rises and falls, swells and dies away, with agreeable alternation, as the sea surf does. Perhaps the landsmen can foretell a storm by it. It is remarkable how universal these grand murmurs are, these backgrounds of sound, the surf, the wind in the forest, waterfalls, etc., which yet to the ear and in their origin are essentially one voice, the earth voice, the breathing or snoring of the creature. The earth is our ship, and this is the sound of the wind in her rigging as we sail. Just as the inhabitant of Cape Cod hears the surf ever breaking on its shores, so we countrymen hear this kindred surf on the leaves of the forest. Regarded as a voice, though it is not articulate, as our articulate sounds are divided into vowels (though this is nearer a consonant sound), labials, dentals, palatals, sibilants, mutes, aspirates, etc., so this may be called folial or frondal, produced by air driven against the leaves, and comes nearest to our sibilants or aspirates.
Michaux said that white oaks might be distinguished by retaining their leaves in the winter, but as far as my observation goes they cannot be so distinguished. All our large oaks may retain a few leaves at the base of the lower limbs and about the trunk, though only a few, and the white oak scarcely more than the others; while the same trees, when young, are all alike thickly clothed in the winter, but the leaves of the white oak are the most withered and shriveled of them all.
There being some snow on the ground, I can easily distinguish the forest on the mountains (the Peterboro Hills, etc.), and tell which are forested, those parts and those mountains being dark, like a shadow. I cannot distinguish the forest thus far in summer.
When I hear the hypercritical quarreling about grammar and style, the position of the particles, etc., etc., stretching or contracting every speaker to certain rules, Mr. Webster, perhaps, not having spoken according to Mr. Kirkham's rule, I see they forget that the first requisite and rule is that expression shall be vital and natural, as much as the voice of a brute, or an interjection: first of all, mother tongue; and last of all, artificial or father tongue. Essentially, your truest poetic sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb's bleat. The grammarian is often one who can neither cry nor laugh, yet thinks he can express human emotions. So the posture-masters tell you how you shall walk, turning your toes out excessively, perhaps; but so the beautiful walkers are not made....
Minott says that a fox will lead a dog on to the ice in order that he may get in. Tells of Jake Lakin losing a hound so, which went under the ice and was drowned below the Holt.... They used to cross the river there on the ice, going to market formerly.
Jan. 3, 1842. It is pleasant when one can relieve the grossness of the kitchen and the table by the simple beauty of his repast, so that there may be anything in it to attract the eye of the artist, even. I have been popping corn to-night, which is only a more rapid blossoming of the seed under a greater than July heat. The popped corn is a perfect winter flower, hinting of anemones and houstonias.... Here has bloomed for my repast such a delicate flower as will soon spring by the wall sides, and this is as it should be. Why should not Nature revel sometimes, and genially relax, and make herself familiar at my board? I would have my house a bower fit to entertain her. It is a feast of such innocence as might have snowed down; on my warm hearth sprang these cerealian blossoms; here was the bank where they grew. Methinks some such visible token of approval would always accompany the simple and healthy repast, some such smiling or blessing upon it. Our appetite should always be so related to our taste, and our board be an epitome of the primeval table which Nature sets by bill and wood and stream for her dumb pensioners.
Jan. 3, 1852.... A spirit sweeps the string of the telegraph harp, and strains of music are drawn out suddenly, like the wire itself.... What becomes of the story of a tortoise shell on the seashore now? The world is young, and music is its infant voice. I do not despair of a world where you have only to stretch an ordinary wire from tree to tree to hear such strains drawn from it by New England breezes as make Greece and all antiquity seem poor in melody. Why was man so made as to be thrilled to his inmost being by the vibrating of a wire? Are not inspiration and ecstasy a more rapid vibration of the nerves swept by the inrushing excited spirit, whether zephyral or boreal in its character?
Jan. 3, 1853.... I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. Here a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself. I should lose all hope. He is constraint; she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world; she makes me content with this. None of the joys she supplies is subject to his rules and definitions. What he touches he taints. In thought he moralizes. One would think that no free, joyful labor was possible to him. How infinite and pure the least pleasure of which nature is basis compared with the congratulation of mankind! The joy which nature yields is like that afforded by the frank words of one we love.Man, man is the devil,
The source of all evil.
Methinks these prosers, with their saws and their laws, do not know how glad a man can be. What wisdom, what warning, can prevail against gladness? There is no law so strong which a little gladness may not transgress. I have a room all to myself. It is nature. It is a place beyond the jurisdiction of human governments. Pile up your books, the records of sadness, your saws and your laws, Nature is glad outside, and her many worms within will erelong topple them down.... Nature is a prairie for outlaws. There are two worlds, the post-office and nature. I know them both. I continually forget mankind and their institutions, as I do a bank.
Jan. 3, 1856. It is astonishing how far a merely well-dressed and good looking man may go without being challenged by a sentinel. What is called good society will bid high for such.
The man whom the state has raised to high office, like that of governor, for instance, from some, it may be, honest but less respected calling, cannot return to his former humble but profitable pursuits, his old customers will be so shy of him. His ex-honorableness stands seriously in his way, whether he be a lawyer or a shopkeeper. He can't get ex-honorated. So he becomes a sort of state pauper, an object of charity on its hands, which the state is bound in honor to see through and provide with offices of similar respectability, that he may not come to want. The man who has been president becomes the ex-president, and can't travel or stay at home anywhere, but men will persist in paying respect to his ex-ship. It is cruel to remember his deeds so long. When his time is out, why can't they let the poor fellow go?
Jan. 3, 1861. Why should the ornamental tree society confine its labors to the highway only? An Englishman laying out his ground does not regard simply the avenues and walks. Does not the landscape deserve attention? What are the natural features which make a township handsome? A river, with its waterfalls and meadows, a lake, a hill, a cliff or individual rocks, a forest, and ancient trees standing singly. Such things are beautiful; they have a high use which dollars and cents never represent. If the inhabitants of a town were wise, they would seek to preserve these things, though at a considerable expense; for such things educate far more than any hired teachers, preachers, or any system of school education at present organized. Far the handsomest thing I saw in Boxboro was its noble oak wood. I doubt if there is a finer one in Massachusetts. Let the town keep it a century longer, and men will make pilgrimages to it from all parts of the country. And yet it would be very like the rest of New England if Boxboro were ashamed of that wood-land. I have since learned, however, that she is contented to let that forest stand, instead of the houses and farms that might supplant it, because the land pays a much larger tax to the town now than it would then. I said to myself, if the history of the town is written, the chief stress is probably laid on its parish, and there is not one word about the forest in it. It would be worth while if in each town a committee were appointed to see that the beauty of the town received no detriment. If we have the biggest bowlder in the country, then it should not belong to an individual, nor be made into a door-step. As in many countries precious metals belong to the crown, so here more precious natural objects of rare beauty should belong to the public. Not only the channel, but both banks of every river should be a public highway. It is not the only use of a river, to float on it. Think of a mountain top in the township, even to the minds of the Indians a sacred place, only accessible through private grounds, a temple, as it were, which you cannot enter except at the risk of letting out or letting in somebody's cattle, in fact the temple itself in this case private property, and standing in a man's cow-yard. New Hampshire courts have lately been deciding, as if it were for them to decide, whether the top of Mt. Washington belonged to A. or to B., and it being decided in favor of B., as I hear, he went up one winter with the proper officers and took formal possession. But I think that the top of Mt. Washington should not be private property; it should be but an opportunity for modesty and reverence, or if only to suggest that earth has higher uses than we commonly put her to....
Thus we behave like oxen in a flower garden. The true fruit of nature can only be plucked with a delicate hand not bribed by any earthly reward, and a fluttering heart. No hired man can help us to gather this crop. How few ever get beyond feeding, clothing, sheltering, and warming themselves in this world, and begin to treat themselves as intellectual and moral beings.... Most men, it seems to me, do not care for Nature, and would sell their share in all her beauty, as long as they may live, for a stated sum. Thank God, men cannot as yet fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth. We are safe on that side for the present. We cut down the few old oaks which witnessed the transfer of the township from the Indian to the white man, and commence our museum with a cartridge-box taken from a British soldier in 1775.
Jan. 4, 1841. I know a woman who is as true to me, and as incessant with her mild rebuke as the blue sky. When I stand under her cope, instantly all pretension drops off, and I am swept by an influence as by a wind and rain which remove all taint. I am fortunate that I can pass and repass before her each day, and prove my strength in her glances. She is far truer to me than to herself. Her eyes are like the windows of nature, through which I catch glimpses of the native land of the soul.. From them comes a light which is not of the sun. His rays are in eclipse when they shine on me.
Jan. 4, 1850. The longest silence is the most pertinent question most pertinently put. Emphatically silent. The most important questions, whose answers concern us more than any others, are never put in any other way.
It is difficult for two strangers, mutually well disposed, so truly to bear themselves toward each other that a feeling of falseness and hollowness shall not soon spring up between them. The least anxiety to behave truly, vitiates the relation.
Jan. 4, 1853. To what I will call Yellow Birch Swamp, E. Hubbard's, in the north part of the town,... west of the Hunt pasture. There are more of these trees in it than anywhere else in the town that I know. How pleasing to stand near a new or rare tree; and few are so handsome as this; singularly allied to the black birch in its sweet checkerberry scent and its form, and to the canoe birch in its peel-big or fringed and tasseled bark. The top is brush-like as in the black birch. The bark an exquisite... delicate gold color, curled off partly from the trunk with vertical clear or smooth spaces, as if a plane had been passed up the tree. The sight of these trees affects me more than California gold. I measured one five and two twelfths feet in circumference at six feet from the ground. We have the silver and the golden birch. This is like a fair, flaxen-haired sister of the dark-complexioned black birch, with golden ringlets. How lustily it takes hold of the swampy soil and braces itself. And here flows a dark cherry-wood or wine-colored brook over the iron-red sands in the sombre swamp, swampy wine. In an undress, this tree. Ah, the time will come when these will be all gone. Among the primitive trees. What sort of dryads haunt these? Blonde nymphs. Near by, the great pasture oaks with horizontal boughs. At Pratt's, the stupendous boughy branching elm, like vast thunderbolts stereotyped upon the sky, heaven-defying, sending back dark, vegetable bolts, as if flowing back in the channel of the lightning. The white oaks have a few leaves about the crown of the trunk, in the lower part of the tree, like a tree within a tree. The tree is thus less wracked by the wind and ice. In the twilight I went through the swamp, and the yellow birches sent forth a yellow gleam which each time made my heart beat faster. Occasionally you come to a dead and leaning white birch, beset with large fungi like ears or little shelves, with a rounded edge above. I walked with the yellow birch. The prinos is green within. If there were Druids whose temples were the oak groves, my temple is the swamp. Sometimes I was in doubt about a birch whose vest was buttoned, smooth and dark, till I came nearer and saw the yellow gleaming through, or where a button was off.
Jan. 4, 1857.... After spending four or five days surveying and drawing a plan, incessantly, I especially feel the need of putting myself in communication with nature again to recover my tone, to withdraw out of the wearying and unprofitable world of affairs. The things I have been doing have but a fleeting and accidental importance, however much men are immersed in them, and yield very little valuable fruit. I would fain have been wading through the woods and fields, and conversing with the sane snow. Having waded in the very shallowest stream of time, I would now bathe my temples in eternity. I wish again to participate in the serenity of nature, to share the happiness of the river and the woods. I thus from time to time break off my connection with eternal truths, and go with the shallow stream of human affairs, grinding at the mill of the Philistines. But when my task is done, with never-failing confidence, I devote myself to the infinite again. It would be sweet to deal with men more, I can imagine, but where dwell they? Not in the fields which I traverse.
Jan. 4, 1858.... That bright and warm reflection of sunlight from the insignificant edging of stubble was remarkable. I was coming down stream over the meadow on the ice, within four or five rods of the eastern shore, the sun on my left about a quarter of an hour above the horizon. The ice was soft and sodden, of a dull lead color, quite dark and reflecting no light, as I looked eastward, but my eyes caught, by accident, a singular, sunny brightness, reflected from the narrow border of stubble only three or four inches high, and as many feet wide perhaps, which rose along the edge of the ice at the foot of the hill. It was not a mere brightening of the bleached stubble, but the warm and yellow light of the sun, which, as appeared, it was peculiarly fitted to reflect. It was that amber light from the west which we sometimes witness after a storm, concentrated on the stubble, for the hill beyond was merely a dark russet, spotted with snow. All the yellow rays seemed to be reflected by this insignificant stubble alone, and when I looked more generally a little above it, seeing it with the under part of my eye,... the reflected light made its due impression... separated from the proper color of the stubble, and it glowed almost like a low, steady, and serene fire. It was precisely as if the sunlight had mechanically slid over the ice, and lodged against the stubble. It will be enough to say of something warmly and sunnily bright, that it glowed like lit stubble. It was remarkable that looking eastward this was the only evidence of the light in the west.
Jan. 5, 1841. I grudge to the record that lavish expenditure of love and grace which are due rather to the spoken thought. A man writes because he has no opportunity to speak. Why should he be the only mute creature, and his speech no part of the melody of the grove? He never gladdens the ear of nature, and ushers in no spring with his lays. We are more anxious to speak than to be heard.
Jan. 5, 1842. I find that, whatever hindrances occur, I write just about the same amount of truth in my journal, for the record is more concentrated, and usually it is some very real and earnest life that interrupts. All flourishes are omitted. If I saw wood from morning to night, though I grieve that I could not observe the train of my thoughts during that time, yet in the evening, the few scrawled lines which describe my day's occupation will make the creaking of the saw more musical than my freest fancies could have been....
I discover in Raleigh's verses the vices of the courtier. They are not equally sustained, as if his noble genius were warped by the frivolous society of the court. He was capable of rising to a remarkable elevation. His poetry has for the most part a heroic tone and vigor, as of a knight errant. But again there seems to have been somewhat unkindly in his education, as if he had by no means grown up to be the man he promised. He was apparently too genial and loyal a soul, or rather he was incapable of resisting temptation from that quarter. If to his genius and culture he could have added the temperament of Fox or Cromwell, the world would have had cause longer to remember him.... One would have said it was by some lucky fate that he and Shakespeare flourished at the same time in England, and yet what do we know of their acquaintanceship?
Jan. 5, 1852. To-day the trees are white with snow, I mean their stems and branches, and have the true wintry look on the storm side. Not till this has winter come to the forest. It looks like the small frost-work in the path and on the windows now, especially the oak woods at a distance, and you see better the form which the branches take. That is a picture of winter; and now you may put a cottage under the trees and roof it with snow-drifts, and let the smoke curl up amid the boughs in the morning.
It was a dark day, the heavens shut out with dense snow clouds, and the trees wetting me with the melting snow, when going through B 's wood on Fair Haven, which they are cutting off, and suddenly looking between the stems of the trees, I thought I saw an extensive fire in the western horizon. It was a bright, coppery yellow fair weather cloud along the edge of the horizon, gold with some alloy of copper, in such contrast with the remaining clouds as to suggest nothing less than fire. On that side, the clouds which covered our day, low in the horizon, with a dim and smoke-like edge, were rolled up like a curtain with heavy folds, revealing this further bright curtain beyond.
Jan. 5, 1854.... This afternoon, as probably yesterday, it being warm and thawing, though fair, the snow is covered with snow fleas. Especially they are sprinkled like pepper for half a mile in the tracks of a wood-chopper in deep snow. With the first thawing weather they come. There is also some blueness now in the snow, the heavens being toward night overcast. The blueness is more distinct after sunset.
Jan. 5, 1855. [Worcester.] A. M. Walked to southerly end of Quinsigamond Pond via Quinsigamond Village, and returned by floating bridge. Saw the straw-built wigwam of an Indian from St. Louis (Rapids?), Canada, apparently a half-breed. Not being able to buy straw, he had made it chiefly of dry grass which he had cut in a meadow with his knife. It was against a bank, and partly of earth all round. The straw or grass laid on horizontal poles, and kept down by similar ones outside, like our thatching. Makes them of straw often in Canada, can make one, if he has the straw, in one day. The door, on hinges, was of straw also, put on perpendicularly, pointed at top to fit the roof. The roof steep, six or eight inches thick. He was making baskets, wholly of sugar maple; could find no black ash. Sewed or bound the edge with maple also. Did not look up once while we were there. There was a fire-place of stone running out on one side, and covered with earth. It was the nest of a large meadow mouse. Had he ever hunted moose? When he was down at Green Island. Where was that? Oh, far down, very far; caught seals there. No books down that way....
R. W. E. told of Mr. Hill, his classmate, of Bangor, who was much interested in my "Walden," but relished it merely as a capital satire and joke, and even thought that the survey and map of the pond were not real, but a caricature of the Coast Survey.
Jan. 5, 1856.... The thin snow now driving from the north and lodging on my coat consists of those beautiful star crystals, not cottony and chubby spokes as on the 13th of December, but thin and partly transparent crystals. They are about one tenth of an inch in diameter, perfect little wheels with six spokes, without a tire, or rather with six perfect little leaflets, fern-like, with a distinct, straight, slender, midrib, raying from the centre. On each side of each midrib there is a transparent, thin blade with a crenate edge. How full of the creative genius is the air in which these are generated! I should hardly admire more, if real stars fell and lodged on my coat. Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity, so that not a snow-flake escapes its fashioning hand. Nothing is cheap and coarse, neither dew-drops nor snow-flakes. Soon the storm increases (it was already very severe to face), and the snow comes finer, more white and powdery. Who knows but this is the original form of all snow-flakes, but that, when I observe these crystal stars falling around me, they are only just generated in the low mist next the earth. I am nearer to the source of the snow, its primal, auroral, and golden hour or infancy; commonly the flakes reach us travel-worn and agglomerated, comparatively without order or beauty, far down in their fall, like men in their advanced age. As for the circumstances under which this phenomenon occurs, it is quite cold, and the driving storm is bitter to face, though very little snow is falling. It comes almost horizontally from the north.... A divinity must have stirred within them, before the crystals did thus shoot and set. Wheels of the storm chariots. The same law that shapes the earth and the stars shapes the snow-flake. Call it rather snow star. As surely as the petals of a flower are numbered, each of these countless snow stars comes whirling to earth, pronouncing thus with emphasis the number six, order, χοσμοϛ. This was the beginning of a storm which reached far and wide, and elsewhere was more severe than here. On the Saskatchewan, where no man of science is present to behold, still down they come, and not the less fulfill their destiny, perchance melt at once on the Indian's face. What a world we live in, where myriads of these little disks, so beautiful to the most prying eye, are whirled down on every traveler's coat, the observant and the unobservant, on the restless squirrel's fur, on the far-stretching fields and forests, the wooded dells and the mountain tops. Far, far away from the haunts of men, they roll down some little slope, fall over and come to their bearings, and melt or lose their beauty in the mass, ready anon to swell some little rill with their contribution, and so, at last, the universal ocean from which they came. There they lie, like the wreck of chariot wheels after a battle in the skies. Meanwhile the meadow mouse shoves them aside in his gallery, the school - boy casts them in his snow-ball, or the woodman's sled glides smoothly over them, these glorious spangles, the sweepings of heaven's floor. And they all sing, melting as they sing, of the mysteries of the number six; six, six, six. He takes up the waters of the sea in his hand, leaving the salt; he disperses it in mist through the skies; he re-collects and sprinkles it like grain in six-rayed snowy stars over the earth, there to lie till he dissolves its bonds again.
Jan. 5, 1859. As I go over the causeway near the railroad bridge, I hear a fine, busy twitter, and looking up, see a nuthatch bopping along and about a swamp white oak branch, inspecting every side of it, as readily hanging head downwards as standing upright, and then it utters a distinct quah, as if to attract a companion. Indeed, that other finer twitter seemed designed to keep some companion in tow, or else it was like a very busy man talking to himself. The companion was a single chickadee, which lisped six or eight feet off. There were perhaps no other birds than these within a quarter of a mile. When the nuthatch flitted to another tree two rods off, the chickadee unfailingly followed.
Jan. 5, 1860.... A man receives only what he is ready to receive, whether physically, or intellectually, or morally, as animals conceive their kind at certain seasons only. We hear and apprehend only what we already half know. If there is something which does not concern me, which is out of my line, which by experience or by genius my attention is not drawn to, however novel and remarkable it may be, if it is spoken, I hear it not, if it is written, I read it not, or if I read it, it does not detain me. Every man thus tracks himself through life, in all his hearing and reading and observation and traveling. His observations make a chain. The phenomenon or fact that cannot in any wise be linked with the rest which he has observed, he does not observe. By and by we may be ready to receive what we cannot receive now. I find, for example, in Aristotle something about the spawning, etc., of the pout and perch, because I know something about it already, and have my attention aroused, but I do not discover till very late that he has made other equally important observations on the spawning of other fishes, because I am not interested in those fishes.
Jan. 6, 1838. As a child looks forward to the coming of the summer, so could we contemplate with quiet joy the circle of the seasons returning without fail eternally. As the spring came round during so many years of the gods, we could go out to admire and adorn anew our Eden, and yet never tire.
Jan. 6, 1841. We are apt to imagine that this hubbub of Philosophy, Literature, and Religion, which is heard in pulpits, lyceums, and parlors, vibrates through the universe, and is as catholic a sound as the creaking of the earth's axle. But if a man sleeps soundly, he will forget it all between sunset and dawn. It is the three-inch swing of some pendulum in a cupboard, which the great pulse of Nature vibrates clearly through each instant. When we lift our lids and open our ears, it disappears with smoke and rattle, like the cars on the railroad.
Jan. 6, 1857.... A man asked me the other night whether such and such persons were not as happy as anybody, being conscious, as I perceived, of much unhappiness himself and not aspiring to much more than an animal content. Why, said I, speaking to his condition, the stones are happy, Concord River is happy, and I am happy too. When I took up a fragment of a walnut shell this morning, I saw by its grain and composition, its form and color, etc., that it was made for happiness. The most brutish and inanimate objects that are made suggest an everlasting and thorough satisfaction. They are the homes of content. Wood, earth, mould, etc., exist for joy. Do you think that Concord River would have continued to flow these millions of years by Clamshell Hill, and round Hunt's Island, if it had not been happy, if it had been miserable in its channel, tired of existence, and cursing its maker and the hour when it sprang.
Jan. 6, 1858.... I derive a certain excitement not to be refused even from going through Dennis's swamp on the opposite side of the railroad, where the poison dogwood abounds. This simple-stemmed bush is very full of fruit, hanging in loose, dry, pale green, drooping panicles. Some of them are a foot long. It impresses me as the most fruitful shrub thereabouts. I cannot refrain from plucking it, and bringing home some fruitful sprigs. Other fruits are there which belong to the hard season, the enduring panicled andromeda, and a few partly decayed prinos berries. I walk amid the bare midribs of cinnamon ferns, with at most a terminal leafet, and here and there I see a little dark water at the bottom of a dimple in the snow over which the snow has not yet been able to prevail. I was feeling very cheap, nevertheless, reduced to make the most of my dogwood berries. Very little evidence of the divine did I see just then, and life was not as rich and inviting an enterprise as it should be, when my attention was caught by a snow-flake on my coat sleeve. It was one of those perfect, crystalline, star-shaped ones, six rayed, like a flat wheel with six spokes, only the spokes were perfect little pine trees in shape, arranged around a central spangle. This little object which, with many of its fellows, rested unmelting on my coat, so perfect and beautiful, reminded me that virtue had not lost her pristine vigor yet, and why should man lose heart? Sometimes the pines were worn, and had lost their branches, and again it appeared as if several stars had impinged on one another at various angles, making a somewhat spherical mass.... There were mingled with these starry flakes small downy pellets also.... We are rained and snowed on with gems. I confess that I was a little encouraged, for I was beginning to believe that Nature was poor and mean, and I was now convinced that she turned off as good work as ever. What a world we live in! Where are the jewelers' shops? There is nothing handsomer than a snow-flake and a dew-drop. I may say that the maker of the world exhausts his skill with each snow-flake and dew-drop that he sends down. We think that the one mechanically coheres, and that the other simply flows together and falls, but in truth they are the product of enthusiasm, the children of an ecstasy, finished with the artist's utmost skill.
Jan. 6, 1859. P. M. To Martial Miles's.... Miles had hanging in his barn a little owl, Strix Acadica, which he caught alive with his hands about a week ago. He had induced it to eat, but it died. It was a funny little brown bird, spotted with white, seven and one half inches long to the end of the tail, or eight to the end of the claws, and nineteen in alar extent, not so long by a considerable as a robin, though much stouter. This one had three (not two, and Nuttall says three) white bars on its tail, but no noticeable white at the tip. Its cunning feet were feathered quite to the extremity of the toes, looking like whitish mice, or as when one pulls stockings over his boots. As usual, the white spots on the upper sides of the wings are smaller and a more distinct white, while those beneath are much larger, but a subdued, satiny white. Even a bird's wing has an upper and an under side, and the last admits only of more subdued and tender colors.
Jan. 7, 1851.... The knowledge of an unlearned man is living and luxuriant like a forest, but covered with' mosses and lichens, and for the most part inaccessible and going to waste; the knowledge of the man of science is like timber collected in yards for public works, which still supports a green sprout here and there, but even this is liable to dry rot.
I felt my spirits rise when I had got out of the road into the open fields, and the sky had a new appearance. I stepped along more buoyantly. There was a warm sunset in the wooded valleys, a yellowish tinge on the pines. Reddish dun-colored clouds, like dusky flames, stood over it, and then streaks of blue sky were seen here and there. The life, the joy that is in blue sky after a storm. There is no account. of the blue sky in history. Before, I walked in the ruts of travel, now I adventured....
If I have any conversation with a scamp in my walk, my afternoon is wont to be spoiled.
Jan. 7, 1852.... Now... I see the sun descending into the west. There is something new, a snow bow in the east, on the snow clouds, merely a white bow, hardly any color distinguishable. But in the west what inconceivable crystalline purity of blue sky,... and I see feathery clouds on this ground, some traveling north, others directly in the opposite direction, though apparently close together. Some of these cloudlets are waifs and droppings from rainbows, clear rainbow through and through, spun out of the fibre of the rainbow, or rather as if the children of the west bad been pulling rainbow (instead of tow), that had done service, old junk of rainbow, and cast it into flocks. And then such fantastic, feathery scrawls of gauze-like vapor on this elysian ground! We never tire of the drama of sunset. I go forth each afternoon and look into the west a quarter of an hour before sunset with fresh curiosity to see what new picture will be painted there, what new phenomenon exhibited, what new dissolving views.... Every day a new picture is painted and framed, held up for half an hour in such lights as the great artist chooses, and then withdrawn and the curtain falls. The sun goes down, long the after-glow gives light, the damask curtains glow along the western window, the first star is lit, and I go home.
Jan. 7, 1853. To Nawshawtuck. This is one of those pleasant winter mornings when you find the river firmly frozen in the night, but still the air is serene and the sun feels gratefully warm an hour after sunrise. Though so fair,... a whitish vapor fills the lower stratum of the air concealing the mountains. The smokes go up from the village, you hear the cocks with immortal vigor, the children shout on their way to school, and the sound made by the railroad men hammering a rail is uncommonly musical. This promises a perfect winter day. In the heavens, except the altitude of the sun, you have, as it were, the conditions of summer, perfect serenity and clarity, and sonorousness in the earth. All nature is but braced by the cold. It gives tension to both body and mind...
About ten minutes before 10 A. M. I heard a very loud sound, and felt a violent jar which made the house rock and the loose articles on my table rattle. I knew it must be either a powder mill blown up or an earthquake. Not knowing but another and more violent shock might take place, I immediately ran down-stairs. I saw from the door a vast expanding column of whitish smoke rising in the west directly over the powder mills four miles distant. It was unfolding its volumes above, which made it wider there. In three or four minutes it had all risen and spread itself into a lengthening, somewhat copper-colored cloud, parallel with the horizon from N. to S., and in about ten minutes after the explosion, it passed over my head, being several miles long from N. to S., and distinctly dark and smoky toward the N., not nearly so high as the few cirrhi in the sky. Jumped into a man's wagon and rode toward the mills. In a few moments more, I saw behind me, far in the E., a faint, salmon-colored cloud carrying the news of the explosion to the sea, and perchance over the head of the absent proprietor. Arrived probably before half-past ten. There were perhaps thirty or forty wagons there. The kernel mill had blown up first, and killed three men who were in it, said to be turning a roller with a chisel. In three seconds after, one of the mixing houses exploded. The kernel house was swept away, and fragments, mostly but a foot or two in length, were strewn over the hills and meadows for thirty rods. The slight snow on the ground was for the most part melted around. The mixing house about ten rods W. was not so completely dispersed, for most of the machinery remained a total wreck. The press house about twelve rods E. had two thirds of its boards off, and a mixing house next westward from that which blew up had lost some boards on the E. side. The boards fell out (i. e., of those buildings which did not blow up), the air within apparently rushing out to fill up the vacuum occasioned by the explosions. So the powder being bared to the fiery particles in the air, the building explodes. The powder on the floor of the bared press house was six inches deep in some places, and the crowd were thoughtlessly going into it. A. few windows were broken thirty or forty rods off. Timber six inches square and eighteen feet long was thrown a dozen rods over a hill eighty feet high at least. Thirty rods was about the limit of fragments. The drying house, in which was a fire, was perhaps twenty-five rods distant and escaped.... Some of the clothes of the men were in the tops of the trees where undoubtedly their bodies had been and left them.... Put the different buildings thirty rods apart, and then but one will blow up at a time.
Jan. 7, 1854. P. M. To Ministerial Swamp.... I went to these woods partly to bear an owl, but did not. Now that I have left them nearly a mile behind, I hear one distinctly, hoorer hoo. Strange that we should hear this sound so often, yet so rarely see the bird, oftenest at twilight. It has a singular prominence as a sound.... It is a sound which the wood or the horizon makes.
Jan. 7, 1855.... Cloudy and misty. On opening the door I feel a very warm southwesterly wind contrasting with the cooler air of the house, and find it unexpectedly wet in the street.
It is in fact a January thaw. The channel of the river is quite open in many places, and in others I remark that the ice and water alternate like waves and the hollow between them. There are long reaches of open water where I look for muskrats and ducks as I go along to Clamshell Hill. I hear the pleasant sound of running water.... The delicious, soft, spring-suggesting air, how it fills my veins with life. Life becomes again credible to me. A certain dormant life awakes in me, and I begin to love nature again. Here is my Italy, my heaven, my New England. I understand why the Indians hereabouts placed heaven in the S. W. The soft south. On the slopes, the ground is laid bare, and radical leaves revealed, crowfoot, shepherd's purse, clover, etc., a fresh green, and, in the meadow, the skunk-cabbage buds with a bluish bloom, and the red leaves of the meadow saxifrage. These and the many withered plants laid bare remind me of spring and of botany. On the same bare sand is revealed a new crop of arrow heads. I pick up two perfect ones of quartz, sharp as if just from the hand of the maker. Still, birds are very rare. Here comes a little flock of titmice plainly to keep me company, with their black caps and throats making them look top-heavy, restlessly hopping along the alders with a sharp, clear, lisping note.
... The bank is tinged with a most delicate pink or bright flesh color where the beomyces rosaceus grows. It is a lichen day.... The sky seen here and there through the wrack, bluish and greenish, and perchance with a vein of red in the W., seems like the inside of a shell, deserted of its tenant, into which I have crawled. The willow catkins began to peep from under their scales as early as the 26th of last month. Many buds have last their scales.
Jan. 7, 1857. P. M. To Walden.... It is bitter cold, with a cutting N. W. wind. The pond is now a plain snow field, but there are no tracks of fishers on it. It is too cold for them.... All animate things are reduced to their lowest terms. This is the fifth day of cold, blowing weather. All tracks are concealed in an hour or two. Some have to make their paths two or three times a day. The fisherman is not here, for his lines would freeze in. I go through the woods toward the cliffs along the side of the Well Meadow field. There is nothing so sanative, so poetic, as a walk in the woods and fields even now, when I meet none abroad for pleasure. Nothing so inspires me, and excites such serene and profitable thought. The objects are elevating. In the street and in society I am almost invariably cheap and dissipated, my life is unspeakably mean. No amount of gold or respectability could in the least redeem it, dining with the governor or a member of Congress!! But alone in distant woods or fields, in unpretending sproutlands or pastures tracked by rabbits, even in a bleak and, to most, cheerless day like this, when a villager would be thinking of his inn, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related. This cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by church - going and prayer. I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home. I thus dispose of the superfluous, and see things as they are, grand and beautiful. I have told many that I walk every day about half the daylight, but I think they do not believe it. I wish to get the Concord, the Massachusetts, the American, out of my head and be sane a part of every day. I wish to forget a considerable part of every day, all mean, narrow, trivial men (and this requires usually to forego and forget all personal relations so long), and therefore I come out to these solitudes where the problem of existence is simplified. I get away a mile or two from the town, into the stillness and solitude of nature, with rocks, trees, weeds, snow about me. I enter some glade in the woods, perchance, where a few weeds and dry leaves alone lift themselves above the surface of the snow, and it is as if I had come to an open window. I see out and around myself. Our sky-lights are thus far away from the ordinary resorts of men. I am not satisfied with ordinary windows. I must have a true sky-light, and that is outside the village. I am not thus expanded, recreated, enlightened when I meet a company of men. It chances that the sociable, the town and country club, the farmers' club does not prove a sky-light to me.... The man I meet with is not often so instructive as the silence he breaks. This stillness, solitude, wildness of nature is a Bind of thoroughwort or boneset to my intellect. This is what I go out to seek. It is as if I always met in those places some grand, serene, immortal, infinitely encouraging, though invisible companion, and walked with him. There at last my nerves are steadied, my senses and my mind do their office. I am aware that most of my neighbors would think it a hardship to be compelled to linger here one hour, especially this bleak day, and yet I receive this sweet and ineffable compensation for it. It is the most agreeable thing I do. I love and celebrate nature even in detail, because I love the scenery of these interviews and translations. I love to remember every creature that was at this club. I thus get off a certain social scurf.... I do not consider the other animals brutes in the common sense. I am attracted toward them undoubtedly because I never heard any nonsense from them. I have not convicted them of folly, or vanity, or pomposity, or stupidity in dealing with me. Their vices, at any rate, do not interfere with me. My fairies invariably take to flight when a man appears upon the scene. In a caucus, a meeting-house, a lyceum, a club-room there is nothing like this fine experience for me. But away out of the town, on Brown's scrub oak lot, which was sold the other day for six dollars an acre, I have company such as England cannot buy nor afford. This society is what I live, what I survey for. I subscribe generously to this all that I have and am. There in that Well Meadow field, perhaps, I feel in my element again, as when a fish is put back into the water. I wash off all my chagrins. All things go smoothly as the axle of the universe.
I can remember that when I was very young I used to have a dream night after night, over and over again, which might have been named Rough and Smooth. All existence, all satisfaction and dissatisfaction, all events was symbolized in this way. Now I seemed to be lying and tossing, perchance, on a horrible, a fatal rough surface, which must soon indeed put an end to my existence (though even in my dream I knew it to be the symbol merely of my misery), and then again, suddenly, I was lying on a delicious smooth surface, as of a summer sea, as of gossamer or down, or softest plush, and it was a luxury to live. My waking experience always has been and is an alternate Rough and Smooth. In other words it is Insanity and Sanity.
Might I aspire to praise the moderate nymph Nature, I must be like her, moderate.
Jan. 7, 1858. The storm is over, and it is one of those beautiful winter mornings when a vapor is seen hanging in the air between the village and the woods. Though the snow is only six inches deep, the yards appear full of those beautiful crystals, star or wheel shaped flakes, as a measure is full of grain.... By ten o'clock I notice a very long, level stratum of cloud not very high in the S. E. sky (all the rest being clear), which I suspect to be the vapor from the sea. This lasts for several hours.
These are true mornings of creation, original and poetic days, not mere repetitions of the past. There is no lingering of yesterday's fogs, only such a mist as might have adorned the first morning.
P. M. I see some tree sparrows feeding on the fine grass seed above the snow. They are flitting along one at a time, commonly sunk in the snow, uttering occasionally a low, sweet warble, and seemingly as happy there, and with this wintry prospect before them for the night and several months to come, as any man by his fireside. One occasionally hops or flies toward another, and the latter suddenly jerks away from him. They are searching or hopping up to the fine grass, or oftener picking the seeds from the snow. At length the whole ten have collected within a space a dozen feet square, but soon after, being alarmed, they utter a different and less musical chirp, and flit away into an apple-tree.
Jan. 8, 1842. When, as now, in January a south wind melts the snow, and the bare ground appears covered with sere grass and occasionally wilted green leaves, which seem in doubt whether to let go their greenness quite or absorb new juices against the coming year, in such a season a perfume seems to exhale from the earth itself, and the south wind melts my integuments also. Then is she my mother earth. I derive a real vigor from the scent of the gale wafted over the naked ground, as from strong meats, and realize again how man is the pensioner of nature. We are always conciliated and cheered when we are fed by an influence, and our needs are felt to be part of the domestic economy of nature.
What offends me most in my compositions is the moral element in them. The repentant say never a brave word. Their resolves should be mumbled in silence. Strictly speaking, morality is not healthy. The undeserved joys which come uncalled, and make us more pleased than grateful, are they that sing.
In the steadiness and equanimity of music lies its divinity. It is the only assured tone. When men attain to speak with as settled a faith, and as firm assurance, their voices will ring and their feet march as do the feet of a soldier. The very dogs howl if time is disregarded. Because of the perfect time of this music-box, its harmony with itself, is its greater dignity and stateliness. This music is more nobly related for its more exact measure. So simple a difference as this more even pace raises it to the higher dignity.... What are ears, what is time, that this particular series of sounds called a strain of music can be wafted down through the centuries from Homer to me, and Homer have been conversant with that same wandering and mysterious charm which never had a local habitation in space.... I feel a sad cheer when I hear these lofty strains, because there must be something in me as lofty that hears. Ah, I hear them but rarely.... They tell me the secrets of futurity. Where are its secrets wound up but in this box? So much hope had slumbered. There are in music such strains as far surpass any faith which man ever had in the loftiness of his destiny. He must be very sad before he can comprehend them. The clear liquid notes from the morning fields beyond seem to come through a vale of sadness to man which gives to all music a plaintive air. The sadness is in the echo which our lives make and which alone we hear. Music hath caught a higher pace than any virtue that I know. It is the arch reformer. It hastens the sun to his setting. It invites him to his rising. It is the sweetest reproach, a measured satire. I know there is somewhere a people where this heroism has place. Things are to be learned which it will be sweet to learn. This cannot be all rumor. When I hear this, I think of that everlasting something which is not mere sound, but is to be a thrilling reality, and I can consent to go about the meanest work for as many years of time as it pleases the Hindoo penance, for a year of the gods were as nothing to that which shall come after. What, then, can I do to hasten that other time, or that space where there shall be no time, and where these things shall be a more living part of my life, where there will be no discords in my life?
Jan. 8, 1851.... The light of the setting sun falling on the snow banks to-day made them glow almost yellow. The hills seen from Fair Haven Pond make a wholly new landscape.
Covered with snow and yellowish green or brown pines, and shrub oaks, they look higher and more massive. Their white mantle relates them to the clouds in the horizon and to the sky. Perhaps what is light-colored looks loftier than what is dark.
Jan. 8, 1852.... Even as early as 3 o'clock these winter afternoons the axes in the woods sound like night - fall, as if it were the sound of a twilight labor.
Reading from my MSS. to Miss Emerson this evening and using the word god, in one instance, in perchance a merely heathenish sense, she inquired hastily in a tone of dignified anxiety, "Is that god spelt with a little g?" Fortunately it was. (I had brought in the word god without any solemnity of voice or connection., So I went on as if nothing had happened.
Jan. 8, 1854.... Stood within a rod of a downy woodpecker on an apple-tree. How curious and exciting the blood-red spot on its hind head! I ask why it is. there, but no answer is rendered by these snow-clad fields. It is so close to the bark I do not see its feet. It looks behind as it had a black cassock open behind and showing a white under-garment between the shoulders and down the back. It is briskly and incessantly tapping all round the dead limbs, but hardly twice in a place, as if to sound the tree, and so see if it has any worm in it, or perchance to start them. How much he deals with the bark of trees, all his life long tapping and inspecting it. He it is that scatters these fragments of bark and lichens about on the snow at the base of trees. What a lichenest he must be! or rather perhaps it is fungi make his favorite study, for he deals most with dead limbs. How briskly he glides up or drops himself down a limb, creeping round and round, and hopping from limb to limb, and now flitting with a rippling sound of his wings to another tree.
Jan. 8, 1857.... I picked up on the bare ice of the river... a furry caterpillar, black at the two ends and red-brown in the middle, Polled into a ball or close ring, like a woodchuck. I pressed it hard between my fingers and found it frozen, put it into my hat, and when I took it out in the evening, it soon began to stir, and at length crawled about, though a portion of it seemed not quite flexible. It took some time for it to thaw. This is the fifth cold day, and it must have been frozen so long.
Jan. 8, 1860.... To-day it is very warm and pleasant. 2 P. M. Walk to Walden.... After December all weather that is not wintry is spring -like. How changed are our feelings and thoughts by this more genial sky! When I get to the railroad, I listen from time to time to hear some sound out of the distance which will express the mood of nature. The cock and the hen, that pheasant which we have domesticated, are perhaps the most sensitive among domestic animals to atmospheric changes. You cannot listen a moment such a day as this, but you will hear from far or near the clarion of the cock celebrating this new season, yielding to the influence of the south wind, or the drawling note of the hen dreaming of eggs that are to be. These are the sounds that fill the air, and no hum of insects. They are affected like voyagers approaching the land. We discover a new world every time we see the earth again, after it has been covered for a season with snow.
Jan. 8, 1861.... The Indians taught us not only the use of corn and how to' plant it, but also of whortleberries and how to dry them for winter, and made us baskets to put them in. We should have hesitated long to eat some kinds of berries, if they had not set us the example, having learned by long experience that they were not only harmless, but salutary. I have added a few to my number of edible ones by walking behind an Indian in Maine who ate such as I never thought of eating before. Of course they made a much greater account of wild fruits than we do. What we call huckleberry cake made of Indian meal and huckleberries was evidently the principal cake of the aborigines, and was generally known and used by them all over this part of North America, as much as or more than plum cake by us. They enjoyed it ages before our ancestors heard of Indian meal or huckleberries. If you had traveled here one thousand years ago, it would probably have been offered you alike on the Connecticut, the Potomac, the Niagara, the Ottawa, and the Mississippi. It appears... that the Indian used the dried berries commonly in the form of huckleberry cake, and also of huckleberry porridge or pudding. We have no national cake so universal and well known as this was in all parts of the country where corn and huckleberries grew.
Jan. 9, 1841. Each hearty stroke we deal with these outward hands slays an inward foe.
Jan. 9, 1842. One cannot too soon forget his errors and misdemeanors. To dwell long upon them is to add to the offense. Repentance and sorrow can only be displaced by something better, which is as free and original as if they had not been. Not to grieve long for any action, but to go immediately and do freshly and otherwise, subtracts so much from the wrong; else we may make the delay of repentance the punishment of the sin. A great soul will not consider its sins as its own, but be more absorbed in the prospect of that valor and virtue for the future which is more properly itself, than in these improper actions which by being sins discover themselves to be not itself.
Sir Walter Raleigh's faults are those of a courtier and a soldier. In his counsels and aphorisms we see not unfrequently the haste and rashness of a boy. His philosophy was not wide nor deep, but continually giving way to the generosity of his nature. What he touches he adorns by his greater humanity and native nobleness, but he touches not the true and original.... He seems to have been fitted by his genius for short flights of impulsive poetry, but not for the sustained loftiness of Shakespeare or Milton. He was not wise nor a seer in any sense, but rather one of nature's nobility, the most generous nature which can be found to linger in the purlieus of a court. His was a singularly perverted genius, with a great inclination to originality and freedom, and yet who never steered his own course. Of so fair and susceptible a nature, rather than broad or deep, that he lingered to slake his thirst at the nearest and even somewhat turbid wells of truth and beauty. His homage to the less fair or noble left no space for homage to the all fair. The misfortune of his circumstances or rather of the man appears in the fact that he was the author of "Maxims of State," "The Cabinet Council," and "The Soul's Errand."
Jan. 9, 1852.... Where a path has been shoveled through drifts in the road, I see... little heavens in the crannies and crevices. The deeper they are, and the larger masses they are surrounded by, the darker blue they are. Some are a very light blue with a tinge of green. Methinks I oftenest see this when it is snowing. At any rate, the atmosphere must be in a peculiar state. Apparently the snow absorbs the other rays, and reflects the blue. It has strained the air, and only the blue rays have passed through the sieve.... Into every track which the teamster makes this elysian, empyrean atmosphere rushes.
Jan. 9, 1853. 3 P. M. To Walden and Cliffs. The telegraph harp again. Always the same unrememberable revelation it is to me. I never hear it without thinking of Greece. How the Greeks harped upon the words, immortal, ambrosial. They are what it says. It stings my ear with everlasting truth. It allies Concord to Athens, and both to Elysium. It always... makes me sane, reverses my views of things. I get down the railroad till I hear that which makes all the world a lie. When the... west wind sweeps this wire, I rise to the height of my being.... This wire is my redeemer. It always brings a special and a general message to me from the highest. Day before yesterday I looked at the mangled and blackened bodies of men which had been blown up by powder, and felt that the lives of men are not innocent, and that there was an avenging power in nature. To-day I hear this immortal melody while the west wind is blowing balmily on my cheek and a roseate sunset seems to be preparing....
As I climbed the cliff, I paused in the sun and sat on a dry rock, dreaming. I thought of those summery hours, when time is tinged with eternity, runs into it, and becomes of one stuff with it, how much, how perhaps all that is best in our experience in middle life, may be resolved into the memory of our youth! Pulling up the Johnswort on the face of the cliff, I am surprised to see the signs of unceasing growth about the roots, fresh shoots two inches long, white with red leafets, and all the radical part quite green. The leaves of the crowfoot also are quite green, and carry me forward to spring. I dig one up with a stick, and pulling it to pieces, I find deep in the centre of the plant, just beneath the ground, surrounded by all the tender leaves that are to precede it, the blossom bud about half as big as the head of a pin, perfectly white. (?) (I open one next day, and it is yellow.) There it patiently sits and slumbers, how full of faith, informed of a spring which the world has never seen, the promise and prophecy of it, shaped somewhat like some Eastern temples in which a bud-shaped dome o'ertops the whole. It affected me this tender dome-like bud within the bosom of the earth, like a temple upon its surface resounding with the worship of votaries. bethought I saw the priests with yellow robes within it.... It will go forth in April, this vestal, now cherishing here her fire, to be married to the sun. How innocent are nature's purposes! How unambitious!
I saw to-day the reflected sunset sky in the river, but the colors in the reflection were different from those in the sky. In the latter were dark clouds with coppery or dun-colored undersides; in the water were dun-colored clouds with bluish-green patches or bars.
Jan. 9, 1855. What a strong and hearty, but reckless, hit-or-miss style had some of the early writers of New England, like Josselyn and William Wood, and others elsewhere in those days; as if they spoke with a relish, smacking their lips like a coach whip, caring more to speak heartily than scientifically true. They are not to be caught napping by the wonders of nature in a new country, and perhaps are often more ready to appreciate them than she is to exhibit them. They give you one piece of nature at any rate, and that is themselves.... The strong new soil speaks through them. I have just been reading somewhat in Wood's "New England's Prospect." He speaks a good word for New England, indeed will come very near lying for her, and when be doubts the justness of his praise, he brings it out not the less soundly; as who cares if it is not so, we love her not the less for all that. Certainly that generation stood nearer to nature, nearer to the facts than this, and hence their books have more life in them.
Jan. 9, 1858. Snows again.... The snow is very moist, with large flakes. Looking toward Trillium wood, the nearer flakes appear to move quite swiftly, often making the impression of a continuous white line. They are also seen to move directly, and nearly horizontally. But the more distant flakes appear to loiter in the air, as if uncertain bow they will approach the earth, or even to cross the course of the former, and are always seen as simple and distinct flakes. I think that this difference is simply owing to the fact that the former pass quickly over the field of view, while the latter are much longer in it.
Jan. 9, 1860.... I hear that , a rich old farmer, who lives in a large house, with a male housekeeper, and no other family, gets up at three or four o'clock these winter mornings, and milks seventeen cows regularly. When asked why he works so hard, he answers that the poor are obliged to work hard. Only think what a creature of fate be is, this old Jotun, milking his seventeen cows, though the thermometer goes down to -25°, and not knowing why he does it.... Think how helpless, a rich man who can only do as he has done and as his neighbors do, one or all of them. What an account he will have to give of himself! He spent some time in a world, alternately cold and warm, and every winter morning with lantern in hand, when the first goblins were playing their tricks, he resolutely accomplished his task, milked his seventeen cows, while the man-housekeeper prepared his breakfast.... Think how tenaciously every man does his deed of some kind or other, though it be idleness! He is rich, dependent on nobody, and nobody is dependent on him, has as good health as the average, at least, can do as he pleases, as we say, yet he gravely rises every morning by candle-light, dons his cowhide boots and his frock, takes his lantern, and wends his way to the barn and milks his seventeen cows, milking with one hand, while he warms the other against the cow or his person. This is but the beginning of his day, and his Augean stable work, so serious is the life he lives.
Jan. 10, 1856. The weather has considerably moderated, -2° at breakfast time. It was -8° at seven last evening, but this has been the coldest night probably. You lie with your feet or legs curled up, waiting for the morning, the sheets shining with frost about your mouth. Water left by the stove is frozen thick, and what you sprinkle in bathing falls on the floor, ice. The house plants are all frozen, and soon droop and turn black. I look out. on the roof of a cottage covered a foot deep with snow, wondering how the poor children in its garret, with their few rags, contrive to keep their toes warm. I mark the white smoke from its chimney whose contracted wreaths are soon dissipated in this stinging air, and think of the size of their wood pile. And again I try to realize how they panted for a breath of cool air those sultry nights last summer. Recall, realize now, if you can, the hum of the mosquito.
It seems that the snow- storm of Saturday night was a remarkable one, reaching many hundred miles along the coast. It is said that some thousands passed the night in the cars. The kitchen windows were magnificent last night with their frost sheaves, surpassing any cut or ground glass.
I love to wade and flounder through the swamp now, these bitter cold days, when the snow lies deep on the ground, and I need travel but little way from the town to get to a Nova Zembla solitude, to wade through the swamps, all snowed up, untracked by man, into which the fine dry snow is still drifting till it is even with the tops of the water andromeda, and half way up the high blueberry bushes. I penetrate to islets inaccessible in summer, my feet slumping to the sphagnum far out of sight beneath, where the alderberry glows yet,... and perchance a single tree sparrow lisps by my side; where there are few tracks even of wild animals. Perhaps only a mouse or two have burrowed up by the side of some twig, and hopped away in straight lines on the surface of the light, deep snow, as if too timid to delay, to another hole by the side of another bush, and a few rabbits have run in a path amid the blueberries and alders about the edge of the swamp. This is instead of a Polar Expedition, and going after Franklin. There is but little life and the objects are few, it is true. We are reduced to admire buds, even like the partridges, and bark, like the rabbits and mice, the great red and forward looking buds of the azalea, the plump red ones of the blueberry, and the fine, sharp red ones of the panicled andromeda sleeping along its stem, the speckled black alder, the rapid growing dogwood, the pale brown and cracked blueberry, etc. Even a little shining bud which lies sleeping behind its twig, perhaps half concealed by ice, is object enough. I feel myself upborne on the andromeda bushes beneath the snow as on a springy basket-work. Then down I go, up to my middle in the deep but silent snow, which has no sympathy with my mishap. Beneath its level, how many sweet berries will be hanging next August! This freezing weather I see the pumps dressed in mats and old clothes, or bundled up in straw. Fortunate he who has placed his cottage on the south side of some high hill or some dense wood, and not in the middle of the Great Fields where there is no hill nor tree to shelter it. There the winds have full sweep, and such a day as yesterday, the house is but a fence to stay the drifting snow. Such is the piercing wind, no man loiters between his house and barn. The road track is soon obliterated, and the path which leads round to the back of the house, dug this morning, is filled up again, and you can no longer see the tracks of the master of the house who only an hour ago took refuge in some half-subterranean apartment there. You know only by some white wreath of smoke from his chimney, which is at once snapped up by the hungry air, that he sits warming his wits there within, studying the almanac to learn how long it is before spring. But his neighbor, who, only half a mile off, has placed his house in the shelter of a wood, is digging out of a drift his pile of roots and stumps, hauled from the swamp, at which he regularly dulls his axe and saw, reducing them to billets that will fit into his stove. With comparative safety and even comfort he labors at this mine. As for the other, the windows give no sign of inhabitants, for they are frosted over as if they were ground glass, and the curtains are down beside.... No sound arrives from within. It remains only to examine the chimney's nostrils. I look very sharp, and fancy that I see some smoke against the sky there, but this is deceptive, for as we are accustomed to walk up to an empty fire-place and imagine that we feel some heat from it, so I have convinced myself that I saw smoke issuing from the chimney of a house which had not been inhabited for twenty years. I had so vivid an idea of smoke that no painter could have matched my imagination. It was as if the spirits of the former inhabitants revisiting their old haunts were once more boiling a spiritual kettle below.
Jan. 10, 1858. The N. side of Walden is a warm walk in sunny weather. If you are sick and despairing, go forth in winter and see the red alder catkins dangling at the extremity of the twigs all in the wintry air, like long, hard mulberries, promising a new spring and the fulfillment of all our hopes. We prize any tenderness, any softening in the winter, catkins, birds' nests, insect life, etc. The most I get, perchance, is the sight of a mulberry-like red catkin, which I know has a dormant life in it seemingly greater than my own.
Jan. 10, 1859.... The alder is one of the prettiest trees and shrubs in the winter. It is evidently so full of life with its conspicuously pretty red catkins dangling from it on all sides. It seems to dread the winter less than other plants. It has a certain heyday and cheery look, less stiff than most, with more of the flexible grace of summer. With those dangling clusters of red catkins which it switches in the face of winter, it brags for all vegetation. It is not daunted by the cold, but still hangs gracefully over the frozen stream.
Jan. 10, 1859.... I come across to the road S. of the hill, to see the pink on the snow-clad hill at sunset.... I walk back and forth in the road waiting for its appearance. The windows on the skirts of the village reflect the setting sun with intense brilliancy, a dazzling glitter, it is so cold. Standing thus on one side of the hill, I begin to see a pink light reflected from the snow there about fifteen minutes before the sun sets. This gradually deepens to purple and violet in some places, and the pink is very distinct, especially when, after looking at the simply white snow on other sides, you turn your eyes to the hill. Even after all direct sunlight is withdrawn from the hill-top, as well as from the valley in which you stand, you see, if -you are prepared to discern it, a faint and delicate tinge of purple and violet there. This was on a very clear and cold evening when the thermometer was -6°.
This is one of the phenomena of the winter sunset, this distinct pink light reflected from the brows of snow-clad hills on one side of you, as you are facing the sun.
The cold rapidly increases, and it is -14° in the evening. I hear the ground crack with a very loud sound, and a great jar in the evening and in the course of the night several times. It is once as loud and- heavy as the explosion of the Acton powder mills.
Jan. 11, 1839.
I saw the civil sun drying earth's tears,
Her tears of joy that only faster flowed.
Fain would I stretch me by the highway side
To thaw and trickle with the melting snow,
That mingled, soul and body, with the tide,
I too may through the pores of nature flow.
Jan. 11, 1852.... The glory of these afternoons, though the sky may be mostly overcast, is in the ineffably clear blue, or else pale greenish-yellow patches of sky in the west just before sunset. The whole cope of heaven seen at once is never so elysian; windows to heaven, the heavenward windows of the earth. The end of the day is truly Hesperian....
We sometimes find ourselves living fast, unprofitably, and coarsely even, as we catch ourselves eating our meals in unaccountable haste. But in one sense we cannot live too leisurely. Let me not live as if time was short. Catch the pace of the seasons, have leisure to attend to every phenomenon of nature, and to entertain every thought that comes to you. Let your life be a leisurely progress through the realms of nature, even in guest-quarters....
The question is not where did the traveler go? What places did he see? It would be difficult to choose between places. But who was the traveler? How did he travel? How genuine an experience did he get? For traveling is, in the main, like as if you stayed at home, and then the question is, How do you live and conduct yourself at home? What I mean is that it might be bard to decide whether I would travel to Lake Superior or Labrador or Florida. Perhaps none would be worth the while if I went by the usual mode. But if I travel in a simple, primitive, original manner, standing in a truer relation to men and nature, travel away from the old and commonplace, get some honest experience of life, if only out of my feet and home. sickness, then it becomes less important whither I go or how far. I so see the world from a new and more commanding point of view. Perhaps it is easier to live a true and natural life while traveling, as one can move about less awkwardly than he can stand still.
Jan. 11, 1857.... For some years past I have partially offered myself as a lecturer, have been advertised as such several years. Yet I had but two or three invitations to lecture in a year, and some years none at all. I congratulate myself on having been permitted to stay at home thus. I am so much richer for it. I do not see what I should have got of much value, except money, by going about. But I do see what I should have lost. It seems to me that I have a longer and more liberal lease of life thus. I cannot afford to be telling my experience, especially to those who perhaps will take no interest in it. I wish to be getting experience. You might as well recommend to a bear to leave his hollow tree and run about all winter scratching at all the hollow trees in the woods. He would be leaner in the spring than if he had stayed at home and sucked his claws. As for the lecture-goers, it is none of their business what I think. I perceive that most make a great account of their relations, more or less personal or direct, to many men, coming before them as lecturers, writers, or public men. But all this is impertinent and unprofitable to me. I never get recognized, nor was recognized by a crowd of men. I was never assured of their existence, nor they of mine.
There was wit and even poetry in the negro's answer to the man who tried to persuade hint that the slaves would not be obliged to work in heaven, "Oh, you g' way, Massa, I know better. If dere's no work for cullered folks up dar, dey 'll make some fur 'em, and if dere's nuffin better to do, dey'll make 'em shub de clouds along. You can't fool dis chile, Massa."
I was describing, the other day, my success in solitary and distant woodland walking outside the town. I do not go there to get my dinner, but to get that sustenance which dinners only preserve me to enjoy, without which dinners are a vain repetition. But how little men can help me in this, only by having a kindred experience. Of what use to tell them of my happiness. Thus, if ever we have anything important to say, it might be introduced with the remark, it is nothing to you, in particular. It is none of your business, I know. That is what might be called going into good society. I never chanced to meet with any man so cheering and elevating and encouraging, so infinitely suggestive as the stillness and solitude of the Well Meadow field. Men even think me odd and perverse because I do not prefer their society to this Nymph or Wood God rather. But I have tried them. I have sat down with a dozen of them together in a club....
They did not inspire me. One or another abused our ears with many words and a few thoughts which were not theirs. There was very little genuine goodness apparent. We are such hollow pretenders. I lost my time. But out there! Who shall criticise that companion? It is like the hone to the knife. I bathe in that element, and am cleansed of all social impurities. I become a witness with unprejudiced senses to the order of the universe. There is nothing petty or impertinent, none to say, "See what a great man I am!" There, chiefly, and not in the society of wits, am I cognizant of wit. Shall I prefer a part, an infinitely small fraction to the whole. There I get my underpinnings laid and repaired, cemented, leveled. There is my country club. We dine at the sign of the Shrub Oak, the new Albion House.
I demand of my companion some evidence that he has traveled farther than to the sources of the Nile, that he has been out of town, out of the house, not that he can tell a good story, but that he can keep a good silence. Has he attended to a silence more significant than any story? Did he ever get out of the road which all men and fools travel? You call yourself a great traveler, perhaps, but can you get beyond the influence of a certain class of ideas?
Jan. 11, 1859. At 6 A. M. -22°, and how much lower I know not, the mercury [?] in our thermometer having gone into the bulb, but that is said to be the lowest. Going to Boston to-day, I find that the cracking of the ground last night is the subject of conversation in the cars, and that it was quite general. I see many cracks in Cambridge and Concord. It would appear, then, that the ground cracks on the advent of very severe cold weather. I had not heard it before this winter. It was so when I went to Amherst a winter or two ago.
Jan. 11, 1861. H M brings me the contents of a crow's stomach in alcohol. It was killed in the village within a day or two. It is quite a mass of frozen-thawed apple pulp and skin, with a good many pieces of skunk-cabbage berries, a quarter of an inch or less in diameter, and commonly showing the pale brown or blackish outside, interspersed, looking like bits of acorns, never a whole or even half a berry, and two little bones as of frogs, or mice, or tadpoles. Also a street pebble, a quarter of an inch in diameter, hard to be distinguished in appearance from the cabbage seeds.
Jan. 12, 1852.... I sometimes think that I may go forth and walk hard and earnestly, and live a more substantial life, get a glorious experience, be much abroad in heat and cold, day and night, live more, expend more atmospheres, be weary often, etc., etc. But then swiftly the thought comes to me, Go not so far out of your way for a truer life, keep strictly onward in that path alone which your genius points out, do the things which lie nearest to you, but which are difficult to do, live a purer, a more thoughtful and laborious life, more true to your friends and neighbors, more noble and magnanimous, and that will be better than a wild walk. To live in relations of truth and sincerity with men is to dwell in a frontier country. What a wild and unfrequented wilderness that would be! What Saguenays of magnanimity that might be explored! Then talk about traveling this way and that, as if seeing were all in the eyes, and a man could sufficiently report what he stood bodily before, when the seeing depends ever on the being. All report of travel is the report of victory or defeat, of a contest with every event and phenomenon, and how you come out of it. A blind man who possesses inward truth and consistency will see more than one who has faultless eyes, but no serious and laborious, or strenuous soul to look through them. As if the eyes were the only part of the man that traveled. Men convert their property into cash, ministers fall sick to obtain the assistance of their parishes, all chaffer with sea-captains, etc., as if the whole object were to get conveyed to some part of the world, a pair of eyes merely. A telescope conveyed to and set up at the Cape of Good Hope at great expense, and only a Bushman to look through it. Nothing like a little activity, called life, if it were only walking much in a day, to keep the eye in good order, no such collyrium.
Jan. 12, 1855. P. To Flint's Pond via Minott's meadow. After a spitting of snow in the forenoon, I see the blue sky here and there. The sun is coming out. It is still and warm. The earth is two thirds bare. I walk along the Mill Brook below Emerson's, looking into it for some life. Perhaps what most moves us in winter is some reminiscence of far-off summer.... What beauty in the running brooks I what life! what society The cold is merely superficial. It is summer still at the core. Far, far within, it is in the cawing of the crow, the crowing of the cock, the warmth of the sun on our backs. I hear faintly the cawing of a crow far, far away, echoing from some unseen woodside, as if deadened by the spring-like vapor which the sun is drawing from the ground. It mingles with the slight murmur of the village, the sound of children at play, as one stream empties gently into another, and the wild and tame are one. What a delicious sound! It is not merely crow calling to crow, for it speaks to me too. I am part of one great creature with him. If he has voice, I have ears. I can hear when he calls, and have engaged not to shoot or stone him, if he will caw to me each spring. On the one hand, it may be, is the sound of children at school saying their a, b, abs; on the other, far in the wood-fringed horizon, the cawing of crows from their blessed eternal vacation, out at their long recess, children who have got dismissed, while the vapor, as incense, goes up from all the fields of the spring (if it were spring). Bless the Lord, O my soul, bless Him for wildness, for crows that will not alight within gunshot, and bless Him for hens, too, that croak and cackle in the yard.
Jan. 12, 1859. Mr. Farmer brings me a hawk which he thinks has caught. thirty or forty of his chickens since summer, for he has lost so many, and he has seen a hawk like this catch some of them. Thinks he has seen this same one sitting a long time upright on a tree, high or low, about his premises, and when at length a hen or this year's chicken had strayed far from the rest, he skimmed along and picked it up without pausing, and bore it off, the chicken not having seen him approaching. He found the hawk caught by one leg and frozen to death in a trap which he had set for mink by a spring and baited with fish. This one measures nineteen by forty-two inches, and is, according to Wilson and Nuttall, a young Falco lineatus, or red-shouldered hawk. It might as well be called the red or rusty-breasted hawk. According to the "Birds of Long Island," mine is the old bird.(?) Nuttall says it lives on frogs, crayfish, etc., and does not go far north, not even to Massachusetts, he thought. Its note, Kee-oo. He never saw one soar, at least in winter....
Farmer says that he saw what he calls the common hen hawk, soaring high, with apparently a chicken in its claws, while a young hawk circled beneath, when the former suddenly let drop the chicken. But the young one failing to catch it, he shot down like lightning, and caught and bore off the falling chicken before it reached the earth.
Jan. 12, 1860.... I go forth to walk on the Hill at 3 P. M. Thermometer about +30°.
It is a very beautiful and spotless snow now, it having just ceased falling. You are struck by its peculiar tracklessness, as if it were a thick, white blanket just spread. As it were, each snow-flake lies as it first fell, or there is a regular gradation from the denser bottom up to the surface which is perfectly light, and as it were fringed with the last flakes that fell. This was a star snow, dry, but the stars of considerable size. It lies up light as down. When I look closely, it seems to be chiefly composed of crystals in which the six rays or leaflets are more or less perfect, with a cottony powder intermixed. It is not yet in the least melted by the sun. The sun is out very bright and pretty warm, and going from it, I see a myriad sparkling points scattered over the surface of the snow, little mirror-like facets, which on examination I find to be, each, one of those star wheels, more or less entire, from one eighth to one third of an inch in diameter, which has fallen in the proper position, reflecting an intensely bright little sun, as if it were a thin and uninterrupted scale of mica. Such is the glitter or sparkle on the surface of such a snow freshly fallen when the sun comes out, and you walk from it, the points of light constantly changing. I suspect that these are good evidence of the freshness of the snow. The sun and wind have not yet destroyed these delicate reflectors....
As I stand by the hemlocks, I am greeted by the lively and unusually prolonged tche - de - de - de - de - de of a little flock of chickadees. The snow has ceased falling, the sun comes out, and it is warm and still, and this flock of chickadees, feeling the influences of this genial season, have begun to flit amid the snow-covered fans of the hemlocks, jarring down the snow, for there are hardly bare twigs enough for them to rest on, or they plume themselves in some sunny recess on the sunny side of the tree, only pausing to utter their tche-de-de-de.
Jan. 13, 1841. We should offer up our perfect (rέλεiα) thoughts to the gods daily. Our writing should be hymns and psalms. Who keeps a journal is purveyor to the gods. There are two sides to every sentence. The one is contiguous to me, but the other faces the gods, and no man ever fronted it. When I utter a thought, I launch a vessel which never sails in my harbor more, but goes sheer off into the deep. Consequently it demands a godlike insight, a fronting view, to read what was greatly written.
Jan. 13, 1852. told me this afternoon of a white pine in Carlisle which the owner was offered thirty dollars for and refused. He had bought the lot for the sake of the tree which he left standing.
Here I am on the Cliffs at half-past three or four o'clock. The snow more than a foot deep over all the land. Few, if any, leave the beaten paths. A few clouds are floating overhead, downy and dark. Clear sky and bright sun, yet no redness. Remarkable, yet admirable, moderation that this should be confined to the morning and evening. Greeks were they who did it. A mother-o'-pearl tint at the utmost they will give you at mid-day, and this but rarely. Singular enough I twenty minutes later, looking up, I saw a long, light-textured cloud, stretching from N. to S. with a dunnish mass and an enlightened border, with its under edge toward the west all beautiful mother- o' -pearl, as remarkable as a rainbow, stretching over half the heavens, and underneath it in the W. were flitting mother-o'-pearl clouds which change their loose-textured form, and melt rapidly away, never any so fast, even while I write. Before I can complete this sentence, I look up and they are gone, like smoke or rather the steam from the engine in the winter air. Even a considerable cloud, like a fabulous Atlantis or unfortunate Isle in the Hesperian sea, is dissolved and dispersed in a minute or two, and nothing is left but the pure ether. Then another comes by magic, is born out of the pure blue, empyrean with beautiful mother-o'-pearl tints, where not a shred of vapor was to be seen before, not enough to stain a glass, or polished steel blade. It grows more light and porous, the blue deeps are seen through it here and there, only a few flocks are left, and now these, too, have disappeared, and no one knows whither it is gone. You are compelled to look at the sky, for the earth is invisible....
Why can't I go to his office and talk with , and learn his facts? But I should impose a certain restraint on him. We are strictly confined to our men, to whom we give liberty..
We forget to strive and aspire, to do better even than is expected of us. I cannot stay to be congratulated. I would leave the world behind me. We must withdraw from our flatterers, even from our friends. They drag us down. It is rare that we use our thinking faculty as resolutely as an Irishman his spade. To please our friends and relatives we turn out our silver ore in cart-loads, while we neglect to work our mines of gold known only to ourselves, far up in the Sierras, where we pulled up a bush in our mountain walk, and saw the glittering treasure. Let us return thither. Let it be the price of our freedom to make that known.
Jan. 13, 1854.... In the deep hollow this side of Brittan's Camp, I heard a singular buzzing sound from the ground exactly like that of a large fly or bee in a spider's web. I kneeled down and with pains traced it to a small bare spot as big as my hand amid the snow, and searched there amid the grass and stubble for several minutes, putting the grass aside with my fingers, till, when I got nearest to the spot, not knowing but I might be stung, I used a stick. The sound was incessant, like that of a large fly in agony. But though it made my ears ache, and I had my stick directly on the spot, I could find neither prey nor oppression. At length I found that I interrupted or changed the tone with my stick, and so traced it to a few spires of dead grass, occupying about one quarter of an inch in diameter, and standing in the melted snow water. When I bent these one side, it produced a duller and baser tone. It was a sound issuing from the earth, and as I stooped over it, the thought came over me that it might be the first puling, infantine cry of an earthquake, which would erelong ingulf me. Perhaps it was air confined under the frozen ground, now expanded by the thaw, and escaping upward through the water by a hollow grass stem. I left it after ten minutes buzzing as loudly as at first. Could hear it more than a rod away.
Schoolcraft says [of Rhode Island], "The present name is derived from the Dutch, who called it Roode Eylant (Red Island) from the autumnal color of its foliage." (Coll. R. I. Hist. Soc. vol. iii.)
Jan. 13, 1856.... Took to pieces a pensile nest which I found. probably a vireo's, may be a red-eye's. In our workshops we pride ourselves on discovering a use for what had been previously regarded as waste, but how partial and accidental our economy compared with nature's. In nature nothing is wasted. Every decayed leaf and twig and fibre is only the better fitted to serve in some other department, and all at last are gathered in her compost heap. What a wonderful genius it is that leads the vireo to select the tough fibre of the inner bark, instead of the more brittle grasses, for its basket, the elastic pine needles and the twigs curved as they dried to give it form, and, as I suppose, the silk of cocoons, etc., to bind it together with. I suspect that extensive use is made of these abandoned cocoons by the birds, and they, if anybody, know where to find them. There were at least seven materials used in constructing this nest, and the bird visited as many distinct localities many times, always with the purpose or design of finding some particular one of these materials, as much as if it had said to itself, "Now I will go and get some old hornet's nest from one of those that I saw last fall, down in the maple swamp, perhaps thrust my bill into them, or some silk from those cocoons I saw this morning."
Jan. 13, 1857. I hear one thrumming a guitar below stairs. It reminds me of moments that I have lived. What a comment on our life is the least strain of music! It lifts me above all the dust and mire of the universe. I soar or hover with clean skirts over the field of my life. It is ever life within life in concentric spheres. The field wherein I toil or rust at any time is at the same time the field for such different kinds of life! The farmer's boy or hired man has an instinct which tells him as much indistinctly; hence his dreams and his restlessness, hence even it is that he wants money to realize his dream with. The identical field where I am leading my humdrum life, let but a strain -of music be heard there, is seen to be the field of some unrecorded crusade or tournament, the thought of which excites in us an ecstasy of joy. The way in which I am affected by this faint thrumming advertises me that there is still some health and immortality in the springs of me. What an elixir is this sound! I who but lately came and went and lived under a dish cover live now under the heavens. It releases me, bursts my bonds. Almost all, perhaps all, our life is, speaking comparatively, a stereotyped despair, i. e., we never at any time realize the full grandeur of our destiny. We habitually, forever and ever, underrate our fate. Talk of infidels, why, all of the race of man, except in the rarest moments when they are lifted above themselves by an ecstasy, are infidels. With the very best disposition, what does my belief amount to? This poor, timid, unenlightened, thick - skinned creature, what can it believe? I am, of course, hopelessly ignorant and unbelieving until some divinity stirs within me. Ninety-nine one hundredths of our lives we are mere hedgers and ditchers, but from time to time we meet with reminders of our destiny. We hear the kindred vibrations, music! and we put out our dormant feelers into the limits of the universe. We attain to wisdom that passeth understanding. The stable continents undulate. The hard and fixed becomes fluid."Unless above himself he can
Erect himself, how poor a thing is man."
When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.
There are infinite degrees of life, from that which is next to sleep and death to that which is forever awake and immortal. We must not confound man with man. We cannot conceive of a greater difference than that between the life of one man and that of another. I am constrained to believe that the mass of men are never so lifted above themselves that their destiny is seen to be transcendently beautiful and grand.
Jan. 13, 1858.... At Jonathan Buffum's, Lynn. Lecture in John B. Alley's parlor. Mr. J. Buff= describes to me ancient wolf traps, made probably by the early settlers in Lynn, perhaps after an Indian model; one some two miles from the shore near Saugus, another, more northerly, holes say seven feet deep, about as long, and some three feet wide, stoned up very smoothly and perhaps converging a little, so that the wolf could not get out. Tradition says that a wolf and a squaw were one morning found in the same hole, staring at each other.
Jan. 13, 1860.... Farmer says that he remembers his father saying that as he stood in a field once, he saw a hawk soaring above and eying something on the ground. Looking round, he saw a weasel there eying the hawk. Just then the hawk stooped, and the weasel at the same instant sprang upon him. Up went the hawk with the weasel, but by and by began to come down as fast as he went up, rolling over and over, till he struck the ground. His father going to him, raised him up, when out hopped the weasel from under his wing, and ran off, none the worse for his fall.
Jan. 14, 1852.... I love to see now a cock of deep, reddish meadow hay full of ferns and other meadow plants of the coarsest kind. My imagination supplies the green and the hum of bees. What a memento of summer such a haycock! To stand beside one covered with snow in winter through which the dry meadow plants peep out! And yet our hopes survive....
As usual, there was no blueness in the ruts and crevices of the snow to-day. What kind of atmosphere does this require? When I observed it the other day, it was a rather moist air, some snow falling, the sky completely overcast, and the weather not very cold. It is one of the most interesting phenomena of the winter.
Jan. 14, 1854. If the writers of the brazen age are most suggestive to thee, confine thyself to them, and leave those of the Augustan age to dust and the bookworms....
Cato makes the vineyard of first importance to a farm; second, a well-watered garden; third, a willow plantation (salictum); fourth, an olive yard (oletum); fifth, a meadow, or grass ground (pratum); sixth, a grain field or tillage (campus frumentarius); seventh, a wood for fuel (?) (silva cζdua); Varro speaks of planting and cultivating this; eighth, an arbustum; Columella says it is a plantation of elms, and for vines to rest on; ninth, a wood that yields mast (glandaria silva). He says elsewhere the arbustum yields ligna et virgζ.
He says, "In early manhood, the master of a family must study to plant his ground. As for building, he must think a long time about it (diu cogitare). He must not think about planting, but do it. When he gets to be thirty-six years old, then let him build, if he has his ground planted. So build that the villa may not have to seek the farm, nor the farm the villa." This contains sound advice, as pertinent now as ever.... "If you have done one thing late, you will do all your work late," says Cato to the farmer. They raised a sallow (salicem), to tie vines with. Ground subject to fogs is called nebulosus.... Oxen "must have muzzles (or little baskets, fiscellas) that they may not go in quest of grass (ne herbam sectentur), when they plow."
Jan. 14, 1855. Skated to Baker Farm with a rapidity which astonished myself, before the wind, feeling the rise and fall (the water having settled in the suddenly cold night) which I had not time to see.... A man feels like a new creature, a deer perhaps, moving at this rate. He takes new possession of nature in the name of his own majesty. There was I, and there, and there, as Mercury went down the Ichean mountains. I judged that in a quarter of an hour I was three and one half miles from home without having made any particular exertion.
Jan. 14, 1857. Up Assabet on ice.... I notice on the black willows, and also on the alders and white maples overhanging the stream, numerous dirty-white cocoons, about an inch long, attached by their sides to the base of the recent twigs, and disguised by dry leaves curled about them, a sort of fruit which these trees bear now. The leaves are not attached to the twigs, but artfully arranged about, and fastened to the cocoons. Almost every little cluster of leaves contains a cocoon, apparently of one species, so that often when you would think the trees were retaining their leaves, it is not the trees, but the caterpillars that have retained them. I do not see a cluster of leaves on a maple, unless on a dead twig, but it conceals a cocoon. Yet I cannot find one alive. They are all crumbled within. The black willows retain very few of their narrow curled leaves here and there, like the terminal leaflet of a fern. The maples and alders scarcely any ever. Yet these few are just enough to withdraw attention from those which surround the cocoons. What kind of understanding was there between the mind that determined that these leaves should hang on during the winter and that of the worm that fastened a few of these leaves to its cocoon in order to disguise it? I thus walk along the edge of the trees and bushes which overhang the stream, gathering the cocoons which probably were thought to be doubly secure here. These cocoons, of course, were attached before the leaves had fallen. Almost every one is already empty, or contains only the relics of a nymph. It has been attacked and devoured by some foe. These numerous cocoons attached to the twigs overhanging the stream in the still and biting winter day suggest a certain fertility in the river borders, impart a kind of life to them, and so are company to me. There is so much more life than is suspected in the most solitary and dreary scene. They are as much as the lisping of a chickadee.
Jan. 14, 1858. Mr. Buffum says that in 1817-1819 he saw the sea-serpent at Swampscott, and so did several hundred others. He was to be seen off and on for sonic time. There were many people on the beach the first time in carriages partly in the water, and the serpent came so near that they, thinking he might come ashore, involuntarily turned their horses to the shore, as with a general consent, and this movement caused him to sheer off also. The road from Boston was lined with people directly, coming to see the monster. Prince came with his spy-glass, saw, and printed his account of him. Buffum says he has seen him twenty times; once alone from the rocks at Little Nahant, where he passed along close to the shore just beneath the surface, and within fifty or sixty feet of him, so that he could have touched him with a very long pole, if he had dared to. Buffum is about sixty, and it should be said, as affecting the value of his evidence, that he is a firm believer in Spiritualism.
Jan. 14, 1860.... It is a mild day, and I notice, what I have not observed for some time, that blueness of the air only to be perceived in a mild day. I see it between me and woods half a mile distant. The softening of the air amounts to this. The mountains are quite invisible. You come forth to see this great blue presence lurking about the woods and the horizon.
Jan. 15, 1838. After all that has been said in praise of the Saxon race, we must allow that our blue-eyed and fair-haired ancestors were originally an ungodly and reckless crew.
Jan. 15, 1852.... I do not know but the poet is he who generates poems. By continence he rises to creation on a higher level, a supernatural level....
For the first time this winter I notice snow fleas this afternoon in Walden wood. Wherever I go, they are to be seen, especially in the deepest ruts and foot-tracks. Their number is almost infinite. It is a rather warm and moist afternoon, and feels like rain. I suppose that some peculiarity in the weather has called them forth from the bark of the trees.
It is good to see Minott's hens pecking and scratching the ground. What never-failing health they suggest! Even the sick hen is so naturally sick, like a green leaf turning to brown. No wonder men love to have hens about them, and hear their creaking note. They are even laying eggs from time to time still, the undespairing race
Jan. 15, 1853.... Mrs. Ripley told me this M. that Russell had decided that that green (and sometimes yellow) dust on the underside of stones in walls was a decaying state of Lepraria chlorina, a lichen; the yellow another species of Lepraria. I have long known this dust, but as I did not know the name of it, i. e., what others called it, and therefore could not conveniently speak of it, it has suggested less to me, and I have made less use of it. I now first feel as if I had got hold of it.
Jan. 15, 1857.... As I passed the south shed at the depot, observed what I thought at first a tree sparrow on the wood in the shed, a mere roof open at the sides, under which several men were at that time employed sawing wood with a horse-power. Looking closer, I saw, to my surprise, that it must be a song sparrow, it having the usual marks on its breast, and no bright chestnut crown. The snow is nine or ten inches deep, and it appeared to have taken refuge in this shed where was much bare ground exposed by removing the wood. When I advanced, instead of flying away, it concealed itself in the wood, just as it often dodges behind a wall.
What is there in music that it should so stir our deeps? We are all ordinarily in a state of desperation. Such is our life, it ofttimes drives us to suicide. To how many, perhaps to most, life is barely tolerable, and if it were not for the' fear of death or of dying, what a multitude would immediately commit suicide. But let us hear a strain of music, and we are at once advertised of a life which no man had told us of, which no preacher preaches. Suppose I try to describe faithfully the prospect which a strain of music exhibits to me. The field of my life becomes a boundless plain, glorious to tread, with no death nor disappointment at the end of it. All meanness and trivialness disappear. I become adequate to my deed. No particulars survive this expansion. Persons do not survive it. In the light of this strain there is no thou nor I. We are actually lifted above ourselves.
The tracks of the mice near the head of Well Meadow were particularly interesting. There was a level of pure snow there, unbroken by bushes or grass, about four rods across, and here were the tracks of mice running across it, from the bushes on this side to those on the other, the tracks quite near together, but repeatedly crossing each other at very acute angles, though each particular course was generally quite direct. The snow was so light that only one distinct track was made by all four of the feet,... but the tail left a very distinct mark. A single track stretching away almost straight, sometimes half a dozen rods over the unspotted snow, is very handsome, like a chain of a new pattern, and suggests an airy lightness in the body that impressed it. Though there may have been but one or two here, the tracks suggest quite a little company that had gone gadding over to their neighbors under the opposite bush. Such is the delicacy of the impression on the surface of the lightest snow, where other creatures sink, and night, too, being the season when these tracks are made, they remind me of a fairy revel. It is almost as good as if the actors were here. I can easily imagine all the rest. Hopping is expressed by the tracks themselves. Yet I should like much to see, by broad daylight, a company of these revelers hopping over the snow. There is a still life in America that is little observed or dreamed of.... How snug they are somewhere under the snow now, not to be thought of, if it were not for these pretty tracks. For a week, or fortnight even, of pretty still weather, the tracks will remain to tell of the nocturnal adventures of a tiny mouse.... So it was so many thousands of years before Gutenberg invented printing with his types, and so it will be so many thousands of years after his types are forgotten perchance. The deer-mouse will be printing in the snow of Well Meadow to be read by a new race of men.
Jan. 16, 1838. Man is like a cork which no tempest can sink, but it will float securely to its haven at last.
The world is never the less beautiful, though viewed through a chink or knot-hole.
Jan. 16, 1852. I see that to some men their relation to mankind is all important. It is fatal in their eyes to outrage the opinions and customs of their fellow-men. Failure and success are therefore never proved by them by absolute and universal tests. I feel myself not so vitally related to my fellow-men. I impinge op them but by a point on one side. It is not a Siamese-twin ligature that binds me to them. It is unsafe to defer so much to mankind and the opinions of society, for these are always, and without exception, heathenish and barbarous, seen from the heights of philosophy. A wise man sees as clearly the heathenism and barbarity of his own countrymen as those of the nations to whom his countrymen send missionaries. The Englishman and American are subject equally to many national superstitions with the Hindoos and Chinese. My countrymen are to me foreigners. I have but little more sympathy with them than with the mob of India or of China. All. nations are remiss in their duties, and fall short of their standards. Madame Pfeiffer says of the Par-sees or Fire-worshipers in Bombay, who should all have been on hand on the esplanade to greet the first rays of the sun, that she found only a few here and there, and some did not make their appearance till nine o'clock. I see no important difference between the assumed gravity and bought funeral sermon of the parish clergyman and the howlings and strikings of the breast of the hired mourning women of the East.
Bill Wheeler had two clumps for feet, and progressed slowly by short steps, having frozen his feet once, as I understood. Him I have been sure to meet once in five years, progressing into the town on his stubs, holding the middle of the road, as if be drove the invisible herd of the world before him, especially on a military day; out of what confines, whose hired man having been, in what remote barn having quartered all these years, I never knew. He seemed to belong to a different caste from other men, and reminded me both of the Indian pariah and martyr. I understood that somebody was found to give him his drink for the few chores he could do. His meat was never referred to, he had so sublimed his life. One day since this, not long ago, I saw in my walk a kind of shelter, such as woodmen might use, in the woods by the Great Meadows, made of meadow bay cast over a rude frame. Thrusting my head in at a hole, as I am wont to do in such cases, I found Bill Wheeler there curled up asleep on the hay, who, being suddenly wakened from a sound sleep, rubbed his eyes, and inquired if I found any game, thinking I was sporting. I came away reflecting much on that man's life, how he communicated with none, how now, perchance, he did chores for none, how he lived perhaps from a deep principle, that be might be some mighty philosopher, greater than Socrates or Diogenes, simplifying life, returning to nature, having turned his back on towns, how many things he had put off, luxuries, comforts, human society, even his feet, wrestling with his thoughts. I felt even as Diogenes when he saw the boy drinking out of his hands, and threw away his cup.
Here was one who went alone, did no work, and had no relatives that I knew of, was not ambitious that I could see, did not depend on the good opinions of men. Must he not see things with an impartial eye, disinterested, as the toad observes the gardener. Perchance here is one of a sect of philosophers, the only one, so simple, SP abstracted in thought and life from his contemporaries, that his wisdom is indeed foolishness to them. Who knows but in his solitary meadow hay bunk he indulges in thought only in triumphant satires on men. Who knows but here is a superiority to literature, etc., unexpressed and inexpressible, one who has resolved to humble and mortify himself as never man was humbled and mortified, whose very vividness of perception, clear knowledge, and insight have made him dumb, leaving no common consciousness and ground of parlance with his kind, or rather his unlike kindred! whose news plainly is not my news nor yours. I was not sure for a moment but here was a philosopher who had left far behind him the philosophers of Greece and India, and I envied him his advantageous point of view. I was not to be deceived by a few stupid words, of course, and apparent besottedness. It was his position and career that I contemplated.
C has a great respect for McKean, he stands on so low a level; says he is great for conversation. He never says anything, hardly answers a question, but keeps at work, never exaggerates, nor uses an exclamation, and does as he agrees to. He appears to have got his shoulder to the wheel of the universe. But the other day he went greater lengths with me, as he and Barry were sawing down a pine, both kneeling of necessity. I said it was wet work for the knees in the snow. He observed, looking up at me, "We pray without ceasing."
But to return to Bill. I would have liked to know what view he took of life. A month or two after this, as I heard, he was found dead among the brush over back of the hill, so far decomposed that his coffin was carried to his body, which was put into it with pitch-forks. I have my misgivings still that he may have died a Brahmin's death, dwelling at the roots of trees at last, though I have since been assured that he suffered from disappointed love (was what is called love-cracked), than which can there be any nobler suffering, any fairer death for a human creature? That this made him drink, froze his feet, and did all the rest for him. Why have not the world the benefit of his long trial?
Jan. 16, 1853.... Trench says that "Rivals, in the primary sense of the word, are those who dwell on the banks of the same stream," or "on opposite banks," but (as he says in the case of many words) since the use of water rights is a fruitful source of contention between such neighbors, the word has acquired this secondary sense. My friends are my rivals on the Concord in the primitive sense of the word. There is no strife between us respecting the use of the stream. The Concord offers many privileges, but none to quarrel about. It is a peaceful, not a brawling stream.... Bailey, I find, has it, "Rival [Rivalis L.... qui juxta eundem rivum pascit]."
Jan. 16, 1859. P. M. To Walden, and thence via Cassandra ponds to Fair Haven, and down river.... As we go southwestward through the Cassandra hollows toward the declining sun, they look successively, both by their form and color, like burnished silver shields in the midst of which we walked, looking toward the sun. The whole surface of the snow, the country over, and of the ice, as yesterday, is rough, as if composed of hailstones half melted together....
The snow which three quarters conceals the Cassandra in these ponds, and every twig and trunk and blade of withered sedge, is... cased with ice, and accordingly, as I have said, when you go facing the sun, the hollows look like glittering shields set round with brilliants. That bent sedge in the midst of the shield, each particular blade of it, being married to an icy wire, twenty times its size at least, shines like polished silver rings or semicircles. It must have been far more splendid yesterday before any of the ice fell off. No wonder my English companion says that our scenery is more spirited than that of England. The snow crust is rough with the wrecks of brilliants under the trees, an inch or two thick with them under many trees where they last several days.
Jan. 16, 1860.... I see a flock of tree sparrows picking something from the surface of the snow amid some bushes. Watching one attentively, I find that it is feeding on the very fine brown chaffy-looking seed of the panicled andromeda. It understands how to get its dinner, to make the plant give down, perfectly. It flies up and alights on one of the dense brown panicles of the hard berries, and gives it a vigorous shaking and beating with its claws and bill, sending down a shower of seed to the snow beneath. It lies very distinct, though fine almost as dust, on the spotless snow. It then hops down and briskly picks up from the snow what it wants. How very clean and agreeable to the imagination, and withal abundant, is this kind of food How delicately they fare! These dry persistent seed vessels hold their crusts of bread until shaken. The snow is the white table-cloth on which they fall.... It shakes down a hundred times as much as it wants, and shakes the same or another cluster after each successive snow. How bountifully nature feeds them. No wonder they come to spend the winter with us, and are at ease with regard to their food.... How neatly and simply they feed! This shrub grows unobserved by most, only known to botanists, and at length matures its hard, dry seed vessels, which, if noticed, are hardly supposed to contain seed; but there is no shrub or weed which is not known to some bird. Though you may have never noticed it, the tree sparrow comes from the north in the winter straight to this shrub, and confidently shakes its panicles, and then feasts on the fine shower of seeds that falls from it.
Jan. 17, 1841. A true happiness never happened, but rather is proof against all hope. I would not be a happy, that is, a lucky man, but rather a necessitated and doomed one.
After so many years of study, I have not learned my duty for one hour. I am stranded at each reflux of the tide, and I, who sailed as buoyantly on the middle deep as a ship, am as helpless as a muscle on the rock. I cannot account to myself for the hour I live. Here time has given me a dull prosaic evening, not of kin to vesper or Cynthia, a dead lapse, where Time's stream seems settling into a pool, a stillness not as if Nature's breath were held, but expired. Let me know that such hours as this are the wealthiest in Time's gift. It is the insufficiency of the hour which, if we but feel and understand, we shall reassert our independence then.
Jan. 17, 1852.... The other day as I was passing the house... with my pantaloons as usual tucked into my boots (there was no path beyond H's), I heard some persons in 's shed, but did not look round, and when I had got a rod or two beyond, I heard some one call out impudently from the shed, something like, "Holloa, Mister, what do you think of the walking?" I turned round directly, and saw three men standing in the shed. I was resolved to discomfit them, that they should prove their manhood, if they had any, and find something to say, though they had nothing before, that they should make amends to the universe by feeling cheap. They should either say to my face and eye what they had said to my back, or they should feel the meanness of having to change their tone. So I called out, looking at one, "Do you wish to speak to me, sir?" No answer. So I stepped a little nearer and repeated the question, when one replied, "Yes, sir." So I advanced with alacrity up the path they had shoveled. In the mean while one ran into the house. I thought I had seen the near. est one. He called me by name faintly and with hesitation, and held out his hand half unconsciously, which I did not decline. I inquired gravely if he wished to say anything to me. He could only wave to the other, and mutter, "My brother." I approached him and repeated the question. He looked as if he were shrinking into a nutshell, a pitiable object he was, and looked away from me while he began to frame some business, some surveying that he might wish to have done. I saw that he was drunk, that his brother was ashamed of him, and I turned my back on him in the outset of this indirect and drunken apology....
In proportion as I have celestial thoughts is the necessity for me to be out and behold the western sky before sunset these winter days. That is the symbol of the unclouded mind that knows neither winter nor summer. What is your thought like? That is the hue, that the purity and transparency and distance from earthly taint of my inmost mind; for whatever we see without is a symbol of something within, and that which is farthest off is the symbol of what is deepest within. The lover of contemplation, accordingly, will gaze much into the sky. Fair thoughts and a serene mind make fair days.
Here, also, is the symbol of the triumph which succeeds to a grief that has tried us to our advantage, so that at last we can smile through our tears. It is the aspect with which we come out of the house of mourning. We have found our relief in tears. As the skies appear to a man, so is his mind. Some see only clouds there, some prodigies and portents; some scarce look up at all, their heads, like those of the brutes, are directed towards earth. Some behold there serenity, purity, beauty ineffable. The world run to see the panorama, while there is a panorama in the sky which few go out to see.
...There might be a chapter, when I speak of hens in the thawy days and spring weather on the chips, called Chickweed or Plantain.
Those western... vistas through clouds to the sky show the clearest heavens, clearer and more elysian than when the whole sky is comparatively free from clouds, for then there is wont to be a vapor more generally diffused, especially near the horizon, which in cloudy days is absorbed, as it were, or collected into masses, and the vistas are clearer than the unobstructed cope of heaven.
What endless variety in the form and texture of the clouds, some fine, some coarse-grained! I saw to-night what looked like the back bone with portions of the ribs of a fossil monster. Every form and creature is thus shadowed forth in vapor in the heavens....
It appears to me that at a very early age the mind of man, perhaps at the same time with his body, ceases to be elastic. His intellectual power becomes something defined and limited. He does not think expansively, as he was wont to stretch himself in his growing days. What was flexible sap hardens into heart wood, and there is no further change. In the season of youth man seems to me capable of intellectual effort and performance which surpass all rules and bounds as the youth lags out his whole strength without fear or prudence, and does not feel his limits. It is the transition from poetry to prose. The young man can run and leap, he has not learned exactly how far.... The grown man does not exceed his daily labor. He has no strength to waste.
Jan. 17, 1853.... Cato, prescribing a medicamentum for oxen, says, "When you see a snake's slough, take it and lay it up, that you may not have to seek it when it is wanted." This was mixed with bread, corn, etc.
He tells how to make bread and different kinds of cakes, viz., a libum, a placenta, a spira (so called because twisted like a rope, perhaps like doughnuts), scriblita (because ornamented with characters like writing), globi (globes), etc.; tells how to make vows for your oxen with an offering to Mars, and Sylvanus in a wood, no woman to be present, or to know how it is done.
... If you wish to remove an ill savor from wine, he recommends to heat a brick, pitch it, and let it down by a string to the bottom of the cask, and let it remain there two days, the cask being stopped. "If you wish to know if water has been added to wine, make a little vessel of ivy wood (materia ederacea). Put into it the wine which you think has water in it. If it has water, the wine will run out (effluet); the water will remain, for a vessel of ivy wood does not hold wine."
"Make a sacrificial feast for the oxen when the pear is in blossom. Afterward begin to plow in the spring." "That day is to be holy (feriζ) to the oxen, and herdsmen, and those who make the feast." They offer wine and mutton to Jupiter Dapalis, also to Vesta if they choose....
When they thinned a consecrated grove (lucum conlucare, as if to let in the light to a shady place) they were to offer a hog by way of expiation, and pray the god or goddess to whom it was sacred to be propitious to them, their house, and family, and children. Should not every grove be regarded as a locus or consecrated grove in this sense. I wish that our farmers felt some such awe when they cut down our consecrated groves.
He gives several charms to cure diseases, mere magician's words.
Jan. 17, 1860.... Alcott said well the other day that this was his definition of heaven, "A place where you can have a little conversation."
Jan. 18, 1841. We must expect no income beside our outgoes. We must succeed now, and we shall not fail hereafter. So soon as we begin to count the cost, the cost begins.
If our scheme is well built within, any mishap to the outbuilding will not be fatal.
The capital wanted is an entire independence of all capital but a clear conscience and a resolute will.
When we are so poor that the howling of the wind shall have a music in it, and not declare war against our property, the proprietors may well envy us. We have been seeking riches not by a true industry or building within, but by mere accumulation, putting together what was without till it rose a heap beside us. We should rather acquire them by the utter renunciation of them. If I hold a house and land as property, am I not disinherited of sun, wind, rain, and all good beside? The richest are only some degrees poorer than nature. It is impossible to have more property than we dispense. Genius is only as rich as it is generous. If it hoards, it impoverishes itself. What the banker sighs for, the meanest clown may have, leisure and a quiet mind.
Jan. 18, 1852.... I still remember those wonderful sparkles at Pelham Pond. The very sportsmen in the distance with their dogs and guns presented some surfaces on which a sparkle could impinge, such was the transparent, flashing air. It was a most exhilarating, intoxicating air, as when poets sing of the sparkling wine....
What is like the peep or whistle of a bird in the midst of a winter storm?
The pines, some of them, seen through this fine driving snow, have a bluish hue.
Jan. 18, 1856.... P. M. To Walden, to learn the temperature of the water.... This is a very mild, melting winter day, but clear and bright. Yet I see the blue shadows on the snow at Walden. The snow lies very level there, about ten inches deep, and, for the most part, bears me as I go across with my hatchet. I think I never saw a more elysian blue than my shadow. I am turned into a tall blue Persian from my cap to my boots, such as no mortal dye can produce, with an amethystine hatchet in my hand. I am in raptures with my own shadow. Our very shadows are no longer black, but a celestial blue. This has nothing to do with cold I think, but the sun must not be too low.
I cleared a little space in the snow, which was nine or ten inches deep, over the deepest part of the pond, and cut through the ice, which was about seven inches thick.... The moment I reached the water, it gushed up and overflowed the ice, driving me out of this yard in the snow, where it stood at least two and one half inches deep above the ice. The thermometer indicated 33 1/2° at top, and 34 2/3° when drawn up rapidly from thirty feet beneath; so, apparently, it is not much warmer beneath.
Jan. 18, 1859. That wonderful frostwork of the 13th and 14th was too rare to be neglected, succeeded as it was also by two days of glaze, but having company, I lost half the advantage of it....
We did not have an opportunity to see how it would look in the sun, but seen against the mist or fog, it was too fair to be remembered. The trees were the ghosts of trees appearing in their winding sheets, an intenser white against the comparatively dusky ground of the fog. I rode to Acton in the afternoon of the 13th, and I remember the wonderful avenue of these faery trees which everywhere overarched my road. The elms, from their form and size, were particularly beautiful. As far as I observed, the frostwork was deepest in the low grounds, especially on the Salix alba there. I learn from the papers that this phenomenon prevailed all over this part of the country, and attracted the admiration of all. The trees on Boston Common were clad in the same snow-white livery with our Musketaquid trees....
Every one, no doubt, has looked with delight, holding his face low, at that beautiful frostwork which so frequently in winter mornings is seen bristling about the throat of every breathing hole in the earth's surface. In this case, the fog, the earth's breath made visible, was in such abundance that it invested all our vales and hills, and the frostwork, instead of being confined to the chinks and crannies of the earth, covered the mightiest trees, so that we, walking beneath them, had the same wonderful prospect and environment that an insect would have... making its way through a chink in the earth which was bristling with hoar frost. That glaze! I know what it was by my own experience; it was the frozen breath of the earth upon its beard....
Take the most rigid tree, the whole effect is peculiarly soft and spirit-like, for there is no marked edge or outline. How could you draw the outline of these snowy fingers seen against the fog, without exaggeration....
Hardly could the New England farmer drive to market under these trees without feeling that his sense of beauty was addressed.... A farmer told me in all sincerity that, having occasion to go into Walden woods in his sleigh, he thought he never saw anything so beautiful in all his life, and if there had been men there who knew how to write about it, it would have been a great occasion for them. Many times I thought that if the particular tree, commonly an elm, under which I was walking or riding were the only one like it in the country, it would be worth a journey across the continent to see it. Indeed, I have no doubt that such journeys would be undertaken on hearing a true account of it. But instead of being confined to a single tree, this wonder was as cheap and common as the air itself. Every man's wood-lot was a miracle and surprise to him, and for those who could not go far there were the trees in the street and the weeds in the yard.... The weeping willow with its thickened twigs seemed more precise and regularly curved than ever, and was as still as if carved from alabaster....
It was remarkable that when the fog was a little thinner, so that you could see the pine woods a mile or more off, they were a distinct dark blue. If any tree is set and stiff, it was now more stiff; if any airy and graceful, it was now more graceful. The birches, especially, were a great ornament.
Jan. 18, 1860.... As I stood under Lee's Cliff, several chickadees, uttering their faint notes, came flitting near to me as usual. They are busily prying under the bark of the pitch pines, occasionally knocking off a piece, while they cling with their claws on any side of the limb. Of course they are in search of animal food, but I see one suddenly dart down to a seedless pine-seed wing on the snow, and then up again. C says that he saw them busy about these wings on the snow the other day, so I have no doubt that they eat this seed.
The sky in the reflection at the open reach at Hubbard's Bath is more green than in reality, and also darker blue. The clouds are blacker, and the purple more distinct.
Jan. 19, 1841.... Coleridge, speaking of the love of God, says, "He that loves, may be sure he was loved first." The love wherewith we are loved is already declared, and afloat in the atmosphere, and our love is only the inlet to it. It is an inexhaustible harvest, always ripe and ready for the sickle. It grows on every bush, and let not those complain of their fates who will not pluck it. We need make no beggarly demand for it, but pay the price, and depart. No transaction can be simpler. Love's accounts are kept by single entry. When we are amiable, then is love in the gale, and in sun and shade, and day and night; and to sigh under the cold, cold moon for a love unrequited is to put a slight upon nature; the natural remedy would be to fall in love with the moon and the night, and find our love requited.
I anticipate a more thorough sympathy with nature when my thigh bones shall strew the ground like the boughs which the wind has scattered. These troublesome humors will flower into early anemones, and perhaps in the very lachrymal sinus, nourished by its juices, some young pine or oak will strike root.
What I call pain, when I speak in the spirit of a partisan, and not as a citizen of the body, would be serene being, if our interests were one. Sickness is civil war. We have no external foes. Even death will take place when I make peace with my body, and set my seal to that treaty which transcendent justice has so long required. I shall at length join interest with it.
The mind never makes a great effort without a corresponding energy of the body. When great resolves are entertained, its nerves are not relaxed, nor its limbs reclined.
Jan. 19, 1854.... In Josselyn's account of his voyage from London to Boston in 1638, he says, "June, the first day in the afternoon, very thick, foggie weather, we sailed by an enchanted island," etc. This kind of remark, to be found in so many accounts of voyages, appears to be a fragment of tradition come down from the earliest account of Atlantis and its disappearance.
Varro, having enumerated certain writers on agriculture, says accidentally that they wrote "soluta ratione," i. e., in prose. This suggests the difference between the looseness of prose and the precision of poetry. A perfect expression requires a particular rhythm or measure for which no other can be substituted. The prosaic is always a loose expression.
Jan. 19, 1856. Another bright winter day. P. M. To river to get some water-asclepias, to see what birds' nests are made of....
As I came home through the village at 8.15 P. M., by a bright moonlight, the moon nearly full and not more than 18° from the zenith, the wind N. W. but not strong, and the air pretty cold, I saw the melon-rind arrangement of the clouds on a larger scale and more distinct than ever before. There were eight or ten courses of clouds, so broad that with equal intervals of blue sky they occupied the whole width of the heavens, broad white cirro-stratus, in perfectly regular curves from W. to E. across the whole sky. The four middle ones, occupying the greater part of the visible cope, were particularly distinct. They were all as regularly arranged as the lines on a melon, and with much straighter sides, as if cut with a knife. I hear that it attracted the attention of those who were abroad at 7 P. M., and now at 9 P. M. it is scarcely less remarkable. On one side of the heavens, N. or S., the intervals of blue look almost black by contrast. There is now, at nine, a strong wind from the N. W. Why do these bars extend east and west? Is it the influence of the sun which set so long ago? or of the rotation of the earth? The bars which I notice so often morning and evening are apparently connected with the sun at those periods.
Jan. 20, 1841. Disappointment will make us conversant with the nobler part of our nature. It will chasten us and prepare us to meet accident on higher ground the next time. As Hannibal taught the Romans the art of war, so is all misfortune only a stepping-stone to fortune. The desultory moments which are the grimmest feature of misfortune are a step before me on which I should set foot, and not stumbling-blocks in the path. To extract its whole good, I must be disappointed with the best fortune, and not be bribed by sunshine or health.
O Happiness, what is the stuff thou art made of? Is it not gossamer and floating spider's webs? a crumpled sunbeam a coiled dew-line settling on some flower? What moments will not supply the reel from which thou mayst be wound off? Thou art as subtle as the pollen of flowers and the sporules of the fungi.
When I meet a person unlike me, I find myself wholly in the unlikeness. In what I am unlike others, in that I am.
When we ask for society, we do not want the double of ourselves, but the complement rather. Society should be additive and helpful. We would be reinforced by its alliance. True friends will know how to use each other in this respect, and never barter or exchange their common wealth, just as barter is unknown in families. They. will not dabble in the general coffers, but each will put his finger into the private coffer of the other. They will be most familiar, they will be most unfamiliar, for they will be so one and single that common themes and things will have to be bandied between them, but in silence they will digest them as one mind; they will at the same time be so true and double that each will be to the other as admirable and as inaccessible as a star. When my friend comes, I view his orb "through optic glass" "at evening from the top of Fιsolι." After the longest earthly period, he will still be in apogee to me. But we should so meet ourselves as we meet our friends, and still ever seek for ourselves in that which is above us and unlike us. So only shall we see what has been well called the light of our own countenances.
Jan. 20, 1853.... Ah, our indescribable winter sky, between emerald (?) and amber (?), such as summer never sees. What more beautiful or soothing to the eye than those finely divided... clouds, like down or loose-spread cotton batting, now reaching up from the west above my head
Beneath this a different stratum, all whose ends are curved like spray or wisps. All kinds of figures are drawn on the blue ground with this fibrous white paint.
Jan. 20, 1855.... In certain places, standing on their snowiest side, the woods were incredibly fair, white as alabaster. Indeed, the young pines reminded you of the purest statuary, and the stately, full-grown ones, towering around, affected you as if you stood in a Titanic sculptor's studio, so purely and delicately white, transmitting the light, their dark trunks all concealed; and in many places where the snow lay on withered oak leaves between you and the light, various delicate, fawn-colored tints blending with the white enhanced the beauty.
... How new all things seem! Here is a broad, shallow pool in the fields which yesterday was slush, now converted into a soft, white, fleecy snow ice.... It is like the beginning of the world. There is nothing hackneyed where a new snow can come and cover all the landscape.... The world is not only new to the eye, but is still as at creation. Every blade and leaf is hushed, not a bird or insect is heard, only, perchance, a faint tinkling sleigh-bell in the distance.... The snow still adheres conspicuously to the N. W. sides of the stems of the trees, quite up to their summits, with a remarkably sharp edge in that direction.... It would be about as good as a compass to steer by in a cloudy day or by night....
We come upon the tracks of a man and dog, which I guessed to be C.'s. Further still,... as I was showing to T. under a bank the single flesh-colored or pink apothecium of a Beomyces which was not covered by the snow, I saw the print of C.'s foot by its side, and knew that his eyes had rested on it that afternoon. It was about the size of a pin's head. Saw also where he had examined the lichens on the rails....
Very musical and sweet now, like a horn, is the hounding of a fox-hound heard in some distant wood, while I stand listening in some far solitary and silent field.
I doubt if I can convey an idea of the appearance of the woods yesterday. As you stood in their midst, and looked round on their boughs and twigs laden with snow, it seemed as if there could be none left to reach the ground. These countless zigzag white arms crossing each other at every possible angle completely closed up the view like a light drift within three or four rods on every side, the wintriest prospect imaginable. That snow which sifted down into the wood paths was much drier and lighter than elsewhere.
Jan. 20, 1856. In my experience I have found nothing so truly impoverishing as what is called wealth, i. e., the command of greater means than you had before possessed, however few and slight still, for you thus inevitably acquire a more expensive habit of living, and even the very same necessaries and comforts cost you more than they once did. Instead of gaining, you have lost some independence, and if your income should be suddenly lessened, you would find yourself poor, though possessed of the same means which once made you rich. Within the last five years I have had the command of a little more money than in the previous five years, for I have sold some books and some lectures, yet I have not been a whit better fed or clothed or warmed or sheltered, not a whit richer, except that I have been less concerned about my living; but perhaps my life has been the less serious for it, and to balance it, I feel now that there is a possibility of failure. Who knows but I may come upon the town, if, as is likely, the public want no more of my books or lectures, as, with regard to the last, is already the case. Before, I was much likelier to take the town upon my shoulders. That is, I have lost some of my independence on them, when they would say that I had gained an independence. If you wish to give a man a sense of poverty, give him a thousand dollars. The next hundred dollars he gets will not be worth more than ten that he used to get. Have pity on him. Withhold your gift.
P. M. Up river... It is now good walking on the river, for though there has been no thaw since the snow came, a great part of it has been converted into snow-ice by sinking the old ice beneath the water. The crust of the rest is stronger than in the fields, because the snow is so shallow and has been so moist. The river is thus an advantage as a highway, not only in summer, and when the ice is bare in winter, but even when the snow lies very deep in the fields. It is invaluable to the walker, being now, not only the most interesting, but, excepting the narrow and unpleasant track in the highway, the only practicable route. The snow never lies so deep over it as elsewhere, and, if deep, it sinks the ice and is soon converted into snow-ice to a great extent, beside being blown out of the river valley. Neither is it drifted here. Here, where you cannot walk at all in the summer, is better walking than elsewhere in the winter. But what a different aspect has the river's brim from what it wears in summer! I do not at this moment hear an insect's hum, nor see a bird or a flower. That museum of animal and vegetable life, a meadow, is now reduced to a uniform level of white snow, with only half a dozen kinds of shrubs and weeds rising here and there above it.
Jan. 20, 1857.... I hear that Boston harbor froze over on the 18th down to Fort Independence.
The river has been frozen everywhere except at the very few swiftest places since about December 18th, and everywhere since about January 1st.
At R. W. E.'s this evening at about 6 P. M., I was called out to see E.'s cave in the snow. It was a hole about two and a half feet wide and six feet long into a drift, a little winding, and he had got a lamp at the inner extremity. I observed as I approached in a course at right angles with the length of the cave, that its mouth was lit as if the light were close to it, so that I did not suspect its depth. Indeed, the light of this lamp was remarkably reflected and distributed. The snowy walls were one universal reflector with countless facets. I think that one lamp would light sufficiently a hall built of this material. The snow about the mouth of the cave within had the yellow color of the flame to me approaching, as if the lamp were close to it. We afterward buried the lamp in a little crypt in this snow-drift, and walled it in, and found that its light was visible even in this twilight through fifteen inches thickness of snow. The snow was all aglow with it. If it had been darker, probably it would have been visible through a much greater thickness. But what was most surprising to me, when E. crawled into the extremity of his cave, and shouted at the top of his voice, it sounded ridiculously faint, as if he were a quarter of a mile off. At first I could not believe that he spoke loud, but we all of us crawled in by turns, and though our heads were only six feet from those outside, our loudest shouting only amused and surprised them. Apparently the porous snow drank up all the sound. The voice was in fact muffled by the surrounding snow walls, and I saw that we might lie in that hole screaming for assistance in vain while travelers were passing along twenty feet distant. It had the effect of ventriloquism. So you need only make a snow house in your yard and pass an hour in it, to realize a good deal of Esquimaux life.
Jan. 20, 1859.... Among four or five pickerel in a "well" on the river, I see one with distinct transverse bars, as I look down on its back, not quite across the back, but plain as they spring from the side of the back, while all the others are uniformly dark above. Is not the former Esox fasciatus?...
The green of the ice and water begins to be visible about half an hour before sunset. Is it produced by the reflected blue of the sky mingling with the yellow or pink of the setting sun?
Jan. 21, 1838. Man is the artificer of his own happiness. Let him beware how he complains of the disposition of circumstances, for it is his own disposition he blames. If this is sour, or that rough, or the other steep, let him think if it be not his work. If his look curdles all hearts, let him not complain of a sour reception; if he hobble in his gait, let him not grumble at the roughness of the way; if he is weak in the knees, let him not call the hill steep. This was the pith of the inscription on the wall of the Swedish inn, "You will find at Trolhate excellent bread, meat, and wine, provided you bring them with you!"
Every leaf and twig was this morning covered with a sparkling ice armor. Even the grasses in exposed fields were hung with innumerable diamond pendants which jingled merrily when brushed by the foot of the traveler.
... It was as if some superincumbent stratum of the earth had been removed in the night, exposing to light a bed of untarnished crystals. The scene changed at every step, or as the head was inclined to the right or to the left. There were the opal, and sapphire, and emerald, and jasper, and beryl, and topaz, and ruby.
Such is beauty ever, neither here nor there, now nor then, neither in Rome nor in Athens, but wherever there is a soul to admire. If I seek her elsewhere because I do not find her at home, my search will be a fruitless one.
Jan. 21, 1841. We can render men the best assistance by letting them see how rare a thing it is to need any assistance. I am not in haste to help men more than God is. If they will not help themselves, shall I become their abettor?
If I have unintentionally injured the feelings of any, or profaned their sacred character, we shall be necessitated to know each other better than before. I have gained a glorious vantage-ground then, and to the other the shaft which carried the wound will bear its own remedy with it, for we cannot be profaned without the consciousness that we have a holy fane for our asylum somewhere. Would that sincere words might always drive men thus to earth themselves
Jan. 21, 1852.... To record truths which have the same relation and value to the next world, i. e., the world of thought and of the soul, that political news have to this....
Heard lecture to-night.... Why did I not like it better? Can I deny that it was good? Perhaps I am bound to account to myself at least for any lurking dislike for what others admire, and I am not prepared to find fault with. Well, I did not like it then because it did not make me like it, it did not carry me away captive. The lecturer was not simple enough. For the most part, the manner overbore, choked off, stifled, put out of sight the matter. I was inclined to forget that he was speaking, conveying ideas, thought there had been an intermission. Never endeavor to supply the tone which you thick proper for certain sentences. It is as if a man whose mind was at ease should supply the tones and gestures for a man in distress who found only the words. One makes a speech and another behind him makes the gestures. Then he reminded me of Emerson, and I could not afford to be reminded of Christ himself. Yet who can deny that it was good? But it was that intelligence, that way of viewing things (combined with much peculiar talent), which is the common property of this generation. A man does best when he is most himself.
I never realized so distinctly as at this moment that I am peacefully parting company with the best friend I ever had, from the fact that each is pursuing his proper path. I perceive that it is possible we may have a better understanding now than when we were more at one, not expecting such essential agreement as before. Simply our paths diverge.
Jan. 21, 1853. A fine, still, warm moonlight evening.... Moon not yet full. To the woods by the Deep Cut at nine o'clock. The blueness of the sky at night is an everlasting surprise to me, suggesting the constant presence and prevalence of light in the firmament, the color it wears by day, that we see through the veil of night to the constant blue. The night is not black when the air is clear, but blue still, as by day. The great ocean of light and ether is unaffected by our partial night.... At midnight I see into the universal day.
I am somewhat oppressed and saddened by the sameness and apparent poverty of the heavens, that these irregular and few geometrical figures which the constellations make are no other than those seen by the Chaldζan shepherds. I pine for a new world in the heavens as well as on the earth, and though it is some consolation to hear of the wilderness of stars and systems invisible to the naked eye, yet the sky does not make that impression of variety and wildness that even the forest does, as it ought to do. It makes an impression rather of simplicity and unchangeableness, as of eternal laws.... I seem to see it pierced with visual rays from a thousand observatories. It is more the domain of science than of poetry. It is the stars as not known to science that I would know, the stars which the lonely traveler knows. The Chaldζan shepherds saw not the same stars which I see, and if I am elevated in the least toward the heavens, I do not accept their classification of them. I am not to be distracted by the names which they have imposed. The sun which I know is not Apollo, nor is the evening star Venus. The heaven should be as new, at least, as the world is new. The classification of the stars is old and musty. It is as if a mildew had taken place in the heavens, as if the stars, so closely packed, had heated and moulded there. If they appear fixed, it is because men have been thus necessitated to see them.... A few good anecdotes is our science, with a few imposing statements respecting distance and size, and little or nothing about the stars as they concern man. It teaches how he may survey a country or sail a ship, and not how he may steer his life. Astrology contained the germ of a higher truth than this. It may happen that the stars are more significant and truly celestial to the teamster than to the astronomer.... Children study astronomy at the district school, and learn that the sun is ninety-five millions of miles distant and the like, a statement which never made any impression on me, because I never walked it, and which I cannot be said to believe. But the sun shines nevertheless. Though observatories are multiplied, the heavens receive very little attention. The naked eye may easily see farther than the armed. It depends on who looks through it. Man's eye is the true star-finder, the comet-seeker. No superior telescope to this has been invented. In those big ones, the recoil is equal to the force of the discharge. "The poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling" ranges from earth to heaven, which the astronomer's eye not often does. It does not see far beyond the dome of the observatory....
As I walk the railroad causeway, I am disturbed by the sound of my steps on the frozen ground. I wish to hear the silence of the night. I cannot walk with my ears covered, for the silence is something positive and to be heard. I must stand still and listen with open ear, far from the noises of the village, that the night may make its impression on me, a fertile and eloquent silence. Sometimes the silence is merely negative, an arid and barren waste in which I shudder, where no ambrosia grows. I must hear the whispering of a myriad voices. Silence alone is worthy to be heard. It is of various depths and fertility like soil. Now it is a mere Sahara where men perish of hunger and thirst, now a fertile bottom and prairie of the West. As I leave the village, drawing nearer to the woods, I listen from time to time to hear the hounds of silence baying the moon, to know if they are on the track of any game. If there is no Diana in the night, what is it worth?... The silence sings. It is musical. I remember a night when it was audible. I heard the unspeakable....
If night is the mere negation of day, I hear nothing but my own steps in it. Death is with me, and life far away. If the elements are not human, if the winds do not sing or sigh, as the stars twinkle, my life runs shallow. I measure the depth of my own being....
When I enter the woods, I am fed by the variety, the forms of the trees above against the blue, with the stars seen through the pines, like the lamps hung on them in an illumination, the somewhat indistinct and misty fineness of the pine tops, the finely divided spray of the oaks, etc., and the shadow of all these on the snow. The first shadow I came to, I thought was a black place where the woodchoppers had had a fire. These myriad shadows checker the white ground and enhance the brightness of the enlightened portions. See the shadows of these young oaks which have lost half their leaves, more beautiful than the trees themselves, like the shadow of a chandelier, and motionless as fallen leaves on the snow; but shake the tree, and all is in motion.
In this stillness and at this distance I hear the nine o'clock bell in Bedford, five miles off, which I might never hear in the village; but here its music surmounts the village din and has something very sweet and noble and inspiring in it, associated in fact with the hooting of owls.
Returning, I thought I heard the creaking of a wagon, just starting from Hubbard's door, and rarely musical it sounded. It was the Telegraph harp. It began to sound at one spot only. It is very fitful, and only sounds when it is in the mood. You may go by twenty times both when the wind is high and when it is low, and let it blow which way it will, and yet hear no strain from it. But at another time, at a particular spot, you may hear a strain rising and swelling on the string, which may at last ripen to something glorious. The wire will perhaps labor long with it before it attains to melody.
Even the creaking of a wagon in a frosty night has music in it which allies it to the highest and purest strains of the muse....
Minott says his mother told him she had seen a deer come down the hill behind her house, where J. Moore's now is, and cross the road and the meadow in front. Thinks it may have been eighty years ago.
Jan. 21, 1857.... It is remarkable how many tracks of foxes you will see quite near the village, where they have been in the night, and yet a regular walker will not glimpse one oftener than once in eight or ten years....
As I flounder along the Corner road against the root fence, a very large flock of snow buntings alight with a wheeling flight amid the weeds rising above the snow... a hundred or two of them. They run restlessly amid the weeds, so that I can hardly get sight of them through my glass. Then suddenly all arise and fly only two or three rods, alighting within three rods of me. They keep up a constant twittering. It is as if they were ready any instant for a longer flight, but their leader had not so ordered it. Suddenly away they sweep again, and I see them alight in a distant field where the weeds rise above the snow, but in a few minutes they have left that also, and gone farther north. Beside their rippling note, they have a vibratory twitter, and from the loiterers you have a quite tender peep, as they fly after the vanishing flock. What independent creatures! They go seeking their food from north to south. If New Hampshire and Maine are covered deeply with snow, they scale down to Massachusetts for their breakfast. Not liking the grains in this field, away they dash to another distant one, attracted by the weeds rising above the snow. Who can guess in what field, by what river or mountain, they breakfasted this morning. They did not seem to regard me so near, but as they went off, their wave actually broke over me as a rock. They have the pleasure of society at their feasts, a hundred dining at once, busily talking while eating, remembering what occurred in Grinnell Land. As they flew past me, they presented a pretty appearance, somewhat like broad bars of white alternating with bars of black.
Jan. 22, 1852. Having occasion to get up and light a lamp in the middle of a sultry night, perhaps to exterminate mosquitoes, I observed a stream of large black ants passing up and down one of the bare corner posts, those descending having their large white eggs or larvζ in their mouths, the others making haste up for another load. I supposed that they had found the heat so great just under the roof as to compel them to remove their progeny to a cooler place.
They had evidently taken and communicated the resolution to improve the coolness of the night to remove their young to a cooler and safer locality, one stream running up, and another down, with great industry.
But why did I change? Why did I leave the woods? I do not think that I can tell. I have often wished myself back. I do not know any better how I came to go there. Perhaps it is none of my business, even if it is yours. Perhaps I wanted change. There was a little stagnation, it may be, about two o'clock in the afternoon. The world's axle creaked, as if it wanted greasing, as if the oxen labored with the wain, and could hardly get their load over the ridge of the day. Perhaps if I lived there much longer, 1 might live there forever. One would think twice before he accepted heaven on such terms. A ticket to heaven must include a ticket to Limbo, Purgatory, and Hell. Your ticket to the Boxes admits you to the Pit also.
How much botany is indebted to the Arabians. A great part of our common names of plants appear to be Arabic....
The pleasures of the intellect are permanent, the pleasures of the heart are transitory. My friend invites me to read my papers to him. Gladly would I read, if he would hear. He must not hear coarsely, but finely, suffering not the least to pass through the sieve of hearing. To associate with one for years with joy who never met you thought with thought! An overflowing sympathy, while yet there is no intellectual communion. Could we not meet on higher ground with the same heartiness? It is dull work reading to one who does not apprehend you. How can it go on? I will still abide by the truth in my converse and intercourse with my friends, whether I am so brought nearer to or removed farther from them. I shall not be less your friend for answering you truly, though coldly. Even the estrangement of friends is a fact to be serenely contemplated, as in the course of Nature. It is of no use to lie either by word or action. Is not the everlasting truth agreeable to you?
To set down such choice experiences that my own writings may inspire me, and at last I may make wholes of parts. Certainly it is a distinct profession to rescue from oblivion and to fix the sentiments and thoughts which visit all men more or less generally. That the contemplation of the unfinished picture may suggest its harmonious completion. Associate reverently and as much as you can with your loftiest thoughts. Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest-egg by the side of which more will be laid.... Perhaps this is the main value of a habit of writing, of keeping a journal, that so we remember our best hours, and stimulate ourselves. My thoughts are my company. They have a certain individuality and separate existence, age, personality. Having by chance recorded a few disconnected thoughts, and then brought them into juxtaposition, they suggest a whole new field in which it was possible to labor and think. Thought begat thought....
When a man asks me a question, I look him in the face. If I do not see any inquiry there, I cannot answer it. A man asked me about the coldness of this winter compared with others, last night. I looked at him. His face expressed no more curiosity or relationship to me than custard pudding. I made him a random answer. I put him off till he was in earnest. He wanted to make conversation....
That in the preaching or mission of the Jesuits in Canada which converted the Indians was their sincerity. They could not be suspected of sinister motives. The savages were not poor observers or reasoners. The priests were therefore sure of success, for they had paid the price of it.
We resist no true invitations. They are irresistible. When my friend asks me to stay, and I do not, unless I have another engagement, it is because I do not find myself invited. It is not in his will to invite me. We should deal with the real mood of our friends. I visited my friend constantly for many years, and he postponed our friendship to trivial engagements, so that I saw him not at all. When in after years he had leisure to meet me, I did not find myself invited to go to him.
Jan. 22, 1854.... Once or twice of late I have seen the mother-of-pearl tints and rainbow flecks in the western sky. The usual time is when the air is clear and pretty cool, about an hour before sunset. Yesterday I saw a very permanent specimen, like a long knife handle of mother-of-pearl, very pale, with an interior blue, and rosaceous tinges. I think the summer sky never exhibits this so finely.
No second snow-storm in the winter can be so fair and interesting as the first.
Jan. 22, 1855. Heavy rain in the night and half of to-day, with very high wind from the southward washing off the snow, and filling the road with water.... It is very exciting to see where was so lately only ice and snow dark, wavy lakes dashing in furious torrents through the commonly dry channels under the causeways, to hear only the rush and roar of waters, and look down on mad billows where in summer are commonly only dry pebbles.... The muskrats driven out of their holes by the water are exceedingly numerous. Yet many of their cabins are above water on the S. branch. Here there are none. We saw fifteen or twenty of these creatures at least between Derby's bridge and the Tarbel spring, either swimming with surprising swiftness up or down or across the stream, to avoid us, or sitting at the water's edge, or resting on the edge of the ice, or on some alder bough just on the surface. One refreshed himself after his cold swim regardless of us, probed his fur with his nose, and scratched his ear like a dog. They frequently swam toward an apple-tree in the midst of the water, in the vain hope of finding a resting place and refuge there. I saw one looking quite a reddish brown, busily feeding on some plant just at the water's edge, thrusting his head under for it. But I hear the sound of G's gun up stream, and see his bag stuffed out with their dead bodies.
Jan. 22, 1857.... I asked Minott about the cold Friday. He said "it was plaguey cold. It stung like a wasp." He remembers seeing them toss up water in a shoemaker's shop, usually a very warm place, and when it struck the floor it was frozen, and rattled like so many shot.
Jan. 22, 1859.... The muskrat hunter last night with his increased supply of powder and shot, and boat turned up somewhere on the bank, now that the river is rapidly rising, dreaming of his exploits to-day in shooting muskrats, of the great pile of dead rats that will weigh down his boat before night when he will return wet and weary and weather-beaten to his hut with an appetite for his supper, and for much sluggish... social, intercourse with his fellows, even he, dark, dull, much battered flint as he is, is an inspired man to his extent now, perhaps the most inspired by this freshet of any, and the Musketaquid meadows cannot spare him. There are poets of all kinds and degrees, little known to each other. The Lake School is not the only or the principal one. They love various things; some love beauty and some love rum. Some go to Rome, and some go a-fishing, and are sent to the house of correction once a month. They keep up their fires by means unknown to me. I know not their comings and goings. How can I tell what violets they watch for? I know them wild, and ready to risk all when their muse invites. The most sluggish will be up early enough then, and face any amount of wet and cold. I meet these gods of the river and woods with sparkling faces (like Apollo's), late from the house of correction, it may be, carrying whatever mystic and forbidden bottles or other vessels concealed, while the dull, regular priests are steering their parish rafts in a prose mood. What care I to see galleries full of representations of heathen gods, when I can see actual living ones, by an infinitely superior artist.... If you read the Rig Veda, oldest of books, as it were, describing a very primitive people and condition of things, you hear in their prayers of a still older, more primitive and aboriginal race in their midst and roundabout, warring on them, and seizing their flocks and herds, infesting their pastures. Thus is it in another sense in all communities, and hence the prisons and police. I hear these guns going to-day, and I must confess they are to me a springlike and exhilarating sound, like the cock-crowing, though each one may report the death of a muskrat. This, methinks, or the like of this, with whatever mixture of dross, is the real morning or evening hymn that goes up from these vales to-day, and which the stars echo. This is the best sort of glorifying God and enjoying Him that at all prevails here to-day.... As a mother loves to see her children take nourishment and expand, so God loves to see his children thrive on the nutriment He has furnished them.... These aboriginal men cannot be repressed, but under some guise or other they survive and reappear continually. Just as simply as the crow picks up the worms which are over the fields, having been washed out by the thaw, these men pick up the muskrats that have been washed out of the banks. And to some such ends men plow and sail, and powder and shot are made, and the grocer exists to retail them, though he may think himself much more the deacon of some church.
Jan. 22, 1860. Up river to Fair Haven Pond.... Where the sedge grows rankly and is uncut, as along the edge of the river and meadows, what fine coverts are made for mice, etc., at this season. It is arched over, and the snow rests chiefly on its ends, while the middle part is elevated from six inches to a foot, and forms a thick thatch, as it were, even when all is covered with snow, under which the mice, etc., can run freely, out of the way of the wind and of foxes. After a pretty deep snow has just partially melted, you are surprised to find, as you walk through such a meadow, how high and lightly the sedge lies up, as if there had been no pressure upon it. It grows, perhaps, in dense tufts or tussocks, and when it falls over, it forms a thickly thatched roof.
Nature provides shelter for her creatures in various ways. If the muskrat has no longer extensive fields of weeds and grass to crawl in, what an extensive range it has under the ice of the meadows and river sides; for the water settling directly after freezing, an icy roof of indefinite extent is thus provided for it, and it passes almost its whole winter under shelter, out of the wind, and invisible to men.
Jan. 23, 1841. A day is lapsing. I hear cockerels crowing in the yard, and see them stalking among the chips in the sun. I hear busy feet on the floors, and the whole house jars with industry. Surely the day is well spent, and the time is full to overflowing. Mankind is as busy as the flowers in summer, which make haste to unfold themselves in the forenoon, and close their petals in the afternoon. The momentous topics of human life are always of secondary importance to the business in hand, just as carpenters discuss politics between the strokes of the hammer, while they are shingling a roof. The squeaking of the pump sounds as necessary as the music of the spheres. The solidity and apparent necessity of this routine insensibly. recommend it to me. It is like a cane or a cushion for the infirm, and in view of it all are infirm. If there were but one erect and solid-standing tree in the woods, all creatures would go to rub themselves against it, and make sure of their footing. Routine is a ground to stand on, a wall to retreat to. We cannot draw on our boots without bracing ourselves against it. Our health requires that we should recline on it from time to time. When we are in it, the hand stands still on the face of the clock, and we grow like corn in the genial darkness and silence of the night. Our weakness wants it, but our strength uses it. Good for the body is the work of the body, and good for the soul, the work of the soul, and good for either, the work of the other. Let them not call hard names, nor know a divided interest.
When I detect a beauty in any of the recesses of nature, I am reminded by the serene and retired spirit in which it requires to be contemplated of the inexpressible privacy of a life. How silent and unambitious it is! The beauty there is in mosses will have to be considered from the holiest, quietest nook. The gods delight in stillness.... My truest, serenest moments are too still for emotion. They have woolen feet. In all our lives, we live under the hill, and if we are not gone, we live there still.
Jan. 23, 1852.... Deep Cut going to Fair Haven Hill. No music from the telegraph harp on the causeway where the wind is strong, but in the Cut this cold day I hear memorable strains. What must the birds and beasts think where it passes through woods, who heard only the squeaking of the trees before? I should think that these strains would get into their music at last. Will not the mocking-bird be heard one day inserting this strain in his medley? It intoxicates me. Orpheus is still alive. All poetry and mythology revive. The spirits of all bards sweep the strings. I hear the clearest silver lyre-like tones, Tyrtζan tones.... It is the most glorious music I ever heard. All those bards revive and flourish again in those five minutes in the Deep Cut. The breeze came through an oak still waving its dry leaves. The very fine, clear tones seemed to come from the very core and pith of the telegraph pole. I know not but it is my own chords that tremble so divinely. There are barytones and high, sharp tones, and some come sweeping seemingly from farther along the wire. The latent music of the earth had found here a vent, music./Aeolian. There were two strings in fact, one each side.... Thus, as ever, the finest uses of things are the accidental. Mr. Morse did not invent this music....
There are some whose ears help me so that my things have a rare significance when I read to them. It is almost too good a hearing, so that, for the time, I regard my own writing from too favorable a point of view.
Jan. 23, 1854. Love tends to purify and sublime itself. It mortifies and triumphs over the flesh, and the bond of its union is holiness.
The increased length of the days is very observable of late. What is a winter unless you have risen and gone abroad frequently before sunrise and by starlight. Varro speaks of what he calls, I believe, before-light (antelucana) occupations in winter, on the farm. Such is especially milking in this neighborhood. Speaking of the rustic villa, he says, You must see that the kitchen is convenient, "because some things are to be done there in the winter before daylight (antelucanis temporibus), food is to be prepared and taken." In the study, are not some things to be done before daylight, and a certain food to be prepared there?
Jan. 23, 1857. The coldest day that I remember recording, clear and bright, but very high wind, blowing the snow. Ink froze; had to break the ice in my pail with a hammer. Thermometer at 6 Ύ A. M., -18°, at 10 1/2, -14°, at 12 3/4, -9°, at 4 P. M., -5 1/20; at 7 1/2 P. M. -8°. I may safely say that -5° has been the highest temperature to-day by our thermometer. Walking this P. M., I notice that the face inclines to stiffen.... On first coming out in very cold weather, I find that I breathe fast, though without walking faster or exerting myself more than usual.
Jan. 24, 1857. About 64 A. M. [mercury (?)] in the bulb of thermometer, Smith's on the same nail, -30°. At 94 A. M., ours -18°, Smith's -22°, which indicates that ours would have stood at 26° at 61/2 A. M., if the thermometer had been long enough. At 11 1/2 A. M. ours was -1°, at 4 P. M., +12°.
Jan. 25, 1857. Still another very cold morning. Smith's thermometer over ours, at -29°, [mercury?] in bulb of ours. But about 7 ours was 18°, and Smith's at 24°. Ours, therefore, at first, about -23°.
Jan. 26, 1857. Another cold morning. None looked early, but about 8, it was -14°. Saw Boston Harbor frozen over, as it had been for some time. It reminded me of, I think, Parry's Winter Harbor, with vessels frozen in. Saw thousands on the ice, a stream of men where they were cutting a channel toward the city. Ice said to reach fourteen miles. Snow untracked on many decks.
Ice did not finally go out till about February 15th.
Jan. 23, 1858. The wonderfully mild and pleasant weather continues. The ground has been bare since the 11th. This morning was colder than before. I have not been able to walk up the North Branch this winter, nor along the channel of the South Branch at any time.
P. M. To Saw Mill Brook. A fine afternoon. There has been but little use for gloves this winter, though I have been surveying a great deal for three months. The sun and cock-crowing, bare ground, etc., remind me of spring.
Standing on the bridge over the Mill Brook, on the Turnpike, there being but little ice on the S. side, I see several small water-bugs (gyrans) swimming about, as in the spring....
At Ditch Pond, I hear what I suppose to be a fox barking, an exceedingly husky, hoarse, and ragged note, prolonged perhaps by the echo, like a feeble puppy, or even a child endeavoring to scream, but checked by fear. Yet it is on a high key. It sounds so through the wood, while I am in the hollow, that I cannot tell from which side it comes. I hear it bark forty or fifty times, at least. It is a peculiar sound, quite unlike any other woodland sound that I know....
Who can doubt that men are by a certain fate what they are, contending with unseen and unimagined difficulties, or encouraged and aided by equally mysterious, auspicious circumstances? Who can doubt this essential and innate difference between man and man, when he considers a whole race, like the Indian, inevitably and resignedly passing away in spite of our efforts to Christianize and educate them? Individuals accept their fate and live according to it as the Indian does. Everybody notices that the Indian retains his habits wonderfully, is still the same man that the discoverers found. The fact is, the history of the white man is a history of improvement, that of the red man, a history of fixed habits or stagnation.
To insure health, a man's relation to nature must come very near to a personal one. He must be conscious of a friendliness in her. When human friends fail or die, she must stand in the gap to him. I cannot conceive of any life which deserves the name, unless there is in it a certain tender relation to nature. This it is which makes winter warm, and supplies society in the desert and wilderness. Unless nature sympathizes with and speaks to us, as it were, the most fertile and blooming regions are barren and dreary.... I do not see that I can live tolerably without affection for nature. If I feel no softening toward the rocks, what do they signify....
The dog is to the fox as the white man to the red. The former has attained to more clearness in his bark; it is more ringing and musical, more developed; he explodes the vowels of his alphabet better, and besides he has made his place so good in the world that he can run without skulking in the open field. What a smothered, ragged, feeble, and unmusical sound is the bark of the fox! It seems as if he scarcely dared raise his voice lest he should catch the ear of his tame cousin and inveterate foe....
I do not think much of that chemistry that can extract corn and potatoes out of a barren soil, compared with that which can extract thought and sentiment out of the life of a man on any soil.
It is in vain to write of the seasons unless you have the seasons in you.