Nov. 3, 1853. I make it my business to extract from Nature whatever nutriment she can furnish me, though at the risk of endless iteration. I milk the sky and the earth.
A man of many ideas and associations must pine in the woods. At the extreme north, the voyagers have to dance and act plays for employment. There is not enough of the garden in the wilderness, though I love to see a man sometimes from whom the usnea will hang as naturally as from a spruce. Our woods and fields are the perfection of parks and groves, and gardens and grottoes and arbors, and paths and parterres, and vistas and landscapes. They are the natural consequence of what art and refinement we as a people have. They are the common which each village possesses, the true paradise, in comparison with which all elaborately and willfully wealth-constructed parks and gardens are paltry imitations. No other creature effects such changes in nature as man. He changes by his presence the nature of the very trees. The poet's is not a logger's path, but a woodman's. The pioneer and logger have preceded him, and banished decaying wood and the spongy mosses which feed on it, and built hearths, and humanized nature for him.
Nov. 3, 1857. As I return from the Boulder Field, I see, between two of the boulders which are a dozen rods from me, a dozen feet high and nearly as much apart, the now winter-colored—that is, reddish (of oak leaves)—horizon of hills with its few white houses, four or five miles distant southward, as a landscape within the frame of a picture. But what a picture-frame! These two great slumbering masses of rock, reposing like a pair of mastodons on the surface of the pasture, completely shutting out a mile of the horizon on each side, while between their adjacent sides, which are nearly perpendicular, I look to the now purified, dry, reddish, leafy horizon, with a faint tinge of blue from the distance. To see a remote landscape between two near rocks! I want no other gilding to my picture frame. There they lie as perchance they tumbled and split from off an iceberg. What better frame would you have? The globe itself, here named pasture, for ground and foreground, two great boulders for the sides of the frame, and the sky itself for the top. And for artist and subject, God and Nature! Such pictures cost nothing but eyes, and it will not bankrupt me to own them. They were not stolen by any conqueror as spoils of war, and none can doubt but they are really the works of an old master. What more, pray, will you see between any two slips of gilded wood in that pasture you call Europe and browse in sometimes? It is singular that several of these rocks should be thus split into twins. Even very low ones, just appearing above the surface, are divided and parallel, having a path between them.
Nov. 3, 1858. The jay is the bird of October. I have seen it repeatedly flitting amid the bright leaves, of a different color from them all, and equally bright, taking its flight from grove to grove. It, too, with its bright color, stands for some ripeness in the bird harvest; and its scream! it is as if it blew on the edge of an October leaf. It is never more in its element and at home than when flitting amid these brilliant colors. No doubt it delights in bright color, and so has begged for itself a brilliant coat. It is not gathering seeds from the sod, too busy to look around, while fleeing the country. It is wide awake to what is going on, on the qui vive. It flies to some bright tree and bruits its splendors abroad.
At base of Anursnack I find one or two fringed gentians yet open, but even the stems are generally killed.
How long we follow an illusion! On meeting that one whom I call my friend, I find that I had imagined something that was not there. I am sure to depart sadder than I came. Nothing makes me so dejected as to have met my friends, for they make me doubt if it is possible to have any friends. I feel what a fool I am. I cannot conceive of persons more strange to me than they actually are; not thinking, not believing, not doing as I do; interrupted by me. My only distinction must be that I am the greatest bore they ever had. Not in a single thought agreed, regularly balking one another. But when I get far away, my thoughts return to them. That is the way I can visit them. Perhaps it is unaccountable to me why I care for them. Thus I am taught that my friend is not an actual person. When I have withdrawn and am alone, I forget the actual person, and remember only my ideal. Then I have a friend again. I am not so ready to perceive the illusion that is in Nature. I certainly come nearer, to say the least, to an actual and joyful intercourse with her. Every day I have more or less communion with her, as I think. At least, I do not feel as if I must withdraw out of nature. I feel like a welcome guest. Yet, strictly speaking, the same must be true of nature and of man; our ideal is the only real. It is not the finite and temporal that satisfies or concerns us in either case.
I associate the idea of friendship, methinks, with the person the most foreign to me. This illusion is perpetuated like superstition in a country long after civilization has been reached. We are attracted toward a particular person, but no one has discovered the laws of this attraction. When I come nearest to that one actually, I am wont to be surprised at my selection. It may be enough that we have met some time, and now can never forget it. Some time or other we paid each other this wonderful compliment, looked largely, humanely, divinely on one another, and now are fated to be acquaintances forever. In the case of nature, I am not so conscious of this unsatisfied yearning.
Nov. 3, 1861. After a violent easterly storm in the night, which clears at noon, I notice that the surface of the railroad causeway composed of gravel is singularly marked, as if stratified, like some slate rocks on their edges, so that I can tell within a small fraction of a degree from what quarter the rain came. These lines, as it were of stratification, are perfectly parallel and straight as a ruler diagonally across the flat surface of the causeway for its whole length. Behind each little pebble, as a protecting boulder one eighth or one tenth of an inch in diameter, extends northwest a ridge of sand, an inch or more, which it has protected from being washed away, while the heavy drops driven almost horizontally have washed out a furrow on each side, and on all sides are these ridges, half an inch apart and perfectly parallel. All this is perfectly distinct to an observant eye, and yet could easily pass unnoticed by most. Thus each wind is self-registering.
Nov. 4, 1840. By your few words, show how insufficient would be many words. If, after conversation, I would reinstate my thought in its primary dignity and authority, I have recourse again to my first simple and concise statement. In breadth we may be patterns of conciseness, but in depth we may well be prolix.
Dr. Ware, Jr., said to-day in his speech at the meeting-house, "There are these three, sympathy, faith, patience;" then proceeding in true ministerial style, "and the greatest of these is," but for a moment he was at a loss, and became a listener along with his audience, and concluded with, "Which is it? I don't know, pray take them all, brethren, and God help you."
Nov. 4, 1851. To Saw Mill Brook by turnpike, returning by Walden. It was quite a discovery when I first came upon this brawling mountain stream in Concord woods, for some fifty or sixty rods of its course as much obstructed by rocks, rocks out of all proportion to its tiny stream, as a brook can well be; and the rocks are bared throughout the wood on either side, as if a torrent had anciently swept through here, so unlike the after character of the stream. Who would have thought that in tracing it up from where it empties into the larger Mill Brook in the open peat meadows, it would conduct him to such a headlong and impetuous youth. Perchance it should be called a "force." It suggests what various moods may attach to the same character. Ah, if I but knew that some minds, which flow so muddily in the lowland portion of their course, where they cross the highways, tumbled thus impetuously and musically, mixing themselves with the air in foam, but a little way back in the woods! that these dark and muddy pools where only the pout and the leech are to be found, issued from pure trout streams higher up! that the man's thoughts ever flowed as sparkling mountain water, that trout there loved to glance through his dimples, where the witch-hazel hangs over his stream! This stream is here sometimes quite lost amid the rocks, which appear as if they had been arched over it, but which it in fact has undermined and found its way beneath, and they have merely fallen archwise, as they were undermined. It is truly a raw and gusty day, and I hear a tree creak sharply like a bird, a phœbe. The hypericums stand red or lake over the brook. The jays with their scream are at home in the scenery. I see where trees have spread themselves over the rocks in a scanty covering of soil, been undermined by the brook, then blown over, and, as they fell, lifted and carried with them all the soil, together with considerable rocks. So from time to time by these natural levers rocks are removed from the middle of the stream to the shore. The slender chestnuts, maples, elms, and white ash trees, which last are uncommonly numerous here, are now all bare of leaves, and a few small hemlocks, with their now thin but unmixed and fresh green foliage, stand over and cheer the stream, and remind me of winter, the snows which are to come and drape them and contrast with their green, and the chickadees that are to flit and lisp amid them. Ah, the beautiful tree, the hemlock, with its green canopy, under which little grows, not exciting the cupidity of the carpenter, whose use most men have not discovered. I know of some memorable ones worth walking many miles to see. These little cheerful hemlocks, the lisp of chickadees seems to come from them now, each standing with its foot on the very edge of the stream, reaching sometimes part way over its channel, and here and there one has lightly stepped across. These evergreens are plainly as much for shelter for the birds as for anything else. The fallen leaves are so thick they almost fill the bed of the stream and choke it. I hear the runnel gurgling under ground. As if the busy rill had ever tossed these rocks about! these storied rocks with their fine lichens and sometimes red stains as of Indian blood on them. There are a few bright ferns lying flat by the sides of the brook, but it is cold, cold, withering to all else. A whitish lichen on the witch-hazel rings it here. I glimpse the frizzled tail of a red squirrel with a chestnut in its mouth, on a white pine.
The ants appear to be gone into winter quarters. Here are two bushels of fine gravel, piled up in a cone, overpowering the grass, which tells of a corresponding cavity.
Nov. 4, 1852. Autumnal dandelion and row. Must be out of doors enough to get experience of wholesome reality, as a ballast to thought and sentiment. Health requires this relaxation, this aimless life, this life in the present. Let a man have thought what he will of Nature in the house, she will still be novel out-doors. I keep out of doors for the sake of the mineral, vegetable, and animal in me.
How precious a fine day early in the spring; less so in the fall, less still in the summer and winter.
My thought is a part of the meaning of the world, and hence I use a part of the world as a symbol to express my thought.
Nov. 4, 1855. It takes a savage or wild taste to appreciate a wild apple. I remember two old maids to whose house I enjoyed carrying a purchaser to talk about buying their farm in the winter, because they offered us wild apples, though with an unnecessary apology for their wildness.
Nov. 4, 1857. To Pine Hill via Spanish Brook. I leave the railroad at Walden Crossing, and follow the path to Spanish Brook. How swift Nature is to repair the damage that man does! When he has cut down a tree, and left only a white-topped and bleeding stump, she comes at once to the rescue with her chemistry, and covers it decently with a first coat of gray, and in course of time she adds a thick coat of green-cup and bright coxcomb lichens, and it becomes an object of new interest to the lover of nature! Suppose it were always to remain a raw stump instead! It becomes a shelf on which this humble vegetation spreads and displays itself, and we forget the death of the larger in the life of the less.
I see in the path some rank thimble-berry shoots covered very thickly with their peculiar hoary bloom. It is only rubbed off in a few places down to the purple skin, by some passing hunter perchance. It is a very singular and delicate outer coat surely for a plant to wear. I find that I can write my name on it with a pointed stick very distinctly, each stroke, however fine, going down to the purple. It is a new kind of enameled card. What is this bloom and what purpose does it serve? Is there anything analogous in animated nature? It is the coup de grace, the last touch and perfection of any work, a thin elysian veil cast over it, through which it may be viewed. It is breathed on it by the artist, and thereafter his work is not to be touched without injury. It is the evidence of a ripe and completed work on which the unexhausted artist has breathed out of his superfluous genius. If it is a poem, it must be invested with a similar bloom by the imagination of the reader. It is the subsidence of superfluous ripeness, like a fruit preserved in its own sugar. It is the handle by which the imagination grasps it.
I climb Pine Hill just as the sun is setting this cool evening. As I sit with my back to a thick oak sprout whose leaves still glow with life, Walden lies, an oblong figure, below, endwise toward me. Its surface is slightly rippled, and dusky prolonged reflections extend wholly across its length, or half a mile. (I sit high.) The sun is once or twice its diameter above the horizon, and the mountains north of it stand out grand and distinct, a decided purple. But when I look critically, I distinguish a whitish mist (such is the color of the denser air) about their lower parts, while their tops are dark blue. (So the mountains have their bloom, and is not the bloom on fruits equivalent to that blue veil of air which distance gives to many objects?) I see one glistening reflection on the dusky and leafy northwestern earth, seven or eight miles off, betraying a window there, though no house can be seen. It twinkles incessantly as from a waving surface, owing probably to the undulation of the air. Now that the sun is actually setting, the mountains are dark blue from top to bottom. As usual, a small cloud attends the sun to the portals of the day, and reflects his brightness to us now that he is gone. But those grand and glorious mountains, how impossible to remember daily that they are there, and to live accordingly. They are meant to be a perpetual reminder to us, pointing out the way.
Nov. 4, 1858. On the 1st, when I stood on Poplar Hill, I saw a man far off by the edge of the river, splitting billets off a stump. Suspecting who it was, I took out my glass, and beheld Goodwin, the one-eyed Ajax, in his short blue frock, short and square-bodied, as broad as for his height he can afford to be, getting his winter's wood, for this is one of the phenomena of the season. As surely as the ants which he disturbs go into winter quarters in the stump when the weather becomes cool, so does Goodwin revisit the stumpy shores with his axe. As usual, his powder flask peeped out from a pocket on his breast, and his gun was slanted over a stump near by, and his boat lay a little farther along. He had been at work laying wall still farther off, and now, near the end of the day, he took himself to those pursuits which he loved better still. It would be no amusement to me to see a gentleman buy his winter wood. It is, to see Goodwin get his. I helped him tip over a stump or two. He said the owner of the land had given him leave to get them out, but it seemed to me a condescension for him to ask any man's leave to grub up these stumps. The stumps to those who can use them, I say, to those who will split them. He might as well ask leave of the farmer to shoot the musquash and the meadow hen. I might as well ask leave to look at the landscape. Near by were large hollows in the ground, now grassed over, where he had got out white-oak stumps in previous years. But strange to say, the town does not like to have him get his fuel in this way. They would rather the stumps should rot in the ground, or be floated down stream to the sea. They have, almost without dissent, agreed on a different mode of living, with their division of labor. They would have him stick to laying wall, and buy corded wood for fuel as they do. He has drawn up an old bridge sleeper, and cut his name on it for security, and now he gets into his boat and pushes off, saying he will go and see what Mr. Musquash is about.
Nov. 5, 1839. Æschylus. There was one man who lived his own healthy Attic life in those days. His words that have come down to us give evidence that their speaker was a seer in his day and generation. At this day they owe nothing to their dramatic form, nothing to stage machinery and the fact that they were spoken under these or those circumstances. All display of art for the gratification of a factitious taste, is silently passed by to come at the least particle of absolute and genuine thought they contain. The reader will be disappointed, however, who looks for traits of a rare wisdom or eloquence, and will have to solace himself, for the most part, with the poet's humanity, and what it was in him to say. He will discover that, like every genius, he was a solitary liver and worker in his day.
We are accustomed to say that the common-sense of this age belonged to the seer of the last, as if time gave us any vantage ground. But not so; I see not but genius must ever take an equal start. . . . Common-sense is not so familiar with any truth, but genius will represent that truth in a strange light to it. Let the seer bring his broad eye down to the most stale and trivial fact, and he will make you believe it a new planet in the sky.
We are not apt to remember that we grow. It is curious to reflect how the maiden waits patiently and confidingly as the tender houstonia of the meadow for the slowly revolving years to work their will with her, to perfect and ripen her, like it to be fanned by the wind, watered by the rain, shined on by the sun, as if she, too, were a plant drawing in sustenance by a thousand roots and fibres. These young buds of mankind in the street are like buttercups in the meadows, surrendered to nature as they.
Nov. 5, 1840. Truth is as vivacious, and will spread itself as fast, as the fungi, which you can by no means annihilate with your heel, for their sporules are so infinitely numerous and subtle as to resemble "thin smoke, so light that they may be raised into an atmosphere, and dispersed in so many ways by the attraction of the sun, by insects, wind, elasticity, adhesion, etc.; that it is difficult to conceive a place from which they may be excluded."
Nov. 5, 1853. Most of the muskrat cabins were lately covered by the flood, but now that it is gone down in a great measure, I notice that they have not been washed away or much injured, as a heap of manure would have been, they are so artificially constructed; moreover, for the most part, they are protected as well as concealed by the button-bushes, willows, or weeds about them. What exactly are they for? This is not the breeding season of the muskrat. I think they are merely an artificial bank or air chamber near the water, houses of refuge. But why do they need them more at this season than in summer? it might be asked. Perhaps they are constructed just before the rise of the water in the fall and winter, that they may not have to swim so far as the flood would require in order to eat their clams.
Nov. 5, 1855. I hate the present modes of living and getting a living. Farming and shopkeeping and working at a trade or profession, are all odious to me. I should relish getting my living in a simple, primitive fashion. The life which society proposes to me to live is so artificial and complex, bolstered up on many weak supports, and sure to topple down at last, that no man surely can ever be inspired to live it, and only "old fogies" ever praise it. At best some think it their duty to live it. I believe in the infinite joy and satisfaction of helping myself and others to the extent of my ability. But what is the use in trying to live simply, raising what you eat, making what you wear, building what you inhabit, burning what you cut and dig, when those to whom you are allied outwardly, want and will have a thousand other things which neither you nor they can raise, and nobody else, perchance, will pay for. The fellow-man to whom you are yoked is a steer that is ever bolting right the other way. I was suggesting once to a man who was wincing under some of the consequences of our loose and expensive way of living. "But you might raise your own potatoes," etc. We had often done it at our house and had some to sell. At which he demurring, I said, setting it high, "You could raise twenty bushels even." But said he, "I use thirty-five." "How large is your family?" "A wife and three infant children." This was the real family. I need not enumerate those who were hired to help eat the potatoes and waste them. So he had to hire a man to raise his potatoes. Thus men invite the devil in, at every angle, and then prate about the Garden of Eden and the fall of man. I know many children to whom I would fain make a present on some one of their birthdays, but they are so far gone in the luxury of presents, have such perfect museums of costly ones, that it would absorb my entire earnings for a year to buy them something which would not be beneath their notice.
That white birch fungus always presents its face to the ground, parallel with it, for here are some on an upright dead birch whose faces or planes are at right angles with the axis of the tree, as usual, looking down, but others, attached to the top of the tree which lies prostrate on the ground, have their planes parallel with the axis of the tree, as if looking round the birch.
Nov. 5, 1857. Sometimes I would rather get a transient glimpse or side view of a thing than stand fronting it, as with these polypodies. The object I caught a glimpse of as I went by, haunts my thought a long time, is infinitely suggestive, and I do not care to front it and scrutinize it, for I know that the thing that really concerns me is not there, but in my relation to that. That is a mere reflecting surface. It is not the polypody in my pitcher or herbarium, or which I may possibly persuade to grow on a bank in my yard, or which is described in the botanies, that interests me, but the one I pass by in my walks a little distance off, when in the right mood. Its influence is sporadic, wafted through the air to me. Do you imagine its fruit to stick to the back of the leaf all winter? At this season polypody is in the air. It is worth the while to walk in swamps now, to bathe your eyes in greenness. The terminal-shield fern is the handsomest and glossiest green.
I think the man of science makes the mistake, and the mass of mankind along with him, to suppose that you should give your chief attention to the phenomenon which excites you, as something independent of you, and not as it is related to you. The important fact is its effect on me. The man of science thinks I have no business to see anything else but just what he defines the rainbow to be, but I care not whether my vision is a waking thought or a dream remembered, whether it is seen in the light or in the dark. It is the subject of the vision, the truth alone that concerns me. The philosopher for whom rainbows, etc., can be explained away never saw them.
Nov. 5, 1858. The Cornus florida on the Island is still full-leafed, and is now completely scarlet, though it was partly green on the twenty-eighth [of October]. It is apparently in the height of its color there now, or if more exposed perhaps it would have been on the first of November. This makes it the latest tree to change.
Nov. 5, 1860. I am struck by the fact that the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings. We do not wish to see children precocious, making great strides in their early years, like sprouts producing a soft and perishable timber, but better if they expand slowly at first, as if contending with difficulties, and so are solidified and perfected. Such trees continue and expand with nearly equal rapidity to an extreme old age.
Nov. 6, 1853. Climbed the wooded hill by Holden's spruce swamp, and got a novel view of the river and Fair Haven Bay through the almost leafless woods. How much handsomer a river or lake such as ours seen thus through a foreground of scattered or else partially leafless trees, though at a considerable distance this side of it, especially if the water is open, without a wooded shore or isles. It is the most perfect and beautiful of all frames, which yet the sketcher is commonly careful to brush aside. I mean a pretty thick foreground, a view of the distant water through the near forest, through a thousand little vistas, as we are rushing towards the former, that intimate mingling of wood and water which excites an expectation that the near and open view rarely realizes. We prefer that some part be concealed which our imagination may navigate.
Nov. 6, 1857. Minott is a very pleasing figure in nature. He improves any scenery, he and his comrades, Harry Hooper, John Wyman, Oliver Williams, etc. If he gets into a pond hole, he disturbs it no more than a water spirit for me.
Nov. 7, 1839. We are not commonly aware that there is a rising as well as a risen generation. It is a fact, the growing men or women which we do not commonly allow for or remember, who would disturb many a fair theory. Speak for yourself, old man. By what degrees of consanguinity is this succulent and rank-growing slip of manhood related to me? What is it but another herb, ranging all the kingdoms of Nature, drawing its sustenance by a thousand roots and fibres from all soils!
Nov. 7, 1840. I'm guided in the darkest night By flashes of auroral light, Which overdart thy eastern home, And teach me not in vain to roam. Thy steady light on t' other side Pales the sunset, makes day abide, And after sunrise, stays the dawn, Forerunner of a brighter morn. •••••••• When others laugh, I am not glad, When others cry, I am not sad. •••••••• I am a miser without blame, Am conscience-stricken without shame, An idler am I without leisure, A busybody without pleasure. I did not think so bright a day Would issue in so dark a night, I did not think such sober play Would leave me in so sad a plight, And I should be most sorely spent, When first I was most innocent. I thought by loving all beside, To prove to you my love was wide, And by the rites I soared above, To show you my peculiar love.
Nov. 7, 1853. Three bluebirds still braving the cold winds, Acton Blues. Their blue uniform makes me think of soldiers who have received orders to keep the field and not go into winter quarters.
A muskrat's house on the top of a rock; [the soil?] too thin round the sides for a passage beneath, yet a small cavity at top, which makes me think they use them merely as a sheltered perch above water. They seize thus many cones to build on, as a hummock left by the ice. The wads of which this muskrat's house was composed were about six inches by four, rounded and massed at one end and flaking off at the other, and were composed chiefly of a little green moss-like weed, for the most part withered dark-brown, and having the strong odor of the fresh water sponge and conferva.
Nov. 7, 1855. I find it good to be out in this still, dark, mizzling afternoon. My walk or voyage is more suggestive and profitable than in bright weather. The view is contracted by the misty rain. The water is perfectly smooth, and the stillness is favorable to reflection. I am more open to impressions, more sensitive, not calloused or indurated by sun and wind, as if in a chamber still. My thoughts are concentrated. I am all compact. The solitude is real, too, for the weather keeps other men at home. This mist is like a roof and walls, over and around, and I walk with a domestic feeling. The sound of a wagon going over an unseen bridge is louder than ever, and so of other sounds. I am compelled to look at near objects. All things have a soothing effect. The very clouds and mists brood over me. My power of observation and contemplation is much increased. My attention does not wander. The world and my life are simplified. What now are Europe and Asia?
Nov. 7, 1857. Minott adorns whatever part of nature he touches. Whichever way he walks he transfigures the earth for me. If a common man speaks of Walden Pond to me, I see only a shallow, dull-colored body of water, without reflections, or peculiar color, but if Minott speaks of it, I see the green water and reflected hills at once, for he has been there. I hear the rustle of leaves from woods which he goes through.
This has been another Indian-summer day. Thermometer 58° at noon.
Nov. 7, 1858. p. m. To Bateman's Pond. I leave my boat opposite the hemlocks, and as I glance upwards between them, seeing the bare but bright hillside beyond, I think, Now we are left to the hemlocks and pines with their silvery light, to the bare trees and withered grass. The very rocks and stones in the rocky road (that beyond Farmer's) look white in the clear No vember light, especially after the rain. We are left to the chickadee's familiar notes, and the jay for trumpeter. What struck me was a certain emptiness beyond, between the hemlocks and the hill, in the cool washed air, as if I appreciated the absence of insects from it. It suggested, agreeably to me, a mere space in which to walk briskly. The fields are, as it were, vacated. The very earth is like a house shut up for the winter, and I go knocking about it in vain. But just then I heard a chickadee in a hemlock, and was inexpressibly cheered to find that an old acquaintance was yet stirring about the premises, and was, I was assured, to be there all winter. All that is evergreen in me revived at once.
The very moss (the little pine moss) in Hosmer's meadow is revealed by its greenness amid the withered grass and stubble.
Going up the lane beyond Farmer's, I was surprised to see fly up from the white stony ground two snow buntings, which alighted again close by. They had pale brown or tawny touches on the white breast, on each side oft the head and on top of the head, in the last place with some darker color. Had light yellowish bills. They sat quite motionless within two rods, and allowed me to approach within a rod, as if conscious that the white rocks, etc., concealed them. It seemed as if they were attracted to our faces of the same color with themselves. One squatted flat, if not both. Their soft rippling notes, as they went off, reminded me of the northeast snowstorms to which erelong they are to be an accompaniment.
Looking southwest toward the pond just before sunset, I saw against the light what I took to be a shad-bush in full bloom, but without a leaflet. I was prepared for this sight after the very warm autumn, because this tree frequently puts forth leaves in October. Or it might be a young wild apple. Hastening to it, I found it was only the feathery seeds of the Virgin's Bower [Clematis virginiana], whose vine, so close to the branches, was not noticeable. They looked just like dense umbels of white flowers, and in this light, three or four rods off, were fully as light as white apple-blossoms. It is singular how one thing thus puts on the semblance of another. I thought at first I had made a discovery more interesting than the blossoming of apple trees in the fall. It carried me round to spring again, when the shad-bush, almost leafless, is seen waving its white blossoms amid the yet bare trees, the feathery masses, at intervals along the twigs, just like umbels of apple bloom, so caught and reflected the western light.
I pass a musquash house, apparently begun last night. The first mouthfuls of weeds were placed between some small button-bush stems which stood amid the pads and pontederia for a support, and to prevent their being washed away. Opposite I see some half concealed amid the bleached phalaris grass (a tall coarse grass), or, in some places, the blue joint.
Nov. 8, 1850. The stillness of the woods and fields is remarkable at this season of the year. There is not even the creak of a cricket to be heard. Of myriads of dry shrub-oak leaves, not one rustles. Your own breath can stir them, yet the breath of heaven does not suffice to. The trees have the aspect of waiting for winter. The sprouts which had shot up so vigorously to repair the damage which the choppers had done, have stopped short for the winter. Everything stands silent and expectant. If I listen, I hear only the note of a chickadee, our most common bird at present, most identified with our forests, or perchance the scream of a jay, or from the solemn depths of the woods I hear tolling far away the knell of one departed. Thought rushes in to fill the vacuum. As you walk, however, the partridge bursts away from the foot of a shrub oak, like its own dry fruit; immortal bird! This sound still startles us. The silent, dry, almost leafless, certainly fruit less woods, you wonder what cheer that bird can find in them.
Nov. 8, 1851. Ah, those sun-sparkles on Dudley Pond in this November air, what a heaven to live in! Intensely brilliant as no artificial light I have seen, like a dance of diamonds, coarse mazes of the diamond dance seen through the trees. All objects shine to-day, even the sportsmen seen at a distance, as if a cavern were unroofed, and its crystals gave entertainment to the sun. This great see-saw of brilliants, the ἀνήριθμον γέλασμα. The squirrels that run across the road sport their tails like banners. When I saw the bare sand at Cochituate, I felt my relation to the soil. These are my sands not yet run out. Not yet will the fates turn the glass. In this sand my bones will gladly lie. Like the Viola pedata, I shall be ready to bloom again here in my Indian-summer days. Here, ever springing, never dying, with perennial root I stand, for the winter of the land is warm to me. When I see the earth's sands thrown up from beneath its surface, it touches me inwardly, it reminds me of my origin, for I am such a plant, so native to New England, methinks, as springs from the sand cast up from below.
Nov. 8, 1853. 10 a. m. Our first snow. The children greet it with a shout, when they come out at recess. p. m. It begins to whiten the plowed ground now, but has not overcome the russet of the grass ground. Birds generally wear the russet dress of nature at this season. They have their fall, no less than the plants. The bright tints depart from their foliage or feathers, and they flit past like withered leaves in rustling flocks. The sparrow is a withered leaf. Perchance I heard the last cricket of the season yesterday,—they chirp here and there at longer and longer intervals till the snow quenches their song,—and the last striped squirrel, too, perchance, yesterday. They then do not go into winter quarters till the ground is covered with snow.
The partridges go off with a whirr, and then sail a long way, level and low, through the woods with that impetus they have got, displaying their neat forms perfectly.
Nov. 8, 1857. A warm, cloudy, rain-threatening morning. About 10 a. m., a long flock of geese are going over from northeast to southwest, or parallel with the general direction of the coast, and great mountain ranges. The sonorous, quavering sounds of the geese are the voice of the cloudy air, a sound that comes from directly between us and the sky, an aerial sound, and yet so distinct, heavy and sonorous; a clanking chain drawn through the heavy air. I saw through my window some children looking up, and pointing their tiny bows into the heavens, and I knew at once that the geese were in the air. It is always an exciting event. The children, instinctively aware of its importance, rushed into the house to tell their parents. These travelers are revealed to you by the upward-turned gaze of men. And though these undulating lines are melting into the southwestern sky, the sound comes clear and distinct to you as the clank of a chain in a neighboring stithy. So they migrate, not flying from hedge to hedge, but from latitude to latitude, from state to state, steering boldly out into the ocean of the air. It is remarkable how these large objects, so plain when your vision is rightly directed, may be lost in the sky, if you look away for a moment, as hard to hit as a star with a telescope.
It is a sort of encouraging or soothing sound, to assuage their painful fears when they go over a town, as a man moans to deaden a physical pain. The direction of their flight each spring and autumn reminds us inlanders how the coast trends. In the afternoon I met Flood, who endeavored to draw my attention to a flock of geese in the mizzling air, but encountering me he lost sight of them, while I at length, looking that way, discovered them, though he could not. This was the third flock to-day. Now, if ever, then, we may expect some change in the weather.
p. m. To the swamp in front of the C. Miles house. I have no doubt that a good farmer, who of course loves his work, takes exactly the same kind of pleasure in draining a swamp, seeing the water flow out in his newly-cut ditch, that a child does in his mud dykes and water wheels. Both alike love to play with the natural forces.
There is quite a ravine by which the water of this swamp flows out eastward, and at the bottom of it many prinos berries are conspicuous, now apparently in their prime. These are appointed to be an ornament of this bare season between leaves and snow. The swamp pink's large, yellowish buds, too, are conspicuous now. I see also the swamp pyrus buds, expanded sometimes into small leaves. This then is a regular phenomenon. It is the only shrub or tree that I know which so decidedly springs again in the fall, in the Indian summer. It might be called the Indian-summer shrub. The clethra buds, too, have decidedly expanded there, showing leaflets, but very small. Some of the new pyrus leaves are nearly full-grown. Would not this be a pretty device on some hale and cheery old man's shield, the swamp pyrus unfolding its leaves again in the fall? Every plant enjoys some preëminence, and this is its: the most forward to respond to the warmer season. How much spring there is in it! Its sap is most easily liquefied. It takes the least sun to thaw and develop it. It makes this annual sacrifice of its very first leaves to its love for the sun. While all other plants are reserved, this is open and confiding. I see it not without emotion. I, too, have my spring thoughts even in November. This I see in pleasant November days, when rills and birds begin to tinkle in winter fashion through the more open aisles of the swamps.
I do not know exactly what that sweet word is which the chickadee says when it hops near to me now in those ravines.
When the air is thick and the sky overcast, we need not walk so far. We give our attention to nearer objects, being less distracted from them. I take occasion to explore some near wood which my walks commonly overshoot.
Ah, my friends, I know you better than you think, and love you better, too. The day after never, we will have an explanation.
Nov. 8, 1858. p. m. To Boulder Field. . . . Nature has many scenes to exhibit, and constantly draws a curtain over this part or that. She is constantly repainting the landscape and all surfaces, dressing up some scene for our entertainment. Lately we had a leafy wilderness; now bare twigs begin to prevail, and soon she will surprise us with a mantle of snow. Some green she thinks so good for our eyes that, like blue, she never banishes it entirely from our eyes, but has created evergreens.
It is remarkable how little any but a lichenist will observe on the bark of trees. The mass of men have but the vaguest and most indefinite notion of mosses, as a sort of shreds and fringes, and the world in which the lichenist dwells is much further from theirs than one side of this earth from the other. They see bark as if they saw it not. . . . Each phase of nature, while not invisible, is yet not too distinct and obstrusive. It is there, to be found when we look for it, but not demanding our attention. It is like a silent but sympathizing companion, in whose company we retain most of the advantages of solitude, with whom we can walk and talk, or be silent, naturally, without the necessity of talking in a strain foreign to the place. I know of but one or two persons with whom I can afford to walk. With most, the walk degenerates into a more vigorous use of your legs (ludicrously purposeless), while you are discussing some weighty argument, each one having his say, spoiling each other's day, worrying one another with conversation. I know of no use in the walking part in this case, except that we may seem to be getting on together toward some goal. But of course we keep our distance all the way; jumping every wall and ditch with vigor in the vain hope of shaking our companion off, trying to kill two birds with one stone, though they sit at opposite points of the compass, to see nature and do the honors to one who does not.
I wandered over bare fields where the cattle, lately turned out, roamed restless and unsatisfied with the feed. I dived into a rustling young oak wood where not a green leaf was to be seen, and again I thought, They are all gone surely, and have left me alone. Not even a man Friday remains. What nutriment can I extract from these bare twigs? Starvation stares me in the face. "Nay, nay," said a nuthatch, making its way, head downward, about a bare hickory close by, "The nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat. Only the superfluous has been swept away. Now we behold the naked truth. If at any time the weather is too bleak and cold for you, keep the sunny side of the trunk, for a wholesome and inspiring warmth is there, such as the summer never afforded. There are the winter mornings with the sun on the oak wood-tops. While buds sleep thoughts wake." "Hear! hear!" screamed the jay from a neighboring tree, where I had heard a tittering for some time, "winter has a concentrated and nutty kernel, if you know where to look for it," and then the speaker shifted to an other tree farther off and reiterated his assertions, and his mate at a distance confirmed them; and now I heard a suppressed chuckle from a red squirrel that heard the last remark, but had kept silent and invisible all the while. The birds being gone, the squirrel came running down a slanting bough, and as he stopped twirling a nut, called out rather impudently, "Look here! just get a snug-fitting fur coat and a pair of fur gloves like mine, and you may laugh at a northeast storm." Then he wound up with a stray phrase in his own lingo, accompanied by a flourish of his tail.
Nov. 9, 1850. I found many fresh violets (Viola pedata) to-day in the woods.
Nov. 9, 1851. I would fain set down something beside facts. Facts should only be the frame to my picture. They should be material to the mythology which I am writing, not facts to assist men to make money, farmers to farm profitably in any common sense, facts to tell who I am, and where I have been, or what I have thought; as now the bell rings for evening meeting, and its volumes of sound, like smoke which rises from where a cannon is fired, make the tent in which I dwell. My facts shall all be falsehoods to the common sense. I would so state facts that they shall be significant, shall be myths or mythologic, facts which the mind perceived, thoughts which the body thought, with these I deal. I cherish vague and misty forms, vaguest when the cloud at which I gaze is dissipated quite, and naught but the skyey depths are seen.
James P. Brown's retired pond, now shallow and more than half dried up, seems far away and rarely visited, known to few, though not far off. It is encircled by an amphitheatre of low hills, on two opposite sides covered with high pine woods, the two other sides with young white oaks and white pines respectively. I am affected by seeing there reflected this gray day, the gray stems of the pine wood on the hillside, and the sky; that mirror, as it were a permanent picture to be seen there, a permanent piece of idealism. I am a little surprised on beholding this reflection which I did not perceive for some minutes after looking into the pond, as if I had not regarded this as a constant phenomenon. What has become of Nature's common-sense and love of facts when in the very mud-puddles she reflects the skies and the trees? Does that procedure recommend itself entirely to the common-sense of men? Is that the way the New England farmer would have arranged it?
Now the leaves are gone, the birds' nests are revealed, the brood being fledged and flown. There is a perfect adaptation in the material used in constructing a nest. Here is one which I took from a maple on the causeway at Hubbard's bridge. It is fastened to the twigs by white woolen strings (out of a shawl?) which were picked up in the road, though it is more than half a mile from a house; and the sharp eyes of the bird have discovered plenty of horsehairs out of the tail or mane with which to give it form by their spring, with meadow hay for body, and the reddish woolly material which invests the ferns in the spring, apparently, for lining.
Nov. 9, 1852. Ranunculus repens, Bidens connata, flat in a brook, yarrow, dandelion, autumnal dandelion, tansy, Aster undulatus, etc. A late three-ribbed golden-rod, with large serratures in the middle of the narrow leaves, ten or twelve rays, Potentilla argentea. Early part of November, time for walnutting.
Nov. 9, 1853. p. m. To Fair Haven Hill by boat with W. E. C. The muskrats have added a new story to their houses since the last flood which covered them, I mean that of October 31st, or thereabouts. They are uncommonly high, I think full four feet by five or more in diameter, a heaping cart-load. There are at least eight such within half a mile. It is remarkable how little effect the waves have on them, while a heap of manure or a haycock would be washed away or undermined at once. I opened one. It was composed of coarse grass, pontederia stems, etc., not altogether in mouthfuls. This was three and a half feet above water, others quite four. After taking off a foot, I came to the chamber. It was a regularly formed oval or elliptical chamber, about eighteen inches the longest way, and seven or eight inches deep, shaped like a pebble, with smooth walls of the weeds, and bottomed or bedded with a very little drier grass, a mere coating of it. It would hold four or five, closely packed. The entrance, eight or nine inches wide, led directly from the water at an angle of 45°, and in the water there were some green and white stub ends of pontederia (?) stems, I think, looking like flagroot. That thick wall, a foot quite or more above, and eighteen inches or two feet [below?], being of these damp materials soon freezes, and makes a tight and warm house. The walls are of such breadth at the bottom that the water in the gallery probably never freezes. If the height of these houses is any sign of high or low water, this winter it will be uncommonly high.
Nov. 9, 1855. 9 a. m. With Blake up Assabet. Saw in the pool at the Hemlocks what I at first thought was a brighter leaf moved by the zephyr on the surface of the smooth, dark water, but it was a splendid male summer duck, which allowed us to approach within seven or eight rods. It was sailing up close to the shore, and then rose and flew up the curving stream. It was a perfect floating gem, and Blake, who had never seen the like, was greatly surprised, not knowing that so splendid a bird was found in this part of the world. There it was, constantly moving back and forth by invisible means, and wheeling on the smooth surface, showing now its breast, now its side, now its rear. It had a large, rich, flowing, green, burnished crest, a most ample head-dress, two crescents of dazzling white on the side of the head and the black neck, a pinkish red bill (with black tip) and similar irides, and a long white mark under and at wing-point on sides, the side, as if the form of wing at this distance, light bronze or greenish brown; but, above all, its breast, when it turns into the right light, all aglow with splendid purple (?) or ruby (?) reflections like the throat of the humming-bird. It might not appear so, close at hand. This was the most surprising to me. What an ornament to a river, that glowing gem floating in contact with its waters; as if the humming-bird should recline its ruby throat and its breast there; like dipping a glowing coal in water. It so affected me. Unless you are thus near, and have a glass, the splendor and beauty of its colors will not be discovered.
I deal so much with my fuel, what with finding it, loading it, conveying it home, sawing and splitting it, get so many values out of it, that the heat it will yield when in the stove is of a lower temperature and less value in my eyes, though when I feel it I am reminded of all my adventures. I just turned to put in a stick. I had my choice in the box of gray chestnut rail, black and brown snag of an oak stump, dead white pine top, or else old bridge plank, and chose the last. Yes, I lose sight of the ultimate uses of the wood and work, the immediate ones are so great, and yet most of mankind, those called most successful in obtaining the necessaries of life, getting a living, obtain none of this except a mere vulgar and perhaps stupefying warmth. I feel disposed, to this extent, to do the getting a living and the living for any three or four of my neighbors who really want the fuel and will appreciate the act, now that I have supplied myself. I affect what would commonly be called a mean and miserable way of living. I thoroughly sympathize with all savages and gypsies in as far as they assert the original right of man to the productions of Nature and a place in her.
Nov. 9, 1857. Mr. [Jacob] Farmer tells me that one Sunday he went to his barn, having nothing to do, and thought he would watch the swallows, republican swallows. The old bird was feeding her young, and he sat within fifteen feet, overlooking them. There were five young, and as often as the bird came with a fly, the one at the door or opening took it, and then they all hitched round one notch, so that a new one was presented at the door, who received the next fly, and this was the invariable order, the same one never receiving two flies in succession. At last the old bird brought a very small fly, and the young one that swallowed it did not desert his ground, but waited to receive the next, but when the bird came with another of the usual size, she commenced a loud and long scolding at the little one, till it resigned its place, and the next in succession received the fly.
Nov. 9, 1858. The newspaper tells me that Uncannoonuc was white with snow for a short time on the morning of the 7th. Thus steadily but unobserved the winter steals down from the north till from our highest hills we can discern its vanguard. Next week perchance our own hills will be white. Little did we think how near the winter was. It is as if a scout had brought us word that an enemy was approaching in force, only a day's march distant. Manchester was the spy this time, who has a camp at the base of that hill. We had not thought seriously of winter, we dwelt in fancied security yet.
It is of no use to plow deeper than the soil is, unless you mean to follow up that mode of cultivation persistently, manuring highly and carting in muck, at each plowing making a soil, in short. Yet many a man likes to tackle weighty themes like immortality, but in his discourse he turns up nothing but yellow sand, under which what little fertile and available surface soil he may have is quite buried and lost. He should teach frugality rather, how to postpone the fatal hour; should plant a crop of beans. He might have raised enough of them to make a deacon of him, though never a preacher. Many a man runs his plow so deep in heavy or strong soil that it sticks fast in the furrow. It is a great art in the writer to improve from day to day just that soil and fertility which he has, to harvest that crop which his life yields, whatever it may be, not be straining as if to reach apples and oranges when he yields only ground-nuts. He should be digging, not soaring. Just as earnest as your life is, so deep is your soil. If strong and deep, you will sow wheat and raise bread of life in it.
Nov. 10, 1851. It appears to me that those things which most engage the daily attention of men, as politics, for instance, are, it is true, vital functions of human society, but should be unconsciously performed like the vital functions of the natural body. It is as if a thinker submitted himself to be rasped by the great gizzard of creation. Politics is, as it were, the gizzard of society, full of grit and gravel, and the two political parties are its two opposite halves which grind on each other. Not only individuals, but states, have thus a confirmed dyspepsia, which expresses itself, you can imagine by what sort of eloquence. Our life is not altogether a for getting, but also, to a great extent, a remembering of that which, perchance, we should never have been conscious of, which should not be permitted to distract a man's waking hours. Why should we not meet, not always as dyspeptics, but sometimes as eupeptics? In our intercourse we refer to no true and absolute account of things, but there is ever a petty reference to man, to society, aye, often to Christianity. I come from the funeral of mankind to attend to a natural phenomenon. The significance of any fact in nature, of sun and moon and stars, is so much grander when not referred to man and his needs, but viewed absolutely. Then we catch sounds which are wafted from over the confines of time.
Nov. 10, 1858. Hearing in an oak wood near by a sound as if some one had broken a twig, I looked up and saw a jay, pecking at an acorn. There were several of them gathering acorns on a scarlet oak. I could hear them breaking them off. They then flew to a suitable limb, and placing the acorn under one foot, hammered away at it busily, looking round from time to time to see if any foe was approaching, and soon reached the meat, and nibbled at it, holding up their heads to swallow, while they held it very firmly with their claws. (Their hammering made a sound like the woodpecker's.) Nevertheless, it sometimes dropped to the ground before they had done with it.
Nov. 11, 1850. This afternoon I heard a single cricket singing, chirruping on a bank, the only one I have heard for a long time, like a squirrel, or a little bird, clear and shrill,—as I fancied, like an evening robin, singing in this evening of the year. A very fine and poetical strain for such a little singer. I had never before heard the cricket so like a bird. It is a remarkable note, the earth-song.
That delicate, waving, feathery dry grass which I saw yesterday is to be remembered with the autumn. The dry grasses are not dead for me. A beautiful form has as much life at one season as at another.
I notice that everywhere in the pastures minute young fragrant life-everlasting with only four or five flat-lying leaves and thread-like roots, all together as big as a fourpence, spots the ground, like winter rye and grass which roots itself in the fall against another year. These little things have bespoken their places for the next season. They have a little pallet of cotton or down in their centres, ready for an early start in the spring.
I saw an old bone in the woods covered with lichens, which looked like the bone of an old settler, which yet some little animal had recently gnawed. I saw plainly the marks of its teeth, so indefatigable is nature to strip the flesh from bones, and return them to dust again. No little rambling beast can go by some dry and ancient bone, but he must turn aside and try his teeth upon it. An old bone is knocked about till it becomes dust; nature has no mercy on it. It was quite too ancient to suggest disagreeable associations. It survives like the memory of a man. With time all that was personal and offensive wears off. The tooth of envy may sometimes gnaw it and reduce it more rapidly, but it is much more a prey to forgetfulness.
Nov. 11, 1851. 2 p. m. A bright, but cold day, finger-cold. One must next wear gloves, put his hands in winter quarters. There is a cold, silvery light on the white pines as I go through J. P. Brown's field near Jenny Dugan's. I am glad of the shelter of the thick pine wood on the Marlboro' road, on the plain. The roar of the wind over the pines sounds like the surf on countless beaches, an endless shore, and at intervals it sounds like a gong resounding through halls and entries, that is, there is a certain resounding woodiness in the tone. The sky looks mild and fair enough from this shelter. Every withered blade of grass and every dry weed as well as pine needle, reflects the light. The lately dark woods are open and light, the sun shines in upon the stems of trees which it has not shone on since spring. Around the edges of ponds the weeds are dead, and there, too, the light penetrates. The atmosphere is less moist and gross, and light is universally dispersed. We are greatly indebted to these transition seasons or states of the atmosphere, which show us thus phenomena that belong not to the summer or the winter of any climate. The brilliancy of the autumn is wonderful, this flashing brilliancy, as if the atmosphere were phosphoric.
When I have been confined to my chamber for the greater part of several days by some employment or perchance by the ague, till I felt weary and house-worn, I have been conscious of a certain softness to which I am otherwise commonly a stranger, in which the gates were loosened to some emotions; and if I were to become a confirmed invalid, I see how some sympathy with mankind and society might spring up. Yet what is my softness good for, even to tears? It is not I, but nature in me. I laughed at myself the other day to think that I cried while reading a pathetic story. I was no more affected in spirit than I frequently am, methinks. The tears were merely a phenomenon of the bowels, and I felt that that expression of my sympathy, so unusual with me, was something mean, and such as I should be ashamed to have the subject of it understand.
To-day you may write a chapter on the advantages of traveling, and to-morrow you may write another on the advantages of not traveling. The horizon has one kind of beauty and attraction to him who has never explored the hills and mountains in it, and another, I fear a less ethereal and glorious one, to him who has. That blue mountain in the horizon is certainly the most heavenly, the most elysian, which we have not climbed, on which we have not camped for a night. But our horizon, by such exploration, is only moved farther off, and if our whole life should prove thus a failure, the future which is to atone for all, where still there must be some success, will be more glorious still.
It is fatal to the writer to be too much possessed by his thought; things must be a little remote to be described.
Nov. 11, 1853. 9 a. m. To Fair Haven by boat. The morning is so calm and pleasant, that I must spend the forenoon abroad. The river is smooth as polished silver. Some muskrat houses have received a slight addition in the night. The one I opened day before yesterday has been covered again, though not yet raised so high as before. I counted nineteen between Hubbard bathing place and Hubbard's further wood, this side the Hallowell place, from two to four feet high. I opened one. The floor of the chamber was two feet or more beneath the top, and one foot above the water. It was quite warm from the recent presence of the inhabitants.
Nov. 11, 1854. Minott heard geese go over night before last about 8 p. m. Therien, too, heard them "yelling like anything" over Walden, where he is cutting, the same evening.
Nov. 11, 1855. p. m. Up Assabet. The bricks of which the muskrat builds his house are little masses or wads of the dead weedy rubbish on the muddy bottom which it probably takes up with its mouth. It consists of various kinds of weeds, now confervæ by the slime, agglutinated and dried converbal threads, utricularia, hornwort, etc.,—a streaming, tuft-like wad. The building of these cabins appears to be coincident with the commencement of their clam diet, for now their vegetable food, excepting roots, is cut off. I see many small collections of shells already left along the river's brink. Thither they resort with their clam, to open and eat it. But if it is the edge of a meadow which is being overflowed, they must raise it, and make a permanent dry stool there, for they cannot afford to swim far with each clam. I see where one has left half a peck of shells on perhaps the foundation of an old stool or a harder clod which the water is just about to cover. He has begun his stool by laying two or three fresh wads upon the shells, the foundation of his house. Thus their cabin is apparently first intended merely for a stool, and afterward, when it is large, perforated as if it were the bank! There is no cabin for a long way above the hemlocks, where there is no low meadow bordering the stream.
Nov. 11, 1858. Goodwin brings me this morning a this year's loon which he has just killed in the river, the Great Northern Diver, but a smaller specimen than Wilson describes, and somewhat differently marked. It is twenty-seven inches long to end of feet, by forty-four, bill three and three fourths to angle of mouth. Above, bluish gray, with small white spots (two at end of each feather). Beneath, pure white, throat and all, except a dusky bar across the vent. Bill, chiefly pale bluish and dusky. You are struck by its broad, flat, sharp-edged legs, made to cut through the water rather than to walk with, set far back and naturally stretched out backward, its long and powerful bill, conspicuous white throat and breast. Dislodged by winter in the north, it is slowly traveling toward a warmer climate, diving this morning in the cool river, which is now full of light, the trees and shrubs on its bank having long since lost their leaves. The neighboring fields are white with frost. Yet this hardy bird is comfortable and contented there, if the sportsmen will let it alone.
Nov. 11, 1859. October 24, riding home from Acton, I saw the withered leaves blown from an oak by the roadside, dashing off, gyrating, and surging upward into the air, so exactly like a flock of birds sporting with one another, that for a moment, at least, I could not be sure they were not birds, and it suggested how far the motions of birds, like those of these leaves, might be determined by currents of air, that is, how far the bird learns to conform to such currents.
Nov. 12, 1837. I yet lack discernment to distinguish the whole lesson of to-day, but it is not lost, it will come to me at last. My desire is to know what I have lived, that I may know how to live henceforth.