by Henry David Thoreau

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Nov. 30, 1851 to Nov. 30, 1859

Nov. 30, 1851. Another cold and windy afternoon, with some snow, not yet melted, on the ground. Under the south side of a hill between Brown's and Tarbell's, in a warm nook, disturbed three large gray squirrels and some partridges, which had all sought out this bare and warm place. While the squirrels hid themselves in the treetops, I sat on an oak stump by an old cellar hole, and mused. This squirrel is always an unexpectedly large animal to see frisking about. My eye wanders across the valley to the pine woods which fringe the opposite side, and finds in their aspect something which addresses itself to my nature. Methinks that in my mood I was asking nature to give me a sign. I do not know exactly what it was that attracted my eye. I experienced a transient gladness, at any rate, at something which I saw. I am sure that my eye rested with pleasure on the white pines now reflecting a silvery light, the infinite stories of their boughs, tier above tier, a sort of basaltic structure, a crumbling precipice of pine horizontally stratified. Each pine is like a great green feather stuck in the ground. A myriad white-pine boughs extend themselves horizontally, one above and behind another, each bearing its burden of silvery sunlight, with darker seams between them, as if it were a great crumbling piny precipice thus stratified. On this my eyes pastured while the squirrels were up the trees behind me. That, at any rate, it was that I got by my afternoon walk, a certain recognition from the pine, some congratulation. Where is my home? It is indistinct as an old cellar-hole now, a faint indentation merely in a farmer's field, which he has plowed into, rounding off its edges, years ago, and I sit by the old site on the stump of an oak which once grew there. Such is nature where we have lived. Thick birch groves stand here and there, dark brown now, with white lines here and there. The Lygodium palmatum [climbing fern] is quite abundant on that side of the swamp, twining round the golden-rods, etc.

Nov. 30, 1852. To Pine Hill. The buds of the Populus tremuloides show their down as in early spring, and the early willows. From Pine Hill, Wachusett is seen over Walden. The country seems to slope up from the west end of Walden to the mountain. Already a little after four o'clock, the sparkling windows and vanes of the village seen under and against the faintly purple-tinged, slate-colored mountains, remind me of a village in a mountainous country at twilight, where early lights appear. I think that this sparkle without redness, a cold glitter, is peculiar to this season.

Nov. 30, 1853. 8 a. m. To river to examine roots. I ascertain this morning that the white root with eyes, and slaty-tinged fibres, and sharp leaves rolled up, found gnawed off and floating about muskrat houses is the root of the great yellow lily. The leaf-stalk is yellow, while that of the white lily is a downy or mildewy blue-black. The yellow-lily root is then, it would seem, a principal item in the vegetable diet of the muskrat. I find that those large triangular or rhomboidal or shell-shaped eyes or shoulders on this root are the bases of leaf-stalks which have rotted off, but toward the upper end of the root are still seen decaying. They are a sort of abutment on which the leaf-stalk rested. The fine black dots on them are the bases of the fine threads or fibres of the leaf-stalk, which in the still living leaf-stalk are distinguished by their purple color. These eyes, like the leaves, of course, are arranged spirally across the roots in parallel rows, in quincunx order, so that four make a diamond figure.

Nov. 30, 1855. This evening I received Cholmondeley's gift of Indian books, forty-four volumes in all, which came by the Canada.

On the twenty-seventh, when I made my last voyage for the season, I found a large round pine log about four feet long, floating, and brought it home. Off the larger end I sawed two wheels about a foot in diameter, and seven or eight inches thick, and I fitted to them an axletree made of a joist which I also found in the river. Thus I had a convenient pair of wheels on which to get my boat up and roll it about. I was pleased to get my boat in by this means rather than on a borrowed wheelbarrow. It was fit that the river should furnish the material, and that in my last voyage on it, when the ice reminded me that it was time to put it in winter quarters.

Nov. 30, 1856. Minott told me on Friday of an oldish man and woman who had brought to a muster here once a great leg of bacon boiled, to turn a penny with. The skin, as thick as sole leather, was flayed and turned back, displaying the tempting flesh. A tall, raw-boned, omnivorous heron of a Yankee came along and bargained with the woman, who was awaiting a customer, for as much of that as he could eat. He ate and ate and ate, making a surprising hole, greatly to the amusement of the lookers-on, till the woman in her despair, unfaithful to her engagement, appealed to the police to drive him off.

Minott Pratt tells me that he watched the fringed gentian this year, and it lasted till the first week in November.

Nov. 30, 1857. A still, warm, cloudy, rain-threatening day. Surveying the J. Richardson lot. The air is full of geese. I saw five flocks within an hour, about 10 a. m., containing from thirty to fifty each, afterward two more flocks, making in all from two hundred and fifty to three hundred, at least, all flying southwest over Goose and Walden Ponds. You first hear a faint honking from one or two in the northeast, and think there are but few wandering there, but look up and see forty or fifty coming on, in a more or less broken harrow, wedging their way southwest. I suspect they honk more, at any rate they are more broken and alarmed, when passing over a village, and are seen falling into their ranks again, assuming the perfect harrow form. Hearing only one or two honking, even for the seventh time, you think there are but few till you see them. According to my calculation, ten or fifteen hundred may have gone over Concord to-day. When they fly low and near, they look very black against the sky.

Nov. 30, 1858. p. m. To Walden with C., and Fair Haven Hill. It is a pleasant day, and the snow melting considerably. Though Walden is open, it is a perfect winter scene; this withdrawn, but ample recess in the woods, with all that is necessary for a human residence, yet never referred to by the London "Times" and Galignani's "Messenger," as some of those arctic bays are. Some are hastening to Europe, some to the West Indies, but here is a bay never steered for. These nameless bays, where the "Times" and the "Tribune" have no correspondent, are the true bays of All Saints for me. Green pines on this side, brown oaks on that, the blue sky overhead, and the white counterpane all around. It is an insignificant fraction of the globe which England and Russia and the filibusters have overrun. The open pond close by, though considerably rippled to-day, affects me as a peculiarly mild and genial object by contrast with this frozen pool, and I sit down on the shore in the sun, on the bare rocks. There seems to be a milder air above it, as the water within it is milder. Going west through Wheeler's Owl wood toward Weird Dell, Well Meadow Field, I beheld a peculiar winter scene, seen many times before, but forgotten. The sun, rather low, is seen through the wood with a cold, dazzling, white lustre, like that of burnished tin, reflected from the silvery needles of the pine. No powerful light streams through, but you stand in the quiet and somewhat sombre aisles of a forest cathedral, where cold green masses alternate with pale-brown, but warm, leather-colored ones; you are inclined to call them red, reddish tawny, almost ruddy. These are the internal decorations, while dark trunks streaked with sunlight rise on all sides, and a pure white floor stretches around, and perhaps a single patch of yellow sunlight is seen on the white shaded floor.

Did ever clouds flit and change, form and dissolve so fast as in this clear cold air? for it is rapidly growing colder, and at such a time, with a clear air, wind, and shifting clouds, I never fail to see mother-o'-pearl tints abundant in the sky.

Coming over the side of Fair Haven Hill at sunset, we saw a long, large, dusky cloud in the northwest horizon, apparently just this side of Wachusett, or at least twenty miles off, which was snowing, when all the rest was clear sky. It was a complete snow cloud. It looked like rain falling at an equal distance, except that the snow fell less directly, and the upper outline of a part of the cloud was more like that of a dusky mist. It was not much of a snowstorm, just enough to partially obscure the mountains about which it was falling, while the cloud was apparently high above them, or it may have been a little this side. The cloud was of a dun color, and at its south end, where the sun was just about to set, it was all aglow on its under side with a salmon fulgor, making it look warmer than a furnace, at the same time that it was snowing. It was a rare and strange sight, that of a snowstorm twenty miles off, on the verge of a perfectly clear sky. Thus local is all storm, surrounded by serenity and beauty. The terrestrial mountains were made ridiculous beneath that stupendous range. The sun seen setting through the snow-carpeted woods, with shimmering pine needles, or dark green spruces, and warm brown oak leaves for screens. With the advent of snow and ice, so much cold white, the browns are warmer to the eye. All the red that is in oak leaves and huckleberry twigs comes out.

I cannot but still see in my mind's eye those little striped breams poised in Walden's glaucous water. They balance all the rest of the world in my estimation at present, for this is the bream I have just found, and, for the time being, I neglect all its brethren, and am ready to kill the fatted calf on its account. For more than two centuries have men fished here, and have not distinguished this permanent settler of the township. It is not like a new bird, a transient visitor that may not be seen again for years, but there it dwells and has dwelt permanently, who can tell how long? When my eyes first rested on Walden, the striped bream was poised in it, though I did not see it, and when Tahatawan paddled his canoe there. How wild it makes the pond and the township to find a new fish in it. America renews her youth here. But in my account of the bream, I cannot go a hair's breadth beyond the mere statement that it exists, the miracle of its existence. My contemporary and neighbor, yet so different from me! I can only poise my thought there by its side, and try to think like a bream for a moment. I can only think of precious jewels, of music, poetry, beauty, and the mystery of life. I only see the bream in its orbit, as I see a star, but I care not to measure its distance or weight. The bream appreciated floats in the pond, as the centre of the system, another image of God. Its life no man can explain, more than he can his own. I want you to perceive the mystery of the bream. I have a contemporary in Walden. It has fins where I have legs and arms. I have a friend among the fishes, at least a new acquaintance. Its character will interest me, I trust, and not its clothes and anatomy. I do not want it to eat. Acquaintance with it is to make my life more rich and eventful. It is as if a poet or an anchorite had moved into the town, whom I can see from time to time, and think of yet oftener.

Though science may sometimes compare herself to a child picking up pebbles on the seashore, that is a rare mood with her. Ordinarily her practical belief is that it is only a few pebbles which are not known, weighed and measured. A new species of fish signifies hardly more than a new name. See what is contributed in the scientific reports. One counts the fin-rays, another measures the intestines, a third daguerreotypes a scale, etc.; as if all but this were done, and these were very rich and generous contributions to science. Her votaries may be seen wandering along the shore of the ocean of Truth, with their backs toward it, ready to seize on the shells which are cast up. You would say that the scientific bodies were terribly put to it for objects and subjects. A dead specimen of an animal, if it is only well preserved in alcohol, is just as good for science as a living one preserved in its native element. What is the amount of my discovery to me? It is not that I have got one in a bottle, and that it has a name in a book, but that I have a little fishy friend in the pond. How was it when the youth first discovered fishes? Was it the number of their fin-rays or other arrangement, or the place of the fish in some system that made the boy dream of them? Is it these things that interest mankind in the fish, the inhabitant of the water? No, but a faint recognition of a living contemporary, a provoking mystery. One boy thinks of fishes, and goes a-fishing from the same motive that his brother searches the poets for rare lines. It is the poetry of fishes which is their chief use, their flesh is their lowest use. The beauty of the fish, that is what it is best worth while to measure. Its place in our systems is of comparatively little importance. Generally the boy loses some of his perception and his interest in the fish, and degenerates into a fisherman or an ichthyologist.

Nov. 30, 1859. I am one of a committee of four (Simon Brown, ex-Lieutenant-Governor, R. W. Emerson, myself, and John Keyes, late High Sheriff) instructed by a meeting of citizens to ask liberty from the selectmen to have the bell of the first parish tolled at the time Captain Brown is being hanged, and while we shall be assembled in the Town House to express our sympathy with him. I applied to the selectmen yesterday. After various delays, they at length answer me to-night that they "are uncertain whether they have any control over the bell, but that, in any case, they will not give their consent to have the bell tolled." Beside their private objections, they are influenced by the remarks of a few individuals; ——said that he had heard "five hundred" damn me for it, and that he had no doubt, if it were done, some counter demonstration would be made, such as firing minute guns. A considerable part of Concord are in the condition of Virginia to-day, afraid of their own shadows.

It is quite warm to-day, and as I go home on the railroad causeway, I hear a hylodes peeping.

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