Oct. 1, 1851. 5 p. m. Just put a fugitive slave, who has taken the name of Henry Williams, into the cars for Canada. He escaped from Stafford County, Virginia, to Boston last October. Has been in Shadrack's place at the Cornhill Coffee House; had been corresponding through an agent with his master, who is his father, about buying himself, his master asking $600, but he having been able to raise but $500; heard that there were writs out for two Williamses, fugitives, and was informed by his fellow-servants and employer that Augerhole Burns and others of the police had called for him when he was out. Accordingly he fled to Concord last night on foot, bringing a letter to our family from Mr. Lovejoy, of Cambridge, and another which Garrison had formerly given him on another occasion. He lodged with us and waited in the house till funds were collected with which to forward him. Intended to dispatch him at noon through to Burlington, but when I went to buy his ticket saw one at the station who looked and behaved so much like a Boston policeman that I did not venture that time. He was an intelligent and very well behaved man, a mulatto; said he could guide himself by many other stars than the north star, knowing their rising and setting. They steered for the north star even when it appeared to have got round to the south. They frequently followed the telegraph when there was no railroad.
Oct. 1, 1856. Examined an Asclepias Cornuti pod, already opening. As they dry, the pods crack open by the seam along their convex or outer side, revealing the seeds with their silky parachutes, closely packed in an imbricated manner, already right side up, to the number in one instance of 134, as I counted, and again 270. As they lie, they resemble somewhat a round plump fish, with the silk ends exposed at the tail. Children call them fishes. The silk is divided once or twice by the raised partition of the spongy core around which they are arranged. At the top of some more open and drier is already a little clump of loosened seeds and down two or three inches in diameter, held by the converging tips of the down, like meridians, and just ready to float away when the wind rises.
I do not perceive the poetic and dramatic capabilities of an anecdote or story which is told me, its significance, till some time afterwards. One of the qualities of a pregnant fact is that it does not surprise us, and we only perceive afterwards how interesting it is, and then must know all the particulars. We do not enjoy poetry fully unless we know it to be poetry.
Oct. 1, 1858. Let a full-grown but young cock stand near you. How full of life he is from the tip of his bill through his trembling wattles and comb and his bright eye to the extremity of his clean toes! How alert and restless, listening to every sound and watching every motion! How various his notes, from the finest and shrillest alarum, as a hawk sails over, surpassing the most accomplished violinist on the short strings, to a hoarse and terrene voice or cluck! He has a word for every occasion; for the dog that rushes past, and Partlet cackling in the barn. And then, how, elevating himself and flapping his wings, he gathers impetus and air, and launches forth that world-renowned and ear-piercing strain; not a vulgar note of defiance, but the mere effervescence of life, like the bursting of bubbles in a wine vat. Is any gem so bright as his eye?
The cat sleeps on her head! What does that portend? It is more alarming than a dozen comets. How long prejudice survives! The big-bodied fisherman asks me doubtingly about the comet seen these nights in the northwest—if there is any danger to be apprehended from that side. I would fain suggest that only he is dangerous to himself.
Oct. 1, 1860. Remarkable frost and ice this morning; quite a wintry prospect. The leaves of trees stiff and white at 7 a. m. I hear it was 21°+ this morning early. I do not remember such cold at this season. One man tells me he regretted that he had not taken his mittens with him when he went to his morning's work, mowing in a meadow, and when he went to a spring, at 11 a. m., found the dipper with two inches of ice in it frozen solid.
Oct. 2, 1851. p. m. Some of the white pines on Fair Haven Hill have just reached the acme of their fall; others have almost entirely shed their leaves. The same is the state of the pitch pines.
Oct. 2, 1852. The beggar ticks, bidens, now adhere to my clothes. I also find the desmodium sooner thus—as a magnet discovers the steel filings in a heap of ashes—than if I used my eyes alone.
How much more beautiful the lakes now, like Fair Haven, surrounded by the autumn-tinted woods and hills, as in an ornamental frame!
Some maples in sprout lands are of a delicate, clear, unspotted red inclining to crimson, surpassing most flowers. I would fain pluck the whole tree and carry it home for a nosegay.
Oct. 2, 1856. Succory still, with its cool blue, here and there, and Hieracium Canadense still quite fresh, with its pretty, broad, strap-shaped rays, broadest at the end, alternately long and short, with five very regular sharp teeth in the end of each. The scarlet leaves and stem of the rhexia, some time out of flower, make almost as bright a patch in the meadow now as the flowers did. Its seed vessels are perfect little cream pitchers of graceful form.
The prinos berries are in their prime, seven sixteenths of an inch in diameter. They are scarlet, somewhat lighter than the arum berries. They are now very fresh and bright, and what adds to their effect is the perfect freshness and greenness of the leaves amid which they are seen. Gerardia purpurea still. Solidago speciosa completely out, though not a flower was out September 27th, or five days ago; say three or four days. Now and then I see a Hypericum Canadense flower still. The leaves of this and the angalosam are turned crimson.
I am amused to see four little Irish boys, only five or six years old, getting a horse in a pasture, for their father apparently, who is at work in a neighboring field. They have, all in a row, got hold of a very long halter, and are leading him. All wish to have a hand in it. It is surprising that he obeys such small specimens of humanity, but he seems to be very docile, a real family horse. At length, by dint of pulling and shouting, they get him into a run down a hill, and though he moves very deliberately, scarcely faster than a walk, all but the one at the end of the line soon run to right and left, without having looked behind, expecting him to be upon them. They stop at last at the bars, which are down, and then the family puppy, a brown pointer (?), about two thirds grown, comes bounding to join them and assist. He is as youthful and about as knowing as any of them. The horse marches gravely behind, obeying the faint tug at the halter, or honestly stands still from time to time, as if not aware that they are pulling at all, though they are all together straining every nerve to start him. It is interesting to behold the faithful beast, the oldest and wisest of the company, thus implicitly obeying the lead of the youngest and weakest.
Corydalis still fresh.
Oct. 2, 1857. Generally speaking, it is only the lower edge of the woods that now shows the bright autumnal tints, while the superstructure is green, the birches, very young oaks and hickories, huckleberry bushes, blueberries, etc., that stand around the edges, though here and there some taller maple flames upward amid the masses of green, or some other riper and mellower tree.
The chief incidents of Minott's life must be more distinct and interesting now than immediately after they occurred, for he has recalled and related them so often that they are stereotyped in his mind. Never having traveled far from his hillside, he does not suspect himself, but tells his stories with fidelity and gusto to the minutest details, as Herodotus does in his histories.
Oct. 3, 1840. No man has imagined what private discourse his members have with surrounding nature, or how much the tenor of that intercourse affects his own health and sickness. While the head goes star-gazing, the legs are not necessarily astronomers, too, but are acquiring independent experience in lower strata of nature. How much do they feel which they do not impart! How much rumor dies between the knees and the ears! Surely instinct was this experience. I am no more a freeman of my members than of universal nature. After all, the body takes care of itself. It eats, drinks, sleeps, digests, grows, dies, and the best economy is to let it alone in all these.
Why need I travel to seek a site, and consult the points of the compass? My eyes are south windows, and out of these I command a southern prospect. The eye does the least drudgery of any of the senses. It oftenest escapes to a higher employment. The rest serve and escort and defend it. I attach some superiority, even priority, to this sense. It is the oldest servant in the soul's household; it images what it imagines, it ideates what it idealizes. Through it idolatry crept in, which is a kind of religion. If any joy or grief is to be expressed, the eye is the swift runner that carries the news. In circumspection, double, in fidelity, single, it serves truth always, and carries no false news. Of five castes, it is the Brahmin. It converses with the heavens. How man serves this sense more than any other! When he builds a house, he does not forget to put a window in the wall. We see truth. We are children of light. Our destiny is dark. No other sense has so much to do with the future. The body of science will not be complete till every sense has thus ruled our thought and language and action in its turn.
Oct. 3, 1852. p. m. To Flint's Pond. I hear a hylodes (?) from time to time. Hear the loud laughing of a loon on the pond from time to time, apparently alone in the middle. A wild sound, heard far, and suited to the wildest lake.
Seen from Heywood's Peak at Walden, the shore is now more beautifully painted. The most prominent trees are the red maples and the yellowish aspens.
The pine fall or change has commenced, and the trees are mottled green and yellowish.
Oct. 3, 1853. Viola lanceolata in Moore's Swamp.
Oct. 3, 1857. How much more agreeable to sit in the midst of old furniture like Minott's clock and secretary and looking-glass, which have come down from other generations, than amid that which was just brought from the cabinetmaker's, and smells of varnish, like a coffin! To sit under the face of an old clock that has been ticking one hundred and fifty years,—there is something mortal, not to say immortal, about it; a clock that began to tick when Massachusetts was a province.
Oct. 3, 1858. How many men have a fatal excess of manner! There was one came to our house the other evening, and behaved very simply and well till the moment he was passing out the door. He then suddenly put on the airs of a well-bred man, and consciously described some arc of beauty or other with his head or hand. It was but a slight flourish, but it has put me on the alert.
It is interesting to consider how that crotalaria spreads itself, sure to find out the most suitable soil. One year I find it on the Great Fields, and think it rare. The next I find it in a new and unexpected place. It flits about like a flock of sparrows from field to field.
Standing on the railroad, I look across the pond to Pine Hill, where the outside trees, and the shrubs scattered generally through the wood, glow yellow and scarlet through the green, like fires just kindled at the base of the trees, a general conflagration just fairly under way, soon to envelop every tree. The hillside forest is all aglow along its edge, and in all its cracks and fissures, and soon the flames will leap upwards to the tops of the tallest trees.
I hear out towards the middle, or a dozen rods from me, the plashing made apparently by the shiners; for they look and shine like them, leaping in schools on the surface. Many lift themselves quite out for a foot or two, but most rise only part way out, twenty black points at once. There are several schools indulging in this sport from time to time, as they swim slowly along. This I ascertain by paddling out to them. Perhaps they leap and dance in the water just as gnats dance in the air at present. I have seen it before in the fall. Is it peculiar to this season?
The large leaves of some black oak sprouts are dark purple, almost blackish above, but greenish beneath.
Oct. 3, 1859. p. m. To Bateman's Pond; back by the hog pasture and old Carlisle road.
Some faces that I see are so gross that they affect me like a part of the person improperly exposed, and it seems to me that they might be covered, and, if necessary, some other and perhaps better looking part of the person be exposed.
Looking from the hog pasture over the valley of Spencer Brook westward, we see the smoke rising from a huge chimney above a gray roof and the woods at a distance, where some family is preparing its evening meal. There are few more agreeable sights than this to the pedestrian traveler. No cloud is fairer to him than that little bluish one which arises from the chimney. It suggests all of domestic felicity beneath. There we imagine that life is lived of which we have only dreamed. In our minds we clothe each unseen inhabitant with all the success, all the serenity, we can conceive of. If old, we imagine him serene; if young, hopeful. We have only to see a gray roof with its plume of smoke curling up, to have this faith. There we suspect no coarse haste or bustle, but serene labors which proceed at the same pace with the declining day. There is no hireling in the barn nor in the kitchen. Why are distant valleys, why lakes, why mountains in the horizon, ever fair to us? Because we imagine for a moment that they may be the home of man, and that man's life may be in harmony with them. The sky and clouds and earth itself, with their beauty, forever preach to us, saying, Such an abode we offer you, to such a life we encourage you. Here is not haggard poverty and harassing debt; here is not intemperance, moroseness, meanness, or vulgarity. Men go about sketching, painting landscapes, or writing verses which celebrate man's opportunities. To go into an actual farmer's family at evening, see the tired laborers come in from their day's work thinking of their wages, the sluttish help in the kitchen and sink-room, the indifferent stolidity and patient misery which only the spirits of the youngest children rise above, suggests one train of thought; it suggests another to look down on that roof from a distance, on an October evening, when its smoke is ascending peacefully to join the kindred clouds above. We are ever busy hiring house and lands, and peopling them in our imaginations. There is no beauty in the sky, but in the eye that sees it. Health, high spirits, serenity, are the great landscape painters. Turners, Claudes, Rembrandts, are nothing to them. We never see any beauty but as the garment of some virtue. Consider the infinite promise of a man, so that the sight of his roof at a distance suggests an idyl or a pastoral, or of his grave, an Elegy in a Country Churchyard. How all poets have idealized the farmer's life! What graceful figures and unworldly characters they have assigned to them! Serene as the sky, emulating nature with their calm and peaceful lives.
Oct. 4, 1840. It is vastly easier to discover than to see when the cover is off.
Oct. 4, 1851. Minott was telling me to-day that he used to know a man in Lincoln who had no floor to his barn, but waited till the ground froze, then swept it clean in the barn and threshed his grain on it. He also used to see men threshing their buckwheat in the field where it grew, having just taken off the surface down to a hard pan. He used the word gavel to describe a parcel of stalks cast on the ground to dry. His are good old English words, and I am always sure to find them in the dictionary, though I never heard them before in my life. I was admiring his cornstalks disposed about the barn, to-day, over or astride the braces and the timbers, of such a fresh, clean, and handsome green, retaining their strength and nutritive properties, so unlike the gross and careless husbandry of speculating, money-making farmers, who suffer their stalks to remain out till they are dry and dingy and black as chips. Minott is perhaps the most poetical farmer, the one who most realizes to me the poetry of the farmer's life, that I know. He does nothing with haste and drudgery, but everything as if he loved it. He makes the most of his labor, and takes infinite satisfaction in every part of it. He is not looking forward to the sale of his crops, but he is paid by the constant satisfaction which his labor yields him. He has not too much land to trouble him, too much work to do, no hired man nor boy, but simply to amuse himself and live. He cares not so much to raise a large crop as to do his work well. He knows every pin and nail in his barn. If any part of it is to be floored, he lets no hired man rob him of that amusement, but he goes slowly to the woods, and at his leisure selects a pitch-pine tree, cuts it, and hauls it or gets it hauled to the mill; and so he knows the history of his barn floor. Farming is an amusement which has lasted him longer than gunning or fishing. He is never in a hurry to get his garden planted, and yet it is always planted soon enough, and none in the town is kept so beautifully clean. He always prophesies a failure of the crops, and yet is satisfied with what he gets. His barn floor is fastened down with oak pins, and he prefers them to iron spikes, which he says will rust and give way. He handles and amuses himself with every ear of his corn crop as much as a child with his playthings, and so his small crop goes a great way. He might well cry if it were carried to market. The seed of weeds is no longer in his soil. He loves to walk in a swamp in windy weather, and hear the wind groan through the pines. He indulges in no luxury of food, or dress, or furniture, yet he is not penurious, but merely simple. If his sister dies before him, he may have to go to the almshouse in his old age, yet he is not poor, for he does not want riches. With never failing rheumatism and trembling hands, he seems yet to enjoy perennial health. Though he never reads a book since he finished the "Naval Monument," he speaks the best of English.
Oct. 4, 1858. Just at the edge of evening, I saw on the sidewalk something bright like fire, as if molten lead were scattered along, and then I wondered if a drunkard's spittle were luminous, and proceeded to poke it on to a leaf with a stick. It was rotten wood. I found that it came from the bottom of some old fence posts which had just been dug up near by, and there glowed for a foot or two, being quite rotten and soft. It suggested that a lamp-post might be more luminous at bottom than at top. I cut out a handful and carried it about. It was a very pale brown, some almost white, in the light, quite soft and flaky; and as I withdrew it gradually from the light, it began to glow with a distinctly blue fire in its recesses, becoming more universal and whiter as the darkness in creased. Carried toward a candle, its light is quite blue. A man whom I met in the street was able to tell the time by his watch, holding it over what was in my hand. The posts were oak, probably white. Mr. M——, the mason, told me that he heard his dog barking the other night, and going out found that it was at the bottom of an old post he had dug up during the day, which was all aglow.
See B—— a-fishing notwithstanding the wind. A man runs down, fails, loses self-respect, and goes a-fishing, though he were never on the river before. Yet methinks his misfortune is good fortune, and he is the more mellow and humane. Perhaps he begins to perceive more clearly that the object of life is something else than acquiring property, and he really stands in a truer relation to his fellow-men than when he commanded a false respect from them. There he stands at length, perchance better employed than ever, holding communion with nature and him self, and coming to understand his real position and relation to men in the world. It is better than a poor debtors' prison, better than most successful money-getting.
The hickories on the northwest side of this hill are in the prime of their color, of a rich orange; some with green intimately mixed, handsomer than those that are wholly changed. The outmost parts and edges of the foliage are orange; the recesses green, as if the outmost parts, being turned toward the sunny fire, were first baked by it.
Oct. 4, 1859. When I have made a visit where my expectations are not met, I feel as if I owed my hosts an apology for troubling them so. If I am disappointed, I find that I have no right to visit them.
I have always found that what are called the best of manners are the worst, for they are simply the shell without the meat. They cover no life at all. They are the universal slave-holders who treat men as things. Nobody holds you more cheap than the man of manners. They are marks by the help of which the wearers ignore you, and remain concealed themselves.
All men sympathize by their lower natures, few only by the higher. The appetites of the mistress are commonly the same as those of her servant, but her society is commonly more select. The help may have some of the tenderloin, but she must eat it in the kitchen.
p. m. To Conantum. How interesting now, by wall-sides and on open springy hillsides, the large straggling tufts of the Dicksonia fern above the leaf-strewn green sward, the cold, fall-green sward! They are unusually preserved about the Corner Spring, considering the earliness of this year. Long, handsome, lanceolate green fronds pointing in every direction, recurved and full of fruit, intermixed with yellowish and sere brown and shriveled ones, the whole clump perchance strewn with fallen and withered maple leaves, and overtopped by now withered and unnoticed osmundas. Their lingering greenness is so much the more noticeable now that the leaves generally have changed. They affect us as if they were evergreen, such persistent life and greenness in the midst of decay. No matter how much they are strewn with withered leaves, moist and green they spire above them, not fearing the frosts, fragile as they are. Their greenness is so much the more interesting, because so many have already fallen, and we know that the first severer frost will cut off them too. In the summer greenness is cheap, now it is a thing comparatively rare, and is the emblem of life to us.
It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know. I do not get nearer by a hair's breadth to any natural object, so long as I presume that I have an introduction to it from some learned man. To conceive of it with a total apprehension, I must for the thousandth time approach it as something totally strange. If you would make acquaintance with the ferns, you must forget your botany. Not a single scientific term or distinction is the least to the purpose. You would fain perceive something, and you must approach the object totally unprejudiced. You must be aware that no thing is what you have taken it to be. In what book is this world and its beauty described? Who has plotted the steps toward the discovery of beauty? You must be in a different state from common. Your greatest success will be simply to perceive that such things are, and you will have no communication to make to the Royal Society. If it were required to know the position of the fruit dots or the character of the indusium, nothing could be easier than to ascertain it; but if it is required that you be affected by ferns, that they amount to anything, signify anything, to you, that they be another sacred scripture and revelation to you, helping to redeem your life, this end is not so easily accomplished.
I see and hear probably flocks of grackles with their split and shuffling note, but no redwings for a long time; chipbirds (but without chestnut crowns; is that the case with the young?), bay wings on the walls and fences, and the yellow-browed sparrow. Hear the pine warblers in the pines, about the needles, and see them on the ground and on rocks, with a yellow ring round the eye, reddish legs, and a slight whitish bar on the wings. Going over the large hillside stubble field west of Holden wood, I start up a large flock of shore larks, hear their sveet sveet and sveet sveet sveet, and see their tails dark beneath. They are very wary, and run in the stubble, for the most part invisible, while one or two appear to act the sentinel at some rock, peeping out behind it, perhaps, and give their note of alarm, when away goes the whole flock. Such a flock circled back and forth several times over my head, just like ducks reconnoitring before they alight. If you look with a glass, you are surprised to see how alert the spies are. These larks have dusky bills and legs.
The birds seem to delight in these first fine days of the fall, in the warm hazy light,—robins, bluebirds (in families on the almost bare elms), phœbes, and probably purple finches. I hear half-strains from many of them, as the song sparrow, bluebird, etc., and the sweet phe-be of the chickadee. Now the year itself begins to be ripe, ripened by the frost like a persimmon.
The maiden-hair fern at Conantum is apparently unhurt by frost as yet.
Oct. 5, 1840. A part of me, which has reposed in silence all day, goes abroad at night like the owl, and has its day. At night we recline and nestle, and infold ourselves in our being. Each night I go home to rest. Each night I am gathered to my fathers. The soul departs out of the body, and sleeps in God, a divine slumber. As she withdraws herself, the limbs droop and the eyelids fall, and Nature reclaims her clay again. Man has always regarded the night as ambrosial or divine. The air is then peopled, fairies come out.
Oct. 5, 1851. I observe that the woodchuck has two or more holes a rod or two apart: one, or the front door, where the excavated sand is heaped up; another not so easily discovered, very small, without any sand about it, by which he emerges, smaller directly at the surface than beneath, on the principle by which a well is dug, making as small a hole as possible at the surface, to prevent caving.
Still, purplish asters, late golden-rods, fragrant life-everlasting, purple gerardia, great bidens, etc.
I hear the red-winged blackbirds by the riverside again, as if it were a new spring. They seem to have come to bid farewell. The birds appear to depart with the coming of the frosts which kill the vegetation, and directly or indirectly the insects on which they feed. The American bittern, Ardea minor, flew across the river, trailing his legs in the water, scared up by us. This, according to Peabody, is the boomer [stake-driver]. In their sluggish flight, they can hardly keep their legs up. I wonder if they can soar.
8 p. m. To Cliffs. Moon three quarters full. The nights now are very still, for there is hardly any noise of birds or insects. The whippoorwill is not heard, nor the mosquito; only the occasional lisping of some sparrow. As I go through the woods, I perceive a sweet dry scent from the under woods like that of the fragrant life-everlasting. I suppose it is that. I frequently see a light on the ground within thick and dark woods, where all around is in shadow, and hasten forward, expecting to find some decayed and phosphorescent stump, but find it to be some clear moonlight that falls through a crevice in the leaves.
The fairies are a quiet, gentle folk, invented plainly to inhabit the moonlight. As moonlight is to sunlight, so are the fairies to men.
Oct. 5, 1852. I was told at Bunker Hill Monument to-day that Mr. Savage saw the White Mountains several times while working on the monument. It required very clear weather in the northwest, and a storm clearing up here.
Oct. 5, 1853. The howling of the wind about the house just before a storm to-night sounds extremely like a loon on the pond. How fit!
Oct. 5, 1856. p. m. To Hill and over the pastures westward. In the huckleberry pasture, by the fence of old barn boards, I notice many little pale-brown, dome-shaped puffballs puckered to a centre beneath. When you pinch them, a smoke-like, brown, snuff-colored dust rises from the orifice at their top, just like smoke from a chimney. It is so fine and light that it rises into the air, and is wafted away like smoke from a chimney. They are low Oriental domes or mosques, sometimes crowded together in nests, like a collection of humble cottages on the moor; for there is suggested some humble hearth beneath, from which this smoke comes up, as it were the homes of slugs and crickets. They please me not a little by their resemblance to rude, dome-shaped, turf-built cottages on the plain, where some humble but everlasting life is lived. I imagine a hearth and pot, and some snug but humble family passing its Sunday evening beneath each one. I locate there at once all that is simple and admirable in human life. There is no virtue which these roofs exclude. I imagine with what contentment and faith I could come home to them at evening. On one I find a slug feeding, with a little hole beneath him; this is a different species, the white pigeon-egg kind, with rough, crystallized surface. A cricket has eaten out the whole inside of another in which he is housed. This before they are turned to dust.
It is well to find your employment and amusement in simple and homely things. These wear best and yield most. I think I would rather watch the motions of these cows in their pasture for a day, which I now see all headed one way and slowly advancing, watch them and project their course carefully on a chart, and report all their behavior faithfully, than wander to Europe or Asia, and watch other motions there; for it is only ourselves that we report in either case, and perchance we shall report a more restless, worthless self in the latter case than the former.
Oct. 5, 1857. There is not now that profusion, and consequent confusion, of events which belongs to a summer walk. There are few flowers, birds, insects, or fruits now, and hence what does occur affects us as more simple and significant, as the cawing of a crow or the scream of a jay. The latter seems to scream more fitly and with more freedom through the vacancies occasioned by fallen maple leaves.
I hear the alarum of a small red squirrel, and see him running by fits and starts along a chestnut bough toward me. His head looks disproportionally large for his body, like a bull-dog's, perhaps because he has his chaps full of nuts. He chirrups and vibrates his tail, holds himself in, and scratches along a foot as if it was a mile. He finds noise and activity for both of us. It is evident that all this ado does not proceed from fear. There is at the bottom, no doubt, an excess of inquisitiveness and caution, but the greater part is make-believe, and a love of the marvelous. He can hardly keep it up till I am gone, however, but takes out his nut and tastes it in the midst of his agitation. "See there, see there," says he. "Who's that? Oh, dear, what shall I do?" and makes believe run off, but does not get along an inch, lets it all pass off by flashes through his tail, while he clings to the bark as if he were holding in a race-horse. He gets down the trunk at last upon a projecting knob, head downward, within a rod of you, and chirrups and chatters louder than ever, trying to work himself into a fright. The hind part of his body is urging the forward part along, snapping the tail over it like a whiplash, but the fore part mostly clings fast to the bark with desperate energy. Squirr, "to throw with a jerk," seems to have quite as much to do with the name as the Greek "skia," "oura," shadow and tail.
Oct. 5, 1858. In the evening I am glad to find that my phosphorescent wood of last night still glows somewhat, but I improve it much by putting it in water. The little chips which remain in the water or sink to the bottom are like so many stars in the sky.
The comet makes a great show these nights. Its tail is at least as long as the whole of the Great Dipper, to whose handle, till within a night or two, it reached in a great curve, and we plainly see stars through it.
Oct. 6, 1840. The revolution of the seasons is a great and steady flow, a graceful, peaceful motion, like the swell on lakes and seas. No where does any rigidity grow upon nature, no muscles harden, no bones protrude, but she is supple-jointed now and always. No rubbish accumulates from day to day, but still does freshness predominate on her cheek, and cleanliness in her attire. The dust settles on the fences and the rocks and the pastures by the roadside, but still the sward is just as green, nay greener, for all that. The morning air is clear even at this day. It is not begrimed with all the dust that has been raised. The dew makes all clean again. Nature keeps her besom always wagging. She has no lumber-room, no dust-hole, in her house. No man was ever yet too nice to walk in her woods and fields. His religion allows the Arab to cleanse his body with sand, when water is not at hand.
Oct. 6, 1851. 7.30 p. m. To Fair Haven Pond by boat, the moon four fifths full; not a cloud in the sky. The water is perfectly still, and the air almost so, the former gleaming like oil in the moonlight, and the moon's disk reflected in it. When we started, saw some fishermen kindling their fire for spearing, by the riverside. It was a lurid, reddish blaze, contrasting with the white light of the moon, with a dense volume of black smoke from the burning pitch-pine roots, rolling upward in the form of an inverted pyramid. The blaze was reflected in the water almost as distinct as the substance. It looked like tarring a ship on the shore of Styx or Cocytus; for it is dark notwithstanding the moon, and there is no sound but the crackling of the fire. The fishermen can be seen only near at hand, though their fire is visible far away, and then they appear as dusky, fuliginous figures, half enveloped in smoke, seen only by their enlightened sides. Like devils they look, clad in old clothes to defend themselves from the fogs, one standing up forward holding the spear ready to dart, while the smoke and flames are blown in his face, the other paddling the boat slowly and silently along close to the shore with almost imperceptible motion. . . .
Now the fishermen's fire left behind becomes a star. As surely as the sunlight falling through an irregular chink makes a round figure on the opposite wall, so the blaze at a distance appears a star. Such is the effect of the atmosphere. The bright sheen of the moon is constantly traveling with us, and is seen at the same angle in front on the surface of the pads, and the reflection of its disk on the rippled water by our boat-side appears like bright gold pieces falling on the river's counter.
Oct. 6, 1857. I have just read Ruskin's "Modern Painters." I am disappointed in not finding it a more out-of-door book, for I had heard that such was its character. But its title might have warned me. He does not describe nature as nature, but as Turner painted her. Although the work betrays that he has given close attention to nature, it appears to have been with an artist's and critic's design. How much is written about nature as somebody has portrayed her, how little about nature as she is and chiefly concerns us; i. e., how much prose, how little poetry!
Oct. 7, 1851. By boat to Corner Spring. A very still, warm, bright, clear afternoon. Our boat so small and low that we are close to the water. The muskrats all the way are now building their houses; about two thirds done. They are of an oval form, composed of mouthfuls of pontederia leaf stems, now dead, the capillaceous roots or leaves of the water marigold and other capillaceous-leaved water-plants, flagroot, a plant which looks like a cock's tail or a peacock's feather in form, the Potamogeton Robbinsii, clamshells, etc.; sometimes rising from amidst the dead pontederia stems or resting on the button bushes or the willows. The mouthfuls are disposed in layers successively smaller, forming a somewhat conical mound. Seen at this stage, these houses show some art and a good deal of labor. We pulled one to pieces to examine the inside. There was a small cavity which might hold two or three full-grown muskrats, just above the level of the water, quite wet and of course dark and narrow, communicating immediately with a gallery under water. There were a few pieces of the white root of some water-plant, perhaps a pontederia or lily, in it. There they dwell in close contiguity to the water it self, always in a wet apartment, in a wet coat never changed, with immeasurable water in the cellar, through which is the only exit. They have reduced life to a lower scale than Diogenes. Certainly they do not fear cold, ague, or consumption. Think of bringing up a family in such a place, worse than a Broad Street cellar! But probably these are not their breeding-places. The muskrat and the fresh-water mussel are very native to our river. The Indian, their human confrère, has departed. This is a settler whom our lowlands and our bogs do not hurt. How long has the muskrat dined on mussels? The river mud itself will have the ague as soon as he. What occasion has he for a dentist? Their unfinished, rapidly rising nests look now like truncated cones. They seem to be all building at once in different parts of the river, and to have advanced equally far.
Saw the Ardea minor walking along the shore like a hen with long green legs. Its penciled throat is so like the reeds and other shore plants amid which it holds its head erect to watch the passer that it is difficult to discern it. You can get very near it, for it is unwilling to fly, preferring to hide amid the weeds.
Oct. 7, 1852. p. m. To Great Meadows. I find no fringed gentians. Perhaps the autumnal tints are as bright and interesting now as they will be. Now is the time to behold the maple swamps, one mass of red and yellow, all on fire; these and the blood-red huckleberries are the most conspicuous, and then in the village the warm brownish-yellow elms, and there and else where the dark red ashes. I notice the Viola ovata, houstonia, Ranunculus repens, caducous polygala, small, scratchgrass polygonum, autumnal dandelion very abundant, small bushy white aster, a few golden-rods, Polygonum hydropiperoides, the unknown, flowerless bidens, soapwort gentian, now turned dark purple, yarrow, the white erigeron, red clover, and hedge-mustard.
The muskrats have begun to erect their cabins. Saw one done. Do they build them in the night?
Hear and see larks, bluebirds, robins, and song sparrows. Also see painted tortoises and shad frogs.
I sit on Poplar Hill. It is a warm, Indian-summerish afternoon. The sun comes out of clouds, and lights up and warms the whole scene. It is perfect autumn. I see a hundred smokes rising through the yellow elm tops in the village, where the villagers are preparing for tea. It is the mellowing year. The sunshine harmonizes with the imbrowned and fiery foliage.
Oct. 7, 1857. Halfway up Fair Haven Hill, I am surprised for the thousandth time by the beauty of the landscape, and sit down by the orchard wall to behold it at my leisure. It is always incredibly fair, but ordinarily we are mere objects in it, and not witnesses of it. I see through the bright October air a valley, some two miles across, extending southwest and northeast, with a broad, yellow meadow tinged with brown at the bottom, and a blue river winding slowly through it northward, with a regular edging of low bushes of the same color with the meadow. Skirting the meadow are straggling lines, and occasionally large masses, one quarter of a mile wide, of brilliant scarlet and yellow and crimson trees, backed by green forests and green and russet fields and hills, and on the hills around shoot up a million scarlet and orange and yellow and crimson fires. Here and there amid the trees, often beneath the largest and most graceful of them, are white or gray houses. Beyond stretches a forest, wreath upon wreath, and between each two wreaths I know lies a similar vale, and far beyond all, on the verge of the horizon, rise half a dozen dark blue mountain summits. Large birds of a brilliant blue and white plumage are darting and screaming amid the glowing foliage a quarter of a mile below, while smaller bluebirds are warbling faintly but sweetly around me. Such is the dwelling-place of man; but go to a caucus in the village to-night, or to a church to-morrow, and see if there is anything said to suggest that the inhabitants of these houses know what manner of world they live in. It chanced that I heard just then the tolling of a distant funeral bell. Its serious sound was more in harmony with that scenery than any ordinary bustle would have been. It suggested that man must die to his present life before he can appreciate his opportunities and the beauty of the abode that is appointed him.
I do not know how to entertain those who cannot take long walks. The first thing that suggests itself is to get a horse to draw them, and that brings me at once into contact with the stables and dirty harness, and I do not get over my ride for a long time. I give up my forenoon to them, and get along pretty well, the very elasticity of the air and promise of the day abetting me; but they are as heavy as dumplings by mid-afternoon. If they can't walk, why won't they take an honest nap in the afternoon and let me go? But when two o'clock comes, they alarm me by an evident disposition to sit. In the midst of the most glorious Indian summer afternoon, there they sit, breaking your chairs and wearing out the house, with their backs to the light, taking no note of the lapse of time.
As I sat on the high bank at the east end of Walden this afternoon at five o'clock, I saw by a peculiar intention of the eye, a very striking, sub-aqueous rainbow-like phenomenon. A passerby might have noticed the reflections of those bright-tinted shrubs along the high shore on the sunny side, but unless on the alert for such effects he would have failed to perceive the full beauty of the phenomenon. Those brilliant shrubs, from three to a dozen feet in height, were all reflected, dimly so far as the details of leaves, etc., were concerned, but brightly as to color, and of course in the order in which they stood, scarlet, yellow, green, etc.; but there being a slight ripple on the surface, these reflections were not true to the height of their substances, only as to color, breadth of base, and order, but were extended downward with mathematical perpendicularity three or four times too far for the height of the substances, forming sharp pyramids of the several colors gradually reduced to mere dusky points. The effect of this prolongation was a very agreeable softening and blending of the colors, especially when a small bush of one bright tint stood directly before another of a contrary and equally bright tint. It was just as if you were to brush firmly aside with your hand or a brush a fresh hue of paint or so many lumps of friable colored powders. There was accordingly a sort of belt, as wide as the height of the hill, extending downward along the whole north or sunny side of the pond, composed of exceedingly short and narrow inverted pyramids of the most brilliant colors intermixed. I have seen similar inverted pyramids in the old drawings of tattooing about the waists of the aborigines of this country. Walden, like an Indian maiden, wears this broad, rainbow-like belt of brilliant-colored points or cones round her waist in October. The colors seem to be reflected and re-reflected from ripple to ripple, losing brightness each time by the softest possible gradation, and tapering towards the beholder.
Oct. 7, 1860. Remarking to old Mr. —— the other day on the abundance of the apples, "Yes," says he, "and fair as dollars, too." That's the kind of beauty they see in apples.
Many people have a foolish way of talking about small things, and apologize for themselves or another as having attended to such, having neglected their ordinary business, and amused or instructed themselves by attending to small things, when, if the truth were known, their ordinary business was the small thing, and almost their whole lives were misspent.
Oct. 8, 1851. 2 p. m. To the Marlboro' road. Picked up an Indian gouge on Dennis's Hill. Some white oak acorns in the path by a woodside I found to be unexpectedly sweet and palatable, the bitterness being scarcely perceptible. To my taste they are quite as good as chestnuts. No wonder the first men lived on acorns. Such as these are no mean food, as they are represented to be. Their sweetness is like the sweetness of bread. The whole world is sweeter to me for having discovered such palatableness in this neglected nut. I am related again to the first men. What can be handsomer, wear better to the eye, than the color of the acorn, like the leaves on which it falls, polished or varnished. I should be at least equally pleased, if I were to find that the grass tasted sweet and nutritious. It increases the number of my friends, it diminishes the number of my foes. How easily, at this season, I could feed myself in the woods! There is mast for me too, as well as for the pigeon and the squirrels,—this Dodonean fruit. The sweet-acorn tree is famous and well known to the boys. There can be no question respecting the wholesomeness of this diet.
The jointed polygonum in the Marlboro' road is an interesting flower, it is so late, so bright a red, though inobvious from its minuteness, without leaves, above the sand like sorrel, mixed with other minute flowers.
An arrow-head at the desert. Filled my pockets with acorns. Found another gouge on Dennis's Hill. To have found two Indian gouges and tasted sweet acorns, is it not enough for one afternoon?
A warm night like this at this season produces its effect on the village. The boys are heard in the street now at nine o'clock, in greater force and with more noise than usual, and my neighbor has got out his flute.
The moon is full. The tops of the woods in the horizon, seen above the fog, look exactly like long, low, black clouds, the fog being the color of the sky.
Oct. 8, 1857. Walking through the Lee farm swamp, a dozen or more rods from the river, I found a large box trap closed. I opened it and found in it the remains of a gray rabbit, skin, bones, and mould closely fitting the right-angled corner of one side. It was wholly inoffensive, as so much vegetable mould, and must have been dead some years. None of the furniture of the trap remained, only the box itself; the stick which held the bait, the string, etc., were all gone. The box had the appearance of having been floated off in an upright position by a freshet. It had been a rabbit's living tomb. He had gradually starved to death in it. What a tragedy to have occurred within a box in one of our quiet swamps! The trapper lost his box, the rabbit its life. The box had not been gnawed. After days and nights of moaning and struggle, heard for a few rods through the swamp, increasing weakness and emaciation and delirium, the rabbit breathed its last. They tell you of opening the tomb and finding, by the contortions of the body, that it was buried alive. This was such a case. Let the trapping boy dream of the dead rabbit in its ark, as it sailed, like a small meeting house with its rude spire, slowly, with a grand and solemn motion, far amid the alders.
Oct. 9, 1850. I am always exhilarated, as were the early voyagers, by the sight of sassafras, Laurus sassafras. The green leaves bruised have the fragrance of lemons and a thousand spices. To the same order belong cinnamon, cassia, camphor.
The seed vessel of the sweetbrier is a very beautiful, glossy, elliptical fruit. This shrub, what with the fragrance of its leaves, its blossom, and its fruit, is thrice crowned.