Oct. 23, 1853. Many phenomena remind me that now is to some extent a second spring, not only the new springing and blossoming of flowers, but the peeping of the hylodes for some time, and the faint warbling of their spring notes, by many birds.
Oct. 23, 1855. Now is the time for chestnuts. A stone cast against the trees shakes them down in showers upon one's head and shoulders. But I cannot excuse myself for using the stone. It is not innocent, it is not just so to maltreat the tree that feeds us. I am not disturbed by considering that if I thus shorten its life, I shall not enjoy its fruit so long, but am prompted to a more innocent course by motives purely of humanity. I sympathize with the tree, yet I heaved a big stone against the trunk, like a robber, not too good to commit murder. I trust I shall never do it again. These gifts should be accepted not merely with gentleness, but with a certain humble gratitude. It is not a time of distress when a little haste and violence even might be pardoned. It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injury on the tree that feeds or shades us. If you would learn the secrets of nature, you must practice more humanity than others. The thought that I was robbing myself by injuring the tree did not occur to me, but I was affected as if I had cast a rock at a sentient being, with a duller sense than my own, it is true, but yet a distant relative. Behold a man cutting down a tree to come at the fruit! What is the moral of such an act? Shall we begin, old men in crime; would that we might grow innocent, at last, as the children of light.
Oct. 24, 1837. Every part of nature teaches that the passing away of one life is the making room for another. The oak dies down to the ground, leaving within its rind a rich virgin mould which will impart a vigorous life to an infant forest. The pine leaves a sandy and sterile soil, the harder woods, a strong and fruitful mould. So this constant abrasion and decay of our lives makes the soil of our future growth. The wood we now mature, when it becomes mould, determines the character of our second growth. If I grow pines and birches, my mould will not sustain oak, but pines and birches, or, perchance, weeds and brambles.
Oct. 24, 1857. p. m. To Smith's chestnut grove. I get a couple of quarts of chestnuts. I find my account in this long-continued monotonous labor of picking chestnuts all the afternoon, brushing the leaves aside without looking up, absorbed in that, and forgetting better things awhile. My eye is educated to discover anything on the ground. It is probably wholesomer to look at the ground much, than at the heavens. This occupation affords a certain broad pause, and opportunity to start again afterwards, turn over a new leaf.
Oct. 24, 1858. A northeast storm, though not much rain falls to-day, but a fine driving mizzle. This, as usual, brings the geese, and at 2.30 p. m. I see two flocks go over, faintly honking. A great many must go over to-day, and also alight in this neighborhood. This weather warns them of the approach of winter, and this wind speeds them on their way.
The brilliant autumnal colors are red and yellow, and the various tints and shades of these. Blue is reserved to be the color of the sky, but yellow and red are the colors of the earth-flower. Every fruit on ripening, and just before its fall, acquires a bright tint. So do the leaves; so the sky before the end of the day, and the year near its setting. October is the red sunset sky, November the later twilight. Color stands for all ripeness and success. The noblest feature, the eye, is the fairest-colored, the jewel of the body.
Oct. 25, 1852. p. m. Down river to Ball's Hill in boat. Another perfect Indian-summer day. One of my oars makes a creaking sound like a block in a harbor, such a sound as would bring tears into an old sailor's eyes. It suggests to me adventure and seeking one's fortune. The water for some time has been clear of weeds mostly, and looks cool for fishes. We get into the lee of the hill near Abner Buttrick's(?) where is smooth water, and here it is very warm and sunny under the pitch pines. Some small husky white asters still survive. The autumnal tints grow gradually darker and duller, but not less rich to my eye. And now a hillside near the river exhibits the darkest crispy reds and browns of every hue, all agreeably blended. At the foot, next the meadow, stands a front rank of smoke-like maples, bare of leaves, intermixed with yellow birches. Higher up are red oaks, of various shades of dull red, with yellowish, perhaps black oaks, intermixed, and walnuts now brown, and near the hill-top or rising above the rest, a still yellow oak, and here and there amid the rest or in the foreground on the meadow, dull, ashy, salmon-colored white oaks, large and small, all these contrasting with the clear, liquid, sempiternal green of pines. The sheen on the water blinds my eyes. Mint is still green and wonderfully recreating to smell. I had put such things behind me. It is hard to remember lilies now.
The constitution of the Indian mind appears to be the very opposite of the white man's. He is acquainted with a different side of nature. He measures his life by winters, not summers. His year is not measured by the sun, but consists of a certain number of moons, and his moons are measured not by days, but by nights. He has taken hold of the dark side of nature, the white man of the bright side.
Oct. 25, 1857. I am amused to see that Varro tells us the Latin e represents the vowel sound in the bleat of a sheep (Bee); if he had referred instead to some word pronounced by the Romans, we should not be the wiser, but we do not doubt that sheep bleat to-day as they did then.
Oct. 25, 1860. The thistles which I now see have their heads recurved, which at least saves their down somewhat from moisture. When I pull out the down, the seed is, for the most part, left in the receptacle(?) in regular order there, like the pricks in a thimble; a slightly convex surface, the seeds set like cartridges in a circular cartridge box, in hollow cylinders, which look like circles crowded into more or less of a diamond, pentagonal, or hexagonal form. The perfectly dry and bristly involucre which hedges them round, so repulsive externally, is very neat and attractive within, as smooth and tender toward its charge as it is rough and prickly externally toward the foes that might do it injury. It is a hedge of imbricated, thin, and narrow leaflets, of a light brown color, beautifully glossy like silk, a most fit receptacle for the delicate, downy parachutes of the seed. The little seeds are kept dry under this unsuspected silky or satiny ceiling, whose old, weather-worn, and rough outside alone we see, like a mossy roof. I know of no object more unsightly to a careless glance than an empty thistle-head, yet if you examine it closely, it may remind you of the silk-lined cradle in which a prince was rocked. That which seemed a mere brown and worn-out relic of the summer, sinking into the earth by the roadside, turns out to be a precious casket.
Oct. 26, 1851. I awoke this morning to infinite regret. In my dream I had been riding, but the horses bit each other, and occasioned endless trouble and anxiety, and it was my employment to hold their heads apart. Next I sailed over the sea in a small vessel such as the Northmen used, as it were, to the Bay of Fundy, and thence overland I sailed still, over the shallows about the sources of rivers toward the deeper channel of a stream which emptied into the gulf beyond. Again I was in my own small pleasure boat, learning to sail on the sea, and I raised my sail before my anchor, which I dragged far into the sea. I saw the buttons which had come off the coats of drowned men, and suddenly I saw my dog, when I knew not that I had one, standing in the sea up to his chin to warm his legs, which had been wet, and which the cool wind had numbed. Then I was walking in a meadow where the dry season permitted me to walk further than usual. Then I met Mr. Alcott and we fell to quoting and referring to grand and pleasing couplets and single lines which we had read in time past, and I quoted one which in my waking hours I have no knowledge of, but in my dream it was familiar enough. I only know that those I quoted expressed regret, and were like the following, though they were not these, viz.:—
"The short parenthesis of life was sweet," "The remembrance of youth is a sigh," etc.
Then again the instant I awoke, methought I was a musical instrument from which I heard a strain die out,—a bugle, a clarionet, or a flute. My body was the organ and channel of melody, as a flute is of the music that is breathed through it. My flesh sounded and vibrated still to the strain, and my nerves were the chords of the lyre. I awoke, therefore, to an infinite regret, to find myself not the thoroughfare of glorious and world-stirring inspirations, but a scuttle full of dirt, such a thoroughfare only as the street and the kennel, where perchance the wind may sometimes draw forth a strain of music from a straw.
I can partly account for this. Last evening I was reading Laing's account of the Northmen, and though I did not write in my journal, I remember feeling a fertile regret, and deriving even an inexpressible satisfaction as it were from my ability to feel regret, which made that evening richer than those which had preceded it. I heard the last strain or flourish, as I woke, played on my body as the instrument. Such I knew I had been and might be again, and my regret arose from the consciousness how little like a musical instrument my body was now.
Oct. 26, 1852. Walden and Cliffs, p. m. It is cool to-day and windier. The water is rippled considerably. As I stand in the boat, the farther off the water, the bluer it is. Looking straight down, it is a dark green. Hence apparently the celestial blueness of those distant river reaches, when the water is agitated so that the surfaces of the waves reflect the sky at the right angle. It is a darker blue than that of the sky itself. When I look down on the pond from the peak, it is far less blue.
The blue-stemmed and white golden-rod apparently survive till winter, push up and blossom anew.
At this season we seek warm, sunny lees and hillsides, as that under the pitch pines by Walden shore, where we cuddle and warm ourselves in the sun, as by a fire, where we may get some of its reflected as well as direct heat.
Coming by Haden's I see that, the sun setting, its rays, which yet find some vapor to lodge on in the clear cold air, impart a purple tinge to the mountains in the northwest. I think it is only in cold weather that I see this.
Oct. 26, 1853. I well remember the time this year when I first heard the dreaming of the toads. I was laying out house lots on Little River in Haverhill. We had had some raw, cold, and wet weather, but this day was remarkably warm and pleasant, and I had thrown off my overcoat. I was going home to dinner past a shallow pool, green with springing grass, when it occurred to me that I heard the dreaming of the toad. It rung through and filled all the air, though I had not heard it once, before. I turned my companion's attention to it, but he did not appear to perceive it as a new sound in the air. Loud and prevailing as it is, most men do not notice it at all. It is to them perchance a sort of simmering or seething of all nature. It affects their thoughts, though they are not conscious of hearing it. How watchful we must be to keep the crystal well that we are made, clear. Often we are so jarred by chagrins in dealing with the world that we cannot reflect.
Everything beautiful impresses us as sufficient to itself. Many men who have had much intercourse with the world, and not borne the trial well, affect me as all resistance, all burr and rind, without any gentle man or tender and innocent core left.
It is surprising how any reminiscence of a different season of the year affects us. When I meet with any such in my journal, it affects me as poetry, and I appreciate that other season and that particular phenomenon more than at the time. The world so seen is all one spring, and full of beauty. You only need to make a faithful record of an average summer day's experience and summer mood, and read it in the winter, and it will carry you back to more than that summer day alone could show. Only the rarest flower, the purest melody of the season, thus comes down to us.
When, after feeling dissatisfied with my life, I aspire to something better, am more scrupulous, more reserved and continent, as if expecting somewhat, suddenly I find myself full of life as a nut of meat, even overflowing with a quiet, genial mirthfulness. I think to myself, I must attend to my diet. I must get up earlier and take a morning walk. I must have done with business, and devote myself to my muse. So I dam up my stream, and my waters gather to a head. I am freighted with thought.
Oct. 26, 1855. p. m. To Conantum. I examine some frost weed. It is still quite alive, indeed just out of bloom, the leaves now a purplish brown, and its bark at the ground is quite tight and entire. Pulling it up, I find bright pink shoots to have put forth, half an inch long, and starting even at the surface of the sod. Is not this, as well as its second blossoming, somewhat peculiar to this plant? and may it not be that when at last the cold is severe, the sap is frozen and bursts the bark, and the breath of the dying plant is frozen about it? I see a red squirrel dash out from the wall, snatch an apple from amid many on the ground, and, running swiftly up the tree with it, proceed to eat it, sitting on a smooth dead limb with its back to the wind, and its tail curled close over its back. It allows me to approach within eight feet. It holds the apple between its two fore paws, and scoops out the pulp mainly with its lower incisors, making a saucer-like cavity, high and thin at the edge, where it bites off the skin and lets it drop. It keeps its jaws moving very briskly, from time to time turning the apple round and round with its paws, as it eats, like a wheel in a plane at right angles with its body. It holds it up and twirls it with ease. Suddenly it pauses, having taken alarm at something, then drops the remainder of the apple in the hollow of a bough, and glides off in short snatches, uttering a faint, sharp, bird-like note.
I sometimes think I must go off to some wilderness, where I can have a better opportunity to play life, can find more suitable materials to build my house with, and enjoy the pleasure of collecting my fuel in the forest.
I have more taste for the wild sports of hunting, fishing, wigwam building, and collecting wood wherever you find it, than for butchering, farming, carpentry, working in a factory or going to a wood market.
Oct. 26, 1857. p. m. Round by Puffer's via Clamshell. A driving east or northeast storm. I can see through the stormy mist only a mile. The river is getting partly over the meadows at last, and my spirits rise with it. Methinks this rise of the waters must affect every thought and deed in the town. It qualifies my sentence and life. I trust there will appear in this journal some flow, some gradual filling of the springs and raising of the streams, that the accumulating grists may be ground. A storm is a new and in some respects more active life in nature. Larger migratory birds make their appearance. They at least sympathize with the movements of the watery element and the winds. I see two great fishhawks (possibly blue herons) slowly beating northeast against the storm,—by what a curious tie circling ever near each other and in the same direction, as if you might expect the very motes in the air to be paired, two long undulating wings conveying a feathered body through the misty atmosphere and thus inseparably associated with another planet of the same species. I can just glimpse their undulating lives. Damon and Pythias they must be. The waves beneath, which are of kindred form, are still more social, multitudinous, ἀνήριθμον. Where is my mate, beating against the storm with me? They fly according to the valley of the river, northeast or southwest. I start up snipes also at Clamshell meadow. This weather sets the migratory birds in motion, and also makes them bolder. These regular phenomena of the seasons get at last to be (they were, at first, of course) simply and plainly phenomena or phases of my life. The seasons and all their changes are in me. I see not a dead eel or floating snake, or a gull, but it sounds my life, and is like a line or accent in its poem. Almost I believe the Concord would not rise and overflow its banks again, were I not here. After a while I learn what my moods and seasons are. I would have nothing subtracted, I can imagine nothing added. My moods are thus periodical, not two days in the year alike: the perfect correspondence of nature with man, so that he is at home in her!
Many sparrows are flitting past amid the birches and sallows. They are chiefly Fringilla hiemalis. How often they may be seen thus flitting along in a straggling manner from bush to bush, so that the hedgerow will be all alive with them, each uttering a faint chip from time to time, bewildering you so that you know not if the greater part are gone by, or still to come. One rests but a moment in the tree before you and is gone again. You wonder if they know whither they are bound, and how their leader is appointed. Those sparrows, too, are thoughts I have; they come and go, they flit by quickly on their migrations, uttering only a faint chip, I know not whither or why, exactly. One will not rest on its twig for me to scrutinize it. The whole copse will be alive with my rambling thoughts, bewildering me by their very multitude, but they will be all gone directly without leaving me a feather.
My loftiest thought is somewhat like an eagle that suddenly comes into the field of view, suggesting great things and thrilling the beholder, as if it were bound hitherward with a message for me. But it comes no nearer, circles and soars away, disappointing me, till it is lost behind a cliff or a cloud.
Spring is brown; summer, green; autumn, yellow; winter, white; November, gray.
Oct. 27, 1851. This morning I awoke and found it snowing and the ground covered with snow, quite unexpectedly, for last night it was rainy and not cold. The strong northwest wind blows the damp snow along almost horizontally. The birds fly about as if seeking shelter. The cold numbs my fingers this morning. Winter, with its inwardness, is upon us. A man is constrained to sit down and to think.
The obstacles which the heart meets with are like granite blocks, which one alone cannot move. She who was as the morning light to me, is now neither the morning star nor the evening star. We meet but to find each other further asunder, and the oftener we meet, the more rapid the divergence. So a star of the first magnitude pales in the heavens, not from any fault in the observer's eye, nor from any fault in itself, perchance, but because its progress in its own system has put a greater distance between.
The night is oracular. What have been the intimations of the night? I ask. How have you passed the night? Good night!
My friend will be bold to conjecture. He will guess bravely at the significance of my words. The Ardea minor still with us. Saw a woodcock or snipe(?) feeding, probing the mud with its long bill, under the railroad bridge, within two feet of me. For a long time I could not scare it far away. What a disproportionate length of bill!
Oct. 27, 1853. I love to be reminded of that universal and eternal spring when the minute, crimson-starred female flowers of the hazel are peeping forth on the hillsides, when nature revives in all her pores.
Some less obvious and commonly unobserved signs of the progress of the seasons interest me most, like the loose dangling catkins of the hop-hornbeam, or of the black or yellow birch. I can recall distinctly to my mind the image of these things, and that time in which they flourished is glorious, as if it were before the fall of man. I see all nature for the time under this aspect. These features are particularly prominent; as if the first object I saw on approaching this planet in the spring was the catkins of the hop hornbeam on the hillsides. As I sailed by, I saw the yellowish waving sprays.
Oct. 27, 1857. p. m. Up river. The third day of steady rain. Wind northeast. I go up the river as far as Hillard's second grove in order to share the general commotion and excitement of the elements, wind and waves and rain. A half dozen boats at the landing were full, and the waves beating over them. It was hard getting out, hauling up, and emptying mine. It was a rod and a half from the water's edge. Now look out for your rails and other fencing stuff and loose lumber, lest it be floated off. I sailed swiftly, standing up, and tipping my boat to make it keel on its side, though at first it was hard to keep off a lee shore. It was exciting to feel myself tossed by the dark waves, and hear them surge about me. The reign of water now begins, and how it gambols and revels; waves are its leaves, foam its blossoms. How they run and leap in great droves, deriving new excitement from each other; schools of porpoises and blackfish are only more animated waves, and have acquired the gait and gambols of the sea itself.
I hear that Sammy Hoar saw geese go over to-day. The fall, strictly speaking, is approaching an end in this probably annual northeast storm. Thus the summer winds up its accounts. The Indians, it is said, did not look for winter till the springs were full. The ducks and other fowl, reminded of the lateness, go by. The few remaining leaves come fluttering down. The snow-fleas, as to-day, are washed out of the bark of meadow trees, and cover the surface of the flood. The winter's wood is bargained for and being hauled. There is not much more for the farmer to do in the fields. This storm reminds men to put things on a winter footing.
The real facts of a poet's life would be of more value to us than any work of his art. I mean that the very scheme and form of his poetry, so called, is adopted at a sacrifice of vital truth and poetry. Shakespeare has left us his fancies and imaginings, but the truth of his life, with its becoming circumstances, we know nothing about. The writer is reported, the liver not at all. Shakespeare's house! how hollow it is! No man can conceive of Shakespeare in that house. We want the basis of fact, of an actual life, to complete our Shakespeare as much as a statue wants its pedestal. A poet's life, with this broad actual basis, would be as superior to Shakespeare's, as a lichen, with its base or thallus, is superior, in the order of being, to a fungus.
The Littleton giant brought us a load of coal within the week. He appears deformed and weakly, though actually well-formed. He does not nearly stand up straight. His knees knock together. They touch when he is standing most upright, and so reduce his height at least three inches. He is also very round-shouldered and stooping, probably from the habit of crouching to conceal his height. He wears a low hat for the same purpose. The tallest man looks like a boy beside him. He has a seat to his wagon made on purpose for him. He habitually stops before all doors. You wonder what his horses think of him, that a strange horse is not afraid of him. His voice is deep and full, but mild, for he is quite modest and retiring, really a worthy man, 't is said. Pity he could not have been undertaken by a committee in season, and put through like the boy Safford, been well developed bodily and mentally, taught to hold up his head, and not mind people's eyes or remarks. It is remarkable that the giants have never correspondingly great hearts.
Oct. 27, 1858. Who will attempt to describe in words the difference in tint between two neighboring leaves on the same tree [in autumn] or of two thousand? for by so many the eye is addressed in a glance. In describing the richly spotted leaves, for instance, how often we find ourselves using ineffectually words which indicate faintly our good intentions, giving them in our despair a terminal twist toward our mark, such as reddish, yellowish, purplish, etc. We cannot make a hue of words, for they are not to be compounded like colors, and hence we are obliged to use such ineffectual expressions as reddish-brown, etc. They need to be ground together.
Oct. 28, 1853. For a year or two past, my publisher, falsely so called, has been writing from time to time, to ask what disposition should be made of the copies of "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers" still on hand, and at last suggesting that he had use for the room they occupied in his cellar. So I had them all sent to me here, and they have arrived to-day by express, filling the man's wagon, 706 copies out of an edition of 1000, which I bought of Munroe four years ago, and have been ever since paying for and have not quite paid for yet. The wares are sent to me at last, and I have an opportunity to examine my purchase. They are something more substantial than fame, as my back knows, which has borne them up two flights of stairs to a place similar to that to which they trace their origin. Of the remaining 290 and odd, 75 were given away, the rest sold. I have now a library of nearly 900 volumes, over 700 of which I wrote myself. Is it not well that the author should behold the fruits of his labor? My works are piled up on one side of my chamber half as high as my head, my opera omnia. This was authorship, these are the works of my brain. There was just one piece of good luck in the venture. The unbound were tied up by the printer four years ago in stout paper wrappers, and inscribed:—
H. D. Thoreau, Concord River, 50 cops.
so Munroe had only to cross out "River" and write "Mass.," and deliver them to the express man at once. I can see now what I write for, the result of my labors. Nevertheless in spite of this result, sitting beside the inert mass of my works, I take up my pen to-night to record what thought or experience I may have had, with as much satisfaction as ever. Indeed I believe that the result is more inspiring and better for me than if a thousand had bought my wares. It affects my privacy less and leaves me freer.
Oct. 28, 1855. By boat to Leaning Hemlocks. As I paddle under the hemlock bank this shady afternoon, about three o'clock, I see a screech-owl sitting on the edge of a hollow hemlock stump about three feet high, at the base of a large hemlock. It sits with its head down, eying me with its eyes partly open, about twenty feet off. When it hears me move, it turns its head toward me, perhaps one eye partly open, with its great, gleaming, golden iris. You see two whitish triangular lines above the eye, meeting at the bill, with a sharp reddish-brown triangle between, and a narrow curved line of black under each eye. At this distance and in this light, you see only a black spot where the eye is, and the question is whether the eyes are open or not. It sits on the lee side of the tree this raw and windy day. You would say this was a bird without a neck. Its short bill, which rests upon its breast, scarcely projects at all, but in a state of rest the whole upper part of the bird from the wings is rounded off smoothly, except the horns, which stand up conspicuously or are slanted back. After watching it ten minutes from the boat, I landed two rods above, and, stealing up quietly behind the hemlock, though from the windward, I looked carefully round it, and to my surprise, saw the owl still sitting there; so I sprang round quickly with my arm outstretched, and caught it in my hand. It was so surprised that it offered no resistance at first, only glared at me in mute astonishment with eyes as big as saucers. But erelong it began to snap its bill, making quite a noise, and as I rolled it up in my handkerchief and put it in my pocket, it bit my ringer slightly. I soon took it out of my pocket, and tying the handkerchief, left it on the bottom of the boat. So I carried it home, and made a small cage in which to keep it for a night. When I took it up, it clung so tightly to my hand as to sink its claws into my fingers and bring blood. When alarmed or provoked most, it snaps its bill and hisses. It puffs up its feathers to nearly twice its usual size, stretches out its neck, and with wide-open eyes stares this way and that, moving its head slowly and undulatingly from side to side with a curious motion. While I write this evening, I see there is ground for much superstition in it. It looks out on me from a dusky corner of its box with its great solemn eyes, perfectly still. I was surprised to find that I could imitate its note, as I remember it, by a guttural whimpering. A remarkably squat figure, being very broad in proportion to its length, with a short tail, and very cat-like in the face with its horns and great eyes. Remarkably large feet and talons, legs thickly clothed to the talons with whitish down. It would lower its head, stretch out its neck, and, bending it from side to side, peer at you with laughable circumspection; from side to side, as if to catch or absorb into its eyes every ray of light, strain at you with complacent yet earnest scrutiny, raising and lowering its head, and moving it from side to side in a slow and regular manner, at the same time snapping its bill smartly perhaps and faintly hissing and puffing itself up more and more, cat-like, turtle-like, both in hissing and swelling. The slowness and gravity, not to say solemnity of this motion are striking. There is plainly no jesting in this case. General color of the owl a rather pale and perhaps slightly reddish brown, the feathers centred with black. Perches with two claws above, and two below the perch. He has a slight body covered with a mass of soft and light-lying feathers, his head muffled in a great hood. He must be quite comfortable in winter. Dropped a pellet of fur and bones(?) in his cage. He sat not really moping, but trying to sleep in a corner of his box all day, yet with one or both eyes slightly open all the while. I never once caught him with his eyes shut. Ordinarily he stood rather than sat on his perch.
Oct. 29. Up Assabet. Carried my owl to the hill again; had to shake him out of the box, for he did not go of his own accord. (He had learned to alight on his perch, and it was surprising how lightly and noiselessly he would hop upon it.) There he stood on the grass, at first bewildered, with his horns pricked up and looking toward me. In this strong light, the pupils of his eyes suddenly contracted and the iris expanded, till they were two great brazen orbs with a central spot merely. His attitude expressed astonishment more than anything else. I was obliged to toss him up a little that he might feel his wings, and then he flapped away low and heavily to a hickory on a hillside twenty rods off. I had let him out on the plain just east of the hill. Thither I followed and tried to start him again. He was now on the qui vive, yet would not start. He erected his head, showing some neck narrower than the round head above. His eyes were broad brazen rings around bullets of black. His horns stood quite an inch high, as not before. As I moved around him, he turned his head always toward me till he looked directly behind himself, as he sat crosswise on a bough. He behaved as if bewildered and dazzled, gathering all the light he could, and even straining his great eyes to make me out, but not inclining to fly. I had to lift him again with a stick to make him fly, and then he only rose to a higher perch, where at last he seemed to seek the shelter of a thicker cluster of sere leaves, partly crouching there. He never appeared so much alarmed as surprised and astonished. At the bottom of the hollow [stump?] on the edge of which he sat when I first saw him yesterday, eighteen inches beneath him, was a very soft bed of the fine green moss, hypnum, which grows on the bank close by, probably his own bed. It had been recently put there.
I have got a load of great hard-wood stumps.
For sympathy with my neighbors, I might about as well live in China. They are to me barbarians, with their committee-works and gregariousness.
Oct. 28, 1857. As I sat at the wall corner, high on Conantum, the sky generally covered with continuous, cheerless-looking slate-colored clouds, except in the west, I saw through the hollows of the clouds here and there the blue appearing, and all at once a low-slanted glade of sunlight from one of heaven's west windows behind me fell on the bare gray maples, lighting them up with an incredibly intense and pure white light; then, going out there, it lit up some white birch stems south of the pond, then the gray rocks and the pale reddish young oaks of the lower cliffs, then the very pale brown meadow grass, and at last the brilliant white breasts of two ducks tossing on the agitated surface far off on the pond, which I had not detected before. It was but a transient ray, and there was no sunshine afterward, but the intensity of the light was surprising and impressive, a halo, a glory in which only the just deserved to live. It was as if the air, purified by the long storm, reflected these few rays from side to side with a complete illumination, like a perfectly polished mirror, while the effect was greatly enhanced by the contrast with the dull, dark clouds and the sombre earth. As if nature did not dare at once to let in the full blaze of the sun to this combustible atmosphere. It was a serene Elysian light, in which the deeds I have dreamed of, but not realized, might have been performed. No perfectly fair weather ever offered such an arena for noble deeds. It was such a light as we behold but dwell not in. Late in the year, at the eleventh hour, we have visions of the life we might have lived. In each case, every recess was filled and lit up by the pure white light. The maples were Potter's, far down stream, but I dreamed I walked like a liberated spirit in the maze; the withered meadow grass was as soft and glorious as paradise. And then it was remarkable that the light-giver should have revealed to me for all life the heaving white breasts of those two ducks within this glade of light. It was extinguished and relit as it traveled. Tell me precisely the value and significance of these transient gleams which come sometimes at the end of the day before the final dispersion of the clouds at the close of a storm; too late to be of any service to the works of man for the day, and though the whole night after may be overcast. Is not this a language to be heard and understood? There is in the brown and gray earth and rocks, and the withered leaves and bare twigs at this season a purity more correspondent to the light itself than summer offers.
I look up and see a male marsh-hawk, with his clean-cut wings, that has just skimmed past over my head, not at all disturbed, only tilting his body a little, now twenty rods off, with a demi-semi-quaver of his wings. He is a very neat flyer. I do not often see the marsh-hawk thus. What a regular figure this fellow makes with his broad tail and broad wings! Does he perceive me, that he rises higher and circles to one side? He goes round now one full circle without a flap, tilting his wing a little. Then flaps three or four times, and rises higher. Now he comes on like a billow, screaming, steady as a planet in its orbit, with his head bent down, but on second thought that small sprout land seems worthy of a longer scrutiny, and he gives one circle backward over it. His scream is something like the whinnying of a horse, if it is not rather a split squeal. It is a hoarse, tremulous breathing forth of his winged energy. But why is it so regularly repeated at that height? Is it not to scare his prey, that he may see by its motion where it is, or to inform its mate or companion of its whereabouts? Now he crosses the at present broad river steadily, desiring to have one or two rabbits at least to swing about him. What majesty there is in this small bird's flight!
Oct. 28, 1858. How handsome the great red-oak acorns now. I stand under the tree on Emerson's lot. They are still falling. I heard one fall into the water as I approached, and thought a muskrat had plunged. They strew the ground and the bottom of the river thickly, and while I stand here, I hear one strike the boughs with force, as it comes down and drops into the water. The part that was covered by the cup is whitish woolly. How munificent is nature to create this profusion of wild fruit, as it were merely to gratify our eyes. Though inedible, they stand by me longer than the fruits which I eat. If they had been plums or chestnuts I should have eaten them on the spot, and probably forgotten them. They would have afforded me only a momentary gratification, but, being acorns, I remember and, as it were, feed on them still. They are untasted fruits, forever in store for me. I know not of their flavor as yet. That is postponed to some unimagined winter evening. These which we admire, but do not eat, are nuts of the gods. When time is no more we shall crack them. I cannot help liking them better than horse chestnuts, not only because they are of a much handsomer form but because they are indigenous. What pale plump fellows they are! They can afford not to be useful to me, not to know me or be known by me. They go their way, I go mine, and it turns out that sometimes I go after them.
Oct. 28, 1859. Walnuts commonly fall, and the black walnuts at Smith's are at least one half fallen. They are of the form and size of a small lemon, and, what is singular, have a rich nutmeg fragrance. They are turning dark brown. Gray says it is rare in the eastern, but very common in the western states. Is it indigenous in Massachusetts? Emerson says it is, but rare. If so, it is much the most remarkable nut we have.
Oct. 29, 1837. A curious incident happened a few weeks ago which I think it worth while to record. John and I had been searching for Indian relics, and been successful enough to find two arrow-heads and a pestle, when, of a Sunday evening, with our heads full of the past and its remains, we strolled to the mouth of Swamp Bridge Brook. As we neared the brow of the hill forming the bank of the river, inspired by my theme, I broke forth into an extravagant eulogy of the savage times, using most violent gesticulations by way of illustra tion. "There on Nawshawtuck," said I, "was their lodge, the rendezvous of the tribe, and yonder on Clamshell Hill, their feasting ground. This was no doubt a favorite haunt; here on this brow was an eligible lookout-post. How often have they stood on this very spot, at this very hour, when the sun was sinking behind yonder woods, and gilding with his last rays the waters of the Musketaquid, and pondered the day's success and the morrow's prospects, or communed with the spirits of their fathers gone before them to the land of the shades! Here," I exclaimed, "stood Tahatowan, and there," to complete the period, "is Tahatowan's arrowhead." We instantly proceeded to sit down on the spot I had pointed to, and I, to carry out the joke, to lay bare an ordinary stone which my whim had selected, when lo! the first I laid hands on, the grubbing stone that was to be, proved a most perfect arrow-head, as sharp as if just from the hands of the Indian fabricator.
Oct. 29, 1857. There are some things of which I cannot at once tell, whether I have dreamed them or they are real, as if they were just perchance establishing or else losing a real basis in my world. This is especially the case in the early morning hours, when there is a gradual transition from dreams to waking thoughts, from illusions to actualities. Such early morning thoughts as I speak of occupy a debatable ground between dreams and waking thoughts; they are a sort of permanent dream in my mind. At least, until we have for some time changed our position from prostrate to erect, and faced or commenced some of the duties of the day, we cannot tell what we have dreamed from what we have actually experienced. This morning, for instance, for the twentieth time, at least, I thought of that mountain in the easterly part of the town, where no high hill actually is, which once or twice I had ascended, and often allowed my thoughts alone to climb. I now contemplate it as a familiar thought which I have surely had for many years from time to time, but whether anything could have reminded me of it in the middle of yesterday, whether I ever remembered it before in broad daylight, I doubt. I can now eke out the vision I had of it this morning with my old and yesterday-forgotten dreams. My way up used to be through a dark and unfrequented wood at its base. (I cannot now tell exactly, it was so long ago, under what circumstances I first ascended, only that I shuddered, as I went along, and have an indistinct remembrance of having been out one night alone.) Then I steadily ascended along a rock ridge, half clad with stunted trees, where wild beasts haunted, till I lost myself quite in the upper air and clouds, seeming to pass an imaginary line which separates a hill, mere earth heaped up, from a mountain, into a superterranean grandeur and sublimity. What distinguishes that summit above the earthy line, is that it is unhandseled, awful, grand. It can never become familiar. You are lost the moment you set foot there. You know no path, but wander, thrilled, over the bare and pathless rock, as if it were solidified air and cloud. That rocky, misty summit, secreted in the cloud, was far more thrillingly awful and sublime than the crater of a volcano spouting fire.
This is a matter we can partly understand. The perfect mountain height is already thoroughly purified. It is as if you trod with awe the face of a god turned up, unwillingly, but helplessly, yielding to the law of gravity. In dreams I am shown this height from time to time, and I seem to have asked my fellow once to climb there with me, and yet I am constrained to believe that I never actually ascended it. Now first I recall that it rises in my mind where lies the burying hill. You might go through that gate to enter the dark wood. Perchance it was the grave, but that hill and its graves are so concealed and obliterated by the awful mountain that I never thought of them as underlying it. My old way down was different, and indeed this was another way up, though I never so ascended. I came out, as I descended, from the belt of wood, breathing the thicker air, into a familiar pasture, and along down by a wall. Often as I go along the low side of this pasture, I let my thoughts ascend toward the mount, gradually entering the stunted wood (nature subdued) and the thinner air. Ever there are two ways up, one through the dark wood, the other through the sunny pasture. That is, I reach and discover the mountain only through the dark wood, but I see to my surprise, when I look off between the mists from its summit, how it is ever adjacent to my native fields, nay, imminent over them, and accessible through a sunny pasture. Why is it that in the lives of men we hear more of the dark wood than of the sunny pasture? Though the pleasure of ascending the mountain is largely mixed with awe, my thoughts are purified and sublimed by it, as if I had been translated.
We see mankind generally, who toil to acquire wealth, or perhaps inherit it, or acquire it by other accident, having recourse for relaxation after excessive toil, or as a mere relief from idle ennui, to artificial amusements, rarely elevating, often debasing. I think men are commonly mistaken with regard to amusements. Every one who deserves to be regarded as higher than the brute may be supposed to have an earnest purpose, to accomplish which is the object of his existence, and this is at once his work and his supreme pleasure, and for diversion and relaxation, for suggestion and education and strength, there is offered the never-failing amusement of getting a living,—never-failing, I mean, when temperately indulged in. I know of no such amusement, so wholesome, and in every sense profitable, for instance, as to spend an hour or two in a day, picking berries or other fruits which will be food for the winter, or collecting driftwood from the river for fuel, or cultivating the few beans or potatoes which I want. Theatres and operas, which intoxicate for a season, are as nothing compared with these pursuits. And so it is with all the true arts of life. Farming and building and manufacturing and sailing are the greatest and wholesomest amusements that were ever invented, for God invented them, and I suppose that the farmers and mechanics know it, only I think they indulge to excess generally, and so what was meant for a joy becomes the sweat of the brow. Gambling, horse-racing, loafing, and rowdyism generally after all tempt but few. The mass are tempted by those other amusements, of farming, etc. By these various pursuits your experience becomes singularly complete and rounded. Their novelty and significance are remarkable. Such is the path by which we climb to the height of our being. Compare the poetry which such simple pursuits have inspired with the unreadable volumes which have been written about art. I find when I have been building a fence or surveying a farm, or even collecting simples, that these were the true path to perception and enjoyment. My being seems to have put forth new roots, and to be more strongly planted. This is the true way to crack the nut of happiness. If as a poet or naturalist you wish to explore a given neighborhood, go and live in it, that is, get your living in it. Fish in its streams, hunt in its forests, gather fuel from its water, its woods, cultivate the ground, and pluck the wild fruits, etc., etc. This will be the surest and speediest way to those perceptions you covet. No amusement has worn better than farming. It tempts men just as strongly to-day as in the day of Cincinnatus. Healthily and properly pursued, it is not a whit more grave than huckleberrying, and if it takes airs on itself as superior, there is something wrong about it. I have aspired to practice in succession all the honest arts of life that I may gather all the fruits. But if you are intemperate, if you toil to raise an unnecessary amount, even the large crop of wheat becomes as a small crop of chaff. If our living were once honestly got, then it would be time to invent other amusements.
After reading Ruskin on the love of nature, I think, "Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring!" He there, to my surprise, expresses the common infidelity of his age and race. He has not implicitly surrendered himself to nature. And what does he substitute for her? I do not know, unless it be the Church of England, questioning whether that relation to nature was of so much value after all. It is sour grapes! He does not speak to the condition of foxes that have more spring in the legs. The love of nature and fullest perception of the revelation which she is to man, is not compatible with belief in the peculiar revelation of the Bible which Ruskin entertains.
Oct. 29, 1858. The cat comes stealthily creeping towards some prey amid the withered flowers in the garden, which being disturbed by my approach, she runs low toward it, with an unusual glare or superficial light in her eye, ignoring her oldest acquaintance, as wild as her remotest ancestor, and presently I see the first tree sparrow hopping there. I hear them also amid the alders by the river singing sweetly, but with a few notes.
English plants have English habits here. They are not yet acclimated. They are early or late, as if ours were an English spring or autumn, and no doubt in course of time a change will be produced in their constitutions similar to that which is observed in the English man here.
Oct. 30, 1858. I see that Prichard's mountain ash (European) has lately put forth new leaves when all the old have fallen. They are four or five inches long. But the American has not started. It knows better.
Oct. 31, 1850. This has been the most perfect afternoon of the year. The air quite warm enough, perfectly still and dry and clear, and not a cloud in the sky. Scarcely the song of a cricket is heard to disturb the stillness.
Our Indian summer, I am tempted to say, is the finest season of the year. Here has been such a day as I think Italy never sees.
A fair afternoon, a celestial afternoon, cannot occur but we mar our pleasure by reproaching ourselves that we do not make all our days beautiful. The thought of what I am, of my pitiful conduct, deters me from receiving what joy I might from the glorious days that visit me. After the era of youth is passed, the knowledge of ourselves is an alloy that spoils our satisfactions. I am wont to think that I could spend my days contentedly in any retired country house that I see, for I see it to advantage now and without incumbrance. I have not yet imported my humdrum thoughts, my prosaic habits, into it to mar the landscape. What is this beauty in the landscape but a certain fertility in me? I look in vain to see it realized but in my own life. If I could wholly cease to be ashamed of myself, I think all my days would be fair.
Oct. 31, 1853. p. m. By boat with Sophia to my grapes laid down in front of Fair Haven. It is a beautiful, warm, and calm Indian-summer afternoon, and the river is so high over the meadows, the pads and other low weeds so deeply buried, and the water so smooth and glassy withal that I am reminded of a calm April day during the freshets. The coarse withered grass, and the willows and button-bushes with their myriad balls, and whatever else stands on the brink, is reflected with wonderful distinctness. This shore thus seen from the boat is like the ornamented frame of a mirror. The button-balls, etc., are more distinct in the reflection, if I remember, because they have there for background the reflected sky, but the actual ones are seen against the russet meadow. I even see houses a mile off reflected in the meadow flood. The cocks crow in barnyards, as if with new lustiness. They seem to appreciate the day. The river is three feet and more above the summer level. I see many pickerel dart away as I push my boat over the meadows. They lie up there now. There are already myriads of snow-fleas on the water next the shore, and on the cranberries we pick in the wreck, as if they were peppered. When we ripple the surface, the undulating light is reflected from the waves upon the bank and bushes and withered grass. Is not this already November, when the yellow and scarlet tints are gone from the forest? It is very pleasant to float along over the smooth meadow, where every weed and each stem of coarse grass that rises above the surface has another answering to it, and even more distinct in the water beneath, making a rhyme to it, so that the most irregular form appears regular. A few scattered dry and clean very light straw-colored grasses are a cheap and simple beauty, thus reflected.
I slowly discover that this is a gossamer day. I first see the fine lines stretching from one weed, or grass-stem or rush, to another, sometimes seven or eight feet distant horizontally, and only four or five inches above the water. When I look further, I find that they are everywhere and on everything, sometimes forming conspicuous fine white gossamer webs on the heads of grasses. They are so abundant that they seem to have been suddenly produced in the atmosphere by some chemistry, spun out of air, I know not for what purpose. I remember that in Kirby and Spence it is not allowed that the spider can walk on the water to carry his web across from rush to rush, but here I see myriads of spiders on the water making some kind of progress, and at least with a line attached to them. True, they do not appear to walk well, but they stand up high and dry on the tips of their toes, and are blown along quite fast. They are of various sizes and colors, though mostly a greenish brown or else black, some very small. These gossamer lines are not visible unless between you and the sun. We pass some black willows now, of course, quite leafless, and when they are between us and the sun, they are so completely covered with these fine cobwebs or lines, mainly parallel to one another, that they make one solid roof, a misty roof, against the sun. They are not drawn taut, but curved downward in the middle, like the rigging of a vessel, the ropes which stretch from mast to mast, as if the fleets of a thousand Lilliputian nations were collected one behind another under bare poles; but when we have floated a few feet farther, and thrown the willow out of the sun's range, not a thread can be seen on it. I landed and walked up and down the causeway, and found it the same there, the gossamer reaching across the causeway, though not necessarily supported on the other side. They streamed southward with the slight zephyr, as if the year were weaving her shroud out of light. There were spiders on the rail [of the causeway] that produced them, similar to those on the water. The air appeared crowded with them. It was a wonder they did not get into the mouth and nostrils, or that we did not feel them on our faces, or continually going and coming among them did not whiten our clothes more. And yet one, with his back to the sun, walking the other way, would observe nothing of all this. Methinks it is only on these very finest days, late in the autumn, that the phenomenon is seen, as if that fine vapor of the morning were spun into these webs. According to Kirby and Spence, "In Germany these flights of gossamer appear so constantly in autumn that they are there metaphorically called 'Der Fliegende Sommer,' the flying or departing summer." What can possess these spiders, thus to run all at once to every the least elevation, and let off this wonderful stream? Harris tells me he does not know what it means. Sophia thought that thus, at last, they emptied themselves and wound up, or, I suggested, unwound themselves, cast off their mortal coil. It looks like a mere frolic spending and wasting of themselves, of their vigor, now that there is no further use for it, their July, perchance, being killed or banished by the frost.
Oct. 31, 1857. In the Lee farm swamp, by the old Sam Barrett mill-site, I see two kinds of ferns still green and much in fruit, apparently the Aspidium spinulosum (?) and cristatum (?). They are also common in the swamps now. They are quite fresh in those cold and wet places, and almost flattened down now. The atmosphere of the house is less congenial to them. In the summer you might not have noticed them. Now they are conspicuous amid the withered leaves. You are inclined to approach and raise each frond in succession, moist, trembling, fragile greenness. They linger thus in all moist, clammy swamps under the bare maples and grapevines and witch hazels, and about each trickling spring that is half choked with fallen leaves. What means this persistent vitality? Why were these spared when the brakes and osmundas were stricken down? They stay as if to keep up the spirits of the cold-blooded frogs which have not yet gone into the mud, that the summer may die with decent and graceful moderation. Is not the water of the spring improved by their presence? They fall back and droop here and there like the plumes of departing summer, of the departing year. Even in them I feel an argument for immortality. Death is so far from being universal. The same destroyer does not destroy all. How valuable they are, with the lycopodiums for cheerfulness. Greenness at the end of the year, after the fall of the leaf, a hale old age. To my eyes they are tall and noble as palm groves, and always some forest nobleness seems to have its haunt under their umbrage. All that was immortal in the swamp herbage seems here crowded into smaller compass, the concentrated greenness of the swamp. How dear they must be to the chickadee and the rabbit! the cool, slowly-retreating rear-guard of the swamp army. What virtue is theirs that enables them to resist the frost? If you are afflicted with melancholy at this season, go to the swamp, and see the brave spears of skunk-cabbage buds already advanced toward a new year. Their gravestones are not bespoken yet. Who shall be sexton to them? Is it the winter of their discontent? Do they seem to have lain down to die, despairing of skunk-cabbagedom? Mortal, human creatures must take a little respite in this fall of the year. Their spirits do flag a little. There is a little questioning of destiny, and thinking to go like cowards to where the weary shall be at rest. But not so with the skunk cabbage. Its withered leaves fall and are transfixed by a rising bud. Winter and death are ignored. The circle of life is complete. Are these false prophets? Is it a lie or a vain boast underneath the skunk-cabbage bud pushing it upwards and lifting the dead leaves with it? They rest with spears advanced. It is good for me to be here slumping in the mud, a trap covered with withered leaves, to see these green cabbage buds lifting the dry leaves in this watery, muddy place. They see over the brow of winter's hill. They see another summer ahead.
Nov. 1, 1851. It is a rare qualification to be able to state a fact simply and adequately, to digest some experience clearly, to say "yes " and "no" with authority, to make a square edge. A man must see before he can say. Statements are made but partially. Things are said with reference to certain conventions or institutions, not absolutely. A fact, truly and absolutely stated, is taken out of the region of common sense, and acquires a mythologic or universal significance. Say it and have done with it. Express it without expressing yourself. See not with the eye of science, which is barren, nor of youthful poetry, which is impotent. But taste the world and digest it. It would seem as if things got said but rarely and by chance. As you see, so at length will you say. When facts are seen superficially, they are seen as they lie in relation to certain institutions, perchance. I would have them expressed as more deeply seen, with deeper references, so that the hearer or reader cannot recognize them or apprehend their significance from the platform of common life, but it will be necessary that he be in a sense translated in order to understand them. At first blush, a man is not capable of reporting truth. To do that, he must be drenched and saturated with it. Then the truth will exhale from him naturally, like the odor of the muskrat from the coat of the trapper. What was enthusiasm in the young man must become temperament in the mature man. Without excitement, heat, or passion he will survey the world which excited the youth and threw him off his balance.
This on my way to Conantum, 2.30 p. m. It is a bright, clear, warm November day. I feel blessed. I love my life. I warm toward all nature. The crickets now sound faintly and from very deep in the sod. Fall dandelions look bright still. The grass has got a new greenness in spots. At this season there are stranger sparrows or finches about. The skunk cabbage is already pushing up again. It is a remarkable day for fine gossamer cobwebs. Here in the causeway, as I walk toward the sun, I perceive that the air is full of them, streaming from off the willows and spanning the road, all stretching across the road, and yet I cannot see them in any other direction, and feel not one.
It looks as if the birds would be incommoded. This shimmer moving along the gossamer lines as they are moved by the wind, gives the effect of a drifting storm of light. It is more like a fine snowstorm which drifts athwart your path than anything else. If there were no sunshine, I should never find out that they existed, I should not know that I was bursting a myriad barriers. Why should this day be so distinguished? What is the peculiar condition of the atmosphere to call forth this activity?
The river is peculiarly sky-blue to-day, not dark as usual. It is all in the air.
Saw a canoe birch by road beyond the Abel Minot house; distinguished it thirty rods off by the chalky whiteness of its limbs. It is of a more unspotted, transparent, and perhaps pinkish white than the common. Its branches do not droop and curl down like those of the other. There will be some loose curls of bark about it. The common birch is finely branched, and has frequently a snarly head; the canoe birch is a more open and free-growing tree. If at a distance you see the birch near its top forking into two or more white limbs, you may know it for a canoe birch. I have heard of a man in Maine who copied the whole Bible on to birch bark. It was much easier than to write that sentence which the birch tree stands for.
Nov. 1, 1852. Day before yesterday to the Cliffs in the misty rain. As I approached their edge, I saw the woods beneath, Fair Haven Pond, and the hills across the river, which owing to the mist was as far as I could see, and seemed much farther in consequence. I saw these between the converging branches of two white pines a rod or two from me on the edge of the rocks, and I thought there was no frame to a landscape equal to this, to see between two near pine boughs whose lichens are distinct, a distant forest and lake, the one, frame, the other, picture.
In November a man will eat his heart, if in any month.
It is remarkable how native man proves himself to the earth, after all, and the completeness of his life in all its appurtenances. His alliances how wide! He has domesticated not only beasts, but fowl, not only hens and geese and ducks and turkeys, but his doves winging their way to their dove-cotes over street and village enhance the picturesqueness of his sky, to say nothing of his trained falcons, his beautiful scouts in the upper air.
He is lord of the fowl and the brute. The dove, the martin, the bluebird, the swallow, and in some countries, the hawk, have attached themselves to his fortunes.
Nov. 1, 1853. Few come to the woods to see how the pine lives and grows and spires, lifting its evergreen arms to the light, to see its perfect success. Most are content to behold it in the shape of many broad boards brought to market, and deem that its true success. The pine is no more lumber than man is, and to be made into boards and houses is no more its true and highest use than the truest use of a man is to be cut down and made into manure. A pine cut down, a dead pine, is no more a pine than a dead human carcass is a man. Is it the lumberman who is the friend and lover of the pine, stands nearest to it, and understands its nature best? Is it the tanner or turpentine distiller who posterity will fable was changed into a pine at last? No, no, it is the poet who makes the truest use of the pine, who does not fondle it with an axe, or tickle it with a saw, or stroke it with a plane. It is the poet who loves it as his own shadow in the air, and lets it stand. It is as immortal as I am, and will go to as high a heaven, there to tower above me still. Can he who has only discovered the value of whale-bone and whale-oil be said to have discovered the true uses of the whale? Can he who slays the elephant for his ivory be said to have seen the elephant? No, these are petty and accidental uses. Just as if a stronger race were to kill us in order to make buttons and flageolets of our bones, and then prate of the usefulness of man. Every creature is better alive than dead, both men and moose and pine-trees, as life is more beautiful than death.
Nov. 1, 1855. p. m. Up Assabet, a-wooding. As I pushed up the river past Hildreth's, I saw a blue heron arise from the shore, and disappear round a bend in front; the greatest of the bitterns (Ardeæ), with heavy undulating wings low over the water, seen against the woods, just disappearing round a bend in front; with a great slate-colored expanse of wing, suited to the shadows of the stream, a tempered blue as of the sky and dark water commingled. This is the aspect under which the Musketaquid might be represented at this season: a long, smooth lake, reflecting the bare willows and button beeches, the stubble, and the wool grass on its tussock, a muskrat cabin or two conspicuous on its margin amid the unsightly tops of pontederia, and a bittern disappearing on undulating wing around a bend.
Nov. 1, 1857. I see much witch hazel, some of it quite fresh and bright. Its bark is alternate white and smooth reddish-brown, the small twigs looking as if gossamer had lodged on and draped them. What a lively spray it has, both in form and color! Truly it looks as if it would make divining rods, as if its twigs knew where the true gold was and could point to it. The gold is in the late blossoms. Let them alone, and they never point down to earth. They impart to the whole hillside a speckled, parti-colored look.
Nov. 1, 1858. As the afternoons grow shorter, and the early evening drives us home to complete our chores, we are reminded of the shortness of life, and become more pensive at least in this twilight of the year. We are prompted to make haste and finish our work before the twilight comes. I leaned over a rail on the Walden road, waiting for the evening mail to be distributed, when such thoughts visited me. I seemed to remember the November evening as a familiar thing come round again, and yet I could hardly tell whether I had ever known it, or only divined it. It appeared like a part of a panorama at which I sat spectator, a part with which I was perfectly familiar, just coming into view. I foresaw how it would look and roll along and was prepared to be pleased. Just such a piece of art merely, infinitely sweet and good, did it appear to me, and just as little were any active duties required of me. We are independent of all that we see. The hangman whom I have seen cannot hang me. The earth which I have seen cannot bury me. Such doubleness and distance does sight prove. Only the rich and such as are troubled with ennui are implicated in the maze of phenomena. You cannot see anything until you are clear of it. The long railroad causeway through the meadows west of me, the still twilight, the dark bank of clouds in the horizon, the villagers crowding to the post-office, and then hastening home to supper by candle-light, had I not seen all this before? What new sweet was I to extract from it? Truly they mean that we should learn our lesson well. Nature gets thumbed like an old spelling book. Yet I sat the bench with perfect contentment, unwilling to exchange the familiar vision that was to be unrolled for any treasure or heaven that could be imagined. I was no nearer to or farther off from my friends. We were sure to keep just so far apart in our orbits still, in obedience to the laws of attraction and repulsion, affording each other only steady, but indispensable starlight. It was as if I was promised the greatest novelty the world has ever seen or shall see, though the utmost possible novelty would be the difference between me and myself a year ago. This alone encouraged me, and was my fuel for the approaching winter. That we may behold the panorama with this slight improvement or change, this is what we sustain life for from year to year. And yet there is no more tempting novelty than this new November. No going to Europe or to another world is to be named with it. Give me the old familiar walk, post-office and all, with this ever new self, with this infinite expectation and faith which does not know when it is beaten. We'll go nutting once more. We'll pluck the nut of the world and crack it in the winter evenings. Theatres and all other sight-seeing are puppet shows in comparison. I will take another walk to the cliff, another row on the river, another skate on the meadow, be out in the first snow, and associate with the winter birds. Here I am at home. In the bare and bleached crust of the earth, I recognize my friend. One actual Frederick that you know is worth a million only read of. Pray, am I altogether a bachelor, or am I a widower, that I should go away and "leave my bride"? This morrow that is ever knocking with irresistible force at our door, there is no such guest as that. I will stay at home and receive company. I want nothing new. If I can have but a tithe of the old secured to me, I will spurn all wealth besides. Think of the consummate folly of attempting to go away from here. Here are all the friends I ever had or shall have, and as friendly as ever. Why, I never had a quarrel with a friend, but it was just as sweet as unanimity could be. I do not think we budge an inch forward or backward in relation to our friends. How many things can you go away from? They see the comet from the northwest coast just as plainly as we do, and the same stars through its tail. Take the shortest way round and stay at home. A man dwells in his native valley like a corolla in its calyx, like an acorn in its cup. Here, of course, is all that you love, all that you expect, all that you are. Here is your bride-elect, as close to you as she can be got. Here is all the best and the worst you can imagine. What more do you want? Foolish people think that what they imagine is somewhere else. That stuff is not made in any factory but their own.
Nov. 1, 1860. A perfect Indian summer day, wonderfully warm, 72°+ at 1 p. m., probably warmer at 2. The butterflies are out again. I see the common yellow one, and the Vanessa Antiopa, also yellow-winged grasshoppers with blackish eyes.
Nov. 2, 1840. It is well said that the "attitude of inspection is prone." The soul does not inspect, but behold. Like the lily, or the crystal, or the rock, it looks in the face of the sky. Francis Howell says that in garrulous persons "the supply of thought seems never to rise much above the level of its exit." Consequently their thoughts issue in no jets, but incessantly dribble. In those who speak rarely, but to the purpose, the reservoir of thought is many feet higher than its issue. It takes the pressure of one hundred atmospheres to make one jet of eloquence.
Nov. 2, 1851. Saw a canoe birch beyond Nawshawtuck, growing out of the middle of a white-pine stump which still showed the marks of the axe; sixteen inches in diameter at its bottom, or at two feet from the ground where it had first taken root in the stump.
Nov. 2, 1852. Tall buttercups, red clover, houstonias, Polygonum aviculare, still. The month of chickadees and new swollen buds. At long intervals I see or hear a robin still.
Nov. 2, 1853. The beech leaves have all fallen except some about the lower part of the trees, and they make a fine thick bed on the ground. They are very beautiful, fine and perfect leaves, unspotted, not eaten by insects, of a handsome, clear leather color, like a book bound in calf, crisp and elastic. They cover the ground so perfectly and cleanly as to tempt you to recline on it, and admire the beauty of the smooth boles from that position, covered with lichens of various colors, green, etc. They impress you as full of health and vigor, so that their bark can hardly contain their spirits, but lies in folds or wrinkles about their ankles like a sack, with the embonpoint, wrinkles of fat, of infancy.
Nov. 2, 1854. p. m. By boat to Clamshell. I see larks hovering over the meadow, and hear a faint note or two, and a pleasant note from tree sparrows(?). Sailing past the bank above the railroad, close to the shore on the east side, just before a clear sunset, I see a fainter shadow of the boat, sail, myself, paddle, etc., directly above and upon the first, on the bank. What makes the second? I at length discovered that it was the reflected sun which cast a higher shadow like the true one. As I moved to the west side, the upper shadow grew larger and less perceptible, and at last when I was so near the west shore that I could not see the reflected sun, it disappeared, but then there appeared one upside down in its place!
Nov. 2, 1857. p. m. To Bateman's Pond. It is very pleasant and cheerful nowadays, when the brown and withered leaves strew the ground and almost every plant is fallen or withered, to come upon a patch of polypody (as in abundance on hillside between Calla swamp and Bateman's Pond) on some rocky hillside in the woods, where in the midst of dry and rustling leaves, defying frost, it stands so freshly green and full of life. The mere greenness, which was not remarkable in the summer, is positively interesting now. My thoughts are with the polypody a long time after my body has passed. The brakes, the sarsaparilla, the osmundas, the Solomon's-seals, the lady's-slippers, etc., have long since withered and fallen. The huckleberries and blueberries, too, have lost their leaves. The forest floor is covered with a thick coat of moist brown leaves, but what is that perennial and spring-like verdure that clothes the rocks, of small green plumes pointing various ways? It is the cheerful community of the polypody. It survives at least as the type of vegetation, to remind us of the spring which shall not fail. These are the green pastures where I browse now. Why is not this form copied by our sculptors instead of the foreign acanthus leaves and bays? How fit for a tuft about the base of a column! The sight of this unwithering green leaf excites me like red at some seasons. Are not wood-frogs the philosophers who frequent these groves? Methinks I imbibe a cool, composed, frog-like philosophy when I behold them. The form of the polypody is strangely interesting, it is even outlandish. Some forms, though common in our midst, are thus perennially foreign as the growth of other latitudes. We all feel the ferns to be further from us essentially and sympathetically than the phænogamous plants, the roses and weeds, for instance. It needs no geology nor botany to assure us of that. The bare outline of the polypody thrills me strangely. It only perplexes me. Simple as it is, it is as strange as an oriental character. It is quite independent of my race and of the Indian, and of all mankind. It is a fabulous, mythological form, such as prevailed when the earth and air and water were inhabited by those extinct fossil creatures that we find. It is contemporary with them, and affects us somewhat as the sight of them might do. Crossed over that high, flat-backed, rocky hill, where the rocks, as usual thereabouts, stand on their edges, and the grain, running by compass east-northeast and west-southwest, is frequently kinked up in a curious manner, reminding me of a curly head. Call the hill Curly-pate.
Returning I see the red oak on R. W. E.'s shore reflected in the bright sky crater. In the reflection, the tree is black against the clear whitish sky, though as I see it against the opposite woods, it is a warm greenish yellow. But the river sees it against the bright sky and hence the reflection is like ink. The water tells me how it looks to it, seen from below.
I think that most men, as farmers, hunters, fishers, etc., walk along a river bank, or paddle along its stream without seeing the reflections. Their minds are not enough abstracted from the surface, from surfaces generally. It is only a reflecting mind that sees reflections. I am aware often that I have been occupied with shallow and commonplace thoughts, looking for something superficial, when I did not see the most glorious reflections, though exactly in the line of my vision. If the fisherman were looking at the reflection, he would not know when he had a nibble. I know from my own experience that he may cast his line right over the most elysian landscape and sky, and not catch the slightest notion of them. You must be in an abstract mood to see reflections, however distinct. I was even startled by the sight of that reflected red oak, as if it were a black water-spirit. When we are enough abstracted, the opaque earth itself reflects images to us, that is, we are imaginative, see visions.
Nov. 3, 1839. If one would reflect, let him embark on some placid stream, and float with the current. He cannot resist the muse. As we ascend the stream, plying the paddle with might and main, snatched and impetuous thoughts course through the brain. We dream of conflict, power and grandeur; but turn the prow down stream, and rock, tree, kine, knoll, assuming new and varying positions, as wind and water shift the scene, favor the liquid lapse of thought, far-reaching and sublime, but ever calm and gently undulating.
Nov. 3, 1840. The truth is only contained, never withheld, as a feudal castle may be the headquarters of hospitality, though the portal is but a span in the circuit of the wall. So of the three envelopes of the cocoanut, one is always so soft that it may be pierced with a thorn, and the traveler is grateful for the thick shell which held the liquor so faithfully.