Oct. 9, 1851. Heard two screech owls in the night.
Boiled a quart of acorns for breakfast, but found them not so palatable as the raw, having acquired a bitterish taste, perchance from being boiled with the shells and skins. Yet one would soon get accustomed to this.
2 p. m. To Conantum. I hear the green locust again on the alders of the causeway, but he is turned straw color. The warm weather has revived them.
All the acorns on the same tree are not equally sweet. They appear to dry sweet.
I see half a dozen snakes in this walk, green and striped, one very young striped snake. They appear to be out enjoying the sun, and to make the most of the last warm days of the year.
The hill and plain on the opposite side of the river are covered with the warm deep red leaves of shrub oak. On Lee's hillside by the pond, the red leaves of some pitch pines are almost of a golden yellow hue seen in the sunlight, a rich autumnal look. The green are, as it were, set in the yellow.
The witch hazel here is in full blossom on this magical hillside, while its broad yellow leaves are falling. Some bushes are completely bare of leaves, and leather-colored they strew the ground. It is an extremely interesting plant, October and November child, and yet reminds me of the very earliest spring. Its blossoms smell like the spring, like the willow catkins. By their color as well as fragrance they belong to the saffron dawn of the year, suggesting amid all these signs of autumn, falling leaves, and frost, that the life of nature by which she eternally flourishes is untouched. It stands here in the shadow on the side of the hill, while the sunlight from over the top of the hill lights up its topmost sprays and yellow blossoms. Its spray, so jointed and angular, is not to be mistaken for any other. I lie on my back with joy under its boughs. While its leaves fall, its blossoms spring. The autumn, then, is indeed a spring. All the year is a spring. I see two blackbirds high overhead going south, but I am going in my thoughts with these hazel blossoms. It is a fairy place. This is a part of the immortality of the soul. When I was thinking that it bloomed too late for bees or other insects to extract honey from its flowers, that perchance they yielded no honey, I saw a bee upon it. How important, then, to the bees this late blossoming plant.
A large sassafras tree behind Lee's, two feet in diameter at the ground.
There is a thick bed of leaves in the road under Hubbard's elms. This reminds me of Cato, as if the ancients made more use of nature than we. He says, "Stramenta si deerunt, frondem iligneam legito; earn substernito ovibus bubusque." If litter is wanting, gather the leaves of the holm oak, and strew them under your sheep and oxen. In another place he says, "Circum vias ulmos serito et partim populos, uti frondem ovibus et bubus habeas." There is little or no use made by us of the leaves of trees, not even for beds, unless it be sometimes to rake them up in the woods, and cast them into hogpens and compost heaps.
Oct. 9, 1857. It has come to this, that the lover of art is one, and the lover of nature another, though true art is but the expression of our love of nature. It is monstrous when one cares but little about trees, and much about Corinthian columns; yet this is exceedingly common.
Oct. 9, 1858. I watch two marsh hawks which rise from the woods before me as I sit on the cliff, at first plunging at each other, gradually lifting themselves, as they come round in their gyrations, higher and higher, and floating toward the southeast. Slender dark motes they are at last, but every time they come round eastward, I see the light of the westering sun reflected from the under sides of their wings.
Oct. 9, 1860. Up Assabet. I now see one small red maple which is all a pure yellow within, and a bright red or scarlet on its outer surface and prominences. It is a remarkably distinct painting of scarlet on a yellow ground. It is an indescribably beautiful contrast of scarlet and yellow. Another is yellow and green where this was scarlet and yellow, and in this case, the bright and liquid green, now getting to be rare, is by contrast as charming a color as the scarlet.
I wonder that the very cows and the dogs in the street do not manifest a recognition of the bright tints about and above them. I saw a terrier dog glance up and down the painted street before he turned in at his master's gate, and I wondered what he thought of these lit trees, if they did not touch his philosophy or spirits, but I fear he had only his common doggish thoughts after all. He trotted down the yard as if it were a matter of course, or else as if he deserved it all.
For two or more nights past we have had remarkable glittering golden sunsets as I came home from the post-office, it being cold and cloudy just above the horizon. There was the most intensely bright golden light at the west end of the street extending under the elms, and the very dust a quarter of a mile off was like gold dust. I wondered how a child could stand quietly in that light, as if it had been a furnace.
This haste to kill a bird or quadruped, and make a skeleton of it, which many young men and some old men exhibit, reminds me of the fable of the man who killed the hen that laid golden eggs, and so got no more gold. It is a perfectly parallel case. Such is the knowledge you get from anatomy as compared with that you may get from the living creature. Every fowl lays golden eggs for him who can find them, or can detect alloy and base metal.
Oct. 10, 1851. The air this morning is full of bluebirds, and again it is spring. There are many things to indicate the renewing of spring at this season, the blossoming of spring flowers, not to mention the witch-hazel, the notes of spring birds, the springing of grain and grass and other plants.
Ah, I yearn toward thee, my friend, but I have not confidence in thee. We do not believe in the same God. I am not thou, thou art not I. We trust each other to-day, but we distrust to-morrow. Even when I meet thee unexpectedly, I part from thee with disappointment. Though I enjoy thee more than other men, I am more disappointed with thee than with others. I know a noble man; what is it hinders me from knowing him better? I know not how it is that our distrust, our hate, is stronger than our love. Here I have been on what the world would call friendly terms with one fourteen years, have pleased my imagination sometimes with loving him, and yet our hate is stronger than our love. Why are we related thus unsatisfactorily to each other? We are almost a sore to one another. Ever and anon will come the thought to mar our love, that change the theme but a hair's breadth, and we shall be tragically strange to one another. We do not know what hinders us from coming together, but when I consider what my friend's relations and acquaintances are, what his tastes and habits, then the difference between us gets named. I see that all these friends and acquaintances and tastes and habits are indeed my friend's self.
The witch-hazel loves a hillside with or without wood or shrubs. It is always pleasant to come upon it unexpectedly as you are threading the woods in such places. Methinks I attribute to it some elfish quality apart from its fame. I love to behold its gray speckled stems. The leaf first green, then yellow for a short season; then, when it touches the ground, tawny leather-color. As I stood amid the witch-hazels near Flint's Pond, a flock of a dozen chickadees came flitting and singing about me with great ado, a most cheering and enlivening sound, with incessant day-day-day, and a fine wiry strain, between whiles, flitting ever nearer and nearer inquisitively, till the boldest was within five feet of me; then suddenly, their curiosity sated, they flitted by degrees farther away, disappeared, and I heard with regret their retreating day-day-days.
Oct. 10, 1857. This is the end of the sixth day of glorious weather, which I am tempted to call the finest in the year, so bright and serene the air, such a sheen from the earth, so brilliant the foliage, so pleasantly warm (except perhaps this day, which is cooler), too warm for a thick coat, yet not sultry nor oppressive, so ripe the season and our thoughts. Certainly these are the most brilliant days in the year, ushered in perhaps by a frosty morning, as this. As a dewy morning in summer, compared with a parched and sultry, languid one, so a frosty morning at this season compared with a merely dry or foggy one. These days you may say the year is ripened like a fruit by frost, and puts on the brilliant tints of maturity, but not yet the color of decay. It is not sere and withered as in November.
Oct. 10, 1858. The simplest and most lumpish fungus has a peculiar interest for us, compared with a mere mass of earth, because it is so obviously organic and related to ourselves, however remote. It is the expression of an idea, growth according to a law, matter not dormant, not raw, but inspired, appropriated by spirit. If I take up a handful of earth, however separately interesting the particles may be, their relation to one another appears to be that of mere juxtaposition generally. I might have thrown them together thus. But the humblest fungus betrays a life akin to my own. It is a successful poem in its kind. There is suggested something superior to any particle of matter in the idea or mind which uses and arranges the particles.
I find the fringed gentian abundantly open at three and at four p. m. (in fact it must be all the afternoon), open to catch the cool October sun and air in its low position. Such a dark blue! surpassing that of the male bluebird's back.
I see dumb-bells in the minister's study, and some of their dumbness gets into his sermons. Some travelers carry them round the world in their carpet bags. Can he be said to travel who requires still this exercise? A party of school children had a picnic in the Easterbrook country the other day, and they carried bags of beans for their gymnasium, to exercise with there. I cannot be interested in these extremely artificial amusements. The traveler is no longer a wayfarer with his staff and pack and dusty coat. He is not a pilgrim, but he travels in a saloon, and carries dumb-bells to exercise with in the intervals of his journey.
Oct. 11, 1840. It is always easy to infringe the law, but the Bedouin of the desert finds it impossible to resist public opinion.
Oct. 11, 1852. The chestnut leaves already rustle with a great noise as you walk through the woods, lying light, firm and crisp. Now the chestnuts are rattling out. The burrs are gaping and showing the plump nuts. They fill the ruts in the road and are abundant amid the fallen leaves in the midst of the wood. The jays scream and the red squirrels scold while you are clubbing and shaking the trees. Now it is true autumn, and all things are crisp and ripe.
I observed the other day that those insects whose ripple I could see from the peak were water bugs. I could detect the progress of a water bug over the smooth surface in almost any part of the pond, for they furrow the water slightly, making a conspicuous ripple, bounded by two diverging lines, but the skaters slide over it without producing a perceptible ripple. In this clear air and with this glassy surface, the motion of every water bug, here and there amid the skaters, was perceptible.
Oct. 11, 1859. The note of the chickadee heard now in cooler weather above many fallen leaves, has a new significance.
There was a very severe frost this morning; ground stiffened, probably a chestnut-opening frost, a season ripeness, opener of the burrs that contain the Indian Summer. Such is the cold of early or mid October. The leaves and weeds had a stiff, hoary appearance.
Oct. 11, 1860. Pears are a less poetic though more aristocratic fruit than apples. They have neither the beauty nor the fragrance of apples, but their excellence is in their flavor, which speaks to a grosser sense, they are glout-morceaux; hence while children dream of apples, judges, ex-judges, and honorables are connoisseurs of pears, and discourse of them at length between sessions. How much more attention they get from the proprietor. The hired man gathers the apples and barrels them. The proprietor plucks the pears at odd hours for a pastime. They are spread on the floor of the best room, they are a gift to the most distinguished guest. They are named after emperors, kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses. I fear I shall have to wait till we get to pears with American names, which a republican can swallow.
Oct. 12, 1840. The springs of life flow in ceaseless tides down below, and hence this greenness everywhere on the surface. But they are as yet untapped; only here and there men have sunk a well.
Oct. 12, 1851. I love very well this cloudy afternoon, so sober and favorable to reflection, after so many bright ones. What if the clouds shut out the heavens, provided they concentrate my thoughts and make a more celestial heaven below! I hear the crickets plainer. I wander less in my thoughts, am less dissipated, am aware how shallow was the current of my thoughts before. Deep streams are dark, as if there were a cloud in their sky; shallow ones are bright and sparkling, reflecting the sun from their bottoms. The very wind on my cheek seems more fraught with meaning.
I seem to be more constantly merged in nature, my intellectual life is more obedient to nature than formerly, but perchance less obedient to spirit. I have less memorable seasons. I exact less of myself. I am getting used to my meanness, getting to accept my low estate. Oh, if I could be discontented with myself! if I could feel anguish at each descent!
p. m. To Cliffs. I hear Lincoln bell tolling for church. At first I thought of the telegraph harp. Heard at a distance, the sound of a bell acquires a certain vibratory hum, as it were from the air through which it passes, like a harp. All music is a harp music at length, as if the air were full of vibrating strings. It is not the mere sound of the bell, but the humming in the air that enchants me, just as the azure tint which much air or distance imparts, delights the eye. It is not so much the object, as the object clothed with an azure veil. All sound heard at a great distance thus tends to produce the same music, vibrating the strings of the universal lyre. There comes to me a melody which the air has strained, which has conversed with every leaf and needle of the woods. It is by no means the sound of the bell as heard near at hand, and which at this distance I can plainly distinguish, but its vibrating echoes, that portion of the sound which the elements take up and modulate, a sound which is very much modified, sifted, and refined before it reaches my ear. The echo is to some extent an independent sound, and therein is the magic and charm of it. It is not merely a repetition of my voice, but it is in some measure the voice of the wood.
Oct. 12, 1852. I am struck by the simplicity of light in the atmosphere in the autumn, as if the earth absorbed none, and out of this profusion of dazzling light came the autumnal tints. Can it be because there is less vapor?
The delicacy of the stratification in the white sand by the railroad, where they have been getting out sand for the brickyards, the delicate stratification of this great globe, like the leaves of the choicest volume just shut on a lady's table! The piled up history! I am struck by the slow and delicate process by which the globe was formed.
What an ample share of the light of heaven each pond and lake on the surface of the globe enjoys! No woods are so dark and deep but it is light above the pond. Its window or skylight is as broad as its surface. It lies out, patent to the sky. From the mountain top you may not be able to see out, because of the woods, but on the lake you are bathed in light.
Oct. 12, 1857. The elm, I think, can be distinguished farther than any other tree, and however faintly seen in the distant horizon, its little dark dome, which the thickness of my nail will conceal, apparently not so big as the prominence on an orange, suggests ever the same quiet, rural and domestic life passing beneath it. It is like the vignette to an unseen idyllic poem. Though the little prominence appears so dark here, I know that it is now a rich brownish or yellow canopy of rustling leaves, whose harvest time has already come, sending down its showers from time to time. Homestead telegraphs to homestead through these distant elms seen from the hilltops. I fancy I hear the house dog bark, and lowing of the cows asking admittance to their yard beneath it. The tea-table is spread. The master and the hired men in their shirtsleeves, with the mistress, have just sat down.
Oct. 12, 1858. I have heard of judges accidentally met at an evening party, discussing the efficacy of laws and courts, and deciding that with the aid of the jury system substantial justice was done. But taking those cases in which honest men refrain from going to law, together with those in which men honest and dishonest do go to law, I think the law is really a humbug, and a benefit principally to the lawyers. This town has made a law recently against cattle going at large, and assigned a penalty of five dollars. I am troubled by an Irish neighbor's cow and horse, and have threatened to have them put in the pound. But a lawyer tells me these town laws are hard to put through, there are so many quibbles. He never knew the complainant to get his case, if the defendant had a mind to contend. However, the cattle were kept out several days, till a Sunday came, and then they were all in my grounds again, as I heard, but all my neighbors tell me that I cannot have them impounded on that day. Indeed, I observe that very many of my neighbors do for this reason regularly turn their cattle loose on Sundays. The judges may discuss the question of the courts and law over their nuts and raisins, and mumble for the decision that "substantial justice is done," but I must believe they mean that they really get paid a "substantial" salary.
Oct. 13, 1840. The only prayer for a brave man is to be a-doing. This is the prayer that is heard. Why ask God for a respite when he has not given it? Has he not done his work, and made man equal to his occasions, but he must needs have recourse to him again? God cannot give us any other than self-help.
The workers in stone polish only their chimney ornaments. But their pyramids are roughly done. There is a soberness in a rough aspect, in unhewn granite, which addresses a depth in us, but the polished surface only hits the ball of the eye.
The draft of my stove sounds like the dashing of waves on the shore, and the lid sings like the wind in the shrouds. The steady roar of the surf on the beach is as incessant in my ear as in the shell on the mantelpiece. I see vessels stranded, and gulls flying, and fishermen running to and fro on the beach.
Oct. 13, 1851. The alert and energetic man leads a more intellectual life in winter than in summer. In summer the animal and vegetable in him flourish more, as in a torrid zone; he lives in his senses mainly. In winter cold reason, not warm passion, has sway; he lives in thought and reflection. If he has passed a merely sensual summer, he passes his winter in a torpid state like some reptiles and other animals. Man depends more on himself, his own resources, in winter, less on what is outward. Insects disappear for the most part, and those animals which depend upon them, but the nobler animals abide with man the severity of winter. He migrates into his mind, to perpetual summer, and to the healthy man the winter of his discontent never comes.
Oct. 13, 1852. p. m. To Cliffs. Fair Haven Pond never, I think, looks so handsome as at this season. It is a sufficiently clear and warm, a rather Indian summer day, and they are gathering the apples in the orchard. The warmth is required now, and we welcome and appreciate it all. The shrub-oak plain is a deep red with grayish, withered, apparently white-oak leaves intermixed. The chickadee takes heart too, and sings above these warm rocks. Birches, hickories, aspens, etc., are like innumerable small flames on the hillsides about the pond, which is now most beautifully framed with the autumn-tinted woods and hills. The water or lake, from however distant a point seen, is always the centre of the landscape. Fair Haven lies more open, and can be seen from more distant points than any other of our ponds. The air is singularly fine-grained, the sward looks short and firm. The mountains are more distinct from the rest of the earth and slightly impurpled, seeming to lie up more. How peaceful great nature! There is no disturbing sound, but far amid the western hills there rises a pure, white smoke in constant volumes.
Oct. 13, 1852. To Poplar Hill. Maple fires are burnt out generally, and look smoky in the swamps. When my eyes were resting on those smoke-like bare trees, it did not at first occur to me why the landscape was not as brilliant as a few days ago. The outside trees in the swamps lose their leaves first.
I see a pretty large flock of tree sparrows, very lively and tame, pursuing each other and drifting along a bushy fence and ditch like driving snow. Two pursuing each other would curl upward like a breaker in the air, and drop into the hedge again. This has been the ninth of these wonderful days, and one of the warmest. I am obliged to sit with my window wide open all the evening as well as all day. It is the earlier Indian summer.
Oct. 13, 1859. The shad bush is leafing again by the sunny swamp side. It is like a youthful or poetic thought in old age. Several times I have been cheered by this sight when surveying in former years. The chickadee seems to lisp a sweeter note at the sight of it. I would not fear the winter more than the shad bush, which puts forth fresh and tender leaves on its approach. In the fall I will take this for my coat of arms. It seems to detain the sun that expands it. These twigs are so full of life that they can hardly contain themselves. They ignore winter. They anticipate spring. What faith! Away in some sheltered recess of the swamp you find where these leaves have expanded. In my latter years let me have some shad-bush thoughts.
I perceive the peculiar scent of witch hazel in bloom for several rods around, which at first I refer to the decaying leaves.
British naturalists very generally apologize to the reader for having devoted their attention to natural history to the neglect of some important duty.
I remember seeing in an old work a plate of a fungus which grew in a wine-cellar and got its name from that circumstance. It is related in "Chambers' Journal" that Sir Joseph Banks, having ordered a cask of wine to be placed in a cellar in order to improve it, "at the end of three years he directed his butler to ascertain the state of the wine, when on attempting to open the cellar door, he could not effect it in consequence of some powerful obstacle. The door was consequently cut down, when the cellar was found to be completely filled with a fungus production so firm that it was necessary to use an axe for its removal. This appeared to have grown from, or to have been nourished by the decomposing particles of the wine, the cask being empty and carried up to the ceiling, where it was supported by the fungus." Perhaps it was well that the fungus instead of Sir Joseph Banks drank up the wine. The life of a wine-bibber is like that of a fungus.
Oct. 13, 1860. The scientific differs from the poetic or lively description somewhat as the photographs which we become so weary of viewing differ from paintings and sketches, though the comparison is too favorable to science. All science is only a makeshift, a means to an end which is never attained. After all, the truest description and that by which another living man can most readily recognize a flower, is the unmeasured and eloquent one which the sight of it inspires. No scientific description will supply the want of this, though you should count and measure and analyze every atom which seems to compose it. Surely poetry and eloquence are a more universal language than that Latin which is confessedly dead. In science I should say all description is postponed till we know the whole, and then science itself will be cast aside. But unconsidered expressions of delight which any natural object draws from us are something complete and final in themselves, since all nature is to be regarded as it concerns man, and who knows how near to absolute truth such unconscious affirmations may come. Which are the truest, the sublime conceptions of Hebrew prophets and seers, or the guarded statements of modern geologists which we must modify or unlearn so fast? A scientific description is such as you would get, if you should send out the scholars of the polytechnic school with all sorts of metres made and patented to take the measure for you of any natural object. In a sense, you have got nothing new thus, for every object that we see mechanically is mechanically daguerreotyped on our eyes, but a true description growing out of the conception and appreciation of it is itself a new fact, never to be daguerreotyped, indicating the highest quality of the object, its relation to man. The one description interests those chiefly who have not seen the thing, the other chiefly interests those who have seen it and are most familiar with it, and brings it home to the reader. We like to read a good description of nothing so well as of that which we already know the best, as our friend or ourselves even.
Gerard has not only heard of and seen and raised a plant, but smelled and tasted it, applied all his senses to it. You are not distracted from the thing to the system or arrangement. In the true natural order, the order or system is not insisted on. Each object is first, and each last. That which presents itself to us this moment, occupies the whole of the present, and rests on the very topmost point of the sphere, under the zenith. The species and individuals of all the natural kingdoms ask our attention and admiration in a round robin. We make straight lines, putting a captain at the head and a lieutenant at the tail, with sergeants and corporals all along the line, and a flourish of trumpets at the beginning, where nature has made curves to which belong their own sphere music. It is indispensable for us to square her circles, and we offer our rewards to him who will do it. The best observer describes the most familiar object with a zest and vividness of imagery as if he saw it for the first time, the novelty consisting not in the strangeness of the object, but in the new and clearer perception of it.
Oct. 14, 1851. Down the railroad before sunrise. A freight train in the Deep Cut. When the vapor from the engine rose above the woods, the level rays of the rising sun falling on it presented the same redness, morning red inclining to saffron, which the clouds in the western horizon do.
There was but little wind this morning, yet I heard the telegraph harp. It does not require a strong wind to wake its strings. It depends more on its direction and the tension of the wire apparently. A gentle but steady breeze will often call forth its finest strains, when a strong but unsteady gale, blowing at the wrong angle withal, will fail to elicit any melodious sound.
In the psychological world, there are phenomena analogous to what zoölogists call alternate reproduction, in which it requires several generations unlike each other to evolve the perfect animal. Some men's lives are but an aspiration, a yearning toward a higher state, and they are wholly misapprehended until they are referred to or traced through all their metamorphoses. We cannot pronounce upon a man's intellectual and moral state until we foresee what metamorphosis it is preparing him for.
Oct. 14, 1856. Any flowers seen now may be called late ones. I see perfectly fresh succory, not to speak of yarrow, a Viola ovata, some Polygala sanguinea, autumnal dandelion, tansy, etc.
Oct. 14, 1857. p. m. To White Pond. Another, the tenth or eleventh of these memorable days. This afternoon it is warmer even than yesterday. I am glad to reach the shade of Hubbard's Grove. The coolness is refreshing. It is indeed a golden autumn. All kinds of crudities have a chance to get ripe this year. Was there ever such an autumn? And yet there was never such a panic and hard times in the commercial world. The merchants and banks are failing all the country over, but not the sand banks, solid and warm, and streaked with bloody blackberry vines. You may run on them as much as you please, even as the crickets do, and find their account in it. They are the stockholders in these banks, and I hear them creaking their content. You may see them on change in any warmer hour. In these banks, too, and such as these, are my funds deposited, funds of health and enjoyment. Invest in these country banks. Let your capital be simplicity and contentment. I do not suspect the solvency of these banks. I know who is the president and cashier.
I take these walks to every point of the compass, and it is always harvest time with me. I am always gathering my crop from these woods and fields and waters, and no man is in my way, or interferes with me. My crop is not their crop. To-day I see them getting in their beans and corn, and they are a spectacle to me, but are soon out of my sight. I go abroad over the land each day to get the best I can find, and that is never carted off, even to the last day of November.
Sat in the old pasture beyond the Corner Spring woods to look at that pine wood now at the height of its change, pitch and white. Their change produces a very singular and pleasing effect. They are regularly parti-colored. The last year's leaves about a foot beneath the extremities of the twigs on all sides, now changed and ready to fall, have their period of brightness as well as broader leaves. They are a clear yellow, contrasting with the fresh and liquid green of the terminal plumes, or this year's leaves. These quite distinct colors are regularly and equally distributed over the whole tree. You have the warmth of the yellow and the coolness of the green. So it should be with our own maturity, not yellow to the very extremity of our shoots, but youthful and untried green ever putting forth afresh at the extremities, foretelling a maturity as yet unknown. The ripe leaves fall to the ground, and become nutriment for the green ones which still aspire to heaven. In the fall of the leaf there is no fruit, there is no true maturity, neither in our science and wisdom.
Oct. 14, 1859. To and around Flint's Pond with Blake. A fine Indian-summer day. We sit on the rock on Pine Hill overlooking Walden. There is a thick haze almost concealing the mountains. There is wind enough to raise waves on the pond and make it bluer. What strikes me in the scenery here now is the contrast of the universally blue water with the brilliant tinted woods around it. The tints generally may be about at their height. The earth appears like a great inverted shield painted yellow and red, or with imbricated scales of those colors, and a blue navel in the middle where the pond lies, with a distant circumference of whitish haze. The nearer woods where chestnuts grow are a mass of warm glowing yellow, but on other sides the red and yellow are intermixed.
I hear a man laughed at because he went to Europe twice in search of an imaginary wife who he thought was there, though he had never seen nor heard of her. But the majority have gone further while they stayed in America, have actually allied themselves to one whom they thought their wife, and found out their mistake too late to mend it. It would be cruel to laugh at them.
Oct. 15, 1840. Men see God in the ripple, but not in miles of still water. Of all the two thousand miles that the St. Lawrence flows, pilgrims go only to Niagara.
Oct. 15, 1851. 8.30 a. m. Up the river in a boat to Pelham's Pond with W. E. C. The muskrat houses appear now, for the most part, to be finished, though some are still rising. They line the river all the way. Some are as big as small haycocks. There is a wind, and the sky is full of flitting clouds, so that sky and water are quite unlike what they were that warm, bright, transparent day when I last sailed on the river and the surface was of such oily smoothness. You could not now study the river bottom for the black waves and the streaks of foam. It is pleasant to hear the sound of the waves, and feel the surging of the boat, inspiriting, as if you were bound on adventures. It is delightful to be tossed about in such a harmless storm, and see the waves look so angry and black. We see objects on shore, trees, etc., much better from the boat. From a low and novel point of view, it brings them against the sky, and what is low on the meadow is conspicuous as well as the hills. In this cool sunlight, Fair Haven Hill shows to advantage. Every rock and shrub and protuberance has justice done it, the sun shining at an angle on the hills and giving each a shadow. The hills have a hard and distinct outline, and I see into their very texture. On Fair Haven I see the sunlit light green grass in the hollows where the snow makes pools of water sometimes, and the sunlit russet slopes. Cut three white-pine boughs opposite Fair Haven, and set them up in the bow of our boat for a sail. It was pleasant to hear the water begin to ripple under the prow, telling of our easy progress, and thus without a tack we made the south side of Fair Haven. Then we threw our sails overboard, and the moment after mistook them for green bushes or weeds which had sprung from the bottom unusually far from shore. Then to hear the wind sough in your sail, that is to be a sailor and hear a land sound. . . . On the return . . . the sun sets when we are off Israel Rice's. A few golden coppery clouds glow intensely like fishes in some molten metal of the sky, then the small scattered clouds grow blue-black above, or one half, and reddish or pink the other half, and after a short twilight the night sets in. The reflections of the stars in the water are dim and elongated like the zodiacal light, straight down into the depths. We row across Fair Haven in the thickening twilight and far below it, steadily and without speaking. As the night draws on her veil, the shores retreat, we only keep in the middle of this low stream of light, we know not whether we float in the air or in the lower regions. It is pleasant not to get home till after dark, to steer by the lights of the villagers.
The lamps in the houses twinkle now like stars; they shine doubly bright. We rowed about twenty-four miles going and coming. In a straight line it would be fifteen and a half.
Oct. 15, 1852. 9 a. m. The first snow is falling (after not very cool weather) in large flakes, filling the air and obscuring the distant woods and houses, as if the inhabitants above were emptying their pillow-cases. Like a mist it divides the uneven landscape at a little distance into ridges and vales. The ground begins to whiten and our thoughts to prepare for winter. White-weed. The Canada snapdragon is one of the latest flowers noticed, a few buds being still left to blossom at the top of its spike or raceme. The snow lasted but half an hour.
How Father Le Jeune (?) pestered the poor Indians with his God at every turn (they must have thought it his one idea), only getting their attention when they required some external aid to save them from starving. Then indeed they were good Christians.
Oct. 15, 1858. If you stand fronting a hillside covered with a variety of young oaks, the brightest scarlet ones—uniformly deep, dark scarlet—will be the scarlet oaks. The next most uniformly reddish, a peculiar dull crimson (or salmon?), are the white oaks. Then the large-leaved and variously tinted red oaks, scarlet, yellow, and green, and finally the yellowish and half-decayed brown leaves of the black oak.
Oct. 15, 1859. The chickadees sing as if at home. Theirs is an honest, heartfelt melody. Shall not the voice of man express as much content as the note of a bird?
Oct. 16, 1857. p. m. Up Assabet. I stop a while at Cheney's shore to hear an incessant musical twittering from a large flock of young goldfinches which have dull yellow, drab and black plumage. Young birds can hardly restrain themselves, and, if they did not leave us, might perchance burst forth into song in the later Indian-summer days. Am surprised to find an abundance of witch hazel now at the height of its change. The tallest bushes are bare, though in bloom; but the lowest are full of leaves, many of them green, but chiefly clear and handsome yellow of various shades, from a pale lemon in the shade or within the bush, to a darker and warmer yellow without. Some have even a hue of crimson; some are green with bright yellow along the veins. This reminds me that plants exposed turn early, or not at all, while the same species in the shade of the woods at a much later date assume very pure and delicate tints.
A great part of the pine needles have just fallen. See the pale brown carpet of them under this pine; how light it lies up on the grass, and that great rock, and the wall, resting thick on its top and its shelves, and on the bushes and underwood. The needles are not yet flat and reddish, but a more delicate pale brown, and lie up light on joggle-sticks, just dropped. The ground is nearly concealed by them. How beautifully they die, making cheerfully their annual contribution to the soil. They fall to rise again; as if they knew that it was not one annual deposit alone that made this rich mould in which pine-trees grow. They live in the soil whose fertility and bulk they increase, and in the forests that spring from it.
Oct. 16, 1859. p. m. Paddle to Puffer's, and thence walk to Ledum Swamp and Conant-ward. A cold, clear Novemberish day. When I get to Willow Bay, I see the new muskrat houses erected, conspicuous on the now nearly leafless shores. For thirty years I have annually observed, about this time or earlier, the freshly erected winter lodges of the muskrat along the river-side, reminding us that, if we have no gypsies, we have a more indigenous race of puny, quadrupedal men maintaining their ground in our midst still. This may not be an annual phenomenon to you, but it has an important place in my Kalendar. So surely as the sun appears to be in Libra or Scorpio, I see the conical winter lodges of the muskrat rising above the withered pontederia and flags. There will be some reference to it by way of parable or otherwise in my New Testament. Surely it is a defect in our Bible that it is not truly ours, but a Hebrew Bible. The most pertinent illustrations for us are to be drawn not from Egypt or Babylonia, but from New England. Natural objects and phenomena are the original symbols or types which express our thoughts and feelings. Yet American scholars, having little or no root in the soil, commonly strive with all their might to confine themselves to the imported symbols alone. All the true growth and experience, the living speech, they would fain reject as "Americanisms." It is the old error which the church, the state, the school, ever commit, choosing darkness rather than light, holding fast to the old and to tradition. When I really know that our river pursues a serpentine course to the Merrimack, shall I continue to describe it by referring to some other river, no older than itself, which is like it, and call it a meander? It is no more meandering than the Meander is musketaquiding.
This clear, cold, Novemberish light is inspiriting. Some twigs which are bare, and weeds, begin to glitter with hoary light. The very edge or outline of a tawny or russet hill has this hoary light on it. Your thoughts sparkle like the water surface and the downy twigs. From the shore you look back on the silver-plated river.
Every rain exposes new arrow-heads. We stop at Clamshell, and dabble for a moment in the relics of a departed race.
When we emerged from the pleasant footpath through the birches at Witherel Glade, the glittering white tufts of the Andropogon scoparius lit up by the sun were affectingly fair and cheering to behold. How cheerful these cold, but bright, white waving tufts! They reflect all the sun's light without a particle of his heat, as yellow rays. A thousand such tufts now catch up the sun, and send to us its light, but not heat. Light without heat is getting to be the prevailing phenomenon of the day now.
This cold refines and condenses us. Our spirits are strong, like that pint of cider in the middle of a frozen barrel.
The cool, placid, silver-plated waters at even coolly await the frost. The muskrat is steadily adding to his winter lodge. There is no need of adding a peculiar instinct telling him how high to build his cabin. He has had a longer experience in this river valley than we.
I love to get out of cultivated fields, where I walk on an imported sod or English grass, and walk on the fine sedge of woodland hollows, on an American sward. In the former case my thoughts are heavy and lumpish, as if I fed on turnips. In the other, I nibble ground nuts.
Oct. 17, 1840. In the presence of my friend I am ashamed of my fingers and toes. I have no feature so fair as my love for him. There is a more than maiden modesty between us. I find myself more simple and sincere than in my most private moment to myself. I am literally true with a witness. We should sooner blot out the sun than disturb friendship.
Oct. 17, 1850. I observed to-day the small blueberry bushes by the pathside, now blood-red, full of white blossoms, as in the spring. The blossoms of spring contrast strangely with the leaves of autumn. The former seemed to have expanded from sympathy with the maturity of the leaves.
Oct. 17, 1856. Many fringed gentians quite fresh yet, though most are faded and withered. I suspect that their very early and sudden fading and withering has nothing or little to do with frost after all, for why should so many fresh ones succeed still?
As I stood looking, I heard a smart tche-day-day-day close to my ear, and looking up saw four or five chickadees which had come to scrape acquaintance with me, hopping amid the alders within three or four feet of me. I had heard them further off at first, and they had followed me along the hedge. They day-day'd, and lisped their faint notes alternately, and then, as if to make me think they had some other errand than to peer at me, they pecked the dead twigs, the little top-heavy, black-crowned, volatile fellows.
Oct. 17, 1857. What a new beauty the blue of the river acquires seen at a distance in the midst of the variously tinted woods, great masses of gray, yellow, etc.! It appears as color which ordinarily it does not, elysian.
The trainers are out with their band of music, and I find my account in it, though I have not subscribed for it. I am walking with a hill between me and the soldiers. I think perhaps it will be worth while to keep within hearing of their strains this afternoon. Yet I hesitate. I am wont to find music unprofitable, a luxury. It is surprising, however, that so few habitually intoxicate themselves with music, so many with alcohol. I think, perchance, I may risk it, it will whet my senses so, it will reveal a glory where none was seen before. No doubt these strains do sometimes suggest to Abner, walking behind in his red-streaked pants, an ideal which he had lost sight of or never perceived. It is remarkable that our institutions can stand before music, it is so revolutionary.
Oct. 17, 1858. I think the reflections are never purer and more distinct than now at the season of the fall of the leaf, just before the cool twilight has come, when the air has a finer grain, just as our mental reflections are more distinct at this season of the year when the evenings grow cool and lengthen, and our winter evenings with their brighter fires may be said to begin. One reason why I associate perfect reflections from still water with this and a later season may be that now by the fall of the leaves so much more light is let in to the water. The river reflects more light, therefore, in this twilight of the year, as it were, an afterglow.
Oct. 17, 1859. What I put into my pocket, whether berry or apple, generally has to keep company with an arrow-head or two. I hear the latter chinking against a key as I walk. These are the perennial crop of Concord fields. If they were sure it would pay, we should see farmers raking the fields for them.
Oct. 17, 1860. While the man that killed my lynx thinks, as do many others, that it came out of a menagerie, and the naturalists call it the Canada lynx, and at the White Mountains they call it the Siberian lynx, in each case forget ting or ignoring the fact that it belongs here, I call it the Concord lynx.
Oct. 18, 1840. The era of greatest change is to the subject of it the condition of greatest invariableness. The longer the lever, the less perceptible its motion. It is the slowest pulsation which is the most vital. I am independent of the change I detect. My most essential progress must be to me a state of absolute rest. So in geology we are nearest to discovering the true causes of the revolutions of the globe, when we allow them to consist with a quiescent state of the elements. We discover the causes of all past change in the present invariable order of the universe. The pulsations are so long that in the interval there is almost a stagnation of life. The first cause of the universe makes the least noise. Its pulse has beat but once, is now beating. The greatest appreciable revolutions are the work of the light-footed air, the stealthy-paced water, and the subterranean fire. The wind makes the desert without a rustle. To every being, consequently, its own first cause is an invisible and inconceivable agent.
Some questions which are put to me are as if I should ask a bird what she will do when her nest is built, and her brood reared.
I cannot make a disclosure. You should see my secret. Let me open my doors never so wide, still within and behind them, where it is unopened, does the sun rise and set, and day and night alternate. No fruit will ripen on the common.
Oct. 18, 1855. How much beauty in decay! I pick up a white-oak leaf, dry and stiff, but yet mingled red and green, October-like, whose pulpy part some insect has eaten, beneath, exposing the delicate network of its veins. It is very beautiful held up to the light; such work as only an insect eye could perform. Yet, perchance, to the vegetable kingdom, such a revelation of ribs is as repulsive as the skeleton in the animal kingdom. In each case, it is some little gourmand working for another end, that reveals the wonders of nature. There are countless oak leaves in this condition now, and also with a submarginal line of network exposed.
Oct. 18, 1856. Rain all night and half this day. p. m. A-chestnutting, down turnpike and across to Britten's. It is a rich sight, that of a large chestnut tree, with a dome-shaped top, where the yellow leaves have been thinned out (for most now strew the ground evenly as a carpet throughout the chestnut woods, and so save some seed), all richly rough with great brown burrs which are opened into several segments, so as to show the wholesome-colored nuts peeping forth, ready to fall on the slightest jar. The individual nuts are very interesting, and of various forms, according to the season and the number in a burr. They are a pretty fruit, thus compactly stowed away in their bristly chest. Three is the regular number, and there is no room to spare. The two outside nuts have each one convex side without, and one flat side within. The middle nut has two flat sides. Sometimes there are several more in a burr, but this year the burrs are small, and there are not commonly more than two good nuts, very often only one, the middle one, both sides of which will then be convex, each bulging out into a thin, abortive, mere reminiscence of a nut, all shell, beyond it. The base of each nut, where it was joined to the burr, is marked with an irregular dark figure on a light ground, oblong or crescent-shaped, commonly like a spider or other insect with a dozen legs, while the upper or small end tapers into a little white woolly spire crowned with a star, and the whole upper slopes of the nuts are covered with the same hoary wool which reminds you of the frosts on whose advent they peep forth. Within this thick, prickly burr, the nuts are about as safe, until they are quite mature, as a porcupine behind its spines. Yet I see where the squirrels have gnawed through many closed burrs, and left the pieces on the stumps. There are sometimes two meats within one chestnut shell, divided transversely, and each covered by its separate brown-ribbed skin, as if nature had smuggled the seed of one more tree into this chest.
Men commonly exaggerate the theme. Some themes they think are significant, and others insignificant. I feel that my life is very homely, my pleasures very cheap; joy and sorrow, success and failure, grandeur and meanness, and indeed most words in the English language, do not mean for me what they do for my neighbors. I see that they look with compassion on me, that they think it is a mean and unfortunate destiny which makes me walk in these fields and woods so much, and sail on this river alone. But so long as I find here the only real elysium, I cannot hesitate in my choice. My work is writing, and I do not hesitate, though no subject is too trivial for me, tried by the ordinary standards. The theme is nothing, the life is everything. All that interests the reader is the depth and intensity of the life exerted. We touch our subject but by a point which has no breadth, but the pyramid of our experience, our interest in it, rests on us by a broader or narrower base; that is, man is all in all, nature nothing but as she draws him out and reflects him. Give me simple, cheap, and homely themes.
Oct. 18, 1859. Why can we not oftener refresh one another with original thoughts? If the fragrance of the Dicksonia fern is so grateful and suggestive to us, how much more refreshing and encouraging, re-creating, would be fresh and fragrant thoughts communicated to us from a man's experience. I want none of his pity nor sympathy in the common sense, but that he should emit and communicate to me his essential fragrance, that he should not be forever repenting and going to church (when not otherwise sinning), but as it were going a-huckleberrying in the fields of thought, and enriching all the world with his visions and his joys.
Why flee so soon to the theatres, lecture-rooms, and museums of the city? If you will stay here awhile, I will promise you strange sights. You shall walk on water. All these brooks and rivers and ponds shall be your highway. You shall see the whole earth covered a foot or more deep with purest white crystals in which you slump or over which you glide, and all the trees and stubble glittering in icy armor. Oct. 19, 1840. My friend dwells in the eastern horizon as rich as an eastern city there. There he sails all lonely under the edge of the sky; but thoughts go out silently from me, and belay him, till at length he rides in my roadstead. But never does he fairly come to anchor in my harbor. Perhaps I afford no good anchorage. He seems to move in a burnished atmosphere, while I peer in upon him from surrounding spaces of Cimmerian darkness. His house is incandescent to my eye, while I have no house, but only a neighborhood to his.
Oct. 19, 1855. Talking with Bellew [?] this evening about Fourierism and communities, I said that I suspected any enterprise in which two were engaged together. But, said he, it is difficult to make a stick stand, unless you slant two or more against it. Oh, no, I answered, you may split its lower end into three, or drive it single into the ground, which is the best way, but men, when they start on a new enterprise, not only figuratively, but really, pull up stakes. When the sticks prop one another, none, or only one, stands erect.
Oct. 19, 1856. p. m. Conantum. Now and for some weeks is the time for flocks of sparrows of various kinds flitting from bush to bush and tree to tree (and both bushes and trees are thinly leaved or bare), and from one seared meadow to another. They are mingled together and their notes even, being faint, are, as well as their colors and motions, much alike. The sparrow youth are on the wing. They are still further concealed by their resemblance in color to the gray twigs and stems which are now beginning to be bare.
I have often noticed the inquisitiveness of birds, as the other day of a sparrow, whose motions I should not have supposed had any reference to me, if I had not watched it from first to last. I stood on the edge of a pine and birch wood. It flitted from seven or eight rods distant to a pine within a rod of me, where it hopped about stealthily and chirped awhile, then flew as many rods the other side, and hopped about there awhile, then back to the pine again, as near to me as it dared, and again to its first position, very restless all the while. Generally I should have supposed that there was more than one bird, or that it was altogether accidental, that the chipping of this sparrow had no reference to me, for I could see nothing peculiar about it. But when I brought my glass to bear on it, I found that it was almost steadily eyeing me, and was all alive with excitement.
Oct. 19, 1858. A remarkably warm day. 74°+ at 1 p. m. Ride to Sam Barrett's mill. Am pleased again to see the cobweb drapery of the mill. Each fine line, hanging in festoons from the timbers overhead, and on the sides, and on the discarded machinery lying about, is covered and greatly enlarged by a coating of meal, like the twigs under thin ridges of snow in winter. It is like the tassels and dimity in a lady's bed-chamber, and I pray that the cobwebs may not have been brushed away from the mill which I visit. It is as if I were aboard a man-of-war, and this were the fine rigging, the sails being taken in. All things in the mill wear this drapery, down to the miller's hat and coat. Barrett's apprentice, it seems, makes trays of black birch and of red maple in a dark room under the mill. I was pleased to see the work done here, a wooden tray is so handsome. You could count the circles of growth on the end of the tray, and the dark heart of the tree was seen at each end above, producing a semicircular ornament. It was a satisfaction to be reminded that we may so easily make our own trenchers as well as fill them. To see the tree reappear on the table instead of going to the fire or some equally coarse use is some compensation for having it cut down. I was the more pleased with the sight of these trays, because the tools used were so simple, as they were made by hand, not by machinery. They may make equally good pails with the hand-made ones, and cheaper as well as faster, at the pail factory, but that interests me less because the man is turned partly into a machine there himself. In the other case, the workman's relation to his work is more poetic. He also shows more dexterity and is more of a man. You come away from the great factory saddened, as if the chief end of man were to make pails; but in the case of the countryman who makes a few by hand rainy days, the relative importance of human life and of pails is preserved, and you come away thinking of the simple and helpful life of the man, and would fain go to making pails yourself. When labor is reduced to turning a crank, it is no longer amusing nor truly profitable. Let the business become very profitable in a pecuniary sense, and so be "driven," as the phrase is, and carried on on a large scale, and the man is sunk in it, while only the pail or tray floats; we are interested in it only in the same way as the proprietor or company is.
Oct. 20, 1840. My friend is the apology for my life. In him are the spaces which my orbit traverses.
There is no quarrel between the good and the bad, but only between the bad and the bad. In the former case there is inconsistency merely, in the latter a vicious consistency.
Men chord sometimes as the flute and the pumpkin vine, a perfect chord, a harmony, but no melody. They are not of equal fineness of tone. For the most part I find that in another man and myself the keynote is not the same, so that there are no perfect chords in our gamuts. But if we do not chord by whole tones, nevertheless his sharps are sometimes my flats, and so we play some very difficult pieces together, though the sameness at last fatigues the ear. We never rest on a full natural note, but I sacrifice my naturalness, and he his. We play no tune through, only chromatic strains, or trill upon the same note till our ears ache.
Oct. 20, 1852. The clouds have lifted in the northwest, and I see the mountains in sunshine (all the more attractive from the cold I feel here), with a tinge of purple on them,—a cold, but memorable and glorious outline. This is an advantage of mountains in the horizon; they show you fair weather from the midst of foul. Many a man, when I tell him that I have been upon a mountain, asks if I took a glass with me. No doubt I could have seen further with a glass, and particular objects more distinctly; could have counted more meeting-houses; but this has nothing to do with the peculiar beauty and grandeur of the view which an elevated position affords. It was not to see a few particular objects as if they were near at hand, as I had been accustomed to see them, that I ascended the mountain, but to see an infinite variety far and near, in their relation to each other, thus reduced to a single picture. The facts of science in comparison with poetry are wont to be as vulgar as looking from a mountain with a telescope. It is a counting of meeting-houses.
Oct. 20, 1854. Saw the sun rise from the mountain top [Wachusett]. Soon after sunrise I saw the pyramidal shadow of the mountain reaching quite across the State, its apex resting on the Green or Hoosac mountains, appearing as a deep-blue section of a cone there. It rapidly contracted, and its apex approached the mountain itself. When about three miles distant, the whole conical shadow was very distinct. The shadow of the mountain makes some minutes' difference in the time of sunrise to the inhabitants of Hubbardston, a few miles west.
Oct. 20, 1855. I have collected and split up now quite a pile of driftwood, rails and riders and stems and stumps of trees, perhaps one half or three fourths of a tree. It is more amusing not only to collect this with my boat, and bring it from the river on my back, but to split it also, than it would be to speak to a farmer for a load of wood, and to saw and split that. Each stick I deal with has a history, and I read it as I am handling it, and last of all, I remember my adventures in getting it, while it is burning in the winter evening. That is the most interesting part of its history. When I am splitting it, I study the effects of water on it, and, if it is a stump, the curiously winding grain by which it separates into so many prongs, how to take advantage of its grain, and split it most easily. I find that a dry oak stump will split most easily in the direction of its diameter, not at right angles with it, or along its circles of growth. I got out some good knees for a boat. Thus one half the value of my wood is enjoyed before it is housed, and the other half is equal to the whole value of an equal quantity of the wood which I buy.
Some of my acquaintances have been wondering why I took all this pains, bringing some nearly three miles by water, and have suggested various reasons for it. I tell them, in my despair of making them understand me, that it is a profound secret, which it has proved, yet I did hint that one reason was that I wanted to get it. I take some satisfaction in eating my food, as well as in being nourished by it. I feel well at dinner time, as well as after it. The world will never find out why you don't love to have your bed tucked up for you, why you will be so perverse. I enjoy more, drinking water at a clear spring, than out of a goblet at a gentleman's table. I like best the bread which I have baked, the garment which I have made, the shelter I have constructed, the fuel I have gathered. It is always a recommendation to me to know that a man has ever been poor, has been regularly born into this world, knows the language. I require to be assured of certain philosophers that they have once been barefooted, footsore, have eaten a crust because they had nothing better, and know what sweetness resides in it. I have met with some barren accomplished gentlemen who seemed to have been at school all their lives, and never had a vacation to live in. Oh, if they could only have been stolen by the gypsies, and carried far beyond the reach of their guardians! They had better have died in their infancy, and been buried under the leaves, their lips besmeared with blackberries, and cock robin for their sexton.
Oct. 20, 1856. I think that all spiders can walk on water, for when last summer I knocked one off my boat by chance, he ran swiftly back to the boat and. climbed up, as if more to avoid the fishes than the water. This would account for those long lines stretched low over the water from one grass-stem to another. I see one of them now, five or six feet long, and only three or four inches above the surface. It is remarkable that there is no perceptible sag to it, weak as the line must be.
Oct. 20, 1857. p. m. To the Easterbrook country. I had gone but little way on the old Carlisle road when I saw Brooks Clark, who is now about eighty, and bent like a bow, hastening along the road, barefooted as usual, with an axe in his hand, in haste perhaps on account of the cold wind on his bare feet. When he got up to me, I saw that beside the axe in one hand, he had his shoes in the other, filled with knurly apples and a dead robin. He stopped and talked with me a few moments; said that we had had a noble autumn and might now expect some cold weather. I asked if he had found the robin dead. No, he said, he found it with its wing broken, and killed it. He also added that he had found some apples in the woods, and as he had not anything to carry them in, he put them in his shoes. They were queer looking trays to carry fruit in. How many he got in along toward the toes, I don't know. I noticed, too, that his pockets were stuffed with them. His old frock coat was hanging in strips about the skirts, as were his pantaloons about his naked feet. He appeared to have been out on a scout this gusty afternoon to see what he could find, as the youngest boy might. It pleased me to see this cheery old man, with such a feeble hold on life, bent almost double, thus enjoying the evening of his days. Far be it from me to call it avarice or penury, this childlike delight in finding something in the woods or fields, and carrying it home in the October evening, as a trophy to be added to his winter's stores. Oh, no, he was happy to be nature's pensioner still, and bird-like to pick up his living. Better his robin than your turkey, his shoes full of apples than your barrels full. They will be sweeter, and suggest a better tale. He can afford to tell how he got them, and I to listen. There is an old wife, too, at home, to share them, and hear how they were obtained; like an old squirrel shuffling to his hole with a nut. Far less pleasing to me the loaded wain, more suggestive of avarice and of spiritual penury. This old man's cheeriness was worth a thousand of the church's sacraments and memento moris. It was better than a prayerful mood. It proves to me old age as tolerable, as happy, as infancy. I was glad of an occasion to suspect that this afternoon he had not been at work, but living somewhat after my own fashion (though he did not explain the axe), and been out to see what nature had for him, and was now hastening home to a burrow he knew of, where he could warm his old feet. If he had been a young man he would probably have thrown away his apples, and put on his shoes for shame when he saw me coming, but old age is manlier. It has learned to live, makes fewer apologies, like infancy. This seems a very manly man. I have known him within a few years building stone wall by himself, barefooted.
What a wild and rich domain that Easterbrook country! Not a cultivated, hardly a cultivable field in it, and yet it delights all natural persons, and feeds more still. Such great rocky and moist tracts, which daunt the farmer, are reckoned as unimproved land, and therefore worth but little; but think of the miles of huckleberries, and of barberries, and of wild apples, so fair both in flower and fruit, resorted to by men and beasts, Clark, Brown, Melvin, and the robins. There are barberry bushes or clumps there, behind which I could actually pick two bushels of berries without being seen by you on the other side. They are not a quarter picked at last by all creatures together. I walk for two or three miles, and still the clumps of barberries, great sheaves with their wreaths of scarlet fruit, show themselves before me and on every side.
Oct. 21, 1852. To Second Division Brook and Ministerial Swamp. I find caddis-cases with worms in Second Division Brook; and what mean those little piles of yellow sand on dark-colored stones at the bottom of the swift-running water, kept together and in place by some kind of gluten, and looking as if sprinkled on the stones, one eighteenth of an inch in diameter? These caddis-worms build a little case around themselves, and sometimes attach a few dead leaves to disguise it, and then fasten it slightly to some swaying grass-stem or blade at the bottom in swift water, and these are their quarters till next spring. This reminds me that winter does not put his rude fingers in the bottom of the brooks. When you look into them, you see various dead leaves floating or resting on the bottom, and you do not suspect that some are the disguises which the caddis-worms have borrowed.
Oct. 21, 1857. I see many myrtle birds now about the house, this forenoon, on the advent of cooler weather. They keep flying up against the house and the window, and fluttering there as if they would come in, or alight on the wood-pile or the pump. They would commonly be mistaken for sparrows, but show more white when they fly, beside the yellow on the rump and sides of breast, seen near to, and two white bars on the wings; chubby birds.
p. m. Up Assabet. Cool and windy. Those who have put it off thus long make haste now to collect what apples were left out, and dig their potatoes before the ground shall freeze hard. Now again as in the spring we begin to look for sheltered and sunny places where we may sit. I cannot go by a large dead swamp white-oak log this cool evening, but with no little exertion get it aboard, and some blackened swamp white-oak stumps whose earthy parts are all gone. As I am paddling home swiftly before the northwest wind, absorbed in my wooding, I see, this cool and grayish evening, that peculiar yellow light in the east, from the sun a little before setting. It has just come out beneath a great cold slate-colored cloud that occupies most of the western sky, as smaller ones the eastern, and now its rays, slanting over the hill in whose shadow I float, fall on the eastern trees and hills with a thin yellow light like a clear yellow wine; but somehow it reminds me that now the hearth-side is getting to be a more comfortable place than out-of-doors. Before I get home the sun has set, and a cold white light in the west succeeded.
Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal? We do not wish to know how his imaginary hero, but how he the actual hero, lived from day to day.
That big swamp white-oak limb or tree which I found prostrate in the swamp was longer than my boat, and tipped it considerably. One whole side, the upper, was covered with green hypnum, and the other was partly white with fungi. That green coat adhered when I split it. Immortal wood! that had begun to live again. Others burn unfortunate trees that lose their lives prematurely. These old stumps stand like anchorites or yogees, putting off their earthly garments, more and more sublimed from year to year, ready to be translated, and then they are ripe for my fire. I administer the last sacrament and purification. I find old pitch-pine sticks which have lain in the mud at the bottom of the river, nobody knows how long, and weigh them up, almost as heavy as lead, float them home, saw and split them. Their pitch, still fat and yellow, has saved them for me, and they burn like candles. I become a connoisseur in wood at last, take only the best.
Oct. 22, 1853. Yesterday toward night, gave Sophia and mother a sail as far as the Battleground. One-eyed John Goodwin, the fisherman, was loading into a handcart and conveying home the piles of driftwood which of late he had collected with his boat. It was a beautiful evening, and a clear amber sunset lit up all the eastern shores, and that man's employment, so simple and direct (though he is regarded by most as a vicious character), whose whole motive was so easy to fathom, thus to obtain his winter's wood, charmed me unspeakably. So much do we love actions that are simple. They are all poetic. We, too, would fain be so employed, in a way so unlike the artificial and complicated pursuits of most men. Consider how the broker collects his winter's wood, what sport he makes of it, what is his boat and handcart. Postponing instant life, he makes haste to Boston in the cars, and there deals in stocks, not quite relishing his employment, and so earns the money with which he buys his fuel. When by chance I meet him about this indirect complicated business, I am not struck with the beauty of his employment. It does not harmonize with the amber sunset. How much more the former consults his genius,—some genius, at any rate. Now I should love to get my fuel so, have got some of it so. But, though I am glad to have it, I do not love to get it in any other way less simple and direct. If I buy one necessary of life, I cheat myself to some extent. I deprive myself of the pleasure, the inexpressible joy which is the unfailing reward of satisfying any want of my nature simply and truly. No trade is simple, but artificial and complex. It goes against the grain, it postpones life. If the first generation does not die of it, the third or fourth does. In face of all statistics, I will never believe that it is the descendants of tradesmen who keep the state alive, but of simple yeomen or laborers. This indeed statistics say of the city reinforced by the country. This simplicity it is and the vigor it imparts, that enables the vagabond, though he does get drunk and is sent to the house of correction so often, to hold up his head among men. "If I go to Boston every day and sell tape from morning till night," says the merchant (which we will admit is not a beautiful action), "some time or other I shall be able to buy the best of fuel without stint." Yes, but not the pleasure of picking it up by the river-side, which, I may say, is of even more value than the warmth it yields. It is to give no account of my employment to say that I cut wood to keep me from freezing, or cultivate beans to keep me from starving. Oh, no, the greatest value of these labors is received before the wood is teamed home, or the beans are harvested. Goodwin stands on the solid earth. For such as he, no political economies, with their profit and loss, supply and demand, need ever be written, for they will need to use no policy. As for the complex ways of living, I love them not, however much I practice them. In as many places as possible, I will get my feet down to the earth. There is no secret in Goodwin's trade more than in the sun's. He is a most constant fisherman. He must well know the taste of pickerel by this time. When I can remember to have seen him fishing almost daily for some time, if it rains, I am surprised on looking out to see him slowly wending his way to the river in his oilcloth coat, with his basket and pole. I saw him the other day fishing in the middle of the stream, the day after I had seen him fishing on the shore, while by a kind of magic I sailed by him. He said he was catching minnows for bait in the winter. When I was twenty rods off, he held up a pickerel that weighed two and a half pounds, which he had forgotten to show me before, and the next morning, as he afterwards told me, he caught one that weighed three pounds. If it is ever necessary to appoint a committee on fish ponds and pickerel, let him be one of them.
Oct. 22, 1857. p. m. To and round Flint's Pond. Crossing my old beanfield, I see the blue pond between the green pines in the field, and am reminded that we are almost reduced to the russet (i. e., pale brown grass tinged with red blackberry vines) of such fields as this, the blue of water, the green of pines, and the dull reddish-brown of oak leaves. This sight of the blue water between the now perfectly green pines, seen over the light-brown pasture, is peculiarly Novemberish, though it may be like this in early spring.
Look from the high hill just before sundown, over the pond. The mountains are a mere cold slate color. But what a perfect crescent of mountains we have in our northwest horizon. Do we ever give thanks for it? Even as pines and larches and hemlocks grow in communities in the wilderness, so it seems do mountains love society. Though there may be two or more ranges, one behind the other, and ten or twelve miles between them, yet, if the farthest are the highest, they are all seen as one group at this distance. I look up northwest to my mountains, as a farmer to his hill-lot or rocky pasture from his door. I drive no cattle to the Ipswich hills. I own no pasture for them there. My eyes it is alone that wander to those blue pastures which no drought affects. I am content to dwell here and see the sun go down behind my mountain fence.
Oct. 23, 1852. The milk weed (Syriaca) now rapidly discounting. The lanceolate pods having opened, the seeds spring out on the least jar, or when dried by the sun, and form a little fluctuating white silky mass or tuft, each held by a fine thread until a stronger puff of wind sets them free. It is pleasant to see the plant thus dispersing its seeds.
October has been the month of autumnal tints. The first of the month, the tints began to be more general, at which time the frosts began. There were scattered bright tints long before, but not till then did the forest begin to be painted. By the end of the month, the leaves will either have fallen, or be seared and turned brown by the frosts, for the most part.
My friend is one who takes me for what I am. A stranger takes me for something else than what I am. We do not speak, we cannot communicate, till we find that we are recognized. The stranger supposes in our stead a third person whom we do not know, and we leave him to converse with that one. It is suicide for us to become abettors in misapprehending ourselves. Suspicion creates the stranger. I cannot abet any man in misapprehending myself.
What men call social virtues, good fellowship, is commonly but the virtue of pigs in a litter which lie close together to keep each other warm. It brings men together in crowds and mobs in bar-rooms and elsewhere, but it does not deserve the name of virtue.