June 16, 1853. 4 a. m. To Nashawtuck, by boat. Before 4 a. m. or sunrise, the sound of chip-birds, robins, blue-birds, etc., is incessant. It is a crowing on the roost, I fancy, as the cock crows before he goes abroad. They do not sing deliberately as at evening, but greet the morning with an incessant twitter. Even the crickets seem to join the concert. Yet I think it is not the same every morning, though it may be fair. An hour or two later there is comparative silence. The awaking of the birds, a tumultuous twittering.
At sunrise a slight mist curls along the surface of the water. When the sun falls on this, it looks like a red dust.
As seen from the top of the hill, the sun just above the horizon, red and shorn of beams, is somewhat pear-shaped, owing to some irregularity in the refraction of the lower strata of the air, produced, as it were, by the dragging of the lower part, and then it becomes a broad ellipse, the lower half a dun red, owing to the greater grossness of the air there.
The distant river is like molten silver at this hour. It reflects merely the light, not the blue. What shall I name that small cloud that at tends the sun s rising, that hangs over the portals of the day, like an embroidered banner, and heralds his coming, though sometimes it proves a portcullis which falls and cuts off the new day in its birth.
Found four tortoises nests on the high bank just robbed, and the eggs devoured, one not emptied of its yolk. Others had been robbed some days. Apparently about three eggs to each. Presently I saw a skunk making off with an undulating motion, a white streak above and a parallel and broader black one below; undoubtedly the robber.
A sweet brier, apparently yesterday.
Coming along I heard a singular sound as of a bird in distress amid the bushes, and turned to relieve it. Next thought of a squirrel in an apple-tree barking at me. Then found that it came from a hole in the ground under my feet, a loud sound between a grunting and a wheezing, yet not unlike the sound a red squirrel sometimes makes, though louder. Looking down the hole, I saw the tail and hind quarters of a wood-chuck which seemed to be contending with another farther in. Reaching down carefully I took hold of the tail, and though I had to pull very hard indeed, I drew him out between the rocks, a bouncing, great fat fellow, and tossed him a little way down the hill. As soon as he recovered from his bewilderment he made for the hole again, but I barring the way, he ran elsewhere.
p. m. To Baker Farm by boat.
Was that a smaller bittern or a meadow-hen that we started from out the button-bushes? What places for the mud-hen beneath the stems of the button-bushes along the shore, all shaggy with rootlets, as if all the weeds the river protected, all the ranunculus at least, had drifted and lodged against them. Their stems are so nearly horizontal near the mud and water that you can clamber along on them over the water many rods. It is one of the wildest features in our scenery. There is scarcely any firm footing on the ground except where a musk-rat has made a heap of clam shells. Picture the river at a low stage of the water, the pads, shriveled in the sun, hanging from the dark brown stems of the button-bushes which are all shaggy with masses of dark rootlets, an impenetrable thicket, and a stake-driver or Ardea minor sluggishly winging his way up the stream.
The breams nests, like large, deep milk pans, are left high and dry on the shore. They are not only deepened within, but have raised edges. In some places they are as close together as they can be, with each a great bream in it whose waving fins and tail are tipped with a sort of phosphorescent luminousness.
We sailed all the way back from Baker Farm, though the wind blew very nearly at right angles with the river much of the way. By sitting on one side of the boat we made its edge serve for a keel, so that it would mind the helm. The dog swam for long distances behind us. Each time we passed under the lee of a wood, we were becalmed, and then met with contrary and flawy winds till we got fairly beyond its influence. But you can always sail either up or down the river, for the wind inclines to blow along the channel, especially where the banks are high. We taste at each cool spring with which we are acquainted in the bank, making haste to reach it before the dog, who otherwise is sure to be found cooling himself in it. We sometimes use him to sit in the stern and trim the boat while we both row, for he is heavy, and otherwise we sink the bow too much in the water. But he has a habit of standing too near the rower, and at each stroke receiving a fillip from the rower's fists; so at last he tumbles himself overboard and takes a riparian excursion. We are amused to see how judiciously he selects his points for crossing the river from time to time, in order to avoid long circuits made necessary on land by bays and meadows, and keep as near us as possible.
Found at Bittern Cliff the Potentilla arguta, crowded cinquef oil, our only white one, stem and leaves somewhat like the Norvegica, but more woolly; a yellowish white.
June 16, 1854. 5 a. m. Up railroad. As the sun went down last night round and red in a damp, misty atmosphere, so now it rises in the same manner, though there is no dense fog.
Observed yesterday the erigeron with a purple tinge. I cannot tell whether this which seems in other respects the same with the white is the strigosum or the annuum.
Nymphœa odorata. Again I scent the white lily, and a season I had waited for has arrived. How indispensable all these experiences to make up the summer. It is the emblem of purity, and its scent suggests it. Growing in stagnant and muddy water, it bursts up so pure and fair to the eye and so sweet to the scent, as if to show us what purity and sweetness reside in and can be extracted from the slime and muck of earth. It is the resurrection of virtue. It is these sights and sounds and fragrances that convince us of our immortality. No man believes against all evidence. Our external senses consent with our internal. This fragrance assures me that though all other men fall, one shall stand fast, though a pestilence sweep over the earth, it shall at least spare one man. The Genius of Nature is unimpaired. Her flowers are as fair and as fragrant as ever.
As for birds, I think that their choir begins to be decidedly less full and loud. . . . The bobolink, full strains, but farther between.
The Rosa nitida grows along the edge of the ditches, the half open flowers showing the deepest rosy tints, so glowing that they make an evening or twilight of the surrounding afternoon, seeming to stand in the shade or twilight. Already the bright petals of yesterday's flowers are thickly strewn along on the black sand at the bottom of the ditch.
The Rosa nitida, the earlier (?), with its narrow, shiny leaves and prickly stem, and its moderate-sized rose-pink petals.
The Rosa lucida, with its broader and duller leaves, but larger and perhaps deeper-colored and more purple petals, perhaps yet higher scented, and its great yellow centre of stamens.
The smaller, lighter, but perhaps more delicately tinted Rosa rubiginosa. One and all drop their petals the second day. I bring home the buds of the three ready to expand at night, and the next day they perfume my chamber. Add to these the white lily just begun, also the swamp pink, and the great orchis, and mountain laurel, now in prime, and perhaps we must say that the fairest flowers are now to be found, or say a few days later. The arethusa is disappearing.
It is eight days since I plucked the great orchis. One is perfectly fresh still in my pitcher. It may be plucked when the spike is only half opened, and will open completely and keep perfectly fresh in a pitcher more than a week. Do I not live in a garden, in Paradise? I can go out each morning before breakfast,—I do,—and gather these flowers with which to perfume my chamber where I read and write all day.
The note of the cherry-bird is fine and ringing, but peculiar and very noticeable. With its crest it is a resolute and combative looking bird.
June 16, 1855. See young and weak striped squirrels now-a-days with slender tails, asleep on horizontal boughs above their holes, or moving feebly about. Might catch them.
June 16, 1858. How agreeable and whole some the fragrance of the low blackberry blossoms, reminding one of all the rosaceous, fruit-bearing plants, so near and dear to our humanity. It is one of the most deliciously fragrant flowers, reminding of wholesome fruits.
June 16, 1860. . . . It appears to me that the following phenomena occur simultaneously, say June 12, viz.: Heat about 85° at 2 p. m. True summer.
Hylodes cease to peep.
Purring frogs (Rana palustris) cease.
Lightning bugs first seen.
Bull-frogs trump generally.
Afternoon showers almost regular.
Turtles fairly and generally begin to lay.
June 17, 1840. Our lives will not attain to be spherical by lying on one or the other side forever, but only so far as we resign ourselves to the law of gravity in us, will our axis become coincident with the celestial axis, and by revolving incessantly through all circles, shall we acquire a perfect sphericity. . . .
Even the motto "business before friends" admits of a high interpretation. No interval of time can avail to defer friendship. The concerns of time must be attended to in time. I need not make haste to explore the whole secret of a star. If it were vanished quite out of the firmament so that no telescope could longer discover it, I should not despair of knowing it entirely one day.
We meet our friend with a certain awe, as if he had just lighted on the earth, and yet as if we had some title to be acquainted with him by our old familiarity with sun and moon.
June 17, 1852. 4 a. m. To Cliffs. No fog this morning. At early dawn, the windows being open, I hear a steady, breathing, cricket-like sound from the chip-bird (?) ushering in the day. Perhaps these mornings are the most memorable in the year, after a sultry night and before a sultry day, when especially the morning is the most glorious season of the day, when its coolness is most refreshing and you enjoy the glory of the summer, gilded or silvered with dews, without the torrid summer s sun or the obscuring haze. The sound of the crickets at dawn after these first sultry nights seems like the dreaming of the earth still continued into the day-light. I love that early twilight hour when the crickets still creak right on with such dewy faith and promise, as if it were still night, expressing the innocence of morning, when the creak of the cricket is fresh and bedewed. While it has that ambrosial sound, no crime can be committed. It buries Greece and Rome past resurrection. The earth song of the cricket! Before Christianity was, it is. Health! health! health! is the burden of its song. It is, of course, that man refreshed with sleep is thus innocent and healthy and hopeful. When we hear that sound of the crickets in the sod, the world is not so much with us.
I hear the universal cock-crowing with surprise and pleasure, as if I never heard it before. What a tough fellow! How native to the earth! Neither wet nor dry, cold nor warm kills him.
The prudent farmer improves the early morning to do some of his work before the heat becomes too oppressive, while he can use his oxen. As yet no whetting of the scythe. . . . Ah, the refreshing coolness of the morning, full of all kinds of fragrance!—What is that little olivaceous, yellowish bird, whitish beneath, that followed me cheeping under the bushes? The birds sing well this morning, well as ever. The brown thrasher drowns the rest. The lark, and in the woods, the red-eye, veery, chewink, oven-bird, wood-thrush.
The cistus is well open now, with its broad cup-like flower, one of the most delicate yellow flowers, with large spring-yellow petals, and its stamens laid one way. It is hard to get home fresh; caducous and inclined to droop. The yellow Bethlehem-star is of a deeper yellow than the cistus, a very neat flower, grass-like.
p. m. On the river, by Hubbard's Meadow. Looking at a clump of trees and bushes on the meadow, which is commonly flooded in the spring, I saw a middling-sized rock concealed by the leaves, lying in the midst, and perceived that this had obtained a place, had made good the locality for the maples and shrubs which had found a foothold about it. Here the weeds and tender plants were detained and protected. The bowlder dropped once on a meadow makes at length a clump of trees there, and is concealed by the beneficiaries it had protected.
June 17, 1853. The pogonias, adder s tongue arethusas I see now-a-days, are getting to be numerous; they are far too pale to compete with the Arethusa bulbosa, and then their snake-like odor is much against them.
There have been three ultra reformers, lecturers on slavery, temperance, the church, etc., in and about our house and Mrs. B———'s, the last three or four days. Though one of them was a stranger to the others, you would have thought them old and familiar cronies. They happened here together by accident. They addressed each other constantly by their Christian names, and rubbed you continually with the greasy cheek of their kindness. I was awfully pestered with the benignity of one of them, feared I should get greased all over with it past restoration, tried to keep some starch in my clothes. He wrote a book called "A Kiss for a Blow," and he behaved as if I had given him a blow, was bent on giving me the kiss when there was neither quarrel nor agreement between us. I wanted that he should straighten his back, smooth out those ogling wrinkles of benignity about his eyes, and with a healthy reserve pronounce something in a downright manner. . . . He addressed me as "Henry" within one minute from the time I first laid eyes on him; and when I spoke, he said with drawling, sultry sympathy, "Henry, I know all you would say, I understand you perfectly, you need not explain anything to me," and to another, "I am going to dive into Henry's inmost depths." I said, "I trust you will not strike your head against the bottom." He could tell in a dark room, with his eyes blinded, and in perfect stillness, if there was one there whom he loved. One of the most attractive things about the flowers is their beautiful reserve. The truly beautiful and noble puts its lover, as it were, at an infinite distance, while it attracts him more strongly than ever. . . . What a relief to have heard the ring of one healthy, reserved tone.
The dense fields of blue-eyed grass now blue the meadows, as if, in this fair season of the year, the clouds that envelope the earth were dispersing, and blue patches begin to appear answering to the blue sky. The eyes pass from these blue patches into the surrounding green as from the patches of clear sky into the clouds.
One of the night-hawk's eggs is hatched. The young is unlike any that I have seen, exactly like a pinch of rabbit's fur, or down of that color, dropped on the ground, not two inches long, with a dimpling, somewhat regular arrangement of minute feathers in the middle, destined to become the wings and tail. Yet it even half opened its eye, and peeped, if I mistake not. Was ever bird more completely protected, both by the color of its eggs, and of its own body that sits on them, and of the young bird just hatched? Accordingly the eggs and young are rarely discovered. There was one egg still, and by the side of it this little pinch of down flattened out and not observed at first.
A foot down the hill had rolled half the egg it came out of. There was no callowness as in the young of most birds. It seemed a singular place for a bird to begin its life, this little pinch of down, and lie still on the exact spot where the egg lay, a flat exposed shelf on the side of a bare hill, with nothing but the whole heavens, the broad universe above, to brood it when its mother was away.
The huckleberry apple is sometimes a red shoot, with tender and thick red leaves and branchlets, in all three inches long. It is, as it were, a monstrous precocity, and what should have waited to become fruit is a merely bloated or puffed up flower, a child with a great dropsical head, and prematurely bright, in a huckleberry apple. The really sweet and palateable huckleberry is not matured before July, and runs the risk of drying up in drouth, and never attaining its proper size.
There are some fine large clusters of lambkill close to the shore of Walden, under the Peak, fronting the south. They are early, too, and large, apparently, both on account of the warmth and the vicinity of the water. These flowers are in perfect cylinders, sometimes six inches long by two wide, and three such raying out or upward from one centre, that is, three branches clustered together. Examined close by, I think this handsomer than the mountain laurel. The color is richer, but it does not show so well at a little distance, and the corymbs are somewhat concealed by the green shoot and leaves rising above them, and also by the dry remains of last year's flowers.
The mountain laurel by Walden in its prime. It is a splendid flower, and more red than that in Mason's pasture. Its dry, dead-looking, brittle stems lean, as it were, over other bushes or each other, bearing at the ends great dense corymbs five inches in diameter, of rose or pink (?) tinged flowers, without an interstice between them, overlapping each other, each of more than an inch in diameter. A single flower would be esteemed very beautiful. It is a highlander wandered down into the plain.
June 17, 1854. 5 a. m. To Hill. A cold fog. These mornings those who walk in grass are thoroughly wet above mid-leg. All the earth is dripping wet. I am surprised to feel how warm the water is by contrast with the cold, foggy air. . . . The dewy cobwebs are very thick this morning, little napkins of the fairies spread on the grass. . . .
From the Hill I am reminded of more youthful mornings, seeing the dark forms of the trees eastward in the low grounds, partly within and against the shining white fog, the sun just risen over it. The mist fast rolls away eastward from them, their tops at last streaking it and dividing it into vales, all beyond a submerged and unknown country, as if they grew on the sea-shore. Why does the fog go off always towards the sun, seen in the east when it has disappeared in the west? The waves of the foggy ocean divide and flow back for us Israelites of a day to march through.
Saw the sun reflected up from the Assabet to the hill-top through the dispersing fog, giving to the water a peculiarly rippled, pale golden hue, "gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy."
p. m. To Walden and Cliffs. . . . It is dry, hazy June weather. We are more of the earth, farther from heaven these days. We live in a grosser element, getting deeper into the mists of earth. Even the birds sing with less vigor and vivacity. The season of hope and promise is past. Already the season of small fruits has arrived. The Indian marked the midsummer as the season when berries were ripe. We are a little saddened because we begin to see the interval between our hopes and their fulfillment. The prospect of the heavens is taken away, and we are presented only with a few small berries.
Before sundown I reached Fair Haven Hill and gathered strawberries. I find beds of large and lusty strawberry plants in sproutlands, but they appear to run to leaves and bear very little fruit, having spent themselves in leaves by the time the dry weather arrives. It is those still earlier and more stinted plants which grow on dry uplands that bear the early fruit, formed before the droughts. But the meadows produce both leaves and fruit.
I begin to see the flowering fern at a distance in the river meadows.
The sun goes down red again, like a high-colored flower of summer; as the white and yellow flowers of spring are giving place to the rose, and will soon to the red lily, etc., so the yellow sun of spring has become a red sun of June drought, round and red like a midsummer flower, production of torrid heats.
June 18, 1840. I am startled when I consider how little I am actually concerned about the things I write in my journal.
A fair land, indeed, do books spread open to us, from the Genesis down,—but, alas! men do not take them up kindly into their own being, and breathe into them a fresh beauty, knowing that the grimmest of them belongs to such warm sunshine and still moonlight as the present.
June 18, 1852. The hornet s nest is built with many thin layers of his paper, with an interval of about one eighth of an inch between them, so that his wall is one or two inches thick. This probably for warmth, dryness, and lightness. So the carpenter has learned to sometimes build double walls.
7 p. m. To Cliffs. . . . Pyrolas are beginning to blossom. The four-leaved loosestrife. The longest days in the year have now come. The sun goes down now (this moment) behind Watatic, from the Cliffs. St. John's-wort is beginning to blossom.
I hear a man playing a clarionet far off. Apollo tending the herds of Admetus. How cultivated, how sweet and glorious is music! Men have brought this art to great perfection, the art of modulating sound, by long practice, since the world began. What superiority over the rude harmony of savages! There is something glorious and flower-like in it. What a contrast this evening melody with the occupations of the day. It is perhaps the most admirable accomplishment of man.
June 18, 1853. 4 a. m. By boat to Nashawtuck, to Azalea or Pinxter Spring. . . . Almost all birds appear to join the early morning chorus before sunrise on the roost, the matin hymn. I hear now the robin, the chip-bird, the blackbird, the martin, etc., but I see none flying, or at least only one wing in the air not yet illumined by the sun. As I was going up the hill, I was surprised to see rising above the June grass, near a walnut, a whitish object, like a stone with a white top, or a skunk erect, for it was black below. It was an enormous toadstool, or fungus, a sharply conical parasol in the form of a sugar loaf, slightly turned up at the edges, which were rent half an inch for every inch or two. The whole length was sixteen inches. The pileus, or cap, was six inches long by seven in width at the rim, though it appeared longer than wide. . . . The stem was about one inch in diameter and naked. The top of the cap was quite white within and without, not smooth, but with a stringy kind of scales turned upward at the edge. These declined downward into a coarse hoariness, as if the compact white fibres had been burst by the spreading gills. It looked much like an old felt hat pushed up into a cone, its rim all ragged, with some meal shaken upon it. It was almost big enough for a child's head. It was so delicate and fragile that its whole cap trembled at the least touch, and as I could not lay it down without injuring it, I was obliged to carry it home all the way in my hand, erect, while I paddled my boat with one hand. It was a wonder how its soft cone ever broke through the earth. Such growths ally our age to those earlier periods which geology reveals. I wondered if it had not some relation to the skunk, though not in odor, yet in its color and the general impression it made. It suggests a vegetative force which may almost make man tremble for his dominion. It carries me back to the era of the formation of the coal measures, the age of the Saurus and the Pliosaurus, and when bull-frogs were as big as bulls. Its stem had something massy about it, like an oak, large in proportion to the weight it had to support (though not perhaps to the size of the cap), like the vast hollow columns under some piazzas, whose caps have hardly weight enough to hold their tops together. It made you think of pictures of parasols of Chinese mandarins, or it might have been used by the great fossil bullfrog in his walks. What part does it play in the economy of the world? . . . I have just been out (7.30 a. m.) to show my fungus. . . . It is so fragile I was obliged to walk at a funereal pace for fear of jarring it. It is so delicately balanced that it falls to one side on the least inclination. It is rapidly curling up on the edge, and the rents increasing, until it is completely fringed, and is an inch wider there. It is melting in the sun and light, black drops and streams falling on my hand, and fragments of the black-fringed rim falling on the sidewalk. Evidently such a plant can only be seen in perfection in the early morning. It is a creature of the night, like the great moth. . . . It is to be remarked that this grew not in low and damp soil, but high up on the open side of a dry hill . . . in the midst of, and rising above, the thin June grass. The last night was warm, the earth was very dry, and there was a slight sprinkling of rain.
I think the blossom of the sweetbrier, eglantine (now in prime), is more delicate and interesting than that of the common wild roses, though smaller and paler, and without their spicy fragrance. But its fragrance is in its leaves all summer, and the form of the bush is handsomer, curving over from a considerable height in wreaths sprinkled with numerous flowers. They open out flat soon after sunrise. Flowers whitish in middle, then pinkish rose, inclining to purple toward the edges.
How far from our minds now the early blossoms of the spring, the willow catkins, for example.
I put the parasol fungus in the cellar to preserve it, but it went on rapidly melting and wasting away from the edges upward, spreading as it dissolved, till it was shaped like a dish-cover. By night, though left in the cellar all the day, there was not more than two of the six inches of the height of the cap left, and the barrel-head beneath it and its own stem looked as if a large bottle of ink had been broken there. It defiled all it touched. The next morning the hollow stem was left perfectly bare, and only the hoary apex of the cone, spreading about two inches in diameter, lay on the ground beneath. Probably one night produced it, and in one day, with all our pains, it wasted away. Is it not a giant mildew or mould? In the warm, muggy night the surface of the earth is mildewed. The mould which is the flower of humid darkness and ignorance. The pyramids and other monuments of Egypt are a vast mildew or toad-stool which have met with no light of day sufficient to waste them away. Slavery is such a mould and superstition which are most rank in the warm and humid portions of the globe. Luxor sprang up one night out of the slime of the Nile. The humblest, puniest weed that can endure the sun is thus superior to the largest fungus, as is the peasant s cabin to those foul temples. . . . All things flower, both vices and virtues, but one is essentially foul, an other fair. In hell, toad-stools should be represented as overshadowing men. The priest is the fungus of the graveyard, of the tomb. In the animal world there are toads and lizards.
p. m. To Island by boat.
The first white lily to-day perhaps. It is the only bud I have seen. The river has gone down and left it nearly dry. On the Island, where a month ago plants were so fresh and early, it is now parched and crisp under my feet. I feel the heat reflected from the ground and perceive the dry scent of grass and leaves. So universally on dry and rocky hills, where the spring was earliest, the autumn has already commenced. . . .
At the Flower Exhibition saw the rhododendron plucked yesterday in Fitzwilliam, N. H. It was the earliest to be found there, and only one bud was fully open. They say it is in perfection there the 4th of July, nearer Monadnock than the town.
The unexpected display of flowers culled from the gardens of the village suggests how many virtues also are cultivated by the villagers more than meet the eye.
Saw to-night ———'s horse, which works on the sawing-machine at the depot, now let out to graze along the road. At each step he lifts his hind legs convulsively from the ground, as if the whole earth were a treadmill continually slipping away from under him while he climbed its convex surface. It was painful to witness, but it was symbolical of the moral condition of his master and of all artisans in contradistinction from artists, all who are engaged in any routine, for to them also the whole earth is a treadmill, and the routine results instantly in a similar painful deformity. The horse may bear the mark of his servitude in the muscles of his legs, the man on his brow.
8.30 p. m. To Cliffs. Moon not quite full. There is no wind. The greenish fires of lightning bugs are already seen in the meadow. I almost lay my hand on one amid the leaves as I get over the fence at the brook. I hear the whippoorwills on different sides. White flowers alone show much at night, as white clover and white weed. The day has gone by with its wind like the wind of a cannon ball, and now far in the west it blows. By that dun-colored sky you may track it. There is no motion nor sound in the woods (Hubbard's Grove) along which I am walking. The trees stand like great screens against the sky. The distant village sounds are the barking of dogs, that animal with which man has allied himself, and the rattling of wagons, for the farmers have gone into town a shopping this Saturday night. The dog is the tamed wolf, as the villager is the tamed savage. Near at hand the crickets are heard in the grass chirping from everlasting to everlasting. The humming of a dor-bug drowns all the noise of the village, so roomy is the universe. The moon comes out of the mackerel cloud, and the traveler rejoices. How can a man write the same thoughts by the light of the moon, resting his book on a rail by the side of a remote potato field, that he does by the light of the sun at his study table. The light is but a luminousness. My pencil seems to move through a creamy, mystic medium. The moonlight is rich and somewhat opaque, like cream, but the daylight is thin and blue, like skimmed milk. I am less conscious than in the presence of the sun, my instincts have more influence.
The farmer has improved the dry weather to burn his meadow. I love the smell of that burning, as a man may his pipe. It reminds me of a new country offering sites for the hearths of men. It is cheering as the scent of the peat fire of the first settler.
At Potter's sand bank, the sand, though cold on the surface, begins to be warm two inches beneath, and the warmth reaches at least six inches deeper. The tortoise buries her eggs just deep enough to secure this greatest constant warmth.
I passed into and along the bottom of a lake of cold and dewy evening air. Anon, as I rise higher, here comes a puff of warm air, trivially warm, a straggler from the sun's retinue, now buffeted about by the vanguard night breezes.
Before me, southward toward the moon, on higher land than I, but springy, I saw a low film of fog, like a veil, reflecting the moonlight, though none on lower ground which was not springy, and up the river beyond, a battalion of fog rising white in the moonlight in ghost-like wisps, or like a flock of scared covenanters in a recess amid the hills. . . .
It is worth while to walk thus in the night after a warm or sultry day, to enjoy the fresh, up-country, brake-like, spring-like scent in low grounds. At night the surface of the earth is a cellar, a refrigerator, no doubt wholesomer than those made with ice by day. Got home at 11.
June 18, 1854. p. m. To Climbing Fern. The meadows, like this Nut Meadow, are now full of the latter grasses just beginning to flower, and the graceful columns of the rue (thalictrum) not yet generally in flower, and the large tree or shrub-like Archangelica with its great umbels now fairly in bloom along the edge of the brook. . . .
I discover that Dugan found the eggs of my snapping turtle of June 7th, apparently the same day. It is perhaps five or six rods from the brook, in the sand near its edge. The surface had been disturbed over a foot and a half in diameter, and was slightly concave. The nest commenced five inches beneath, and at its neck was two and a half inches across, and from this nearly four inches deep, and swelled out below to four inches in width, shaped like a short, rounded bottle with a broad mouth, and the surrounding sand was quite firm. I took out forty-two eggs closely packed, and Dugan says he had previously taken one. They are dirty, white and spherical, a little more than one and a six teenth of an inch in diameter, soft-shelled so that my finger left a permanent dimple in them. It was now ten days since they had been laid, and a little more than half of each was darker colored (probably the lower half) and the other, white and dry-looking. I opened one, but could detect no organization with the unarmed eye. The halves of the shell, as soon as emptied, curled up as we see them where the skunks have sucked them. They must all have been laid at one time. If it were not for the skunks and probably other animals, we should be overrun with them. Who can tell how many tortoise eggs are buried in this small desert.
Often certain words or syllables which have suggested themselves remind one better of a bird's strain than the most elaborate and closest imitation.
June 18, 1855. To Hemlocks. . . . At 3 p. m., as I walked up the bank by the Hemlocks, I saw a painted tortoise just beginning its hole. Then another a dozen rods from the river on the bare, barren field near some pitch pines, where the earth was covered with cladonias, cinquefoil, sorrel, etc. Its hole was about two thirds done. I stooped down over it, and to my surprise, after a slight pause, it proceeded in its work directly under and within eighteen inches of my face. I retained a constrained position for three quarters of an hour or more, for fear of alarming it. It rested on its fore-legs, the front part of its shell about an inch higher than the rear, and this position was not changed, essentially, to the last. The hole was oval, broadest behind, about an inch wide and one and three quarters long, and the dirt already removed was quite wet or moistened. It made the hole and removed the dirt with its hind legs only, not using its tail or shell, which last, of course, could not enter the hole, though there was some dirt on it. It first scratched two or three times with one hind foot, then took up a pinch of the loose sand and deposited it directly behind that leg, pushing it backward to its full length, and then deliberately opening it and letting the dirt fall. Then the same with the other hind foot. This it did rapidly, using each leg alternately with perfect regularity, standing on the other one the while, and thus tilting up its shell each time, now to this side, then to that. There was half a minute or a minute between each change. The hole was made as deep as the feet could reach, or about two inches. It was very neat about its work, not scattering the dirt about more than was necessary. The completing of the hole occupied perhaps five minutes. It then, without any pause, drew its head completely into its shell, raised the rear a little, and protruded and dropped a wet, flesh-colored egg into the hole, one end foremost. Then it put out its head again a little slowly, and placed the egg one side with one hind foot. After a delay of about two minutes it again drew in its head and dropped another, and so on to the fifth, drawing in its head each time, and pausing somewhat longer between the last. The eggs were placed in the hole without any particular care, only well down flat, and each out of the way of the next. I could plainly see them from above.
After ten minutes or more, without pause or turning, it began to scrape the moist earth into the hole with its hind legs, and, when it had half filled it, carefully pressed the earth down with the edges of its hind feet, dancing on these alternately for some time, as on its knees, tilting from side to side, pressing by the whole weight of the rear of its shell. When it had drawn in thus all the earth that had been moistened, it stretched its hind legs further back and to each side, and drew in the dry and lichen-clad crust, and then danced upon and pressed that down, still not moving the rear of its shell more than one inch to right or left all the while, or changing the position of the forward part at all. The thoroughness with which the covering was done was remarkable. It persevered in drawing in and dancing on the dry surface which had never been disturbed, long after you thought it had done its duty, but it never moved its fore-feet, nor once looked round, nor saw the eggs it had laid. There were frequent pauses throughout the whole, when it rested, or ran out its head and looked about circumspectly at any noise or motion. These pauses were especially long during the covering of its eggs, which occupied more than half an hour. Perhaps it was hard work.
When it had done, it immediately started for the river at a pretty rapid rate (the suddenness with which it made these transitions was amusing), pausing from time to time, and I judged it would reach it in fifteen minutes. It was not easy to detect that the ground had been disturbed there. An Indian could not have made his cache more skillfully. In a few minutes all traces of it would be lost to the eye.
The object of moistening the earth was perhaps to enable it to take it up in its hands (?), and also to prevent its falling back into the hole. Perhaps it also helped to make the ground more compact and harder when it was pressed down. [September 10. I can find no trace of the tortoise eggs of June 18th, though there is no trace of their having been disturbed by skunks. They must have been hatched earlier.]
June 18, 1859. p. m. Sail up river. Rain again, and we take shelter under a bridge, and again under our boat, and again under a pine-tree. It is worth while to sit or lie through a shower thus under a bridge, or under a boat on the bank, because the rain is a much more interesting and remarkable phenomenon under these circumstances. The surface of the stream betrays every drop from the first to the last, and all the variations of the storm, so much more expressive is the water than the comparatively brutish face of earth. We no doubt often walk between drops of rain falling thinly, without knowing it, though if on the water we should have been advertised of it. At last the whole surface is nicked with the abounding drops, as if it rose in little cones to accompany or meet the drops, till it looks like the back of some spiny fruit or animal, and yet the differently colored currents, light and dark, are seen through it all. Then, when it clears up, how gradually the surface of the water becomes more placid and bright, the dimples becoming fewer and finer till the prolonged reflections of trees are seen in it, and the water is lit up with a joy in sympathy with our own, while the earth is comparatively dead.
I saw swarms of little gnats, light-winged, dancing over the water in the midst of the rain, though you would say any drop might end one's days.