June 19, 1852. 8.30 a. m. To Flag Hill, on which Stow, Acton, and Boxboro corner, with C———. A fine, clear June morning, comfortable and breezy, no dust, a journey day. . . . The traveler now has the creak of the cricket to encourage him on all country routes, out of the fresh sod, still fresh as in the dawn, not interrupting his thoughts. Very cheering and refreshing to hear, so late in the day, this morning sound. The white-weed colors some meadows as completely as the frosting does a cake. The waving June grass shows watered colors like grain. No mower s scythe is heard. The farmers are hoeing their corn and potatoes. . . . The clover is now in its glory, whole fields are rosed with it, mixed with sorrel, and looking deeper than it is. It makes fields look luxuriant which are really thinly clad. The air is full of its fragrance. I cannot find the Linnæa at Loring's, perhaps because the woods are cut down. Perhaps I am too late. The robins sing more than usual, may be because of the coolness. Buttercups and geraniums cover the meadows, the latter appearing to float on the grass, of various tints. It has lasted long, this rather tender flower. . . . The light of June is not golden but silvery, not torrid, but somewhat temperate. I see it reflected from the bent grass and the under-sides of leaves. Also I perceive faint, silvery, gleaming ripples where there is a rapid in the river (from railroad bridge at D———'s) without sun on it.
The mullein out with a disagreeable scent, and the dogsbane with a quite handsome, bell-shaped flower, beautifully striped with red (rose red?) within.
Facts collected by a poet are set down at last as winged seeds of truth, samarœ, tinged with his expectation. O may my words be verdurous and sempiternal as the hills. Facts fall from the poetic observer as ripe seeds.
The river has a June look; dark, smooth, reflecting surfaces in shade. The sight of the water is refreshing, suggesting coolness. The shadows in and under elms and other trees have not been so rich hitherto. It is grateful to look forward half a mile into some dark, umbrageous elm or ash.
The grape in bloom, an agreeable perfume to many; not so to me. This is not the meadow fragrance then which I have perceived.
May be the huckleberry bird best expresses the season, or the red-eye. What subtile differences between one season and another.
The veiny-leaved hawk-weed out. A large swelling pasture hill with hickories left for shade, and cattle now under them. The bark is rubbed smooth and red with their hides. Pleasant to go over the hills, for there most air is stirring, but you must look out for bulls in the pastures. Saw one here reclining in the shade amid the cows. His short sanguineous horns betrayed him, and we gave him a wide berth, for they are not to be reasoned with. On our right is Acton, on our left is Stow, and forward, Boxboro. Thus King Richard sailed the Ægean, and passed kingdoms on his right and left. We are on one of the breezy hills that make the western horizon from Concord, from which we see our familiar Concord hills much changed and reduced in height and breadth. We are in a country very different from Concord, of swelling hills and long vales on the bounds of these three towns, more up-countryish. It requires considerable skill in crossing a country to avoid the houses and too cultivated parts, somewhat of the engineer's or gunner's skill so to pass a house (if you must go near it through high grass), pass the enemy's lines where houses are thick, as to make a hill or wood screen you, to shut every window with an apple-tree, for that route which most avoids the houses is not only the one in which you will be least molested, but it is by far the most agreeable. It is rare that you cannot avoid a grain-field or piece of English mowing by skirting a corn-field or nursery near by, but if you must go through high grass, then step lightly and in each other's tracks.
We soon fell into a dry swamp filled with high bushes and trees, and beneath, tall ferns, one with a large pinnate leaf five or six feet high and one foot broad, making a dense undergrowth in tufts at bottom, spreading every way. There were two species of this size, one more compound than the other. These we opened with our hands, making a path through, completely in the cool shade. I steered by the sun, though it was so high now at noon that I observed which way my short shadow fell before I entered the swamp (for in it we could see nothing of the country around), and then by keeping it on a particular side of me, I steered surely, standing still sometimes till the sun came out of a cloud, to be sure of our course. Came out at length on a side hill very near the South Acton line or Stow. . . .
The orchis keeps well. One put in my hat this morning and carried all day will last fresh a day or two at home. These are peculiar days when you find the purple orchis and the arethusa, too, in the meadows.
The fields a walker loves best to strike into are bare, extended, rolling, bordered by copses, with brooks and meadows in sight, sandy be neath the thin sod where now blackberries and pinks grow, erst rye or oats, perchance these and stony pastures where is no high grass, nor grain, nor cultivated ground, nor houses near.
Flag Hill is about eight miles by the road from Concord. We went much farther both going and returning. But by a how much nobler road! Suppose you were to drive to Boxboro, what then? You pass a few teams with their dust, drive past many farmers barn-yards, see where Squire Tuttle lives and barrels his apples, bait your horse at White s tavern, and so return with your hands smelling of greasy leather and horse hair, and the squeak of a chaise body in your ears, with no new flower nor agreeable experience. But going as we did, before you got to Boxboro line, you often went much farther, many times ascended New Hampshire hills, taking the noble road from hill to hill across swamps and valleys, not regarding political courses and boundaries, many times far west in your thoughts. It is a journey of a day and a picture of human life.
June 19, 1853. p. m. To Flint's Pond. I see large patches of blue-eyed grass in the meadow across the river from my window. The pine woods at Thrush Alley emit that hot, dry scent, reminding me even of days when I used to go a blackberrying. . . . The wood-thrush sings as usual far in the wood. A blue jay and a tanager come dashing into the pine under which I stand. The first flies directly away screaming with suspicion or disgust, but the latter, more innocent, remains. The cuckoo is heard, too, in the depths of the wood. Heard my night warbler on a solitary white pine in the Heywood clearing by the Peak. Discovered it at last looking like a small piece of black bark curving partly over the limb. No fork to its tail. It appeared black beneath; was very shy, not bigger than a yellow bird and more slender. . . .
The strain of the bobolink now sounds a little rare. It never again fills the air as in the first week after its arrival.
June 19, 1854. p. m. Up Assabet. A thunder shower in the north. Will it strike us? How impressive this artillery of the heavens! It rises higher and higher. At length the thunder seems to roll quite across the sky and all round the horizon, even where there are no clouds, and I row homeward in haste. How by magic the skirts of the cloud are gathered about us, and it shoots forward over our head, and the rain comes at a time and place which baffles all our calculations. Just before it the swamp white oak in Merrick's pasture was a very beautiful sight, with its rich shade of green, its top, as it were, incrusted with light. Suddenly comes the gust, and the big drops slanting from the north. The birds fly as if rudderless, and the trees bow and are wrenched. It comes against the windows like hail, and is blown over the roofs like steam or smoke. The lightning runs down the large elm at Holbrook's and shatters the house near by. Soon the sun shines in silver puddles in the streets.
Men may talk about measures till all is blue and smells of brimstone, and then go home and sit down and expect their measures to do their duty for them. The only measure is integrity and manhood.
June 19, 1859. To Heywood Meadow and Well Meadow. A flying squirrel's nest . . . in a covered hollow in a small old stump . . . covered with fallen leaves and a portion of the stump. Nest apparently of dry grass. Saw three young run out after the mother, and up a slender oak. The young half grown, very tender looking and weak-tailed. Yet one climbed quite to the top of an oak twenty-five feet high, though feebly. Their claws must be very sharp and early developed. The mother rested quite near on a small projecting stub, big as a pipe stem, curled crosswise on it. They have a more rounded head and snout than our other squirrels. The young in danger of being picked off by hawks.
Scare up young partridges the size of chickens; just hatched, yet they fly. The old one in the woods near makes a chuckling sound just like, a red squirrel's bark, also mewing.
June 19, 1860. Let an oak be hewed and put into the frame of a house where it is sheltered, and it will last several centuries. Even as a sill it may last one hundred and fifty years. But let it be simply cut down and lie, though in an open pasture, and it will probably be thoroughly rotten in twenty-five years. There is the oak cut down at Clam Shell some twenty years ago, the butt left on the ground. It has about two thirds wasted away, and is hardly fit for fuel.
I follow a distinct fox path amid the grass and bushes for some forty rods, beyond Brittan's Hollow, leading from the great fox hole. It branches on reaching the peach orchard. No doubt by these routes they oftenest go and return. As broad as a cart wheel, and at last best seen when you do not look too hard for it.
June 20, 1840. Perfect sincerity and transparency make a great part of beauty, as in dew drops, lakes, and diamonds. A spring is a cynosure in the fields. All Muscovy glitters in the minute particles of mica at its bottom, and the ripples cast their shadows flickeringly on the white sand as the clouds which flit across the landscape.
Something like the woodland sounds will be heard to echo through the leaves of a good book. Sometimes I hear the fresh, emphatic note of the oven-bird, and am tempted to turn many pages; sometimes the hurried chuckling sound of the squirrel, when he dives into the wall.
If we only see clearly enough how mean our lives are, they will be splendid enough. Let us remember not to strive upwards too long, but sometimes drop plumb down the other way. From the deepest pit we may see the stars. Let us have presence of mind enough to sink when we can't swim. At any rate, a carcass had better lie on the bottom than float an offense to all nostrils. It will not be falling, for we shall ride wide of the earth's gravity as a star, and always be drawn upward still (semper cadendo nunquam cadit), and so, by yielding to universal gravity, at length become fixed stars.
Praise begins when things are seen partially, or when we begin to feel a thing needs our assistance.
When the heavens are obscured to us, and nothing noble or heroic appears, but we are oppressed by imperfection and shortcoming on all hands, we are apt to suck our thumbs and decry our fates, as if nothing were to be done in cloudy weather. If you cannot travel the upper road, then go by the lower; you will find that they equally lead to heaven. Sometimes I feel so cheap that I am inspired, and could write a poem about it, but straightway I cannot, for I am no longer mean. Let me know that I am ailing and I am well. We should not always beat off the impression of trivialness, but make haste to welcome and cherish it. Water the weed till it blossoms; with cultivation it will bear fruit. There are two ways to victory, to strive bravely, or to yield. How much pains the last will save, we have not yet learned.
June 20, 1852. 7 p. m. To Hubbard bathing-place. The blue-eyed grass is shut up. When does it open? Some blue flags are quite a red purple, dark wine color. Identified the Iris prismatica, Boston iris, with linear leaves and round stem.
The stake driver is at it in his favorite meadow. I followed the sound, and at last got within two rods, it seeming always to recede, and drawing you, like a will-o'-the-wisp, farther away into the meadows. When thus near, I heard some lower sounds at the beginning like striking on a stump or a stake, a dry, hard sound, and then followed the gurgling, pumping notes fit to come from a meadow. This was just within the blueberry and other bushes, and when the bird flew up alarmed, I went to the place, but could see no water, which makes me doubt if water is necessary to it in making the sound. Perhaps it thrusts its bill so deep as to reach water where it is dry on the surface. It sounds more like wood chopping or pumping because you seem to hear the echo of the stroke or the reverse motion of the pump handle. After the warm weather has come, both morning and evening you hear the bittern pumping in the fens. It does not sound loud near at hand, and it is remarkable that it should be heard so far. Perhaps it is pitched on a favorable key. Is it not a call to its mate? Methinks that in the resemblance of this note to rural sounds, to sounds made by farmers, the security of the bird is designed.
Dry fields have now a reddish tinge from the seeds of the grass. Lying with my window open these warm, even sultry nights, I hear the sonorously musical trump of the bull-frogs from time to time from some distant shore of the river, as if the world were given up to them. . . . When I wake thus at midnight, and hear this sonorous trump from far in the horizon, I need not go to Dante for an idea of the infernal regions. . . . I do not know for a time in what world I am. It affects my morals, and all questions take a new aspect from this sound. It is the snoring music of nature at night. How allied to the pad in place and color is this creature! His greenish back is the leaf, and his yellow throat, the flower, even in form, with his sesquipedality of belly. Through the summer he lies on the pads or with his head out, and in the winter buries himself at their roots(?). The bull paddock! His eyes like the buds of the Nuphar Kalmiana. I fancy his skin would stand water, without shrinking, forever. Gloves made of it for rainy weather, for trout fishers!
Frogs appear slow to make up their minds, but then they act precipitately. As long as they are here, they are here, and express no intention of removing. But the idea of removing fills them instantaneously, as Nature, abhorring, fills a vacuum. Now they are fixed and imperturbable like the sphinx, and now they go off with short, squatty leaps over the spatterdock on the irruption of the least idea.
June 20, 1853. . . . Meadow-sweet out probably yesterday. It is an agreeable, unpretending flower. . . . The bosky bank shows bright roses from its green recesses. . . . Found two lilies open in the very shallow inlet of the meadow. Exquisitely beautiful, and unlike anything we have, is the first white lily just expanded in some shallow lagoon where the water is leaving it, perfectly fresh and pure before the insects have discovered it. How admirable its purity! How innocently sweet its fragrance! How significant that the rich black mud of our dead stream produces the water lily! Out of that fertile slime springs this spotless purity. It is remarkable that those flowers which are most emblematic of purity should grow in the mud. There is also the exquisite beauty of the small sagittaria which I find out, may be a day or two. Three transparent crystalline white petals with a yellow eye, and as many small purplish calyx leaves, four or five inches above the same mud. Coming home at twelve I see that the white lilies are nearly shut.
8 p. m. Up North River to Nashawtuck.
The moon full. Perhaps there is no more beautiful scene than that on the North River seen from the rock this side the hemlocks. As we look up stream we see a crescent-shaped lake completely embowered in the forest. There is nothing to be seen but the smooth black mirror of the water on which there is now the slightest discernible bluish mist a foot high, and thickset alders and willows and the green woods without an interstice, sloping steeply upward from its very surface, like the sides of a bowl. The river is here for half a mile completely shut in by the forest.
Saw a little skunk coming up the river bank in the woods at the white oak, a funny little fellow, about six inches long and nearly as broad. It faced me and actually compelled me to retreat before it for five minutes. Perhaps I was be tween it and its hole. Its broad black tail, tipped with white, was erect like a kitten's. It had what looked like a broad white band drawn tight across its forehead or top-head, from which two lines of white ran down one on each side of its back, and there was a narrow white line down its snout. It raised its back, sometimes ran a few feet forward, sometimes backward, and repeatedly turned its tail to me, prepared to discharge its fluid, like the old ones. Such was its instinct, and all the while it kept up a fine grunting like a little pig or a squirrel. It reminded me that the red squirrel, the woodchuck, and the skunk all make a similar sound.
The leafy columned elms planted by the river at foot of P———'s field are exceedingly beautiful, the moon being behind them. . . . Their trunks look like columns of a portico wreathed with evergreens on the evening of an illumination for some great festival. They are the more rich because in this creamy light you cannot distinguish the trunk from the verdure that drapes it.
June 21, 1840. A man is never inspired unless his body is also. It, too, spurns a tame and commonplace life. They are fatally mistaken who think while they strive with their minds that they may suffer their bodies to stagnate in luxury or sloth. The body is the first proselyte the soul makes. Our life is but the soul made known by its fruits, the body. The whole duty of man may be expressed in one line. Make to yourself a perfect body.
June 21, 1852. 7 p. m. To Cliffs via Hubbard bathing-place. Cherry birds I have not seen, though I think I have heard them before, their fine seringo note, like a vibrating spring in the air. They are a handsome bird with their crest and chestnut breasts. There is no keeping the run of their comings and goings, but they will be ready for the cherries when they shall be ripe.
The adder's-tongue arethusa smells exactly like a snake. How singular that in Nature, too, beauty and offensiveness should be thus combined. In flowers as well as persons we demand a beauty pure and fragrant which perfumes the air. The flower which is showy but has no odor, or an offensive one, expresses the character of too many mortals.
Nature has looked uncommonly bare and dry to me for a day or two. With our senses applied to the surrounding world we are reading our physical and corresponding moral revolutions. Nature was shallow all at once. I did not know what had attracted me all my life. I was therefore encouraged when, going through a field this evening, I was unexpectedly struck with the beauty of an apple-tree. The perception of beauty is a moral test.
I see the tephrosia out through the dusk, a handsome flower. What rich crops this dry hillside has yielded! First I saw the Viola pedata here. Then the lupines, and then the snapdragon covered it, and now that the lupines are done, and their pods are left, the tephrosia has taken their place. This small, dry hillside is thus a natural garden. I omit other flowers which grow here, and name only those which, to some extent, cover or possess it. No eighth of an acre in a cultivated garden could be better clothed or with a more pleasing variety from month to month, and while one flower is in bloom you little suspect that which is to succeed and perchance eclipse it. It is a warmly placed, dry hillside beneath a wall, very thinly clad with grass, a natural flower-garden. Of this succession I hardly know which to admire most. It would be pleasant to write the history of such a hillside for one year. First and last you have the colors of the rainbow and more, and the various fragrances which it has not. The blackberry, rose, and dogsbane, also, are now in bloom here.
I hear the sound of distant thunder, though no cloud is obvious, muttering like the roar of artillery. . . . Thunder and lightning are remarkable accompaniments to our life, as if to remind us that there always is or should be a kind of battle raging. They are signal guns to us.
June 21, 1853. 4.30 a. m. Up river for lilies. . . .
The few lilies begin to open about five.
The morning-glory still fresh at 3 p. m. A fine, large, delicate bell, with waved border, some pure white, some reddened. The buds open perfectly in a vase. I find them open when I wake at 4 a. m. . . .
For the last two or three days it has taken me all the forenoon to wake up.
June 21, 1854. p. m. To Walden, etc. Mitchella in Deep Cut Woods probably a day or two. Its scent is agreeable and refreshing, between the may-flower and rum-cherry bark, or like peach-stone meats. . . .
When I see the dense, shady masses of weeds about water, already an unexplorable maze, I am struck with the contrast between this and the spring when I wandered about in search of the first faint greenness along the borders of the brooks. Then an inch or two of green was something remarkable and obvious afar. Now there is a dense mass of weeds along the waterside, where the muskrats bask, and overhead a canopy of leaves conceals the birds and shuts out the sun. It is hard to realize that the seeds of all this growth were buried in that bare, frozen earth. . . .
In the little meadow pool or bog in Hubbard's shore I see two old pouts tending their countless young close to the shore. The former are slate-colored, the latter are about half an inch long, and very black, forming a dark mass from eight to twelve inches in diameter. The old one constantly circles around them, over, and under, and through, as if anxiously endeavoring to keep them together, from time to time moving off five or six feet to reconnoitre. The whole mass of the young, and there must be a thousand of them at least, is incessantly moving, pushing forward and stretching out. They are often in the form of a great pout, apparently keeping together by their own instinct chiefly, now on the bottom, now rising to the top. The old, at any rate, do not appear to be very successful in their apparent efforts to communicate with and direct them. Alone they might be mistaken for pollywogs. At length they break into four parts.
The Indians say this fish hatches its young in a hole in the mud, and that they accompany her for some time afterwards. Yet in Ware's Smellie it is said that fishes take no care of their young. I think also that I see the young breams in schools hovering over their nests while the old ones are still protecting them.
Rambled up the grassy hollows in the sproutlands north (?) of Goose Pond. I felt a pleasing sense of strangeness and distance. Here in the midst of extensive sproutlands are numerous open hollows, more or less connected, where, for some reason, perhaps frosts, the wood does not spring up, and I was glad of it, filled with a fine, wiry grass, with the panicled andromeda, which loves dry places, now in blossom round the edges, and small black cherries and sand cherries struggling down into them. The woodchuck loves such places, and now wabbles off with a peculiar loud squeak like the sharp bark of a red squirrel, then stands erect at the entrance of his hole, ready to dive into it as soon as you approach. As wild and strange a place as you might find in the unexplored west or east. The quarter of a mile of sproutlands which separates it from the highway seems as complete a barrier as a thousand miles of earth. Your horizon is there all your own. . . .
Again I am attracted by the deep scarlet of the wild moss rose, half open in the grass, all glowing with rosy light.
June 21, 1856. A very hot day, as was yesterday, 99° at 3 p. m. . . . Saw the nighthawks fly low and touch the water like swallows, at Walden.
June 21, 1860. Having noticed the pine pollen washed up on the shore of three or four ponds in the woods lately, at Ripple Lake, a dozen rods from the nearest pine, also having seen the pollen carried off visibly half a dozen rods from a pitch pine which I had jarred, and rising all the while when there was very little wind, it occurred to me that the air must be full of this fine dust at this season, that it must at times be carried to great distances, and that its presence might be detected remote from pines by examining the edges of pretty large bodies of water where it would be collected on one side by winds and waves from a large area. So I thought over all the small ponds in the township in order to select one or more most remote from the woods or pines, whose shores I might examine and thus test my theory. I could think of none more-favorable than this little pond only four rods in diameter, . . . in John Brown's pasture, which has but few pads in it. It is a small round pond at the bottom of a hollow in the midst of a perfectly bare, dry pasture. The nearest wood of any kind is just thirty-nine rods distant northward, and across a road from the edge of a pond. Any other wood in other directions is five or six times as far. I knew it was a bad time to try my experiment just after such heavy rains and when the pines are effete,–a little too late. The wind was now blowing quite strong from the northeast, whereas all the pollen I had seen hitherto had been collected on the northeast sides of ponds by a southwest wind. I approached the pond from the northeast, and looking over it, and carefully along the shore there, could detect no pollen. I then proceeded to walk round it, but still could detect none. I then said to myself, if there was any here before the rain and northeast wind, it must have been on the northeast side, and then have been washed over quite to or on the shore. I looked there carefully, stooping down, and was gratified to find after all a distinct yellow line of pollen dust, about half an inch wide, or washing off to two or three times that width, quite on the edge, and some dead twigs which I took up from the wet shore were completely coated with it as with sulphur. This yellow line reached half a rod along the southwest side, and I then detected a little of the dust slightly graying the surface for two or three feet out there. When I thought I had failed, I was much pleased to detect after all this distinct yellow line revealing unmistakably the presence of pines in the neighborhood, and thus confirming my theory. As chemists detect the presence of ozone in the atmosphere by exposing to it a delicately prepared paper, so the lakes detect for us thus the presence of the pine pollen in the atmosphere. They are our pollenometers. How much of this invisible dust must be floating in the atmosphere, and be inhaled and drunk by us at this season! Who knows but the pollen of some plants may be unwholesome to inhale, and produce the diseases of the season, and but it may be the source of some of the peculiar fragrances in the atmosphere which we cannot otherwise account for.
Of course a large pond will collect the most, and you will find most at the bottom of very deep bays into which the wind blows. I do not believe there is any part of this town into which the pollen of the pine may not fall. The time to examine the ponds this year was, I should say, from the 15th to the 20th of this month. I find that the pines are now effete, especially the pitch-pine. The sterile flowers are turned reddish. The flower of the white pine is lighter colored, and all but a very little indeed is effete. In the white pine there is a dense cluster of twenty or thirty little flowers about the base of this year's shoot. I did not expect to find any pollen, the pond was so small and distant from any wood, but thought I would examine.
June 22, 1839. I have within the last few days come into contact with a pure, uncompromising spirit that is somewhere wandering in the atmosphere, but settles not positively anywhere. Some persons carry about them the air and conviction of virtue, though they themselves are unconscious of it, and are even backward to appreciate it in others. Such it is impossible not to love. Still is their loveliness, as it were, independent of them, so that you seem not to lose it when they are absent, for when they are near, it is like an invisible presence which at tends you.
That virtue we appreciate is as much ours as another's. We see so much only as we possess.
June 22, 1840. When we are shocked at vice we express a lingering sympathy with it. Have no affinity for what is shocking.
Do not present a gleaming edge to ward off harm, for that will oftenest attract the lightning, but rather be the all-pervading ether which the lightning does not strike, but purify. Then will the rudeness or profanity of your companion be like a flash across the face of your sky, lighting up and revealing its serene depths. Earth cannot shock the heavens; but its dull vapor and foul smoke make a bright cloud-spot in the ether, and anon the sun, like a cunning artificer, will cut and paint it, and set it for a jewel in the breast of the sky.
June 22, 1851. The birch is the surveyor's tree. It makes the best stake to look at through the sights of a compass, except when there is snow on the ground. Its white bark was not made in vain. In surveying wood-lots I have frequent occasion to say this is what it was made for.
We are enabled to criticise others only when we are different from, and, in a given particular, superior to, them ourselves. By our aloofness from men and their affairs we are enabled to overlook and criticise them. There are but few men who stand on the hills by the roadside. I am sure only when I have risen above my common sense, when I do not take the foolish view of things which is commonly taken, when I do not live for the low ends for which men commonly live. Wisdom is not common. To what purpose have I senses if I am thus absorbed in affairs. My pulse must beat with Nature. After a hard day s work without a thought, turning my very brain into a mere tool, only in the quiet of evening do I so far recover my senses as to hear the cricket which in fact has been chirping all day. In my better hours I am conscious of the influx of a serene and unquestionable wisdom which partly–unfits and, if I yielded to it more reinemberingly, would wholly, unfit—me for what is called the active business of life, for that furnishes nothing on which the eye of reason can rest. What is that other kind of life to which I am continually allured? which alone I love? Is it a life for this world? Can a man feed and clothe himself gloriously who keeps only the truth steadily before him? who calls in no evil to his aid? Are there duties which necessarily interfere with the serene perception of truth? Are our serene moments mere foretastes of heavenly joys gratuitously vouchsafed to us as a consolation? or simply a transient realization of what might be the whole tenor of our lives?—There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind; there is the calmness of a stagnant ditch. So is it with us. Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, . . . not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws, so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal, and, without an effort, our depths are revealed to ourselves. All the world goes by us and is reflected in our deeps. Such clarity! obtained by such pure means, by simple living, by honest purpose. We live and rejoice. I awoke to a music which no one about me heard. Whom shall I thank for it? The luxury of wisdom! the luxury of virtue! Are there any intemperate in these things? I feel my Maker blessing me. To the sane man the world is a musical instrument. The very touch affords an exquisite pleasure. . . . It is hot noon. . . . I am threading an open pitch and white pine wood, easily traversed where the pine needles redden all the ground, which is as smooth as a carpet. Still the blackberries love to creep over this floor, for it is not many years since it was a blackberry field. I hear around me, but never in sight, the many wood-thrushes whetting their steel-like notes. Such keen singers! It takes a fiery heat, the dry pine needles adding to the furnace of the sun, to temper their strain. After what a moderate pause they deliver themselves again, saying ever a new thing, avoiding repetition, methinks answering one another. While most other birds take their siesta, the wood-thrush discharges his song. It is delivered like a piece of jingling steel.
The domestic ox has his horns tipped with brass. This and his shoes are the badges of servitude which he wears, as if he would soon get to jacket and trowsers. I am singularly affected when I look over a herd of reclining oxen in their pasture, and find that every one has these brazen balls on his horns. They are partly humanized so. It is not pure brute. There is art added. . . . The bull has a ring in his nose.
The Lysimachia quadrifolia exhibits its small yellow blossoms now in the wood path.
The Utricularia vulgaris or bladder-wort, a yellow pea-like flower, has blossomed in stagnant pools.
June 22, 1852. 8 p. m. Up the Union turnpike. We have had a succession of thunder showers to-day, and at sunset, a rainbow. How moral the world is made! This bow is not utilitarian. Men, I think, are great in proportion as they are moral. After the rain he sets his bow in the heavens! The world is not destitute of beauty. Ask the skeptic who inquires "Cui bono?" why the rainbow was made. While men cultivate flowers below, God cultivates flowers above, he takes charge of the pastures in the heavens. Is not the rainbow a faint vision of God's face? How glorious should be the life of man passed under this arch!
Near the river thus late I hear the peet-weet with white barred wings. The scent of the Balm of Gilead leaves fills the road after the rain. There are the amber skies of evening, the colored skies of both morning and evening. Nature adorns these seasons.
Unquestionable truth is sweet, though it were the announcement of our dissolution.
The fire-flies in the meadows are very numerous, as if they had replenished their lights from the lightning. The far-retreated thunder-clouds low in the south-east horizon and in the north, emitting low flashes which reveal their forms, appear to lift their wings like fire-flies, or it is a steady glare like the glow-worm. Wherever they go, they make a meadow.
June 22, 1853. I do not remember a warmer night than the last. In my attic under the roof, with all windows and doors open, there was still not a puff of the usual coolness of the night. It seemed as if the heat which the roof had absorbed during the day were being brought down upon me. It was far more intolerable than by day. All windows being open I heard the sounds made by pigs and horses in the neighborhood, and of children who were partially suffocated by the heat. It seemed as if it would be something to tell of, the experience of that night, as of the Black Hole of Calcutta in a degree, if one survived it.
The sun down, and I am crossing Fair Haven Hill, sky overcast, landscape dark and still. I see the smooth river in the north reflecting two shades of light, one from the water, another from the surface of the pads which broadly border it on both sides, and the very irregular waving or winding edge of the pads, especially perceptible in this light, makes a very agreeable border, the edge of the film which seeks to bridge over and inclose the river wholly. These pads are to the smooth water between like a calyx to its flower. The river at such an hour, seen half a mile away, perfectly smooth and lighter than the sky, reflecting the clouds, is a paradisaical scene. What are the rivers around Damascus to this river sleeping around Concord? Are not the Musketaquid and the Assabet, rivers of Concord, fairer than the rivers of the plain? And then the rich warble of the blackbird may occasionally be heard. As I come over the hill, I hear the wood-thrush singing his evening lay. This is the only bird whose note affects me like music, affects the flow and tenor of my thought, my fancy, and imagination. It lifts and exhilarates me. . . . It is a medicative draught to my soul, an elixir to my eyes, and a fountain of youth to all my senses. It changes all hours to an eternal morning. It banishes all trivialness. It reinstates me in my dominion, makes me the lord of creation. This bird is chief musician of my court. He sings in a time, a heroic age with which no event in the village can be contemporary. How can they be contemporary when only the latter is temporary at all. So there is something in the music of the cow-bell sweeter and more nutritious than the milk which the farmers drink. The thrush's song is a ranz des vâches to me. I long for wildness, a nature which I cannot put my foot through, woods where the wood-thrush forever sings, where the hours are early morning ones, and there is dew on the grass, and the day is forever unproved, where I might have a fertile unknown for a soil about me. I would go after the cows, I would watch the flocks of Admetus there forever, only for my board and clothes, a New Hampshire everlasting and unfallen. All that was ripest and fairest in the wilderness and the wild man is preserved and transmitted to us in the strain of the wood-thrush. It is the mediator between barbarism and civilization. It is unrepentant as Greece.
The strawberries may perhaps be considered a fruit of the spring, for they have depended chiefly on the freshness and moisture of spring, and on high lands are already dried up; a soft fruit, a sort of manna which falls in June, and in the meadows they lurk at the shady roots of the grass. Now the blueberry, a somewhat firmer fruit, is beginning. Nuts, the firmest, will be the last.
Is not June the month in which all trees and shrubs do the greatest part of their growing? Will the shoots add much to their length in July?
June 22, 1856. R. W. E. imitates the wood-thrush by "He willy willy–ha willy willy–O willy O."
The song sparrow is said to be imitated in New Bedford thus: "Maids, maids, maids–hang on your tea kettle–ettle, ettle, ettle, ettle."
June 22, 1860. . . . R——— tells me that he saw, in a mud-hole near the river in Sudbury, about a fortnight ago, a pout protecting her ova. They were in a ball about as big as an apple, under which she swam, all exposed, not at all hatched, I think he said on a stick.
Hear the peculiar peep of young golden robins on the elms this morning.
June 23, 1840. We Yankees are not so far from right, who answer one question by asking another. Yes and No are lies. A true answer will not aim to establish anything, but rather to set all well afloat. All answers are in the future, and day answereth to day. Do we think we can anticipate them? In Latin, to respond is to pledge one's self before the gods to do faithfully and honorably, as a man should, in any case. This is good.
How can the language of the poet be more expressive than Nature? He is content that what he has already read in simple characters or in differently in all be translated into the same again.
He is the true artist whose life is his material. Every stroke of the chisel must enter his own flesh and bones, and not grate dully on marble.
What is any man s discourse to me, if I am not sensible of something in it as steady and cheery as the creak of the crickets? In it the woods must be relieved against the sky. Men tire me when I am not constantly greeted and cheered in their discourse as it were by the flux of sparkling streams.
I cannot see the bottom of the sky, because I cannot see to the bottom of myself. It is the symbol of my own infinity. My eye penetrates as far into the ether as that depth is inward from which my contemporary thought springs.
Not by constraint or severity shall you have access to true wisdom, but by abandonment and childlike mirthfulness. If you would know aught, be gay before it.
June 23, 1851. It is a pleasant sound to me, the squeaking and booming of the night-hawks flying over high, open fields in the woods. They fly like butterflies, not to avoid birds of prey, but apparently to secure their own insect prey. . . . Often you must look a long while before you can detect the mote in the sky from which the note proceeds.
The common cinquefoil, Potentilla simplex, greets me with its simple and unobtrusive yellow flower in the grass. The Potentilla argentea, hoary cinquefoil, also is now in blossom. Pointilla sarmentosa, running cinquefoil, we had common enough in the spring.
June 23. 1852. 5 a. m. To Laurel Glen. The bobolink still sings, though not as in May. . . .
The pretty little Mitchella repens, with its twin flowers, spots the ground under the pines, its downy-petaled. cross-shaped flowers, and its purplish buds.
The grass is not nearly so wet after thunder showers in the night as after an ordinary dew. Apparently the rain falls so swiftly and hard that it does not rest on the leaves, and then there is no more moisture to be deposited in dew.
The mountain laurel in bloom in cool and shady woods reminds one of the vigor of Nature. It is perhaps a first-rate flower, considering its size and its evergreen leaves. The flower, curiously folded in a ten-angled, pyramidal form, is remarkable. A profusion of flowers with an innocent fragrance. It reminds me of shady mountain-sides where it forms the underwood.
I hear my old Walden owl. Its first note is almost like the somewhat peevish scream or squeal of a child shrugging its shoulders. Then succeed two more moderate and musical ones.–The wood-thrush sings at all hours. I associate it with the cool morning, the sultry noon, and the serene evening. At this hour it suggests a cool vigor!
p. m. To the mountain laurel in Mason's pasture. It is what I call a washing day, such as we sometimes have when buttercups first appear in the spring, an agreeably cool, clear, and breezy day, when all things appear as if washed bright, and shine, and at this season especially the sound of the wind rustling the leaves is like the rippling of a stream. You see the light-colored under-side of the still fresh foliage, and a sheeny light is reflected from the bent grass in the meadow. Haze and sultriness are far off. The air is cleared and cooled by yesterday's thunder-storms. The river, too, has a fine, cool, silvery sparkle or sheen on it. You can see far into the horizon, and you hear the sound of the crickets with such feelings as in the cool morning.
These are very agreeable pastures to me, no house in sight, no cultivation. I sit under a large white oak upon its swelling instep, which makes an admirable seat, and look forth over these pleasant rocky and bushy pastures, where for the most part there are not even cattle grazing, but patches of huckleberry bushes, birches, pitch-pines, barberry bushes, creeping juniper in great circles, its edges curving upward, wild roses spotting the green with red, numerous tufts of indigo weed, and above all, great gray boulders lying about, far and near, with some barberry bush perchance growing half way up them, and, between all, the short sod of the pasture here and there appears.
The beauty and fragrance of the wild rose are wholly agreeable and wholesome, and wear well. I do not wonder much that men have given the preference to this family of flowers notwithstanding their thorns. It is hardy and more complete in its parts than most flowers, its color, buds, fragrance, leaves, the whole bush, frequently its stem in particular, and finally its red or scarlet hips. Here is the sweet briar in blossom, which to a fragrant flower adds more fragrant leaves. . . .
As I walk through these old deserted wild or chards, half pasture, half huckleberry field, the air is filled with fragrance from I know not what source.
I sit on one of these boulders and look south to Ponkawtasset. Looking west, whence the wind comes, you do not see the under-sides of the leaves, but looking east, every bough shows its under-side. Those of the maples are particularly white. All leaves tremble like aspen leaves.
Two or three large boulders, fifteen or twenty feet square, make a good foreground in the landscape, for the gray color of the rock contrasts well with the green of the surrounding and more distant hills and woods and fields. They serve instead of cottages for a wild landscape, as perches or points d'appui for the eye.
The red color of cattle also is agreeable in a landscape, or let them be what color they may, red, black, white, mouse-color, or spotted, all which I have seen this afternoon. The cows which, confined to the barn or barnyard all winter, were covered with filth, after roaming in flowery pastures possess now clean and shining coats, and the cowy odor is without alloy. . . .
It seems natural that rocks which have lain under the heavens so long should be gray, as it were an intermediate color between the heavens and the earth. The air is the thin paint in which they have been dipped and brushed with the wind. Water, which is more fluid and like the sky in its nature, is still more like it in color. Time will make the most discordant materials harmonize. . . .
This grassy road now dives into the wood, as if it were entering a cellar or bulkhead, the shadow is so deep. . . . And now I scent the pines. I plucked a blue geranium near the Kibbe place, which appeared to me remarkably fragrant, like lilies and strawberries combined. . . . The sweet fragrance of the swamp pink fills all the swamps, and when I look down, I see commonly the leaf of the gold-thread. . . .
June 23, 1853. . . . p. m. To White Pond. . . . After bathing, I paddled to the middle in the leaky boat. The heart-leaf, which grows thinly here, is an interesting plant, sometimes floating at the end of a solitary, almost invisible, thread-like stem, more than six feet long, and again many purplish stems intertwined into loose ropes, or like large skeins of silk, abruptly spreading at top, of course, into a perfectly flat shield, a foot or more in diameter, of small heart-shaped leaves, which rise or fall on their stems as the water is higher or lower. This perfectly horizontal disposition of the leaves in a single plane is an interesting and peculiar feature in water plants of this kind. Leaves and flowers made to float on the dividing line between two elements. . . .
In the warm noons now-a-days I see the spotted, small, yellow eyes of the four-leaved loose strife looking at me from under the birches and pines springing up in sandy, upland fields. . . . The other day I saw what I took to be a scarecrow in a cultivated field, and noting how unnaturally it was stuffed out here and there, and how ungainly its arms and legs were, I thought to myself, "Well, it is thus they make these things, they do not stand much about it," but looking round again, after I had gone by, I saw my scarecrow walking off with a real live man in it.
I was just roused from my writing by the engine s whistle, and, looking out, saw shooting through the town two enormous pine sticks, stripped of their bark, just from the northwest, and going to Portsmouth Navy Yard, they say. . . . Not a tree grows now in Concord to compare with them. They suggest what a country we have to back us up that way. A hundred years ago or more perchance the wind wafted a little winged seed out of its cone to some favorable spot, and this is the result. In ten minutes they were through the township, and perhaps not half a dozen Concord eyes rested on them during their transit.
June 23, 1854. . . . Disturbed three different broods of partridges in my walk this p. m. in different places. In one, they were as big as chickens ten days old, and went flying in various directions a rod or two into the hillside.
In another, the young were two and a half inches long only, not long hatched, making a fine peep. Held one in my hand, where it squatted without winking. . . . Thus we are now in the very midst of them. The young broods are being led forth. The old bird will return mewing, and walk past within ten feet.
June 23, 1856. To New Bedford with R———. . . . Bay wings sang morning and evening about R———'s house, often resting on a bean-pole, and dropping down and running and singing on the bare ground amid the potatoes. Their note somewhat like–"Come, here-here, there-there, –[then three rapid notes] quick-quick-quick,–or I'm gone."
June 24, 1840. When I read Cudworth I find I can tolerate all, atomists, pneumatologists, atheists, and theists, Plato, Aristotle, Leueippus, Democritus, and Pythagoras. It is the attitude of these men, more than any communication, which charms me. It is so rare to find a man musing. But between them and their commentators there is an endless dispute. If it come to that, that you compare notes, then you are all wrong. As it is, each takes me up into the serene heavens, and paints earth and sky. Any sincere thought is irresistible. It lifts us to the zenith, whither the smallest bubble rises as surely as the largest.
Dr. Cudworth does not consider that the belief in a deity is as- great a heresy as exists. Epicurus held that the gods were "of human form, yet were so thin and subtile as that, comparatively with our terrestrial bodies, they might be called incorporeal; they having not so much carnem as quasi-carnem, nor sanguinem as quasi-sanguinem, a certain kind of aerial or ethereal flesh and blood." This, which Cudworth pronounces "romantical," is plainly as good doctrine as his own, as if any sincere thought were not the best sort of truth.
There is no doubt but the highest morality in the books is rhymed or measured, is in form, as well as substance, poetry. Such is the scripture of all nations. If I were to compile a volume to contain the condensed wisdom of mankind, I should quote no rhythmless line.
Not all the wit of a college can avail to make one harmonious line. It never happens. It may get so as to jingle. But a jingle is akin to a jar–jars regularly recurring.
So delicious is plain speech to my ears, as if I were to be more delighted by the whistling of the shot than frightened by the flying of the splinters. I am content, I fear, to be quite battered down and made a ruin of. I out general myself when I direct my enemy to my vulnerable points.
Sympathy with what is sound makes sport of what is unsound. The loftiest utterance of love is perhaps sublimely satirical.
Cliffs. Evening. Though the sun set a quarter of an hour ago, his rays are still visible, darting half way to the zenith. That glowing morrow in the west flashes on me like a faint presentiment of morning when I am falling asleep. A dull mist comes rolling from the west, as if it were the dust which day has raised. A column of smoke is rising from the woods yonder to uphold heaven's roof till the light comes again. The landscape, by its patient resting there, teaches me that all good remains with him that waiteth, and that I shall sooner overtake the dawn by remaining here than by hurrying over the hills of the west.
Morning and evening are as like as brother and sister. The sparrow and thrush sing, and the frogs peep, for both.
The woods breathe louder and louder behind me. With what hurry-scurry night takes place! The wagon rattling over yonder bridge is the messenger which day sends back to night, but the despatches are sealed. In its rattle, the village seems to say, "This one sound and I have done."
Red, then, is day's color; at least, it is the color of his heel. He is "stepping westward." We only notice him when he comes and goes.
With noble perseverance the dog bays the stars yonder. I, too, like thee, walk alone in this strange, familiar night, my voice, like thine, beating against its friendly concave, and barking. I hear only my own voice; 10 o'clock.
June 24, 1852. p. m. To White Pond.–
The drifting, white downy clouds are to the landsman what sails on the sea are to him who dwells by the shore, objects of a large, diffusive interest. When the laborer lies on the grass or in the shade for rest, they do not too much tax or weary his attention. They are unobtrusive. I have not heard that white clouds, like white houses, made any one's eyes ache. They are the flitting sails in that ocean whose bounds no man has visited. They are like all great themes, always at hand to be considered, or they float over us unregarded. Far away they float in the serene sky, the most inoffensive of objects, or near and low they smite us with their lightnings and deafen us with their thunder. We know no Ternate or Tidore grand enough whither we can imagine them bound. There are many mares'-tails to-day, if that is the name. What could a man learn by watching the clouds? These objects which go over our heads unobserved are vast and indefinite. Those clouds which have the most distinct and interesting outlines are commonly below the zenith, somewhat low in the heavens, seen on one side. They are among the most glorious objects in Nature. A sky without clouds is a meadow without flowers, a sea without sails. Some days we have the mackerel fleet. But our devilishly industrious laborers rarely lie in the shade. How much better if they were to take their nooning like the Italians, relax and expand and never do any work in the middle of the day,–enjoy a little sabbath then. I still perceive that wonderful fragrance from the meadow (?) on the Corner causeway, intense as ever. It is one of those effects whose cause it is best not to know perchance.
White Pond very handsome to-day. The shore alive with pollywogs of large size, which ripple the water on our approach. There is a fine sparkle on the water, though not equal to the fall one quite. The water is very high, so that you cannot walk round it, but it is the more pleasant while you are swimming to see how the trees actually rise out of it on all sides. It bathes their feet. The dog worried a woodchuck half-grown, which did not turn its back and run into its hole, but backed into it, and faced him and us, gritting its teeth and prepared to die. Even this little fellow was able to defend himself against the dog with his sharp teeth. That fierce gritting of their teeth is a remarkable habit with these animals.
The Linnæa borealis just going out of bloom. I should have found it long ago. Its leaves densely cover the ground.
June 24, 1853. . . . It is surprising that so many birds find hair enough to line their nests with. If I wish for a horse-hair for my compass sights, I must go to the stable; but the hair-bird, with her sharp eyes, goes to the road.
June 24, 1856. [New Bedford.] To Sassacowen Pond and to Long Pond. Lunched by the spring on the Brady Farm in Freetown, and there it occurred to me how to get clear water from a spring when the surface is covered with dust or insects. Thrust your dipper down deep in the middle of the spring, and lift it up quickly, straight and square. This will heap up the water in the middle so that the scum will run off.
June 24, 1857. . . . Went to Farmer's Swamp to look for the screech-owl's nest which he had found. . . . I found it at last near the top of a middling-sized white pine, about thirty feet from the ground. As I stood by the tree, the old bird dashed by within a couple of rods, uttering a peculiar mewing sound which she kept up amid the bushes, a blackbird in close pursuit of her. I found the nest empty on one side of the main stem, but close to it, resting on some limbs. It was made of twigs rather less than an eighth of an inch thick, and was almost flat above, only an inch lower in the middle than at the edge, about sixteen inches in diameter and six or eight inches thick. With the twigs in the midst and beneath was mixed sphagnum and sedge from the swamp beneath, and the lining or flooring was coarse strips of grape-vine bark. The whole pretty firmly matted together. How common and important a material is grape-vine bark for birds' nests! Nature wastes nothing. There were white droppings of the young on the nest, and one large pellet of fur and small bones two and a half inches long. In the meanwhile the old bird was uttering that hoarse, worried note from time to time, somewhat like a partridge's, flying past from side to side, and alighting amid the trees or bushes. When I had descended, I detected one young one, two thirds grown, perched on a branch of the next tree about fifteen feet from the ground, which was all the while staring at me with its great yellow eyes. It was gray, with gray horns and a dark beak. As I walked past near it, it turned its head steadily, always facing me, without moving its body, till it looked directly the opposite way over its back, but never offered to fly. Just then, I thought surely that I heard a puppy faintly barking at me four or five rods distant amid the bushes, having tracked me into the swamp, what-what, what-what-what. It was exactly such a noise as the barking of a very small dog or perhaps a fox. But it was the old owl, for I presently saw her making it. . . . She was generally reddish brown or partridge-colored, the breast mottled with dark brown and fawn color . . . and had plain fawn-colored thighs.
June 24, 1860. . . . Saw young blue-birds fully grown yesterday, but with a feeble note and dull colors.
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