June 7, 1851. My practicalness is not to be trusted to the last. To be sure, I go upon my legs for the most part, but being hard pushed and dogged by a superficial common sense which is bound to near objects by beaten paths, I am off the handle, as the phrase is; I begin to be transcendental and show where my heart is. I am like those Guinea fowl which Charles Darwin saw at the Cape de Verde Islands. He says: "They avoided us like partridges on a rainy day in September, running with their heads cocked up, and if pursued they readily took to the wing." Keep your distance, do not impinge on the interval between us, and I will pick up lime and lay real terrestrial eggs for you, and let you know by cackling when I have done it. When I have been asked to speak at a temperance meeting, my answer has been, I am too transcendental to serve you in your way. They would fain confine me to the rum-sellers and rum-drinkers, of whom I am not one, and whom I know little about. . . . There are few so temperate that they can afford to remind us even at table that they have a palate and a stomach.
We believe that the possibility of the future far exceeds the accomplishments of the past. We review the past with the common sense, but we anticipate the future with transcendental senses. In any sanest moments we find ourselves naturally expecting or prepared for far greater changes than any which we have experienced within the period of distinct memory, only to be paralleled by experiences which are for gotten. Perchance there are revolutions which create an interval impossible to the memory.
One of those gentle, straight-down rainy days, when the rain begins by spotting the cultivated fields, as if shaken down from a pepper-box; a fishing day, when I see one neighbor after an other, having donned his oil-cloth suit, walking or riding past with a fish-pole, having struck work, a day and an employment to make philosophers of them all.
June 7, 1853. p. m. To Walden. Clover begins to redden the fields generally. The quail is heard at a distance. Buttercups of various kinds mingled, yellow the meadows, the tall, the bulbous, the repens. The cinquefoil, in its ascending state, keeping pace with the grass, is now abundant in the fields. Saw it one or two weeks ago. This is a feature of June. Still both high and low blueberry and huckleberry blossoms abound. The hemlock woods, their fan-like sprays edged or spotted with short, yellowish-green shoots, tier above tier, shelf above shelf, look like a cool bazaar of rich embroidered goods. How dense their shade, dark and cool beneath them, as in a cellar. No plants grow there, but the ground is covered with fine red leaves. It is oftenest on a side hill they grow.
The oven-bird runs from her covered nest, so close to the ground, under the lowest twigs and leaves, even the loose leaves on the ground, like a mouse, that I cannot get a fair view of her. She does not fly at all. Is it to attract me, or partly to protect herself?
Visited my night-hawk on her nest. Could hardly believe my eyes when. I stood within seven feet and beheld her sitting on her eggs, her head towards me; she looked so Saturnian, so one with the earth, so sphynx-like, a relic of the reign of Saturn which Jupiter did not destroy, a riddle that might well cause a man to go dash his head against a stone. It was not an actual living creature, far less a winged creature of the air, but a figure in stone or bronze, a fanciful production of art, like the gryphon or phœnix. In fact, with its breast toward me, and, owing to its color or size, no bill perceptible, it looked like the end of a brand, such as are common in a clearing, its breast mottled, or alternately waved with dark brown and gray, its flat, grayish, weather-beaten crown, its eyes nearly closed, purposely, lest these bright beads should betray it, with the stony cunning of the sphynx. A fanciful work in bronze to ornament a mantel. It was enough to fill one with awe. The sight of this creature sitting on its eggs impressed me with the venerableness of the globe. There was nothing novel about it. All the while this seemingly sleeping bronze sphynx, as motionless as the earth, was watching me with intense anxiety through those narrow slits in its eyelids. An other step, and it fluttered down the hill, close to the ground, with a wabbling motion, as if touching the ground now with the tip of one wing, now with the other, so ten rods to the water, which it skimmed close over a few rods, and then rose and soared in the air above me. Wonderful creature, which sits motionless on its eggs, on the barest, most exposed hills, with its eyes shut and its wings folded; and after the two days storm, when you think it has become a fit symbol of the rheumatism, it suddenly rises into the air, a bird, one of the most aerial, supple, and graceful of creatures, without stiffness in its wings or joints. It was a fit prelude to meeting Prometheus bound to his rock on Caucasus.
June 7, 1854. . . . p. m. To Dugan Desert via Linnæa Hills. Linnæa abundantly out some days, say three or four.
The locusts so full of pendulous white racemes five inches long, filling the air with their sweetness, and resounding with the hum of humble and honey-bees, are very interesting. These racemes are strewn along the path by children.
I am struck by the rank, dog-like scent of the rue budded to blossom.
I am surprised at the size of green berries, shad-bush, low blueberries, choke-cherries, etc., etc. It is but a step from flower to fruit.
As I expected, I find the desert scored by the tracks of turtles, made evidently last night, though the rain of this morning has obliterated the marks of their tails. The tracks are about seven eighths of an inch in diameter, half an inch deep, two inches apart (from centre to centre) in each row, and the rows four or five inches apart. They have dabbled in the sand in many places, and made some small holes. Yesterday it was hot and dusty, and this morning it rained. Did they choose such a time? Yesterday I saw the painted and the wood tortoise out. Now I see a snapping turtle, its shell about a foot long, out here on the damp sand, with its head out, disturbed by me. It had just been excavating, and its shell, especially the forepart and sides, and still more its snout, were deeply covered with earth. It appears to use its shell as a kind of spade, whose handle is within, tilting it now this way, now that, and perhaps using its head and claws as a pick. It was in a little cloud of mosquitoes, which were continually settling on its head and flippers, but which it did not mind. Its sternum was slightly depressed. It seems that they are frequently found fighting in the water, and sometimes dead in the spring, perhaps killed by the ice.
Common iris some days, one withered.
Saw again what I have pronounced the yellow-winged sparrow, Fringilla passerina, with white line down head, and yellow over eyes, and my seringo note. But this time the yellow of wings is not apparent; ochreous throat and breast. Quite different from the bay-wing and smaller.
This muggy evening I see fire-flies, the first I have seen or heard of this year.
June 7, 1855. . . . I have heard no musical gurgle-ee from blackbirds for a fortnight. They are now busy breeding.
June 7, 1858. p. m. To Walden. Warm weather has suddenly come, beginning yesterday. To-day it is yet warmer, 87° at 3 p. m., compelling me to put on a thin coat, and I see that a new season has arrived. June shadows are moving over waving grass fields, the crickets chirp uninterruptedly, and I perceive the agreeable acid scent of high blueberry bushes in bloom. The trees having leaved out, you notice their rounded tops suggesting shade. The night-hawk booms over arid hill-sides and sproutlands.
It is evidence enough against crows, hawks, and owls, proving their propensity to rob birds' nests of eggs and young, that smaller birds pursue them so often. You do not need the testimony of so many farmers' boys when you can see and hear the small birds daily crying "Thief and murder" after these spoilers. What does it signify, the kingbird, blackbird, swallow, etc., pursuing a crow. They say plainly enough, "I know you of old, you villain; you want to devour my eggs or young. I have often caught you at it, and I'll publish you now." And probably the crow, pursuing the fish-hawk and eagle, proves that the latter sometimes devour their young.
As I was wading in this Wyman meadow, looking for bull-frog spawn, I saw a hole at the bottom where it was six or eight inches deep, by the side of a mass of mud and weeds, which rose just to the surface three or four feet from the shore. It was about five inches in diameter, with some sand at the mouth, just like a musquash's hole. As I stood there within two feet, a pout put her head out, as if to see who was there, and directly came forth, and disappeared under the target weed; but as I stood perfectly still, waiting for the water which I had disturbed to settle about the hole, she circled round and round several times between me and the hole cautiously, stealthily approaching the entrance, but as often withdrawing, and at last mustered courage to enter it. I then noticed another similar hole in the same mass, two or three feet from this. I thrust my arm into the first, running it down about fifteen inches. It was a little more than a foot long, and enlarged somewhat at the end, the bottom also being about a foot beneath the surface, for it slanted downward. But I felt nothing within. I only felt a pretty regular and rounded apartment with firm walls of weedy or fibrous mud. I then thrust my arm into the other hole, which was longer and deeper, at first discovering nothing. But, trying again, I found that I had not reached the end, for it turned a little and descended more than I supposed. Here I felt a similar apartment or enlargement some six inches in diameter horizontally, but not quite so high, nor nearly so wide at its throat. Here, to my surprise, I felt something soft like a gelatinous mass of spawn, but, feeling a little further, felt the horns of a pout. I deliberately took hold of her by the head, and lifted her out of the hole and the water, having run my arm in two thirds of its length. She offered not the slightest resistance from first to last, even when I held her out of water before my face, and only darted away suddenly when I dropped her into the water. The entrance to the apartment was so narrow that she could hardly have escaped, if I had tried to prevent her. Putting in my arm again, I felt under where she had been, a flattish mass of ova, several inches in diameter, resting on the mud, and took out some. Feeling again in the first hole, I found as much more there. Though I had been stepping round and over the second nest for several minutes, I had not scared the pout. The ova of the first nest already contained white wiggling young. I saw no motion in the others. The ova in each case were dull yellowish, and the size of small buckshot. These nests did not communicate with each other, and had no other outlet.
Pouts then make their nests in shallow mud-holes or bays in masses of weedy mud, or probably in the muddy bank, and the old pout hovers over the spawn or keeps guard at the entrance. Where do the Walden pouts breed when they have not access to the meadow? The first pout, whose eggs were most developed, was the largest, and had some slight wounds on the back. The other may have been the male, in the act of fertilizing the ova.
I sit in my boat in the twilight, by the edge of the river. Bull-frogs now are in full blast. I do not hear other frogs. Their notes are probably drowned. . . . Some of these great males are yellow, or quite yellowish over the whole back. Are not the females oftenest white-throated? What lungs, what health, what terrenity (if not serenity) their note suggests! At length I hear the faint stertoration of a Rana palustris (if not halecina?)
Seeing a large head with its prominent eyes projecting above the middle of the river, I found it was a bull-frog coming across. It swam under water a rod or two, and then came up to see where it was, on its way. It is thus they cross when sounds or sights attract them to more desirable shores. Probably they prefer the night for such excursions, for fear of large pickerel, etc.
June 7, 1860. White clover already whitens some fields, and resounds with bees.
June 8, 1850. Not till June can the grass be said to be waving in the fields. When the frogs dream and the grass waves, and the buttercups toss their heads, and the heat disposes one to bathe in the ponds and streams, then is summer begun.
June 8, 1851. I found the white pine top full of staminate blossom buds, not yet fully grown or expanded, with a rich red tint, like a tree full of fruit, but I could find no pistillate blossom.
June 8, 1853. p. m. To Well Meadow. . . . As I stood by the last small pond near Well Meadow, I heard a hawk scream, and looking up, saw a pretty large one circling not far off, and incessantly screaming, as I at first supposed to scare and so discover its prey. But its screaming was so incessant, and it circled from time to time so near me as I moved southward, that I began to think it had a nest near by, and was angry at my intrusion into its domains. As I moved, the bird still followed and screamed, coming sometimes quite near, or within gunshot, then circling far off or high into the sky. At length, as I was looking up at it, thinking it the only living creature within view, I was singularly startled to behold, as my eye by chance penetrated deeper into the blue,—the abyss of blue above which I had taken for a solitude,—its mate silently soaring at an immense height, and seemingly indifferent to me. We are surprised to discover that there can be an eye on us on that side, and so little suspected, that the heavens are so full of eyes, though they look so blue and spotless. Then I knew that it was the female that circled and screamed below. At last the latter rose gradually to meet her mate, and they circled together there, as if they could not possibly feel any anxiety on my account. When I drew nearer to the tall trees where I suspected the nest to be, the female descended again, swept by screaming, still nearer to me, just over the tree tops, and finally, while I was looking for the orchis in the swamp, alighted on a white pine twenty or thirty rods off. (The great fringed orchis just open.) At length I detected the nest about eighty feet from the ground, in a very large white pine by the edge of the swamp. It was about three feet in diameter, of dry sticks, and a young hawk, apparently as big as its mother, stood on the edge looking down at me, and only moving its head when I moved.
In its imperfect plumage, and the slow motion of its head, it reminded me strongly of a vulture, so large and gaunt. It appeared a tawny brown on its neck and breast, and dark brown or blackish on wings. The mother was light beneath, and apparently lighter still on the rump.
White pine in flower. All the female flowers on the very top of the tree, a small crimson cone upright on the ends of its peduncles, while the last year's, now three or four inches long, and green, are curved downward like scythes. Best seen looking down on the tops of lower pines from the top of a higher one. Apparently just beginning.
June 8, 1854. The Rosa nitida bud, which I plucked yesterday, has blossomed to-day, so that notwithstanding the rain, I will put it down for to-day. Erigeron strigosum slowly opening, perhaps to-morrow.
Meadow rue, with its rank, dog-like scent. Ribwort plantain is abundantly in bloom, fifteen or sixteen inches high. How long?
Herndon in his "Exploration of the Amazon," says that "There is wanting an industrious and active population, who know what the comforts of life are, and who have artificial wants, to draw out the great resources of the country." But what are the "artificial wants" to be encouraged, and the "great resources" of a country? surely not the love of luxuries, like the tobacco and slaves of his native (?) Virginia, or that fertility of soil which produces these. The chief want is ever a life of deep experiences, i. e., character, which alone draws out "the great resources" of Nature. When our wants cease to be chiefly superficial and trivial, which is commonly meant by artificial, and begin to be wants of character, then the great resources of a country are taxed and drawn out, and the result, the staple production, is poetry. Have the great resources of Virginia been drawn out by such artificial wants as there exist? Was that country really designed by its maker to produce slaves and tobacco? or something more than freemen, and food for freemen? Wants of character, aspirations, this is what is wanted, but what is called civilization does not always substitute this for the barren simplicity of the savage.
June 8, 1860. 2 p. m. To Well Meadow via Walden. Within a day or two has begun that season of summer when you see afternoon showers—perhaps with thunder—or the threat of them dark in the horizon, and are uncertain whether to venture far away or without an umbrella. I noticed the very first such cloud on the 25th of May; the dark iris of June. When you go forth to walk at 2 p. m. you see perhaps, in the southwest or west, or may be eastern horizon, a dark and threatening mass of cloud, showing itself just over the woods, its base horizontal and dark, with lighter edges where it is rolled up to the light, while all beneath is a dark skirt of falling rain. These are summer showers, come with the heat of summer.
What delicate fans are the great red-oak leaves, now just developed, so thin, and of so tender a green. They hang loosely, flaccidly down, at the mercy of the wind, like a new-born butterfly or dragon fly. A strong, cold wind would blacken and tear them now. They remind me of the frailest stuffs hung around a dry-goods shop. They have not been hardened by exposure yet, these raw and tender lungs of the tree. The white-oak leaves are especially downy and lint your clothes.
This is truly June when you begin to see brakes (dark green) fully expanded in the wood paths.
In early June, methinks, as now, we have clearer days, less haze, more or less breeze, especially after rain, and more sparkling water, than before. I look from Fair Haven Hill. As there is more shade in the woods, so there is more shade in the sky, i. e., dark, heavy clouds contrasted with the bright sky; not the gray clouds of spring.
The leaves generally are almost fully expanded, i. e., some of each tree.
June 9-14, 1850. I see the pollen of the pitch-pine now beginning to cover the surface of the pond. Most of the pines at the north-northwest end have none, and in some there is only one pollen-bearing flower.
There are as many strata at different levels of life as there are leaves in a book. Most men have probably lived in two or three. When on the higher levels we can remember the lower, but when on the lower we cannot remember the higher.
My imagination, my love and reverence and admiration, my sense of the miraculous, is not so excited by any event as by the remembrance of my youth. Men talk about Bible miracles because there is no miracle in their lives. Cease to gnaw that crust. There is ripe fruit over your head.
Woe to him who wants a companion, for he is unfit to be the companion even of himself. We inspire friendship in men when we have contracted friendship with the gods.
When we cease to sympathize with and to be personally related to men, and begin to be universally related, then we are capable of inspiring others with the sentiment of love for us.
We hug the earth. How rarely we mount! How rarely we climb a tree! We might elevate ourselves. That pine would make us dizzy. You can see the mountains from it as you never did before.
Shall not a man have his spring as well as the plants?
Any reverence even for a material thing proceeds from an elevation of character. Layard, speaking of the reverence for the sun exhibited by the Yezidis, or Worshipers of the Devil, says, "They are accustomed to kiss the object on which the sun's first beams fall; and I have frequently, when traveling in their company at sunrise, observed them perform this ceremony. For fire, as symbolic, they have nearly the same reverence; they never spit into it, but frequently pass their hands through the flame, kiss them, and pass them over their right eyebrow, or sometimes over the whole face."
Who taught the oven-bird to conceal her nest? It is on the ground, yet out of sight. What cunning there is in Nature! No man could have arranged it more artfully for the purpose of concealment. Only the escape of the bird betrays it.
June 9, 1851. Gathered the Linnæa borealis.
June 9, 1852. The buck-bean in Hubbard's meadow just going out of blossom. The yellow water ranunculus is an important flower in the river now, rising above the white lily pads, whose flower does not yet appear. I perceive that their petals washed ashore, line the sand conspicuously.
For a week past we have had washing days. The grass is waving, and the trees having leaved out, their boughs feel the effect of the breeze. Thus new life and motion is imparted to the trees. The season of waving boughs, and the lighter under-sides of the new leaves are exposed. This is the first half of June. Already the grass is not so fresh and liquid velvety a green, having much of it blossomed, and some even gone to seed, and it is mixed with reddish ferns and other plants, but the general leafiness, shadiness, and waving of grass and boughs characterize the season. The wind is not quite agreeable, because it prevents your hearing the birds sing. Meanwhile the crickets are strengthening their choir. The weather is very clear, and the sky bright. The river shines like silver. Methinks this is a traveler's month. The locust in bloom. The undulating rye. The deciduous trees have filled up the intervals between the evergreens, and the woods are bosky now.
The priests of the Germans and Britons were Druids. They had their sacred oaken groves. Such were their steeple-houses. Nature was to some extent a fane to them. There was fine religion in that form of worship, and Stonehenge remains are evidence of some vigor in the worshipers, as the pyramids perchance of the vigor of the Egyptians, derived from the slime of the Nile. Evelyn says of the oaks, which he calls "these robust sons of the earth," "'T is reported that the very shade of this tree is so wholesome that the sleeping or lying under it becomes a present remedy to paralytics, and recovers those whom the mistaken malign influence of the walnut-tree has smitten." Which we may take for a metaphorical expression of the invigorating influence of rude, wild, robust nature compared with the effeminating luxury of civilized life. Evelyn has collected the fine exaggerations of antiquity respecting the virtues and habits of trees, and added some himself. He says, "I am told that those small young acorns which we find in the stock-doves craws are a delicious fare, as well as those incomparable salads of young herbs taken out of the maws of partridges at a certain season of the year, which gives them a preparation far exceeding all the art of cookery." His oft-repeated glorification of the forest from age to age smacks of religion, is even Druidical. Evelyn is as good as several old Druids, and his "Sylva," is a new kind of prayer-book, a glorifying of the trees and enjoying them forever, which was the chief end of his life.
A child loves to strike on a tin pan or other ringing vessel with a stick, because its ears being fresh, attentive, and percipient, it detects the finest music in the sound at which all Nature assists. Is not the very cope of the heavens the sounding-board of the infant drummer? So, clear and unprejudiced ears hear the sweetest and most soul-stirring melody in tinkling cowbells and the like (dogs baying the moon), not to be referred to association, but intrinsic in the sound itself; those cheap and simple sounds which men despise because their ears are dull and debauched. Ah, that I were so much a child that I could unfailingly draw music from a quart pot. Its little ears tingle with the melody. To it there is music in sound alone.
Evelyn speaks of mel-dews attracting bees. Can mildew be corrupted from this? He says that the alder laid under water "will harden like a very stone," and speaks of alders being used "for the draining of grounds by placing them in the trenches," which I have just seen done here under Clamshell Hill.
Peaches are the principal crop in Lincoln, and cherries a very important one, yet Evelyn says, "We may read that the peach was at first accounted so tender and delicate a tree as that it was believed to thrive only in Persia; and even in the days of Galen it grew no nearer than Egypt of all the Roman provinces, but was not seen in the city till about thirty years before Pliny's time;" but now it is the principal crop cultivated in Lincoln in New England, and it is also cultivated extensively in the West, and on lands not half a dozen years vacated by the Indians. Also, "It was six hundred and eighty years after the foundation of Rome ere Italy had tasted a cherry of their own, which, being then brought thither out of Pontus, did after one hundred and twenty years travel ad ultimos Britannos," and, I may add, Lincolnos. As Evelyn says, "Methinks this should be a wonderful incitement."
He well says, "a sobbing rain." Evelyn's love of his subject teaches him to use many expressive words. . . . He speaks of pines "pearling out into gums." He talks of modifying the air as well as the soil about plants, making "the remedy as well regional as topical." This suggests the propriety of Shakespeare's expression, "the region cloud," region meaning thus upper regions relatively to the earth. He speaks of a "dewie sperge or brush" to be used instead of a watering-pot which "gluts" the earth. He calls the kitchen-garden the "Olitory garden." In a dedication of his "Kalendarium Hortense" to Cowley, he inserts two or three good sentences or quotations, viz., "as the philosopher in Seneca desired only bread and herbs to dispute felicity with Jupiter." So of Cowley's simple, retired life. "Who would not, like you, cacher sa vie?" "delivered from the gilded impertinences of life."
June 9, 1853. 4.15 a. m. To Nashawtuck by boat. A prevalent fog, though not quite so thick as the last described. . . . Here and there deep valleys are excavated in it, as painters imagine the Red Sea for the passage of Pharaoh's host, wherein trees and houses appear, as it were, at the bottom of the sea. It is interesting to see the tops of the trees first and most distinctly before you see their trunks or where they stand on earth. Far in the northeast there is, as before, apparently a tremendous surf breaking on a distant shoal. It is either a real shoal, that is, a hill over which the fog breaks, or the effect of the sun's rays on it.
The first white lily bud. White clover is abundant and very sweet, on the common, filling the air, but not yet elsewhere as last year.
8 a. m. To Orchis Swamp. Well Meadow. Hear a goldfinch. This the second or third only that I have heard. White-weed now whitens the fields. There are many star flowers. I remember the anemone especially. The rue anemone is not yet all gone, lasting longer than the true one; above all, the trientalis, and of late the yellow Bethlehem star, and perhaps others.
I have come with a spy-glass to look at the hawks. They have detected me, and are already screaming over my head more than half a mile from the nest. I find no difficulty in looking at the young hawk (there appears to be one only standing on the edge of the nest); resting the glass in the crotch of a young oak, I can see every wink and the color of its iris. It watches me more steadily than I it, now looking straight clown at me with both eyes and outstretched neck, now turning its head and looking with one eye. How its eye and its whole head express anger. Its anger is more in its eye than in its beak. It is quite hoary over the eye and under the chin. The mother meanwhile is incessantly circling about, and above its charge and me, farther or nearer, sometimes withdrawing a quarter of a mile, but occasionally coming to alight for a moment, almost within gun-shot, on the top of a tall white pine; but I hardly bring my glass fairly to bear on her, and get sight of her angry eye through the pine needles, before she circles away again. Thus for an hour that I lay there, screaming every minute, or oftener, with open bill, now and then pursued by a kingbird or a blackbird, who appear merely to annoy her by dashing down at her back. Meanwhile the male is soaring quite undisturbed at a great height above, evidently not hunting, but amusing or recreating himself in the thinner and cooler air, as if pleased with his own circles like a geometer, and enjoying the sublime scene. I doubt if he has his eye fixed on any prey on the earth. He probably descends to hunt.
Got two or three handfuls of strawberries on Fair Haven. They are already drying up. . . . It is natural that the first fruit which the earth bears should emit, and be, as it were, an embodiment of, that vernal fragrance with which the air has teemed. Strawberries are its manna, found ere long where that fragrance has filled the air. Little natural beds or patches on the sides of dry hills where the fruit sometimes reddens the ground. But it soon dries up, unless there is a great deal of rain. Well, are not the juices of early fruit distilled from the air? Prunella out. The meadows are now yellow with the golden senecio, a more orange-yellow mingled with the light, glossy yellow of the butter cup. The green fruit of the sweet fern now. The juniper repens appears (though now dry and effete) to have blossomed recently. The tall, white erigeron just out. I think it is strigosum, but tinged with purple sometimes.
The bull-frogs are in full blast to-night. I do not hear a toad from my window, only the crickets beside. The toads I have but rarely heard of late. So there is an evening for the toads, and another for the bull-frogs.
June 9, 1854. p. m. To Well Meadow. The summer aspect of the river begins, perhaps, when the utricularia vulgaris is first seen on the surface, as yesterday.
As I go along the railroad causeway I see, in the cultivated ground, a lark flashing his white tail, and showing his handsome yellow breast with its black crescent, like an Indian locket. For a day or two I have heard the fine seringo note of the cherry birds, and seen them flying past, the only? birds, methinks, that I see in small flocks now, except swallows.
Find the great fringed orchis out apparently two or three days, two are almost fully out, two or three only budded; a large spike of peculiarly delicate, pale purple flowers growing in the luxuriant and shady swamp, amid hellebores, ferns, golden senecio, etc. It is remarkable that this, one of the fairest of all our flowers, should also be one of the rarest, for the most part, not seen at all. . . . The village belle never sees this more delicate belle of the swamp. How little relation between our life and its! . . . The seasons go by, to us, as if it were not. A beauty reared in the shade of a convent, who has never strayed beyond the convent bell. Only the skunk or owl, or other inhabitant of the swamp, beholds it. It does not pine because man does not admire it. I am inclined to think of it as a relic of the past, as much as the arrowhead or the tomahawk.
The air is now pretty full of shad flies, and there is an incessant sound made by the fishes leaping for such as are struggling on the surface. It sounds like the lapsing of a swift stream sucking amid rocks. The fishes make a business of thus getting their evening meal, dimpling the river like large drops, as far as I can see, some times making a loud plashing. Meanwhile, the kingfishers are on the lookout for the fishes as they rise, and I saw one dive in the twilight and go off uttering his cr-r-ack-cr-r-rack.
Covered with disgrace, this State has sat down coolly, to try for their lives the men who at tempted to do its duty for it, and this is called justice! They who have shown that they can behave particularly well, they alone are put under bonds for their good behavior! It behoves every man to see that his influence is on the side of justice, and let the courts make their own characters. What is any political organization worth, when it is in the service of the Devil? While the whole military force of the State, if need be, is at the service of a slaveholder, to enable him to carry back a slave, not a soldier is offered to save a citizen of Massachusetts from being kidnapped. Is this what all these arms, all this "training" has been for, these seventy-eight years past? . . . The marines and the militia, whose bodies were used lately, were not men of sense nor of principle; in a high moral sense, they were not men at all.
June 9, 1856. p. m. To Corner Spring. Without an umbrella, thinking the weather settled at last. There are some large cumuli with glowing, downy cheeks, floating about. Now I notice where an elm is in the shadow of a cloud, the black elm tops and shadows of June. It is a dark eyelash, which suggests a flashing eye beneath. It suggests houses that lie under the shade, the repose and siesta of summer noons, the thunder cloud, bathing, and all that belongs to summer. These veils are now spread here and there over the village. They suggest also the creak of crickets, a June sound now fairly begun, inducing contemplation and philosophic thought.
June 9, 1857. p. m. To Violet, Sorrel, and Calla Swamp. In the sproutland beyond the red huckleberry, an indigo bird, which chirps about me, as if it had a nest there. This is a splendid and marked bird, high-colored as is the tanager, looking strange in this latitude. Glowing indigo. It flits from the top of one bush to another, chirping as if anxious. Wilson says it sings, not like most other birds, in the morning and evening chiefly, but also in the middle of the day. In this I notice it is like the tanager, the other fiery-plumaged bird. They seem to love the heat. It probably had its nest in one of these bushes.
I had said to P——— "It will be worth the while to look for other rare plants in Calla Swamp, for I have observed that where one rare plant grows, there will commonly be others." Carrying out that thought this p. m., I had not taken three steps at this swamp bare-legged, before I found the Naumburgia thyrsiflora in sphagnum and water, which I had not seen growing before. (C——— brought one to me from Hubbard's Great Meadow once.) It is hardly beginning yet. (In prime June 24th.)
June 9, 1860. 6 p. m. Paddle to Flint's Bridge. The water bugs begin to venture out on to the stream from the shadow of a dark wood, as at the Island. So soon as the dusk begins to settle on the river, they begin to steal out, and to extend their circling far amid the bushes and reeds over the channel of the river. They do not simply then, if ever, venture forth, but then invariably and at once, the whole length of the river, they one and all rally out, and begin to dimple its broad surface, as if it were a necessity so to do.
June 10, 1853. p. m. To Mason's Pasture, in Carlisle. Haying begins in front yards. Cool, but agreeable easterly winds. The streets now beautiful with verdure and the shade of elms, under which you look through an air, clear for summer, to the woods in the horizon. . . . As C——— and I go through the town, we hear the cool peep of the robin calling to its young now learning to fly. The locust bloom is now perfect, filling the street with its sweetness, but it is more agreeable to my eye than my nose. . . . The fuzzy seeds or down of the black willow is filling the air over the river, and, falling on the water, covers its surface. By the 30th of May, at least, white maple keys were falling. How early then they had matured their seed. The mountain laurel will begin to bloom to-morrow. The frost some weeks since killed most of the buds and shoots, except where they were protected by the trees or by themselves, and now new shoots have put forth, and grow four or five inches from the sides of what were the leading ones. It is a plant which plainly requires the protection of the wood. It is stunted in the open pasture.
What shall this great wild tract over which we strolled be called? Many farmers have pastures there, and wood-lots and orchards. It consists mainly of rocky pastures. It contains what I call the Boulder Field, the Yellow Birch Swamp, the Black Birch Hill, the Laurel Pasture, the Hog Pasture, the White Pine Grove, the Easterbrook Place, the Old Lime Kiln, the Lime Quarries, Spruce Swamp, the Ermine Weasel Woods; also, the Oak Meadows, the Cedar Swamp, the Kibbe Place, and the old place northwest of Brooks Clark's. Ponkawtasset bounds it on the south. There are a few frog-ponds and an old mill-pond within it, and Bateman's Pond on its edge. What shall the whole be called? The old Carlisle road which runs through the middle of it is bordered on each side with wild apple pastures, where the trees stand without order, having, many or most of them, sprung up by accident or from pomace sown at random, and are, for the most part, concealed by birches and pines. These orchards are very extensive, and yet many of these apple trees, growing as forest trees, bear good crops of apples. It is a paradise for walkers in the fall. There are also boundless huckleberry pastures, as well as many blueberry swamps. Shall we call it the Easterbrook Country? It would make a princely estate in Europe. Yet it is owned by farmers who live by the labor of their hands and do not esteem it much. Plenty of huckleberries and barberries here.
A second great uninhabited tract is that on the Marlboro road, stretching westerly from Francis Wheeler's to the river, and beyond about three miles, and from Harrington's, on the north, to Dakm's, on the south, more than a mile in width.
A third, the Walden Woods.
A fourth, the Great Fields. These four are all in Concord.
There are one or two in the town who probably have Indian blood in their veins, and when they exhibit any unusual irascibility, the neighbors say they have got their Indian blood roused.
Now methinks the birds begin to sing less tumultuously, as the weather grows more constantly warm, with morning, noon, and evening songs, and suitable recesses in the concert.
High blackberries are conspicuously in bloom, whitening the sides of lanes.
Mention is made in the Town Records, as quoted by Shattuck, p. 33, under date of 1654, of "the Hogepen-walke about Annursnake," and reference is at the same time made to "the old hogepen." . . . There is some propriety in calling such a tract a walk, methinks, from the habit which hogs have of walking about with an independent air, and pausing from time to time to look about from under their flapping ears and snuff the air. The hogs I saw this afternoon, all busily rooting without holding up their heads to look at us, the whole field appearing as if it had been most miserably ploughed or scarified with a harrow, with their shed to retreat to in rainy weather, affected me as more human than other quadrupeds. They are comparatively clean about their lodgings.
June 10, 1856. p. m. To Dugan Desert.—I hear the huckleberry bird now add to its usual strain a-tea tea tea tea tea.
A painted tortoise laying her eggs ten feet from the wheel track on the Marlboro' road. She paused at first, but I sat down within two feet, and she soon resumed her work, had excavated a hollow about five inches wide and six long in the moistened sand, and cautiously, with long intervals, she continued her work, resting always her fore feet on the same spot, and never looking round, her eye shut all but a narrow slit. Whenever I moved, perhaps to brush off a mosquito, she paused. A wagon approached, rumbling afar off, and then there was a pause till it had passed, and long after, a tedious, naturlangsam pause of the slow-blooded creature, a sacrifice of time such as those animals are up to which slumber half a year and live for centuries. It was twenty minutes before I discovered that she was not making the hole, but filling it up slowly, having laid her eggs. She drew the moistened sand under herself, scraping it along from behind with both feet brought together. The claws turned inward. In the long pauses the ants troubled her, as the mosquitoes, me, by running over her eyes, which made her snap or dart out her head suddenly, striking the shell. She did not dance on the sand, nor finish covering the hollow quite so carefully as the one observed last year. She went off suddenly, and quickly at first, with a slow but sure instinct through the wood toward the swamp.
In a hollow apple tree, hole eighteen inches deep, young pigeon woodpeckers, large and well feathered. They utter their squeaking hiss whenever I cover the hole with my hand, apparently taking it for the approach of the mother.
June 10, 1857. . . . A striped snake (so-called) was running about in a yard this forenoon, and in the afternoon it was found to have shed its slough, leaving it half way out of a hole which probably it used to confine it in. It was about in its new skin. Many creatures, devil's needles, etc., cast their sloughs now. Can't I?
F——— tells me to-day, that he has seen a regular barn swallow, with forked tail, about his barn, which was black, not rufous.
June 10, 1858. . . . As we entered a rye field, I saw what I took to be a hawk fly up from the other end, though it may have been a crow. It was soon pursued by small birds. When I got there, I found an Emys insculpta on its back, with its head and feet drawn in and motionless, and what looked like the track of a crow on the sand. Undoubtedly the bird which I saw had been pecking at it, and perhaps they get many of their eggs.
June 10, 1859. Surveying. . . .
June 10, 1860. 2 p. m. To Anursnack. . . . There is much handsome interrupted fern in the Painted Cup Meadow, and near the top of one of the clumps we noticed something like a large cocoon, the color of the rusty cinnamon fern wool. It was a red bat, the New York bat, so-called. It hung suspended, head directly downward, with its little sharp claws or hooks caught through one of the divisions at the base of one of the pinnæ, above the fructification. It was a delicate rusty brown, in color very like the wool of the cinnamon fern, with the whiter bare spaces, seen through it early in the season. I thought at first glance it was a broad cocoon, then that it was the plump body of a monstrous emperor moth. It was rusty or reddish brown, white or hoary within, with a white, apparently triangular spot beneath, about the insertion of the wings. Its wings were very compactly folded up, the principal bones (dark or reddish) lying flat along the under side of its body, and a hook on each, meeting its opposite under the chin of the creature. It did not look like fur, but was like the plush of the ripe cat-tail head, though more loose, all trembling in the wind and with the pulsations of the animal. I broke off the top of the fern, and let the bat lie on its back in my hand. I held it and turned it about for ten or fifteen minutes, but it did not awake. Once or twice it opened its eyes a little, and even raised its old, baggish head, and opened its mouth, but soon drowsily dropped the head and fell asleep again. Its ears were nearly bare. It was more attentive to sounds than to motions. Finally by shaking it, and especially by hissing or whistling, I thoroughly awakened it, and it fluttered off twenty or thirty rods to the woods. I cannot but think that its instinct taught it to cling to the interrupted fern, since it might readily be mistaken for a mass of its fruit. . . . Unless it moved its head wide awake, it looked like a tender infant.
June 11, 1851. Last night, a beautiful summer night, not too warm, moon not quite full, after two or three rainy days. Walked to Fair Haven by railroad, returning by Potter's pasture and Sudbury road. I feared at first that there would be too much white light, like the pale remains of daylight, and not a yellow, gloomy, dreamier light; that it would be like a candlelight by day; but when I got away from the town and deeper into the night, it was better. I saw by the shadows cast by the inequalities of the clayey sand-bank in the Deep Cut, that it was necessary to see objects by moonlight as well as sunlight, to get a complete notion of them. This bank had looked much more flat by day, when the light was stronger, but now the heavy shadows revealed its prominences. The prominences are light, made more remarkable by the dark shadows they cast. . . . I hear the nighthawks uttering their squeaking notes high in the air, now at nine o'clock, p. m., and occasionally, what I do not remember to have heard so late, their booming note. It sounds more as if under a cope than by day. The sound is not so fugacious, going off to be lost amid the spheres, but is echoed hollowly to earth, making the low roof of heaven vibrate. Such a sound is more confused and dissipated by day.
The whippoorwill suggests how wide asunder are the woods and the town. Its note is very rarely heard by those who live on the street, and then it is thought to be of ill-omen. Only the dwellers on the outskirts of the village hear it occasionally. It sometimes comes into their yards. But go into the woods in a warm night at this season, and it is the prevailing sound. I hear now five or six at once. It is no more of ill-omen, therefore, here, than the night and the moonlight are. It is a bird not only of the woods, but of the night side of the woods. I hear some whippoorwills on hills, others in thick wooded vales, which ring hollow and cavernous, like an apartment or cellar, with their note, as when I hear the working of some artisan within an apartment. New beings have usurped the air we breathe, rounding nature, filling her crevices with sound. To sleep where you may hear the whippoorwill in your dreams.
I hear from this upland, whence I see Wachusett by day, a wagon crossing one of the bridges. I have no doubt that in some places to-night I should be sure to hear every carriage which crossed a bridge over the river, within the limits of Concord, for in such an hour and atmosphere the sense of hearing is wonderfully assisted, and asserts a new dignity. We become the Hearalls of the story. . . . The planks of a bridge, struck like a bell swung near the earth, emit a very resonant and penetrating sound. And then it is to be considered that the bell is in this instance hung over water, and that the night air, not only on account of its stillness, but perhaps on account of its density, is more favorable to the transmission of sound. If the whole town were a raised plank floor, what a din there would be!
I now descend round the corner of the grain field, through the pitch-pine wood, into a lower field, more inclosed by woods, and find myself in a colder, damp, and misty atmosphere, with much dew on the grass. I seem to be nearer to the origin of things. There is something creative and primal in the cool mist. This dewy mist does not fail to suggest music to me, unaccountably, fertility, the origin of things. An atmosphere which has forgotten the sun, where the ancient principle of moisture prevails. It is laden with the condensed fragrance of plants, as it were, distilled dews.
The woodland paths are never seen to such advantage as in a moonlight night, so embowered, still opening before you almost against expectation as you walk. You are so completely in the woods, and yet your feet meet no obstacles. It is as if it were not a path, but an open, winding passage through the bushes, which your feet find. Now I go by the spring, and when I have risen to the same level as before, find myself in the warmer stratum again. These warmer veins, in a cool evening like this, do not fail to be agreeable.
The woods are about as destitute of inhabitants at night as the streets. In both there will be some night walkers. There are but few wild creatures to seek their prey. The greater part of its inhabitants have retired to rest.
Ah, that life that I have known! How hard it is to remember what is most memorable. We remember how we itched, not how our hearts beat. I can sometimes recall to mind the quality, the immortality of my youthful life, but in memory is the only relation to it.
I hear the night-warbler breaking out as in his dreams, made so from the first for some mysterious reason.
Our spiritual side takes a more distinct form now, like our shadow which we see accompanying us.
I do not know but I feel less vigor at night,—my legs will not carry me so far, as if the night were less favorable to muscular exertion, weakened us somewhat, as darkness turns plants pale,—but perhaps my experience is to be referred to my being already exhausted by the day; yet sometimes, after a hard day's work, I have found myself unexpectedly vigorous. I have never tried the experiment fairly.
Only the harvest and hunter's moons are famous, but I think that each full moon deserves to be, and has its own character, well-marked. One might be called the midsummer night moon.
So still and moderate is the night. No scream is heard, whether of fear or joy. No great comedy, no tragedy is being enacted. The chirping of crickets is the most universal, if not the loudest sound. There is no French revolution in Nature, no excess. She is warmer or colder by a degree or two.
My shadow has the distinctness of a second person, a certain black companion bordering on the imp, and I ask who is this that I see dodging behind me as I am about to sit down on a rock. The rocks do not feel warm to-night, for the air is warmest, nor does the sand particularly.
No one, to my knowledge, has observed the minute differences in the seasons. Hardly two nights are alike.
A book of the seasons, each page of which should be written in its own season and out of doors, or in its own locality, wherever it may be.
When you get into the road, though far from the town, and feel the sand under your feet, it is as if you had reached your own gravel walk. You no longer hear the whippoorwill nor regard your own shadow, for here you expect a fellow traveler. You catch yourself walking merely. The road leads your steps and thoughts alike to the town. You see only the path, and your thoughts wander from the objects that are presented to your senses. You are no longer in place. It is like conformity, walking in the ways of men.
June 11, 1852.—It commonly happens that a flower is considered more beautiful that is not followed by fruit. It must culminate in the flower.
The red-eye sings now in the woods perhaps more than any other bird.
As I climbed the cliffs, when I jarred the foliage, I perceived an exquisite perfume which I could not trace to its source. Ah, those fugacious, universal fragrances of the meadows and woods! odors rightly mingled!
The shrub oaks on the plain are so covered with foliage that, when I look down on them from the cliffs, I am impressed as if I looked down on a forest of oaks.
The oven-bird and the thrasher sing. The last has a sort of chuckle. The crickets begin to sing in warm, dry places.
Lupines, their pods and seeds. First, the profusion of color, spikes of flowers rising above and prevailing over the leaves; then the variety in different clumps, rose? purple, blue, and white; then the handsome palmate leaf, made to hold dew. Gray says the name is from lupus, wolf, because they "were thought to devour the fertility of the soil." This is scurrilous.
Under Fair Haven. First grew the Viola pedata here; then lupines, mixed with the delicate snapdragon. This soil must abound with the blue principle.
Utricularia vulgaris, common bladderwort, a dirty-conditioned flower, like a sluttish woman with a gaudy yellow bonnet.
Those spotted maple leaves, what mean their bright colors? Yellow, with a greenish centre and crimson border, on the green leaves, as if the great chemist had dropped some strong acid, by chance, from a phial designed for autumnal juice! Very handsome. Decay and disease are often beautiful, like the pearly tear of the shell-fish and the hectic glow of consumption.
June 11, 1853. The upland fields are already less green where the June grass is ripening its seed. They are greenest when only its blade is seen. In the sorrel fields, also, what lately was the ruddy, rosy cheek of health, now that the sorrel is ripening and dying, has become the tanned and imbrowned cheek of manhood.
Probably blackbirds were never less numerous along our river than in these years. They do not depend on the clearing of the woods and the cultivation of the orchards, etc. The streams and meadows in which they delight always existed. Most of the towns, soon after they were settled, were obliged to set a price upon their heads. In 1672, according to the town records of Concord, instruction was given to the selectmen, "That encouragement he given for the destroying of blackbirds and jaies." Shattuck, p. 45.
I remember Helen s telling me that John Marston, of Taunton, told her that he was aboard a vessel, during the Revolution, which met another vessel, and, as I think, one hailed the other. A French name being given could not be understood; whereupon a sailor, probably aboard his vessel, ran out on the bowsprit and shouted, "La Terrible" (the vessel in which John Adams was being brought back or carried out to France), and that sailor's name was Thoreau.
My father has an idea that he stood on the wharf and cried this to the bystanders. He tells me that when the war came on, my grandfather, being thrown out of business and being a young man, went a-privateering. I find from his Diary that John Adams set sail from Port Louis at L'Orient in the French frigate Terrible, Captain Chavagnes, June 17, 1779, the Bonhomme Richard, Captain Jones, and four other vessels, being in company at first, and the Terrible arrived at Boston the 2d of August. On the 13th of November following he set out for France again in the same frigate from Boston, and he says that a few days before the 24th, being at the last date on the Grand Bank of Newfoundland, we spoke an American privateer, the General Lincoln, Captain Barnes. If the above-mentioned incident occurred at sea, it was probably on this occasion.
June 11, 1855. When I would go a-visiting, I find that I go off the fashionable street (not being inclined to change my dress) to where man meets man, and not polished shoe meets shoe.
What if we feel a yearning to which no breast answers. I walk alone. My heart is full. Feelings impede the current of my thoughts. I knock on the earth for my friend. I expect to meet him at every turn, but no friend appears, and perhaps none is dreaming of me. I am tired of frivolous society in which silence is forever the most natural and the best manners. I would fain walk on the deep waters, but my companions will only walk on shallows and puddles. I am naturally silent in the midst of twenty persons, from day to day, from year to year. I am rarely reminded of their presence. . . . One complains that I do not take his jokes. I took them before he had done uttering them, and went my way. One talks to me of his apples and pears, and I depart with my secret untold. His are not the apples that tempt me.
June 11, 1856. p. m. To Flint's Pond. It is very hot this p. m., and that peculiar stillness which belongs to summer noons now reigns in the woods. I observe and appreciate the shade, as it were the shadow of each particular leaf on the ground. I think that this peculiar darkness of the shade, of the foliage as seen between you and the sky, is not accounted for merely by saying that we have not yet got accustomed to clothed trees, but the leaves are rapidly acquiring a darker green, are more and more opaque, and, beside, the sky is lit with the intensest light. It reminds me of the thunder-cloud and the dark eyelash of summer. Great cumuli are slowly drifting in the intensest blue sky, with glowing white borders. The red-eye sings incessant, and the more indolent yellow-throated vireo, and the creeper, and perhaps the redstart? or else it is the parti-colored warbler.
I perceive that scent from the young, sweet fern shoots and withered blossoms, which made the first settlers of Concord to faint on their journey.
See a bream's nest, two and one fourth feet in diameter, laboriously scooped out, and the sur rounding bottom for a diameter of eight feet! comparatively white and clean, while all beyond is mud, leaves, etc., and a very large, green, and cupreous bream, with a red spot on the operculum, is poised over the centre, while half a dozen shiners are hovering about, apparently watching a chance to steal the spawn. A partridge with young in the saw-mill brook path. Could hardly tell what kind of a creature it was at first, it made such a noise and fluttering amid the weeds and bushes. Finally ran off, with its body flat and wings somewhat spread.
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