I think that I love society as much as most,
and am ready enough to fasten myself like a bloodsucker for the time to any full-blooded man that comes in my way.
I am naturally no hermit,
but might possibly sit out the sturdiest frequenter of the bar-room,
if my business called me thither.
I had three chairs in my house;
one for solitude,
two for friendship,
three for society.
When visitors came in larger and unexpected numbers there was but the third chair for them all,
but they generally economized the room by standing up.
It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain.
I have had twenty-five or thirty souls,
with their bodies,
at once under my roof,
and yet we often parted without being aware that we had come very near to one another.
Many of our houses,
both public and private,
with their almost innumerable apartments,
their huge halls and their cellars for the storage of wines and other munitions of peace,
appear to be extravagantly large for their inhabitants.
They are so vast and magnificent that the latter seem to be only vermin which infest them.
I am surprised when the herald blows his summons before some Tremont or Astor or Middlesex House,
to see come creeping out over the piazza for all inhabitants a ridiculous mouse,
which soon again slinks into some hole in the pavement.
One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house,
the difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest when we began to utter the big thoughts in big words.
You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port.
The bullet of your thought must have overcome its lateral and ricochet motion and fallen into its last and steady course before it reaches the ear of the hearer,
else it may plow out again through the side of his head.
our sentences wanted room to unfold and form their columns in the interval.
must have suitable broad and natural boundaries,
even a considerable neutral ground,
I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite side.
In my house we were so near that we could not begin to hear --we could not speak low enough to be heard;
as when you throw two stones into calm water so near that they break each other's undulations.
If we are merely loquacious and loud talkers,
then we can afford to stand very near together,
cheek by jowl,
and feel each other's breath;
but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully,
we want to be farther apart,
that all animal heat and moisture may have a chance to evaporate.
If we would enjoy the most intimate society with that in each of us which is without,
being spoken to,
we must not only be silent,
but commonly so far apart bodily that we cannot possibly hear each other's voice in any case.
Referred to this standard,
speech is for the convenience of those who are hard of hearing;
but there are many fine things which we cannot say if we have to shout.
As the conversation began to assume a loftier and grander tone,
we gradually shoved our chairs farther apart till they touched the wall in opposite corners,
and then commonly there was not room enough.
My "best" room,
my withdrawing room,
always ready for company,
on whose carpet the sun rarely fell,
was the pine wood behind my house.
Thither in summer days,
when distinguished guests came,
I took them,
and a priceless domestic swept the floor and dusted the furniture and kept the things in order.
If one guest came he sometimes partook of my frugal meal,
and it was no interruption to conversation to be stirring a hasty-pudding,
or watching the rising and maturing of a loaf of bread in the ashes,
in the meanwhile.
But if twenty came and sat in my house there was nothing said about dinner,
though there might be bread enough for two,
more than if eating were a forsaken habit;
but we naturally practised abstinence;
and this was never felt to be an offence against hospitality,
but the most proper and considerate course.
The waste and decay of physical life,
which so often needs repair,
seemed miraculously retarded in such a case,
and the vital vigor stood its ground.
I could entertain thus a thousand as well as twenty;
and if any ever went away disappointed or hungry from my house when they found me at home,
they may depend upon it that I sympathized with them at least.
So easy is it,
though many housekeepers doubt it,
to establish new and better customs in the place of the old.
You need not rest your reputation on the dinners you give.
For my own part,
I was never so effectually deterred from frequenting a man's house,
by any kind of Cerberus whatever,
as by the parade one made about dining me,
which I took to be a very polite and roundabout hint never to trouble him so again.
I think I shall never revisit those scenes.
I should be proud to have for the motto of my cabin those lines of Spenser which one of my visitors inscribed on a yellow walnut leaf for a card: --
the little house they fill,
Ne looke for entertainment where none was;
Rest is their feast,
and all things at their will: The noblest mind the best contentment has."
afterward governor of the Plymouth Colony,
went with a companion on a visit of ceremony to Massasoit on foot through the woods,
and arrived tired and hungry at his lodge,
they were well received by the king,
but nothing was said about eating that day.
When the night arrived,
to quote their own words --"He laid us on the bed with himself and his wife,
they at the one end and we at the other,
it being only planks laid a foot from the ground and a thin mat upon them.
Two more of his chief men,
for want of room,
pressed by and upon us;
so that we were worse weary of our lodging than of our journey."
At one o'clock the next day Massasoit "brought two fishes that he had shot,"
about thrice as big as a bream.
"These being boiled,
there were at least forty looked for a share in them;
the most eat of them.
This meal only we had in two nights and a day;
and had not one of us bought a partridge,
we had taken our journey fasting."
Fearing that they would be light-headed for want of food and also sleep,
owing to "the savages' barbarous singing,
(for they use to sing themselves asleep,)" and that they might get home while they had strength to travel,
As for lodging,
it is true they were but poorly entertained,
though what they found an inconvenience was no doubt intended for an honor;
but as far as eating was concerned,
I do not see how the Indians could have done better.
They had nothing to eat themselves,
and they were wiser than to think that apologies could supply the place of food to their guests;
so they drew their belts tighter and said nothing about it.
Another time when Winslow visited them,
it being a season of plenty with them,
there was no deficiency in this respect.
As for men,
they will hardly fail one anywhere.
I had more visitors while I lived in the woods than at any other period in my life;
I mean that I had some.
I met several there under more favorable circumstances than I could anywhere else.
But fewer came to see me on trivial business.
In this respect,
my company was winnowed by my mere distance from town.
I had withdrawn so far within the great ocean of solitude,
into which the rivers of society empty,
that for the most part,
so far as my needs were concerned,
only the finest sediment was deposited around me.
there were wafted to me evidences of unexplored and uncultivated continents on the other side.
Who should come to my lodge this morning but a true Homeric or Paphlagonian man --he had so suitable and poetic a name that I am sorry I cannot print it here --a Canadian,
a woodchopper and post-maker,
who can hole fifty posts in a day,
who made his last supper on a woodchuck which his dog caught.
has heard of Homer,
"if it were not for books,"
would "not know what to do rainy days,"
though perhaps he has not read one wholly through for many rainy seasons.
Some priest who could pronounce the Greek itself taught him to read his verse in the Testament in his native parish far away;
and now I must translate to him,
while he holds the book,
Achilles' reproof to Patroclus for his sad countenance.
--"Why are you in tears,
like a young girl?"
"Or have you alone heard some news from Phthia?
They say that Menoetius lives yet,
son of Actor,
And Peleus lives,
son of Æacus,
among the Myrmidons,
Either of whom having died,
we should greatly grieve."
He has a great bundle of white oak bark under his arm for a sick man,
gathered this Sunday morning.
"I suppose there's no harm in going after such a thing to-day,"
To him Homer was a great writer,
though what his writing was about he did not know.
A more simple and natural man it would be hard to find.
Vice and disease,
which cast such a sombre moral hue over the world,
seemed to have hardly any existence for him.
He was about twenty-eight years old,
and had left Canada and his father's house a dozen years before to work in the States,
and earn money to buy a farm with at last,
perhaps in his native country.
He was cast in the coarsest mould;
a stout but sluggish body,
yet gracefully carried,
with a thick sunburnt neck,
dark bushy hair,
and dull sleepy blue eyes,
which were occasionally lit up with expression.
He wore a flat gray cloth cap,
a dingy wool-colored greatcoat,
and cowhide boots.
He was a great consumer of meat,
usually carrying his dinner to his work a couple of miles past my house --for he chopped all summer --in a tin pail;
often cold woodchucks,
and coffee in a stone bottle which dangled by a string from his belt;
and sometimes he offered me a drink.
He came along early,
crossing my bean-field,
though without anxiety or haste to get to his work,
such as Yankees exhibit.
He wasn't a-going to hurt himself.
He didn't care if he only earned his board.
Frequently he would leave his dinner in the bushes,
when his dog had caught a woodchuck by the way,
and go back a mile and a half to dress it and leave it in the cellar of the house where he boarded,
after deliberating first for half an hour whether he could not sink it in the pond safely till nightfall --loving to dwell long upon these themes.
He would say,
as he went by in the morning,
"How thick the pigeons are!
If working every day were not my trade,
I could get all the meat I should want by hunting-pigeons,
partridges --by gosh!
I could get all I should want for a week in one day."
He was a skilful chopper,
and indulged in some flourishes and ornaments in his art.
He cut his trees level and close to the ground,
that the sprouts which came up afterward might be more vigorous and a sled might slide over the stumps;
and instead of leaving a whole tree to support his corded wood,
he would pare it away to a slender stake or splinter which you could break off with your hand at last.
He interested me because he was so quiet and solitary and so happy withal;
a well of good humor and contentment which overflowed at his eyes.
His mirth was without alloy.
Sometimes I saw him at his work in the woods,
and he would greet me with a laugh of inexpressible satisfaction,
and a salutation in Canadian French,
though he spoke English as well.
When I approached him he would suspend his work,
and with half-suppressed mirth lie along the trunk of a pine which he had felled,
peeling off the inner bark,
roll it up into a ball and chew it while he laughed and talked.
Such an exuberance of animal spirits had he that he sometimes tumbled down and rolled on the ground with laughter at anything which made him think and tickled him.
Looking round upon the trees he would exclaim --"By George!
I can enjoy myself well enough here chopping;
I want no better sport."
when at leisure,
he amused himself all day in the woods with a pocket pistol,
firing salutes to himself at regular intervals as he walked.
In the winter he had a fire by which at noon he warmed his coffee in a kettle;
and as he sat on a log to eat his dinner the chickadees would sometimes come round and alight on his arm and peck at the potato in his fingers;
and he said that he "liked to have the little -fellers- about him."
In him the animal man chiefly was developed.
In physical endurance and contentment he was cousin to the pine and the rock.
I asked him once if he was not sometimes tired at night,
after working all day;
and he answered,
with a sincere and serious look,
I never was tired in my life."
But the intellectual and what is called spiritual man in him were slumbering as in an infant.
He had been instructed only in that innocent and ineffectual way in which the Catholic priests teach the aborigines,
by which the pupil is never educated to the degree of consciousness,
but only to the degree of trust and reverence,
and a child is not made a man,
but kept a child.
When Nature made him,
she gave him a strong body and contentment for his portion,
and propped him on every side with reverence and reliance,
that he might live out his threescore years and ten a child.
He was so genuine and unsophisticated that no introduction would serve to introduce him,
more than if you introduced a woodchuck to your neighbor.
He had got to find him out as you did.
He would not play any part.
Men paid him wages for work,
and so helped to feed and clothe him;
but he never exchanged opinions with them.
He was so simply and naturally humble --if he can be called humble who never aspires --that humility was no distinct quality in him,
nor could he conceive of it.
Wiser men were demigods to him.
If you told him that such a one was coming,
he did as if he thought that anything so grand would expect nothing of himself,
but take all the responsibility on itself,
and let him be forgotten still.
He never heard the sound of praise.
He particularly reverenced the writer and the preacher.
Their performances were miracles.
When I told him that I wrote considerably,
he thought for a long time that it was merely the handwriting which I meant,
for he could write a remarkably good hand himself.
I sometimes found the name of his native parish handsomely written in the snow by the highway,
with the proper French accent,
and knew that he had passed.
I asked him if he ever wished to write his thoughts.
He said that he had read and written letters for those who could not,
but he never tried to write thoughts --no,
he could not,
he could not tell what to put first,
it would kill him,
and then there was spelling to be attended to at the same time!
I heard that a distinguished wise man and reformer asked him if he did not want the world to be changed;
but he answered with a chuckle of surprise in his Canadian accent,
not knowing that the question had ever been entertained before,
I like it well enough."
It would have suggested many things to a philosopher to have dealings with him.
To a stranger he appeared to know nothing of things in general;
yet I sometimes saw in him a man whom I had not seen before,
and I did not know whether he was as wise as Shakespeare or as simply ignorant as a child,
whether to suspect him of a fine poetic consciousness or of stupidity.
A townsman told me that when he met him sauntering through the village in his small close-fitting cap,
and whistling to himself,
he reminded him of a prince in disguise.
His only books were an almanac and an arithmetic,
in which last he was considerably expert.
The former was a sort of cyclopaedia to him,
which he supposed to contain an abstract of human knowledge,
as indeed it does to a considerable extent.
I loved to sound him on the various reforms of the day,
and he never failed to look at them in the most simple and practical light.
He had never heard of such things before.
Could he do without factories?
He had worn the home-made Vermont gray,
and that was good.
Could he dispense with tea and coffee?
Did this country afford any beverage beside water?
He had soaked hemlock leaves in water and drank it,
and thought that was better than water in warm weather.
When I asked him if he could do without money,
he showed the convenience of money in such a way as to suggest and coincide with the most philosophical accounts of the origin of this institution,
and the very derivation of the word -pecunia-.
If an ox were his property,
and he wished to get needles and thread at the store,
he thought it would be inconvenient and impossible soon to go on mortgaging some portion of the creature each time to that amount.
He could defend many institutions better than any philosopher,
in describing them as they concerned him,
he gave the true reason for their prevalence,
and speculation had not suggested to him any other.
At another time,
hearing Plato's definition of a man --a biped without feathers --and that one exhibited a cock plucked and called it Plato's man,
he thought it an important difference that the -knees- bent the wrong way.
He would sometimes exclaim,
"How I love to talk!
I could talk all day!"
I asked him once,
when I had not seen him for many months,
if he had got a new idea this summer.
"Good Lord" --said he,
"a man that has to work as I do,
if he does not forget the ideas he has had,
he will do well.
May be the man you hoe with is inclined to race;
your mind must be there;
you think of weeds."
He would sometimes ask me first on such occasions,
if I had made any improvement.
One winter day I asked him if he was always satisfied with himself,
wishing to suggest a substitute within him for the priest without,
and some higher motive for living.
"some men are satisfied with one thing,
and some with another.
if he has got enough,
will be satisfied to sit all day with his back to the fire and his belly to the table,
Yet I never,
by any manoeuvring,
could get him to take the spiritual view of things;
the highest that he appeared to conceive of was a simple expediency,
such as you might expect an animal to appreciate;
is true of most men.
If I suggested any improvement in his mode of life,
he merely answered,
without expressing any regret,
that it was too late.
Yet he thoroughly believed in honesty and the like virtues.
There was a certain positive originality,
to be detected in him,
and I occasionally observed that he was thinking for himself and expressing his own opinion,
a phenomenon so rare that I would any day walk ten miles to observe it,
and it amounted to the re-origination of many of the institutions of society.
Though he hesitated,
and perhaps failed to express himself distinctly,
he always had a presentable thought behind.
Yet his thinking was so primitive and immersed in his animal life,
though more promising than a merely learned man's,
it rarely ripened to anything which can be reported.
He suggested that there might be men of genius in the lowest grades of life,
however permanently humble and illiterate,
who take their own view always,
or do not pretend to see at all;
who are as bottomless even as Walden Pond was thought to be,
though they may be dark and muddy.
Many a traveller came out of his way to see me and the inside of my house,
as an excuse for calling,
asked for a glass of water.
I told them that I drank at the pond,
and pointed thither,
offering to lend them a dipper.
Far off as I lived,
I was not exempted from the annual visitation which occurs,
about the first of April,
when everybody is on the move;
and I had my share of good luck,
though there were some curious specimens among my visitors.
Half-witted men from the almshouse and elsewhere came to see me;
but I endeavored to make them exercise all the wit they had,
and make their confessions to me;
in such cases making wit the theme of our conversation;
and so was compensated.
I found some of them to be wiser than the so-called -overseers- of the poor and selectmen of the town,
and thought it was time that the tables were turned.
With respect to wit,
I learned that there was not much difference between the half and the whole.
whom with others I had often seen used as fencing stuff,
standing or sitting on a bushel in the fields to keep cattle and himself from straying,
and expressed a wish to live as I did.
He told me,
with the utmost simplicity and truth,
or rather -inferior-,
to anything that is called humility,
that he was "deficient in intellect."
These were his words.
The Lord had made him so,
yet he supposed the Lord cared as much for him as for another.
"I have always been so,"
"from my childhood;
I never had much mind;
I was not like other children;
I am weak in the head.
It was the Lord's will,
And there he was to prove the truth of his words.
He was a metaphysical puzzle to me.
I have rarely met a fellowman on such promising ground --it was so simple and sincere and so true all that he said.
in proportion as he appeared to humble himself was he exalted.
I did not know at first but it was the result of a wise policy.
It seemed that from such a basis of truth and frankness as the poor weak-headed pauper had laid,
our intercourse might go forward to something better than the intercourse of sages.
I had some guests from those not reckoned commonly among the town's poor,
but who should be;
who are among the world's poor,
at any rate;
guests who appeal,
not to your hospitality,
but to your -hospitalality-;
who earnestly wish to be helped,
and preface their appeal with the information that they are resolved,
for one thing,
never to help themselves.
I require of a visitor that he be not actually starving,
though he may have the very best appetite in the world,
however he got it.
Objects of charity are not guests.
Men who did not know when their visit had terminated,
though I went about my business again,
answering them from greater and greater remoteness.
Men of almost every degree of wit called on me in the migrating season.
Some who had more wits than they knew what to do with;
runaway slaves with plantation manners,
who listened from time to time,
like the fox in the fable,
as if they heard the hounds a-baying on their track,
and looked at me beseechingly,
as much as to say,
will you send me back?
One real runaway slave,
among the rest,
whom I helped to forward toward the north star.
Men of one idea,
like a hen with one chicken,
and that a duckling;
men of a thousand ideas,
and unkempt heads,
like those hens which are made to take charge of a hundred chickens,
all in pursuit of one bug,
a score of them lost in every morning's dew --and become frizzled and mangy in consequence;
men of ideas instead of legs,
a sort of intellectual centipede that made you crawl all over.
One man proposed a book in which visitors should write their names,
as at the White Mountains;
I have too good a memory to make that necessary.
I could not but notice some of the peculiarities of my visitors.
Girls and boys and young women generally seemed glad to be in the woods.
They looked in the pond and at the flowers,
and improved their time.
Men of business,
thought only of solitude and employment,
and of the great distance at which I dwelt from something or other;
and though they said that they loved a ramble in the woods occasionally,
it was obvious that they did not.
Restless committed men,
whose time was an taken up in getting a living or keeping it;
ministers who spoke of God as if they enjoyed a monopoly of the subject,
who could not bear all kinds of opinions;
uneasy housekeepers who pried into my cupboard and bed when I was out --how came Mrs. --to know that my sheets were not as clean as hers?
--young men who had ceased to be young,
and had concluded that it was safest to follow the beaten track of the professions --all these generally said that it was not possible to do so much good in my position.
there was the rub.
The old and infirm and the timid,
of whatever age or sex,
thought most of sickness,
and sudden accident and death;
to them life seemed full of danger --what danger is there if you don't think of any?
--and they thought that a prudent man would carefully select the safest position,
where Dr. B. might be on hand at a moment's warning.
To them the village was literally a -com-munity-,
a league for mutual defence,
and you would suppose that they would not go a-huckleberrying without a medicine chest.
The amount of it is,
if a man is alive,
there is always danger that he may die,
though the danger must be allowed to be less in proportion as he is dead-and-alive to begin with.
A man sits as many risks as he runs.
there were the self-styled reformers,
the greatest bores of all,
who thought that I was forever singing,
This is the house that I built;
This is the man that lives in the house that I built;
but they did not know that the third line was,
These are the folks that worry the man That lives in the house that I built.
I did not fear the hen-harriers,
for I kept no chickens;
but I feared the men-harriers rather.
I had more cheering visitors than the last.
Children come a-berrying,
railroad men taking a Sunday morning walk in clean shirts,
fishermen and hunters,
poets and philosophers;
all honest pilgrims,
who came out to the woods for freedom's sake,
and really left the village behind,
I was ready to greet with --"Welcome,
for I had had communication with that race.
Meanwhile my beans,
the length of whose rows,
was seven miles already planted,
were impatient to be hoed,
for the earliest had grown considerably before the latest were in the ground;
indeed they were not easily to be put off.
What was the meaning of this so steady and self-respecting,
this small Herculean labor,
I knew not.
I came to love my rows,
though so many more than I wanted.
They attached me to the earth,
and so I got strength like Antaeus.
But why should I raise them?
Only Heaven knows.
This was my curious labor all summer --to make this portion of the earth's surface,
which had yielded only cinquefoil,
and the like,
sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers,
produce instead this pulse.
What shall I learn of beans or beans of me?
I cherish them,
I hoe them,
early and late I have an eye to them;
and this is my day's work.
It is a fine broad leaf to look on.
My auxiliaries are the dews and rains which water this dry soil,
and what fertility is in the soil itself,
which for the most part is lean and effete.
My enemies are worms,
and most of all woodchucks.
The last have nibbled for me a quarter of an acre clean.
But what right had I to oust johnswort and the rest,
and break up their ancient herb garden?
the remaining beans will be too tough for them,
and go forward to meet new foes.
When I was four years old,
as I well remember,
I was brought from Boston to this my native town,
through these very woods and this field,
to the pond.
It is one of the oldest scenes stamped on my memory.
And now to-night my flute has waked the echoes over that very water.
The pines still stand here older than I;
if some have fallen,
I have cooked my supper with their stumps,
and a new growth is rising all around,
preparing another aspect for new infant eyes.
Almost the same johnswort springs from the same perennial root in this pasture,
and even I have at length helped to clothe that fabulous landscape of my infant dreams,
and one of the results of my presence and influence is seen in these bean leaves,
and potato vines.
I planted about two acres and a half of upland;
and as it was only about fifteen years since the land was cleared,
and I myself had got out two or three cords of stumps,
I did not give it any manure;
but in the course of the summer it appeared by the arrowheads which I turned up in hoeing,
that an extinct nation had anciently dwelt here and planted corn and beans ere white men came to clear the land,
to some extent,
had exhausted the soil for this very crop.
Before yet any woodchuck or squirrel had run across the road,
or the sun had got above the shrub oaks,
while all the dew was on,
though the farmers warned me against it --I would advise you to do all your work if possible while the dew is on --I began to level the ranks of haughty weeds in my bean-field and throw dust upon their heads.
Early in the morning I worked barefooted,
dabbling like a plastic artist in the dewy and crumbling sand,
but later in the day the sun blistered my feet.
There the sun lighted me to hoe beans,
pacing slowly backward and forward over that yellow gravelly upland,
between the long green rows,
the one end terminating in a shrub oak copse where I could rest in the shade,
the other in a blackberry field where the green berries deepened their tints by the time I had made another bout.
Removing the weeds,
putting fresh soil about the bean stems,
and encouraging this weed which I had sown,
making the yellow soil express its summer thought in bean leaves and blossoms rather than in wormwood and piper and millet grass,
making the earth say beans instead of grass --this was my daily work.
As I had little aid from horses or cattle,
or hired men or boys,
or improved implements of husbandry,
I was much slower,
and became much more intimate with my beans than usual.
But labor of the hands,
even when pursued to the verge of drudgery,
is perhaps never the worst form of idleness.
It has a constant and imperishable moral,
and to the scholar it yields a classic result.
A very -agricola laboriosus- was I to travellers bound westward through Lincoln and Wayland to nobody knows where;
they sitting at their ease in gigs,
with elbows on knees,
and reins loosely hanging in festoons;
I the home-staying,
laborious native of the soil.
But soon my homestead was out of their sight and thought.
It was the only open and cultivated field for a great distance on either side of the road,
so they made the most of it;
and sometimes the man in the field heard more of travellers' gossip and comment than was meant for his ear:
"Beans so late!
peas so late!"
--for I continued to plant when others had begun to hoe --the ministerial husbandman had not suspected it.
corn for fodder."
"Does he -live- there?"
asks the black bonnet of the gray coat;
and the hard-featured farmer reins up his grateful dobbin to inquire what you are doing where he sees no manure in the furrow,
and recommends a little chip dirt,
or any little waste stuff,
or it may be ashes or plaster.
But here were two acres and a half of furrows,
and only a hoe for cart and two hands to draw it --there being an aversion to other carts and horses --and chip dirt far away.
Fellow-travellers as they rattled by compared it aloud with the fields which they had passed,
so that I came to know how I stood in the agricultural world.
This was one field not in Mr. Coleman's report.
by the way,
who estimates the value of the crop which nature yields in the still wilder fields unimproved by man?
The crop of -English- hay is carefully weighed,
the moisture calculated,
the silicates and the potash;
but in all dells and pond-holes in the woods and pastures and swamps grows a rich and various crop only unreaped by man.
as it were,
the connecting link between wild and cultivated fields;
as some states are civilized,
and others half-civilized,
and others savage or barbarous,
so my field was,
though not in a bad sense,
a half-cultivated field.
They were beans cheerfully returning to their wild and primitive state that I cultivated,
and my hoe played the -Ranz des Vaches- for them.
Near at hand,
upon the topmost spray of a birch,
sings the brown thrasher --or red mavis,
as some love to call him --all the morning,
glad of your society,
that would find out another farmer's field if yours were not here.
While you are planting the seed,
he cries --"Drop it,
drop it --cover it up,
cover it up --pull it up,
pull it up,
pull it up."
But this was not corn,
and so it was safe from such enemies as he.
You may wonder what his rigmarole,
his amateur Paganini performances on one string or on twenty,
have to do with your planting,
and yet prefer it to leached ashes or plaster.
It was a cheap sort of top dressing in which I had entire faith.
As I drew a still fresher soil about the rows with my hoe,
I disturbed the ashes of unchronicled nations who in primeval years lived under these heavens,
and their small implements of war and hunting were brought to the light of this modern day.
They lay mingled with other natural stones,
some of which bore the marks of having been burned by Indian fires,
and some by the sun,
and also bits of pottery and glass brought hither by the recent cultivators of the soil.
When my hoe tinkled against the stones,
that music echoed to the woods and the sky,
and was an accompaniment to my labor which yielded an instant and immeasurable crop.
It was no longer beans that I hoed,
nor I that hoed beans;
and I remembered with as much pity as pride,
if I remembered at all,
my acquaintances who had gone to the city to attend the oratorios.
The nighthawk circled overhead in the sunny afternoons --for I sometimes made a day of it --like a mote in the eye,
or in heaven's eye,
falling from time to time with a swoop and a sound as if the heavens were rent,
torn at last to very rags and tatters,
and yet a seamless cope remained;
small imps that fill the air and lay their eggs on the ground on bare sand or rocks on the tops of hills,
where few have found them;
graceful and slender like ripples caught up from the pond,
as leaves are raised by the wind to float in the heavens;
such kindredship is in nature.
The hawk is aerial brother of the wave which he sails over and surveys,
those his perfect air-inflated wings answering to the elemental unfledged pinions of the sea.
Or sometimes I watched a pair of hen-hawks circling high in the sky,
alternately soaring and descending,
and leaving one another,
as if they were the embodiment of my own thoughts.
Or I was attracted by the passage of wild pigeons from this wood to that,
with a slight quivering winnowing sound and carrier haste;
or from under a rotten stump my hoe turned up a sluggish portentous and outlandish spotted salamander,
a trace of Egypt and the Nile,
yet our contemporary.
When I paused to lean on my hoe,
these sounds and sights I heard and saw anywhere in the row,
a part of the inexhaustible entertainment which the country offers.
On gala days the town fires its great guns,
which echo like popguns to these woods,
and some waifs of martial music occasionally penetrate thus far.
away there in my bean-field at the other end of the town,
the big guns sounded as if a puffball had burst;
and when there was a military turnout of which I was ignorant,
I have sometimes had a vague sense all the day of some sort of itching and disease in the horizon,
as if some eruption would break out there soon,
either scarlatina or canker-rash,
until at length some more favorable puff of wind,
making haste over the fields and up the Wayland road,
brought me information of the "trainers."
It seemed by the distant hum as if somebody's bees had swarmed,
and that the neighbors,
according to Virgil's advice,
by a faint -tintinnabulum- upon the most sonorous of their domestic utensils,
were endeavoring to call them down into the hive again.
And when the sound died quite away,
and the hum had ceased,
and the most favorable breezes told no tale,
I knew that they had got the last drone of them all safely into the Middlesex hive,
and that now their minds were bent on the honey with which it was smeared.
I felt proud to know that the liberties of Massachusetts and of our fatherland were in such safe keeping;
and as I turned to my hoeing again I was filled with an inexpressible confidence,
and pursued my labor cheerfully with a calm trust in the future.
When there were several bands of musicians,
it sounded as if all the village was a vast bellows and all the buildings expanded and collapsed alternately with a din.
But sometimes it was a really noble and inspiring strain that reached these woods,
and the trumpet that sings of fame,
and I felt as if I could spit a Mexican with a good relish --for why should we always stand for trifles?
--and looked round for a woodchuck or a skunk to exercise my chivalry upon.
These martial strains seemed as far away as Palestine,
and reminded me of a march of crusaders in the horizon,
with a slight tantivy and tremulous motion of the elm tree tops which overhang the village.
This was one of the -great- days;
though the sky had from my clearing only the same everlastingly great look that it wears daily,
and I saw no difference in it.
It was a singular experience that long acquaintance which I cultivated with beans,
what with planting,
and picking over and selling them --the last was the hardest of all --I might add eating,
for I did taste.
I was determined to know beans.
When they were growing,
I used to hoe from five o'clock in the morning till noon,
and commonly spent the rest of the day about other affairs.
Consider the intimate and curious acquaintance one makes with various kinds of weeds --it will bear some iteration in the account,
for there was no little iteration in the labor --disturbing their delicate organizations so ruthlessly,
and making such invidious distinctions with his hoe,
levelling whole ranks of one species,
and sedulously cultivating another.
That's Roman wormwood --that's pigweed --that's sorrel --that's piper-grass --have at him,
chop him up,
turn his roots upward to the sun,
don't let him have a fibre in the shade,
if you do he'll turn himself t' other side up and be as green as a leek in two days.
A long war,
not with cranes,
but with weeds,
those Trojans who had sun and rain and dews on their side.
Daily the beans saw me come to their rescue armed with a hoe,
and thin the ranks of their enemies,
filling up the trenches with weedy dead.
Many a lusty crest --waving Hector,
that towered a whole foot above his crowding comrades,
fell before my weapon and rolled in the dust.
Those summer days which some of my contemporaries devoted to the fine arts in Boston or Rome,
and others to contemplation in India,
and others to trade in London or New York,
with the other farmers of New England,
devoted to husbandry.
Not that I wanted beans to eat,
for I am by nature a Pythagorean,
so far as beans are concerned,
whether they mean porridge or voting,
and exchanged them for rice;
as some must work in fields if only for the sake of tropes and expression,
to serve a parable-maker one day.
It was on the whole a rare amusement,
continued too long,
might have become a dissipation.
Though I gave them no manure,
and did not hoe them all once,
I hoed them unusually well as far as I went,
and was paid for it in the end,
"there being in truth,"
as Evelyn says,
"no compost or laetation whatsoever comparable to this continual motion,
and turning of the mould with the spade."
he adds elsewhere,
"especially if fresh,
has a certain magnetism in it,
by which it attracts the salt,
or virtue (call it either) which gives it life,
and is the logic of all the labor and stir we keep about it,
to sustain us;
all dungings and other sordid temperings being but the vicars succedaneous to this improvement."
this being one of those "worn-out and exhausted lay fields which enjoy their sabbath,"
as Sir Kenelm Digby thinks likely,
attracted "vital spirits" from the air.
I harvested twelve bushels of beans.
But to be more particular,
for it is complained that Mr. Coleman has reported chiefly the expensive experiments of gentlemen farmers,
my outgoes were,
For a hoe ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .....
$ 0.54 Plowing,
and furrowing ... ... ... ...
7.50 Too much.
Beans for seed ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ....
3.12-1/2 Potatoes for seed ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ....
1.33 Peas for seed ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .....
0.40 Turnip seed ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ....
0.06 White line for crow fence ... ... ... ... ... .....
0.02 Horse cultivator and boy three hours ... ... ...
1.00 Horse and cart to get crop ... ... ... ... ... ....
0.75 -- -- -- -- In all ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ....
My income was (patrem familias vendacem,
non emacem esse oportet),
Nine bushels and twelve quarts of beans sold..
$16.94 Five " large potatoes ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
2.50 Nine " small ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
2.25 Grass ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ....
1.00 Stalks ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
0.75 -- -- -- -- In all ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
$23.44 Leaving a pecuniary profit,
as I have elsewhere said,
of ... ... ... .....
This is the result of my experience in raising beans: Plant the common small white bush bean about the first of June,
in rows three feet by eighteen inches apart,
being careful to select fresh round and unmixed seed.
First look out for worms,
and supply vacancies by planting anew.
Then look out for woodchucks,
if it is an exposed place,
for they will nibble off the earliest tender leaves almost clean as they go;
when the young tendrils make their appearance,
they have notice of it,
and will shear them off with both buds and young pods,
sitting erect like a squirrel.
But above all harvest as early as possible,
if you would escape frosts and have a fair and salable crop;
you may save much loss by this means.
This further experience also I gained: I said to myself,
I will not plant beans and corn with so much industry another summer,
but such seeds,
if the seed is not lost,
and the like,
and see if they will not grow in this soil,
even with less toil and manurance,
and sustain me,
for surely it has not been exhausted for these crops.
I said this to myself;
but now another summer is gone,
and I am obliged to say to you,
that the seeds which I planted,
if indeed they -were- the seeds of those virtues,
were wormeaten or had lost their vitality,
and so did not come up.
Commonly men will only be brave as their fathers were brave,
This generation is very sure to plant corn and beans each new year precisely as the Indians did centuries ago and taught the first settlers to do,
as if there were a fate in it.
I saw an old man the other day,
to my astonishment,
making the holes with a hoe for the seventieth time at least,
and not for himself to lie down in!
But why should not the New Englander try new adventures,
and not lay so much stress on his grain,
his potato and grass crop,
and his orchards --raise other crops than these?
Why concern ourselves so much about our beans for seed,
and not be concerned at all about a new generation of men?
We should really be fed and cheered if when we met a man we were sure to see that some of the qualities which I have named,
which we all prize more than those other productions,
but which are for the most part broadcast and floating in the air,
had taken root and grown in him.
Here comes such a subtile and ineffable quality,
as truth or justice,
though the slightest amount or new variety of it,
along the road.
Our ambassadors should be instructed to send home such seeds as these,
and Congress help to distribute them over all the land.
We should never stand upon ceremony with sincerity.
We should never cheat and insult and banish one another by our meanness,
if there were present the kernel of worth and friendliness.
We should not meet thus in haste.
Most men I do not meet at all,
for they seem not to have time;
they are busy about their beans.
We would not deal with a man thus plodding ever,
leaning on a hoe or a spade as a staff between his work,
not as a mushroom,
but partially risen out of the earth,
something more than erect,
like swallows alighted and walking on the ground: --
"And as he spake,
his wings would now and then Spread,
as he meant to fly,
then close again --"
so that we should suspect that we might be conversing with an angel.
Bread may not always nourish us;
but it always does us good,
it even takes stiffness out of our joints,
and makes us supple and buoyant,
when we knew not what ailed us,
to recognize any generosity in man or Nature,
to share any unmixed and heroic joy.
Ancient poetry and mythology suggest,
that husbandry was once a sacred art;
but it is pursued with irreverent haste and heedlessness by us,
our object being to have large farms and large crops merely.
We have no festival,
not excepting our cattle-shows and so-called Thanksgivings,
by which the farmer expresses a sense of the sacredness of his calling,
or is reminded of its sacred origin.
It is the premium and the feast which tempt him.
He sacrifices not to Ceres and the Terrestrial Jove,
but to the infernal Plutus rather.
By avarice and selfishness,
and a grovelling habit,
from which none of us is free,
of regarding the soil as property,
or the means of acquiring property chiefly,
the landscape is deformed,
husbandry is degraded with us,
and the farmer leads the meanest of lives.
He knows Nature but as a robber.
Cato says that the profits of agriculture are particularly pious or just (-maximeque pius quaestus-),
and according to Varro the old Romans "called the same earth Mother and Ceres,
and thought that they who cultivated it led a pious and useful life,
and that they alone were left of the race of King Saturn."
We are wont to forget that the sun looks on our cultivated fields and on the prairies and forests without distinction.
They all reflect and absorb his rays alike,
and the former make but a small part of the glorious picture which he beholds in his daily course.
In his view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden.
Therefore we should receive the benefit of his light and heat with a corresponding trust and magnanimity.
What though I value the seed of these beans,
and harvest that in the fall of the year?
This broad field which I have looked at so long looks not to me as the principal cultivator,
but away from me to influences more genial to it,
which water and make it green.
These beans have results which are not harvested by me.
Do they not grow for woodchucks partly?
The ear of wheat (in Latin -spica-,
hope) should not be the only hope of the husbandman;
its kernel or grain (-granum- from -gerendo-,
bearing) is not all that it bears.
can our harvest fail?
Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds are the granary of the birds?
It matters little comparatively whether the fields fill the farmer's barns.
The true husbandman will cease from anxiety,
as the squirrels manifest no concern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not,
and finish his labor with every day,
relinquishing all claim to the produce of his fields,
and sacrificing in his mind not only his first but his last fruits also.
or perhaps reading and writing,
in the forenoon,
I usually bathed again in the pond,
swimming across one of its coves for a stint,
and washed the dust of labor from my person,
or smoothed out the last wrinkle which study had made,
and for the afternoon was absolutely free.
Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there,
circulating either from mouth to mouth,
or from newspaper to newspaper,
taken in homoeopathic doses,
was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.
As I walked in the woods to see the birds and squirrels,
so I walked in the village to see the men and boys;
instead of the wind among the pines I heard the carts rattle.
In one direction from my house there was a colony of muskrats in the river meadows;
under the grove of elms and buttonwoods in the other horizon was a village of busy men,
as curious to me as if they had been prairie-dogs,
each sitting at the mouth of its burrow,
or running over to a neighbor's to gossip.
I went there frequently to observe their habits.
The village appeared to me a great news room;
and on one side,
to support it,
as once at Redding & Company's on State Street,
they kept nuts and raisins,
or salt and meal and other groceries.
Some have such a vast appetite for the former commodity,
and such sound digestive organs,
that they can sit forever in public avenues without stirring,
and let it simmer and whisper through them like the Etesian winds,
or as if inhaling ether,
it only producing numbness and insensibility to pain --otherwise it would often be painful to bear --without affecting the consciousness.
I hardly ever failed,
when I rambled through the village,
to see a row of such worthies,
either sitting on a ladder sunning themselves,
with their bodies inclined forward and their eyes glancing along the line this way and that,
from time to time,
with a voluptuous expression,
or else leaning against a barn with their hands in their pockets,
as if to prop it up.
being commonly out of doors,
heard whatever was in the wind.
These are the coarsest mills,
in which all gossip is first rudely digested or cracked up before it is emptied into finer and more delicate hoppers within doors.
I observed that the vitals of the village were the grocery,
and the bank;
as a necessary part of the machinery,
they kept a bell,
a big gun,
and a fire-engine,
at convenient places;
and the houses were so arranged as to make the most of mankind,
in lanes and fronting one another,
so that every traveller had to run the gauntlet,
and every man,
and child might get a lick at him.
those who were stationed nearest to the head of the line,
where they could most see and be seen,
and have the first blow at him,
paid the highest prices for their places;
and the few straggling inhabitants in the outskirts,
where long gaps in the line began to occur,
and the traveller could get over walls or turn aside into cow-paths,
and so escape,
paid a very slight ground or window tax.
Signs were hung out on all sides to allure him;
some to catch him by the appetite,
as the tavern and victualling cellar;
some by the fancy,
as the dry goods store and the jeweller's;
and others by the hair or the feet or the skirts,
as the barber,
or the tailor.
there was a still more terrible standing invitation to call at every one of these houses,
and company expected about these times.
For the most part I escaped wonderfully from these dangers,
either by proceeding at once boldly and without deliberation to the goal,
as is recommended to those who run the gauntlet,
or by keeping my thoughts on high things,
"loudly singing the praises of the gods to his lyre,
drowned the voices of the Sirens,
and kept out of danger."
Sometimes I bolted suddenly,
and nobody could tell my whereabouts,
for I did not stand much about gracefulness,
and never hesitated at a gap in a fence.
I was even accustomed to make an irruption into some houses,
where I was well entertained,
and after learning the kernels and very last sieveful of news --what had subsided,
the prospects of war and peace,
and whether the world was likely to hold together much longer --I was let out through the rear avenues,
and so escaped to the woods again.
It was very pleasant,
when I stayed late in town,
to launch myself into the night,
especially if it was dark and tempestuous,
and set sail from some bright village parlor or lecture room,
with a bag of rye or Indian meal upon my shoulder,
for my snug harbor in the woods,
having made all tight without and withdrawn under hatches with a merry crew of thoughts,
leaving only my outer man at the helm,
or even tying up the helm when it was plain sailing.
I had many a genial thought by the cabin fire "as I sailed."
I was never cast away nor distressed in any weather,
though I encountered some severe storms.
It is darker in the woods,
even in common nights,
than most suppose.
I frequently had to look up at the opening between the trees above the path in order to learn my route,
where there was no cart-path,
to feel with my feet the faint track which I had worn,
or steer by the known relation of particular trees which I felt with my hands,
passing between two pines for instance,
not more than eighteen inches apart,
in the midst of the woods,
in the darkest night.
after coming home thus late in a dark and muggy night,
when my feet felt the path which my eyes could not see,
dreaming and absent-minded all the way,
until I was aroused by having to raise my hand to lift the latch,
I have not been able to recall a single step of my walk,
and I have thought that perhaps my body would find its way home if its master should forsake it,
as the hand finds its way to the mouth without assistance.
when a visitor chanced to stay into evening,
and it proved a dark night,
I was obliged to conduct him to the cart-path in the rear of the house,
and then point out to him the direction he was to pursue,
and in keeping which he was to be guided rather by his feet than his eyes.
One very dark night I directed thus on their way two young men who had been fishing in the pond.
They lived about a mile off through the woods,
and were quite used to the route.
A day or two after one of them told me that they wandered about the greater part of the night,
close by their own premises,
and did not get home till toward morning,
by which time,
as there had been several heavy showers in the meanwhile,
and the leaves were very wet,
they were drenched to their skins.
I have heard of many going astray even in the village streets,
when the darkness was so thick that you could cut it with a knife,
as the saying is.
Some who live in the outskirts,
having come to town a-shopping in their wagons,
have been obliged to put up for the night;
and gentlemen and ladies making a call have gone half a mile out of their way,
feeling the sidewalk only with their feet,
and not knowing when they turned.
It is a surprising and memorable,
as well as valuable experience,
to be lost in the woods any time.
Often in a snow-storm,
even by day,
one will come out upon a well-known road and yet find it impossible to tell which way leads to the village.
Though he knows that he has travelled it a thousand times,
he cannot recognize a feature in it,
but it is as strange to him as if it were a road in Siberia.
the perplexity is infinitely greater.
In our most trivial walks,
we are constantly,
steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and headlands,
and if we go beyond our usual course we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape;
and not till we are completely lost,
or turned round --for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost --do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature.
Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes,
whether from sleep or any abstraction.
Not till we are lost,
in other words not till we have lost the world,
do we begin to find ourselves,
and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.
near the end of the first summer,
when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cobbler's,
I was seized and put into jail,
as I have elsewhere related,
I did not pay a tax to,
or recognize the authority of,
the State which buys and sells men,
at the door of its senate-house.
I had gone down to the woods for other purposes.
wherever a man goes,
men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions,
if they can,
constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society.
It is true,
I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect,
might have run "amok" against society;
but I preferred that society should run "amok" against me,
it being the desperate party.
I was released the next day,
obtained my mended shoe,
and returned to the woods in season to get my dinner of huckleberries on Fair Haven Hill.
I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State.
I had no lock nor bolt but for the desk which held my papers,
not even a nail to put over my latch or windows.
I never fastened my door night or day,
though I was to be absent several days;
not even when the next fall I spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine.
And yet my house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers.
The tired rambler could rest and warm himself by my fire,
the literary amuse himself with the few books on my table,
or the curious,
by opening my closet door,
see what was left of my dinner,
and what prospect I had of a supper.
though many people of every class came this way to the pond,
I suffered no serious inconvenience from these sources,
and I never missed anything but one small book,
a volume of Homer,
which perhaps was improperly gilded,
and this I trust a soldier of our camp has found by this time.
I am convinced,
that if all men were to live as simply as I then did,
thieving and robbery would be unknown.
These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.
The Pope's Homers would soon get properly distributed.
"Nec bella fuerunt,
Faginus astabat dum scyphus ante dapes."
"Nor wars did men molest,
When only beechen bowls were in request."
"You who govern public affairs,
what need have you to employ punishments?
and the people will be virtuous.
The virtues of a superior man are like the wind;
the virtues of a common man are like the grass --the grass,
when the wind passes over it,
having had a surfeit of human society and gossip,
and worn out all my village friends,
I rambled still farther westward than I habitually dwell,
into yet more unfrequented parts of the town,
"to fresh woods and pastures new,"
while the sun was setting,
made my supper of huckleberries and blueberries on Fair Haven Hill,
and laid up a store for several days.
The fruits do not yield their true flavor to the purchaser of them,
nor to him who raises them for the market.
There is but one way to obtain it,
yet few take that way.
If you would know the flavor of huckleberries,
ask the cowboy or the partridge.
It is a vulgar error to suppose that you have tasted huckleberries who never plucked them.
A huckleberry never reaches Boston;
they have not been known there since they grew on her three hills.
The ambrosial and essential part of the fruit is lost with the bloom which is rubbed off in the market cart,
and they become mere provender.
As long as Eternal Justice reigns,
not one innocent huckleberry can be transported thither from the country's hills.
after my hoeing was done for the day,
I joined some impatient companion who had been fishing on the pond since morning,
as silent and motionless as a duck or a floating leaf,
after practising various kinds of philosophy,
had concluded commonly,
by the time I arrived,
that he belonged to the ancient sect of Cænobites.
There was one older man,
an excellent fisher and skilled in all kinds of woodcraft,
who was pleased to look upon my house as a building erected for the convenience of fishermen;
and I was equally pleased when he sat in my doorway to arrange his lines.
Once in a while we sat together on the pond,
he at one end of the boat,
and I at the other;
but not many words passed between us,
for he had grown deaf in his later years,
but he occasionally hummed a psalm,
which harmonized well enough with my philosophy.
Our intercourse was thus altogether one of unbroken harmony,
far more pleasing to remember than if it had been carried on by speech.
as was commonly the case,
I had none to commune with,
I used to raise the echoes by striking with a paddle on the side of my boat,
filling the surrounding woods with circling and dilating sound,
stirring them up as the keeper of a menagerie his wild beasts,
until I elicited a growl from every wooded vale and hillside.
In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute,
and saw the perch,
which I seem to have charmed,
hovering around me,
and the moon travelling over the ribbed bottom,
which was strewed with the wrecks of the forest.
Formerly I had come to this pond adventurously,
from time to time,
in dark summer nights,
with a companion,
making a fire close to the water's edge,
which we thought attracted the fishes,
we caught pouts with a bunch of worms strung on a thread,
and when we had done,
far in the night,
threw the burning brands high into the air like skyrockets,
coming down into the pond,
were quenched with a loud hissing,
and we were suddenly groping in total darkness.
whistling a tune,
we took our way to the haunts of men again.
But now I had made my home by the shore.
after staying in a village parlor till the family had all retired,
I have returned to the woods,
partly with a view to the next day's dinner,
spent the hours of midnight fishing from a boat by moonlight,
serenaded by owls and foxes,
from time to time,
the creaking note of some unknown bird close at hand.
These experiences were very memorable and valuable to me --anchored in forty feet of water,
and twenty or thirty rods from the shore,
surrounded sometimes by thousands of small perch and shiners,
dimpling the surface with their tails in the moonlight,
and communicating by a long flaxen line with mysterious nocturnal fishes which had their dwelling forty feet below,
or sometimes dragging sixty feet of line about the pond as I drifted in the gentle night breeze,
now and then feeling a slight vibration along it,
indicative of some life prowling about its extremity,
of dull uncertain blundering purpose there,
and slow to make up its mind.
At length you slowly raise,
pulling hand over hand,
some horned pout squeaking and squirming to the upper air.
It was very queer,
especially in dark nights,
when your thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes in other spheres,
to feel this faint jerk,
which came to interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again.
It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into the air,
as well as downward into this element,
which was scarcely more dense.
Thus I caught two fishes as it were with one hook.
* * * * *
The scenery of Walden is on a humble scale,
though very beautiful,
does not approach to grandeur,
nor can it much concern one who has not long frequented it or lived by its shore;
yet this pond is so remarkable for its depth and purity as to merit a particular description.
It is a clear and deep green well,
half a mile long and a mile and three quarters in circumference,
and contains about sixty-one and a half acres;
a perennial spring in the midst of pine and oak woods,
without any visible inlet or outlet except by the clouds and evaporation.
The surrounding hills rise abruptly from the water to the height of forty to eighty feet,
though on the southeast and east they attain to about one hundred and one hundred and fifty feet respectively,
within a quarter and a third of a mile.
They are exclusively woodland.
All our Concord waters have two colors at least;
one when viewed at a distance,
close at hand.
The first depends more on the light,
and follows the sky.
In clear weather,
they appear blue at a little distance,
especially if agitated,
and at a great distance all appear alike.
In stormy weather they are sometimes of a dark slate-color.
is said to be blue one day and green another without any perceptible change in the atmosphere.
I have seen our river,
the landscape being covered with snow,
both water and ice were almost as green as grass.
Some consider blue "to be the color of pure water,
whether liquid or solid."
looking directly down into our waters from a boat,
they are seen to be of very different colors.
Walden is blue at one time and green at another,
even from the same point of view.
Lying between the earth and the heavens,
it partakes of the color of both.
Viewed from a hilltop it reflects the color of the sky;
but near at hand it is of a yellowish tint next the shore where you can see the sand,
then a light green,
which gradually deepens to a uniform dark green in the body of the pond.
In some lights,
viewed even from a hilltop,
it is of a vivid green next the shore.
Some have referred this to the reflection of the verdure;
but it is equally green there against the railroad sandbank,
and in the spring,
before the leaves are expanded,
and it may be simply the result of the prevailing blue mixed with the yellow of the sand.
Such is the color of its iris.
This is that portion,
where in the spring,
the ice being warmed by the heat of the sun reflected from the bottom,
and also transmitted through the earth,
melts first and forms a narrow canal about the still frozen middle.
Like the rest of our waters,
when much agitated,
in clear weather,
so that the surface of the waves may reflect the sky at the right angle,
or because there is more light mixed with it,
it appears at a little distance of a darker blue than the sky itself;
and at such a time,
being on its surface,
and looking with divided vision,
so as to see the reflection,
I have discerned a matchless and indescribable light blue,
such as watered or changeable silks and sword blades suggest,
more cerulean than the sky itself,
alternating with the original dark green on the opposite sides of the waves,
which last appeared but muddy in comparison.
It is a vitreous greenish blue,
as I remember it,
like those patches of the winter sky seen through cloud vistas in the west before sundown.
Yet a single glass of its water held up to the light is as colorless as an equal quantity of air.
It is well known that a large plate of glass will have a green tint,
as the makers say,
to its "body,"
but a small piece of the same will be colorless.
How large a body of Walden water would be required to reflect a green tint I have never proved.
The water of our river is black or a very dark brown to one looking directly down on it,
like that of most ponds,
imparts to the body of one bathing in it a yellowish tinge;
but this water is of such crystalline purity that the body of the bather appears of an alabaster whiteness,
still more unnatural,
as the limbs are magnified and distorted withal,
produces a monstrous effect,
making fit studies for a Michael Angelo.
The water is so transparent that the bottom can easily be discerned at the depth of twenty-five or thirty feet.
Paddling over it,
you may see,
many feet beneath the surface,
the schools of perch and shiners,
perhaps only an inch long,
yet the former easily distinguished by their transverse bars,
and you think that they must be ascetic fish that find a subsistence there.
in the winter,
many years ago,
when I had been cutting holes through the ice in order to catch pickerel,
as I stepped ashore I tossed my axe back on to the ice,
as if some evil genius had directed it,
it slid four or five rods directly into one of the holes,
where the water was twenty-five feet deep.
Out of curiosity,
I lay down on the ice and looked through the hole,
until I saw the axe a little on one side,
standing on its head,
with its helve erect and gently swaying to and fro with the pulse of the pond;
and there it might have stood erect and swaying till in the course of time the handle rotted off,
if I had not disturbed it.
Making another hole directly over it with an ice chisel which I had,
and cutting down the longest birch which I could find in the neighborhood with my knife,
I made a slip-noose,
which I attached to its end,
letting it down carefully,
passed it over the knob of the handle,
and drew it by a line along the birch,
and so pulled the axe out again.
The shore is composed of a belt of smooth rounded white stones like paving-stones,
excepting one or two short sand beaches,
and is so steep that in many places a single leap will carry you into water over your head;
and were it not for its remarkable transparency,
that would be the last to be seen of its bottom till it rose on the opposite side.
Some think it is bottomless.
It is nowhere muddy,
and a casual observer would say that there were no weeds at all in it;
and of noticeable plants,
except in the little meadows recently overflowed,
which do not properly belong to it,
a closer scrutiny does not detect a flag nor a bulrush,
nor even a lily,
yellow or white,
but only a few small heart-leaves and potamogetons,
and perhaps a water-target or two;
all which however a bather might not perceive;
and these plants are clean and bright like the element they grow in.
The stones extend a rod or two into the water,
and then the bottom is pure sand,
except in the deepest parts,
where there is usually a little sediment,
probably from the decay of the leaves which have been wafted on to it so many successive falls,
and a bright green weed is brought up on anchors even in midwinter.
We have one other pond just like this,
in Nine Acre Corner,
about two and a half miles westerly;
though I am acquainted with most of the ponds within a dozen miles of this centre I do not know a third of this pure and well-like character.
Successive nations perchance have drank at,
and fathomed it,
and passed away,
and still its water is green and pellucid as ever.
Not an intermitting spring!
Perhaps on that spring morning when Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden Walden Pond was already in existence,
and even then breaking up in a gentle spring rain accompanied with mist and a southerly wind,
and covered with myriads of ducks and geese,
which had not heard of the fall,
when still such pure lakes sufficed them.
Even then it had commenced to rise and fall,
and had clarified its waters and colored them of the hue they now wear,
and obtained a patent of Heaven to be the only Walden Pond in the world and distiller of celestial dews.
Who knows in how many unremembered nations' literatures this has been the Castalian Fountain?
or what nymphs presided over it in the Golden Age?
It is a gem of the first water which Concord wears in her coronet.
Yet perchance the first who came to this well have left some trace of their footsteps.
I have been surprised to detect encircling the pond,
even where a thick wood has just been cut down on the shore,
a narrow shelf-like path in the steep hillside,
alternately rising and falling,
approaching and receding from the water's edge,
as old probably as the race of man here,
worn by the feet of aboriginal hunters,
and still from time to time unwittingly trodden by the present occupants of the land.
This is particularly distinct to one standing on the middle of the pond in winter,
just after a light snow has fallen,
appearing as a clear undulating white line,
unobscured by weeds and twigs,
and very obvious a quarter of a mile off in many places where in summer it is hardly distinguishable close at hand.
The snow reprints it,
as it were,
in clear white type alto-relievo.
The ornamented grounds of villas which will one day be built here may still preserve some trace of this.
The pond rises and falls,
but whether regularly or not,
and within what period,
many pretend to know.
It is commonly higher in the winter and lower in the summer,
though not corresponding to the general wet and dryness.
I can remember when it was a foot or two lower,
and also when it was at least five feet higher,
than when I lived by it.
There is a narrow sand-bar running into it,
with very deep water on one side,
on which I helped boil a kettle of chowder,
some six rods from the main shore,
about the year 1824,
which it has not been possible to do for twenty-five years;
on the other hand,
my friends used to listen with incredulity when I told them,
that a few years later I was accustomed to fish from a boat in a secluded cove in the woods,
fifteen rods from the only shore they knew,
which place was long since converted into a meadow.
But the pond has risen steadily for two years,
in the summer of
is just five feet higher than when I lived there,
or as high as it was thirty years ago,
and fishing goes on again in the meadow.
This makes a difference of level,
at the outside,
of six or seven feet;
and yet the water shed by the surrounding hills is insignificant in amount,
and this overflow must be referred to causes which affect the deep springs.
This same summer the pond has begun to fall again.
It is remarkable that this fluctuation,
whether periodical or not,
appears thus to require many years for its accomplishment.
I have observed one rise and a part of two falls,
and I expect that a dozen or fifteen years hence the water will again be as low as I have ever known it.
a mile eastward,
allowing for the disturbance occasioned by its inlets and outlets,
and the smaller intermediate ponds also,
sympathize with Walden,
and recently attained their greatest height at the same time with the latter.
The same is true,
as far as my observation goes,
of White Pond.
This rise and fall of Walden at long intervals serves this use at least;
the water standing at this great height for a year or more,
though it makes it difficult to walk round it,
kills the shrubs and trees which have sprung up about its edge since the last rise --pitch pines,
and others --and,
leaves an unobstructed shore;
unlike many ponds and all waters which are subject to a daily tide,
its shore is cleanest when the water is lowest.
On the side of the pond next my house a row of pitch pines,
fifteen feet high,
has been killed and tipped over as if by a lever,
and thus a stop put to their encroachments;
and their size indicates how many years have elapsed since the last rise to this height.
By this fluctuation the pond asserts its title to a shore,
and thus the -shore- is -shorn-,
and the trees cannot hold it by right of possession.
These are the lips of the lake,
on which no beard grows.
It licks its chaps from time to time.
When the water is at its height,
and maples send forth a mass of fibrous red roots several feet long from all sides of their stems in the water,
and to the height of three or four feet from the ground,
in the effort to maintain themselves;
and I have known the high blueberry bushes about the shore,
which commonly produce no fruit,
bear an abundant crop under these circumstances.
Some have been puzzled to tell how the shore became so regularly paved.
My townsmen have all heard the tradition --the oldest people tell me that they heard it in their youth --that anciently the Indians were holding a pow-wow upon a hill here,
which rose as high into the heavens as the pond now sinks deep into the earth,
and they used much profanity,
as the story goes,
though this vice is one of which the Indians were never guilty,
and while they were thus engaged the hill shook and suddenly sank,
and only one old squaw,
and from her the pond was named.
It has been conjectured that when the hill shook these stones rolled down its side and became the present shore.
It is very certain,
at any rate,
that once there was no pond here,
and now there is one;
and this Indian fable does not in any respect conflict with the account of that ancient settler whom I have mentioned,
who remembers so well when he first came here with his divining-rod,
saw a thin vapor rising from the sward,
and the hazel pointed steadily downward,
and he concluded to dig a well here.
As for the stones,
many still think that they are hardly to be accounted for by the action of the waves on these hills;
but I observe that the surrounding hills are remarkably full of the same kind of stones,
so that they have been obliged to pile them up in walls on both sides of the railroad cut nearest the pond;
there are most stones where the shore is most abrupt;
it is no longer a mystery to me.
I detect the paver.
If the name was not derived from that of some English locality --Saffron Walden,
for instance --one might suppose that it was called originally -Walled-in- Pond.
The pond was my well ready dug.
For four months in the year its water is as cold as it is pure at all times;
and I think that it is then as good as any,
if not the best,
in the town.
In the winter,
all water which is exposed to the air is colder than springs and wells which are protected from it.
The temperature of the pond water which had stood in the room where I sat from five o'clock in the afternoon till noon the next day,
the sixth of March,
the thermometer having been up to 65º or 70º some of the time,
owing partly to the sun on the roof,
or one degree colder than the water of one of the coldest wells in the village just drawn.
The temperature of the Boiling Spring the same day was 45º,
or the warmest of any water tried,
though it is the coldest that I know of in summer,
shallow and stagnant surface water is not mingled with it.
Walden never becomes so warm as most water which is exposed to the sun,
on account of its depth.
In the warmest weather I usually placed a pailful in my cellar,
where it became cool in the night,
and remained so during the day;
though I also resorted to a spring in the neighborhood.
It was as good when a week old as the day it was dipped,
and had no taste of the pump.
Whoever camps for a week in summer by the shore of a pond,
needs only bury a pail of water a few feet deep in the shade of his camp to be independent of the luxury of ice.
There have been caught in Walden pickerel,
one weighing seven pounds --to say nothing of another which carried off a reel with great velocity,
which the fisherman safely set down at eight pounds because he did not see him --perch and pouts,
some of each weighing over two pounds,
chivins or roach (-Leuciscus pulchellus-),
a very few breams,
and a couple of eels,
one weighing four pounds --I am thus particular because the weight of a fish is commonly its only title to fame,
and these are the only eels I have heard of here;
I have a faint recollection of a little fish some five inches long,
with silvery sides and a greenish back,
somewhat dace-like in its character,
which I mention here chiefly to link my facts to fable.
this pond is not very fertile in fish.
though not abundant,
are its chief boast.
I have seen at one time lying on the ice pickerel of at least three different kinds: a long and shallow one,
most like those caught in the river;
a bright golden kind,
with greenish reflections and remarkably deep,
which is the most common here;
and shaped like the last,
but peppered on the sides with small dark brown or black spots,
intermixed with a few faint blood-red ones,
very much like a trout.
The specific name -reticulatus- would not apply to this;
it should be -guttatus- rather.
These are all very firm fish,
and weigh more than their size promises.
and perch also,
and indeed all the fishes which inhabit this pond,
are much cleaner,
and firmer-fleshed than those in the river and most other ponds,
as the water is purer,
and they can easily be distinguished from them.
Probably many ichthyologists would make new varieties of some of them.
There are also a clean race of frogs and tortoises,
and a few mussels in it;
muskrats and minks leave their traces about it,
and occasionally a travelling mud-turtle visits it.
when I pushed off my boat in the morning,
I disturbed a great mud-turtle which had secreted himself under the boat in the night.
Ducks and geese frequent it in the spring and fall,
the white-bellied swallows (-Hirundo bicolor-) skim over it,
and the peetweets (-Totanus macularius-) "teeter" along its stony shores all summer.
I have sometimes disturbed a fish hawk sitting on a white pine over the water;
but I doubt if it is ever profaned by the wind of a gull,
like Fair Haven.
it tolerates one annual loon.
These are all the animals of consequence which frequent it now.
You may see from a boat,
in calm weather,
near the sandy eastern shore,
where the water is eight or ten feet deep,
and also in some other parts of the pond,
some circular heaps half a dozen feet in diameter by a foot in height,
consisting of small stones less than a hen's egg in size,
where all around is bare sand.
At first you wonder if the Indians could have formed them on the ice for any purpose,
when the ice melted,
they sank to the bottom;
but they are too regular and some of them plainly too fresh for that.
They are similar to those found in rivers;
but as there are no suckers nor lampreys here,
I know not by what fish they could be made.
Perhaps they are the nests of the chivin.
These lend a pleasing mystery to the bottom.
The shore is irregular enough not to be monotonous.
I have in my mind's eye the western,
indented with deep bays,
the bolder northern,
and the beautifully scalloped southern shore,
where successive capes overlap each other and suggest unexplored coves between.
The forest has never so good a setting,
nor is so distinctly beautiful,
as when seen from the middle of a small lake amid hills which rise from the water's edge;
for the water in which it is reflected not only makes the best foreground in such a case,
with its winding shore,
the most natural and agreeable boundary to it.
There is no rawness nor imperfection in its edge there,
as where the axe has cleared a part,
or a cultivated field abuts on it.
The trees have ample room to expand on the water side,
and each sends forth its most vigorous branch in that direction.
There Nature has woven a natural selvage,
and the eye rises by just gradations from the low shrubs of the shore to the highest trees.
There are few traces of man's hand to be seen.
The water laves the shore as it did a thousand years ago.
A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature.
It is earth's eye;
looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.
The fluviatile trees next the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it,
and the wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows.
Standing on the smooth sandy beach at the east end of the pond,
in a calm September afternoon,
when a slight haze makes the opposite shore-line indistinct,
I have seen whence came the expression,
"the glassy surface of a lake."
When you invert your head,
it looks like a thread of finest gossamer stretched across the valley,
and gleaming against the distant pine woods,
separating one stratum of the atmosphere from another.
You would think that you could walk dry under it to the opposite hills,
and that the swallows which skim over might perch on it.
they sometimes dive below this line,
as it were by mistake,
and are undeceived.
As you look over the pond westward you are obliged to employ both your hands to defend your eyes against the reflected as well as the true sun,
for they are equally bright;
between the two,
you survey its surface critically,
it is literally as smooth as glass,
except where the skater insects,
at equal intervals scattered over its whole extent,
by their motions in the sun produce the finest imaginable sparkle on it,
a duck plumes itself,
as I have said,
a swallow skims so low as to touch it.
It may be that in the distance a fish describes an arc of three or four feet in the air,
and there is one bright flash where it emerges,
and another where it strikes the water;
sometimes the whole silvery arc is revealed;
or here and there,
is a thistle-down floating on its surface,
which the fishes dart at and so dimple it again.
It is like molten glass cooled but not congealed,
and the few motes in it are pure and beautiful like the imperfections in glass.
You may often detect a yet smoother and darker water,
separated from the rest as if by an invisible cobweb,
boom of the water nymphs,
resting on it.
From a hilltop you can see a fish leap in almost any part;
for not a pickerel or shiner picks an insect from this smooth surface but it manifestly disturbs the equilibrium of the whole lake.
It is wonderful with what elaborateness this simple fact is advertised --this piscine murder will out --and from my distant perch I distinguish the circling undulations when they are half a dozen rods in diameter.
You can even detect a water-bug (-Gyrinus-) ceaselessly progressing over the smooth surface a quarter of a mile off;
for they furrow the water slightly,
making a conspicuous ripple bounded by two diverging lines,
but the skaters glide over it without rippling it perceptibly.
When the surface is considerably agitated there are no skaters nor water-bugs on it,
in calm days,
they leave their havens and adventurously glide forth from the shore by short impulses till they completely cover it.
It is a soothing employment,
on one of those fine days in the fall when all the warmth of the sun is fully appreciated,
to sit on a stump on such a height as this,
overlooking the pond,
and study the dimpling circles which are incessantly inscribed on its otherwise invisible surface amid the reflected skies and trees.
Over this great expanse there is no disturbance but it is thus at once gently smoothed away and assuaged,
when a vase of water is jarred,
the trembling circles seek the shore and all is smooth again.
Not a fish can leap or an insect fall on the pond but it is thus reported in circling dimples,
in lines of beauty,
as it were the constant welling up of its fountain,
the gentle pulsing of its life,
the heaving of its breast.
The thrills of joy and thrills of pain are undistinguishable.
How peaceful the phenomena of the lake!
Again the works of man shine as in the spring.
every leaf and twig and stone and cobweb sparkles now at mid-afternoon as when covered with dew in a spring morning.
Every motion of an oar or an insect produces a flash of light;
and if an oar falls,
how sweet the echo!
In such a day,
in September or October,
Walden is a perfect forest mirror,
set round with stones as precious to my eye as if fewer or rarer.
Nothing so fair,
and at the same time so large,
as a lake,
lies on the surface of the earth.
It needs no fence.
Nations come and go without defiling it.
It is a mirror which no stone can crack,
whose quicksilver will never wear off,
whose gilding Nature continually repairs;
can dim its surface ever fresh;
--a mirror in which all impurity presented to it sinks,
swept and dusted by the sun's hazy brush --this the light dust-cloth --which retains no breath that is breathed on it,
but sends its own to float as clouds high above its surface,
and be reflected in its bosom still.
A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air.
It is continually receiving new life and motion from above.
It is intermediate in its nature between land and sky.
On land only the grass and trees wave,
but the water itself is rippled by the wind.
I see where the breeze dashes across it by the streaks or flakes of light.
It is remarkable that we can look down on its surface.
look down thus on the surface of air at length,
and mark where a still subtler spirit sweeps over it.
The skaters and water-bugs finally disappear in the latter part of October,
when the severe frosts have come;
and then and in November,
in a calm day,
there is absolutely nothing to ripple the surface.
One November afternoon,
in the calm at the end of a rain-storm of several days' duration,
when the sky was still completely overcast and the air was full of mist,
I observed that the pond was remarkably smooth,
so that it was difficult to distinguish its surface;
though it no longer reflected the bright tints of October,
but the sombre November colors of the surrounding hills.
Though I passed over it as gently as possible,
the slight undulations produced by my boat extended almost as far as I could see,
and gave a ribbed appearance to the reflections.
as I was looking over the surface,
I saw here and there at a distance a faint glimmer,
as if some skater insects which had escaped the frosts might be collected there,
being so smooth,
betrayed where a spring welled up from the bottom.
Paddling gently to one of these places,
I was surprised to find myself surrounded by myriads of small perch,
about five inches long,
of a rich bronze color in the green water,
and constantly rising to the surface and dimpling it,
sometimes leaving bubbles on it.
In such transparent and seemingly bottomless water,
reflecting the clouds,
I seemed to be floating through the air as in a balloon,
and their swimming impressed me as a kind of flight or hovering,
as if they were a compact flock of birds passing just beneath my level on the right or left,
set all around them.
There were many such schools in the pond,
apparently improving the short season before winter would draw an icy shutter over their broad skylight,
sometimes giving to the surface an appearance as if a slight breeze struck it,
or a few rain-drops fell there.
When I approached carelessly and alarmed them,
they made a sudden splash and rippling with their tails,
as if one had struck the water with a brushy bough,
and instantly took refuge in the depths.
At length the wind rose,
the mist increased,
and the waves began to run,
and the perch leaped much higher than before,
half out of water,
a hundred black points,
three inches long,
at once above the surface.
Even as late as the fifth of December,
I saw some dimples on the surface,
and thinking it was going to rain hard immediately,
the air being full of mist,
I made haste to take my place at the oars and row homeward;
already the rain seemed rapidly increasing,
though I felt none on my cheek,
and I anticipated a thorough soaking.
But suddenly the dimples ceased,
for they were produced by the perch,
which the noise of my oars had seared into the depths,
and I saw their schools dimly disappearing;
so I spent a dry afternoon after all.
An old man who used to frequent this pond nearly sixty years ago,
when it was dark with surrounding forests,
tells me that in those days he sometimes saw it all alive with ducks and other water-fowl,
and that there were many eagles about it.
He came here a-fishing,
and used an old log canoe which he found on the shore.
It was made of two white pine logs dug out and pinned together,
and was cut off square at the ends.
It was very clumsy,
but lasted a great many years before it became water-logged and perhaps sank to the bottom.
He did not know whose it was;
it belonged to the pond.
He used to make a cable for his anchor of strips of hickory bark tied together.
An old man,
who lived by the pond before the Revolution,
told him once that there was an iron chest at the bottom,
and that he had seen it.
Sometimes it would come floating up to the shore;
but when you went toward it,
it would go back into deep water and disappear.
I was pleased to hear of the old log canoe,
which took the place of an Indian one of the same material but more graceful construction,
which perchance had first been a tree on the bank,
as it were,
fell into the water,
to float there for a generation,
the most proper vessel for the lake.
I remember that when I first looked into these depths there were many large trunks to be seen indistinctly lying on the bottom,
which had either been blown over formerly,
or left on the ice at the last cutting,
when wood was cheaper;
but now they have mostly disappeared.
When I first paddled a boat on Walden,
it was completely surrounded by thick and lofty pine and oak woods,
and in some of its coves grape-vines had run over the trees next the water and formed bowers under which a boat could pass.
The hills which form its shores are so steep,
and the woods on them were then so high,
as you looked down from the west end,
it had the appearance of an amphitheatre for some land of sylvan spectacle.
I have spent many an hour,
when I was younger,
floating over its surface as the zephyr willed,
having paddled my boat to the middle,
and lying on my back across the seats,
in a summer forenoon,
until I was aroused by the boat touching the sand,
and I arose to see what shore my fates had impelled me to;
days when idleness was the most attractive and productive industry.
Many a forenoon have I stolen away,
preferring to spend thus the most valued part of the day;
for I was rich,
if not in money,
in sunny hours and summer days,
and spent them lavishly;
nor do I regret that I did not waste more of them in the workshop or the teacher's desk.
But since I left those shores the woodchoppers have still further laid them waste,
and now for many a year there will be no more rambling through the aisles of the wood,
with occasional vistas through which you see the water.
My Muse may be excused if she is silent henceforth.
How can you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down?
Now the trunks of trees on the bottom,
and the old log canoe,
and the dark surrounding woods,
and the villagers,
who scarcely know where it lies,
instead of going to the pond to bathe or drink,
are thinking to bring its water,
which should be as sacred as the Ganges at least,
to the village in a pipe,
to wash their dishes with!
--to earn their Walden by the turning of a cock or drawing of a plug!
That devilish Iron Horse,
whose ear-rending neigh is heard throughout the town,
has muddied the Boiling Spring with his foot,
and he it is that has browsed off all the woods on Walden shore,
that Trojan horse,
with a thousand men in his belly,
introduced by mercenary Greeks!
Where is the country's champion,
the Moore of Moore Hill,
to meet him at the Deep Cut and thrust an avenging lance between the ribs of the bloated pest?
of all the characters I have known,
perhaps Walden wears best,
and best preserves its purity.
Many men have been likened to it,
but few deserve that honor.
Though the woodchoppers have laid bare first this shore and then that,
and the Irish have built their sties by it,
and the railroad has infringed on its border,
and the ice-men have skimmed it once,
it is itself unchanged,
the same water which my youthful eyes fell on;
all the change is in me.
It has not acquired one permanent wrinkle after all its ripples.
It is perennially young,
and I may stand and see a swallow dip apparently to pick an insect from its surface as of yore.
It struck me again tonight,
as if I had not seen it almost daily for more than twenty years --Why,
here is Walden,
the same woodland lake that I discovered so many years ago;
where a forest was cut down last winter another is springing up by its shore as lustily as ever;
the same thought is welling up to its surface that was then;
it is the same liquid joy and happiness to itself and its Maker,
and it may be to me.
It is the work of a brave man surely,
in whom there was no guile!
He rounded this water with his hand,
deepened and clarified it in his thought,
and in his will bequeathed it to Concord.
I see by its face that it is visited by the same reflection;
and I can almost say,
is it you?
It is no dream of mine,
To ornament a line;
I cannot come nearer to God and Heaven Than I live to Walden even.
I am its stony shore,
And the breeze that passes o'er;
In the hollow of my hand Are its water and its sand,
And its deepest resort Lies high in my thought.
The cars never pause to look at it;
yet I fancy that the engineers and firemen and brakemen,
and those passengers who have a season ticket and see it often,
are better men for the sight.
The engineer does not forget at night,
or his nature does not,
that he has beheld this vision of serenity and purity once at least during the day.
Though seen but once,
it helps to wash out State Street and the engine's soot.
One proposes that it be called "God's Drop."
I have said that Walden has no visible inlet nor outlet,
but it is on the one hand distantly and indirectly related to Flint's Pond,
which is more elevated,
by a chain of small ponds coming from that quarter,
and on the other directly and manifestly to Concord River,
which is lower,
by a similar chain of ponds through which in some other geological period it may have flowed,
and by a little digging,
which God forbid,
it can be made to flow thither again.
If by living thus reserved and austere,
like a hermit in the woods,
it has acquired such wonderful purity,
who would not regret that the comparatively impure waters of Flint's Pond should be mingled with it,
or itself should ever go to waste its sweetness in the ocean wave?
* * * * *
or Sandy Pond,
our greatest lake and inland sea,
lies about a mile east of Walden.
It is much larger,
being said to contain one hundred and ninety-seven acres,
and is more fertile in fish;
but it is comparatively shallow,
and not remarkably pure.
A walk through the woods thither was often my recreation.
It was worth the while,
if only to feel the wind blow on your cheek freely,
and see the waves run,
and remember the life of mariners.
I went a-chestnutting there in the fall,
on windy days,
when the nuts were dropping into the water and were washed to my feet;
and one day,
as I crept along its sedgy shore,
the fresh spray blowing in my face,
I came upon the mouldering wreck of a boat,
the sides gone,
and hardly more than the impression of its flat bottom left amid the rushes;
yet its model was sharply defined,
as if it were a large decayed pad,
with its veins.
It was as impressive a wreck as one could imagine on the seashore,
and had as good a moral.
It is by this time mere vegetable mould and undistinguishable pond shore,
through which rushes and flags have pushed up.
I used to admire the ripple marks on the sandy bottom,
at the north end of this pond,
made firm and hard to the feet of the wader by the pressure of the water,
and the rushes which grew in Indian file,
in waving lines,
corresponding to these marks,
rank behind rank,
as if the waves had planted them.
There also I have found,
in considerable quantities,
composed apparently of fine grass or roots,
of pipewort perhaps,
from half an inch to four inches in diameter,
and perfectly spherical.
These wash back and forth in shallow water on a sandy bottom,
and are sometimes cast on the shore.
They are either solid grass,
or have a little sand in the middle.
At first you would say that they were formed by the action of the waves,
like a pebble;
yet the smallest are made of equally coarse materials,
half an inch long,
and they are produced only at one season of the year.
do not so much construct as wear down a material which has already acquired consistency.
They preserve their form when dry for an indefinite period.
-Flint's Pond!- Such is the poverty of our nomenclature.
What right had the unclean and stupid farmer,
whose farm abutted on this sky water,
whose shores he has ruthlessly laid bare,
to give his name to it?
who loved better the reflecting surface of a dollar,
or a bright cent,
in which he could see his own brazen face;
who regarded even the wild ducks which settled in it as trespassers;
his fingers grown into crooked and bony talons from the long habit of grasping harpy-like;
--so it is not named for me.
I go not there to see him nor to hear of him;
who never saw it,
who never bathed in it,
who never loved it,
who never protected it,
who never spoke a good word for it,
nor thanked God that He had made it.
Rather let it be named from the fishes that swim in it,
the wild fowl or quadrupeds which frequent it,
the wild flowers which grow by its shores,
or some wild man or child the thread of whose history is interwoven with its own;
not from him who could show no title to it but the deed which a like-minded neighbor or legislature gave him --him who thought only of its money value;
whose presence perchance cursed all the shores;
who exhausted the land around it,
and would fain have exhausted the waters within it;
who regretted only that it was not English hay or cranberry meadow --there was nothing to redeem it,
in his eyes --and would have drained and sold it for the mud at its bottom.
It did not turn his mill,
and it was no -privilege- to him to behold it.
I respect not his labors,
his farm where everything has its price,
who would carry the landscape,
who would carry his God,
if he could get anything for him;
who goes to market -for- his god as it is;
on whose farm nothing grows free,
whose fields bear no crops,
whose meadows no flowers,
whose trees no fruits,
who loves not the beauty of his fruits,
whose fruits are not ripe for him till they are turned to dollars.
Give me the poverty that enjoys true wealth.
Farmers are respectable and interesting to me in proportion as they are poor --poor farmers.
A model farm!
where the house stands like a fungus in a muckheap,
chambers for men,
cleansed and uncleansed,
all contiguous to one another!
Stocked with men!
A great grease-spot,
redolent of manures and buttermilk!
Under a high state of cultivation,
being manured with the hearts and brains of men!
As if you were to raise your potatoes in the churchyard!
Such is a model farm.
if the fairest features of the landscape are to be named after men,
let them be the noblest and worthiest men alone.
Let our lakes receive as true names at least as the Icarian Sea,
where "still the shore" a "brave attempt resounds."
* * * * *
of small extent,
is on my way to Flint's;
an expansion of Concord River,
said to contain some seventy acres,
is a mile southwest;
and White Pond,
of about forty acres,
is a mile and a half beyond Fair Haven.
This is my lake country.
with Concord River,
are my water privileges;
and night and day,
year in year out,
they grind such grist as I carry to them.
Since the wood-cutters,
and the railroad,
and I myself have profaned Walden,
perhaps the most attractive,
if not the most beautiful,
of all our lakes,
the gem of the woods,
is White Pond;
--a poor name from its commonness,
whether derived from the remarkable purity of its waters or the color of its sands.
In these as in other respects,
it is a lesser twin of Walden.
They are so much alike that you would say they must be connected under ground.
It has the same stony shore,
and its waters are of the same hue.
As at Walden,
in sultry dog-day weather,
looking down through the woods on some of its bays which are not so deep but that the reflection from the bottom tinges them,
its waters are of a misty bluish-green or glaucous color.
Many years since I used to go there to collect the sand by cartloads,
to make sandpaper with,
and I have continued to visit it ever since.
One who frequents it proposes to call it Virid Lake.
Perhaps it might be called Yellow Pine Lake,
from the following circumstance.
About fifteen years ago you could see the top of a pitch pine,
of the kind called yellow pine hereabouts,
though it is not a distinct species,
projecting above the surface in deep water,
many rods from the shore.
It was even supposed by some that the pond had sunk,
and this was one of the primitive forest that formerly stood there.
I find that even so long ago as 1792,
in a "Topographical Description of the Town of Concord,"
by one of its citizens,
in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society,
after speaking of Walden and White Ponds,
"In the middle of the latter may be seen,
when the water is very low,
a tree which appears as if it grew in the place where it now stands,
although the roots are fifty feet below the surface of the water;
the top of this tree is broken off,
and at that place measures fourteen inches in diameter."
In the spring of
'49 I talked with the man who lives nearest the pond in Sudbury,
who told me that it was he who got out this tree ten or fifteen years before.
As near as he could remember,
it stood twelve or fifteen rods from the shore,
where the water was thirty or forty feet deep.
It was in the winter,
and he had been getting out ice in the forenoon,
and had resolved that in the afternoon,
with the aid of his neighbors,
he would take out the old yellow pine.
He sawed a channel in the ice toward the shore,
and hauled it over and along and out on to the ice with oxen;
before he had gone far in his work,
he was surprised to find that it was wrong end upward,
with the stumps of the branches pointing down,
and the small end firmly fastened in the sandy bottom.
It was about a foot in diameter at the big end,
and he had expected to get a good saw-log,
but it was so rotten as to be fit only for fuel,
if for that.
He had some of it in his shed then.
There were marks of an axe and of woodpeckers on the butt.
He thought that it might have been a dead tree on the shore,
but was finally blown over into the pond,
and after the top had become water-logged,
while the butt-end was still dry and light,
had drifted out and sunk wrong end up.
eighty years old,
could not remember when it was not there.
Several pretty large logs may still be seen lying on the bottom,
owing to the undulation of the surface,
they look like huge water snakes in motion.
This pond has rarely been profaned by a boat,
for there is little in it to tempt a fisherman.
Instead of the white lily,
which requires mud,
or the common sweet flag,
the blue flag (-Iris versicolor-) grows thinly in the pure water,
rising from the stony bottom all around the shore,
where it is visited by hummingbirds in June;
and the color both of its bluish blades and its flowers and especially their reflections,
is in singular harmony with the glaucous water.
White Pond and Walden are great crystals on the surface of the earth,
Lakes of Light.
If they were permanently congealed,
and small enough to be clutched,
be carried off by slaves,
like precious stones,
to adorn the heads of emperors;
but being liquid,
and secured to us and our successors forever,
we disregard them,
and run after the diamond of Kohinoor.
They are too pure to have a market value;
they contain no muck.
How much more beautiful than our lives,
how much more transparent than our characters,
We never learned meanness of them.
How much fairer than the pool before the farmer's door,
in which his ducks swim!
Hither the clean wild ducks come.
Nature has no human inhabitant who appreciates her.
The birds with their plumage and their notes are in harmony with the flowers,
but what youth or maiden conspires with the wild luxuriant beauty of Nature?
She flourishes most alone,
far from the towns where they reside.
Talk of heaven!
ye disgrace earth.
Sometimes I rambled to pine groves,
standing like temples,
or like fleets at sea,
with wavy boughs,
and rippling with light,
so soft and green and shady that the Druids would have forsaken their oaks to worship in them;
or to the cedar wood beyond Flint's Pond,
where the trees,
covered with hoary blue berries,
spiring higher and higher,
are fit to stand before Valhalla,
and the creeping juniper covers the ground with wreaths full of fruit;
or to swamps where the usnea lichen hangs in festoons from the white spruce trees,
round tables of the swamp gods,
cover the ground,
and more beautiful fungi adorn the stumps,
like butterflies or shells,
where the swamp-pink and dogwood grow,
the red alderberry glows like eyes of imps,
the waxwork grooves and crushes the hardest woods in its folds,
and the wild holly berries make the beholder forget his home with their beauty,
and he is dazzled and tempted by nameless other wild forbidden fruits,
too fair for mortal taste.
Instead of calling on some scholar,
I paid many a visit to particular trees,
of kinds which are rare in this neighborhood,
standing far away in the middle of some pasture,
or in the depths of a wood or swamp,
or on a hilltop;
such as the black birch,
of which we have some handsome specimens two feet in diameter;
the yellow birch,
with its loose golden vest,
perfumed like the first;
which has so neat a bole and beautifully lichen-painted,
perfect in all its details,
excepting scattered specimens,
I know but one small grove of sizable trees left in the township,
supposed by some to have been planted by the pigeons that were once baited with beechnuts near by;
it is worth the while to see the silver grain sparkle when you split this wood;
the -Celtis occidentalis-,
or false elm,
of which we have but one well-grown;
some taller mast of a pine,
a shingle tree,
or a more perfect hemlock than usual,
standing like a pagoda in the midst of the woods;
and many others I could mention.
These were the shrines I visited both summer and winter.
Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of a rainbow's arch,
which filled the lower stratum of the atmosphere,
tinging the grass and leaves around,
and dazzling me as if I looked through colored crystal.
It was a lake of rainbow light,
for a short while,
I lived like a dolphin.
If it had lasted longer it might have tinged my employments and life.
As I walked on the railroad causeway,
I used to wonder at the halo of light around my shadow,
and would fain fancy myself one of the elect.
One who visited me declared that the shadows of some Irishmen before him had no halo about them,
that it was only natives that were so distinguished.
Benvenuto Cellini tells us in his memoirs,
after a certain terrible dream or vision which he had during his confinement in the castle of St. Angelo a resplendent light appeared over the shadow of his head at morning and evening,
whether he was in Italy or France,
and it was particularly conspicuous when the grass was moist with dew.
This was probably the same phenomenon to which I have referred,
which is especially observed in the morning,
but also at other times,
and even by moonlight.
Though a constant one,
it is not commonly noticed,
in the case of an excitable imagination like Cellini's,
it would be basis enough for superstition.
he tells us that he showed it to very few.
But are they not indeed distinguished who are conscious that they are regarded at all?
* * * * *
I set out one afternoon to go a-fishing to Fair Haven,
through the woods,
to eke out my scanty fare of vegetables.
My way led through Pleasant Meadow,
an adjunct of the Baker Farm,
that retreat of which a poet has since sung,
"Thy entry is a pleasant field,
Which some mossy fruit trees yield Partly to a ruddy brook,
By gliding musquash undertook,
And mercurial trout,
I thought of living there before I went to Walden.
I "hooked" the apples,
leaped the brook,
and scared the musquash and the trout.
It was one of those afternoons which seem indefinitely long before one,
in which many events may happen,
a large portion of our natural life,
though it was already half spent when I started.
By the way there came up a shower,
which compelled me to stand half an hour under a pine,
piling boughs over my head,
and wearing my handkerchief for a shed;
and when at length I had made one cast over the pickerelweed,
standing up to my middle in water,
I found myself suddenly in the shadow of a cloud,
and the thunder began to rumble with such emphasis that I could do no more than listen to it.
The gods must be proud,
with such forked flashes to rout a poor unarmed fisherman.
So I made haste for shelter to the nearest hut,
which stood half a mile from any road,
but so much the nearer to the pond,
and had long been uninhabited: --
"And here a poet builded,
In the completed years,
For behold a trivial cabin That to destruction steers."
So the Muse fables.
as I found,
dwelt now John Field,
and his wife,
and several children,
from the broad-faced boy who assisted his father at his work,
and now came running by his side from the bog to escape the rain,
to the wrinkled,
cone-headed infant that sat upon its father's knee as in the palaces of nobles,
and looked out from its home in the midst of wet and hunger inquisitively upon the stranger,
with the privilege of infancy,
not knowing but it was the last of a noble line,
and the hope and cynosure of the world,
instead of John Field's poor starveling brat.
There we sat together under that part of the roof which leaked the least,
while it showered and thundered without.
I had sat there many times of old before the ship was built that floated his family to America.
but shiftless man plainly was John Field;
and his wife,
she too was brave to cook so many successive dinners in the recesses of that lofty stove;
with round greasy face and bare breast,
still thinking to improve her condition one day;
with the never absent mop in one hand,
and yet no effects of it visible anywhere.
which had also taken shelter here from the rain,
stalked about the room like members of the family,
to roast well.
They stood and looked in my eye or pecked at my shoe significantly.
Meanwhile my host told me his story,
how hard he worked "bogging" for a neighboring farmer,
turning up a meadow with a spade or bog hoe at the rate of ten dollars an acre and the use of the land with manure for one year,
and his little broad-faced son worked cheerfully at his father's side the while,
not knowing how poor a bargain the latter had made.
I tried to help him with my experience,
telling him that he was one of my nearest neighbors,
and that I too,
who came a-fishing here,
and looked like a loafer,
was getting my living like himself;
that I lived in a tight,
and clean house,
which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to;
if he chose,
he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own;
that I did not use tea,
nor fresh meat,
and so did not have to work to get them;
as I did not work hard,
I did not have to eat hard,
and it cost me but a trifle for my food;
but as he began with tea,
he had to work hard to pay for them,
and when he had worked hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his system --and so it was as broad as it was long,
indeed it was broader than it was long,
for he was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain;
and yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America,
that here you could get tea,
and meat every day.
But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these,
and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things.
For I purposely talked to him as if he were a philosopher,
or desired to be one.
I should be glad if all the meadows on the earth were left in a wild state,
if that were the consequence of men's beginning to redeem themselves.
A man will not need to study history to find out what is best for his own culture.
the culture of an Irishman is an enterprise to be undertaken with a sort of moral bog hoe.
I told him,
that as he worked so hard at bogging,
he required thick boots and stout clothing,
which yet were soon soiled and worn out,
but I wore light shoes and thin clothing,
which cost not half so much,
though he might think that I was dressed like a gentleman (which,
was not the case),
and in an hour or two,
but as a recreation,
if I wished,
catch as many fish as I should want for two days,
or earn enough money to support me a week.
If he and his family would live simply,
they might all go a-huckleberrying in the summer for their amusement.
John heaved a sigh at this,
and his wife stared with arms a-kimbo,
and both appeared to be wondering if they had capital enough to begin such a course with,
or arithmetic enough to carry it through.
It was sailing by dead reckoning to them,
and they saw not clearly how to make their port so;
therefore I suppose they still take life bravely,
after their fashion,
face to face,
giving it tooth and nail,
not having skill to split its massive columns with any fine entering wedge,
and rout it in detail;
--thinking to deal with it roughly,
as one should handle a thistle.
But they fight at an overwhelming disadvantage --living,
and failing so.
"Do you ever fish?"
I catch a mess now and then when I am lying by;
good perch I catch."
--"What's your bait?"
"I catch shiners with fishworms,
and bait the perch with them."
"You'd better go now,
said his wife,
with glistening and hopeful face;
but John demurred.
The shower was now over,
and a rainbow above the eastern woods promised a fair evening;
so I took my departure.
When I had got without I asked for a drink,
hoping to get a sight of the well bottom,
to complete my survey of the premises;
are shallows and quicksands,
and rope broken withal,
and bucket irrecoverable.
Meanwhile the right culinary vessel was selected,
water was seemingly distilled,
and after consultation and long delay passed out to the thirsty one --not yet suffered to cool,
not yet to settle.
Such gruel sustains life here,
shutting my eyes,
and excluding the motes by a skilfully directed undercurrent,
I drank to genuine hospitality the heartiest draught I could.
I am not squeamish in such cases when manners are concerned.
As I was leaving the Irishman's roof after the rain,
bending my steps again to the pond,
my haste to catch pickerel,
wading in retired meadows,
in sloughs and bog-holes,
in forlorn and savage places,
appeared for an instant trivial to me who had been sent to school and college;
but as I ran down the hill toward the reddening west,
with the rainbow over my shoulder,
and some faint tinkling sounds borne to my ear through the cleansed air,
from I know not what quarter,
my Good Genius seemed to say --Go fish and hunt far and wide day by day --farther and wider --and rest thee by many brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving.
Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth.
Rise free from care before the dawn,
and seek adventures.
Let the noon find thee by other lakes,
and the night overtake thee everywhere at home.
There are no larger fields than these,
no worthier games than may here be played.
Grow wild according to thy nature,
like these sedges and brakes,
which will never become English bay.
Let the thunder rumble;
what if it threaten ruin to farmers' crops?
That is not its errand to thee.
Take shelter under the cloud,
while they flee to carts and sheds.
Let not to get a living be thy trade,
but thy sport.
Enjoy the land,
but own it not.
Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are,
buying and selling,
and spending their lives like serfs.
O Baker Farm!
"Landscape where the richest element Is a little sunshine innocent." ...
"No one runs to revel On thy rail-fenced lea." ...
"Debate with no man hast thou,
With questions art never perplexed,
As tame at the first sight as now,
In thy plain russet gabardine dressed." ...
"Come ye who love,
And ye who hate,
Children of the Holy Dove,
And Guy Faux of the state,
And hang conspiracies From the tough rafters of the trees!"
Men come tamely home at night only from the next field or street,
where their household echoes haunt,
and their life pines because it breathes its own breath over again;
morning and evening,
reach farther than their daily steps.
We should come home from far,
and discoveries every day,
with new experience and character.
Before I had reached the pond some fresh impulse had brought out John Field,
with altered mind,
letting go "bogging" ere this sunset.
disturbed only a couple of fins while I was catching a fair string,
and he said it was his luck;
but when we changed seats in the boat luck changed seats too.
Poor John Field!
--I trust he does not read this,
unless he will improve by it --thinking to live by some derivative old-country mode in this primitive new country --to catch perch with shiners.
It is good bait sometimes,
With his horizon all his own,
yet he a poor man,
born to be poor,
with his inherited Irish poverty or poor life,
his Adam's grandmother and boggy ways,
not to rise in this world,
he nor his posterity,
till their wading webbed bog-trotting feet get -talaria- to their heels.
As I came home through the woods with my string of fish,
trailing my pole,
it being now quite dark,
I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path,
and felt a strange thrill of savage delight,
and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw;
not that I was hungry then,
except for that wildness which he represented.
Once or twice,
while I lived at the pond,
I found myself ranging the woods,
like a half-starved hound,
with a strange abandonment,
seeking some kind of venison which I might devour,
and no morsel could have been too savage for me.
The wildest scenes had become unaccountably familiar.
I found in myself,
and still find,
an instinct toward a higher,
as it is named,
as do most men,
and another toward a primitive rank and savage one,
and I reverence them both.
I love the wild not less than the good.
The wildness and adventure that are in fishing still recommended it to me.
I like sometimes to take rank hold on life and spend my day more as the animals do.
Perhaps I have owed to this employment and to hunting,
when quite young,
my closest acquaintance with Nature.
They early introduce us to and detain us in scenery with which otherwise,
at that age,
we should have little acquaintance.
spending their lives in the fields and woods,
in a peculiar sense a part of Nature themselves,
are often in a more favorable mood for observing her,
in the intervals of their pursuits,
than philosophers or poets even,
who approach her with expectation.
She is not afraid to exhibit herself to them.
The traveller on the prairie is naturally a hunter,
on the head waters of the Missouri and Columbia a trapper,
and at the Falls of St. Mary a fisherman.
He who is only a traveller learns things at second-hand and by the halves,
and is poor authority.
We are most interested when science reports what those men already know practically or instinctively,
for that alone is a true -humanity-,
or account of human experience.
They mistake who assert that the Yankee has few amusements,
because he has not so many public holidays,
and men and boys do not play so many games as they do in England,
for here the more primitive but solitary amusements of hunting,
and the like have not yet given place to the former.
Almost every New England boy among my contemporaries shouldered a fowling-piece between the ages of ten and fourteen;
and his hunting and fishing grounds were not limited,
like the preserves of an English nobleman,
but were more boundless even than those of a savage.
that he did not oftener stay to play on the common.
But already a change is taking place,
not to an increased humanity,
but to an increased scarcity of game,
for perhaps the hunter is the greatest friend of the animals hunted,
not excepting the Humane Society.
when at the pond,
I wished sometimes to add fish to my fare for variety.
I have actually fished from the same kind of necessity that the first fishers did.
Whatever humanity I might conjure up against it was all factitious,
and concerned my philosophy more than my feelings.
I speak of fishing only now,
for I had long felt differently about fowling,
and sold my gun before I went to the woods.
Not that I am less humane than others,
but I did not perceive that my feelings were much affected.
I did not pity the fishes nor the worms.
This was habit.
As for fowling,
during the last years that I carried a gun my excuse was that I was studying ornithology,
and sought only new or rare birds.
But I confess that I am now inclined to think that there is a finer way of studying ornithology than this.
It requires so much closer attention to the habits of the birds,
if for that reason only,
I have been willing to omit the gun.
Yet notwithstanding the objection on the score of humanity,
I am compelled to doubt if equally valuable sports are ever substituted for these;
and when some of my friends have asked me anxiously about their boys,
whether they should let them hunt,
I have answered,
yes --remembering that it was one of the best parts of my education ---make- them hunters,
though sportsmen only at first,
mighty hunters at last,
so that they shall not find game large enough for them in this or any vegetable wilderness --hunters as well as fishers of men.
Thus far I am of the opinion of Chaucer's nun,
"yave not of the text a pulled hen That saith that hunters ben not holy men."
There is a period in the history of the individual,
as of the race,
when the hunters are the "best men,"
as the Algonquins called them.
We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun;
he is no more humane,
while his education has been sadly neglected.
This was my answer with respect to those youths who were bent on this pursuit,
trusting that they would soon outgrow it.
No humane being,
past the thoughtless age of boyhood,
will wantonly murder any creature which holds its life by the same tenure that he does.
The hare in its extremity cries like a child.
I warn you,
that my sympathies do not always make the usual phil --anthropic- distinctions.
Such is oftenest the young man's introduction to the forest,
and the most original part of himself.
He goes thither at first as a hunter and fisher,
until at last,
if he has the seeds of a better life in him,
he distinguishes his proper objects,
as a poet or naturalist it may be,
and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind.
The mass of men are still and always young in this respect.
In some countries a hunting parson is no uncommon sight.
Such a one might make a good shepherd's dog,
but is far from being the Good Shepherd.
I have been surprised to consider that the only obvious employment,
or the like business,
which ever to my knowledge detained at Walden Pond for a whole half-day any of my fellow-citizens,
whether fathers or children of the town,
with just one exception,
Commonly they did not think that they were lucky,
or well paid for their time,
unless they got a long string of fish,
though they had the opportunity of seeing the pond all the while.
They might go there a thousand times before the sediment of fishing would sink to the bottom and leave their purpose pure;
but no doubt such a clarifying process would be going on all the while.
The Governor and his Council faintly remember the pond,
for they went a-fishing there when they were boys;
but now they are too old and dignified to go a-fishing,
and so they know it no more forever.
Yet even they expect to go to heaven at last.
If the legislature regards it,
it is chiefly to regulate the number of hooks to be used there;
but they know nothing about the hook of hooks with which to angle for the pond itself,
impaling the legislature for a bait.
even in civilized communities,
the embryo man passes through the hunter stage of development.
I have found repeatedly,
of late years,
that I cannot fish without falling a little in self-respect.
I have tried it again and again.
I have skill at it,
like many of my fellows,
a certain instinct for it,
which revives from time to time,
but always when I have done I feel that it would have been better if I had not fished.
I think that I do not mistake.
It is a faint intimation,
yet so are the first streaks of morning.
There is unquestionably this instinct in me which belongs to the lower orders of creation;
yet with every year I am less a fisherman,
though without more humanity or even wisdom;
at present I am no fisherman at all.
But I see that if I were to live in a wilderness I should again be tempted to become a fisher and hunter in earnest.
there is something essentially unclean about this diet and all flesh,
and I began to see where housework commences,
and whence the endeavor,
which costs so much,
to wear a tidy and respectable appearance each day,
to keep the house sweet and free from all ill odors and sights.
Having been my own butcher and scullion and cook,
as well as the gentleman for whom the dishes were served up,
I can speak from an unusually complete experience.
The practical objection to animal food in my case was its uncleanness;
when I had caught and cleaned and cooked and eaten my fish,
they seemed not to have fed me essentially.
It was insignificant and unnecessary,
and cost more than it came to.
A little bread or a few potatoes would have done as well,
with less trouble and filth.
Like many of my contemporaries,
I had rarely for many years used animal food,
not so much because of any ill effects which I had traced to them,
as because they were not agreeable to my imagination.
The repugnance to animal food is not the effect of experience,
but is an instinct.
It appeared more beautiful to live low and fare hard in many respects;
and though I never did so,
I went far enough to please my imagination.
I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food,
and from much food of any kind.
It is a significant fact,
stated by entomologists --I find it in Kirby and Spence --that "some insects in their perfect state,
though furnished with organs of feeding,
make no use of them";
and they lay it down as "a general rule,
that almost all insects in this state eat much less than in that of larvæ.
The voracious caterpillar when transformed into a butterfly ...
and the gluttonous maggot when become a fly" content themselves with a drop or two of honey or some other sweet liquid.
The abdomen under the wings of the butterfly still represents the larva.
This is the tidbit which tempts his insectivorous fate.
The gross feeder is a man in the larva state;
and there are whole nations in that condition,
nations without fancy or imagination,
whose vast abdomens betray them.
It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean a diet as will not offend the imagination;
is to be fed when we feed the body;
they should both sit down at the same table.
Yet perhaps this may be done.
The fruits eaten temperately need not make us ashamed of our appetites,
nor interrupt the worthiest pursuits.
But put an extra condiment into your dish,
and it will poison you.
It is not worth the while to live by rich cookery.
Most men would feel shame if caught preparing with their own hands precisely such a dinner,
whether of animal or vegetable food,
as is every day prepared for them by others.
Yet till this is otherwise we are not civilized,
if gentlemen and ladies,
are not true men and women.
This certainly suggests what change is to be made.
It may be vain to ask why the imagination will not be reconciled to flesh and fat.
I am satisfied that it is not.
Is it not a reproach that man is a carnivorous animal?
he can and does live,
in a great measure,
by preying on other animals;
but this is a miserable way --as any one who will go to snaring rabbits,
or slaughtering lambs,
may learn --and he will be regarded as a benefactor of his race who shall teach man to confine himself to a more innocent and wholesome diet.
Whatever my own practice may be,
I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race,
in its gradual improvement,
to leave off eating animals,
as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized.
If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius,
which are certainly true,
he sees not to what extremes,
or even insanity,
it may lead him;
and yet that way,
as he grows more resolute and faithful,
his road lies.
The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind.
No man ever followed his genius till it misled him.
Though the result were bodily weakness,
yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted,
for these were a life in conformity to higher principles.
If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy,
and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs,
is more elastic,
more immortal --that is your success.
All nature is your congratulation,
and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself.
The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated.
We easily come to doubt if they exist.
We soon forget them.
They are the highest reality.
Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man.
The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening.
It is a little star-dust caught,
a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.
for my part,
I was never unusually squeamish;
I could sometimes eat a fried rat with a good relish,
if it were necessary.
I am glad to have drunk water so long,
for the same reason that I prefer the natural sky to an opium-eater's heaven.
I would fain keep sober always;
and there are infinite degrees of drunkenness.
I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man;
wine is not so noble a liquor;
and think of dashing the hopes of a morning with a cup of warm coffee,
or of an evening with a dish of tea!
how low I fall when I am tempted by them!
Even music may be intoxicating.
Such apparently slight causes destroyed Greece and Rome,
and will destroy England and America.
Of all ebriosity,
who does not prefer to be intoxicated by the air he breathes?
I have found it to be the most serious objection to coarse labors long continued,
that they compelled me to eat and drink coarsely also.
But to tell the truth,
I find myself at present somewhat less particular in these respects.
I carry less religion to the table,
ask no blessing;
not because I am wiser than I was,
I am obliged to confess,
however much it is to be regretted,
with years I have grown more coarse and indifferent.
Perhaps these questions are entertained only in youth,
as most believe of poetry.
My practice is "nowhere,"
my opinion is here.
Nevertheless I am far from regarding myself as one of those privileged ones to whom the Ved refers when it says,
that "he who has true faith in the Omnipresent Supreme Being may eat all that exists,"
is not bound to inquire what is his food,
or who prepares it;
and even in their case it is to be observed,
as a Hindoo commentator has remarked,
that the Vedant limits this privilege to "the time of distress."
Who has not sometimes derived an inexpressible satisfaction from his food in which appetite had no share?
I have been thrilled to think that I owed a mental perception to the commonly gross sense of taste,
that I have been inspired through the palate,
that some berries which I had eaten on a hillside had fed my genius.
"The soul not being mistress of herself,"
and one does not see;
and one does not hear;
and one does not know the savor of food."
He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton;
he who does not cannot be otherwise.
A puritan may go to his brown-bread crust with as gross an appetite as ever an alderman to his turtle.
Not that food which entereth into the mouth defileth a man,
but the appetite with which it is eaten.
It is neither the quality nor the quantity,
but the devotion to sensual savors;
when that which is eaten is not a viand to sustain our animal,
or inspire our spiritual life,
but food for the worms that possess us.
If the hunter has a taste for mud-turtles,
and other such savage tidbits,
the fine lady indulges a taste for jelly made of a calf's foot,
or for sardines from over the sea,
and they are even.
He goes to the mill-pond,
she to her preserve-pot.
The wonder is how they,
how you and I,
can live this slimy,
eating and drinking.
Our whole life is startlingly moral.
There is never an instant's truce between virtue and vice.
Goodness is the only investment that never fails.
In the music of the harp which trembles round the world it is the insisting on this which thrills us.
The harp is the travelling patterer for the Universe's Insurance Company,
recommending its laws,
and our little goodness is all the assessment that we pay.
Though the youth at last grows indifferent,
the laws of the universe are not indifferent,
but are forever on the side of the most sensitive.
Listen to every zephyr for some reproof,
for it is surely there,
and he is unfortunate who does not hear it.
We cannot touch a string or move a stop but the charming moral transfixes us.
Many an irksome noise,
go a long way off,
is heard as music,
sweet satire on the meanness of our lives.
We are conscious of an animal in us,
which awakens in proportion as our higher nature slumbers.
It is reptile and sensual,
and perhaps cannot be wholly expelled;
like the worms which,
even in life and health,
occupy our bodies.
Possibly we may withdraw from it,
but never change its nature.
I fear that it may enjoy a certain health of its own;
that we may be well,
yet not pure.
The other day I picked up the lower jaw of a hog,
with white and sound teeth and tusks,
which suggested that there was an animal health and vigor distinct from the spiritual.
This creature succeeded by other means than temperance and purity.
"That in which men differ from brute beasts,"
"is a thing very inconsiderable;
the common herd lose it very soon;
superior men preserve it carefully."
Who knows what sort of life would result if we had attained to purity?
If I knew so wise a man as could teach me purity I would go to seek him forthwith.
"A command over our passions,
and over the external senses of the body,
and good acts,
are declared by the Ved to be indispensable in the mind's approximation to God."
Yet the spirit can for the time pervade and control every member and function of the body,
and transmute what in form is the grossest sensuality into purity and devotion.
The generative energy,
when we are loose,
dissipates and makes us unclean,
when we are continent invigorates and inspires us.
Chastity is the flowering of man;
and what are called Genius,
and the like,
are but various fruits which succeed it.
Man flows at once to God when the channel of purity is open.
By turns our purity inspires and our impurity casts us down.
He is blessed who is assured that the animal is dying out in him day by day,
and the divine being established.
Perhaps there is none but has cause for shame on account of the inferior and brutish nature to which he is allied.
I fear that we are such gods or demigods only as fauns and satyrs,
the divine allied to beasts,
the creatures of appetite,
to some extent,
our very life is our disgrace.
"How happy's he who hath due place assigned To his beasts and disafforested his mind!
...Can use this horse,
and ev'ry beast,
And is not ass himself to all the rest!
Else man not only is the herd of swine,
But he's those devils too which did incline Them to a headlong rage,
and made them worse."
All sensuality is one,
though it takes many forms;
all purity is one.
It is the same whether a man eat,
or sleep sensually.
They are but one appetite,
and we only need to see a person do any one of these things to know how great a sensualist he is.
The impure can neither stand nor sit with purity.
When the reptile is attacked at one mouth of his burrow,
he shows himself at another.
If you would be chaste,
you must be temperate.
What is chastity?
How shall a man know if he is chaste?
He shall not know it.
We have heard of this virtue,
but we know not what it is.
We speak conformably to the rumor which we have heard.
From exertion come wisdom and purity;
from sloth ignorance and sensuality.
In the student sensuality is a sluggish habit of mind.
An unclean person is universally a slothful one,
one who sits by a stove,
whom the sun shines on prostrate,
who reposes without being fatigued.
If you would avoid uncleanness,
and all the sins,
though it be at cleaning a stable.
Nature is hard to be overcome,
but she must be overcome.
What avails it that you are Christian,
if you are not purer than the heathen,
if you deny yourself no more,
if you are not more religious?
I know of many systems of religion esteemed heathenish whose precepts fill the reader with shame,
and provoke him to new endeavors,
though it be to the performance of rites merely.
I hesitate to say these things,
but it is not because of the subject --I care not how obscene my -words- are --but because I cannot speak of them without betraying my impurity.
We discourse freely without shame of one form of sensuality,
and are silent about another.
We are so degraded that we cannot speak simply of the necessary functions of human nature.
In earlier ages,
in some countries,
every function was reverently spoken of and regulated by law.
Nothing was too trivial for the Hindoo lawgiver,
however offensive it may be to modern taste.
He teaches how to eat,
void excrement and urine,
and the like,
elevating what is mean,
and does not falsely excuse himself by calling these things trifles.
Every man is the builder of a temple,
called his body,
to the god he worships,
after a style purely his own,
nor can he get off by hammering marble instead.
We are all sculptors and painters,
and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones.
Any nobleness begins at once to refine a man's features,
any meanness or sensuality to imbrute them.
John Farmer sat at his door one September evening,
after a hard day's work,
his mind still running on his labor more or less.
he sat down to re-create his intellectual man.
It was a rather cool evening,
and some of his neighbors were apprehending a frost.
He had not attended to the train of his thoughts long when he heard some one playing on a flute,
and that sound harmonized with his mood.
Still he thought of his work;
but the burden of his thought was,
that though this kept running in his head,
and he found himself planning and contriving it against his will,
yet it concerned him very little.
It was no more than the scurf of his skin,
which was constantly shuffled off.
But the notes of the flute came home to his ears out of a different sphere from that he worked in,
and suggested work for certain faculties which slumbered in him.
They gently did away with the street,
and the village,
and the state in which he lived.
A voice said to him --Why do you stay here and live this mean moiling life,
when a glorious existence is possible for you?
Those same stars twinkle over other fields than these.
--But how to come out of this condition and actually migrate thither?
All that he could think of was to practise some new austerity,
to let his mind descend into his body and redeem it,
and treat himself with ever increasing respect.
Sometimes I had a companion in my fishing,
who came through the village to my house from the other side of the town,
and the catching of the dinner was as much a social exercise as the eating of it.
-Hermit.- I wonder what the world is doing now.
I have not heard so much as a locust over the sweet-fern these three hours.
The pigeons are all asleep upon their roosts --no flutter from them.
Was that a farmer's noon horn which sounded from beyond the woods just now?
The hands are coming in to boiled salt beef and cider and Indian bread.
Why will men worry themselves so?
He that does not eat need not work.
I wonder how much they have reaped.
Who would live there where a body can never think for the barking of Bose?
to keep bright the devil's door-knobs,
and scour his tubs this bright day!
Better not keep a house.
some hollow tree;
and then for morning calls and dinner-parties!
Only a woodpecker tapping.
the sun is too warm there;
they are born too far into life for me.
I have water from the spring,
and a loaf of brown bread on the shelf.
I hear a rustling of the leaves.
Is it some ill-fed village hound yielding to the instinct of the chase?
or the lost pig which is said to be in these woods,
whose tracks I saw after the rain?
It comes on apace;
my sumachs and sweetbriers tremble.
is it you?
How do you like the world to-day?
-Poet.- See those clouds;
how they hang!
That's the greatest thing I have seen to-day.
There's nothing like it in old paintings,
nothing like it in foreign lands --unless when we were off the coast of Spain.
That's a true Mediterranean sky.
as I have my living to get,
and have not eaten to-day,
that I might go a-fishing.
That's the true industry for poets.
It is the only trade I have learned.
-Hermit.- I cannot resist.
My brown bread will soon be gone.
I will go with you gladly soon,
but I am just concluding a serious meditation.
I think that I am near the end of it.
Leave me alone,
for a while.
But that we may not be delayed,
you shall be digging the bait meanwhile.
Angleworms are rarely to be met with in these parts,
where the soil was never fattened with manure;
the race is nearly extinct.
The sport of digging the bait is nearly equal to that of catching the fish,
when one's appetite is not too keen;
and this you may have all to yourself today.
I would advise you to set in the spade down yonder among the ground-nuts,
where you see the johnswort waving.
I think that I may warrant you one worm to every three sods you turn up,
if you look well in among the roots of the grass,
as if you were weeding.
if you choose to go farther,
it will not be unwise,
for I have found the increase of fair bait to be very nearly as the squares of the distances.
-Hermit alone.- Let me see;
where was I?
Methinks I was nearly in this frame of mind;
the world lay about at this angle.
Shall I go to heaven or a-fishing?
If I should soon bring this meditation to an end,
would another so sweet occasion be likely to offer?
I was as near being resolved into the essence of things as ever I was in my life.
I fear my thoughts will not come back to me.
If it would do any good,
I would whistle for them.
When they make us an offer,
is it wise to say,
We will think of it?
My thoughts have left no track,
and I cannot find the path again.
What was it that I was thinking of?
It was a very hazy day.
I will just try these three sentences of Confut-see;
they may fetch that state about again.
I know not whether it was the dumps or a budding ecstasy.
There never is but one opportunity of a kind.
-Poet.- How now,
is it too soon?
I have got just thirteen whole ones,
beside several which are imperfect or undersized;
but they will do for the smaller fry;
they do not cover up the hook so much.
Those village worms are quite too large;
a shiner may make a meal off one without finding the skewer.
let's be off.
Shall we to the Concord?
There's good sport there if the water be not too high.
* * * * *
Why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world?
Why has man just these species of animals for his neighbors;
as if nothing but a mouse could have filled this crevice?
I suspect that Pilpay & Co.
have put animals to their best use,
for they are all beasts of burden,
in a sense,
made to carry some portion of our thoughts.
The mice which haunted my house were not the common ones,
which are said to have been introduced into the country,
but a wild native kind not found in the village.
I sent one to a distinguished naturalist,
and it interested him much.
When I was building,
one of these had its nest underneath the house,
and before I had laid the second floor,
and swept out the shavings,
would come out regularly at lunch time and pick up the crumbs at my feet.
It probably had never seen a man before;
and it soon became quite familiar,
and would run over my shoes and up my clothes.
It could readily ascend the sides of the room by short impulses,
like a squirrel,
which it resembled in its motions.
as I leaned with my elbow on the bench one day,
it ran up my clothes,
and along my sleeve,
and round and round the paper which held my dinner,
while I kept the latter close,
and dodged and played at bopeep with it;
and when at last I held still a piece of cheese between my thumb and finger,
it came and nibbled it,
sitting in my hand,
and afterward cleaned its face and paws,
like a fly,
and walked away.
A phœbe soon built in my shed,
and a robin for protection in a pine which grew against the house.
In June the partridge (-Tetrao umbellus-),
which is so shy a bird,
led her brood past my windows,
from the woods in the rear to the front of my house,
clucking and calling to them like a hen,
and in all her behavior proving herself the hen of the woods.
The young suddenly disperse on your approach,
at a signal from the mother,
as if a whirlwind had swept them away,
and they so exactly resemble the dried leaves and twigs that many a traveler has placed his foot in the midst of a brood,
and heard the whir of the old bird as she flew off,
and her anxious calls and mewing,
or seen her trail her wings to attract his attention,
without suspecting their neighborhood.
The parent will sometimes roll and spin round before you in such a dishabille,
that you cannot,
for a few moments,
detect what kind of creature it is.
The young squat still and flat,
often running their heads under a leaf,
and mind only their mother's directions given from a distance,
nor will your approach make them run again and betray themselves.
You may even tread on them,
or have your eyes on them for a minute,
without discovering them.
I have held them in my open hand at such a time,
and still their only care,
obedient to their mother and their instinct,
was to squat there without fear or trembling.
So perfect is this instinct,
when I had laid them on the leaves again,
and one accidentally fell on its side,
it was found with the rest in exactly the same position ten minutes afterward.
They are not callow like the young of most birds,
but more perfectly developed and precocious even than chickens.
The remarkably adult yet innocent expression of their open and serene eyes is very memorable.
All intelligence seems reflected in them.
They suggest not merely the purity of infancy,
but a wisdom clarified by experience.
Such an eye was not born when the bird was,
but is coeval with the sky it reflects.
The woods do not yield another such a gem.
The traveller does not often look into such a limpid well.
The ignorant or reckless sportsman often shoots the parent at such a time,
and leaves these innocents to fall a prey to some prowling beast or bird,
or gradually mingle with the decaying leaves which they so much resemble.
It is said that when hatched by a hen they will directly disperse on some alarm,
and so are lost,
for they never hear the mother's call which gathers them again.
These were my hens and chickens.
It is remarkable how many creatures live wild and free though secret in the woods,
and still sustain themselves in the neighborhood of towns,
suspected by hunters only.
How retired the otter manages to live here!
He grows to be four feet long,
as big as a small boy,
perhaps without any human being getting a glimpse of him.
I formerly saw the raccoon in the woods behind where my house is built,
and probably still heard their whinnering at night.
Commonly I rested an hour or two in the shade at noon,
and ate my lunch,
and read a little by a spring which was the source of a swamp and of a brook,
oozing from under Brister's Hill,
half a mile from my field.
The approach to this was through a succession of descending grassy hollows,
full of young pitch pines,
into a larger wood about the swamp.
in a very secluded and shaded spot,
under a spreading white pine,
there was yet a clean,
firm sward to sit on.
I had dug out the spring and made a well of clear gray water,
where I could dip up a pailful without roiling it,
and thither I went for this purpose almost every day in midsummer,
when the pond was warmest.
the woodcock led her brood,
to probe the mud for worms,
flying but a foot above them down the bank,
while they ran in a troop beneath;
but at last,
she would leave her young and circle round and round me,
nearer and nearer till within four or five feet,
pretending broken wings and legs,
to attract my attention,
and get off her young,
who would already have taken up their march,
single file through the swamp,
as she directed.
Or I heard the peep of the young when I could not see the parent bird.
There too the turtle doves sat over the spring,
or fluttered from bough to bough of the soft white pines over my head;
or the red squirrel,
coursing down the nearest bough,
was particularly familiar and inquisitive.
You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns.
I was witness to events of a less peaceful character.
One day when I went out to my wood-pile,
or rather my pile of stumps,
I observed two large ants,
the one red,
the other much larger,
nearly half an inch long,
fiercely contending with one another.
Having once got hold they never let go,
but struggled and wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly.
I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants,
that it was not a -duellum-,
but a -bellum-,
a war between two races of ants,
the red always pitted against the black,
and frequently two red ones to one black.
The legions of these Myrmidons covered all the hills and vales in my wood-yard,
and the ground was already strewn with the dead and dying,
both red and black.
It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed,
the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle was raging;
the red republicans on the one hand,
and the black imperialists on the other.
On every side they were engaged in deadly combat,
yet without any noise that I could hear,
and human soldiers never fought so resolutely.
I watched a couple that were fast locked in each other's embraces,
in a little sunny valley amid the chips,
now at noonday prepared to fight till the sun went down,
or life went out.
The smaller red champion had fastened himself like a vice to his adversary's front,
and through all the tumblings on that field never for an instant ceased to gnaw at one of his feelers near the root,
having already caused the other to go by the board;
while the stronger black one dashed him from side to side,
as I saw on looking nearer,
had already divested him of several of his members.
They fought with more pertinacity than bulldogs.
Neither manifested the least disposition to retreat.
It was evident that their battle-cry was "Conquer or die."
In the meanwhile there came along a single red ant on the hillside of this valley,
evidently full of excitement,
who either had despatched his foe,
or had not yet taken part in the battle;
probably the latter,
for he had lost none of his limbs;
whose mother had charged him to return with his shield or upon it.
Or perchance he was some Achilles,
who had nourished his wrath apart,
and had now come to avenge or rescue his Patroclus.
He saw this unequal combat from afar --for the blacks were nearly twice the size of the red --he drew near with rapid pace till he stood on his guard within half an inch of the combatants;
watching his opportunity,
he sprang upon the black warrior,
and commenced his operations near the root of his right fore leg,
leaving the foe to select among his own members;
and so there were three united for life,
as if a new kind of attraction had been invented which put all other locks and cements to shame.
I should not have wondered by this time to find that they had their respective musical bands stationed on some eminent chip,
and playing their national airs the while,
to excite the slow and cheer the dying combatants.
I was myself excited somewhat even as if they had been men.
The more you think of it,
the less the difference.
And certainly there is not the fight recorded in Concord history,
if in the history of America,
that will bear a moment's comparison with this,
whether for the numbers engaged in it,
or for the patriotism and heroism displayed.
For numbers and for carnage it was an Austerlitz or Dresden.
Two killed on the patriots' side,
and Luther Blanchard wounded!
Why here every ant was a Buttrick --"Fire!
for God's sake fire!"
--and thousands shared the fate of Davis and Hosmer.
There was not one hireling there.
I have no doubt that it was a principle they fought for,
as much as our ancestors,
and not to avoid a three-penny tax on their tea;
and the results of this battle will be as important and memorable to those whom it concerns as those of the battle of Bunker Hill,
I took up the chip on which the three I have particularly described were struggling,
carried it into my house,
and placed it under a tumbler on my window-sill,
in order to see the issue.
Holding a microscope to the first-mentioned red ant,
I saw that,
though he was assiduously gnawing at the near fore leg of his enemy,
having severed his remaining feeler,
his own breast was all torn away,
exposing what vitals he had there to the jaws of the black warrior,
whose breastplate was apparently too thick for him to pierce;
and the dark carbuncles of the sufferer's eyes shone with ferocity such as war only could excite.
They struggled half an hour longer under the tumbler,
and when I looked again the black soldier had severed the heads of his foes from their bodies,
and the still living heads were hanging on either side of him like ghastly trophies at his saddle-bow,
still apparently as firmly fastened as ever,
and he was endeavoring with feeble struggles,
being without feelers and with only the remnant of a leg,
and I know not how many other wounds,
to divest himself of them;
which at length,
after half an hour more,
I raised the glass,
and he went off over the window-sill in that crippled state.
Whether he finally survived that combat,
and spent the remainder of his days in some Hotel des Invalides,
I do not know;
but I thought that his industry would not be worth much thereafter.
I never learned which party was victorious,
nor the cause of the war;
but I felt for the rest of that day as if I had had my feelings excited and harrowed by witnessing the struggle,
the ferocity and carnage,
of a human battle before my door.
Kirby and Spence tell us that the battles of ants have long been celebrated and the date of them recorded,
though they say that Huber is the only modern author who appears to have witnessed them.
"after giving a very circumstantial account of one contested with great obstinacy by a great and small species on the trunk of a pear tree,"
adds that "this action was fought in the pontificate of Eugenius the Fourth,
in the presence of Nicholas Pistoriensis,
an eminent lawyer,
who related the whole history of the battle with the greatest fidelity."
A similar engagement between great and small ants is recorded by Olaus Magnus,
in which the small ones,
are said to have buried the bodies of their own soldiers,
but left those of their giant enemies a prey to the birds.
This event happened previous to the expulsion of the tyrant Christiern the Second from Sweden.
The battle which I witnessed took place in the Presidency of Polk,
five years before the passage of Webster's Fugitive-Slave Bill.
Many a village Bose,
fit only to course a mud-turtle in a victualling cellar,
sported his heavy quarters in the woods,
without the knowledge of his master,
and ineffectually smelled at old fox burrows and woodchucks' holes;
led perchance by some slight cur which nimbly threaded the wood,
and might still inspire a natural terror in its denizens;
--now far behind his guide,
barking like a canine bull toward some small squirrel which had treed itself for scrutiny,
bending the bushes with his weight,
imagining that he is on the track of some stray member of the jerbilla family.
Once I was surprised to see a cat walking along the stony shore of the pond,
for they rarely wander so far from home.
The surprise was mutual.
Nevertheless the most domestic cat,
which has lain on a rug all her days,
appears quite at home in the woods,
by her sly and stealthy behavior,
proves herself more native there than the regular inhabitants.
I met with a cat with young kittens in the woods,
and they all,
like their mother,
had their backs up and were fiercely spitting at me.
A few years before I lived in the woods there was what was called a "winged cat" in one of the farm-houses in Lincoln nearest the pond,
Mr. Gilian Baker's.
When I called to see her in June,
she was gone a-hunting in the woods,
as was her wont (I am not sure whether it was a male or female,
and so use the more common pronoun),
but her mistress told me that she came into the neighborhood a little more than a year before,
and was finally taken into their house;
that she was of a dark brownish-gray color,
with a white spot on her throat,
and white feet,
and had a large bushy tail like a fox;
that in the winter the fur grew thick and flatted out along her sides,
forming stripes ten or twelve inches long by two and a half wide,
and under her chin like a muff,
the upper side loose,
the under matted like felt,
and in the spring these appendages dropped off.
They gave me a pair of her "wings,"
which I keep still.
There is no appearance of a membrane about them.
Some thought it was part flying squirrel or some other wild animal,
which is not impossible,
according to naturalists,
prolific hybrids have been produced by the union of the marten and domestic cat.
This would have been the right kind of cat for me to keep,
if I had kept any;
for why should not a poet's cat be winged as well as his horse?
In the fall the loon (-Colymbus glacialis-) came,
to moult and bathe in the pond,
making the woods ring with his wild laughter before I had risen.
At rumor of his arrival all the Mill-dam sportsmen are on the alert,
in gigs and on foot,
two by two and three by three,
with patent rifles and conical balls and spy-glasses.
They come rustling through the woods like autumn leaves,
at least ten men to one loon.
Some station themselves on this side of the pond,
some on that,
for the poor bird cannot be omnipresent;
if he dive here he must come up there.
But now the kind October wind rises,
rustling the leaves and rippling the surface of the water,
so that no loon can be heard or seen,
though his foes sweep the pond with spy-glasses,
and make the woods resound with their discharges.
The waves generously rise and dash angrily,
taking sides with all water-fowl,
and our sportsmen must beat a retreat to town and shop and unfinished jobs.
But they were too often successful.
When I went to get a pail of water early in the morning I frequently saw this stately bird sailing out of my cove within a few rods.
If I endeavored to overtake him in a boat,
in order to see how he would manoeuvre,
he would dive and be completely lost,
so that I did not discover him again,
till the latter part of the day.
But I was more than a match for him on the surface.
He commonly went off in a rain.
As I was paddling along the north shore one very calm October afternoon,
for such days especially they settle on to the lakes,
like the milkweed down,
having looked in vain over the pond for a loon,
sailing out from the shore toward the middle a few rods in front of me,
set up his wild laugh and betrayed himself.
I pursued with a paddle and he dived,
but when he came up I was nearer than before.
He dived again,
but I miscalculated the direction he would take,
and we were fifty rods apart when he came to the surface this time,
for I had helped to widen the interval;
and again he laughed long and loud,
and with more reason than before.
He manoeuvred so cunningly that I could not get within half a dozen rods of him.
when he came to the surface,
turning his head this way and that,
he cooly surveyed the water and the land,
and apparently chose his course so that he might come up where there was the widest expanse of water and at the greatest distance from the boat.
It was surprising how quickly he made up his mind and put his resolve into execution.
He led me at once to the widest part of the pond,
and could not be driven from it.
While he was thinking one thing in his brain,
I was endeavoring to divine his thought in mine.
It was a pretty game,
played on the smooth surface of the pond,
a man against a loon.
Suddenly your adversary's checker disappears beneath the board,
and the problem is to place yours nearest to where his will appear again.
Sometimes he would come up unexpectedly on the opposite side of me,
having apparently passed directly under the boat.
So long-winded was he and so unweariable,
that when he had swum farthest he would immediately plunge again,
and then no wit could divine where in the deep pond,
beneath the smooth surface,
he might be speeding his way like a fish,
for he had time and ability to visit the bottom of the pond in its deepest part.
It is said that loons have been caught in the New York lakes eighty feet beneath the surface,
with hooks set for trout --though Walden is deeper than that.
How surprised must the fishes be to see this ungainly visitor from another sphere speeding his way amid their schools!
Yet he appeared to know his course as surely under water as on the surface,
and swam much faster there.
Once or twice I saw a ripple where he approached the surface,
just put his head out to reconnoitre,
and instantly dived again.
I found that it was as well for me to rest on my oars and wait his reappearing as to endeavor to calculate where he would rise;
for again and again,
when I was straining my eyes over the surface one way,
I would suddenly be startled by his unearthly laugh behind me.
after displaying so much cunning,
did he invariably betray himself the moment he came up by that loud laugh?
Did not his white breast enough betray him?
He was indeed a silly loon,
I could commonly hear the splash of the water when he came up,
and so also detected him.
But after an hour he seemed as fresh as ever,
dived as willingly,
and swam yet farther than at first.
It was surprising to see how serenely he sailed off with unruffled breast when he came to the surface,
doing all the work with his webbed feet beneath.
His usual note was this demoniac laughter,
yet somewhat like that of a water-fowl;
when he had balked me most successfully and come up a long way off,
he uttered a long-drawn unearthly howl,
probably more like that of a wolf than any bird;
as when a beast puts his muzzle to the ground and deliberately howls.
This was his looning --perhaps the wildest sound that is ever heard here,
making the woods ring far and wide.
I concluded that he laughed in derision of my efforts,
confident of his own resources.
Though the sky was by this time overcast,
the pond was so smooth that I could see where he broke the surface when I did not hear him.
His white breast,
the stillness of the air,
and the smoothness of the water were all against him.
At length having come up fifty rods off,
he uttered one of those prolonged howls,
as if calling on the god of loons to aid him,
and immediately there came a wind from the east and rippled the surface,
and filled the whole air with misty rain,
and I was impressed as if it were the prayer of the loon answered,
and his god was angry with me;
and so I left him disappearing far away on the tumultuous surface.
in fall days,
I watched the ducks cunningly tack and veer and hold the middle of the pond,
far from the sportsman;
tricks which they will have less need to practise in Louisiana bayous.
When compelled to rise they would sometimes circle round and round and over the pond at a considerable height,
from which they could easily see to other ponds and the river,
like black motes in the sky;
when I thought they had gone off thither long since,
they would settle down by a slanting flight of a quarter of a mile on to a distant part which was left free;
but what beside safety they got by sailing in the middle of Walden I do not know,
unless they love its water for the same reason that I do.
In October I went a-graping to the river meadows,
and loaded myself with clusters more precious for their beauty and fragrance than for food.
though I did not gather,
small waxen gems,
pendants of the meadow grass,
pearly and red,
which the farmer plucks with an ugly rake,
leaving the smooth meadow in a snarl,
heedlessly measuring them by the bushel and the dollar only,
and sells the spoils of the meads to Boston and New York;
destined to be -jammed-,
to satisfy the tastes of lovers of Nature there.
So butchers rake the tongues of bison out of the prairie grass,
regardless of the torn and drooping plant.
The barberry's brilliant fruit was likewise food for my eyes merely;
but I collected a small store of wild apples for coddling,
which the proprietor and travellers had overlooked.
When chestnuts were ripe I laid up half a bushel for winter.
It was very exciting at that season to roam the then boundless chestnut woods of Lincoln --they now sleep their long sleep under the railroad --with a bag on my shoulder,
and a stick to open burs with in my hand,
for I did not always wait for the frost,
amid the rustling of leaves and the loud reproofs of the red squirrels and the jays,
whose half-consumed nuts I sometimes stole,
for the burs which they had selected were sure to contain sound ones.
Occasionally I climbed and shook the trees.
They grew also behind my house,
and one large tree,
which almost overshadowed it,
when in flower,
a bouquet which scented the whole neighborhood,
but the squirrels and the jays got most of its fruit;
the last coming in flocks early in the morning and picking the nuts out of the burs before they fell,
I relinquished these trees to them and visited the more distant woods composed wholly of chestnut.
as far as they went,
were a good substitute for bread.
Many other substitutes might,
Digging one day for fishworms,
I discovered the ground-nut (-Apios tuberosa-) on its string,
the potato of the aborigines,
a sort of fabulous fruit,
which I had begun to doubt if I had ever dug and eaten in childhood,
as I had told,
and had not dreamed it.
I had often since seen its crumpled red velvety blossom supported by the stems of other plants without knowing it to be the same.
Cultivation has well-nigh exterminated it.
It has a sweetish taste,
much like that of a frost-bitten potato,
and I found it better boiled than roasted.
This tuber seemed like a faint promise of Nature to rear her own children and feed them simply here at some future period.
In these days of fatted cattle and waving grain-fields this humble root,
which was once the -totem- of an Indian tribe,
is quite forgotten,
or known only by its flowering vine;
but let wild Nature reign here once more,
and the tender and luxurious English grains will probably disappear before a myriad of foes,
and without the care of man the crow may carry back even the last seed of corn to the great cornfield of the Indian's God in the southwest,
whence he is said to have brought it;
but the now almost exterminated ground-nut will perhaps revive and flourish in spite of frosts and wildness,
prove itself indigenous,
and resume its ancient importance and dignity as the diet of the hunter tribe.
Some Indian Ceres or Minerva must have been the inventor and bestower of it;
and when the reign of poetry commences here,
its leaves and string of nuts may be represented on our works of art.
by the first of September,
I had seen two or three small maples turned scarlet across the pond,
beneath where the white stems of three aspens diverged,
at the point of a promontory,
next the water.
many a tale their color told!
And gradually from week to week the character of each tree came out,
and it admired itself reflected in the smooth mirror of the lake.
Each morning the manager of this gallery substituted some new picture,
distinguished by more brilliant or harmonious coloring,
for the old upon the walls.
The wasps came by thousands to my lodge in October,
as to winter quarters,
and settled on my windows within and on the walls overhead,
sometimes deterring visitors from entering.
when they were numbed with cold,
I swept some of them out,
but I did not trouble myself much to get rid of them;
I even felt complimented by their regarding my house as a desirable shelter.
They never molested me seriously,
though they bedded with me;
and they gradually disappeared,
into what crevices I do not know,
avoiding winter and unspeakable cold.
Like the wasps,
before I finally went into winter quarters in November,
I used to resort to the northeast side of Walden,
which the sun,
reflected from the pitch pine woods and the stony shore,
made the fireside of the pond;
it is so much pleasanter and wholesomer to be warmed by the sun while you can be,
than by an artificial fire.
I thus warmed myself by the still glowing embers which the summer,
like a departed hunter,
* * * * *
When I came to build my chimney I studied masonry.
being second-hand ones,
required to be cleaned with a trowel,
so that I learned more than usual of the qualities of bricks and trowels.
The mortar on them was fifty years old,
and was said to be still growing harder;
but this is one of those sayings which men love to repeat whether they are true or not.
Such sayings themselves grow harder and adhere more firmly with age,
and it would take many blows with a trowel to clean an old wiseacre of them.
Many of the villages of Mesopotamia are built of second-hand bricks of a very good quality,
obtained from the ruins of Babylon,
and the cement on them is older and probably harder still.
However that may be,
I was struck by the peculiar toughness of the steel which bore so many violent blows without being worn out.
As my bricks had been in a chimney before,
though I did not read the name of Nebuchadnezzar on them,
I picked out as many fireplace bricks as I could find,
to save work and waste,
and I filled the spaces between the bricks about the fireplace with stones from the pond shore,
and also made my mortar with the white sand from the same place.
I lingered most about the fireplace,
as the most vital part of the house.
I worked so deliberately,
that though I commenced at the ground in the morning,
a course of bricks raised a few inches above the floor served for my pillow at night;
yet I did not get a stiff neck for it that I remember;
my stiff neck is of older date.
I took a poet to board for a fortnight about those times,
which caused me to be put to it for room.
He brought his own knife,
though I had two,
and we used to scour them by thrusting them into the earth.
He shared with me the labors of cooking.
I was pleased to see my work rising so square and solid by degrees,
if it proceeded slowly,
it was calculated to endure a long time.
The chimney is to some extent an independent structure,
standing on the ground,
and rising through the house to the heavens;
even after the house is burned it still stands sometimes,
and its importance and independence are apparent.
This was toward the end of summer.
It was now November.
* * * * *
The north wind had already begun to cool the pond,
though it took many weeks of steady blowing to accomplish it,
it is so deep.
When I began to have a fire at evening,
before I plastered my house,
the chimney carried smoke particularly well,
because of the numerous chinks between the boards.
Yet I passed some cheerful evenings in that cool and airy apartment,
surrounded by the rough brown boards full of knots,
and rafters with the bark on high overhead.
My house never pleased my eye so much after it was plastered,
though I was obliged to confess that it was more comfortable.
Should not every apartment in which man dwells be lofty enough to create some obscurity overhead,
where flickering shadows may play at evening about the rafters?
These forms are more agreeable to the fancy and imagination than fresco paintings or other the most expensive furniture.
I now first began to inhabit my house,
I may say,
when I began to use it for warmth as well as shelter.
I had got a couple of old fire-dogs to keep the wood from the hearth,
and it did me good to see the soot form on the back of the chimney which I had built,
and I poked the fire with more right and more satisfaction than usual.
My dwelling was small,
and I could hardly entertain an echo in it;
but it seemed larger for being a single apartment and remote from neighbors.
All the attractions of a house were concentrated in one room;
it was kitchen,
and whatever satisfaction parent or child,
master or servant,
derive from living in a house,
I enjoyed it all.
the master of a family (-patremfamilias-) must have in his rustic villa "cellam oleariam,
uti lubeat caritatem expectare,
et gloriae erit,"
"an oil and wine cellar,
so that it may be pleasant to expect hard times;
it will be for his advantage,
I had in my cellar a firkin of potatoes,
about two quarts of peas with the weevil in them,
and on my shelf a little rice,
a jug of molasses,
and of rye and Indian meal a peck each.
I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house,
standing in a golden age,
of enduring materials,
and without gingerbread work,
which shall still consist of only one room,
without ceiling or plastering,
with bare rafters and purlins supporting a sort of lower heaven over one's head --useful to keep off rain and snow,
where the king and queen posts stand out to receive your homage,
when you have done reverence to the prostrate Saturn of an older dynasty on stepping over the sill;
a cavernous house,
wherein you must reach up a torch upon a pole to see the roof;
where some may live in the fireplace,
some in the recess of a window,
and some on settles,
some at one end of the hall,
some at another,
and some aloft on rafters with the spiders,
if they choose;
a house which you have got into when you have opened the outside door,
and the ceremony is over;
where the weary traveller may wash,
without further journey;
such a shelter as you would be glad to reach in a tempestuous night,
containing all the essentials of a house,
and nothing for house-keeping;
where you can see all the treasures of the house at one view,
and everything hangs upon its peg,
that a man should use;
at once kitchen,
where you can see so necessary a thing,
as a barrel or a ladder,
so convenient a thing as a cupboard,
and hear the pot boil,
and pay your respects to the fire that cooks your dinner,
and the oven that bakes your bread,
and the necessary furniture and utensils are the chief ornaments;
where the washing is not put out,
nor the fire,
nor the mistress,
and perhaps you are sometimes requested to move from off the trap-door,
when the cook would descend into the cellar,
and so learn whether the ground is solid or hollow beneath you without stamping.
A house whose inside is as open and manifest as a bird's nest,
and you cannot go in at the front door and out at the back without seeing some of its inhabitants;
where to be a guest is to be presented with the freedom of the house,
and not to be carefully excluded from seven eighths of it,
shut up in a particular cell,
and told to make yourself at home there --in solitary confinement.
Nowadays the host does not admit you to -his- hearth,
but has got the mason to build one for yourself somewhere in his alley,
and hospitality is the art of -keeping- you at the greatest distance.
There is as much secrecy about the cooking as if he had a design to poison you.
I am aware that I have been on many a man's premises,
and might have been legally ordered off,
but I am not aware that I have been in many men's houses.
I might visit in my old clothes a king and queen who lived simply in such a house as I have described,
if I were going their way;
but backing out of a modern palace will be all that I shall desire to learn,
if ever I am caught in one.
It would seem as if the very language of our parlors would lose all its nerve and degenerate into -palaver- wholly,
our lives pass at such remoteness from its symbols,
and its metaphors and tropes are necessarily so far fetched,
through slides and dumb-waiters,
as it were;
in other words,
the parlor is so far from the kitchen and workshop.
The dinner even is only the parable of a dinner,
As if only the savage dwelt near enough to Nature and Truth to borrow a trope from them.
How can the scholar,
who dwells away in the North West Territory or the Isle of Man,
tell what is parliamentary in the kitchen?
only one or two of my guests were ever bold enough to stay and eat a hasty-pudding with me;
but when they saw that crisis approaching they beat a hasty retreat rather,
as if it would shake the house to its foundations.
it stood through a great many hasty-puddings.
I did not plaster till it was freezing weather.
I brought over some whiter and cleaner sand for this purpose from the opposite shore of the pond in a boat,
a sort of conveyance which would have tempted me to go much farther if necessary.
My house had in the meanwhile been shingled down to the ground on every side.
In lathing I was pleased to be able to send home each nail with a single blow of the hammer,
and it was my ambition to transfer the plaster from the board to the wall neatly and rapidly.
I remembered the story of a conceited fellow,
in fine clothes,
was wont to lounge about the village once,
giving advice to workmen.
Venturing one day to substitute deeds for words,
he turned up his cuffs,
seized a plasterer's board,
and having loaded his trowel without mishap,
with a complacent look toward the lathing overhead,
made a bold gesture thitherward;
to his complete discomfiture,
received the whole contents in his ruffled bosom.
I admired anew the economy and convenience of plastering,
which so effectually shuts out the cold and takes a handsome finish,
and I learned the various casualties to which the plasterer is liable.
I was surprised to see how thirsty the bricks were which drank up all the moisture in my plaster before I had smoothed it,
and how many pailfuls of water it takes to christen a new hearth.
I had the previous winter made a small quantity of lime by burning the shells of the -Unio fluviatilis-,
which our river affords,
for the sake of the experiment;
so that I knew where my materials came from.
I might have got good limestone within a mile or two and burned it myself,
if I had cared to do so.
* * * * *
The pond had in the meanwhile skimmed over in the shadiest and shallowest coves,
some days or even weeks before the general freezing.
The first ice is especially interesting and perfect,
and affords the best opportunity that ever offers for examining the bottom where it is shallow;
for you can lie at your length on ice only an inch thick,
like a skater insect on the surface of the water,
and study the bottom at your leisure,
only two or three inches distant,
like a picture behind a glass,
and the water is necessarily always smooth then.
There are many furrows in the sand where some creature has travelled about and doubled on its tracks;
it is strewn with the cases of caddis-worms made of minute grains of white quartz.
Perhaps these have creased it,
for you find some of their cases in the furrows,
though they are deep and broad for them to make.
But the ice itself is the object of most interest,
though you must improve the earliest opportunity to study it.
If you examine it closely the morning after it freezes,
you find that the greater part of the bubbles,
which at first appeared to be within it,
are against its under surface,
and that more are continually rising from the bottom;
while the ice is as yet comparatively solid and dark,
you see the water through it.
These bubbles are from an eightieth to an eighth of an inch in diameter,
very clear and beautiful,
and you see your face reflected in them through the ice.
There may be thirty or forty of them to a square inch.
There are also already within the ice narrow oblong perpendicular bubbles about half an inch long,
sharp cones with the apex upward;
if the ice is quite fresh,
minute spherical bubbles one directly above another,
like a string of beads.
But these within the ice are not so numerous nor obvious as those beneath.
I sometimes used to cast on stones to try the strength of the ice,
and those which broke through carried in air with them,
which formed very large and conspicuous white bubbles beneath.
One day when I came to the same place forty-eight hours afterward,
I found that those large bubbles were still perfect,
though an inch more of ice had formed,
as I could see distinctly by the seam in the edge of a cake.
But as the last two days had been very warm,
like an Indian summer,
the ice was not now transparent,
showing the dark green color of the water,
and the bottom,
but opaque and whitish or gray,
and though twice as thick was hardly stronger than before,
for the air bubbles had greatly expanded under this heat and run together,
and lost their regularity;
they were no longer one directly over another,
but often like silvery coins poured from a bag,
one overlapping another,
or in thin flakes,
as if occupying slight cleavages.
The beauty of the ice was gone,
and it was too late to study the bottom.
Being curious to know what position my great bubbles occupied with regard to the new ice,
I broke out a cake containing a middling sized one,
and turned it bottom upward.
The new ice had formed around and under the bubble,
so that it was included between the two ices.
It was wholly in the lower ice,
but close against the upper,
and was flattish,
or perhaps slightly lenticular,
with a rounded edge,
a quarter of an inch deep by four inches in diameter;
and I was surprised to find that directly under the bubble the ice was melted with great regularity in the form of a saucer reversed,
to the height of five eighths of an inch in the middle,
leaving a thin partition there between the water and the bubble,
hardly an eighth of an inch thick;
and in many places the small bubbles in this partition had burst out downward,
and probably there was no ice at all under the largest bubbles,
which were a foot in diameter.
I inferred that the infinite number of minute bubbles which I had first seen against the under surface of the ice were now frozen in likewise,
and that each,
in its degree,
had operated like a burning-glass on the ice beneath to melt and rot it.
These are the little air-guns which contribute to make the ice crack and whoop.
* * * * *
At length the winter set in good earnest,
just as I had finished plastering,
and the wind began to howl around the house as if it had not had permission to do so till then.
Night after night the geese came lumbering in the dark with a clangor and a whistling of wings,
even after the ground was covered with snow,
some to alight in Walden,
and some flying low over the woods toward Fair Haven,
bound for Mexico.
when returning from the village at ten or eleven o'clock at night,
I heard the tread of a flock of geese,
or else ducks,
on the dry leaves in the woods by a pond-hole behind my dwelling,
where they had come up to feed,
and the faint honk or quack of their leader as they hurried off.
In 1845 Walden froze entirely over for the first time on the night of the 22d of December,
Flint's and other shallower ponds and the river having been frozen ten days or more;
about the 31st;
about the 27th of December;
the 5th of January;
the 31st of December.
The snow had already covered the ground since the 25th of November,
and surrounded me suddenly with the scenery of winter.
I withdrew yet farther into my shell,
and endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within my breast.
My employment out of doors now was to collect the dead wood in the forest,
bringing it in my hands or on my shoulders,
or sometimes trailing a dead pine tree under each arm to my shed.
An old forest fence which had seen its best days was a great haul for me.
I sacrificed it to Vulcan,
for it was past serving the god Terminus.
How much more interesting an event is that man's supper who has just been forth in the snow to hunt,
you might say,
the fuel to cook it with!
His bread and meat are sweet.
There are enough fagots and waste wood of all kinds in the forests of most of our towns to support many fires,
but which at present warm none,
hinder the growth of the young wood.
There was also the driftwood of the pond.
In the course of the summer I had discovered a raft of pitch pine logs with the bark on,
pinned together by the Irish when the railroad was built.
This I hauled up partly on the shore.
After soaking two years and then lying high six months it was perfectly sound,
though waterlogged past drying.
I amused myself one winter day with sliding this piecemeal across the pond,
nearly half a mile,
skating behind with one end of a log fifteen feet long on my shoulder,
and the other on the ice;
or I tied several logs together with a birch withe,
with a longer birch or alder which had a hook at the end,
dragged them across.
Though completely waterlogged and almost as heavy as lead,
they not only burned long,
but made a very hot fire;
I thought that they burned better for the soaking,
as if the pitch,
being confined by the water,
as in a lamp.
in his account of the forest borderers of England,
says that "the encroachments of trespassers,
and the houses and fences thus raised on the borders of the forest,"
were "considered as great nuisances by the old forest law,
and were severely punished under the name of -purprestures-,
as tending -ad terrorem ferarum --ad nocumentum forestae-,
to the frightening of the game and the detriment of the forest.
But I was interested in the preservation of the venison and the vert more than the hunters or woodchoppers,
and as much as though I had been the Lord Warden himself;
and if any part was burned,
though I burned it myself by accident,
I grieved with a grief that lasted longer and was more inconsolable than that of the proprietors;
I grieved when it was cut down by the proprietors themselves.
I would that our farmers when they cut down a forest felt some of that awe which the old Romans did when they came to thin,
or let in the light to,
a consecrated grove (-lucum conlucare-),
would believe that it is sacred to some god.
The Roman made an expiatory offering,
Whatever god or goddess thou art to whom this grove is sacred,
be propitious to me,
It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood even in this age and in this new country,
a value more permanent and universal than that of gold.
After all our discoveries and inventions no man will go by a pile of wood.
It is as precious to us as it was to our Saxon and Norman ancestors.
If they made their bows of it,
we make our gun-stocks of it.
more than thirty years ago,
says that the price of wood for fuel in New York and Philadelphia "nearly equals,
and sometimes exceeds,
that of the best wood in Paris,
though this immense capital annually requires more than three hundred thousand cords,
and is surrounded to the distance of three hundred miles by cultivated plains."
In this town the price of wood rises almost steadily,
and the only question is,
how much higher it is to be this year than it was the last.
Mechanics and tradesmen who come in person to the forest on no other errand,
are sure to attend the wood auction,
and even pay a high price for the privilege of gleaning after the woodchopper.
It is now many years that men have resorted to the forest for fuel and the materials of the arts: the New Englander and the New Hollander,
the Parisian and the Celt,
the farmer and Robin Hood,
Goody Blake and Harry Gill;
in most parts of the world the prince and the peasant,
the scholar and the savage,
equally require still a few sticks from the forest to warm them and cook their food.
Neither could I do without them.
Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection.
I love to have mine before my window,
and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work.
I had an old axe which nobody claimed,
with which by spells in winter days,
on the sunny side of the house,
I played about the stumps which I had got out of my bean-field.
As my driver prophesied when I was plowing,
they warmed me twice --once while I was splitting them,
and again when they were on the fire,
so that no fuel could give out more heat.
As for the axe,
I was advised to get the village blacksmith to "jump" it;
but I jumped him,
putting a hickory helve from the woods into it,
made it do.
If it was dull,
it was at least hung true.
A few pieces of fat pine were a great treasure.
It is interesting to remember how much of this food for fire is still concealed in the bowels of the earth.
In previous years I had often gone prospecting over some bare hillside,
where a pitch pine wood had formerly stood,
and got out the fat pine roots.
They are almost indestructible.
Stumps thirty or forty years old,
will still be sound at the core,
though the sapwood has all become vegetable mould,
as appears by the scales of the thick bark forming a ring level with the earth four or five inches distant from the heart.
With axe and shovel you explore this mine,
and follow the marrowy store,
yellow as beef tallow,
or as if you had struck on a vein of gold,
deep into the earth.
But commonly I kindled my fire with the dry leaves of the forest,
which I had stored up in my shed before the snow came.
Green hickory finely split makes the woodchopper's kindlings,
when he has a camp in the woods.
Once in a while I got a little of this.
When the villagers were lighting their fires beyond the horizon,
I too gave notice to the various wild inhabitants of Walden vale,
by a smoky streamer from my chimney,
that I was awake.
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight,
Lark without song,
and messenger of dawn,
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;
and shadowy form Of midnight vision,
gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling,
and by day Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
Go thou my incense upward from this hearth,
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.
Hard green wood just cut,
though I used but little of that,
answered my purpose better than any other.
I sometimes left a good fire when I went to take a walk in a winter afternoon;
and when I returned,
three or four hours afterward,
it would be still alive and glowing.
My house was not empty though I was gone.
It was as if I had left a cheerful housekeeper behind.
It was I and Fire that lived there;
and commonly my housekeeper proved trustworthy.
as I was splitting wood,
I thought that I would just look in at the window and see if the house was not on fire;
it was the only time I remember to have been particularly anxious on this score;
so I looked and saw that a spark had caught my bed,
and I went in and extinguished it when it had burned a place as big as my hand.
But my house occupied so sunny and sheltered a position,
and its roof was so low,
that I could afford to let the fire go out in the middle of almost any winter day.
The moles nested in my cellar,
nibbling every third potato,
and making a snug bed even there of some hair left after plastering and of brown paper;
for even the wildest animals love comfort and warmth as well as man,
and they survive the winter only because they are so careful to secure them.
Some of my friends spoke as if I was coming to the woods on purpose to freeze myself.
The animal merely makes a bed,
which he warms with his body,
in a sheltered place;
having discovered fire,
boxes up some air in a spacious apartment,
and warms that,
instead of robbing himself,
makes that his bed,
in which he can move about divested of more cumbrous clothing,
maintain a kind of summer in the midst of winter,
and by means of windows even admit the light,
and with a lamp lengthen out the day.
Thus he goes a step or two beyond instinct,
and saves a little time for the fine arts.
when I had been exposed to the rudest blasts a long time,
my whole body began to grow torpid,
when I reached the genial atmosphere of my house I soon recovered my faculties and prolonged my life.
But the most luxuriously housed has little to boast of in this respect,
nor need we trouble ourselves to speculate how the human race may be at last destroyed.
It would be easy to cut their threads any time with a little sharper blast from the north.
We go on dating from Cold Fridays and Great Snows;
but a little colder Friday,
or greater snow would put a period to man's existence on the globe.
The next winter I used a small cooking-stove for economy,
since I did not own the forest;
but it did not keep fire so well as the open fireplace.
Cooking was then,
for the most part,
no longer a poetic,
but merely a chemic process.
It will soon be forgotten,
in these days of stoves,
that we used to roast potatoes in the ashes,
after the Indian fashion.
The stove not only took up room and scented the house,
but it concealed the fire,
and I felt as if I had lost a companion.
You can always see a face in the fire.
looking into it at evening,
purifies his thoughts of the dross and earthiness which they have accumulated during the day.
But I could no longer sit and look into the fire,
and the pertinent words of a poet recurred to me with new force.
may be denied to me Thy dear,
What but my hopes shot upward e'er so bright?
What but my fortunes sunk so low in night?
Why art thou banished from our hearth and hall,
Thou who art welcomed and beloved by all?
Was thy existence then too fanciful For our life's common light,
who are so dull?
Did thy bright gleam mysterious converse hold With our congenial souls?
secrets too bold?
we are safe and strong,
for now we sit Beside a hearth where no dim shadows flit,
Where nothing cheers nor saddens,
but a fire Warms feet and hands --nor does to more aspire;
By whose compact utilitarian heap The present may sit down and go to sleep,
Nor fear the ghosts who from the dim past walked,
And with us by the unequal light of the old wood fire talked."
Former Inhabitants and Winter Visitors
I weathered some merry snow-storms,
and spent some cheerful winter evenings by my fireside,
while the snow whirled wildly without,
and even the hooting of the owl was hushed.
For many weeks I met no one in my walks but those who came occasionally to cut wood and sled it to the village.
abetted me in making a path through the deepest snow in the woods,
for when I had once gone through the wind blew the oak leaves into my tracks,
where they lodged,
and by absorbing the rays of the sun melted the snow,
and so not only made a my bed for my feet,
but in the night their dark line was my guide.
For human society I was obliged to conjure up the former occupants of these woods.
Within the memory of many of my townsmen the road near which my house stands resounded with the laugh and gossip of inhabitants,
and the woods which border it were notched and dotted here and there with their little gardens and dwellings,
though it was then much more shut in by the forest than now.
In some places,
within my own remembrance,
the pines would scrape both sides of a chaise at once,
and women and children who were compelled to go this way to Lincoln alone and on foot did it with fear,
and often ran a good part of the distance.
Though mainly but a humble route to neighboring villages,
or for the woodman's team,
it once amused the traveller more than now by its variety,
and lingered longer in his memory.
Where now firm open fields stretch from the village to the woods,
it then ran through a maple swamp on a foundation of logs,
the remnants of which,
still underlie the present dusty highway,
from the Stratton,
now the Alms-House Farm,
to Brister's Hill.
East of my bean-field,
across the road,
lived Cato Ingraham,
slave of Duncan Ingraham,
of Concord village,
who built his slave a house,
and gave him permission to live in Walden Woods;
Some say that he was a Guinea Negro.
There are a few who remember his little patch among the walnuts,
which he let grow up till he should be old and need them;
but a younger and whiter speculator got them at last.
occupies an equally narrow house at present.
Cato's half-obliterated cellar-hole still remains,
though known to few,
being concealed from the traveller by a fringe of pines.
It is now filled with the smooth sumach (-Rhus glabra-),
and one of the earliest species of goldenrod (-Solidago stricta-) grows there luxuriantly.
by the very corner of my field,
still nearer to town,
a colored woman,
had her little house,
where she spun linen for the townsfolk,
making the Walden Woods ring with her shrill singing,
for she had a loud and notable voice.
in the war of 1812,
her dwelling was set on fire by English soldiers,
prisoners on parole,
when she was away,
and her cat and dog and hens were all burned up together.
She led a hard life,
and somewhat inhumane.
One old frequenter of these woods remembers,
that as he passed her house one noon he heard her muttering to herself over her gurgling pot --"Ye are all bones,
I have seen bricks amid the oak copse there.
Down the road,
on the right hand,
on Brister's Hill,
lived Brister Freeman,
"a handy Negro,"
slave of Squire Cummings once --there where grow still the apple trees which Brister planted and tended;
large old trees now,
but their fruit still wild and ciderish to my taste.
Not long since I read his epitaph in the old Lincoln burying-ground,
a little on one side,
near the unmarked graves of some British grenadiers who fell in the retreat from Concord --where he is styled "Sippio Brister" --Scipio Africanus he had some title to be called --"a man of color,"
as if he were discolored.
It also told me,
with staring emphasis,
when he died;
which was but an indirect way of informing me that he ever lived.
With him dwelt Fenda,
his hospitable wife,
who told fortunes,
yet pleasantly --large,
blacker than any of the children of night,
such a dusky orb as never rose on Concord before or since.
Farther down the hill,
on the left,
on the old road in the woods,
are marks of some homestead of the Stratton family;
whose orchard once covered all the slope of Brister's Hill,
but was long since killed out by pitch pines,
excepting a few stumps,
whose old roots furnish still the wild stocks of many a thrifty village tree.
Nearer yet to town,
you come to Breed's location,
on the other side of the way,
just on the edge of the wood;
ground famous for the pranks of a demon not distinctly named in old mythology,
who has acted a prominent and astounding part in our New England life,
as much as any mythological character,
to have his biography written one day;
who first comes in the guise of a friend or hired man,
and then robs and murders the whole family --New-England Rum.
But history must not yet tell the tragedies enacted here;
let time intervene in some measure to assuage and lend an azure tint to them.
Here the most indistinct and dubious tradition says that once a tavern stood;
the well the same,
which tempered the traveller's beverage and refreshed his steed.
Here then men saluted one another,
and heard and told the news,
and went their ways again.
Breed's hut was standing only a dozen years ago,
though it had long been unoccupied.
It was about the size of mine.
It was set on fire by mischievous boys,
one Election night,
if I do not mistake.
I lived on the edge of the village then,
and had just lost myself over Davenant's "Gondibert,"
that winter that I labored with a lethargy --which,
by the way,
I never knew whether to regard as a family complaint,
having an uncle who goes to sleep shaving himself,
and is obliged to sprout potatoes in a cellar Sundays,
in order to keep awake and keep the Sabbath,
or as the consequence of my attempt to read Chalmers' collection of English poetry without skipping.
It fairly overcame my Nervii.
I had just sunk my head on this when the bells rung fire,
and in hot haste the engines rolled that way,
led by a straggling troop of men and boys,
and I among the foremost,
for I had leaped the brook.
We thought it was far south over the woods --we who had run to fires before --barn,
or all together.
"It's Baker's barn,"
"It is the Codman place,"
And then fresh sparks went up above the wood,
as if the roof fell in,
and we all shouted "Concord to the rescue!"
Wagons shot past with furious speed and crushing loads,
among the rest,
the agent of the Insurance Company,
who was bound to go however far;
and ever and anon the engine bell tinkled behind,
more slow and sure;
and rearmost of all,
as it was afterward whispered,
came they who set the fire and gave the alarm.
Thus we kept on like true idealists,
rejecting the evidence of our senses,
until at a turn in the road we heard the crackling and actually felt the heat of the fire from over the wall,
that we were there.
The very nearness of the fire but cooled our ardor.
At first we thought to throw a frog-pond on to it;
but concluded to let it burn,
it was so far gone and so worthless.
So we stood round our engine,
jostled one another,
expressed our sentiments through speaking-trumpets,
or in lower tone referred to the great conflagrations which the world has witnessed,
including Bascom's shop,
we thought that,
were we there in season with our "tub,"
and a full frog-pond by,
we could turn that threatened last and universal one into another flood.
We finally retreated without doing any mischief --returned to sleep and "Gondibert."
But as for "Gondibert,"
I would except that passage in the preface about wit being the soul's powder --"but most of mankind are strangers to wit,
as Indians are to powder."
It chanced that I walked that way across the fields the following night,
about the same hour,
and hearing a low moaning at this spot,
I drew near in the dark,
and discovered the only survivor of the family that I know,
the heir of both its virtues and its vices,
who alone was interested in this burning,
lying on his stomach and looking over the cellar wall at the still smouldering cinders beneath,
muttering to himself,
as is his wont.
He had been working far off in the river meadows all day,
and had improved the first moments that he could call his own to visit the home of his fathers and his youth.
He gazed into the cellar from all sides and points of view by turns,
always lying down to it,
as if there was some treasure,
which he remembered,
concealed between the stones,
where there was absolutely nothing but a heap of bricks and ashes.
The house being gone,
he looked at what there was left.
He was soothed by the sympathy which my mere presence implied,
and showed me,
as well as the darkness permitted,
where the well was covered up;
could never be burned;
and he groped long about the wall to find the well-sweep which his father had cut and mounted,
feeling for the iron hook or staple by which a burden had been fastened to the heavy end --all that he could now cling to --to convince me that it was no common "rider."
I felt it,
and still remark it almost daily in my walks,
for by it hangs the history of a family.
on the left,
where are seen the well and lilac bushes by the wall,
in the now open field,
lived Nutting and Le Grosse.
But to return toward Lincoln.
Farther in the woods than any of these,
where the road approaches nearest to the pond,
Wyman the potter squatted,
and furnished his townsmen with earthenware,
and left descendants to succeed him.
Neither were they rich in worldly goods,
holding the land by sufferance while they lived;
and there often the sheriff came in vain to collect the taxes,
and "attached a chip,"
for form's sake,
as I have read in his accounts,
there being nothing else that he could lay his hands on.
One day in midsummer,
when I was hoeing,
a man who was carrying a load of pottery to market stopped his horse against my field and inquired concerning Wyman the younger.
He had long ago bought a potter's wheel of him,
and wished to know what had become of him.
I had read of the potter's clay and wheel in Scripture,
but it had never occurred to me that the pots we use were not such as had come down unbroken from those days,
or grown on trees like gourds somewhere,
and I was pleased to hear that so fictile an art was ever practiced in my neighborhood.
The last inhabitant of these woods before me was an Irishman,
Hugh Quoil (if I have spelt his name with coil enough),
who occupied Wyman's tenement --Col. Quoil,
he was called.
Rumor said that he had been a soldier at Waterloo.
If he had lived I should have made him fight his battles over again.
His trade here was that of a ditcher.
Napoleon went to St. Helena;
Quoil came to Walden Woods.
All I know of him is tragic.
He was a man of manners,
like one who had seen the world,
and was capable of more civil speech than you could well attend to.
He wore a greatcoat in midsummer,
being affected with the trembling delirium,
and his face was the color of carmine.
He died in the road at the foot of Brister's Hill shortly after I came to the woods,
so that I have not remembered him as a neighbor.
Before his house was pulled down,
when his comrades avoided it as "an unlucky castle,"
I visited it.
There lay his old clothes curled up by use,
as if they were himself,
upon his raised plank bed.
His pipe lay broken on the hearth,
instead of a bowl broken at the fountain.
The last could never have been the symbol of his death,
for he confessed to me that,
though he had heard of Brister's Spring,
he had never seen it;
and soiled cards,
kings of diamonds,
were scattered over the floor.
One black chicken which the administrator could not catch,
black as night and as silent,
not even croaking,
still went to roost in the next apartment.
In the rear there was the dim outline of a garden,
which had been planted but had never received its first hoeing,
owing to those terrible shaking fits,
though it was now harvest time.
It was overrun with Roman wormwood and beggar-ticks,
which last stuck to my clothes for all fruit.
The skin of a woodchuck was freshly stretched upon the back of the house,
a trophy of his last Waterloo;
but no warm cap or mittens would he want more.
Now only a dent in the earth marks the site of these dwellings,
with buried cellar stones,
and sumachs growing in the sunny sward there;
some pitch pine or gnarled oak occupies what was the chimney nook,
and a sweet-scented black birch,
waves where the door-stone was.
Sometimes the well dent is visible,
where once a spring oozed;
now dry and tearless grass;
or it was covered deep --not to be discovered till some late day --with a flat stone under the sod,
when the last of the race departed.
What a sorrowful act must that be --the covering up of wells!
coincident with the opening of wells of tears.
These cellar dents,
like deserted fox burrows,
are all that is left where once were the stir and bustle of human life,
in some form and dialect or other were by turns discussed.
But all I can learn of their conclusions amounts to just this,
that "Cato and Brister pulled wool";
which is about as edifying as the history of more famous schools of philosophy.
Still grows the vivacious lilac a generation after the door and lintel and the sill are gone,
unfolding its sweet-scented flowers each spring,
to be plucked by the musing traveller;
planted and tended once by children's hands,
in front-yard plots --now standing by wallsides in retired pastures,
and giving place to new-rising forests;
--the last of that stirp,
sole survivor of that family.
Little did the dusky children think that the puny slip with its two eyes only,
which they stuck in the ground in the shadow of the house and daily watered,
would root itself so,
and outlive them,
and house itself in the rear that shaded it,
and grown man's garden and orchard,
and tell their story faintly to the lone wanderer a half-century after they had grown up and died --blossoming as fair,
and smelling as sweet,
as in that first spring.
I mark its still tender,
cheerful lilac colors.
But this small village,
germ of something more,
why did it fail while Concord keeps its ground?
Were there no natural advantages --no water privileges,
the deep Walden Pond and cool Brister's Spring --privilege to drink long and healthy draughts at these,
all unimproved by these men but to dilute their glass.
They were universally a thirsty race.
Might not the basket,
and pottery business have thrived here,
making the wilderness to blossom like the rose,
and a numerous posterity have inherited the land of their fathers?
The sterile soil would at least have been proof against a low-land degeneracy.
how little does the memory of these human inhabitants enhance the beauty of the landscape!
Nature will try,
with me for a first settler,
and my house raised last spring to be the oldest in the hamlet.
I am not aware that any man has ever built on the spot which I occupy.
Deliver me from a city built on the site of a more ancient city,
whose materials are ruins,
whose gardens cemeteries.
The soil is blanched and accursed there,
and before that becomes necessary the earth itself will be destroyed.
With such reminiscences I repeopled the woods and lulled myself asleep.
* * * * *
At this season I seldom had a visitor.
When the snow lay deepest no wanderer ventured near my house for a week or fortnight at a time,
but there I lived as snug as a meadow mouse,
or as cattle and poultry which are said to have survived for a long time buried in drifts,
even without food;
or like that early settler's family in the town of Sutton,
in this State,
whose cottage was completely covered by the great snow of 1717 when he was absent,
and an Indian found it only by the hole which the chimney's breath made in the drift,
and so relieved the family.
But no friendly Indian concerned himself about me;
nor needed he,
for the master of the house was at home.
The Great Snow!
How cheerful it is to hear of!
When the farmers could not get to the woods and swamps with their teams,
and were obliged to cut down the shade trees before their houses,
when the crust was harder,
cut off the trees in the swamps,
ten feet from the ground,
as it appeared the next spring.
In the deepest snows,
the path which I used from the highway to my house,
about half a mile long,
might have been represented by a meandering dotted line,
with wide intervals between the dots.
For a week of even weather I took exactly the same number of steps,
and of the same length,
coming and going,
stepping deliberately and with the precision of a pair of dividers in my own deep tracks --to such routine the winter reduces us --yet often they were filled with heaven's own blue.
But no weather interfered fatally with my walks,
or rather my going abroad,
for I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree,
or a yellow birch,
or an old acquaintance among the pines;
when the ice and snow causing their limbs to droop,
and so sharpening their tops,
had changed the pines into fir trees;
wading to the tops of the highest hills when the show was nearly two feet deep on a level,
and shaking down another snow-storm on my head at every step;
or sometimes creeping and floundering thither on my hands and knees,
when the hunters had gone into winter quarters.
One afternoon I amused myself by watching a barred owl (-Strix nebulosa-) sitting on one of the lower dead limbs of a white pine,
close to the trunk,
in broad daylight,
I standing within a rod of him.
He could hear me when I moved and cronched the snow with my feet,
but could not plainly see me.
When I made most noise he would stretch out his neck,
and erect his neck feathers,
and open his eyes wide;
but their lids soon fell again,
and he began to nod.
I too felt a slumberous influence after watching him half an hour,
as he sat thus with his eyes half open,
like a cat,
winged brother of the cat.
There was only a narrow slit left between their lids,
by which he preserved a peninsular relation to me;
with half-shut eyes,
looking out from the land of dreams,
and endeavoring to realize me,
vague object or mote that interrupted his visions.
on some louder noise or my nearer approach,
he would grow uneasy and sluggishly turn about on his perch,
as if impatient at having his dreams disturbed;
and when he launched himself off and flapped through the pines,
spreading his wings to unexpected breadth,
I could not hear the slightest sound from them.
guided amid the pine boughs rather by a delicate sense of their neighborhood than by sight,
feeling his twilight way,
as it were,
with his sensitive pinions,
he found a new perch,
where he might in peace await the dawning of his day.
As I walked over the long causeway made for the railroad through the meadows,
I encountered many a blustering and nipping wind,
for nowhere has it freer play;
and when the frost had smitten me on one cheek,
heathen as I was,
I turned to it the other also.
Nor was it much better by the carriage road from Brister's Hill.
For I came to town still,
like a friendly Indian,
when the contents of the broad open fields were all piled up between the walls of the Walden road,
and half an hour sufficed to obliterate the tracks of the last traveller.
And when I returned new drifts would have formed,
through which I floundered,
where the busy northwest wind had been depositing the powdery snow round a sharp angle in the road,
and not a rabbit's track,
nor even the fine print,
the small type,
of a meadow mouse was to be seen.
Yet I rarely failed to find,
even in midwinter,
some warm and springly swamp where the grass and the skunk-cabbage still put forth with perennial verdure,
and some hardier bird occasionally awaited the return of spring.
notwithstanding the snow,
when I returned from my walk at evening I crossed the deep tracks of a woodchopper leading from my door,
and found his pile of whittlings on the hearth,
and my house filled with the odor of his pipe.
Or on a Sunday afternoon,
if I chanced to be at home,
I heard the cronching of the snow made by the step of a long-headed farmer,
who from far through the woods sought my house,
to have a social "crack";
one of the few of his vocation who are "men on their farms";
who donned a frock instead of a professor's gown,
and is as ready to extract the moral out of church or state as to haul a load of manure from his barn-yard.
We talked of rude and simple times,
when men sat about large fires in cold,
with clear heads;
and when other dessert failed,
we tried our teeth on many a nut which wise squirrels have long since abandoned,
for those which have the thickest shells are commonly empty.
The one who came from farthest to my lodge,
through deepest snows and most dismal tempests,
was a poet.
even a philosopher,
may be daunted;
but nothing can deter a poet,
for he is actuated by pure love.
Who can predict his comings and goings?
His business calls him out at all hours,
even when doctors sleep.
We made that small house ring with boisterous mirth and resound with the murmur of much sober talk,
making amends then to Walden vale for the long silences.
Broadway was still and deserted in comparison.
At suitable intervals there were regular salutes of laughter,
which might have been referred indifferently to the last-uttered or the forth-coming jest.
We made many a "bran new" theory of life over a thin dish of gruel,
which combined the advantages of conviviality with the clear-headedness which philosophy requires.
I should not forget that during my last winter at the pond there was another welcome visitor,
who at one time came through the village,
through snow and rain and darkness,
till he saw my lamp through the trees,
and shared with me some long winter evenings.
One of the last of the philosophers --Connecticut gave him to the world --he peddled first her wares,
as he declares,
These he peddles still,
prompting God and disgracing man,
bearing for fruit his brain only,
like the nut its kernel.
I think that he must be the man of the most faith of any alive.
His words and attitude always suppose a better state of things than other men are acquainted with,
and he will be the last man to be disappointed as the ages revolve.
He has no venture in the present.
But though comparatively disregarded now,
when his day comes,
laws unsuspected by most will take effect,
and masters of families and rulers will come to him for advice.
"How blind that cannot see serenity!"
A true friend of man;
almost the only friend of human progress.
An Old Mortality,
say rather an Immortality,
with unwearied patience and faith making plain the image engraven in men's bodies,
the God of whom they are but defaced and leaning monuments.
With his hospitable intellect he embraces children,
and entertains the thought of all,
adding to it commonly some breadth and elegance.
I think that he should keep a caravansary on the world's highway,
where philosophers of all nations might put up,
and on his sign should be printed,
"Entertainment for man,
but not for his beast.
Enter ye that have leisure and a quiet mind,
who earnestly seek the right road."
He is perhaps the sanest man and has the fewest crotchets of any I chance to know;
the same yesterday and tomorrow.
Of yore we had sauntered and talked,
and effectually put the world behind us;
for he was pledged to no institution in it,
Whichever way we turned,
it seemed that the heavens and the earth had met together,
since he enhanced the beauty of the landscape.
A blue-robed man,
whose fittest roof is the overarching sky which reflects his serenity.
I do not see how he can ever die;
Nature cannot spare him.
Having each some shingles of thought well dried,
we sat and whittled them,
trying our knives,
and admiring the clear yellowish grain of the pumpkin pine.
We waded so gently and reverently,
or we pulled together so smoothly,
that the fishes of thought were not scared from the stream,
nor feared any angler on the bank,
but came and went grandly,
like the clouds which float through the western sky,
and the mother-o'-pearl flocks which sometimes form and dissolve there.
There we worked,
rounding a fable here and there,
and building castles in the air for which earth offered no worthy foundation.
to converse with whom was a New England Night's Entertainment.
such discourse we had,
hermit and philosopher,
and the old settler I have spoken of --we three --it expanded and racked my little house;
I should not dare to say how many pounds' weight there was above the atmospheric pressure on every circular inch;
it opened its seams so that they had to be calked with much dulness thereafter to stop the consequent leak;
--but I had enough of that kind of oakum already picked.
There was one other with whom I had "solid seasons,"
long to be remembered,
at his house in the village,
and who looked in upon me from time to time;
but I had no more for society there.
I sometimes expected the Visitor who never comes.
The Vishnu Purana says,
"The house-holder is to remain at eventide in his courtyard as long as it takes to milk a cow,
or longer if he pleases,
to await the arrival of a guest."
I often performed this duty of hospitality,
waited long enough to milk a whole herd of cows,
but did not see the man approaching from the town.
When the ponds were firmly frozen,
they afforded not only new and shorter routes to many points,
but new views from their surfaces of the familiar landscape around them.
When I crossed Flint's Pond,
after it was covered with snow,
though I had often paddled about and skated over it,
it was so unexpectedly wide and so strange that I could think of nothing but Baffin's Bay.
The Lincoln hills rose up around me at the extremity of a snowy plain,
in which I did not remember to have stood before;
and the fishermen,
at an indeterminable distance over the ice,
moving slowly about with their wolfish dogs,
passed for sealers,
or in misty weather loomed like fabulous creatures,
and I did not know whether they were giants or pygmies.
I took this course when I went to lecture in Lincoln in the evening,
travelling in no road and passing no house between my own hut and the lecture room.
In Goose Pond,
which lay in my way,
a colony of muskrats dwelt,
and raised their cabins high above the ice,
though none could be seen abroad when I crossed it.
being like the rest usually bare of snow,
or with only shallow and interrupted drifts on it,
was my yard where I could walk freely when the snow was nearly two feet deep on a level elsewhere and the villagers were confined to their streets.
far from the village street,
and except at very long intervals,
from the jingle of sleigh-bells,
I slid and skated,
as in a vast moose-yard well trodden,
overhung by oak woods and solemn pines bent down with snow or bristling with icicles.
For sounds in winter nights,
and often in winter days,
I heard the forlorn but melodious note of a hooting owl indefinitely far;
such a sound as the frozen earth would yield if struck with a suitable plectrum,
the very -lingua vernacula- of Walden Wood,
and quite familiar to me at last,
though I never saw the bird while it was making it.
I seldom opened my door in a winter evening without hearing it;
-Hoo hoo hoo,
hoo,- sounded sonorously,
and the first three syllables accented somewhat like -how der do-;
or sometimes -hoo,
One night in the beginning of winter,
before the pond froze over,
about nine o'clock,
I was startled by the loud honking of a goose,
stepping to the door,
heard the sound of their wings like a tempest in the woods as they flew low over my house.
They passed over the pond toward Fair Haven,
seemingly deterred from settling by my light,
their commodore honking all the while with a regular beat.
Suddenly an unmistakable cat-owl from very near me,
with the most harsh and tremendous voice I ever heard from any inhabitant of the woods,
responded at regular intervals to the goose,
as if determined to expose and disgrace this intruder from Hudson's Bay by exhibiting a greater compass and volume of voice in a native,
and -boo-hoo- him out of Concord horizon.
What do you mean by alarming the citadel at this time of night consecrated to me?
Do you think I am ever caught napping at such an hour,
and that I have not got lungs and a larynx as well as yourself?
boo-hoo!- It was one of the most thrilling discords I ever heard.
if you had a discriminating ear,
there were in it the elements of a concord such as these plains never saw nor heard.
I also heard the whooping of the ice in the pond,
my great bed-fellow in that part of Concord,
as if it were restless in its bed and would fain turn over,
were troubled with flatulency and had dreams;
or I was waked by the cracking of the ground by the frost,
as if some one had driven a team against my door,
and in the morning would find a crack in the earth a quarter of a mile long and a third of an inch wide.
Sometimes I heard the foxes as they ranged over the snow-crust,
in moonlight nights,
in search of a partridge or other game,
barking raggedly and demoniacally like forest dogs,
as if laboring with some anxiety,
or seeking expression,
struggling for light and to be dogs outright and run freely in the streets;
for if we take the ages into our account,
may there not be a civilization going on among brutes as well as men?
They seemed to me to be rudimental,
still standing on their defence,
awaiting their transformation.
Sometimes one came near to my window,
attracted by my light,
barked a vulpine curse at me,
and then retreated.
Usually the red squirrel (-Sciurus Hudsonius-) waked me in the dawn,
coursing over the roof and up and down the sides of the house,
as if sent out of the woods for this purpose.
In the course of the winter I threw out half a bushel of ears of sweet corn,
which had not got ripe,
on to the snow-crust by my door,
and was amused by watching the motions of the various animals which were baited by it.
In the twilight and the night the rabbits came regularly and made a hearty meal.
All day long the red squirrels came and went,
and afforded me much entertainment by their manoeuvres.
One would approach at first warily through the shrub oaks,
running over the snow-crust by fits and starts like a leaf blown by the wind,
now a few paces this way,
with wonderful speed and waste of energy,
making inconceivable haste with his "trotters,"
as if it were for a wager,
and now as many paces that way,
but never getting on more than half a rod at a time;
and then suddenly pausing with a ludicrous expression and a gratuitous somerset,
as if all the eyes in the universe were eyed on him --for all the motions of a squirrel,
even in the most solitary recesses of the forest,
imply spectators as much as those of a dancing girl --wasting more time in delay and circumspection than would have sufficed to walk the whole distance --I never saw one walk --and then suddenly,
before you could say Jack Robinson,
he would be in the top of a young pitch pine,
winding up his clock and chiding all imaginary spectators,
soliloquizing and talking to all the universe at the same time --for no reason that I could ever detect,
or he himself was aware of,
At length he would reach the corn,
and selecting a suitable ear,
frisk about in the same uncertain trigonometrical way to the topmost stick of my wood-pile,
before my window,
where he looked me in the face,
and there sit for hours,
supplying himself with a new ear from time to time,
nibbling at first voraciously and throwing the half-naked cobs about;
till at length he grew more dainty still and played with his food,
tasting only the inside of the kernel,
and the ear,
which was held balanced over the stick by one paw,
slipped from his careless grasp and fell to the ground,
when he would look over at it with a ludicrous expression of uncertainty,
as if suspecting that it had life,
with a mind not made up whether to get it again,
or a new one,
or be off;
now thinking of corn,
then listening to hear what was in the wind.
So the little impudent fellow would waste many an ear in a forenoon;
till at last,
seizing some longer and plumper one,
considerably bigger than himself,
and skilfully balancing it,
he would set out with it to the woods,
like a tiger with a buffalo,
by the same zig-zag course and frequent pauses,
scratching along with it as if it were too heavy for him and falling all the while,
making its fall a diagonal between a perpendicular and horizontal,
being determined to put it through at any rate;
--a singularly frivolous and whimsical fellow;
--and so he would get off with it to where he lived,
perhaps carry it to the top of a pine tree forty or fifty rods distant,
and I would afterwards find the cobs strewn about the woods in various directions.
At length the jays arrive,
whose discordant screams were heard long before,
as they were warily making their approach an eighth of a mile off,
and in a stealthy and sneaking manner they flit from tree to tree,
nearer and nearer,
and pick up the kernels which the squirrels have dropped.
sitting on a pitch pine bough,
they attempt to swallow in their haste a kernel which is too big for their throats and chokes them;
and after great labor they disgorge it,
and spend an hour in the endeavor to crack it by repeated blows with their bills.
They were manifestly thieves,
and I had not much respect for them;
but the squirrels,
though at first shy,
went to work as if they were taking what was their own.
Meanwhile also came the chickadees in flocks,
picking up the crumbs the squirrels had dropped,
flew to the nearest twig and,
placing them under their claws,
hammered away at them with their little bills,
as if it were an insect in the bark,
till they were sufficiently reduced for their slender throats.
A little flock of these titmice came daily to pick a dinner out of my woodpile,
or the crumbs at my door,
with faint flitting lisping notes,
like the tinkling of icicles in the grass,
or else with sprightly -day day day-,
or more rarely,
in spring-like days,
a wiry summery -phe-be- from the woodside.
They were so familiar that at length one alighted on an armful of wood which I was carrying in,
and pecked at the sticks without fear.
I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment while I was hoeing in a village garden,
and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.
The squirrels also grew at last to be quite familiar,
and occasionally stepped upon my shoe,
when that was the nearest way.
When the ground was not yet quite covered,
and again near the end of winter,
when the snow was melted on my south hillside and about my wood-pile,
the partridges came out of the woods morning and evening to feed there.
Whichever side you walk in the woods the partridge bursts away on whirring wings,
jarring the snow from the dry leaves and twigs on high,
which comes sifting down in the sunbeams like golden dust,
for this brave bird is not to be scared by winter.
It is frequently covered up by drifts,
it is said,
"sometimes plunges from on wing into the soft snow,
where it remains concealed for a day or two."
I used to start them in the open land also,
where they had come out of the woods at sunset to "bud" the wild apple trees.
They will come regularly every evening to particular trees,
where the cunning sportsman lies in wait for them,
and the distant orchards next the woods suffer thus not a little.
I am glad that the partridge gets fed,
at any rate.
It is Nature's own bird which lives on buds and diet drink.
In dark winter mornings,
or in short winter afternoons,
I sometimes heard a pack of hounds threading all the woods with hounding cry and yelp,
unable to resist the instinct of the chase,
and the note of the hunting-horn at intervals,
proving that man was in the rear.
The woods ring again,
and yet no fox bursts forth on to the open level of the pond,
nor following pack pursuing their Actæon.
And perhaps at evening I see the hunters returning with a single brush trailing from their sleigh for a trophy,
seeking their inn.
They tell me that if the fox would remain in the bosom of the frozen earth he would be safe,
or if he would run in a straight line away no foxhound could overtake him;
having left his pursuers far behind,
he stops to rest and listen till they come up,
and when he runs he circles round to his old haunts,
where the hunters await him.
he will run upon a wall many rods,
and then leap off far to one side,
and he appears to know that water will not retain his scent.
A hunter told me that he once saw a fox pursued by hounds burst out on to Walden when the ice was covered with shallow puddles,
run part way across,
and then return to the same shore.
Ere long the hounds arrived,
but here they lost the scent.
Sometimes a pack hunting by themselves would pass my door,
and circle round my house,
and yelp and hound without regarding me,
as if afflicted by a species of madness,
so that nothing could divert them from the pursuit.
Thus they circle until they fall upon the recent trail of a fox,
for a wise hound will forsake everything else for this.
One day a man came to my hut from Lexington to inquire after his hound that made a large track,
and had been hunting for a week by himself.
But I fear that he was not the wiser for all I told him,
for every time I attempted to answer his questions he interrupted me by asking,
"What do you do here?"
He had lost a dog,
but found a man.
One old hunter who has a dry tongue,
who used to come to bathe in Walden once every year when the water was warmest,
and at such times looked in upon me,
told me that many years ago he took his gun one afternoon and went out for a cruise in Walden Wood;
and as he walked the Wayland road he heard the cry of hounds approaching,
and ere long a fox leaped the wall into the road,
and as quick as thought leaped the other wall out of the road,
and his swift bullet had not touched him.
Some way behind came an old hound and her three pups in full pursuit,
hunting on their own account,
and disappeared again in the woods.
Late in the afternoon,
as he was resting in the thick woods south of Walden,
he heard the voice of the hounds far over toward Fair Haven still pursuing the fox;
and on they came,
their hounding cry which made all the woods ring sounding nearer and nearer,
now from Well Meadow,
now from the Baker Farm.
For a long time he stood still and listened to their music,
so sweet to a hunter's ear,
when suddenly the fox appeared,
threading the solemn aisles with an easy coursing pace,
whose sound was concealed by a sympathetic rustle of the leaves,
swift and still,
keeping the round,
leaving his pursuers far behind;
leaping upon a rock amid the woods,
he sat erect and listening,
with his back to the hunter.
For a moment compassion restrained the latter's arm;
but that was a short-lived mood,
and as quick as thought can follow thought his piece was levelled,
rolling over the rock,
lay dead on the ground.
The hunter still kept his place and listened to the hounds.
Still on they came,
and now the near woods resounded through all their aisles with their demoniac cry.
At length the old hound burst into view with muzzle to the ground,
and snapping the air as if possessed,
and ran directly to the rock;
spying the dead fox,
she suddenly ceased her hounding as if struck dumb with amazement,
and walked round and round him in silence;
and one by one her pups arrived,
like their mother,
were sobered into silence by the mystery.
Then the hunter came forward and stood in their midst,
and the mystery was solved.
They waited in silence while he skinned the fox,
then followed the brush a while,
and at length turned off into the woods again.
That evening a Weston squire came to the Concord hunter's cottage to inquire for his hounds,
and told how for a week they had been hunting on their own account from Weston woods.
The Concord hunter told him what he knew and offered him the skin;
but the other declined it and departed.
He did not find his hounds that night,
but the next day learned that they had crossed the river and put up at a farmhouse for the night,
having been well fed,
they took their departure early in the morning.
The hunter who told me this could remember one Sam Nutting,
who used to hunt bears on Fair Haven Ledges,
and exchange their skins for rum in Concord village;
who told him,
that he had seen a moose there.
Nutting had a famous foxhound named Burgoyne --he pronounced it Bugine --which my informant used to borrow.
In the "Wast Book" of an old trader of this town,
who was also a captain,
I find the following entry.
"John Melven Cr.
by 1 Grey Fox 0 --2 --3";
they are not now found here;
and in his ledger,
Hezekiah Stratton has credit "by 1/2 a Catt skin 0 --1 --4-1/2";
for Stratton was a sergeant in the old French war,
and would not have got credit for hunting less noble game.
Credit is given for deerskins also,
and they were daily sold.
One man still preserves the horns of the last deer that was killed in this vicinity,
and another has told me the particulars of the hunt in which his uncle was engaged.
The hunters were formerly a numerous and merry crew here.
I remember well one gaunt Nimrod who would catch up a leaf by the roadside and play a strain on it wilder and more melodious,
if my memory serves me,
than any hunting-horn.
when there was a moon,
I sometimes met with hounds in my path prowling about the woods,
which would skulk out of my way,
as if afraid,
and stand silent amid the bushes till I had passed.
Squirrels and wild mice disputed for my store of nuts.
There were scores of pitch pines around my house,
from one to four inches in diameter,
which had been gnawed by mice the previous winter --a Norwegian winter for them,
for the snow lay long and deep,
and they were obliged to mix a large proportion of pine bark with their other diet.
These trees were alive and apparently flourishing at midsummer,
and many of them had grown a foot,
though completely girdled;
but after another winter such were without exception dead.
It is remarkable that a single mouse should thus be allowed a whole pine tree for its dinner,
gnawing round instead of up and down it;
but perhaps it is necessary in order to thin these trees,
which are wont to grow up densely.
The hares (-Lepus Americanus-) were very familiar.
One had her form under my house all winter,
separated from me only by the flooring,
and she startled me each morning by her hasty departure when I began to stir --thump,
striking her head against the floor timbers in her hurry.
They used to come round my door at dusk to nibble the potato parings which I had thrown out,
and were so nearly the color of the ground that they could hardly be distinguished when still.
Sometimes in the twilight I alternately lost and recovered sight of one sitting motionless under my window.
When I opened my door in the evening,
off they would go with a squeak and a bounce.
Near at hand they only excited my pity.
One evening one sat by my door two paces from me,
at first trembling with fear,
yet unwilling to move;
a poor wee thing,
lean and bony,
with ragged ears and sharp nose,
scant tail and slender paws.
It looked as if Nature no longer contained the breed of nobler bloods,
but stood on her last toes.
Its large eyes appeared young and unhealthy,
I took a step,
away it scud with an elastic spring over the snow-crust,
straightening its body and its limbs into graceful length,
and soon put the forest between me and itself --the wild free venison,
asserting its vigor and the dignity of Nature.
Not without reason was its slenderness.
Such then was its nature.
What is a country without rabbits and partridges?
They are among the most simple and indigenous animal products;
ancient and venerable families known to antiquity as to modern times;
of the very hue and substance of Nature,
nearest allied to leaves and to the ground --and to one another;
it is either winged or it is legged.
It is hardly as if you had seen a wild creature when a rabbit or a partridge bursts away,
only a natural one,
as much to be expected as rustling leaves.
The partridge and the rabbit are still sure to thrive,
like true natives of the soil,
whatever revolutions occur.
If the forest is cut off,
the sprouts and bushes which spring up afford them concealment,
and they become more numerous than ever.
That must be a poor country indeed that does not support a hare.
Our woods teem with them both,
and around every swamp may be seen the partridge or rabbit walk,
beset with twiggy fences and horse-hair snares,
which some cow-boy tends.