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WALDEN Or Life In The Woods

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Author Topic: WALDEN Or Life In The Woods  (Read 990 times)
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« Reply #45 on: March 23, 2009, 01:56:40 am »

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; in short, 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,
Englishmen! welcome, Englishmen!" for I had had communication with
that race.

                         THE BEAN-FIELD.

  MEANWHILE MY beans, the length of whose rows, added together, 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, my beans, 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, blackberries,
johnswort, and the like, before, 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, cool days, 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? Soon, however, 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 seenes stamped on my
memory. And now tonight my flute has waked the echoes over that very
water. The pines still stand here older than I; or, 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, corn blades, and potato

  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, and
so, 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, fifteen rods, 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, my boy, for fodder; 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. Colman's report. And, 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. Mine was, 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, approaching, 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. To me, 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.
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« Reply #46 on: March 23, 2009, 01:57:08 am »

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 hoeing, and harvesting,
and threshing, 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, I thus, 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; but, perchance, 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, which, continued too long, might
have become a dissipation. Though I gave them no manure, and did not
hoe them all once, I hoed them unusualy 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,
repastination, and turning of the mould with the spade." "The
earth," he adds elsewhere, "especially if fresh, has a certain
magnetism in it, by which it attracts the salt, power, 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." Moreover, this being one of those "worn- out and
exhausted lay fields which enjoy their sabbath," had perchance, 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. Colman
has reported chiefly the expensive experiments of gentlemen farmers,
my outgoes were,

  For a hoe.....................................$  0.54

  Plowing, harrowing, 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.......................................$ 14.72 1/2

  My income was (patremfamilias vendacem, non emacem esse oportet),

  Nine bushels and twelve quarts of beans sold..$ 16.94

  Five bushels large potatoes...................   2.50

  Nine bushels small potatoes...................   2.25

  Grass.........................................   1.00

  Stalks........................................   0.75


    In all......................................$ 23.44

  Leaving a pecuniary profit,

      as I have elsewhere said, of..............$  8.71 1/2

  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; and again, 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, as sincerity, truth,
simplicity, faith, innocence, 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. Alas! I said
this to myself; but now another summer is gone, and another, and
another, and I am obliged to say to you, Reader, 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, or timid.
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, for
instance, 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 mings 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, at least, 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, nor procession, nor ceremony, 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 beat 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, obsoletely speca, from spe, hope) should
not be the only hope of the husbandman; its kernel or grain (granum
from gerendo, bearing) is not all that it bears. How, then, 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.

                         THE VILLAGE.

  AFTER HOEING, 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, and which,
taken in homeopathic 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,
that is, the news, 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, like caryatides, as if to prop it up.
They, 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, the bar-room, the post-office, and the bank;
and, 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, woman, and child might get a lick at him. Of course, 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, the shoe-maker, or the tailor. Besides, 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, like Orpheus, who, "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.
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« Reply #47 on: March 23, 2009, 01:57:19 am »

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, and,
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,
invariably, in the darkest night. Sometimes, 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.
Several times, 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. By night, of course, the
perplexity is infinitely greater. In our most trivial walks, we are
constantly, though unconsciously, 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 be
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

  One afternoon, 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, because, as I have elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax
to, or recognize the authority of, the State which buys and sells men,
women, and children, like cattle, at the door of its senate-house. I
had gone down to the woods for other purposes. But, wherever a man
goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions,
and, 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. However, 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. Yet, 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? Love virtue, 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- I the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends."

                              THE PONDS.

  SOMETIMES, 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," or, 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.
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« Reply #48 on: March 23, 2009, 01:57:38 am »

Occasionally, 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, and, after
practising various kinds of philosophy, had concluded commonly, by the
time I arrived, that he belonged to the ancient sect of Coenobites.
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. When, 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, and, 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, which, coming
down into the pond, were quenched with a loud hissing, and we were
suddenly groping in total darkness. Through this, whistling a tune, we
took our way to the haunts of men again. But now I had made my home by
the shore.

  Sometimes, after staying in a village parlor till the family had all
retired, I have returned to the woods, and, 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, and hearing, 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, and, 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, and another, more
proper, close at hand. The first depends more on the light, and
follows the sky. In clear weather, in summer, 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. The sea, however, is said to be blue one day and green
another without any perceptible change in the atmosphere. I have
seen our river, when, 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." But, 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, also, 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, owing, 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, and, 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, which, 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. Once, 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, but, 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, and, 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.
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« Reply #49 on: March 23, 2009, 01:57:58 am »

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, White Pond, in Nine Acre
Corner, about two and a half miles westerly; but, 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, admired, 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 unmittingly 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, nobody knows, though, as usual, 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;
and, 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, and now, in the
summer of '52, 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. Flint's Pond, 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, birches, alders, aspens, and others- and, falling again, leaves
an unobstructed shore; for, 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, the
alders, willows, 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,
named Walden, escaped, 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; and,
moreover, there are most stones where the shore is most abrupt; so
that, unfortunately, 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.

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« Reply #50 on: March 23, 2009, 01:58:25 am »

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, 1846, the thermometer
having been up to 65' or 70' some of the time, owing partly to the sun
on the roof, was 42', 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 45', or the warmest of any water
tried, though it is the coldest that I know of in summer, when,
beside, shallow and stagnant surface water is not mingled with it.
Moreover, in summer, 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, shiners, 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;-
also, 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.
Nevertheless, this pond is not very fertile in fish. Its pickerel,
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, steel-colored, most like those caught in the river; a
bright golden kind, with greenish reflections and remarkably deep,
which is the most common here; and another, golden-colored, 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. The shiners, pouts, and perch
also, and indeed all the fishes which inhabit this pond, are much
cleaner, handsomer, 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.
Sometimes, 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. At most, 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, and so, 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

  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, but,
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. Indeed, 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; and if, 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, or, perchance,
a duck plumes itself, or, 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, perhaps, 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, but apparently, 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, as, 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. Ay, 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!
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« Reply #51 on: March 23, 2009, 01:58:51 am »

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, so pure, and at the same time so large, as a
lake, perchance, lies on the surface of the earth. Sky water. 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; no storms, no dust, 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 he
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. We
shall, perhaps, 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,
usually, 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. But, 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, or, perchance, the surface, 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, sporting there, 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, their fins, like sails, 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, one year, I saw some dimples on the surface,
and thinking it was going to rain hard immediately, the air being
fun 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, a
potter, 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, and then, 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, that, 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, dreaming awake, 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?

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« Reply #52 on: March 23, 2009, 01:59:23 am »

Now the trunks of trees on the bottom, and the old log canoe, and
the dark surrounding woods, are gone, 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 **** 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?

  Nevertheless, 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, ay, 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, Walden, is it

        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, so long, 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?

  Flint's, or Sandy Pond, in Lincoln, 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, curious balls, 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. Moreover, the waves, I suspect, do not
so much construct as wear down a material which has already acquired
consistency. They preserve their form when dry for an indefinite

  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? Some skin-flint, 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 lodge 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,
forsooth, 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, to market, 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, but dollars; 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 horses, oxen, and swine, 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.

  No, no; 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."

  Goose Pond, of small extent, is on my way to Flint's; Fair Haven, 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. These, 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,
however, 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 dogday 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, the author, after
speaking of Walden and White Ponds, adds, "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; but, 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. His father, eighty years old, could
not remember when it was not there. Several pretty large logs may
still be seen lying on the bottom, where, 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.

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« Reply #53 on: March 23, 2009, 01:59:42 am »

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, they would, perchance, be carried off by
slaves, like precious stones, to adorn the heads of emperors; but
being liquid, and ample, 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, are they! We never learned meanness of them. How much
fairer than the pool before the farmers 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.

                            BAKER FARM.

  SOMETIMES I rambled to pine groves, standing like temples, or like
fleets at sea, full-rigged, 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, and
toadstools, round tables of the swamp gods, cover the ground, and more
beautiful fungi adorn the stumps, like butterflies or shells,
vegetable winkles; where the swamp-pink and dogwood grow, the red
alder berry 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; its cousin, the
yellow birch, with its loose golden vest, perfumed like the first; the
beech, which has so neat a hole and beautifully lichen-painted,
perfect in all its details, of which, 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 bass; the hornbeam; 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, in which, 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, that, 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, and, in the case of an excitable imagination like
Cellini's, it would be basis enough for superstition. Beside, 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, beginning,

        "Thy entry is a pleasant field,

        Which some mossy fruit trees yield

        Partly to a ruddy brook,

        By gliding musquash undertook,

        And mercurial trout,

        Darting about."

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, thought I, 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."
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« Reply #54 on: March 23, 2009, 02:00:06 am »

So the Muse fables. But therein, as I found, dwelt now John Field,
an Irishman, 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, sibyl-like, 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. An honest, hard-working, 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. The chickens, which
had also taken shelter here from the rain, stalked about the room like
members of the family, to humanized, methought, 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, light, and clean
house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as
his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month
or two build himself a palace of his own; that I did not use tea,
nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not
have to work to get them; again, 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, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, 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 coffee, 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. But
alas! 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, however, was not the case), and in an
hour or two, without labor, but as a recreation, I could, 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, John Field, alas! without
arithmetic, and failing so.

  "Do you ever fish?" I asked. "Oh yes, 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, John," 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; but there, alas! 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, I thought; so, 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; their shadows, morning and
evening, reach farther than their daily steps. We should come home
from far, from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day, with
new experience and character.
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« Reply #55 on: March 23, 2009, 02:00:25 am »

Before I had reached the pond some fresh impulse had brought out
John Field, with altered mind, letting go "bogging" ere this sunset.
But he, poor man, 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, I allow.
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.

                             HIGHER LAWS.

  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, however, 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, or, as it is named, spiritual life, 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. Fishermen, hunters,
woodchoppers, and others, 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, fishing, 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. No wonder, then, that he did
not oftener stay to play on the common. But already a change is taking
place, owing, 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.

  Moreover, 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, that, 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, if possible, 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, who

            "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, mothers, that my
sympathies do not always make the usual philanthropic 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, except wood-chopping,
ice-cutting, 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, was fishing.
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 books to be used there; but they know nothing
about the book of hooks with which to angle for the pond itself,
impaling the legislature for a bait. Thus, even in civilized
communities, the embryo man passes through the hunter stage of

  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, and, 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. Beside, 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; and besides, 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, or tea, or coffee, etc.; 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 larvae. 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
stir 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.
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« Reply #56 on: March 23, 2009, 02:00:46 am »

It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean a diet as will
not offend the imagination; but this, I think, 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, and, 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?
True, 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 starry, 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.

  Yet, 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! Ah, 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, but, I am obliged to confess, because, 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,"
that is, 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

  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," says Thseng-tseu, "one looks, and one does not
see; one listens, and one does not hear; one eats, 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, muskrats, 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, beastly life, eating and

  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, a proud, 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," says Mencius, "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 ill form is the grossest sensuality
into purity and devotion. The generative energy, which, 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, Heroism, Holiness, 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, and that, to some extent,
our very life is our disgrace.
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« Reply #57 on: March 23, 2009, 02:01:10 am »

"How happy's he who hath due place assigned

         To his beasts and disafforested his mind!

         Can use this horse, goat, wolf, 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 drink, or cohabit, 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, work earnestly, 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, drink, cohabit, 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

  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. Having
bathed, 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.

                          BRUTE NEIGHBORS.

  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? And oh, the
housekeeping! to keep bright the devil's door-knobs, and scour his
tubs this bright day! Better not keep a house. Say, some hollow
tree; and then for morning calls and dinner-parties! Only a woodpecker
tapping. Oh, they swarm; 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.- Hark! I hear a rustling of the leaves.
Is it some ill-fed village bound 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.- Eh, Mr. Poet, is it you? How do you like the
world today?

  Poet. See those clouds; how they hang! That's the greatest thing I
have seen today. 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. I thought, as I have my living
to get, and have not eaten today, that I might go a-fishing. That's
the true industry for poets. It is the only trade I have learned.
Come, let's along.

  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, then, 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 groundnuts, 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. Or, 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. Mem. There never is but one opportunity of
a kind.

  Poet. How now, Hermit, 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.

  Hermit. Well, then, 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. At length, 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 phoebe 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 mings 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, that once,
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, after planting, 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. There, 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. Thither, too, 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, spying me, 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, with faint,
wiry peep, 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, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Having
once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled
on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, 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
woodyard, 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; internecine war; 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, and, 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 be stood on his guard
within half an inch of the combatants; then, 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, at least, 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. Concord Fight! 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, at least.
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« Reply #58 on: March 23, 2009, 02:01:35 am »

I took up the chip oil 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, he accomplished. 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.
"Aeneas Sylvius," say they, "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, being victorious, 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, then, cantering off, 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, and,
by her sly and stealthy behavior, proves herself more native there
than the regular inhabitants. Once, when berrying, I met with a cat
with young kittens in the woods, quite wild, 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, 1842, 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, in April, 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,
for, 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, as usual, 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, sometimes, 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, suddenly one, sailing out from the shore toward the middle a few
rods in front of me, set up his mild 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.
Each time, 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, nevertheless; 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. But why, 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 thought. 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; but occasionally, 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.

  For hours, 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; and, 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.
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« Reply #59 on: March 23, 2009, 02:02:16 am »


  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. There, too, I admired, though I did not gather, the
cranberries, 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, was, 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. These nuts, as far as they went, were a
good substitute for bread. Many other substitutes might, perhaps, be
found. Digging one day for fishworms, I discovered the groundnut
(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.

  Already, 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. Ah, many a tale their color told! Arid 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. Each morning,
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, had left.

  When I came to build my chimney I studied masonry. My bricks,
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 secondhand 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 its 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. Indeed, 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, and reflected, that, 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, chamber, parlor, and keeping-room; and whatever
satisfaction parent or child, master or servant, derive from living in
a house, I enjoyed it all. Cato says, the master of a family
(patremfamilias) must have in his rustic villa "cellam oleariam,
vinariam, dolia multa, uti lubeat caritatem expectare, et rei, et
virtuti, et gloriae erit," that is, "an oil and wine cellar, many
casks, so that it may be pleasant to expect hard times; it will be for
his advantage, and virtue, and glory." 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, a vast, rude, substantial,
primitive hall, 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, and eat,
and converse, and sleep, 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, pantry,
parlor, chamber, storehouse, and garret; where you can see so
necessary a thin, 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 trapdoor, 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
therein 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.
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