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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 #60 on: March 23, 2009, 02:02:38 am »

It would seem as if the very language of our parlors would lose
all its nerve and degenerate into palaver wholly, our lives pass at
such remoteness from its symbols, and its metaphors and tropes are
necessarily so far fetched, through slides and dumbwaiters, as it
were; in other words, the parlor is so far from the kitchen and
workshop. The dinner even is only the parable of a dinner, commonly.
As if only the savage dwelt near enough to Nature and Truth to
borrow a trope from them. How can the scholar, who dwells away in
the North West Territory or the Isle of Man, tell what is
parliamentary in the kitchen?

  However, only one or two of my guests were ever bold enough to
stay and eat a hasty-pudding with me; but when they saw that crisis
approaching they beat a hasty retreat rather, as if it would shake the
house to its foundations. Nevertheless, it stood through a great
many hasty-puddings.

  I did not plaster till it was freezing weather. I brought over
some whiter and cleaner sand for this purpose from the opposite
shore of the pond in a boat, a sort of conveyance which would have
tempted me to go much farther if necessary. My house had in the
meanwhile been shingled down to the ground on every side. In lathing I
was pleased to be able to send home each nail with a single blow of
the hammer, and it was my ambition to transfer the plaster from the
board to the wall neatly and rapidly. I remembered the story of a
conceited fellow, who, in fine clothes, was wont to lounge about the
village once, giving advice to workmen. Venturing one day to
substitute deeds for words, he turned up his cuffs, seized a
plasterer's board, and having loaded his trowel without mishap, with a
complacent look toward the lathing overhead, made a bold gesture
thitherward; and straightway, to his complete discomfiture, received
the whole contents in his ruffled bosom. I admired anew the economy
and convenience of plastering, which so effectually shuts out the cold
and takes a handsome finish, and I learned the various casualties to
which the plasterer is liable. I was surprised to see how thirsty
the bricks were which drank up all the moisture in my plaster before I
had smoothed it, and how many pailfuls of water it takes to christen a
new hearth. I had the previous winter made a small quantity of lime by
burning the shells of the Unio fluviatilis, which our river affords,
for the sake of the experiment; so that I knew where my materials came
from. I might have got good limestone within a mile or two and
burned it myself, if I had cared to do so.

  The pond had in the meanwhile skimmed over in the shadiest and
shallowest coves, some days or even weeks before the general freezing.
The first ice is especially interesting and perfect, being hard, dark,
and transparent, and affords the best opportunity that ever offers for
examining the bottom where it is shallow; for you can lie at your
length on ice only an inch thick, like a skater insect on the
surface of the water, and study the bottom at your leisure, only two
or three inches distant, like a picture behind a glass, and the
water is necessarily always smooth then. There are many furrows in the
sand where some creature has travelled about and doubled on its
tracks; and, for wrecks, it is strewn with the cases of caddis-worms
made of minute grains of white quartz. Perhaps these have creased
it, for you find some of their cases in the furrows, though they are
deep and broad for them to make. But the ice itself is the object of
most interest, though you must improve the earliest opportunity to
study it. If you examine it closely the morning after it freezes,
you find that the greater part of the bubbles, which at first appeared
to be within it, are against its under surface, and that more are
continually rising from the bottom; while the ice is as yet
comparatively solid and dark, that is, you see the water through it.
These bubbles are from an eightieth to an eighth of an inch in
diameter, very clear and beautiful, and you see your face reflected in
them through the ice. There may be thirty or forty of them to a square
inch. There are also already within the ice narrow oblong
perpendicular bubbles about half an inch long, sharp cones with the
apex upward; or oftener, if the ice is quite fresh, minute spherical
bubbles one directly above another, like a string of beads. But
these within the ice are not so numerous nor obvious as those beneath.
I sometimes used to cast on stones to try the strength of the ice, and
those which broke through carried in air with them, which formed
very large and conspicuous white bubbles beneath. One day when I
came to the same place forty-eight hours afterward, I found that those
large bubbles were still perfect, though an inch more of ice had
formed, as I could see distinctly by the seam in the edge of a cake.
But as the last two days had been very warm, like an Indian summer,
the ice was not now transparent, showing the dark green color of the
water, and the bottom, but opaque and whitish or gray, and though
twice as thick was hardly stronger than before, for the air bubbles
had greatly expanded under this heat and run together, and lost
their regularity; they were no longer one directly over another, but
often like silvery coins poured from a bag, one overlapping another,
or in thin flakes, as if occupying slight cleavages. The beauty of the
ice was gone, and it was too late to study the bottom. Being curious
to know what position my great bubbles occupied with regard to the new
ice, I broke out a cake containing a middling sized one, and turned it
bottom upward. The new ice had formed around and under the bubble,
so that it was included between the two ices. It was wholly in the
lower ice, but close against the upper, and was flattish, or perhaps
slightly lenticular, with a rounded edge, a quarter of an inch deep by
four inches in diameter; and I was surprised to find that directly
under the bubble the ice was melted with great regularity in the
form of a saucer reversed, to the height of five eighths of an inch in
the middle, leaving a thin partition there between the water and the
bubble, hardly an eighth of an inch thick; and in many places the
small bubbles in this partition had burst out downward, and probably
there was no ice at all under the largest bubbles, which were a foot
in diameter. I inferred that the infinite number of minute bubbles
which I had first seen against the under surface of the ice were now
frozen in likewise, and that each, in its degree, had operated like
a burning-glass on the ice beneath to melt and rot it. These are the
little air-guns which contribute to make the ice crack and whoop.
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« Reply #61 on: March 23, 2009, 02:03:16 am »

At length the winter set in good earnest, just as I had finished
plastering, and the wind began to howl around the house as if it had
not had permission to do so till then. Night after night the geese
came lumbering in the dark with a clangor and a whistling of wings,
even after the ground was covered with snow, some to alight in Walden,
and some flying low over the woods toward Fair Haven, bound for
Mexico. Several times, when returning from the village at ten or
eleven o'clock at night, I heard the tread of a flock of geese, or
else ducks, on the dry leaves in the woods by a pond-hole behind my
dwelling, where they had come up to feed, and the faint honk or
quack of their leader as they hurried off. In 1845 Walden froze
entirely over for the first time on the night of the 22d of
December, Flint's and other shallower ponds and the river having
been frozen ten days or more; in '46, the 16th; in '49, about the
31st; and in '50, about the 27th of December; in '52, the 5th of
January; in '53, the 31st of December. The snow had already covered
the ground since the 25th of November, and surrounded me suddenly with
the scenery of winter. I withdrew yet farther into my shell, and
endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within my
breast. My employment out of doors now was to collect the dead wood in
the forest, bringing it in my hands or on my shoulders, or sometimes
trailing a dead pine tree under each arm to my shed. An old forest
fence which had seen its best days was a great haul for me. I
sacrificed it to Vulcan, for it was past serving the god Terminus. How
much more interesting an event is that man's supper who has just
been forth in the snow to hunt, nay, you might say, steal, the fuel to
cook it with! His bread and meat are sweet. There are enough fagots
and waste wood of all kinds in the forests of most of our towns to
support many fires, but which at present warm none, and, some think,
hinder the growth of the young wood. There was also the driftwood of
the pond. In the course of the summer I had discovered a raft of pitch
pine logs with the bark on, pinned together by the Irish when the
railroad was built. This I hauled up partly on the shore. After
soaking two years and then lying high six months it was perfectly
sound, though waterlogged past drying. I amused myself one winter
day with sliding this piecemeal across the pond, nearly half a mile,
skating behind with one end of a log fifteen feet long on my shoulder,
and the other on the ice; or I tied several logs together with a birch
withe, and then, with a longer birch or alder which had a book at
the end, dragged them across. Though completely waterlogged and almost
as heavy as lead, they not only burned long, but made a very hot fire;
nay, I thought that they burned better for the soaking, as if the
pitch, being confined by the water, burned longer, as in a lamp.

  Gilpin, in his account of the forest borderers of England, says that
"the encroachments of trespassers, and the houses and fences thus
raised on the borders of the forest," were "considered as great
nuisances by the old forest law, and were severely punished under
the name of purprestures, as tending ad terrorem ferarum- ad
nocumentum forestae, etc.," to the frightening of the game and the
detriment of the forest. But I was interested in the preservation of
the venison and the vert more than the hunters or woodchoppers, and as
much as though I had been the Lord Warden himself; and if any part was
burned, though I burned it myself by accident, I grieved with a
grief that lasted longer and was more inconsolable than that of the
proprietors; nay, I grieved when it was cut down by the proprietors
themselves. I would that our farmers when they cut down a forest
felt some of that awe which the old Romans did when they came to thin,
or let in the light to, a consecrated grove (lucum conlucare), that
is, would believe that it is sacred to some god. The Roman made an
expiatory offering, and prayed, Whatever god or goddess thou art to
whom this grove is sacred, be propitious to me, my family, and
children, etc.

  It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood even in this
age and in this new country, a value more permanent and universal than
that of gold. After all our discoveries and inventions no man will
go by a pile of wood. It is as precious to us as it was to our Saxon
and Norman ancestors. If they made their bows of it, we make our
gun-stocks of it. Michaux, more than thirty years ago, says that the
price of wood for fuel in New York and Philadelphia "nearly equals,
and sometimes exceeds, that of the best wood in Paris, though this
immense capital annually requires more than three hundred thousand
cords, and is surrounded to the distance of three hundred miles by
cultivated plains." In this town the price of wood rises almost
steadily, and the only question is, how much higher it is to be this
year than it was the last. Mechanics and tradesmen who come in
person to the forest on no other errand, are sure to attend the wood
auction, and even pay a high price for the privilege of gleaning after
the woodchopper. It is now many years that men have resorted to the
forest for fuel and the materials of the arts: the New Englander and
the New Hollander, the Parisian and the Celt, the farmer and Robin
Hood, Goody Blake and Harry Gill; in most parts of the world the
prince and the peasant, the scholar and the savage, equally require
still a few sticks from the forest to warm them and cook their food.
Neither could I do without them.

  Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to
have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me
of my pleasing work. I had an old axe which nobody claimed, with which
by spells in winter days, on the sunny side of the house, I played
about the stumps which I had got out of my bean-field. As my driver
prophesied when I was plowing, they warmed me twice- once while I
was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no
fuel could give out more heat. As for the axe, I was advised to get
the village blacksmith to "jump" it; but I jumped him, and, putting
a hickory helve from the woods into it, made it do. If it was dull, it
was at least hung true.

  A few pieces of fat pine were a great treasure. It is interesting to
remember how much of this food for fire is still concealed in the
bowels of the earth. In previous years I had often gone prospecting
over some bare hillside, where a pitch pine wood had formerly stood,
and got out the fat pine roots. They are almost indestructible. Stumps
thirty or forty years old, at least, will still be sound at the
core, though the sapwood has all become vegetable mould, as appears by
the scales of the thick bark forming a ring level with the earth
four or five inches distant from the heart. With axe and shovel you
explore this mine, and follow the marrowy store, yellow as beef
tallow, or as if you had struck on a vein of gold, deep into the
earth. But commonly I kindled my fire with the dry leaves of the
forest, which I had stored up in my shed before the snow came. Green
hickory finely split makes the woodchopper's kindlings, when he has
a camp in the woods. Once in a while I got a little of this. When
the villagers were lighting their fires beyond the horizon, I too gave
notice to the various wild inhabitants of Walden vale, by a smoky
streamer from my chimney, that I was awake.

        Light-winged Smoke, Icarian bird,

        Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight,

        Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,

        Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;

        Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form

        Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;

        By night star-veiling, and by day

        Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;

        Go thou my incense upward from this hearth,

        And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.
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« Reply #62 on: March 23, 2009, 02:03:35 am »

Hard green wood just cut, though I used but little of that, answered
my purpose better than any other. I sometimes left a good fire when
I went to take a walk in a winter afternoon; and when I returned,
three or four hours afterward, it would be still alive and glowing. My
house was not empty though I was gone. It was as if I had left a
cheerful housekeeper behind. It was I and Fire that lived there; and
commonly my housekeeper proved trustworthy. One day, however, as I was
splitting wood, I thought that I would just look in at the window
and see if the house was not on fire; it was the only time I
remember to have been particularly anxious on this score; so I
looked and saw that a spark had caught my bed, and I went in and
extinguished it when it had burned a place as big as my hand. But my
house occupied so sunny and sheltered a position, and its roof was
so low, that I could afford to let the fire go out in the middle of
almost any winter day.

  The moles nested in my cellar, nibbling every third potato, and
making a snug bed even there of some hair left after plastering and of
brown paper; for even the wildest animals love comfort and warmth as
well as man, and they survive the winter only because they are so
careful to secure them. Some of my friends spoke as if I was coming to
the woods on purpose to freeze myself. The animal merely makes a
bed, which he warms with his body, in a sheltered place; but man,
having discovered fire, boxes up some air in a spacious apartment, and
warms that, instead of robbing himself, makes that his bed, in which
he can move about divested of more cumbrous clothing, maintain a
kind of summer in the midst of winter, and by means of windows even
admit the light, and with a lamp lengthen out the day. Thus he goes
a step or two beyond instinct, and saves a little time for the fine
arts. Though, when I had been exposed to the rudest blasts a long
time, my whole body began to grow torpid, when I reached the genial
atmosphere of my house I soon recovered my faculties and prolonged
my life. But the most luxuriously housed has little to boast of in
this respect, nor need we trouble ourselves to speculate how the human
race may be at last destroyed. It would be easy to cut their threads
any time with a little sharper blast from the north. We go on dating
from Cold Fridays and Great Snows; but a little colder Friday, or
greater snow would put a period to man's existence on the globe.

  The next winter I used a small cooking-stove for economy, since I
did not own the forest; but it did not keep fire so well as the open
fireplace. Cooking was then, for the most part, no longer a poetic,
but merely a chemic process. It will soon be forgotten, in these
days of stoves, that we used to roast potatoes in the ashes, after the
Indian fashion. The stove not only took up room and scented the house,
but it concealed the fire, and I felt as if I had lost a companion.
You can always see a face in the fire. The laborer, looking into it at
evening, pulifies his thoughts of the dross and earthiness which
they have accumulated during the day. But I could no longer sit and
look into the fire, and the pertinent words of a poet recurred to me
with new force.

        "Never, bright flame, may be denied to me

        Thy dear, life imaging, close sympathy.

        What but my hopes shot upward e'er so bright?

        What but my fortunes sunk so low in night?

        Why art thou banished from our hearth and hall,

        Thou who art welcomed and beloved by all?

        Was thy existence then too fanciful

        For our life's common light, who are so dull?

        Did thy bright gleam mysterious converse hold

        With our congenial souls? secrets too bold?

        Well, we are safe and strong, for now we sit

        Beside a hearth where no dim shadows flit,

        Where nothing cheers nor saddens, but a fire

        Warms feet and hands- nor does to more aspire;

        By whose compact utilitarian heap

        The present may sit down and go to sleep,

        Nor fear the ghosts who from the dim past walked,

        And with us by the unequal light of the old wood fire talked."


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« Reply #63 on: March 23, 2009, 02:04:04 am »

I WEATHERED some merry snow-storms, and spent some cheerful winter
evenings by my fireside, while the snow whirled wildly without, and
even the hooting of the owl was hushed. For many weeks I met no one in
my walks but those who came occasionally to cut wood and sled it to
the village. The elements, however, abetted me in making a path
through the deepest snow in the woods, for when I had once gone
through the wind blew the oak leaves into my tracks, where they
lodged, and by absorbing the rays of the sun melted the snow, and so
not only made a my bed for my feet, but in the night their dark line
was my guide. For human society I was obliged to conjure up the former
occupants of these woods. Within the memory of many of my townsmen the
road near which my house stands resounded with the laugh and gossip of
inhabitants, and the woods which border it were notched and dotted
here and there with their little gardens and dwellings, though it
was then much more shut in by the forest than now. In some places,
within my own remembrance, the pines would scrape both sides of a
chaise at once, and women and children who were compelled to go this
way to Lincoln alone and on foot did it with fear, and often ran a
good part of the distance. Though mainly but a humble route to
neighboring villages, or for the woodman's team, it once amused the
traveller more than now by its variety, and lingered longer in his
memory. Where now firm open fields stretch from the village to the
woods, it then ran through a maple swamp on a foundation of logs,
the remnants of which, doubtless, still underlie the present dusty
highway, from the Stratton, now the Alms-House, Farm, to Brister's

  East of my bean-field, across the road, lived Cato Ingraham, slave
of Duncan Ingraham, Esquire, gentleman, of Concord village, who
built his slave a house, and gave him permission to live in Walden
Woods;- Cato, not Uticensis, but Concordiensis. Some say that he was a
Guinea Negro. There are a few who remember his little patch among
the walnuts, which he let row up till he should be old and need
them; but a younger and whiter speculator got them at last. He too,
however, occupies an equally narrow house at present. Cato's
half-obliterated cellar-hole still remains, though known to few, being
concealed from the traveller by a fringe of pines. It is now filled
with the smooth sumach (Rhus glabra), and one of the earliest
species of goldenrod (Solidago stricta) grows there luxuriantly.

  Here, by the very corner of my field, still nearer to town,
Zilpha, a colored woman, had her little house, where she spun linen
for the townsfolk, making the Walden Woods ring with her shrill
singing, for she had a loud and notable voice. At length, in the war
of 1812, her dwelling was set on fire by English soldiers, prisoners
on parole, when she was away, and her cat and dog and hens were all
burned up together. She led a hard life, and somewhat inhumane. One
old frequenter of these woods remembers, that as he passed her house
one noon he heard her muttering to herself over her gurgling pot-
"Ye are all bones, bones!" I have seen bricks amid the oak copse

  Down the road, on the right hand, on Brister's Hill, lived Brister
Freeman, "a handy Negro," slave of Squire Cummings once-there where
grow still the apple trees which Brister planted and tended; large old
trees now, but their fruit still wild and ciderish to my taste. Not
long since I read his epitaph in the old Lincoln burying-ground, a
little on one side, near the unmarked graves of some British
grenadiers who fell in the retreat from Concord- where he is styled
"Sippio Brister"- Scipio Africanus he had some title to be called-
"a man of color," as if he were discolored. It also told me, with
staring emphasis, when he died; which was but an indirect way of
informing me that he ever lived. With him dwelt Fenda, his
hospitable wife, who told fortunes, yet pleasantly-large, round, and
black, blacker than any of the children of night, such a dusky orb
as never rose on Concord before or since.

  Farther down the hill, on the left, on the old road in the woods,
are marks of some homestead of the Stratton family; whose orchard once
covered all the slope of Brister's Hill, but was long since killed out
by pitch pines, excepting a few stumps, whose old roots furnish
still the wild stocks of many a thrifty village tree.

  Nearer yet to town, you come to Breed's location, on the other
side of the way, just on the edge of the wood; ground famous for the
pranks of a demon not distinctly named in old mythology, who has acted
a prominent and astounding part in our New England life, and deserves,
as much as any mythological character, to have his biography written
one day; who first comes in the guise of a friend or hired man, and
then robs and murders the whole family- New-England Rum. But history
must not yet tell the tragedies enacted here; let time intervene in
some measure to assuage and lend an azure tint to them. Here the
most indistinct and dubious tradition says that once a tavern stood;
the well the same, which tempered the traveller's beverage and
refreshed his steed. Here then men saluted one another, and heard
and told the news, and went their ways again.

  Breed's hut was standing only a dozen years ago, though it had
long been unoccupied. It was about the size of mine. It was set on
fire by mischievous boys, one Election night, if I do not mistake. I
lived on the edge of the village then, and had just lost myself over
Davenant's "Gondibert," that winter that I labored with a lethargy-
which, by the way, I never knew whether to regard as a family
complaint, having an uncle who goes to sleep shaving himself, and is
obliged to sprout potatoes in a cellar Sundays, in order to keep awake
and keep the Sabbath, or as the consequence of my attempt to read
Chalmers' collection of English poetry without skipping. It fairly
overcame my Nervii. I had just sunk my head on this when the bells
rung fire, and in hot haste the engines rolled that way, led by a
straggling troop of men and boys, and I among the foremost, for I
had leaped the brook. We thought it was far south over the woods- we
who had run to fires before- barn, shop, or dwelling-house, or all
together. "It's Baker's barn," cried one. "It is the Codman place,"
affirmed another. And then fresh sparks went up above the wood, as
if the roof fell in, and we all shouted "Concord to the rescue!"
Wagons shot past with furious speed and crushing loads, bearing,
perchance, among the rest, the agent of the Insurance Company, who was
bound to go however far; and ever and anon the engine bell tinkled
behind, more slow and sure; and rearmost of all, as it was afterward
whispered, came they who set the fire and gave the alarm. Thus we kept
on like true idealists, rejecting the evidence of our senses, until at
a turn in the road we heard the crackling and actually felt the heat
of the fire from over the wall, and realized, alas! that we were
there. The very nearness of the fire but cooled our ardor. At first we
thought to throw a frog-pond on to it; but concluded to let it burn,
it was so far gone and so worthless. So we stood round our engine,
jostled one another, expressed our sentiments through
speaking-trumpets, or in lower tone referred to the great
conflagrations which the world has witnessed, including Bascom's shop,
and, between ourselves, we thought that, were we there in season
with our "tub," and a full frog-pond by, we could turn that threatened
last and universal one into another flood. We finally retreated
without doing any mischief- returned to sleep and "Gondibert." But
as for "Gondibert," I would except that passage in the preface about
wit being the soul's powder- "but most of mankind are strangers to
wit, as Indians are to powder."

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« Reply #64 on: March 23, 2009, 02:04:37 am »

It chanced that I walked that way across the fields the following
night, about the same hour, and hearing a low moaning at this spot,
I drew near in the dark, and discovered the only survivor of the
family that I know, the heir of both its virtues and its vices, who
alone was interested in this burning, lying on his stomach and looking
over the cellar wall at the still smouldering cinders beneath,
muttering to himself, as is his wont. He had been working far off in
the river meadows all day, and had improved the first moments that
he could call his own to visit the home of his fathers and his
youth. He gazed into the cellar from all sides and points of view by
turns, always lying down to it, as if there was some treasure, which
he remembered, concealed between the stones, where there was
absolutely nothing but a heap of bricks and ashes. The house being
gone, he looked at what there was left. He was soothed by the sympathy
which my mere presence, implied, and showed me, as well as the
darkness permitted, where the well was covered up; which, thank
Heaven, could never be burned; and he groped long about the wall to
find the well-sweep which his father had cut and mounted, feeling
for the iron hook or staple by which a burden had been fastened to the
heavy end- all that he could now cling to- to convince me that it
was no common "rider." I felt it, and still remark it almost daily
in my walks, for by it hangs the history of a family.

  Once more, on the left, where are seen the well and lilac bushes
by the wall, in the now open field, lived Nutting and Le Grosse. But
to return toward Lincoln.

  Farther in the woods than any of these, where the road approaches
nearest to the pond, Wyman the potter squatted, and furnished his
townsmen with earthenware, and left descendants to succeed him.
Neither were they rich in worldly goods, holding the land by
sufferance while they lived; and there often the sheriff came in
vain to collect the taxes, and "attached a chip," for form's sake,
as I have read in his accounts, there being nothing else that he could
lay his hands on. One day in midsummer, when I was hoeing, a man who
was carrying a load of pottery to market stopped his horse against
my field and inquired concerning Wyman the younger. He had long ago
bought a potter's wheel of him, and wished to know what had become
of him. I had read of the potter's clay and wheel in Scripture, but it
had never occurred to me that the pots we use were not such as had
come down unbroken from those days, or grown on trees like gourds
somewhere, and I was pleased to hear that so fictile an art was ever
practiced in my neighborhood.

  The last inhabitant of these woods before me was an Irishman, Hugh
Quoil (if I have spelt his name with coil enough), who occupied
Wyman's tenement- Col. Quoil, he was called. Rumor said that he had
been a soldier at Waterloo. If he had lived I should have made him
fight his battles over again. His trade here was that of a ditcher.
Napoleon went to St. Helena; Quoil came to Walden Woods. All I know of
him is tragic. He was a man of manners, like one who had seen the
world, and was capable of more civil speech than you could well attend
to. He wore a greatcoat in midsummer, being affected with the
trembling delirium, and his face was the color of carmine. He died
in the road at the foot of Brister's Hill shortly after I came to
the woods, so that I have not remembered him as a neighbor. Before his
house was pulled down, when his comrades avoided it as "an unlucky
castle," I visited it. There lay his old clothes curled up by use,
as if they were himself, upon his raised plank bed. His pipe lay
broken on the hearth, instead of a bowl broken at the fountain. The
last could never have been the symbol of his death, for he confessed
to me that, though he had heard of Brister's Spring, he had never seen
it; and soiled cards, kings of diamonds, spades, and hearts, were
scattered over the floor. One black chicken which the administrator
could not catch, black as night and as silent, not even croaking,
awaiting Reynard, still went to roost in the next apartment. In the
rear there was the dim outline of a garden, which had been planted but
had never received its first hoeing, owing to those terrible shaking
fits, though it was now harvest time. It was overrun with Roman
wormwood and beggar-ticks, which last stuck to my clothes for all
fruit. The skin of a woodchuck was freshly stretched upon the back
of the house, a trophy of his last Waterloo; but no warm cap or
mittens would he want more.

  Now only a dent in the earth marks the site of these dwellings, with
buried cellar stones, and strawberries, raspberries, thimbleberries,
hazel-bushes, and sumachs growing in the sunny sward there; some pitch
pine or gnarled oak occupies what was the chimney nook, and a
sweet-scented black birch, perhaps, waves where the door-stone was.
Sometimes the well dent is visible, where once a spring oozed; now dry
and tearless grass; or it was covered deep- not to be discovered
till some late day- with a flat stone under the sod, when the last
of the race departed. What a sorrowful act must that be- the
covering up of wells! coincident with the opening of wells of tears.
These cellar dents, like deserted fox burrows, old holes, are all that
is left where once were the stir and bustle of human life, and
"fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute," in some form and dialect or
other were by turns discussed. But all I can learn of their
conclusions amounts to just this, that "Cato and Brister pulled wool";
which is about as edifying as the history of more famous schools of

   Still grows the vivacious lilac a generation after the door and
lintel and the sill are gone, unfolding its sweet-scented flowers each
spring, to be plucked by the musing traveller; planted and tended once
by children's hands, hi front-yard plots- now standing by wallsides in
retired pastures, and giving place to new- rising forests;- the last
of that stirp, sole survivor of that family. Little did the dusky
children think that the puny slip with its two eyes only, which they
stuck in the ground in the shadow of the house and daily watered,
would root itself so, and outlive them, and house itself in the rear
that shaded it, and grown man's garden and orchard, and tell their
story faintly to the lone wanderer a half-century after they had grown
up and died- blossoming as fair, and smelling as sweet, as in that
first spring. I mark its still tender, civil, cheerful lilac colors.

  But this small village, germ of something more, why did it fail
while Concord keeps its ground? Were there no natural advantages- no
water privileges, forsooth? Ay, the deep Walden Pond and cool
Brister's Spring- privilege to drink long and healthy draughts at
these, all unimproved by these men but to dilute their glass. They
were universally a thirsty race. Might not the basket, stable-broom,
mat-making, corn-parching, linen-spinning, and pottery business have
thrived here, making the wilderness to blossom like the rose, and a
numerous posterity have inherited the land of their fathers? The
sterile soil would at least have been proof against a lowland
degeneracy. Alas! how little does the memory of these human
inhabitants enhance the beauty of the landscape! Again, perhaps,
Nature will try, with me for a first settler, and my house raised last
spring to be the oldest in the hamlet.
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« Reply #65 on: March 23, 2009, 02:05:03 am »

I am not aware that any man has ever built on the spot which I
occupy. Deliver me from a city built on the site of a more ancient
city, whose materials are ruins, whose gardens cemeteries. The soil is
blanched and accursed there, and before that becomes necessary the
earth itself will be destroyed. With such reminiscences I repeopled
the woods and lulled myself asleep.

  At this season I seldom had a visitor. When the snow lay deepest
no wanderer ventured near my house for a week or fortnight at a
time, but there I lived as snug as a meadow mouse, or as cattle and
poultry which are said to have survived for a long time buried in
drifts, even without food; or like that early settler's family in
the town of Sutton, in this State, whose cottage was completely
covered by the great snow of 1717 when he was absent, and an Indian
found it only by the hole which the chimney's breath made in the
drift, and so relieved the family. But no friendly Indian concerned
himself about me; nor needed he, for the master of the house was at
home. The Great Snow! How cheerful it is to hear of! When the
farmers could not get to the woods and swamps with their teams, and
were obliged to cut down the shade trees before their houses, and,
when the crust was harder, cut off the trees in the swamps, ten feet
from the ground, as it appeared the next spring.

  In the deepest snows, the path which I used from the highway to my
house, about half a mile long, might have been represented by a
meandering dotted line, with wide intervals between the dots. For a
week of even weather I took exactly the same number of steps, and of
the same length, coming and going, stepping deliberately and with
the precision of a pair of dividers in my own deep tracks- to such
routine the winter reduces us- yet often they were filled with
heaven's own blue. But no weather interfered fatally with my walks, or
rather my going abroad, for I frequently tramped eight or ten miles
through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree,
or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines; when the
ice and snow causing their limbs to droop, and so sharpening their
tops, had changed the pines into fir trees; wading to the tops of
the highest bills when the show was nearly two feet deep on a level,
and shaking down another snow-storm on my head at every step; or
sometimes creeping and floundering thither on my hands and knees, when
the hunters had gone into winter quarters. One afternoon I amused
myself by watching a barred owl (Strix nebulosa) sitting on one of the
lower dead limbs of a white pine, close to the trunk, in broad
daylight, I standing within a rod of him. He could hear me when I
moved and cronched the snow with my feet, but could not plainly see
me. When I made most noise he would stretch out his neck, and erect
his neck feathers, and open his eyes wide; but their lids soon fell
again, and he began to nod. I too felt a slumberous influence after
watching him half an hour, as he sat thus with his eyes half open,
like a cat, winged brother of the cat. There was only a narrow slit
left between their lids, by which be preserved a pennisular relation
to me; thus, with half-shut eyes, looking out from the land of dreams,
and endeavoring to realize me, vague object or mote that interrupted
his visions. At length, on some louder noise or my nearer approach, he
would grow uneasy and sluggishly turn about on his perch, as if
impatient at having his dreams disturbed; and when he launched himself
off and flapped through the pines, spreading his wings to unexpected
breadth, I could not hear the slightest sound from them. Thus,
guided amid the pine boughs rather by a delicate sense of their
neighborhood than by sight, feeling his twilight way, as it were, with
his sensitive pinions, he found a new perch, where he might in peace
await the dawning of his day.

  As I walked over the long causeway made for the railroad through the
meadows, I encountered many a blustering and nipping wind, for nowhere
has it freer play; and when the frost had smitten me on one cheek,
heathen as I was, I turned to it the other also. Nor was it much
better by the carriage road from Brister's Hill. For I came to town
still, like a friendly Indian, when the contents of the broad open
fields were all piled up between the walls of the Walden road, and
half an hour sufficed to obliterate the tracks of the last
traveller. And when I returned new drifts would have formed, through
which I floundered, where the busy northwest wind had been
depositing the powdery snow round a sharp angle in the road, and not a
rabbit's track, nor even the fine print, the small type, of a meadow
mouse was to be seen. Yet I rarely failed to find, even in
midwinter, some warm and springly swamp where the grass and the
skunk-cabbage still put forth with perennial verdure, and some hardier
bird occasionally awaited the return of spring.

  Sometimes, notwithstanding the snow, when I returned from my walk at
evening I crossed the deep tracks of a woodchopper leading from my
door, and found his pile of whittlings on the hearth, and my house
filled with the odor of his pipe. Or on a Sunday afternoon, if I
chanced to be at home, I heard the cronching of the snow made by the
step of a long-headed farmer, who from far through the woods sought my
house, to have a social "crack"; one of the few of his vocation who
are "men on their farms"; who donned a frock instead of a
professor's gown, and is as ready to extract the moral out of church
or state as to haul a load of manure from his barn-yard. We talked
of rude and simple times, when men sat about large fires in cold,
bracing weather, with clear heads; and when other dessert failed, we
tried our teeth on many a nut which wise squirrels have long since
abandoned, for those which have the thickest shells are commonly

  The one who came from farthest to my lodge, through deepest snows
and most dismal tempests, was a poet. A farmer, a hunter, a soldier, a
reporter, even a philosopher, may be daunted; but nothing can deter
a poet, for he is actuated by pure love. Who can predict his comings
and goings? His business calls him out at all hours, even when doctors
sleep. We made that small house ring with boisterous mirth and resound
with the murmur of much sober talk, making amends then to Walden
vale for the long silences. Broadway was still and deserted in
comparison. At suitable intervals there were regular salutes of
laughter, which might have been referred indifferently to the
last-uttered or the forth-coming jest. We made many a "bran new"
theory of life over a thin dish of gruel, which combined the
advantages of conviviality with the clear-headedness which
philosophy requires.

  I should not forget that during my last winter at the pond there was
another welcome visitor, who at one time came through the village,
through snow and rain and darkness, till he saw my lamp through the
trees, and shared with me some long winter evenings. One of the last
of the philosophers- Connecticut gave him to the world- he peddled
first her wares, afterwards, as he declares, his brains. These he
peddles still, prompting God and disgracing man, bearing for fruit his
brain only, like the nut its kernel. I think that he must be the man
of the most faith of any alive. His words and attitude always
suppose a better state of things than other men are acquainted with,
and he will be the last man to be disappointed as the ages revolve. He
has no venture in the present. But though comparatively disregarded
now, when his day comes, laws unsuspected by most will take effect,
and masters of families and rulers will come to him for advice.

        "How blind that cannot see serenity!"

A true friend of man; almost the only friend of human progress. An Old
Mortality, say rather an Immortality, with unwearied patience and
faith making plain the image engraven in men's bodies, the God of whom
they are but defaced and leaning monuments. With his hospitable
intellect he embraces children, beggars, insane, and scholars, and
entertains the thought of all, adding to it commonly some breadth
and elegance. I think that he should keep a caravansary on the world's
highway, where philosophers of all nations might put up, and on his
sign should be printed, "Entertainment for man, but not for his beast.
Enter ye that have leisure and a quiet mind, who earnestly seek the
right road." He is perhaps the sanest man and has the fewest crotchets
of any I chance to know; the same yesterday and tomorrow. Of yore we
had sauntered and talked, and effectually put the world behind us; for
he was pledged to no institution in it, freeborn, ingenuus.
Whichever way we turned, it seemed that the heavens and the earth
had met together, since he enhanced the beauty of the landscape. A
blue-robed man, whose fittest roof is the overarching sky which
reflects his serenity. I do not see how he can ever die; Nature cannot
spare him.

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« Reply #66 on: March 23, 2009, 02:05:28 am »

Having each some shingles of thought well dried, we sat and whittled
them, trying our knives, and admiring the clear yellowish grain of the
pumpkin pine. We waded so gently and reverently, or we pulled together
so smoothly, that the fishes of thought were not seared from the
stream, nor feared any angler on the bank, but came and went
grandly, like the clouds which float through the western sky, and
the mother-o'-pearl flocks which sometimes form and dissolve there.
There we worked, revising mythology, rounding a fable here and
there, and building castles in the air for which earth offered no
worthy foundation. Great Looker! Great Expecter! to converse with whom
was a New England Night's Entertainment. Ah! such discourse we had,
hermit and philosopher, and the old settler I have spoken of- we
three- it expanded and racked my little house; I should not dare to
say how many pounds' weight there was above the atmospheric pressure
on every circular inch; it opened its seams so that they had to be
calked with much dulness thereafter to stop the consequent leak;-
but I had enough of that kind of oakum already picked.

  There was one other with whom I had "solid seasons," long to be
remembered, at his house in the village, and who looked in upon me
from time to time; but I had no more for society there.

  There too, as everywhere, I sometimes expected the Visitor who never
comes. The Vishnu Purana says, "The house-holder is to remain at
eventide in his courtyard as long as it takes to milk a cow, or longer
if he pleases, to await the arrival of a guest." I often performed
this duty of hospitality, waited long enough to milk a whole herd of
cows, but did not see the man approaching from the town.

                           WINTER ANIMALS.

  WHEN THE ponds were firmly frozen, they afforded not only new and
shorter routes to many points, but new views from their surfaces of
the familiar landscape around them. When I crossed Flint's Pond, after
it was covered with snow, though I had often paddled about and
skated over it, it was so unexpectedly wide and so strange that I
could think of nothing but Baffin's Bay. The Lincoln hills rose up
around me at the extremity of a snowy plain, in which I did not
remember to have stood before; and the fishermen, at an indeterminable
distance over the ice, moving slowly about with their wolfish dogs,
passed for sealers, or Esquimaux, or in misty weather loomed like
fabulous creatures, and I did not know whether they were giants or
pygmies. I took this course when I went to lecture in Lincoln in the
evening, travelling in no road and passing no house between my own hut
and the lecture room. In Goose Pond, which lay in my way, a colony
of muskrats dwelt, and raised their cabins high above the ice,
though none could be seen abroad when I crossed it. Walden, being like
the rest usually bare of snow, or with only shallow and interrupted
drifts on it, was my yard where I could walk freely when the snow
was nearly two feet deep on a level elsewhere and the villagers were
confined to their streets. There, far from the village street, and
except at very long intervals, from the jingle of sleigh-bells, I slid
and skated, as in a vast moose-yard well trodden, overhung by oak
woods and solemn pines bent down with snow or bristling with icicles.

  For sounds in winter nights, and often in winter days, I heard the
forlorn but melodious note of a hooting owl indefinitely far; such a
sound as the frozen earth would yield if struck with a suitable
plectrum, the very lingua vernacula of Walden Wood, and quite familiar
to me at last, though I never saw the bird while it was making it. I
seldom opened my door in a winter evening without hearing it; Hoo
hoo hoo, hoorer, hoo, sounded sonorously, and the first three
syllables accented somewhat like how der do; or sometimes hoo, hoo
only. One night in the beginning of winter, before the pond froze
over, about nine o'clock, I was startled by the loud honking of a
goose, and, stepping to the door, heard the sound of their wings
like a tempest in the woods as they flew low over my house. They
passed over the pond toward Fair Haven, seemingly deterred from
settling by my light, their commodore honking all the while with a
regular beat. Suddenly an unmistakable cat owl from very near me, with
the most harsh and tremendous voice I ever heard from any inhabitant
of the woods, responded at regular intervals to the goose, as if
determined to expose and disgrace this intruder from Hudson's Bay by
exhibiting a greater compass and volume of voice in a native, and
boo-hoo him out of Concord horizon. What do you mean by alarming the
citadel at this time of night consecrated to me? Do you think I am
ever caught napping at such an hour, and that I have not got lungs and
a larynx as well as yourself? Boo-hoo, boo-hoo, boo-hoo! It was one of
the most thrilling discords I ever heard. And yet, if you had a
discriminating ear, there were in it the elements of a concord such as
these plains never saw nor heard.

  I also heard the whooping of the ice in the pond, my great
bed-fellow in that part of Concord, as if it were restless in its
bed and would fain turn over, were troubled with flatulency and had
dreams; or I was waked by the cracking of the ground by the frost,
as if some one had driven a team against my door, and in the morning
would find a crack in the earth a quarter of a mile long and a third
of an inch wide.

  Sometimes I heard the foxes as they ranged over the snow-crust, in
moonlight nights, in search of a partridge or other game, barking
raggedly and demoniacally like forest dogs, as if laboring with some
anxiety, or seeking expression, struggling for light and to be dogs
outright and run freely in the streets; for if we take the ages into
our account, may there not be a civilization going on among brutes
as well as men? They seemed to me to be rudimental, burrowing men,
still standing on their defence, awaiting their transformation.
Sometimes one came near to my window, attracted by my light, barked
a vulpine curse at me, and then retreated.

  Usually the red squirrel (Sciurus Hudsonius) waked me in the dawn,
coursing over the roof and up and down the sides of the house, as if
sent out of the woods for this purpose. In the course of the winter
I threw out half a bushel of ears of sweet corn, which had not got
ripe, on to the snow-crust by my door, and was amused by watching
the motions of the various animals which were baited by it. In the
twilight and the night the rabbits came regularly and made a hearty
meal. All day long the red squirrels came and went, and afforded me
much entertainment by their manoeuvres. One would approach at first
warily through the shrub oaks, running over the snow-crust by fits and
starts like a leaf blown by the wind, now a few paces this way, with
wonderful speed and waste of energy, making inconceivable haste with
his "trotters," as if it were for a wager, and now as many paces
that way, but never getting on more than half a rod at a time; and
then suddenly pausing with a ludicrous expression and a gratuitous
somerset, as if all the eyes in the universe were eyed on him- for all
the motions of a squirrel, even in the most solitary recesses of the
forest, imply spectators as much as those of a dancing girl- wasting
more time in delay and circumspection than would have sufficed to walk
the whole distance- I never saw one walk- and then suddenly, before
you could say Jack Robinson, he would be in the top of a young pitch
pine, winding up his clock and chiding all imaginary spectators,
soliloquizing and talking to all the universe at the same time- for no
reason that I could ever detect, or he himself was aware of, I
suspect. At length he would reach the corn, and selecting a suitable
ear, frisk about in the same uncertain trigonometrical way to the
topmost stick of my wood-pile, before my window, where he looked me in
the face, and there sit for hours, supplying himself with a new ear
from time to time, nibbling at first voraciously and throwing the
half-naked cobs about; till at length he grew more dainty still and
played with his food, tasting only the inside of the kernel, and the
ear, which was held balanced over the stick by one paw, slipped from
his careless grasp and fell to the ground, when he would look over
at it with a ludicrous expression of uncertainty, as if suspecting
that it had life, with a mind not made up whether to get it again,
or a new one, or be off; now thinking of corn, then listening to
hear what was in the wind. So the little impudent fellow would waste
many an ear in a forenoon; till at last, seizing some longer and
plumper one, considerably bigger than himself, and skilfully balancing
it, he would set out with it to the woods, like a tiger with a
buffalo, by the same zig-zag course and frequent pauses, scratching
along with it as if it were too heavy for him and falling all the
while, making its fall a diagonal between a perpendicular and
horizontal, being determined to put it through at any rate;- a
singularly frivolous and whimsical fellow;- and so he would get off
with it to where he lived, perhaps carry it to the top of a pine
tree forty or fifty rods distant, and I would afterwards find the cobs
strewn about the woods in various directions.

  At length the jays arrive, whose discordant screams were heard
long before, as they were warily making their approach an eighth of
a mile off, and in a stealthy and sneaking manner they flit from
tree to tree, nearer and nearer, and pick up the kernels which the
squirrels have dropped. Then, sitting on a pitch pine bough, they
attempt to swallow in their haste a kernel which is too big for
their throats and chokes them; and after great labor they disgorge it,
and spend an hour in the endeavor to crack it by repeated blows with
their bills. They were manifestly thieves, and I had not much
respect for them; but the squirrels, though at first shy, went to work
as if they were taking what was their own.
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« Reply #67 on: March 23, 2009, 02:05:48 am »

Meanwhile also came the chickadees in flocks, which, picking up
the crumbs the squirrels had dropped, flew to the nearest twig and,
placing them under their claws, hammered away at them with their
little bills, as if it were an insect in the bark, till they were
sufficiently reduced for their slender throats. A little flock of
these titmice came daily to pick a dinner out of my woodpile, or the
crumbs at my door, with faint flitting lisping notes, like the
tinkling of icicles in the grass, or else with sprightly day day
day, or more rarely, in springlike days, a wiry summery phebe from the
woodside. They were so familiar that at length one alighted on an
armful of wood which I was carrying in, and pecked at the sticks
without fear. I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a
moment while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was
more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any
epaulet I could have worn. The squirrels also grew at last to be quite
familiar, and occasionally stepped upon my shoe, when that was the
nearest way.

  When the ground was not yet quite covered, and again near the end of
winter, when the snow was melted on my south hillside and about my
wood-pile, the partridges came out of the woods morning and evening to
feed there. Whichever side you walk in the woods the partridge
bursts away on whirring wings, jarring the snow from the dry leaves
and twigs on high, which comes sifting down in the sunbeams like
golden dust, for this brave bird is not to be scared by winter. It
is frequently covered up by drifts, and, it is said, "sometimes
plunges from on wing into the soft snow, where it remains concealed
for a day or two." I used to start them in the open land also, where
they had come out of the woods at sunset to "bud" the wild apple
trees. They will come regularly every evening to particular trees,
where the cunning sportsman lies in wait for them, and the distant
orchards next the woods suffer thus not a little. I am glad that the
partridge gets fed, at any rate. It is Nature's own bird which lives
on buds and diet-drink.

  In dark winter mornings, or in short winter afternoons, I
sometimes heard a pack of hounds threading all the woods with hounding
cry and yelp, unable to resist the instinct of the chase, and the note
of the hunting-horn at intervals, proving that man was in the rear.
The woods ring again, and yet no fox bursts forth on to the open level
of the pond, nor following pack pursuing their Actaeon. And perhaps at
evening I see the hunters returning with a single brush trailing
from their sleigh for a trophy, seeking their inn. They tell me that
if the fox would remain in the bosom of the frozen earth he would be
safe, or if be would run in a straight line away no foxhound could
overtake him; but, having left his pursuers far behind, he stops to
rest and listen till they come up, and when he runs he circles round
to his old haunts, where the hunters await him. Sometimes, however, he
will run upon a wall many rods, and then leap off far to one side, and
he appears to know that water will not retain his scent. A hunter told
me that he once saw a fox pursued by hounds burst out on to Walden
when the ice was covered with shallow puddles, run part way across,
and then return to the same shore. Ere long the hounds arrived, but
here they lost the scent. Sometimes a pack hunting by themselves would
pass my door, and circle round my house, and yelp and hound without
regarding me, as if afflicted by a species of madness, so that nothing
could divert them from the pursuit. Thus they circle until they fall
upon the recent trail of a fox, for a wise hound will forsake
everything else for this. One day a man came to my hut from
Lexington to inquire after his hound that made a large track, and
had been hunting for a week by himself. But I fear that he was not the
wiser for all I told him, for every time I attempted to answer his
questions he interrupted me by asking, "What do you do here?" He had
lost a dog, but found a man.

  One old hunter who has a dry tongue, who used to come to bathe in
Walden once every year when the water was warmest, and at such times
looked in upon me, told me that many years ago he took his gun one
afternoon and went out for a cruise in Walden Wood; and as he walked
the Wayland road he heard the cry of hounds approaching, and ere
long a fox leaped the wall into the road, and as quick as thought
leaped the other wall out of the road, and his swift bullet had not
touched him. Some way behind came an old hound and her three pups in
full pursuit, hunting on their own account, and disappeared again in
the woods. Late in the afternoon, as he was resting in the thick woods
south of Walden, he heard the voice of the hounds far over toward Fair
Haven still pursuing the fox; and on they came, their hounding cry
which made all the woods ring sounding nearer and nearer, now from
Well Meadow, now from the Baker Farm. For a long time he stood still
and listened to their music, so sweet to a hunter's ear, when suddenly
the fox appeared, threading the solemn aisles with an easy coursing
pace, whose sound was concealed by a sympathetic rustle of the leaves,
swift and still, keeping the round, leaving his pursuers far behind;
and, leaping upon a rock amid the woods, he sat erect and listening,
with his back to the hunter. For a moment compassion restrained the
latter's arm; but that was a short-lived mood, and as quick as thought
can follow thought his piece was levelled, and whang!- the fox,
rolling over the rock, lay dead on the ground. The hunter still kept
his place and listened to the hounds. Still on they came, and now
the near woods resounded through all their aisles with their
demoniac cry. At length the old hound burst into view with muzzle to
the ground, and snapping the air as if possessed, and ran directly
to the rock; but, spying the dead fox, she suddenly ceased her
hounding as if struck dumb with amazement, and walked round and
round him in silence; and one by one her pups arrived, and, like their
mother, were sobered into silence by the mystery. Then the hunter came
forward and stood in their midst, and the mystery was solved. They
waited in silence while he skinned the fox, then followed the brush
a while, and at length turned off into the woods again. That evening a
Weston squire came to the Concord hunter's cottage to inquire for
his hounds, and told how for a week they had been hunting on their own
account from Weston woods. The Concord hunter told him what he knew
and offered him the skin; but the other declined it and departed. He
did not find his hounds that night, but the next day learned that they
had crossed the river and put up at a farmhouse for the night, whence,
having been well fed, they took their departure early in the morning.

  The hunter who told me this could remember one Sam Nutting, who used
to hunt bears on Fair Haven Ledges, and exchange their skins for rum
in Concord village; who told him, even, that he had seen a moose
there. Nutting had a famous foxhound named Burgoyne- he pronounced
it Bugine- which my informant used to borrow. In the "Wast Book" of an
old trader of this town, who was also a captain, town-clerk, and
representative, I find the following entry. Jan. 18th, 1742-3, "John
Melven Cr. by 1 Grey Fox 0-2-3"; they are not now found here; and in
his ledger, Feb, 7th, 1743, Hezekiah Stratton has credit "by 1/2 a
Catt skin 0-1-4 1/2"; of course, a wild-cat, for Stratton was a
sergeant in the old French war, and would not have got credit for
hunting less noble game. Credit is given for deerskins also, and
they were daily sold. One man still preserves the horns of the last
deer that was killed in this vicinity, and another has told me the
particulars of the hunt in which his uncle was engaged. The hunters
were formerly a numerous and merry crew here. I remember well one
gaunt Nimrod who would catch up a leaf by the roadside and play a
strain on it wilder and more melodious, if my memory serves me, than
any hunting-horn.

  At midnight, when there was a moon, I sometimes met with hounds in
my path prowling about the woods, which would skulk out of my way,
as if afraid, and stand silent amid the bushes till I had passed.

  Squirrels and wild mice disputed for my store of nuts. There were
scores of pitch pines around my house, from one to four inches in
diameter, which had been gnawed by mice the previous winter- a
Norwegian winter for them, for the snow lay long and deep, and they
were obliged to mix a large proportion of pine bark with their other
diet. These trees were alive and apparently flourishing at
midsummer, and many of them had grown a foot, though completely
girdled; but after another winter such were without exception dead. It
is remarkable that a single mouse should thus be allowed a whole
pine tree for its dinner, gnawing round instead of up and down it; but
perhaps it is necessary in order to thin these trees, which are wont
to grow up densely.

  The hares (Lepus Americanus) were very familiar. One had her form
under my house all winter, separated from me only by the flooring, and
she startled me each morning by her hasty departure when I began to
stir- thump, thump, thump, striking her head against the floor timbers
in her hurry. They used to come round my door at dusk to nibble the
potato parings which I had thrown out, and were so nearly the color of
the round that they could hardly be distinguished when still.
Sometimes in the twilight I alternately lost and recovered sight of
one sitting motionless under my window. When I opened my door in the
evening, off they would go with a squeak and a bounce. Near at hand
they only excited my pity. One evening one sat by my door two paces
from me, at first trembling with fear, yet unwilling to move; a poor
wee thing, lean and bony, with ragged ears and sharp nose, scant
tail and slender paws. It looked as if Nature no longer contained
the breed of nobler bloods, but stood on her last toes. Its large eyes
appeared young and unhealthy, almost dropsical. I took a step, and lo,
away it scud with an elastic spring over the snow-crust, straightening
its body and its limbs into graceful length, and soon put the forest
between me and itself- the wild free venison, assenting its vigor
and the dignity of Nature. Not without reason was its slenderness.
Such then was its nature. (Lepus, levipes, light-foot, some think.)
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« Reply #68 on: March 23, 2009, 02:06:09 am »

What is a country without rabbits and partridges? They are among the
most simple and indigenous animal products; ancient and venerable
families known to antiquity as to modern times; of the very hue and
substance of Nature, nearest allied to leaves and to the ground- and
to one another; it is either winged or it is legged. It is hardly as
if you had seen a wild creature when a rabbit or a partridge bursts
away, only a natural one, as much to be expected as rustling leaves.
The partridge and the rabbit are still sure to thrive, like true
natives of the soil, whatever revolutions occur. If the forest is
cut off, the sprouts and bushes which spring up afford them
concealment, and they become more numerous than ever. That must be a
poor country indeed that does not support a hare. Our woods teem
with them both, and around every swamp may be seen the partridge or
rabbit walk, beset with twiggy fences and horse-hair snares, which
some cow-boy tends.

                        THE POND IN WINTER.

  AFTER A still winter night I awoke with the impression that some
question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to
answer in my sleep, as what- how- when- where? But there was dawning
Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad windows
with serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips. I awoke
to an answered question, to Nature and daylight. The snow lying deep
on the earth dotted with young pines, and the very slope of the hill
on which my house is placed, seemed to say, Forward! Nature puts no
question and answers none which we mortals ask. She has long ago taken
her resolution. "O Prince, our eyes contemplate with admiration and
transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of this
universe. The night veils without doubt a part of this glorious
creation; but day comes to reveal to us this great work, which extends
from earth even into the plains of the ether."

  Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in
search of water, if that be not a dream. After a cold and snowy
night it needed a divining-rod to find it. Every winter the liquid and
trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath,
and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of
a foot or a foot and a half, so that it will support the heaviest
teams, and perchance the snow covers it to an equal depth, and it is
not to be distinguished from any level field. Like the marmots in
the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for
three months or more. Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in a
pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and
then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling
to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by
a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its
bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial
waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding
to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under
our feet is well as over our heads.

  Early in the morning, while all things are crisp with frost, men
come with fishing-reels and slender lunch, and let down their fine
lines through the snowy field to take pickerel and perch; wild men,
who instinctively follow other fashions and trust other authorities
than their townsmen, and by their goings and comings stitch towns
together in parts where else they would be ripped. They sit and eat
their luncheon in stout fear- naughts on the dry oak leaves on the
shore, as wise in natural lore as the citizen is in artificial. They
never consulted with books, and know and can tell much less than
they have done. The things which they practice are said not yet to
be known. Here is one fishing for pickerel with grown perch for
bait. You look into his pail with wonder as into a summer pond, as
if he kept summer locked up at home, or knew where she had
retreated. How, pray, did he get these in midwinter? Oh, he got
worms out of rotten logs since the ground froze, and so he caught
them. His life itself passes deeper in nature than the studies of
the naturalist penetrate; himself a subject for the naturalist. The
latter raises the moss and bark gently with his knife in search of
insects; the former lays open logs to their core with his axe, and
moss and bark fly far and wide. He gets his living by barking trees.
Such a man has some right to fish, and I love to see nature carried
out in him. The perch swallows the grub-worm, the pickerel swallows
the perch, and the fisher-man swallows the pickerel; and so all the
chinks in the scale of being are filled.

  When I strolled around the pond in misty weather I was sometimes
amused by the primitive mode which some ruder fisher-man had
adopted. He would perhaps have placed alder branches over the narrow
holes in the ice, which were four or five rods apart and an equal
distance from the shore, and having fastened the end of the line to
a stick to prevent its being pulled through, have passed the slack
line over a twig of the alder, a foot or more above the ice, and
tied a dry oak leaf to it, which, being pulled down, would show when
he had a bite. These alders loomed through the mist at regular
intervals as you walked half way round the pond.

  Ah, the pickerel of Walden! when I see them lying on the ice, or
in the well which the fisherman cuts in the ice, making a little
hole to admit the water, I am always surprised by their rare beauty,
as if they were fabulous fishes, they are so foreign to the streets,
even to the woods, foreign as Arabia to our Concord life. They possess
a quite dazzling and transcendent beauty which separates them by a
wide interval from the cadaverous cod and haddock whose fame is
trumpeted in our streets. They are not green like the pines, nor
gray like the stones, nor blue like the sky; but they have, to my
eyes, if possible, yet rarer colors, like flowers and precious stones,
as if they were the pearls, the animalized nuclei or crystals of the
Walden water. They, of course, are Walden all over and all through;
are themselves small Waldens in the animal kingdom, Waldenses. It is
surprising that they are caught here- that in this deep and
capacious spring, far beneath the rattling teams and chaises and
tinkling sleighs that travel the Walden road, this great gold and
emerald fish swims. I never chanced to see its kind in any market;
it would be the cynosure of all eyes there. Easily, with a few
convulsive quirks, they give up their watery ghosts, like a mortal
translated before his time to the thin air of heaven.

  As I was desirous to recover the long lost bottom of Walden Pond,
I surveyed it carefully, before the ice broke up, early in '46, with
compass and chain and sounding line. There have been many stories told
about the bottom, or rather no bottom, of this pond, which certainly
had no foundation for themselves. It is remarkable how long men will
believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble
to sound it. I have visited two such Bottomless Ponds in one walk in
this neighborhood. Many have believed that Walden reached quite
through to the other side of the globe. Some who have lain flat on the
ice for a long time, looking down through the illusive medium,
perchance with watery eyes into the bargain, and driven to hasty
conclusions by the fear of catching cold in their breasts, have seen
vast holes "into which a load of hay might be drived," if there were
anybody to drive it, the undoubted source of the Styx and entrance
to the Infernal Regions from these parts. Others have gone down from
the village with a "fifty-six" and a wagon load of inch rope, but
yet have failed to find any bottom; for while the "fifty-six" was
resting by the way, they were paying out the rope in the vain
attempt to fathom their truly immeasurable capacity for
marvellousness. But I can assure my readers that Walden has a
reasonably tight bottom at a not unreasonable, though at an unusual,
depth. I fathomed it easily with a cod-line and a stone weighing about
a pound and a half, and could tell accurately when the stone left
the bottom, by having to pull so much harder before the water got
underneath to help me. The greatest depth was exactly one hundred
and two feet; to which may be added the five feet which it has risen
since, making one hundred and seven. This is a remarkable depth for so
small an area; yet not an inch of it can be spared by the imagination.
What if all ponds were shallow? Would it not react on the minds of
men? I am thankful that this pond was made deep and pure for a symbol.
While men believe in the infinite some ponds will be thought to be

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« Reply #69 on: March 23, 2009, 02:06:28 am »

A factory-owner, bearing what depth I had found, thought that it
could not be true, for, judging from his acquaintance with dams,
sand would not lie at so steep an angle. But the deepest ponds are not
so deep in proportion to their area as most suppose, and, if
drained, would not leave very remarkable valleys. They are not like
cups between the hills; for this one, which is so unusually deep for
its area, appears in a vertical section through its centre not
deeper than a shallow plate. Most ponds, emptied, would leave a meadow
no more hollow than we frequently see. William Gilpin, who is so
admirable in all that relates to landscapes, and usually so correct,
standing at the head of Loch Fyne, in Scotland, which he describes
as "a bay of salt water, sixty or seventy fathoms deep, four miles
in breadth, and about fifty miles long, surrounded by mountains,
observes, "If we could have seen it immediately after the diluvian
crash, or whatever convulsion of nature occasioned it, before the
waters gushed in, what a horrid chasm must it have appeared!

        "So high as heaved the tumid hills, so low

        Down sunk a hollow bottom broad and deep,

        Capacious bed of waters."

But if, using the shortest diameter of Loch Fyne, we apply these
proportions to Walden, which, as we have seen, appears already in a
vertical section only like a shallow plate, it will appear four
times as shallow. So much for the increased horrors of the chasm of
Loch Fyne when emptied. No doubt many a smiling valley with its
stretching cornfields occupies exactly such a "horrid chasm," from
which the waters have receded, though it requires the insight and
the far sight of the geologist to convince the unsuspecting
inhabitants of this fact. Often an inquisitive eye may detect the
shores of a primitive lake in the low horizon hills, and no subsequent
elevation of the plain have been necessary to conceal their history.
But it is easiest, as they who work on the highways know, to find
the hollows by the puddles after a shower. The amount of it is, the
imagination, give it the least license, dives deeper and soars
higher than Nature goes. So, probably, the depth of the ocean will
be found to be very inconsiderable compared with its breadth.

  As I sounded through the ice I could determine the shape of the
bottom with greater accuracy than is possible in surveying harbors
which do not freeze over, and I was surprised at its general
regularity. In the deepest part there are several acres more level
than almost any field which is exposed to the sun, wind, and plow.
In one instance, on a line arbitrarily chosen, the depth did not
vary more than one foot in thirty rods; and generally, near the
middle, I could calculate the variation for each one hundred feet in
any direction beforehand within three or four inches. Some are
accustomed to speak of deep and dangerous holes even in quiet sandy
ponds like this, but the effect of water under these circumstances
is to level all inequalities. The regularity of the bottom and its
conformity to the shores and the range of the neighboring hills were
so perfect that a distant promontory betrayed itself in the
soundings quite across the pond, and its direction could be determined
by observing the opposite shore. Cape becomes bar, and plain shoal,
and valley and gorge deep water and channel.

  When I had mapped the pond by the scale of ten rods to an inch,
and put down the soundings, more than a hundred in all, I observed
this remarkable coincidence. Having noticed that the number indicating
the greatest depth was apparently in the centre of the map, I laid a
rule on the map lengthwise, and then breadthwise, and found, to my
surprise, that the line of greatest length intersected the line of
greatest breadth exactly at the point of greatest depth,
notwithstanding that the middle is so nearly level, the outline of the
pond far from regular, and the extreme length and breadth were got
by measuring into the coves; and I said to myself, Who knows but
this hint would conduct to the deepest part of the ocean as well as of
a pond or puddle? Is not this the rule also for the height of
mountains, regarded as the opposite of valleys? We know that a hill is
not highest at its narrowest part.

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« Reply #70 on: March 23, 2009, 02:06:52 am »

Of five coves, three, or all which had been sounded, were observed
to have a bar quite across their mouths and deeper water within, so
that the bay tended to be an expansion of water within the land not
only horizontally but vertically, and to form a basin or independent
pond, the direction of the two capes showing the course of the bar.
Every harbor on the sea-coast, also, has its bar at its entrance. In
proportion as the mouth of the cove was wider compared with its
length, the water over the bar was deeper compared with that in the
basin. Given, then, the length and breadth of the cove, and the
character of the surrounding shore, and you have almost elements
enough to make out a formula for all cases.

  In order to see how nearly I could guess, with this experience, at
the deepest point in a pond, by observing the outlines of a surface
and the character of its shores alone, I made a plan of White Pond,
which contains about forty-one acres, and, like this, has no island in
it, nor any visible inlet or outlet; and as the line of greatest
breadth fell very near the line of least breadth, where two opposite
capes approached each other and two opposite bays receded, I
ventured to mark a point a short distance from the latter line, but
still on the line of greatest length, as the deepest. The deepest part
was found to be within one hundred feet of this, still farther in
the direction to which I had inclined, and was only one foot deeper,
namely, sixty feet. Of course, a stream running through, or an
island in the pond, would make the problem much more complicated.

  If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only one fact,
or the description of one actual phenomenon, to infer all the
particular results at that point. Now we know only a few laws, and our
result is vitiated, not, of course, by any confusion or irregularity
in Nature, but by our ignorance of essential elements in the
calculation. Our notions of law and harmony are commonly confined to
those instances which we detect; but the harmony which results from
a far greater number of seemingly conflicting, but really
concurring, laws, which we have not detected, is still more wonderful.
The particular laws are as our points of view, as, to the traveller, a
mountain outline varies with every step, and it has an infinite number
of profiles, though absolutely but one form. Even when cleft or
bored through it is not comprehended in its entireness.

  What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics. It is
the law of average. Such a rule of the two diameters not only guides
us toward the sun in the system and the heart in man, but draws
lines through the length and breadth of the aggregate of a man's
particular daily behaviors and waves of life into his coves and
inlets, and where they intersect will be the height or depth of his
character. Perhaps we need only to know how his shores trend and his
adjacent country or circumstances, to infer his depth and concealed
bottom. If he is surrounded by mountainous circumstances, an Achillean
shore, whose peaks overshadow and are reflected in his bosom, they
suggest a corresponding depth in him. But a low and smooth shore
proves him shallow on that side. In our bodies, a bold projecting brow
falls off to and indicates a corresponding depth of thought. Also
there is a bar across the entrance of our every cove, or particular
inclination; each is our harbor for a season, in which we are detained
and partially land-locked. These inclinations are not whimsical
usually, but their form, size, and direction are determined by the
promontories of the shore, the ancient axes of elevation. When this
bar is gradually increased by storms, tides, or currents, or there
is a subsidence of the waters, so that it reaches to the surface, that
which was at first but an inclination in the shore in which a
thought was harbored becomes an individual lake, cut off from the
ocean, wherein the thought secures its own conditions- changes,
perhaps, from salt to fresh, becomes a sweet sea, dead sea, or a
marsh. At the advent of each individual into this life, may we not
suppose that such a bar has risen to the surface somewhere? It is
true, we are such poor navigators that our thoughts, for the most
part, stand off and on upon a harborless coast, are conversant only
with the bights of the bays of poesy, or steer for the public ports of
entry, and go into the dry docks of science, where they merely refit
for this world, and no natural currents concur to individualize them.

  As for the inlet or outlet of Walden, I have not discovered any
but rain and snow and evaporation, though perhaps, with a
thermometer and a line, such places may be found, for where the
water flows into the pond it will probably be coldest in summer and
warmest in winter. When the ice-men were at work here in '46-7, the
cakes sent to the shore were one day rejected by those who were
stacking them up there, not being thick enough to lie side by side
with the rest; and the cutters thus discovered that the ice over a
small space was two or three inches thinner than elsewhere, which made
them think that there was an inlet there. They also showed me in
another place what they thought was a "leach-hole," through which
the pond leaked out under a hill into a neighboring meadow, pushing me
out on a cake of ice to see it. It was a small cavity under ten feet
of water; but I think that I can warrant the pond not to need
soldering till they find a worse leak than that. One has suggested,
that if such a "leach-hole" should be found, its connection with the
meadow, if any existed, might be proved by conveying some, colored
powder or sawdust to the mouth of the hole, and then putting a
strainer over the spring in the meadow, which would catch some of
the particles carried through by the current.

  While I was surveying, the ice, which was sixteen inches thick,
undulated under a slight wind like water. It is well known that a
level cannot be used on ice. At one rod from the shore its greatest
fluctuation, when observed by means of a level on land directed toward
a graduated staff on the ice, was three quarters of an inch, though
the ice appeared firmly attached to the shore. It was probably greater
in the middle. Who knows but if our instruments were delicate enough
we might detect an undulation in the crust of the earth? When two legs
of my level were on the shore and the third on the ice, and the sights
were directed over the latter, a rise or fall of the ice of an
almost infinitesimal amount made a difference of several feet on a
tree across the pond. When I began to cut holes for sounding there
were three or four inches of water on the ice under a deep snow
which had sunk it thus far; but the water began immediately to run
into these holes, and continued to run for two days in deep streams,
which wore away the ice on every side, and contributed essentially, if
not mainly, to dry the surface of the pond; for, as the water ran
in, it raised and floated the ice. This was somewhat like cutting a
hole in the bottom of a ship to let the water out. When such holes
freeze, and a rain succeeds, and finally a new freezing forms a
fresh smooth ice over all, it is beautifully mottled internally by
dark figures, shaped somewhat like a spider's web, what you may call
ice rosettes, produced by the channels worn by the water flowing
from all sides to a centre. Sometimes, also, when the ice was
covered with shallow puddles, I saw a double shadow of myself, one
standing on the head of the other, one on the ice, the other on the
trees or hillside.
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« Reply #71 on: March 23, 2009, 02:07:26 am »

While yet it is cold January, and snow and ice are thick and
solid, the prudent landlord comes from the village to get ice to
cool his summer drink; impressively, even pathetically, wise, to
foresee the heat and thirst of July now in January- wearing a thick
coat and mittens! when so many things are not provided for. It may
be that he lays up no treasures in this world which will cool his
summer drink in the next. He cuts and saws the solid pond, unroofs the
house of fishes, and carts off their very element and air, held fast
by chains and stakes like corded wood, through the favoring winter
air, to wintry cellars, to underlie the summer there. It looks like
solidified azure, as, far off, it is drawn through the streets.
These ice-cutters are a merry race, full of jest and sport, and when I
went among them they were wont to invite me to saw pit-fashion with
them, I standing underneath.

  In the winter of '46-7 there came a hundred men of Hyperborean
extraction swoop down on to our pond one morning, with many carloads
of ungainly-looking farming tools-sleds, plows, drill-barrows,
turf-knives, spades, saws, rakes, and each man was armed with a
double-pointed pike-staff, such as is not described in the New-England
Farmer or the Cultivator. I did not know whether they had come to
sow a crop of winter rye, or some other kind of grain recently
introduced from Iceland. As I saw no manure, I judged that they
meant to skim the land, as I had done, thinking the soil was deep
and had lain fallow long enough. They said that a gentleman farmer,
who was behind the scenes, wanted to double his money, which, as I
understood, amounted to half a million already; but in order to
cover each one of his dollars with another, he took off the only coat,
ay, the skin itself, of Walden Pond in the midst of a hard winter.
They went to work at once, plowing, barrowing, rolling, furrowing,
in admirable order, as if they were bent on making this a model
farm; but when I was looking sharp to see what kind of seed they
dropped into the furrow, a gang of fellows by my side suddenly began
to book up the virgin mould itself, with a peculiar jerk, clean down
to the sand, or rather the water- for it was a very springy soil-
indeed all the terra firma there was- and haul it away on sleds, and
then I guessed that they must be cutting peat in a bog. So they came
and went every day, with a peculiar shriek from the locomotive, from
and to some point of the polar regions, as it seemed to me, like a
flock of arctic snow-birds. But sometimes Squaw Walden had her
revenge, and a hired man, walking behind his team, slipped through a
crack in the ground down toward Tartarus, and he who was so brave
before suddenly became but the ninth part of a man, almost gave up his
animal heat, and was glad to take refuge in my house, and acknowledged
that there was some virtue in a stove; or sometimes the frozen soil
took a piece of steel out of a plowshare, or a plow got set in the
furrow and had to be cut out.

  To speak literally, a hundred Irishmen, with Yankee overseers,
came from Cambridge every day to get out the ice. They divided it into
cakes by methods too well known to require description, and these,
being sledded to the shore, were rapidly hauled off on to an ice
platform, and raised by grappling irons and block and tackle, worked
by horses, on to a stack, as surely as so many barrels of flour, and
there placed evenly side by side, and row upon row, as if they
formed the solid base of an obelisk designed to pierce the clouds.
They told me that in a good day they could get out a thousand tons,
which was the yield of about one acre. Deep ruts and "cradle-holes"
were worn in the ice, as on terra firma, by the passage of the sleds
over the same track, and the horses invariably ate their oats out of
cakes of ice hollowed out like buckets. They stacked up the cakes thus
in the open air in a pile thirty-five feet high on one side and six or
seven rods square, putting hay between the outside layers to exclude
the air; for when the wind, though never so cold, finds a passage
through, it will wear large cavities, leaving slight supports or studs
only here and there, and finally topple it down. At first it looked
like a vast blue fort or Valhalla; but when they began to tuck the
coarse meadow hay into the crevices, and this became covered with rime
and icicles, it looked like a venerable moss-grown and hoary ruin,
built of azure-tinted marble, the abode of Winter, that old man we see
in the almanac- his shanty, as if he had a design to estivate with us.
They calculated that not twenty-five per cent of this would reach
its destination, and that two or three per cent would be wasted in the
cars. However, a still greater part of this heap had a different
destiny from what was intended; for, either because the ice was
found not to keep so well as was expected, containing more air than
usual, or for some other reason, it never got to market. This heap,
made in the winter of '46-7 and estimated to contain ten thousand
tons, was finally covered with hay and boards; and though it was
unroofed the following July, and a part of it carried off, the rest
remaining exposed to the sun, it stood over that summer and the next
winter, and was not quite melted till September, 1848. Thus the pond
recovered the greater part.

  Like the water, the Walden ice, seen near at hand, has a green tint,
but at a distance is beautifully blue, and you can easily tell it from
the white ice of the river, or the merely greenish ice of some
ponds, a quarter of a mile off. Sometimes one of those great cakes
slips from the ice-man's sled into the village street, and lies
there for a week like a great emerald, an object of interest to all
passers. I have noticed that a portion of Walden which in the state of
water was green will often, when frozen, appear from the same point of
view blue. So the hollows about this pond will, sometimes, in the
winter, be filled with a greenish water somewhat like its own, but the
next day will have frozen blue. Perhaps the blue color of water and
ice is due to the light and air they contain, and the most transparent
is the bluest. Ice is an interesting subject for contemplation. They
told me that they had some in the ice-houses at Fresh Pond five
years old which was as good as ever. Why is it that a bucket of
water soon becomes putrid, but frozen remains sweet forever? It is
commonly said that this is the difference between the affections and
the intellect.

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« Reply #72 on: March 23, 2009, 02:07:45 am »

Thus for sixteen days I saw from my window a hundred men at work
like busy husbandmen, with teams and horses and apparently all the
implements of farming, such a picture as we see on the first page of
the almanac; and as often as I looked out I was reminded of the
fable of the lark and the reapers, or the parable of the sower, and
the like; and now they are all gone, and in thirty days more,
probably, I shall look from the same window on the pure sea-green
Walden water there, reflecting the clouds and the trees, and sending
up its evaporations in solitude, and no traces will appear that a
man has ever stood there. Perhaps I shall hear a solitary loon laugh
as he dives and plumes himself, or shall see a lonely fisher in his
boat, like a floating leaf, beholding his form reflected in the waves,
where lately a hundred men securely labored.

  Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and
New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well. In
the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal
philosophy of the Bhagvat-Geeta, since whose composition years of
the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world
and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that
philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence,
so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down the book
and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of the
Bramin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his
temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a
tree with his crust and water jug. I meet his servant come to draw
water for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in the
same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of
the Ganges. With favoring winds it is wafted past the site of the
fabulous islands of Atlantis and the Hesperides, makes the periplus of
Hanno, and, floating by Ternate and Tidore and the mouth of the
Persian Gulf, melts in the tropic gales of the Indian seas, and is
landed in ports of which Alexander only heard the names.


  THE OPENING of large tracts by the ice-cutters commonly causes a
pond to break up earlier; for the water, agitated by the wind, even in
cold weather, wears away the surrounding ice. But such was not the
effect on Walden that year, for she had soon got a thick new garment
to take the place of the old. This pond never breaks up so soon as the
others in this neighborhood, on account both of its greater depth
and its having no stream passing through it to melt or wear away the
ice. I never knew it to open in the course of a winter, not
excepting that Of '52-3, which gave the ponds so severe a trial. It
commonly opens about the first of April, a week or ten days later than
Flint's Pond and Fair Haven, beginning to melt on the north side and
in the shallower parts where it began to freeze. It indicates better
than any water hereabouts the absolute progress of the season, being
least affected by transient changes of temperature. A severe cold of
it few days duration in March may very much retard the opening of
the former ponds, while the temperature of Walden increases almost
uninterruptedly. A thermometer thrust into the middle of Walden on the
6th of March, 1847, stood at 32', or freezing point; near the shore at
33'; in the middle of Flint's Pond, the same day, at 32 1/2'; at a
dozen rods from the shore, in shallow water, under ice a foot thick,
at 36'. This difference of three and it half degrees between the
temperature of the deep water and the shallow in the latter pond,
and the fact that a great proportion of it is comparatively shallow,
show why it should break up so much sooner than Walden. The ice in the
shallowest part was at this time several inches thinner than in the
middle. In midwinter the middle had been the warmest and the ice
thinnest there. So, also, every one who has waded about the shores
of the pond in summer must have perceived how much warmer the water is
close to the shore, where only three or four inches deep, than a
little distance out, and on the surface where it is deep, than near
the bottom. In spring the sun not only exerts an influence through the
increased temperature of the air and earth, but its heat passes
through ice a foot or more thick, and is reflected from the bottom
in shallow water, and so also warms the water and melts the under side
of the ice, at the same time that it is melting it more directly
above, making it uneven, and causing the air bubbles which it contains
to extend themselves upward and downward until it is completely
honeycombed, and at last disappears suddenly in a single spring
rain. Ice has its grain as well as wood, and when a cake begins to rot
or "comb," that is, assume the appearance of honeycomb, whatever may
be its position, the air cells are at right angles with what was the
water surface. Where there is a rock or a log rising near to the
surface the ice over it is much thinner, and is frequently quite
dissolved by this reflected heat; and I have been told that in the
experiment at Cambridge to freeze water in a shallow wooden pond,
though the cold air circulated underneath, and so had access to both
sides, the reflection of the sun from the bottom more than
counterbalanced this advantage. When a warm rain in the middle of
the winter melts off the snow ice from Walden, and leaves a hard
dark or transparent ice on the middle, there will be a strip of rotten
though thicker white ice, a rod or more wide, about the shores,
created by this reflected heat. Also, as I have said, the bubbles
themselves within the ice operate as burning-glasses to melt the ice

  The phenomena of the year take place every day in a pond on a
small scale. Every morning, generally speaking, the shallow water is
being warmed more rapidly than the deep, though it may not be made
so warm after all, and every evening it is being cooled more rapidly
until the morning, The day is an epitome of the year. The night is the
winter, the morning and evening are the spring and fall, and the
noon is the summer. The cracking and booming of the ice indicate a
change of temperature. One pleasant morning after a cold night,
February 24th, 1850, having gone to Flint's Pond to spend the day, I
noticed with surprise, that when I struck the ice with the head of
my axe, it resounded like a gong for many rods around, or as if I
had struck on a tight drum-head. The pond began to boom about an
hour after sunrise, when it felt the influence of the sun's rays
slanted upon it from over the hills; it stretched itself and yawned
like a waking man with a gradually increasing tumult, which was kept
up three or four hours. It took a short siesta at noon, and boomed
once more toward night, as the sun was withdrawing his influence. In
the right stage of the weather a pond fires its evening gun with great
regularity. But in the middle of the day, being full of cracks, and
the air also being less elastic, it had completely lost its resonance,
and probably fishes and muskrats could not then have been stunned by a
blow on it. The fishermen say that the "thundering of the pond" scares
the fishes and prevents their biting. The pond does not thunder
every evening, and I cannot tell surely when to expect its thundering;
but though I may perceive no difference in the weather, it does. Who
would have suspected so large and cold and thick-skinned a thing to be
so sensitive? Yet it has its law to which it thunders obedience when
it should as surely as the buds expand in the spring. The earth is all
alive and covered with papillae. The largest pond is as sensitive to
atmospheric changes as the globule of mercury in its tube.
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« Reply #73 on: March 23, 2009, 02:08:05 am »

One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have
leisure and opportunity to see the Spring come in. The ice in the pond
at length begins to be honeycombed, and I can set my heel in it as I
walk. Fogs and rains and warmer suns are gradually melting the snow;
the days have grown sensibly longer; and I see how I shall get through
the winter without adding to my woodpile, for large fires are no
longer necessary. I am on the alert for the first signs of spring,
to hear the chance note of some arriving bird, or the striped
squirrel's chirp, for his stores must be now nearly exhausted, or
see the woodchuck venture out of his winter quarters. On the 13th of
March, after I had heard the bluebird, song sparrow, and red-wing, the
ice was still nearly a foot thick. As the weather grew warmer it was
not sensibly worn away by the water, nor broken up and floated off
as in rivers, but, though it was completely melted for half a rod in
width about the shore, the middle was merely honeycombed and saturated
with water, so that you could put your foot through it when six inches
thick; but by the next day evening, perhaps, after a warm rain
followed by fog, it would have wholly disappeared, all gone off with
the fog, spirited away. One year I went across the middle only five
days before it disappeared entirely. In 1845 Walden was first
completely open on the 1st of April; in '46, the 25th of March; in
'47, the 8th of April; in '51, the 28th of March; in '52, the 18th
of April; in '53, the 23d of March; in '54, about the 7th of April.

  Every incident connected with the breaking up of the rivers and
ponds and the settling of the weather is particularly interesting to
us who live in a climate of so great extremes. When the warmer days
come, they who dwell near the river hear the ice crack at night with a
startling whoop as loud as artillery, as if its icy fetters were
rent from end to end, and within a few days see it rapidly going
out. So the alligator comes out of the mud with quakings of the earth.
One old man, who has been a close observer of Nature, and seems as
thoroughly wise in regard to all her operations as if she had been put
upon the stocks when he was a boy, and he had helped to lay her
keel- who has come to his growth, and can hardly acquire more of
natural lore if he should live to the age of Methuselah- told me-
and I was surprised to hear him express wonder at any of Nature's
operations, for I thought that there were no secrets between them-
that one spring day he took his gun and boat, and thought that he
would have a little sport with the ducks. There was ice still on the
meadows, but it was all gone out of the river, and he dropped down
without obstruction from Sudbury, where he lived, to Fair Haven
Pond, which he found, unexpectedly, covered for the most part with a
firm field of ice. It was a warm day, and he was surprised to see so
great a body of ice remaining. Not seeing any ducks, he hid his boat
on the north or back side of an island in the pond, and then concealed
himself in the bushes on the south side, to await them. The ice was
melted for three or four rods from the shore, and there was a smooth
and warm sheet of water, with a muddy bottom, such as the ducks
love, within, and he thought it likely that some would be along pretty
soon. After he had lain still there about an hour he heard a low and
seemingly very distant sound, but singularly grand and impressive,
unlike anything he had ever heard, gradually swelling and increasing
as if it would have a universal and memorable ending, a sullen rush
and roar, which seemed to him all at once like the sound of a vast
body of fowl coming in to settle there, and, seizing his gun, he
started up in haste and excited; but he found, to his surprise, that
the whole body of the ice had started while he lay there, and
drifted in to the shore, and the sound he had heard was made by its
edge grating on the shore- at first gently nibbled and crumbled off,
but at length heaving up and scattering its wrecks along the island to
a considerable height before it came to a standstill.

  At length the sun's rays have attained the right angle, and warm
winds blow up mist and rain and melt the snowbanks, and the sun,
dispersing the mist, smiles on a checkered landscape of russet and
white smoking with incense, through which the traveller picks his
way from islet to islet, cheered by the music of a thousand tinkling
rills and rivulets whose veins are filled with the blood of winter
which they are bearing off.

  Few phenomena gave me more delight than to observe the forms which
thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the sides of a deep cut
on the railroad through which I passed on my way to the village, a
phenomenon not very common on so large a scale, though the number of
freshly exposed banks of the right material must have been greatly
multiplied since railroads were invented. The material was sand of
every degree of fineness and of various rich colors, commonly mixed
with a little clay. When the frost comes out in the spring, and even
in a thawing day in the winter, the sand begins to flow down the
slopes like lava, sometimes bursting out through the snow and
overflowing it where no sand was to be seen before. Innumerable little
streams overlap and interlace one with another, exhibiting a sort of
hybrid product, which obeys half way the law of currents, and half way
that of vegetation. As it flows it takes the forms of sappy leaves
or vines, making heaps of pulpy sprays a foot or more in depth, and
resembling, as you look down on them, the laciniated, lobed, and
imbricated thalluses of some lichens; or you are reminded of coral, of
leopard's paws or birds' feet, of brains or lungs or bowels, and
excrements of all kinds. It is a truly grotesque vegetation, whose
forms and color we see imitated in bronze, a sort of architectural
foliage more ancient and typical than acanthus, chiccory, ivy, vine,
or any vegetable leaves; destined perhaps, under some circumstances,
to become a puzzle to future geologists. The whole cut impressed me as
if it were a cave with its stalactites laid open to the light. The
various shades of the sand are singularly rich and agreeable,
embracing the different iron colors, brown, gray, yellowish, and
reddish. When the flowing mass reaches the drain at the foot of the
bank it spreads out flatter into strands, the separate streams
losing their semicylindrical form and gradually becoming more flat and
broad, running together as they are more moist, till they form an
almost flat sand, still variously and beautifully shaded, but in which
you call trace the original forms of vegetation; till at length, in
the water itself, they are converted into banks, like those formed off
the mouths of rivers, and the forms of vegetation are lost in the
ripple- marks on the bottom.
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« Reply #74 on: March 23, 2009, 02:08:23 am »

The whole bank, which is from twenty to forty feet high, is
sometimes overlaid with a mass of this kind of foliage, or sandy
rupture, for a quarter of a mile on one or both sides, the produce
of one spring day. What makes this sand foliage remarkable is its
springing into existence thus suddenly. When I see on the one side the
inert bank- for the sun acts on one side first- and on the other
this luxuriant foliage, the creation of an hour, I am affected as if
in a peculiar sense I stood in the laboratory of the Artist who made
the world and me- had come to where he was still at work, sporting
on this bank, and with excess of energy strewing his fresh designs
about. I feel as if I were nearer to the vitals of the globe, for this
sandy overflow is something such a foliaceous mass as the vitals of
the animal body. You find thus in the very sands an anticipation of
the vegetable leaf. No wonder that the earth expresses itself
outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea inwardly. The atoms
have already learned this law, and are pregnant by it. The overhanging
leaf sees here its prototype. Internally, whether in the globe or
animal body, it is a moist thick lobe, a word especially applicable to
the liver and lungs and the leaves of fat (leibo, labor, lapsus, to
flow or slip downward, a lapsing; lobos, globus, lobe, globe; also
lap, flap, and many other words); externally a dry thin leaf, even
as the f and v are a pressed and dried b. The radicals of lobe are lb,
the soft mass of the b (single-lobed, or B, double-lobed), with the
liquid l behind it pressing it forward. In globe, glb, the guttural
g adds to the meaning the capacity of the throat. The feathers and
wings of birds are still drier and thinner leaves. Thus, also, you
pass from the lumpish grub in the earth to the airy and fluttering
butterfly. The very globe continually transcends and translates
itself, and becomes winged in its orbit. Even ice begins with delicate
crystal leaves, as if it had flowed into moulds which the fronds of
waterplants have impressed on the watery mirror. The whole tree itself
is but one leaf, and rivers are still vaster leaves whose pulp is
intervening earth, and towns and cities are the ova of insects in
their axils.

  When the sun withdraws the sand ceases to flow, but in the morning
the streams will start once more and branch and branch again into a
myriad of others. You here see perchance how blood-vessels are formed.
If you look closely you observe that first there pushes forward from
the thawing mass a stream of softened sand with a drop-like point,
like the ball of the finger, feeling its way slowly and blindly
downward, until at last with more heat and moisture, as the sun gets
higher, the most fluid portion, in its effort to obey the law to which
the most inert also yields, separates from the latter and forms for
itself a meandering channel or artery within that, in which is seen
a little silvery stream glancing like lightning from one stage of
pulpy leaves or branches to another, and ever and anon swallowed up in
the sand. It is wonderful how rapidly yet perfectly the sand organizes
itself as it flows, using the best material its mass affords to form
the sharp edges of its channel. Such are the sources of rivers. In the
silicious matter which the water deposits is perhaps the bony
system, and in the still finer soil and organic matter the fleshy
fibre or cellular tissue. What is man but a mass of thawing clay?
The ball of the human finger is but a drop congealed. The fingers
and toes flow to their extent from the thawing mass of the body. Who
knows what the human body would expand and flow out to under a more
genial heaven? Is not the hand a spreading palm leaf with its lobes
and veins? The ear may be regarded, fancifully, as a lichen,
Umbilicaria, on the side of the head, with its lobe or drop. The
lip-labium, from labor (?)- laps or lapses from the sides of the
cavernous mouth. The nose is a manifest congealed drop or
stalactite. The chin is a still larger drop, the confluent dripping of
the face. The cheeks are a slide from the brows into the valley of the
face, opposed and diffused by the cheek bones. Each rounded lobe of
the vegetable leaf, too, is a thick and now loitering drop, larger
or smaller; the lobes are the fingers of the leaf; and as many lobes
as it has, in so many directions it tends to flow, and more heat or
other genial influences would have caused it to flow yet farther.

  Thus it seemed that this one hillside illustrated the principle of
all the operations of Nature. The Maker of this earth but patented a
leaf. What Champollion will decipher this hieroglyphic for us, that we
may turn over a new leaf at last? This phenomenon is more exhilarating
to me than the luxuriance and fertility of vineyards. True, it is
somewhat excrementitious in its character, and there is no end to
the heaps of liver, lights, and bowels, as if the globe were turned
wrong side outward; but this suggests at least that Nature has some
bowels, and there again is mother of humanity. This is the frost
coming out of the ground; this is Spring. It precedes the green and
flowery spring, as mythology precedes regular poetry. I know of
nothing more purgative of winter fumes and indigestions. It
convinces me that Earth is still in her swaddling-clothes, and
stretches forth baby fingers on every side. Fresh curls spring from
the baldest brow. There is nothing inorganic. These foliaceous heaps
lie along the bank like the slag of a furnace, showing that Nature
is "in full blast" within. The earth is not a mere fragment of dead
history, stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a book, to be studied
by geologists and antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry like the
leaves of a tree, which precede flowers and fruit- not a fossil earth,
but a living earth; compared with whose great central life all
animal and vegetable life is merely parasitic. Its throes will heave
our exuviae from their graves. You may melt your metals and cast
them into the most beautiful moulds you can; they will never excite me
like the forms which this molten earth flows out into. And not only
it, but the institutions upon it are plastic like clay in the hands of
the potter.

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