THE WRITINGS OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
THE WRITINGS OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
EDITED BY BRADFORD TORREY
MARCH 5-NOVEMBER 30, 1853
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
bie Ribersite press, Cambritge
COPYRIGHT 1906 BY IIOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
All rights reserved
CHAPTER I. March, 1853 (Mr. 35) 3
The Lesser Redpoll A Transcendentalist Two Red Squir-
rels Early Catkins The Earliest Sign of Spring Chest-
nuts in Spring Mummies The Sap of the Earth Early
Spring Vegetation A Young Tortoise The Bottom of a
Brook Fox Nutting The Choice of Pursuits Self-Sup-
port The Bermudas Bluebirds' Warblings New Bird
Arrivals The Foreglow of the Year Walden Breaking
Up The English Seasons Ice in Flint's Pond Chick-
weed Robins Abundant The Peeping of the Hyla The
Double Awakening A Town with the Dew on it A De-
scription of Man A Tortoise-Shell Evelyn's English -
Cat-tail Down The Observation of Nature A Water-
Owner Gray Squirrels Willow Cones A Snowbird
Concert Observation A Gaggle of Geese A Hen-Hawk
Skunk-Cabbage Hazel in Bloom Croaking Frogs An
Ant-Hill The Blackbirds' Notes Losing One's Way at
Night The Leaning Hemlocks Telegraph Music Ducks
on the River The First Humming of Insects A Muskrat's
Burrow- Crystalline Dew -The Earliest Willow Burrow-
ing Spiders-- Fires in the Woods Observing too Curiously
Digging out a Woodchuck's Burrow- A Sparrow Con-
cert Frank Brown's Mounted Birds.
CHAPTER II. April, 1853 (ET. 35) 79
Song Sparrow Songs The Snipe's Winnowing An Optical
Illusion The Scent of Muskrats Hawks and Poultry -
A Wood Tortoise A Saddening Intercourse Newspaper-
Reading Saxifrage A Blackbird Concert Early April
Birds Blossoming Willows Bees and Skunk-Cabbage -
White Maples Spotted Tortoises Concord and its River
The Pine Warbler The Hum of Bees Crowfoot and
Saxifrage- The Farmer's Clearing Up- The Natural His-
tory Rooms A Visit in Haverhill Old Houses of Refuge
A Haverhill Fisherman--Return to Concord The Value
of a Good Horse.
CHAPTER III. May, 1853 (lET. 85) 116
May-Day Colors Birds of Early May Trees Leafing -
Leaves and Blossoms Stone-Heaps in the River The
Painted-Cup Blooming of the Birches A Day with Mr.
Alcott Bird Arrivals The Golden Gates of the Year -
Nature as a Language The First Bobolink Strain The
Blue Violets The Redstart The Horizon Mountains A
Snake and a Sparrow The Drumming of a Partridge- Birch
Leaves and Catkins The Birth of Shade Peach Bloom -
A Stake-Driver Great Blue Herons A Strip of Smooth
Water The Herons Again The Song of the Cricket Ex-
panding Leaves The Order of Leafing of Trees and Shrubs
-Rhododendron-A Thunder-Shower-- The Early Cinque-
foil An Ineffable Fragrance A Serene, Ambrosial
Beauty The Oaks in the Red The Song of the Wood
Thrush A Gentle May Storm The Beech After a Fire
in the Woods The Tanager Thorn Trees Nobscot Hill
-The Rescue of a Lost Kitten-Rhodora Spruce Trees in
Bloom Staying out Late -The Tropical Tanager Botan-
ical Descriptions The Barberry A Stake-Driver Dor-
bugs Lupine Hill Muscular Irritability The First Hot
Weather A Sail down River Allegorical Incidents -
Hunting for the Pink Azalea Melvin and the Pink Azalea.
CHAPTER IV. June, 1853 (XET. 35) 209
Galls and their Analogies The Powder-Mill Wreck The
Farmer's Horn A Nighthawk and her Eggs Fog on the
River Billows of Fog Clintonia Painted-Cup The
Rhododendron- Old Concord Place-Names Superstition--
Corydalis The Passing of Spring A Mirror-like Pool -
Hemlock Woods- A Nighthawk- A Pair of Hawks and
their Nest A Milkman's Household A Young Hawk -
Looking through a Spy-Glass The Easterbrooks Country -
The Human in Hogs Thoreau, the Privateersman The
Great Orchis Young Hawks Meeting with a Rare Bird -
Tortoise-Tracks Annual Phenomena The Painted Tor-
toise laying her Eggs Bullfrogs White Pond A Bull-
frog Concert Afternoon Sauntering The Wood Thrush's
Song A Clover-Field in Bloom The Wild Rose- The
Awaking of the Birds Woodchucks and Meadow-Hens A
Walden Legend The Button-bush Stems A Dog in the
Boat Three Ultra-Reformers Slimy Benignity The
Iron Horse Blue-eyed Grass A Young Nighthawk -
Lambkill and Mountain Laurel A Large Toadstool The
Sweet-Briar The Melting of the Toadstool The Nest of a
Cuckoo Rhododendron from New Hampshire The Tread-
mill of Routine A Moonlight Walk Lakes of Cold Air
at Night The Night-Warbler The First Water-Lily A
Young Skunk Temperature and Clothing Sweet-Briar -
A Suffocating Night The Wood Thrush's Song Specularia
Heart-Leaf A Live Scarecrow Pine Timber Fresh-
water Eel-Grass Birds' Nests Amelanchier Berries -The
Hunter Stage of Development Clear Air A Beautiful
Sunset-Pickerel and Minnow.
CHAPTER V. July, 1853 (XET. 35-36) 309
Some Botanical Notes Sounding the Swamps and Meadows
-Drought and Dust Botanical and Miscellaneous Notes -
A Gentle Susurrus The Battle of the Moon and the Clouds
The Midsummer Night's Moon Fair Haven Pond -
Rhexia Identifying a Muskrat's Skull Shade and Cool-
ness -The Reign of Heat and Dryness -Clintonia Berries
Berries and Berrying Fair Haven Hill at Sunset -The
Setting Sun -Tying Shoe-strings--Dog-day Rain -The
Flowers and the Scythe The Great Meadows in Haying Time
Butterflies Threading One's Way through a Blueberry
Swamp Doubleness in Nature Going to Europe for
Education Choke-Cherries The Tobacco-Pipe Flower -
Climbing Fern Galls Lespedezas and Desmodiums.
CHAPTER VI. August, 1853 (ET. 36) .352
Hopestill Brown The Mower and his Snake Stories Sun-
flowers Money-earning Employments A Boy and his
Huckleberries A Lady's Dress The Barber on the River
Yellow Gerardias Goldenrod The Season of Small
Fruits Alcott A Hot Day A Mired Horse Marriage
Late Afternoon A Black Cloud Desmodiums Fungi
Earthiness of Old People The Sense of Lateness-The
Sudbury Meadows-- A Beautiful Day The Forest a Green
Rug- Choke-Cherries August Birds-Changing Colors of
Foliage The Purple Poke Stems Nature and Health -
Goldenrods and Asters Weeds The Meandering of
Streams Riverside Flowers Sailing Ferns in Fruit.
CHAPTER VII. September, 1853 (XET. 36) 407
The Meadow-Beauty The River a Mirror Simplicity in
Living Asters The Soapwort Gentian Beautiful Wild
Berries A Flock of Blackbirds Autumnal Berrying -
Goldenrods Old Concord The First Frost The Second
Excursion to the Maine Woods The Measurements of a
Moose A Log Hut Birds about a Camp By Stage back
to Bangor The Making of a Canoe Maine Lumbering -
The Return to Concord.
CHAPTER VIII. October, 1853 (Tr. 36) 435
Barberrying The Scent of Wild Grapes A Bullet in an
Oak Stick Carrying a Subscription Paper Fallen Leaves
ThreeDusky Ducks The Year's Great Crop John Good-
win and his Winter's Wood Simplicity and Vigor Good-
win, the Fisherman Late Goldenrods and Asters A South-
erly Storm A Telltale on the River-Bank Innocence and
Liberty--The Rising River Hop-Hornbeam Catkins--
Moose-Tracks The Return of the "Week" Bare Trees -
An Indian-Summer Afternoon Gossamer.
CHAPTER IX. November, 1853 (lT. 36) 468
Another Gossamer Day Gathering Pignuts Two Mean
Men Fallen Beech Leaves Autumn Twilight Novem-
ber Flowers Muskrat-Cabins The Nests of Birds, Squir-
rels, and Mice A Satisfactory Foreground Buds The
Frost on the Cistus The Wreck of the River Nutting -
A Muskrat-House The Birds of Autumn The Interior of a
Muskrat-House A Mink Swimming Out in the Rain -
A Forenoon on the River Opening a Muskrat-Cabin A
Home in Nature Up the River /by Moonlight Nature's
Closed Door The Afterglow of the Year White Cedar -
A Moonlight Sail- The Scarcity of Good Lecturers- A
Sound of Cannon Pelagii and Littorales Geese Going
South A Proposed Speculation in Cranberries Paying
for the "Week" Dew and Mist Raking Cranberries -
Dew and Rain A Book on the Autumnal Tints The
Flooded Meadows A Flock of Geese Freezing Weather -
Munroe's Account Settled The Story of a Mad Dog An
Indian Pestle A November Sunset Raking the River A
Pine Grove Meandering Roads.
CONANTUM POOL (page 228) Frontispiece
THE LEANING HEMLOCKS 64
RIVER FOG FROM NAWSHAWTUCT HILL 216
WILD ROSES 256
BUTTERFLY ON JOE-PYE-WEED 342
FAIR HAVEN BAY THROUGH THE WOODS 480
THE JOURNAL OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
MARCH, 1853 (LET. 35)
March 5. F. Brown showed me to-day some lesser
redpolls which he shot yesterday. They turn out to be
my falsely-called chestnut-frontleted bird of the win-
ter. "Linaria minor, Ray. Lesser Redpoll Linnet.
From Pennsylvania and New Jersey to Maine, in win-
ter; inland to Kentucky. Breeds in Maine, Nova
Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, and the Fur Coun-
tries." -Audubon's Synopsis. They have a sharp
bill, black legs and claws, and a bright-crimson crown
or frontlet, in the male reaching to the base of the bill,
with, in his case, a delicate rose or carmine on the
breast and rump. Though this is described by Nut-
tall as an occasional visitor in the winter, it has been
the prevailing bird here this winter.
Yesterday I got my grape cuttings. The day before
went to the Corner Spring to look at the tufts of green
grass. Got some of the very common leptogium (? ?).
Is it one of the Collemaceae ? Was pleased with the sight
of the yellow osiers of the golden willow, and the red
of the cornel, now colors are so rare. Saw the green
fine-threaded conferva in a ditch, commonly called
frog-spittle. Brought it home in my pocket, and it ex-
panded again in a tumbler. It appeared quite a fresh
growth, with what looked like filmy air-bubbles, as big
as large shot, in its midst.
The secretary of the Association for the Advance-
ment of Science requests me, as he probably has thou-
sands of others, by a printed circular letter from Wash-
ington the other day, to fill the blank against certain
questions, among which the most important one was
what branch of science I was specially interested in,
using the term science in the most comprehensive
sense possible. Now, though I could state to a select
few that department of human inquiry which engages
me, and should be rejoiced at an opportunity to do
so, I felt that it would be to make myself the laugh-
ing-stock of the scientific community to describe or
attempt to describe to them that branch of science
which specially interests me, inasmuch as they do
not believe in a science which deals with the higher
law. So I was obliged to speak to their condition and
describe to them that poor part of me which alone
they can understand. The fact is I am a mystic, a
transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher to boot.
Now I think of it, I should have told them at once that
I was a transcendentalist. That would have been the
shortest way of telling them that they would not un-
derstand my explanations.
How absurd that, though I probably stand as near
to nature as any of them, and am by constitution as
good an observer as most, yet a true account of my
relation to nature should excite their ridicule only! If
it had been the secretary of an association of which
Plato or Aristotle was the president, I should not have
hesitated to describe my studies at once and particu-
March 6. Sunday. Last Sunday I plucked some
alder (apparently speckled) twigs, some (apparently
tremuloides) aspen, and some swamp (?) willow, and
put them in water in a warm room. Immediately the
alder catkins were relaxed and began to lengthen and
open, and by the second day to drop their pollen; like
handsome pendants they hung round the pitcher, and
at the same time the smaller female flower expanded
and brightened. In about four days the aspens began
to show their red anthers and feathery scales, being
an inch in length and still extending. March 2d, I
added the andromeda; March 3d, the rhodora. This
morning, the ground being still covered with snow,
there was quite a fog over the river and meadows,
which I think owing to a warm atmosphere over the
P. M. To Lee's Hill.
I am pleased to cut the small woods with my knife to
see their color. The high blueberry, hazel, and swamp-
pink are green. I love to see the dear green sprouts
of the sassafras and its large and fragrant buds and
bark. The twigs or extremities of the branches of
young trees twenty feet high look as if scorched and
blackened. I gathered a pocketful of pignuts from
a tree of Lee's Hill. Still sound, half of them. The
water is pretty high on the meadows (though the
ground is covered with snow), so that we get a little of
the peculiar still lake view at evening when the wind
Two red squirrels made an ado about or above me
near the North River, hastily running from tree to
tree, leaping from the extremity of one bough to that
of the nearest, or the next tree, until they gained and
ascended a large white pine. I approached and stood
under this, while they made a great fuss about me.
One at length came part way down to reconnoitre me.
It seemed that one did the barking a faint, short,
chippy bark, like that of a toy dog, its tail vibrating
each time, while its neck was stretched over a bough
as it peered at me. The other, higher up, kept up
a sort of gurgling whistle, more like a bird than a
beast. When I made a noise they would stop a mo-
Scared up a partridge, which had crawled into a pile
of wood. Saw a gray hare, a dirty yellowish gray, not
trig and neat, but, as usual, apparently in a deshabille.
As it frequently does, it ran a little way and stopped
just at the entrance to its retreat; then, when I moved
again, suddenly disappeared. By a slight obscure hole
in the snow, it had access to a large and apparently
deep woodchuck's (?) hole.
Stedman Buttrick calls the ducks which we see in
the winter, widgeons and wood sheldrakes.
The hemlock cones have shed their seeds, but there
are some closed yet on the ground. Part of the pitch
pine cones are yet closed. This is the form of one: -
March 7. The lichen on the earth and stones amid
mosses which I have thought a collema, is, I now think,
a peltigera, perhaps P. canina (mad-dog peltigera of
Hooker?). The catkins of the sweet-gale have now,
after nine days, opened, and drop their sulphury pollen
more perfectly than the alders and poplars, methinks,
which soon dried up and the last turned black, i. e. the
anthers. I doubt if the willow catkins gathered at the
same time (February 27) will blossom, though they have
P. M. To Walden, Goose, and Flint's Ponds, and
chestnut wood by Turnpike.
The silk of the most forward willows does not gener-
ally project the length of the scale beyond the scale yet,
and I am in doubt whether they give any indication of
spring; but I saw one whose catkins projected more
than the length of the scale, and revealed a tinge of red
through their silk, which I think have felt the influence
of the new year. Also the dark chocolate-colored alder
catkins what I have called A. incana are not only
relaxed, but there is an obvious looseness and space
between the scales. I doubt if I have detected the
speckled alder in flower. I see, however, some with short
thick reddish catkins and a dull opaque bark, others
with a fresh glossy and speckled bark and long, rather
more forward (?), dark-chocolate catkins. These may
be only a more recent and vigorous growth of the other.
There is one of these a few rods east of the Peak clear-
ing, on the shore of Walden.
On the side of the Peak, I see now small radical (?)
or lower leaves of a goldenrod, as fresh as anything, the
dark mulberry, claret, or lake colored radical leaves of
the hawkweed,1 and the greenish radical leaves of the
What is the earliest sign of spring? The motion of
worms and insects? The flow of sap in trees and the
swelling of buds ? Do not the insects awake with the
flow of the sap? Bluebirds, etc., probably do not come
till insects come out. Or are there earlier signs in the
water? the tortoises, frogs, etc.
The little cup and cocciferae lichens, mixed with other
cladonias of the reindeer moss kind, are full of fresh
fruit to-day. The scarlet apothecia of the coccifere on
the stumps and earth partly covered with snow, with
which they contrast, I never saw more fresh and bril-
liant, but they shrivel up and lose their brightness by the
time you get them home. The only birds I see to-day
are the lesser redpolls. I have not seen a fox-colored
sparrow or a Fringilla hyemalis. In the Flint's Pond
Mill Brook ditch, I see where the green conferva is left
1 ?? Was it not Aster undulatus?
CHESTNUTS IN SPRING
suspended vertically to the twigs, the water having gone
down, and, being blanched, looks like very dense cob-
webs. There are still a few pretty bright sumach berries'
Gathered a few chestnuts. A good many, if not most,
are now turned black and soured or spoiled and softened
by the wet. Where they are less exposed to moisture,
close to the base of the [sic], or on stumps where the
ground is more elevated, or where they are protected
under a very thick heap of light-lying leaves, they are
perfectly sound and sweet and fresh yet, neither shriv-
elled nor soured (?). This peculiar condition is prob-
ably requisite to preserve their life for sprouting. I
planted some in Sophia's pot. No doubt the mice and
squirrels put many in secure, sufficiently dry and suffi-
ciently moist places for this purpose, and so do a service.
I find whitish grubs stretching themselves under the
moist chestnut leaves, but they were in the same state
Found the yellow bud of a Nuphar advena in the
ditch on the Turnpike on E. Hosmer's land, bud nearly
half an inch in diameter on a very thick stem, three
fourths of an inch thick at base and ten inches long, four
or five inches above the mud. This may have swollen
somewhat during the warmest weather in the winter,
after pushing up in the fall. And I see that it may, in
such a case, in favorable locations, blossom at very
early but irregular periods in the spring. What are the
weeds in the water, -these which, together with the
common cress, have been perfectly green and fresh all
winter, one in regular beds of small roundish leaves
very like the cress,' the other with a long, narrow,
coarse leaf ?2
I read an account the other day of a snipe, I think it
was, which, though neither plucked nor drawn, under-
went no change but that of drying up, becoming a
natural mummy for some unknown reason, as has hap-
pened to other, larger bodies. Methinks that many,
if not most, men are a sort of natural mummies. The
life having departed out of them, decay and putrefac-
tion, disorganization, has not taken place, but they still
keep up a dry and withered semblance of life. What
the salt is that saves them and robs the worms I do
not know. Some bodies there are that, being dead and
buried, do not decay, but after the lapse of years are
found as fresh as if they had died but yesterday. So
some men, though all true life was long ago extinct in
them, wear this deceitful semblance of life. They seem
to live on, without salt or season, from mere toughness
or dryness or some antiseptic quality in their fibre. They
do not mellowly dissolve and fatten the earth with their
March 8. 10 A. M. -Rode to Saxonville with F. Brown
to look at a small place for sale, via Wayland. Return
On wheels in snow. A spring sheen on the snow. The
melting snow, running and sparkling down-hill in the
ruts, was quite springlike. The snow pure white, but
full of water and dissolving through the heat of the sun.
Saw a mink run across the road in Sudbury, a large
SChrysosplenium? 2 Probably forget-me-not.
1853] THE SAP OF THE EARTH
black weasel, to appearance, worming its supple way
over the snow. Where it ran, its tracks were thus:
= = = = the intervals between the fore and hind feet
sixteen or eighteen inches by two and a half.
The distant view of the open flooded Sudbury mead-
ows, all dark blue, surrounded by a landscape of white
snow, gave an impulse to the dormant sap in my veins.
Dark-blue and angry waves, contrasting with the white
but melting winter landscape. Ponds, of course, do not
yet afford this water prospect; only the flooded mead-
ows. There is no ice over or near the stream, and the
flood has covered or broken up much of the ice on the
meadows. The aspect of these waters at sunset, when
the air is still, begins to be unspeakably s6othing and
promising. Waters are at length, and begin to reflect,
and, instead of looking into the sky, I look into the
placid reflecting water for the signs and promise of the
morrow. These meadows are the most of ocean that I
have fairly learned. Now, when the sap of the trees is
probably beginning to flow, the sap of the earth, the
river, overflows and bursts its icy fetters. This is the sap
of which I make my sugar after the frosty nights, boil-
ing it down and crystallizing it. I must be on the look-
out now for the gulls and the ducks. That dark-blue
meadowy revelation. It is as when the sap of the maple
bursts forth early and runs down the trunk to the snow.
Saw two or three hawks sailing. Saw the remains of
four cows and a horse that were burned in a barn a
month ago. Where the paunch was, a large bag of
coarse hay and stalks was seen in the midst of an indis-
tinct circumference of ribs. Saw some very large willow
buds expanded (their silk) to thrice the length of their
scales, indistinctly carved or waved with darker lines
around them. They look more like, are more of, spring
than anything I have seen. Heard the phebe, or spring
note of the chickadee, now, before any spring bird has
I know of no more pleasing employment than to ride
about the country with a companion very early in the
spring, looking at farms with a view to purchasing if
not paying for them.
Heard the first flies buzz in the sun on the south side
of the house.
March 9. Wednesday. Rain, dissolving the snow and
raising the river. I do not perceive that the early elm
dr the white maple buds have swollen yet. So the re-
laxed and loosened (?) alder catkins and the extended
willow catkins and poplar catkins are the first signs
of reviving vegetation which I have witnessed. Minott
thinks, and quotes some old worthy as authority for
saying, that the bark of the striped squirrel is the, or a,
first sure sign of decided spring weather.
March 10. This is the first really spring day. The sun
is brightly reflected from all surfaces, and the north side
of the street begins to be a little more passable to foot-
travellers. You do not think it necessary to button up
P. M. To Second Division Brook.
As I stand looking over the swollen river, looking
from the bridge into the flowing, eddying tide, the
1853] EARLY SPRING VEGETATION
almost strange chocolate-colored water, the sound of
distant crows and cocks is full of spring. As Anacreon
says the works of men shine," so the sounds of men and
birds are musical. Something analogous to the thawing
of the ice seems to have taken place in the air. At the
end of winter there is a season in which we are daily
expecting spring, and finally a day when it arrives.
I see many middling-sized black spiders on the edge
of the snow, very active. By John Hosmer's ditch by
the riverside I see the skunk-cabbage springing freshly,
the points of the spathes just peeping out of the ground,
in some other places three inches high even. The radical
leaves of innumerable plants (as here a dock in and
near the water) are evidently affected by the spring influ-
ences. Many plants are to some extent evergreen, like
the buttercup now beginning to start. Methinks the
first obvious evidence of spring is the pushing out of
the swamp willow catkins, then the relaxing of the earlier
alder catkins, then the pushing up of skunk-cabbage
spathes (and pads at the bottom of water). This is the
order I am inclined to, though perhaps any of these may
take precedence of all the rest in any particular case.1
What is that dark pickle-green alga (?) at the bottom
of this ditch, looking somewhat like a decaying cress,
with fruit like a lichen ?
At Nut Meadow Brook crossing we rest awhile on the
rail, gazing into the eddying stream. The ripple-marks
on the sandy bottom, where silver spangles shine in the
river with black wrecks of caddis-cases lodged under
each shelving sand, the shadows of the invisible dimples
1 Vide next page.
reflecting prismatic colors on the bottom, the minnows
already stemming the current with restless, wiggling
tails, ever and anon darting aside, probably to secure
some invisible mote in the water, whose shadows we
do not at first detect on the sandy bottom, when de-
tected so much more obvious as well as larger and more
interesting than the substance, in which each fin is
distinctly seen, though scarcely to be detected in the
substance; these are all very beautiful and exhilarating
sights, a sort of diet drink to heal our .winter discontent.
Have the minnows played thus all winter ? The equise-
tum at the bottom has freshly grown several inches.
Then should I not have given the precedence on the last
page to this and some other water-plants? I suspect
that I should, and the flags appear to be starting.
I am surprised to find on the rail a young tortoise,
an inch and one sixteenth long in the shell, which has
crawled out to sun, or perchance is on its way to the
water, which I think must be the Emys guttata, for
there is a large and distinct yellow spot on each dorsal
and lateral plate, and the third dorsal plate is hexa-
gonal and not quadrangular, as the E. picta is described
to be, though in my specimen I can't make it out to be
so. Yet the edges of the plates are prominent, as is de-
scribed in the E. insculpta, which, but for the spots and
two yellow spots on each side of the hind head and one
fainter on the top of the head, I should take it to be. It
is about seven eighths of an inch wide. Very inactive.
When was it hatched and where ?
What is the theory of these sudden pitches, or steep
shelving places, in the sandy bottom of the brook ? It is
1853] THE BOTTOM OF A BROOK
very interesting to walk along such a brook as this in
the midst of the meadow, which you can better do now
before the frost is quite out of the sod, and gaze into the
deep holes in its irregular bottom and the dark gulfs
under the banks. Where it rushes rapidly over the edge
of a steep slope --- teo
* in the bottom,
the shadow of the disturbed surface is like sand hurried
forward in the water. The bottom, being of shifting
sand, is exceedingly irregular and interesting.
What was that sound that came on the softened air?
It was the warble of the first bluebird from that scraggy
apple orchard yonder. When this is heard, then has
It must be that the willow twigs, both the yellow and
green, are brighter-colored than before. I cannot be
deceived. They shine as if the sap were already flow-
ing under the bark; a certain lively and glossy hue they
have. The early poplars are pushing forward their
catkins, though they make not so much display as the
Still in some parts of the woods it is good sledding.
At Second Division Brook, the fragrance of the senecio,
which is decidedly evergreen, which I have bruised, is
very permanent and brings round the year again. It is
a memorable sweet meadowy fragrance. I find a yellow-
spotted tortoise (Emys guttata) in the brook. A very few
leaves of cowslips, and those wholly under water, show
themselves yet. The leaves of the water saxifrage, for
the most part frost-bitten, are common enough. Near
the caltha was also green frog-spawn, and Channing
says he saw pollywogs.1 Perhaps it is a particularly
warm place. The alder's catkins the earliest of them
- are very plainly expanding, or, rather, the scales are
loose and separated, and the whole catkin relaxed.
Minott says that old Sam Nutting, the hunter, Fox
Nutting, Old Fox, he was called, -who died more than
forty years ago (he lived in Jacob Baker's house, Lin-
coln; came from Weston) and was some seventy years
old then, told him that he had killed not only bear about
Fair Haven among the walnuts, but moose!
March 12. Last night it snowed, a sleety snow again,
and now the ground is whitened with it, and where are
gone the bluebirds whose warble was wafted to me so
lately like a blue wavelet through the air?
The greater part of the alder catkins (as well as the
willow) are still in their winter condition, but some have
their scales conspicuously loosened and elevated, show-
ing their lighter-colored edges and interstices. They are
actually beginning to blossom, certainly in advance of
the willows. The sweet-gale is the prettiest flower which
I have [found] expanded yet.
It is essential that a man confine himself to pursuits
- a scholar, for instance, to studies which lie next
to and conduce to his life, which do not go against the
grain, either of his will or his imagination. The scholar
finds in his experience some studies to be most fertile
and radiant with light, others dry, barren, and dark.
If he is wise, he will not persevere in the last, as a plant
in a cellar will strive toward the light. He will confine
1 Possibly lizards [i. e. newts, or salamanders].
1853] THE CHOICE OF PURSUITS
the observations of his mind as closely as possible to the
experience or life of his senses. His thought must live
with and be inspired with the life of the body. The death-
bed scenes and observations even of the best and wisest
afford but a sorry picture of our humanity. Some men
endeavor to live a constrained life, to subject their whole
lives to their wills, as he who said he would give a sign
if he were conscious after his head was cut off, but he
gave no sign. Dwell as near as possible to the channel in
which your life flows. A man may associate with such com-
panions, he may pursue such employment, as will darken
the day for him. Men choose darkness rather than light.
P. M. To Cliffs and Fair Haven.
The sleety snow has whitened the north sides of the
oaks, giving a wintry aspect as well to the wood as to
Saw the first lark rise from the railroad causeway and
sail on quivering wing over the meadow to alight on a heap
of dirt. Was that a mink we saw at the Boiling Spring ?
The senecio was very forward there in the water, and it
still scents my fingers; a very lasting odor it leaves. These
melting snows, so saturated with water, their white
contrasting so strongly with the dark spaces, wet the
feet most of any. The farmer says that no composition
will keep out snow-water. The snow rests on your feet
to melt. There has been no regular breaking up of the
river, it has been so transiently closed the past winter.
Fair Haven Pond is nearly half open. But I see no gulls
nor ducks. The young oaks on the plain under the
Cliffs appear still full of leaves. It is a rare lichen day.
The usnea with its large fruit is very rich on the maples
in the swamp, luxuriating in this moist, overcast, melting
day, but it is impossible to get it home in good condition.
Looking behind the bark of a dead white pine, I find
plenty of small gnats quite lively and ready to issue
forth as soon as the sun comes out. The grubs there are
sluggish, buried in the chankings. I took off some
pieces of bark more than three feet long and one foot
wide. Between this and the wood, in the dust left by
borers, the gnats were concealed, ready to swarm. This
their hibernaculum. The rich red-brown leaves of the
gnaphalium, downy .white beneath in circles, begin to
attract me where the snow is off.
If I were to make a study of the tracks of animals and
represent them by plates, I should conclude with the
track of man. Everywhere I see the track of the dog and
within it that of the game he is pursuing.
March 13. 6 A. M. To Cliffs.
There begins to be a greater depth of saffron in the
morning sky. The morning and evening horizon fires
are warmer to the eye. I go to the Cliffs to hear if
any new spring birds have arrived, for not only they are
more sure to sing in the morning, but it is stiller and
you can hear them better then. I hear only crows and
blue jays and chickadees lisping. Excepting a few blue-
birds and larks, no spring birds have come, apparently.
The woods are still. But what was that familiar spring
sound from the pine wood across the river, a sharp better
better better better, like some woodpecker, or possibly
nuthatch? Yet I thought it the voice of the bird and
not a tapping. It reminds me of the pine warbler (?),
if that is it. I see the nuphar pushing up faintly, and
I see some of my little gnats of yesterday in the morn-
ing sun, somewhat mosquito-like.
P. M. No sap flows yet from my hole in the white
maple by the bridge. Found on the Great Fields a frag-
ment of Indian soapstone ware, which, judging from its
curve and thinness, for a vestige of the rim remains, was
a dish of the form and size of a saucer, only three times
as thick. Listening for early birds, I hear a faint tinkling
sound in the leafless woods, as if a piece of glass rattled
against a stone.
All enterprises must be self-supporting, must pay for
themselves. The great art of life is how to turn the sur-
plus life of the soul into life for the body, that so the
life be not a failure. For instance, a poet must sustain
his body with his poetry. As is said of the merchants, in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the life of men is a
failure, and bankruptcy may be surely prophesied. You
must get your living by loving. To be supported by the
charity of friends or a government pension is to go into
the almshouse. To inherit property is not to be born,
- is to be still-born rather. And the other, as I said,
provided you continue to breathe, is to go into the alms-
house. On Sundays the poor debtor goes to church to
take an account of stock, and finds his outgoes greater
than his income. In the Catholic Church especially they
go into chancery.' As is the sun to the vegetable, so is
virtue to the bodily health.
1 [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 461; Misc., Riv. 261.]
March 14. P. M. Repairing my boat.
High winds, growing colder and colder, ground
stiffening again. My ears have not been colder the past
winter. Lowell Fay tells me that he overtook with a
boat and killed last July a woodchuck which was cross-
ing the river at Hollowell Place. He also says that the
blacksmith of Sudbury has two otter skins taken in that
town. March is rightly famous for its winds.
March 15. There were few colder nights last winter
than the last. The water in the flower-stand contain-
ing my pet tortoise froze solid, completely enveloping
him, though I had a fire in my chamber all the evening, -
also that in my pail pretty thick. But the tortoise, having
been thawed out on the stove, leaving the impression of
his back shell in the ice, was even more lively than ever.
His efforts at first had been to get under his chip, as
if to go into the mud. To-day the weather is severely
and remarkably cold. It is not easy to keep warm in
my chamber. I have not taken a more blustering walk
the past winter than this afternoon.
C. says he has heard a striped squirrel and seen a
water-bug (Gyrinus), it must have been on Saturday
(12th). Ice froze just hard enough to bear last night, -
about an inch thick. In the woods beyond Peter's we
heard our dog, a large Newfoundland dog, barking at
something, and, going forward, were amused to see him
barking while he retreated with fear at that black oak
with remarkable excrescence, which had been cut off just
above it, leaving it like some misshapen idol about the
height of a man. Though we set him on to it, he did not
venture within three or four rods. I would not have be-
lieved that he would notice any such strange thing.
Organization, how it prevails! After a little dis-
cipline, we study with love and reverence the forms of
disease as healthy organisms. The fungi have a depart-
ment in the science of botany. Who can doubt but that
they too are fungi lower in the scale which he sees on the
wick of his lamp!
Notwithstanding this day is so cold that I keep my
ears covered, the sidewalks melt in the sun, such isits
altitude. The coldness of the air blown from the icy
northwest prevails over the heat of the sun.
The Bermudas are said to have been first discovered
by a Spanish ship of that name, which was wrecked
on them, "which till then for six thousand years had
been nameless," says John Smith. "No place known
hath better walls nor a broader ditch." The English
did not stumble upon them in their first voyages to Vir-
ginia, and the first Englishman who was ever in them
was wrecked on them in 1593; yet at the very first
planting of them in 1612 with some sixty persons, the
first Governor the same year "built and laid the foun-
dations of eight or nine forts" (!!), to be ready, one
would say, to entertain the first ship company that
should be next shipwrecked on to them. It would have
been more sensible to have built as many charity houses.
These are the vex'd Bermoothes.
March 17. Channing says he saw blackbirds yester-
day; F. C. Brown, that they were getting ice out of
Loring's Pond yesterday.
P. M. Rode to Lexington with Brown.
Saw, on the corner of a wall by a house about three
quarters of a mile from the monument on the Bedford
road, a stone apparently worn by water into the form
of a rude bird-like idol, which I thought, as I rode by,
to be the work of the Indians. It was probably discov-
ered and used by them. It was as near as nature might
come by accident to an eagle, with a very regular ped-
estal such as busts have, on which it stood,-in all about
two and a half feet high. Whitewashed as well as the
wall. Found not near water. It is one of those stones
which Schoolcraft describes as found among the Chip-
The ways are mostly settled, frozen dry.
March 18. The season is so far advanced that the sun,
every now and then promising to shine out through this
rather warm rain, lighting up transiently with a whiter
light the dark day and my dark chamber, affects me as
I have not been affected for a long time. I must go
P. M. To Conantum.
I find it unexpectedly mild. It appears to be clearing
up but will be wet underfoot.
Now, then, spring is beginning again in earnest after
this short check. Is it not always thus? Is there not
always an early promise of spring, something answer-
ing to the Indian summer, which succeeds the summer,
so an Indian or false spring preceding the true spring,
- first false promise which merely excites our expecta-
tions to disappoint them, followed by a short return of
winter? Yet all things appear to have made progress,
even during these wintry days, for I cannot believe that
they have thus instantaneously taken a start. I no sooner
step out of the house than I hear the bluebirds in the
air, and far and near, everywhere except in the woods,
throughout the town you may hear them, the blue
curls of their warblings,- harbingers of serene and"
warm weather, little azure rills of melody trickling here
and there from out the air, their short warble trilled
in the air reminding of so many corkscrews assaulting
and thawing the torpid mass of winter, assisting the ice
and snow to melt and the streams to flow. Everywhere
also, all over the town, within an hour or two have
come out little black two-winged gnats with plumed
or fuzzy shoulders. When I catch one in my hands, it
looks like [a] bit of black silk ravelling. They have
suddenly come forth everywhere.
How eagerly the birds of passage penetrate the
northern ice, watching for a crack by which to enter!
Forthwith the swift ducks will be seen winging their
way along the rivers and up the coast. They watch the
weather more sedulously than the teamster. All nature
is thus forward to move with the revolution of the sea-
sons. Now for some days the birds have been ready by
myriads, a flight or two south, to invade our latitudes
and, with this mild and serener weather, resume their
Bells and the lowing of cows have acquired I know
not what new melody in this air, for a change has come
over all things, as well as our spirits. They sound more
limpid, as, in this sun just bursting forth, the drops of
water on the sprays are prismatic. The geiropodium
has bleached all white.
I stand still now to listen if I may hear the note of any
new bird, for the sound of my steps hinders, and there
are so few sounds at this season in a still afternoon like
this that you are pretty sure to detect one within a con-
siderable distance. Hark! Did I not hear the note of
some bird then? Methinks it could not have been my
own breathing through my nose. No, there it is again, -
a robin; and we have put the winter so much further
behind us. What mate does he call to in these deserted
fields ? It is, as it were, a scared note as he whisks by,
followed by the familiar but still anxious toot, toot, toot.
He does not sing as yet. There were one or two more fine
bird-like tinkling sounds I could not trace home, not to
be referred to my breathing.
It is decidedly clearing up. At Conantum Cliff the
columbines have started and the saxifrage even, the
former as conspicuously as any plant, particularly any
on dry ground. Both these grow there in high and dry
chinks in the face of the cliff, where no soil appears, and
the sunnier the exposure the more advanced. Even if a
fallen fragment of the rock is so placed as to reflect the
heat upon it, it has the start of its neighbors. These
plants waste not a day, not a moment, suitable to their
development. I pluck dry sprigs of pennyroyal, which
I love to put in my pocket, for it scents me thoroughly
and reminds me of garrets full of herbs.
With regard to my seringo-bird (and others), I think
that my good genius withheld his name that I might
learn his character.
NEW BIRD ARRIVALS
I came forth expecting to hear new birds, and I am
not disappointed. We know well what to count upon.
Their coming is more sure than the arrival of the sailing
and steaming packets. Almost while I listen for this
purpose, I hear the chuck, chuck of a blackbird in the
sky, whom I cannot detect. So small an object is lost
in the wide expanse of the heavens, though no obstacle
intervenes. When your eye has detected it, you can
follow it well enough, but it is difficult to bring your
sight to bear on it, as to direct a telescope to a particular
star. How many hawks may fly undetected, yet within
sight, above our heads! And there 's the great gull I
came to see, already fishing in front of Bittern Cliff.
Now he stoops to the water for his prey, but sluggishly,
methinks. He requires a high and perhaps a head wind
to make his motions graceful. I see no mate. He must
have come up, methinks, before the storm was over,
unless he started when I did. I believe it is only, an
easterly wind or storm brings him up.
The ice in Fair Haven is more than half melted, and
now the woods beyond the pond, reflected in its serene
water where there has been opaque ice so long, affect
me as they perhaps will not again this year.1 The oaks
have not yet lost their leaves. The thistles, which keep
their heads so low they do not feel the wind, show their
green faces everywhere. It grows more and more fair.
Yesterday at this hour it was more raw and blustering
than the past winter; to-day it seems more mild and
balmy than summer. I have rarely known a greater
contrast. There is a little cap of dark and angry cloud
SThe tapping of the woodpecker about this time.
on Wachusett, not so wide as the mountain's base,
while all the rest of the horizon there is clear.
Several times I hear and see blackbirds flying north
singly, high overhead, chucking as if to find their mates,
migrating; or are they even now getting near their own
breeding-place? Perchance these are blackbirds that
were hatched here, that know me! I saw a silent
sparrow lurking amid the hazels and other shrubs by a
wall and picking worms or what-not, brownish gray
with a forked tail, two triangular black spots on the
breast, and black stripes lengthwise there, altogether
a gray, much striped bird, two brownish stripes with a
lighter-colored one on the centre of the head. Soon after,
I heard a song sparrow distinctly. Could it have been
this ? I think not.
The bluebird and song sparrow sing immediately on
their arrival, and hence deserve to enjoy some pre-
eminence. They give expression to the joy which the
season inspires. But the robin and blackbird only peep
and chuck at first, commonly, and the lark is silent and
flitting. The bluebird at once fills the air with his sweet
warbling, and the song sparrow from the top of a rail
pours forth his most joyous strain. Both express their
delight at the weather which permits them to return
to their favorite haunts. They are the more welcome
to man for it.
Hearing a faint quack, I looked up and saw two
apparently dusky ducks winging their swift way north-
ward over the course of the river. Channing says he saw
1 Think now (March 24) it must have been the song sparrow.
Vide Apr. 1st.
1853] THE FOREGLOW OF THE YEAR 27
some large white-breasted ducks to-day, and also a frog.
I have seen dead frogs, as if killed while dormant.
The sun is now declining, with a warm and bright
light on all things, a light which answers to the late after-
glow of the year, when, in the fall, wrapping his cloak
closer about him, the traveller goes home at night to pre-
pare for winter. This the foregloiv of the year, when
the walker goes home at eve to dream of summer.
To-day first I smelled the earth.
March 19. This morning I hear the blackbird's fine
clear whistle and also his sprayey note, as he is swayed
back and forth on the twigs of the elm or of the black
willow over the [river]. His first note may be a chuck,
but his second is a rich gurgle or warble.
Coelum non animum mutant, qui trans mare current."
(Marginal index in Benzo's History of the West Indies.")
Observed the leaves of a dock in the water, more
forward than any vegetation I have noticed.
March 20. Sunday. 8 A. M. Via Walden, Goose,
Flint's, and Beaver Ponds and the valley of Stony Brook
to the south end of Lincoln.
A rather cool and breezy morning, which was fol-
lowed by milder day. We go listening for early birds,
with bread and cheese for our dinners.
(Yesterday I forgot to say I painted my boat. Spanish
brown and raw oil were the ingredients. I found the
painter had sold me the brown in hard lumps as big as
peas, which I could not reduce with a stick; so I passed
the whole when mixed through an old coffee-mill, which
made a very good paint-mill, catching it in an old coffee-
pot, whose holes I puttied up, there being a lack of
vessels; and then I broke up the coffee-mill and nailed
a part over the bows to protect them, the boat is made
so flat. I had first filled the seams with some grafting-
wax I had, melted.)
It was a question' whether we should not go to Fair
Haven to see the gulls, etc. I notice the downy, swaddled
plants now and in the fall, the fragrant life-everlasting
and the ribwort, innocents born in a cloud. Those algoe
I saw the other day in John Hosmer's ditch were the
most like seaweed of anything I have seen in the county.
They made me look at the whole earth as a seashore;
reminded me of Nereids, sea nymphs, Triton, Proteus,
etc., etc.; made the ditches fabulate in an older than
the arrow-headed character. Better learn this strange
character which nature speaks to-day than the Sanscrit.
Books in the brooks. Saw a large dead water-bug on
Walden. I suspect he came out alive.
Walden is melting apace. It has a canal two rods
wide along the northerly side and the west end, wider
at the east end, yet, after running round from west.to
east, it does not keep the south shore, but crosses in front
of the deep cove in a broad crack to where it started, by
the ice ground. It is glorious to behold the life and joy
of this ribbon of water sparkling in the sun. The wind
blows eastward over the opaque ice, unusually hard,
owing to the recent severe though transient cold, all
watered or waved like a tessellated floor, a figured car-
pet; yet dead, yet in vain, till it slides on to the living
water surface, where it raises a myriad brilliant sparkles
THE ENGLISH SEASONS
on the bare face of the pond, an expression of glee, of
youth, of spring, as if it spoke the joy of the fishes within
it and of the sands on its shore, a silvery sheen like the
scales of a leuciscus, as if it were all one active fish in the
spring. It is the contrast between life and death. There is
the difference between winter and spring. The bared
face of the pond sparkles with joy. How handsome the
curves which the edge of the ice makes, answering some-
what to those of the shore, but more regular, sweeping en-
tirely round the pond, as if defined by a vast, bold sweep! 1
It is evident that the English do not enjoy that con-
trast between winter and summer that we do, that
there is too much greenness and spring in the winter.
There is no such wonderful resurrection of the year.
Birds kindred with our first spring ones remain with
them all winter, and flowers answering to our earliest
spring ones put forth there in January. In one sense
they have no winter but such as our spring. Our April
is their March; our March, their February; our Feb-
ruary, January, and December are not theirs at all under
any name or sign.
Those alder catkins on the west side of Walden trem-
ble and undulate in the wind, they are so relaxed and
ready to bloom, the most forward blossom-buds.
Here and there, around the pond, within a rod of the
water, is the fisherman's stone fireplace, with its charred
brands, where he cheered and warmed himself and ate
The peculiarity of to-day is that now first you per-
ceive that dry, warm, summer-presaging scent from dry
I [Walden, pp. 343, 344; Riv. 480.]
oak and other leaves, on the sides of hills and ledges.
You smell the summer from afar. The warm [sic] makes
a man young again. There is also some dryness, almost
dustiness, in the roads. The mountains are white with
snow, and sure as the wind is northwest it is wintry; but
now it is more westerly. The edges of the mountains now
melt into the sky. It is affecting to be put into communi-
cation with such distant objects by the power of vision,
- actually to look into rich lands of promise. In this
spring breeze, how full of life the silvery pines, probably
the under sides of their leaves. Goose Pond is wholly
open. Unexpectedly dry and crispy the grass is getting
in warm places.
At Flint's Pond, gathered a handful or two of chest-
nuts on a sloping bank under the leaves, every one sound
and sweet, but mostly sprouting. There were none
black as at C. Smith's, proving that in such places as
this, somewhat warm and dry, they are all preserved
the winter through. Now, then, new groves of chestnuts
(and of oaks ?) are being born. Under these wet leaves
I find myriads of the snow-fleas, like powder. Some
brooks are full of little wiggling creatures somewhat like
caddis-worms, stemming the stream, food for the
early fishes. The canoe birch sprouts are red or salmon-
colored like those of the common, but soon they cast off
their salmon-colored jackets and come forth with a
white but naked look, all dangling with ragged reddish
curls. What is that little bird that makes so much use
of these curls in its nest, lined with coarse grass ? The
snow still covers the ground on the north side of hills,
which are hard and slippery with frost.
ICE IN FLINT'S POND
I am surprised to find Flint's Pond not more than
half broken up. Probably it was detained by the late
short but severe cold, while Walden, being deeper, was
not. Standing on the icy side, the pond appears nearly
all frozen; the breadth of open water is far removed
and diminished to a streak; I say it is beginning to
break up. Standing on the water side (which in Flint's
is the middle portion), it appears to be but bordered
with ice, and I say there is ice still left in the pond.
Saw a bluish-winged beetle or two.' In a stubble-
field east of Mt. Tabor, started up a pack (though for
numbers, about twenty, it may have been a bevy) of
quail, which went off to some young pitch pines, with a
whir like a shot, the plump, round birds. The redpolls
are still numerous.2 On the warm, dry cliff, looking
south over Beaver Pond, I was surprised to see a large
butterfly, black with buff-edged wings, so tender a crea-
ture to be out so early, and, when alighted, opening and
shutting its wings. What does it do these frosty nights ?
Its chrysalis must have hung in some sunny nook of the
rocks. Born to be food for some early bird.3
Cutting a maple for a bridge over Lily Brook, I was
rejoiced to see the sap falling in large, clear drops from
March 21. Morning along the river.
The air full of song sparrows, swedit swedit swedit
and then a rapid jingle or trill, holding up its head with-
SVide forward [p. 33].
2 Have not seen them again, March 28.
S[This butterfly, the mourning-cloak (Antiopa), hibernates in the
out fear of me, the innocent, humble bird, or one pur-
suing another through the alders by the waterside. Why
are the early birds found most along the water? These
song sparrows are now first heard commonly. The black-
birds, too, create some melody. And the bluebirds, how
sweet their warble in the soft air, heard over the water!
The robin is heard further off, and seen flying rapidly,
hurriedly through the orchard. And now the elms sud-
denly ring with the chill-lill-lill and canary-like notes
of the Fringilla hyemalis, which fill the air more than
those of any bird yet, a little strange they sound be-
cause they do not tarry to breed with us, a ringing
sound. The Cheney elm buds appear to be beginning
to open, and a few green blades of grass are shooting
up on our bank.
I think that with my knife I can cut a pole that will
bridge almost anything that can be called a brook even
in New England.
Observed yesterday where a mass of ice in Walden of
about an acre had cracked off from the main body and
blown thirty or forty rods, crumbling up its edge against
the eastern shore.1
Might not my Journal be called "Field Notes?"
I see a honey-bee about my boat, apparently attracted
by the beeswax (if there is any) in the grafting-wax with
which I have luted it. There are many; one is caught
and killed in it.
P. M. To Kibbe Place.
The Stellaria media is fairly in bloom in Mr. Cheney's
S[Walden, p. 343; Riv. 480.]
garden. This, then, is our earliest flower; though it is
said to have been introduced. It may blossom under
favorable circumstances in warmer weather any time in
the winter. It has been so much opened that you could
easily count its petals any month the past winter, and
plainly blossoms with the first pleasant weather that
brings the robins, etc., in numbers. I heard undoubtedly
a frog jump into the river, though I did not see him. Con-
spicuous, now that the snow is almost entirely gone, are
the fresh-looking evergreen leaves of the pyrola. What
shall I name those run-out pastures, those arid downs,
where the reindeer lichen fairly covers the whole surface,
and your feet cronch it at every step ? I see the Fringilla
hyemalis on the old Carlisle road. How suddenly the
newly arrived birds are dispersed over the whole town!
How numerous they must be! Robins are now quite
abundant, flying in flocks. One after another flits away
before you from the trees, somewhat like grasshoppers
in the grass, uttering their notes faintly, ventriloquiz-
ing, in fact. I hear [one] meditating a bar to be sung
anon, which sounds a quarter of a mile off, though he is
within two rods. However, they do not yet get to melody.
I thank the red-wing for a little bustle and commotion
which he makes, trying to people the fields again. To-
day, as well as yesterday, there is a slight warm haze
before the day is over. A hawk looking about. Are they
not more active now? Do they not, in fact, migrate?
What is that lustrous green pestle-shaped beetle (com-
mon enough) with a waved buff spot on each wing-case ?
When he flew, I thought he showed blue beneath and was
the same I saw yesterday in Lincoln, the first beetle-
insect I have seen. Insects and flies, both in air and
water, come out in the spring sun. Just as flies buzz on
the dry and sunny side of a bank or rock, those little
wiggling insects come forth in the open and sunny water,
and are no less active, though they do not hum. Saw
two more of those large black and buff butterflies. The
same degree of heat brings them out everywhere.
The bees this morning had access to no flower; so
they came to my grafting-wax, notwithstanding it was
mixed with tallow and covered with fresh paint. Often
they essayed to light on it and retreated with disgust;
yet one got caught. As they detected the beeswax con-
cealed and disguised in this composition, so they will
receive the earliest intelligence of the blossoming of the
first flower which contains any sweet for them.
It is a genial and reassuring day; the mere warmth of
the west wind amounts almost to balminess. The soft-
ness of the air mollifies our own dry and congealed sub-
stance. I sit down by a wall to see if I can muse again.
We become, as it were, pliant and ductile again to strange
but memorable influences; we are led a little way by
our genius. We are affected like the earth, and yield to
the elemental tenderness; winter breaks up within us;
the frost is coming out of me, and I am heaved like the
road; accumulated masses of ice and snow dissolve,
and thoughts like a freshet pour down unwonted chan-
nels. A strain of music comes to solace the traveller
over earth's downs and dignify his chagrins, the petty
men whom he meets are the shadows of grander to
come. Roads lead elsewhither than to Carlisle and Sud-
bury. The earth is uninhabited but fair to inhabit, like
1853] THE PEEPING OF THE HYLA 35
the old Carlisle road. Is then the road so rough that it
should be neglected? Not only narrow but rough is the
way that leadeth to life everlasting. Our experience does
not wear upon us. It is seen to be fabulous or symbolical,
and the future is worth expecting. Encouraged, I set
out once more to climb the mountain of the earth, for
my steps are symbolical steps, and in all my walking
I have not reached the top of the earth yet.
In two or three places I hear the ground squirrel's
pert chirrup or qui vive in the wall, like a bird or a
cricket. Though I do not see him, the sun has reached
Ah! then, as I was rising this crowning road, just be-
yond the old lime-kiln, there leaked into my open ear
the faint peep of a hyla from some far pool. One little
hyla somewhere in the fens, aroused by the genial season,
crawls up the bank or a bush, squats on a dry leaf, and
essays a note or two, which scarcely rends the air, does
no violence to the zephyr, but yet breaks through all
obstacles, thick-planted maples, and far over the downs
to the ear of the listening naturalist, who will never see
that piper in this world,--nor even the next, it may
be,-as it were the first faint cry of the new-born year,
notwithstanding the notes of birds. Where so long I
have heard only the brattling and moaning of the wind,
what means this tenser, far-piercing sound? All nature
rejoices with one joy. If the hyla has revived again, may
not I? He is heard the first warm, hazy evening.
Came home through the Hunt pasture. A warmer
sunset marks the season. Some oaks have lost their
Whatever your sex or position, life is a battle in which
you are to show your pluck, and woe be to the coward.
Whether passed on a bed of sickness or a tented field,
it is ever the same fair play and admits no foolish dis-
tinction. Despair and postponement are cowardice and
defeat. Men were born to succeed, not to fail.
J. Farmer saw a phoebe to-day. They build in his
cellar. I hear a few peepers from over the meadows at
my door in the evening.
March 22. As soon as the damp gardens are bared
of snow and a really warm spring day arrives, the chick-
weed blossoms fairly.
As soon as those spring mornings arrive in which the
birds sing, I am sure to be an early riser. I am waked
by my genius. I wake to inaudible melodies and am sur-
prised to find myself expecting the dawn in so serene and
joyful and expectant a mood. I have an appointment
with spring. She comes to the window to wake me, and
I go forth an hour or two earlier than usual. It is by
especial favor that I am waked, not rudely but gently,
as infants should be waked. Though as yet the trill of
the chip-bird is not heard,- added, like the sparkling
bead which bursts on bottled cider or ale. When we
wake indeed, with a double awakening, not only
from our ordinary nocturnal slumbers, but from our
diurnal, we burst through the thallus of our ordinary
life with a proper exciple, we awake with emphasis.
6 A. m. To Cliffs.
There is a white frost on the ground.
One robin really sings on the elms. Even the cockerel
1853] A TOWN WITH THE DEW ON IT 37
crows with new lustiness. Already I hear from the rail-
road the plaintive strain of a lark or two. They sit now
conspicuous on the bare russet ground. The tinkling
bubbles of the song sparrow are wafted from distant
fence-posts, little rills of song that begin to flow and
tinkle as soon as the frost is out of the ground. The'
blackbird tries to sing, as it were with a bone in his
throat, or to whistle and sing at once. Whither so fast,
the restless creature, chuck, chuck, at every rod, and
now and then whistle-ter-ee? The chill-lill of the blue
snowbirds is heard again. A partridge goes off on Fair
Haven Hill-side with a sudden whir like the wad of a six-
pounder, keeping just level with the tops of the sprouts.
These birds and quails go off like a report.
It affects one's philosophy, after so long living in l
winter quarters, to see the day dawn from some hill.
Our effete lowland town is fresh as New Hampshire.
It is as if we had migrated and were ready to begin life
again in a new country, with new hopes and resolutions.
See your town with the dew on it, in as wild a morning
mist (though thin) as ever draped it. To stay in the
house all day, such reviving spring days as the past have
been, bending over a stove and gnawing one's heart,
seems to me as absurd as for a woodchuck to linger in
his burrow.. We have not heard the news then! Sucking
the claws of our philosophy when there is game to be
The tapping of the woodpecker, rat-tat-tat, knocking
at the door of some sluggish grub to tell him that the
spring has arrived, and his fate, this is one of the season
sounds, calling the roll of birds and insects, the reveille.
The Cliff woods are comparatively silent. Not yet the
woodland birds, except, perhaps, the woodpecker, so
far as it migrates; only the orchard and river birds have
arrived. Probably the improvements of men thus ad-
vance the season. This is the Bahamas ahd the tropics
or turning-point to the redpoll. Is not the woodpecker
(downy?) our first woodland bird? Come to see what
effects the frost and snow and rain have produced on
decaying trees, what trunks will drum.
Fair Haven Pond will be open entirely in the course
of the day. The oak plain is still red. There are no ex-
panding leaves to greet and reflect the sun as it first falls
over the hills. To see the first rays of the sun falling over
an eastern wooded ridge on to a western wood and
stream and lake! I go along the riverside to see the now
novel reflections. The subsiding waters have left a thou-
sand little isles, where willows and sweet-gale and the
meadow itself appears. I hear.the phoebe note of the
chickadee, one taking it up behind another as in a catch,
phe-bee phe-bee. The very earliest alder is in bloom and
sheds its pollen. I detect a few catkins at a distance
by their distinct yellowish color. This the first native
flower. One of my willow catkins in the pitcher has
opened at length.
That is an interesting morning when one first uses the
warmth of the sun instead of fire; bathes in the sun, as
anon in the river; eschewing fire, draws up to a garret
window and warms his thoughts at nature's great central
fire, as does the buzzing fly by his side. Like it, too, our
muse, wiping the dust off her long-unused wings, goes
blundering through the cobweb of criticism, more dusty
1853] A DESCRIPTION OF MAN
still,- what venerable cobweb is that, which has
hitherto escaped the broom, whose spider is invisible,
but the North American Review ? and carries away
the half of it.
No sap flows from the maples I cut into, except that
one in Lincoln. What means it? Hylodes Pickeringii, a
name that is longer than the frog itself! A description
of animals, too, from a dead specimen only, as if, in a
work on man, you were to describe a dead man only,
omitting his manners and customs, his institutions and
divine faculties, from want of opportunity to observe
them, suggesting, perchance, that the colors of the eye
are said to be much more brilliant in the living specimen,
and that some cannibal, your neighbor, who has tried
him on his table, has found him to be sweet and nutri-
tious, good on the gridiron. Having had no opportunity
to observe his habits, because you do not live in the coun-
try. Only dindons and dandies. Nothing is known of
his habits. Food: seeds of wheat, beef, pork, and pota-
P. M. To Martial Miles Meadow, by boat to Nut
Launched my new boat. It is very steady, too steady
for me; does not toss enough and communicate the
motion of the waves. Beside, the seats are not well ar-
ranged; when there are two in it, it requires a heavy
stone in the stern to trim. But it holds its course very
well with a side wind from being so flat from stem to
The cranberries now make a show under water, and I
always make it a point to taste a few. Fresh clamshells
have been left by the muskrats at various heights. C.
says he saw a painted tortoise yesterday. Very likely.
We started two ducks feeding behind a low spit of
meadow. From Brooks's plates I should think them wid-
geons. They had the grayish-white breasts of the wood
duck. They look as if they had dropped from heaven,
motionless. Saw a green grasshopper and a common
caterpillar, also another beetle similar to that of yester-
day, except that this was a sort of slate-color with two
or three fawn-colored marks on each wing-case.2 The
spear-heads of the skunk-cabbage are now quite con-
spicuous. I see that many flowers have been destroyed
by the cold. In no case is the spathe unrolled, and I think
it is not yet in blossom.
At Nut Meadow Brook, water-bugs and skaters are
now plenty. I see the Emys guttata with red spots.
Some which I think to be the same sex have striated
scales, while others are smooth above. What I take to
be the female has a flat-edged shell as well as depressed
sternum. The yellow spots appear like some yellow
wood let in. The spots are brightest when they are in
the water. They are in couples. C. saw a frog. Some
willows will be out in a day or two. Silvery catkins of
all sizes shine afar. The two white feathers of the blue
snowbird contrast prettily with the slate.
Returning to river, the water is blue as blue ink from
this side. Hubbard's field a smooth russet bank lit by
the setting sun and the pale skim-milk sky above.
Brown thinks them sheldrakes. [See p. 65].
2 Vide March 18, 1860.
I told Stacy the other day that there was another vol-
ume of De Quincey's Essays (wanting to see it in his
library). "I know it," says he, "but I shan't buy any
more of them, for nobody reads them." I asked what
book in his library was most read. lie said, "The Wide,
In a little dried and bleached tortoise-shell about
an inch and three quarters long, I can easily study his
anatomy and the house he lives in. His ribs are now
distinctly revealed under his lateral scales, slanted like
rafters to the ridge of his roof, for his sternum is so large
that his ribs are driven round upon his back. It is won-
derful to see what a perfect piece of dovetailing his house
is, the different plates of his shell fitting into each other
by a thousand sharp teeth or serrations, and the scales
always breaking joints over them so as to bind the whole
firmly together, all parts of his abode variously inter-
spliced and dovetailed. An architect might learn much
from a faithful study of it. There are three large dia-
mond-shaped openings down the middle of the sternum,
covered only by the scales, through [which], perhaps, he
feels, he breasts the earth. His roof rests on four stout
posts. This young one is very deep in proportion to its
breadth. The Emys guttata is first found in warm,
The b.eomyces is not yet dried up.
March 23. 5 A. M. I hear the robin sing before I
. 6 A. M. Up the North River.
A fresh, cool spring morning. The white maple may
perhaps be said to begin to blossom to-day, the male,
-- for the stamens, both anthers and filament, are con-
spicuous on some buds. It has opened unexpectedly,
and a rich sight it is, looking up through the expanded
buds to the sky. This and the aspen are the first trees
that ever grow large, I believe, which show the influence
of the season thus conspicuously. From Nawshawtuct
I see the snow is off the mountains. A large aspen by
the Island is unexpectedly forward. I already see the
red anthers appearing. It will bloom in a day or two.
My boat is very good to float and go before the wind,
but it has not run enough to it, if that is the phrase, -
but lugs too much dead water astern. However, it is all
the steadier for it. Methinks it will not be a bad sailer.
I have seen for a week past fresh holes in the sand made
by some early burrowing animal, probably the skunk.
One studies books of science merely to learn the
language of naturalists, -to be able to communicate
The frost in swamps and meadows makes it good
walking there still. Away, away to the swamps, where
the silver catkins of the swamp willow shine a quarter
of a mile off, those southward-penetrating vales of
The birds which are merely migrating or tarrying here
for a season are especially gregarious now, -- the redpoll,
Fringilla hyemalis, fox-colored sparrow, etc. The white
maples appear to be confined to the bank of the river.
I judge by the dead bodies of frogs, partially devoured,
in brooks and ditches that many are killed in their
Evelyn and others wrote when the language was in a
tender, nascent state and could be moulded to express
the shades of meaning; when sesquipedalian words,
long since cut and apparently dried and drawn to mill,
- not yet to the dictionary lumber-yard, put forth
a fringe of green sprouts here and there along in the
angles of their rugged bark, their very bulk insuring
some sap remaining; some florid suckers they sustain
at least. Which words, split into shingles and laths, will
supply poets for ages to come.
A man can't ask properly for a piece of bread and
butter without some animal spirits. A child can't cry
P. M. To Howard's meadow.
The telegraph harp sounds more commonly, now that
westerly winds prevail. The winds of winter are too
boisterous, too violent or rude, and do not strike it at
the right angle when I walk, so that it becomes one
of the spring sounds.
SThe ice went out of Walden this forenoon; of Flint's
Pond day before yesterday, I have no doubt. Methinks
I see a more reddish chestnut sparrow, with distinct
whiter lines and two white feathers in tail, or is this the
song sparrow ? With a faint, tinkling cheep. Grass or
bay-winged finch ? or could it have been field sparrow ?
but not my seringo. The pads at Howard's meadow
are very forward, more than a foot high, their tips above
The cat-tail down puffs and swells in your hand like
a mist, or the conjurer's trick of filling a hat with feathers,
for when you have rubbed off but a thimbleful, and can
close and conceal the wound completely, the expanded
down fills your hand to overflowing. Apparently there
is a spring to the fine elastic threads which compose the
down, which, after having been so long closely packed,
on being the least relieved at the base, spring open apace
into the form of parachutes to convey the seed afar.
Where birds or the winds or ice have assaulted them,
this has spread like an eruption.' Again, when I rub off
the down of its spike with my thumb, I am surprised
at the sensation of warmth it imparts to my hand, as it
flushes over it magically, at the same time revealing a
faint purplish-crimson tinge at the base of the down,
as it rolls off and expands. It is a very pleasing experi-
ment to try.
The buds of the shad-blossom look green. The crim-
son-starred flowers of the hazel begin to peep out, though
the catkins have not opened. The alders are almost
generally in full bloom, and a very handsome and inter-
esting show they make with their graceful tawny pend-
ants, inclining to yellow. They shake like ear-drops in
the wind, perhaps the first completed ornaments with
which the new year decks herself. Their yellow pollen
is shaken down and colors my coat like sulphur as I go
I go to look for mud turtles in Heywood's meadow.
The alder catkins, just burst open, are prettily marked
spirally by streaks of yellow, contrasting with alternate
rows of rich reddish-brown scales, which make one re-
volution in the length of the catkin. I see trout glance
1 Vide amount of seed in Tribune, Mar. 16, 1860.
1853] THE OBSERVATION OF NATURE 45
along the brook, as indeed a month ago. I hear in
Heywood's north meadow the most unmusical low croak
from one or two frogs, though it is half ice there yet, -
a remarkable note with which to greet the new year,
as if one's teeth slid off with a grating sound in crack-
ing a nut, -but not a frog nor a dimple is to be
Man cannot afford to be a naturalist, to look at Nature
directly, but only with the side of his eye. He must look ,/
through and beyond her. To look at her is fatal as to
look at the head of Medusa. It turns the man of science
to stone. I feel that I am dissipated by so many obser-
vations. I should be the magnet in the midst of all this
dust and filings. I knock the back of my hand against a
rock, and as I smooth back the skin, I find myself pre-
pared to study lichens there. I look upon man but as a
fungus. I have almost a slight, dry headache as the re-
sult of all this observing. How to observe is how to be-
have. 0 for a little Lethe! To crown all, lichens, which
are so thin, are described in the dry state, as they are
most commonly, not most truly, seen. Truly, they are
Without being the owner of any land, I find that I
have a civil right in the river, that, if I am not a land-
owner I am a water-owner. It is fitting, therefore, that I
should have a boat, a cart, for this my farm. Since it is
almost wholly given up to a few of us, while the other
highways are much travelled, no wonder that I improve
it. Such a one as I will choose to dwell in a township
where there are most ponds and rivers and our range
is widest. In relation to the river, I find my natural
46 JOURNAL [MARCH 23
rights least infringed on. It is an extensive "common"
still left. Certain savage liberties still prevail in the
oldest and most civilized countries. I am pleased to
find that, in Gilbert White's day, at least, the laborers
in that part of England enjoyed certain rights of com-
mon in the royal forests, so called, though no large
wood, where they cut their turf and other fuel, etc.,
etc., and obtained materials for broom-making, etc.,
when other labor failed. It is no longer so, according
to his editor. Nobody legislates for me, for the way would
be not to legislate at all.
I am surprised as well as delighted when any one
wishes to know what I think. It is such a rare use they
would make of me, as if they were acquainted with
the tool. Commonly, if men want anything of me,
it is only to know how many acres I make of their land,
or, at most, what trivial news I have burdened myself
with. They never will go to law for my meat. They
prefer the shell.1
I saw probably a milkweed down in the air, the 20th.
March 24. 6 A. M. By river to Hemlocks.
I see where the muskrats opened clams, probably
last evening, close to the water's edge, or in the fork of
a willow, or on a tussock just covered with water, the
shells remaining, for they bring the clam to the air to eat
it. The downy (?) woodpeckers are quite numerous
this morning, the skirts of their coats barred with
white and a large, long white spot on their backs. They
have a smart, shrill peep or whistle, somewhat like
[Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 455; Misc., Riv. 253.]
a robin, but more metallic. Saw two gray squirrels
coursing over the trees on the Rock Island. The forest
is to them a vast web over which they run with as lit-
tle hesitation as a spider across his net. They appear
to have planned or to be familiar with their course
before they start. The Island has several bunches
of leaves in its trees, probably their nests. For several
mornings the water has been perfectly smooth at six
o'clock, but by seven the wind has risen with the as-
cending sun and the waves with the wind, and thb
day assumed a new and less promising aspect.
I think I may consider the shepherd's-purse in
bloom to-day, for its flowers are nearly as conspicuous
as those of the stellaria, which had its spring opening
some days since, both being the worse for the frost
this morning. Since the cold snap of the 14th, 15th,
etc., have walked for the most part with unbuttoned
coat, and for the most part without mittens.
I find the arrow-headed character on our plains,
older than the written character in Persia.
Now are the windy days of March drying up the
superabundant moisture. The river does not yet pre-
serve a smooth reflecting surface far into the day. The
meadows are mostly bare,-the water going down, but
perchance the April rains will fill them again.
Last afternoon was moist and cloudy and still, and
the robin sang faintly, as if to usher in a warm rain-
. storm, but it cleared off at evening.
There are very slight but white mists on the river
It spits a little snow this afternoon.
P. M. To Second Division Brook.
The white pine wood, freshly cut, piled by the side
of the Charles Miles road, is agreeable to walk beside.
I like the smell of it, all ready for the borers, and the
rich light-yellow color of the freshly split wood and the
purple color of the sap at the ends of the quarters, from
which distill perfectly clear and crystalline tears, color-
less and brilliant as diamonds, tears shed for the loss of
a forest in which is a world of light and purity, its life
oozing out. These beautiful accidents that attend on
man's works! Fit pendants to the ears of the Queen
of Heaven! How full of interest is one of these wrecks of
a wood! C. declares that Miss Ripley spent one whole
season studying the lichens on a stick of wood they
were about to put on the fire. I am surprised to find that
these terebinthine (?) tears have a hard (seemingly
soft as water) not film but transparent skin over them.
How many curiosities are brought to us with our wood!
The trees and the lichens that clothe them, the forest
warrior and his shield adhering to him.
I have heard of two skeletons dug up in Concord
within twenty years, one, at least, undoubtedly an Indian.
This was as they were digging away the bank directly
behind I. Moore's house. Dr. Jarvis pronounced it an
Indian. The other near the jail.
I tied a string round what I take to be the Alnus
incana, two or three rods this side Jenny's Road, on
T. Wheeler's ditch. The bark is of a more opaque
and lighter color, the fruit more orbicular, but the most
sure difference was that a part of the pistillate catkins
were upright. It was not quite in bloom, but neither
were some of those whose fertile catkins drooped, nor
could I yet see a difference in the color of the opened
At Second Division, saw pollywogs again, full grown
with long tails. The cowslip leaves are in many places
above water, and I see what I suppose is that slender
rush two inches high at the bottom of the water like
a fine grass. What is that foliaceous plant amid the
mosses in the wet which resembles the alge ? I find
nothing like it in Hooker under head of Algve. In many
cases I find that the willow cones are a mere dense
cluster of loose leaves, suggesting that the scales of
cones of all kinds are only modified leaves, a crowding
and stinting of the leaves, as the stem becomes a thorn;
and in this view those conical bunches of leaves of so
many of the pine family have relation to the cones of the
tree as well in origin as in form. The leaf, perchance,
becomes calyx, cone, husk, and nutshell.
The past has been a remarkable winter; such a one
as I do not remember. The ground has been bare almost
all the time, and the river has been open about as much.
I got but one chance to take a turn on skates over half
an acre. The first snow more than an inch deep fell
January 13th, but probably was not a foot deep and
was soon gone. There was about as much more fell
February 13th, and no more to be remembered, i. e. only
two or three inches since. I doubt if there has been
one day when it was decidedly better sleighing than
wheeling. I have hardly heard the sound of sleigh-bells.
A yellow lily bud already yellow at the Tortoise Ditch,
Those little holes in sandy fields and on the sides of
hills, which I see so numerously as soon as the snow is
off and the frost out of the ground, are probably made
by the skunk in search of bugs and worms, as Rice says.
His tracks in the winter are very numerous, considering
how rarely he is seen at that season. Probably the tor-
toises do not lay their eggs so early as I thought. The
skunk gets them too.
March 25. I forgot to say yesterday that several little
groves of alders on which I had set my eye had been cut
down the past winter. One in Trillium Woods was a
favorite because it was so dense and regular, its outline
rounded as if it were a moss bed; and another more
than two miles from this, at Dugan's, which I went to
see yesterday, was then being cut, like the former,
to supply charcoal for powder. Dugan does most of this
work about the town. The willow hedges by causeways
are regularly trimmed and peeled. The small wood
brings eight dollars a cord. Alders, also, and poplars
are extensively used.
6 A. M. To Brister's Hill.
The Fringilla hyemalis sing most in concert of any
bird nowadays that I hear. Sitting near together on an
oak or pine in the woods or an elm in the village, they
keep up a very pleasant, enlivening, and incessant
jingling and twittering chill-lill-lill, so that it is difficult
to distinguish a single bird's note, parts of it much
like a canary. This sound advances me furthest toward
summer, unless it be the note of the lark, who, by the
way, is the most steady singer at present. Notwith-
1853] OBSERVATION 51
standing the raw and windy mornings, it will sit on a
low twig or tussock or pile of manure in the meadow
and sing for hours, as sweetly and plaintively as in sum-
mer. I see the white-breasted nuthatch, head down-
ward, on the oaks. First heard his rapid and, as it were,
angry gnah gnah gna, and a faint, wiry creaking note
about grubs as he moved round the tree. I thought I
heard the note of a robin and of a bluebird from an oak.
It proceeded from a small bird about as big as a blue-
[bird], which did not perch like a woodpecker, utter-
ing first some notes robin-like or like the golden robin,
then perfect bluebird warbles,' and then it flew off with
a flight like neither. From what I saw and heard after-
ward I suspected it might be a downy woodpecker. I
see fine little green beds of moss peeping up at Brister's
Spring above the water.
When I saw the fungi in my lamp, I was startled and
awed, as if I were stooping too low, and should next
be found classifying carbuncles and ulcers. Is there not
sense in the mass of men who ignore and confound
these things, and never see the cryptogamia on the one
side any more than the stars on the other ? Underfoot
they catch a transient glimpse of what they call toad-
stools, mosses, and frog-spittle, and overhead of the
heavens, but they can all read the pillars on a Mexican
quarter. They ignore the worlds above and below, keep
straight along, and do not run their boots down at the
heel as I do. How to keep the heels up I have been
obliged to study carefully, turning the nigh foot pain-
fully on side-hills. I find that the shoemakers, to save
Was it not the fox-colored sparrow ?
a few iron heel-pegs, do not complete the rows on the
inside by three or four, the very place in the whole
boot where they are most needed, which has fatal
consequences to the buyer. I often see the tracks of
them in the paths. It is as if you were to put no under-
pinning under one corner of your house. I have man-
aged to cross very wet and miry places dry-shod by
moving rapidly on my heels. I always use leather strings
tied in a hard knot; they untie but too easily even
The various lights in which you may regard the earth,
e. g. the dry land as sea bottom, or the sea bottom as a
Those willow cones appear to be galls, for, cutting
open one of the leafy ones, I found a hard core such
as are often seen bare, the nucleus of the cone, and in
it a grub. This gall had completely checked the exten-
sion of the twig, and the leaves had collected and over-
flowed it as the water at a dam. Perchance when the
twig is vigorous and full of sap the cone is leafy; other-
wise a hard cone.
11 A. To Framingham.
A Lincoln man heard a flock of geese, he thinks it
was day before yesterday.
Measured a white oak in front of Mr. Billings's new
house, about one mile beyond Saxonville, twelve
and one twelfth feet in circumference at four feet from
the ground (the smallest place within ten feet from the
ground), fourteen feet circumference at ground, and a
A GAGGLE OF GEESE
Frank's place is on the Concord River within less
than ten miles of Whitehall Pond in Hopkinton, one
of [the sources], perhaps the principal source, of the
river. I thought that a month hence the stream would
not be twenty feet wide there. Mr. Wheeler, auctioneer,
of Framingham, told me that the timber of the factory
at Saxonville was brought by water to within about one
mile of where the mill stands. There is a slight rapid.
Brown says that he saw the north end of Long
Pond covered with ice the 22d, and that R. W. E.
saw the south end entirely open. The red maple buds
already redden the swamps and riverside. The winter
rye greens the ground.
March 26. There is a large specimen of what I take
to be the common alder by the poplar at Egg Rock,
five inches in diameter. It may be considered as begin-
ning to bloom to-day. Some white maples appear still
as backward as the red.
Saw about 10 A. M. a gaggle of geese, forty-three in
number, in a very perfect harrow flying northeasterly.
One side [of] the harrow was a little longer than the other.
They appeared to be four or five feet apart. At first I
heard faintly, as I stood by Minott's gate, borne to me
from the southwest through the confused sounds of the
village, the indistinct honking of geese. I was somewhat
surprised to find that Mr. Loring at his house should
have heard and seen the same flock. I should think
that the same flock was commonly seen and heard
from the distance of a mile east and west. It is remark-
able that we commonly see geese go over in the spring
about 10 o'clock in the morning, as if they were accus-
tomed to stop for the night at some place southward
whence they reached us at that time. Goodwin saw
six geese in Walden about the same time.
The scales of the alder run to leaves sometimes.
P. M. Up Assabet to stone-heaps, in boat.
A warm, moist, April-like afternoon, with wet-looking
sky, and misty. For the first time I take off my coat.
Everywhere are hovering over the river and floating,
wrecked and struggling, on its surface, a miller-like
insect, without mealy wings, very long and narrow, six-
legged with two long feelers. and, I believe, two long
slender grayish wings, from my harbor to the heaps,
or a couple of miles at least, food for fishes. This was
the degree and kind of warmth to bring them forth. The
tortoises, undoubtedly painted, drop now in several in-
stances from the limbs and floating rails on which they
had come out to sun. I notice by the Island a yellow
scum on the water close to the shore, which must be the
pollen of the alders just above. This, too, is perhaps
food for fishes.
Up the Assabet, scared from his perch a stout hawk,
- the red-tailed undoubtedly, for I saw very plainly
the cow-red when he spread his wings from off his tail
(and rump?). I rowed the boat three times within gun-
shot before he flew, twice within four rods, while he sat
on an oak over the water, I think because I had two
ladies with me, which was as good as bushing the boat.
Each time, or twice at least, he made a motion to fly
before he started. The ends of his primaries looked
very ragged against the sky. This is the hen-hawk of
the farmer, the same, probably, which I have scared off
from the Cliff so often. It was an interesting eagle-like
object, as he sat upright on his perch with his back to
us, now and then looking over his shoulder, the broad-
backed, flat-headed, curve-beaked bird.
Heard a pewee. This, it seems to me, is the first true
pewee day, though they have been here some time.
What is that cress-like weed in and on the edge of the
river opposite Prescott Barrett's? A fresher and more
luxuriant growth of green leaf than I have seen yet;
as if it had grown in winter.
I do not perceive any fresh additions to the stone-
heaps, though perhaps I did not examine carefully
Went forth just after sunset. A storm gathering,
an April-like storm. I hear now in the dusk only the
song sparrow along the fences and a few hylas at
a distance. And now the rattling drops compel me to
March 27. Sunday. After a long spell of fair weather,
the first April-like rain fell last night. But it is fair again
this morning with a cool breeze, which will hardly per-
mit the catkins to open. I miss very much the early
willows along the railroad, which have been cut down
the past winter to prevent catching fire from the engines
and spreading to the woods. And hence my neighbor
the switch-man has bean-poles to sell.
P. M. To Martial Miles's.
The skunk-cabbage in full bloom under the Clamshell
Hill; undoubtedly was open yesterday afternoon. Per-
haps I might have found one a day earlier still, had I
looked here carefully. Call it the 26th. The spathes of
those in bloom are open at least half an inch wide.
Many are decaying, having been killed by that severe
cold a fortnight ago, probably; else it would have blos-
somed earlier. Nevertheless, the spathes appear to
furnish a remarkable protection to the spadix, they
are so curved over it as well as involved about it, and
so roomy. What meant those little pellets of the pollen
in one of these vegetable shells ? Had some bee left them
yesterday ? The inside of the shell-like vessel which the
spathe makes contains considerable of the yellow pollen
of the flower. I fear I may not have got so early a
specimen of this as of the other plants thus far, after all.
Clusters of stout, curved spear-heads about three inches
high; in some the mahogany-color, in some the yellowish
green prevails. Some are a very dark mahogany, others
almost a clear light yellow. Also the thistles, johns-
wort (radical leaves), buttercups, clover, mullein, have
grown very decidedly. I see but one tortoise (Emys
guttata) in Nut Meadow Brook now; the weather is
too raw and gusty.
The hazel is fully out. The 23d was perhaps full
early to date them. It is in some respects the most inter-
esting flower yet, though so minute that only an observer
of nature, or one who looked for them, would notice
it. It is the highest and richest colored yet, ten or a
dozen little rays at the end of the buds which are [at] the
ends and along the sides of the bare stems. Some of the
flowers are a light, some a dark crimson. The high
color of this minute, unobserved flower, at this cold,
leafless, and almost flowerless season! It is a beautiful
greeting of the spring, when the catkins are scarcely re-
laxed and there are no signs of life in the bush. More-
over, they are so tender that I never get one home in
good condition. They wilt and turn black.
Tried to see the faint-croaking frogs at J. P. Brown's
Pond in the woods. They are remarkably timid and
shy; had their noses and eyes out, croaking, but all
ceased, dove, and concealed themselves, before I got
within a rod of the shore. Stood perfectly still amid the
bushes on the shore, before one showed himself; finally
five or six, and all eyed me, gradually approached me
within three feet to reconnoitre, and, though I waited
about half an hour, would not utter a sound nor take
their eyes off me, were plainly affected by curiosity.
Dark brown and some, perhaps, dark green, about two
inches long; had their noses and eyes out when they
croaked. If described at all, must be either young of
Rana pipiens or the R. palustris.
That earliest willow I can find, behind Miles's, shel-
tered by a wood on the north but on high and dry
land (!!), will bloom to-morrow if it is pleasant.1 I see
the yellow now. I see the earth freshly stirred and tracks
about the woodchuck-holes. So they have been out. You
hear that faint croak of frogs and, toward night, a few
hylas regularly now. Did not see frog spawn in the
pool by Hubbard's Wood. Still the hardback and
meadow-sweet tops are perfect.
The base of the pitch pine cone which, closed, was
Vide [p. 80].
semicircular, after it has opened becomes more or less
flat and horizontal by the crowding of
the scales backward upon the smaller
and imperfect ones next the stem, and,
viewed on this flat end, they are hand-
somely arranged in curving rays.
March 28. My Aunt Maria asked me to read the life
of Dr. Chalmers, which however I did not promise to
do. Yesterday, Sunday, she was heard through the
partition shouting to my Aunt Jane, who is deaf, Think
of it! He stood half an hour to-day to hear the frogs
croak, and he would n't read the life of Chalmers."
6 A. M. To Cliffs.
Too cold for the birds to sing much. There appears
to be more snow on the mountains. Many of our spring
rains are snow-storms there. The woods ring with the
cheerful jingle of the F. hyemalis. This is a very trig
and compact little bird, and appears to be in good
condition. The straight edge of slate on their breasts
contrasts remarkably with the white from beneath; the
short, light-colored bill is also very conspicuous amid
the dark slate; and when they fly from you, the two white
feathers in their tails are very distinct at a good dis-
tance. They are very lively, pursuing each other from
bush to bush. Could that be the fox-colored sparrow I
saw this morning, that reddish-brown sparrow ? 1
I do not now think of a bird that hops so distinctly,
rapidly, and commonly as the robin, with its head up.
Why is the pollen of flowers commonly yellow?
I saw yesterday, on the warm pool by Hubbard's
Wood, long, narrow blades of reddish grass, bent nearly
at right angles and floating on the water, lighter-colored
beneath (lake-colored?). The floating part was from
six inches to ten or twelve in length. This is much the
greatest growth of grass that I have seen, for it is scarcely
anywhere yet visibly green. It is an agreeable surprise,
flushing the cheek, this warm color on the surface of
some warm pool.
P. M. To Assabet.
Saw eleven black ducks near the bathing-place on the
Assabet, flying up the stream. Came within three or
four rods of me, then wheeled and went down. Their
faint quack sounded much [like] the croak of the frogs
occasionally heard now in the pools. As they wheeled
and went off, made a very fine whistling sound, which
yet I think was not made by their wings.
Opened an ant-hill about two and a half feet wide
and eight inches high, in open land. It was light and
dry, and apparently made by the ants; free from stones
or sticks for about a foot in depth. The ants, which
were red with black abdomens and were about a third
of an inch long, crawled about sluggishly on being ex-
posed. Their galleries, a quarter of an inch and more
in diameter, with ants in them, extended to the depth
of two feet in the yellow sand, and how much further
I don't know. Opened another in the woods with black
ants of the same size in the same condition.
This is a raw, cloudy, and disagreeable day. Yet I
think you are most likely to see wild fowl this weather.
I saw in Dodd's yard and flying thence to the alders
by the river what I think must be the tree sparrow, -
a ferruginous crowned, or headed, and partly winged
bird, light beneath, with a few of the F. hyemalis in
company. It sang sweetly, much like some notes of a
canary. One pursued another. It was not large enough
for the fox-colored sparrow. Perhaps I have seen it
before within the month.
As near as I can make out, the hawks or falcons I
am likely to see here are the American sparrow hawk,
the fish hawk, the goshawk, the short-winged buzzard
(if this is the same with Brown's stuffed sharp-shinned
or slate-colored hawk, not slate in his specimen; is
not this the common small hawk that soars ?), the red-
tailed hawk (have we the red-shouldered hawk, about
the same size and aspect with the last?), the hen-harrier.
(I suppose it is the adult of this with the slate-color
March 29. 6 A. M. To Leaning Hemlocks, by boat.
The sun has just risen, but there is only a now clear
saffron belt next the east horizon; all the rest of the sky
is covered with clouds, broken into lighter and darker
shades. An agreeable yellow sunlight falls on the west-
ern fields and the banks of the river. Whence this yellow
tinge ? Probably a different light would be reflected if
there were no dark clouds above. A somewhat milder'
morning than yesterday, and the river as usual quite
smooth. From Cheney's boat-house I hear very dis-
tinctly the tapping of a woodpecker at the Island about
No doubt of it.
' [MARCH 28
1853] THE BLACKBIRDS' NOTES
a quarter of a mile. Undoubtedly could hear it twice as
far at least, if still, over the water. At every stroke of my
paddle, small silvery bubbles about the size of a pin-head,
dashed from the surface, slide or roll over the smooth
surface a foot or two. On approaching the Island, I am
surprised to hear the scolding, cackle-like note of the
pigeon woodpecker, a prolonged loud sound somewhat
like one note of the robin. This was the tapper, on the
old hollow aspen which the small woodpeckers so much
frequent. Unless the latter make exactly the same sound
with the former, then the pigeon woodpecker has come! !
But I could not get near enough to distinguish his size
and colors. He went up the Assabet, and I heard him
cackling and tapping far ahead.
The catkins of the Populus tremuloides are just begin-
ning to open, -to curl over and downward like cater-
pillars. Yesterday proved too cold, undoubtedly, for the
willow to open, and unless I learn better, I shall give the
poplar the precedence, dating both, however, from to-day.1
It would be worth the while to attend more to the
different notes of the blackbirds. Methinks I may have
seen the female red-wing within a day or two; or what
are these purely black ones without the red shoulder?
It is pleasant to see them scattered about on the drying
meadow. The red-wings will stand close to the water's
edge, looking larger than usual, with their red shoulders
very distinct and handsome in that position, and sing
okolee, or bob-y-lee, or what-not. Others, on the tops of
trees over your head, out of a fuzzy beginning spit forth
a clear, shrill whistle incessantly, for what purpose I
Vide [p. 70].
don't know. Others, on the elms over the water, utter
still another note, each time lifting their wings slightly.
Others are flying across the stream with a loud char-r,
Looking at the mouth of a woodchuck-hole and at low
places, as on the moss, in the meadows, [I see] that those
places are sprinkled with little pellets or sometimes
salt-shaped masses of frost some inches apart, appar-
ently like snow. This is one kind of frost.
There is snow and ice still along the edge of the
meadows on the north side of woods; the latter even
five or six inches thick in some places.
The female flowers of the white maple, crimson stig-
mas from the same rounded masses of buds with the
male, are now quite abundant. I think they have not
come out more than a day or two. I did not notice them
the 26th, though I did not look carefully for them. The
two sorts of flowers are not only on the same tree and
the same twig and sometimes in the same bud, but also
sometimes in the same little cup. The recent shoot of the
white maple is now a yellowish brown, sprinkled with
I am in some uncertainty about whether I do not con-
found several kinds under the name of the downy wood-
pecker. It not only flies volatu undoso, but you hear,
as it passes over you, the strong ripple of its wings.
Two or three times, when a visitor stayed into evening,
and it proved a dark night, I was obliged to conduct
him to the cart-path in the rear of my house and then
point out to him the direction he was to pursue, and in
keeping which he was to be guided rather by his feet
1853] LOSING ONE'S WAY AT NIGHT
than his eyes. One very dark night I directed thus on
their way two young men who had been fishing in the
pond, who would otherwise have been at a loss what
course to take. They lived about a mile off, and were
quite used to the woods. A day or two after, one of them
told me that they wandered about the greater part of the
night, close by their own premises, and did not get home
till toward morning, by which time, as there were several
heavy showers in the course of the night, and the leaves
were very wet, they were drenched to their skins. I have
heard of many going astray, even in the village streets,
when the darkness was so thick that you could cut it
with a knife, as the phrase is. Some who lived in the
outskirts, having come to town shopping with their
wagons, have been obliged to put up for the night, and
gentlemen and ladies making a call have gone half a
mile out of their way, feeling the sidewalk only and not
knowing when they turned, and were obliged to inquire
the way at the first house they discovered. Even one
of the village doctors was thus lost in the heart of the
village on a nocturnal mission, and spent nearly the
whole night feeling the fences and the houses, being,
as he said, ashamed to inquire. If one with the vision
of an owl, or as in broad daylight, could have watched
his motions, they would have been ludicrous indeed.
It is a novel and memorable acquaintance one may
make thus with the most familiar objects. It is a sur-
prising and memorable and, I may add, valuable ex-
perience to be lost in the woods, especially at night.
Sometimes in a snow-storm, even by day, one will come
out upon a well-known road and yet find it impossible
to tell which way leads to the village. Though your
reason tells you that you have travelled it one hundred
times, yet no object looks familiar, but it is as strange
to you as if it were in Tartary. By night, of course, the
perplexity is infinitely greater. We are constantly steer-
ing like pilots by certain well-known beacons and head-
lands, though we are not conscious of it, and if we go
beyond our usual course we still preserve the bearing of
some neighboring cape, and not till we are completely
lost or turned round, for a man needs only to be
turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to
be lost, do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness
of nature. Every man has once more to learn the points
of compass as often as he awakes, whether from sleep
or from any abstraction. In fact, not till we are lost do
we begin to realize where we are, and the infinite extent
of our relations.1
A pleasant short voyage is that to the Leaning Hem-
locks on the Assabet, just round the Island under Naw-
shawtuct Hill. The river here has in the course of ages
gullied into the hill, at a curve, making a high and steep
bank, on which a few hemlocks grow and overhang the
deep, eddying basin. For as long as I can remember,
one or more of these has always been slanting over the
stream at various angles, being undermined by it, until
one after another, from year to year, they fall in and are
swept away. This is a favorite voyage for ladies to make,
down one stream and up the other, plucking the lilies
by the way and landing on the Island, and concluding
with a walk on Nawshawtuct Hill.
[Walden, pp. 188-190; Riv. 266-268.]
The Leaning Hemlocks
This which Gilbert White says of the raven is appli-
cable to our crow: "There is a peculiarity belonging
to ravens that must draw the attention even of the most
incurious they spend all their leisure time in striking
and cuffing each other on the wing in a kind of playful
P. M. To early willow behind Martial Miles's.
A bright, sunny, but yet rather breezy and cool after-!
noon. On the railroad I hear the telegraph. This is the
lyre that is as old as the world. I put my ear to the post,
and the sound seems to be in the core of the post, directly
against my ear. This is all of music. The utmost refine-
ments of art, methinks, can go no further. This is one
of those days divided against itself, when there is a cool
wind but a warm sun, when there is little or no coolness
proper to this locality, but it is wafted to us probably
from the snow-clad northwest, and hence in sheltered
places it is very warm. However, the sun is rapidly
prevailing over the wind, and it is already warmer than
when I came out.
Four ducks, two by two, are sailing conspicuously
on the river. There appear to be two pairs. In each
case one two-thirds white and another grayish-brown
and, I think, smaller. They are very shy and fly at fifty
rods' distance. Are they whistlers? The white are much
more white than those I saw the other day and at first
thought summer ducks. Would it not be well to carry a
1 [See p. 40.] These were either mergansers or the golden-eye; I
think the former, i. e. Mergus serrator, or red-breasted merganser (?),
spy-glass in order to watch these shy birds such as ducks
and hawks? In some respects, methinks, it would be
better than a gun. The latter brings them nearer dead,
but the former alive. You can identify the species better
by killing the bird, because it was a dead specimen that
was so minutely described,.but you can study the habits
and appearance best in the living specimen. These ducks
first flew north, or somewhat against the wind (was it to
get under weigh ?), then wheeled, flew nearer me, and
went south up-stream, where I saw them afterward.
In one of those little holes which I refer to the skunk,
I found part of the shell of a reddish beetle or dor-bug.
Both hole and beetle looked quite fresh. Saw small ants
Under the south side of Clamshell Hill, in the sun,
the air is filled with those black fuzzy gnats, and I
hear a fine hum from them. The first humming of
insects unless of those honey-bees the other day -
of the season. I can find no honey-bees in the skunk,
cabbage this pleasant afternoon. I find that many of
the oak-balls are pierced, and their inhabitants have
left them; they have a small round hole in them. The
rest have still thirty or forty small white maggots about
one twelfth of an inch long. Thus far I have not seen
these balls but on the black oak, and some are still full
of them, like apples.
Walking along near the edge of the meadow under
Lupine Hill, I slumped through the sod into a muskrat's
nest, for the sod was only two inches thick over it, which
was enough when it was frozen. I laid it open with my
hands. There were three or four channels or hollowed
A MUSKRAT'S BURROW
paths, a rod or more in length, not merely worn but
made in the meadow, and centring at the mouth of this
burrow. They were three or four inches deep, and finally
became indistinct and were lost amid the cranberry
vines and grass toward the river. The entrance to the
burrow was just at the edge of the upland, here a gently
sloping bank, and was probably just beneath the sur-
face of the water six weeks ago. It was about twenty-
five rods distant from the true bank of the river. From
this a straight gallery, about six inches in diameter
every way, sloped upward about eight feet into the bank
just beneath the turf, so that the end was about a foot
higher than the entrance. There was a somewhat cir-
cular enlargement about one foot in horizontal diameter
and the same depth with the gallery; and [in] it was
nearly a peck of coarse meadow stubble, showing the
marks of the scythe, with which was mixed accidentally
a very little of the moss which grew with it. Three short
galleries, only two feet long, were continued from this
centre somewhat like rays toward the high land, as if
they had been prepared in order to be ready for a sudden
rise of the water, or had been actually made so far under
such an emergency. The nest was of course thoroughly
wet and, humanly speaking, uncomfortable, though
the creature could breathe in it. But it is plain that the
muskrat cannot be subject to the toothache. I have no
doubt this was made and used last winter, for the grass
was as fresh as that in the meadow (except that it was
pulled up), and the sand which had been taken out lay
partly in a flattened heap in the meadow, and no grass
had sprung up through it.
In the course of the above examination I made a very
interesting discovery. When I turned up the thin sod
from over the damp cavity of the nest, I was surprised
to see at this hour of a pleasant day what I took to be
beautiful frost crystals of a rare form, frost bodkins
I was in haste to name them, for around the fine white
roots of the grass, apparently the herd's-grass, which
were from one to two or more inches long, reaching
downward into the dark, damp cavern (though the
green blades had scarcely made so much growth above;
indeed, the growth was scarcely visible there), appeared
to be lingering still into the middle of this warm after-
noon rare and beautiful frost crystals exactly in the form
of a bodkin, about one sixth of an inch wide at base
and tapering evenly to the lower end, sometimes the
upper part of the core being naked for half an inch,
which last gave them a slight resemblance to feathers,
though they were not flat but round, and at the abrupt
end of the rootlet (as if cut off) a larger, clear drop.
On examining them more closely, feeling and tasting
them, I found that it was not frost but a clear, crystal-
line dew in almost invisible drops, concentrated from
the dampness of the cavern, and perhaps melted frost
still reserving by its fineness its original color, thus
regularly arranged around the delicate white fibre;
and, looking again, incredulous, I discerned extremely
minute white threads or gossamer standing out on all
sides from the main rootlet in this form and affording
the core for these drops. Yet on those fibres which
had lost their dew, none of these minute threads:
appeared. There they pointed downward somewhat
like stalactites, or very narrow caterpillar brushes. It
impressed me as a wonderful piece of chemistry, that
the very grass we trample on and esteem so cheap
should be thus wonderfully nourished, that this spring
greenness was not produced by coarse and cheap means,
but in sod, out of sight, the most delicate and magical
processes are going on. The half is not shown. The
very sod is replete with mechanism far finer than that
of a watch, and yet it is cast under our feet to be tram-
pled on. The process that goes on in the sod and
the dark, about the minute fibres of the grass, the
chemistry and the mechanics, before a single green
blade can appear above the withered herbage, if it
could [be] adequately described, would supplant all
other revelations. We are acquainted with but one side
of the sod. I brought home some tufts of the grass in
my pocket, but when I took it out I could not at first
find those pearly white fibres and thought that they
were lost, for they were shrunk to dry brown threads;
and, as for the still finer gossamer which supported
the roscid droplets, with few exceptions they were
absolutely undiscoverable, they no longer stood out
around the core, so fine and delicate was their or-
ganization. It made me doubt almost if there were
not actual, substantial, though invisible cores to the
leaflets and veins of the hoar frost. And can these
almost invisible and tender fibres penetrate the earth
where there is no cavern? Or is what we call the
solid earth porous and cavernous enough for them ?
A wood tortoise in Nut Meadow Brook.
I see a little three-spotted sparrow, apparently
the same seen March 18th, with its mate, not so
spotted. The first apparently the female, quite tame.
The male sings a regular song sparrow strain, and
they must be that, I think. Keep up a faint chip.
Apparently thinking of a nest.
The trout glances like a film from side to side and
under the bank.
Saw a solid mass of green conferva at the bottom
of the brook, waved with the sand which had washed
into it, which made it look exactly like a rock partly
covered with green lichens. I was surprised when I
thrust a stick into it and was undeceived. Observe
the shadow of water flowing rapidly over a shelving
bottom in this brook, producing the appearance of
sand washing along.
Tried several times to catch a skater. Got my hand
close to him; grasped at him as quick as possible; was
sure I had got him this time; let the water run out
between my fingers; hoped I had not crushed him;
opened my hand; and lo! he was not there. I never
succeeded in catching one. What are those common
snails in the mud in ditches, with their feet out, for
some time past?
The early willow will bloom to-morrow. Its catkins
have lost many of their scales. The crowded yellow
anthers are already bursting out through the silvery
down, like the sun of spring through the clouds of
winter. How measuredly this plant has advanced,
sensitive to the least change of temperature, its ex-
panding not to be foretold, unless you can foretell
the weather. This is the earliest willow that I know.
THE EARLIEST WILLOW
Yet it is on a dry upland. There is a great difference
in localities in respect to warmth, and a correspond-
ing difference in the blossoming of plants of the same
species. But can this be the same species with that
early one in Miles's Swamp? Its catkins have been
picked off, by what?
Dugan tells me that three otter were dug out the
past winter in Deacon Farrar's wood-lot, side of the
swamp, by Powers and Willis of Sudbury. He has
himself seen one in the Second Division woods. He
saw two pigeons to-day. Prated [sic] for them; they
came near and then flew away. He saw a woodchuck
yesterday. I believe I saw the slate-colored marsh
hawk to-day. I saw water-worn stones by the gates
of three separate houses in Framingham the other
day. The grass now looks quite green in those places
where the water recently stood, in grassy hollows
where the melted snow collects. Dugan wished to
get some guinea-hens to keep off the hawks.
Those fine webs of the grass fibres stood out as if
drawn out and held up by electricity.
March 80. April weather, alternate rain and bright-
ening up. I am not sure my willow will bloom fairly
to-day. How warily the flowers open! not to be caught
out too early, not bursting into bloom with the first
genial heat, but holding back as if foreseeing the
transient checks, and yielding only to the absolute
progress of the season. However, probably some
hardy flowers which are quite ready will open just
before a cold snap, while others, which were almost
equally advanced, may be retarded a week. Is it not
the pollen which the bees seek in the earliest flowers,
as the skunk-cabbage (?) and the willow, having
occasion for bee-bread first? As usual, the robin
sings more this cloudy and showery morning than
I have heard it yet.
P. M. To Cliffs.
The gooseberry leaves in the garden are just begin-
ning to show a little green. Is this the same with the
wild? Lilacs have buds equally advanced.
Seeing one of those little holes (which I have thought
were made by beetles or dor-bugs) in Wheeler's upland
rye-field near the Burying-Ground, the mouth walled
about like a well with a raised curb with fragments
of dried grass and little bits of wood, I resolved to
explore it, but after the first shovelful I lost the trace
of it, for I had filled it with sand. Finding another,
I stuck a mullein stalk into it to a surprising depth,
and then could dig with confidence. At fifteen or
sixteen inches from the surface, I found a black spider,
nearly three quarters of an inch long in the body,
clasping the mullein, but very sluggish, only mov-
ing its legs, but not crawling away. In another hole
I found another similar spider in exactly the same
condition and at the same depth, but in this case my
stick went down only one foot and was there stopped
by ice, which filled the hole, but after digging through
an inch of frozen ground, I found the spider in the
dry cavity, three or four inches deeper. How the
water stood so as to freeze above him I don't know.
I could see nothing like a nest at the bottom, nor any
FIRES IN THE WOODS
enlargement of the hole. The soil is very sandy and
light. In the sand beneath the frost was a moving
common red earthworm. I did not expect to find frost
in such a place now.
Now commences the season for fires in the woods.
The winter, and now the sun and winds, have dried
the old leaves more thoroughly than ever, and there
are no green leaves to shade the ground or to check
the flames, and these high March winds are the very
ones to spread them. It is a dry, windy, and withal
hazy day,- that blue smoky haze that reminds of
fires, which some have thought the effect of distant
fires in the woods, which perhaps is only a finer mist,
produced by the increased heat of the sun on an
earth abounding in moisture. Is not this White's
London smoke videe Commonplace-Book), and fol-
lowed by rain? The woods look peculiarly dry and
russet. There is as yet no new greenness in the land-
scape. With these thoughts and impressions I had
not gone far before I saw the smoke of a fire on Fair
Haven Hill. Some boys were going sassafrasing, for
boys will have some pursuit peculiar to every season.
A match came in contact with a marble, nobody knew
how, and suddenly the fire flashed up the broad open
hillside, consuming the low grass and sweet-fern and
leaving a smoking, blackened waste. A few glowing
stumps, with spadefuls of fresh earth thrown on them,
the white ashes here and there on the black ground,
and the not disagreeable scent of smoke and cinders
was all that was left when I arrived.
I see from the Cliffs that the young oaks look thin,
are losing their leaves. A warm, breezy wind roves in
the woods. Dry leaves, which I at first mistake for
birds, go sailing through the air in front of the Cliff.
The distant highways, I perceive, begin to be dusty;
sandy fields to be dry. There is an inspiriting strong
ripple on the river, which seems to flow up-stream.
I see again that same kind of clouds that I saw the
10th of last April, low in the sky; higher and over-
head those great downy clouds, equal to the intervals
of celestial blue, with glowing edges and with wet
bases. The sky is mapped with them as with New
Iollands and Borneos. There are mares'-tails and
rosettes in the west.
The motions of a hawk correcting the flaws in the
wind by raising his shoulder from time to time, are
much like those of a leaf yielding to them. For the
little hawks are hunting now. You have not to sit
long on the Cliffs before you see one. I still see fresh
earth where the skunk, if it is he, has been probing
last night for insects about the pines in pastures, and
any dead twigs that afford lurking-places. Saw a
dead cricket in one. They make a hole sometimes
so deep and pointed that only two fingers will fathom
it. If dor-bugs make such holes as the spiders, they
can easily find them.
I am surprised to find many of the early sedge
already out. It may have been out a day or two. I
should put it between the skunk-cabbage and the
aspen, -at any rate, before the last. Little black
ants in the pitchy-looking earth about the base of
white pines in woods are still dormant.
1853] OBSERVING TOO CURIOUSLY
Ah, those youthful days! are they never to return?
when the walker does not too curiously observe par-
ticulars, but sees, hears, scents, tastes, and feels only
himself,- the phenomena that show themselves in
him,- his expanding body, his intellect and heart.
No worm or insect, quadruped or bird, confined his
view, but the unbounded universe was his. A bird
is now become a mote in his eye.
Dug into what I take to be a woodchuck's burrow
in the low knoll below the Cliffs. It was in the side
of the hill and sloped gently downward at first, diag-
onally, into the hill about five feet, perhaps westerly,
then turned and ran north into the hill about three
feet, then northwest further into the hill four feet,
then north again five feet, then northeast I know not
how far, the last five feet perhaps ascending. It was
the full length of the shovel from the surface of the
ground to the bottom of the hole when I left off, owing,
perhaps, to the rise of the hill. The hole was arched
above and flat on the bottom like an oven, about
five inches [in] diameter at base, and it seemed to have
a pretty hard crust as I broke into it.
There was a little enlargement, perhaps
ten inches in diameter, in the angle at
the end of twelve feet. It was thus. It t ,
was a wonder where the sand was conveyed to, for there
was not a wheelbarrow-load at the entrance.
March 31. The robins sing at the very earliest
dawn. I wake with their note ringing in my ear.
6 A. M. To Island by boat.
The pickerels dart away from the shallows, where
they have spent the night. It is spearing-time, then.
The chickadee sings, not merely phebe but phe-be-be.
Heard a note like that of the warbling vireo from a
bird in Cheney's elm which I think must be a fox-
colored sparrow. Should think it a vireo if it could
be here now.
9 A. .. To Lincoln, surveying for Mr. Austin.
The catkins of the hazel are now trembling in the
wind and much lengthened, showing yellowish and
beginning to shed pollen.
Saw and heard sing in a peach orchard my warbling
vireo of the morning. It must be the fox-colored spar-
row. It is plumper than a bluebird, tail fox-colored,
a distinct spot on the breast, no bars visible on wings.
Beginning with a clear, rich, deliberate note, jingling
more rapidly at the end; much like the warbling vireo
at the end.
I afterward heard a fine concert of little songsters
along the edge of the meadow. Approached and watched
and listened for more than half an hour. There were
many little sparrows, difficult to detect, flitting and hop-
ping along and scratching the ground like hens, under
the alders, willows, and cornels in a wet leafy place,
occasionally alighting on a low twig and preening
themselves. They had bright-bay crowns, two rather
indistinct white bars on wings, an ashy breast and
dark tail. These twittered sweetly, some parts very
much like a canary and many together, making it
the fullest and sweetest I have heard yet,- like a
A SPARROW CONCERT
shopful of canaries. The blackbirds may make more
noise. About the size of a song sparrow. I think these
are the tree sparrow. Also, mixed with them, and puz-
zling me to distinguish for a long time, were many of
the fox-colored (?) sparrows mentioned above, with a
creamy cinnamon-tinged ashy breast, cinnamon shoul-
derlet, ashy about side head and throat, a fox-colored
tail; a size larger than the others; the spot on breast
very marked. Were evidently two birds intimately
mixed. Did not Peabody confound them when he
mentioned the mark on the breast of the tree sparrow ?
The rich strain of the fox-colored sparrow, as I think
it is, added much to the quire. The latter solos, the
former in concert. I kept off a hawk by my presence.
These were for a long time invisible to me, except when
they flitted past.
Heard the jingle of the rush sparrow.
A range-pole on the side of Mt. Tabor, twenty-
odd feet long and ten or twelve from the ground,
slanted upward on three forked posts like a rafter,
a bower being opposite the lower end two rods off,
and this end of the pole full of shot.
Mt. Tabor. -When the air is a little hazy, the moun-
tains are particularly dark blue. It is affecting to see a
distant mountain-top, like the summits of Uncannunuc,
well seen from this hill, whereon you camped for a night
in your youth, which you have never revisited, still as
blue and ethereal to your eyes as is your memory of
it. It lies like an isle in the far heavens, a part of
earth unprophaned, which does not bear a price in the
market, is not advertised by the real estate broker.
There is another fire in the horizon, and there was
vne also yesterday on the side of this hill. What is
that forward weed, its narrow green leaves floating
at end of a long stem; in springs for cattle south side
this hill, somewhat potamogeton-like? '
Brown has these birds set up which I may wish to
Turtle-dove, green heron, Ardea Herodias, pileated
woodpecker, fox-colored sparrow, young of purple
finch, white-eyed vireo, goldfinch, brown creeper, scar-
let tanager (male and female), white-breasted nut-
hatch, solitary vireo, red-eyed vireo, yellow redpoll
warbler, hermit thrush (killed here), cardinal gros-
beak, pine grosbeak, black-billed cuckoo, mocking-
bird, woodcock, Totanus flavipes (or small yellow-leg),
(great ditto ?), Bartram's tatler (or upland plover),
golden ditto, Falco sparverius, sharp-shinned or
slate-colored hawk, or F. Pennsylvanicus of Wilson,
green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, wood duck (young
1 Callitriche verna. Vide May 2d.
April 1. Of the small and ambiguous sparrow fam-
ily, methinks I have seen only the song sparrow, that
one with white feathers in tail seen March 23d, the
tree sparrow; and heard the field or rush sparrow.
I have for some time noticed the large yellow lily roots.
Thus far we have had very little if any freshet this
year,- none since spring came in, I believe. The
river has been going down a month, at least.
P. M. To Dugan's.
The three spots on breast of the song sparrow seem
to mark a difference of sex. At least, the three-spotted
is the one I oftenest hear sing of late. The accom-
panying one is lighter beneath and one-spotted. One
of the former by J. P. Brown's meadow-side, select-
ing the top of a bush, after lurking and feeding under
the alders, sang olit olit olit\ (faster) chip chip chip
che charl (fast) che wiss wiss wiss.' The last bar was
much varied, and sometimes one olit omitted' in the
first. This, I have no doubt, is my bird of March
18th. /Another three-spotted sang vit chit chit charl
weete char\ tee chu.
S w ten black ducks at Clamshell. Had already
star ed two, who probably occupied an outpost. They
1 [Walden, p. 343; Riv. 480.]
all went off with a loud and disagreeable quacking
like ducks in a poultry-yard, their wings appearing
It has rained all night and this forenoon, and now
begins to clear up. The rain rests on the downy leaves
of the young mulleins in separate, irregular drops,
from their irregularity and color looking like ice. The
drops quite in the cup of the mullein have a pecu-
liar translucent silveriness, apparently because, being
upheld by the wool, it reflects the light which would
otherwise be absorbed, as if cased in light. The fresh
mullein leaves are pushing up amid the brown unsightly
wreck of last fall, which strews the ground like old
clothes, these the new patches.
The gooseberry in Brown's pasture shows no green
yet, though ours in the garden does. The former is
on the north side of a hill. Many blackbirds in con-
cert, like leaves on the trees. The hazel stigmas now
more fully out, curving over and a third of an inch
long, that the catkins begin to shed pollen. In a skunk's
probing, several dead and bruised small black crickets
with a brassy tinge or reflection.
That early willow by Miles's (which I have little doubt
is Gray's Salix eriocephala 1) has been injured by the
rain. The drops rest on the catkins as on the mullein.
Though this began to open only day before yester-
day and was the earliest I could find, already I hear
the well-known hum of a honey-bee, and one alights
on it (also a fly or two), loads himself, circles round
with a loud humming and is off. Where the first wil-
[Two interrogation-points in pencil here.]
1853] THE SNIPE'S WINNOWING
low catkin opens, there will be found the honey-bee
also with it. He found this out as soon as I. The
stamens have burst out on the side toward the top, like
a sheaf of spears thrust forth to encounter the sun,
so many spears as the garrison can spare, advanced
into the spring. With this flower, so much more-flower-
like or noticeable than any yet, begins a new era in the
The early sedge is very fit to be the earliest grass
that flowers here, appearing in the midst of dry tufts
more than half hay.
Heard, I have very little doubt, the strain of my
seringo in the midst of the strain of a song sparrow,
I believe with three spots.
Starlight by river up Assabet.
Now, at early starlight, I hear the snipe's hovering
note as he circles over Nawshawtuct Meadow. Only
once did I seem to see him; occasionally his squeak. He
is now heard near, now farther, but is sure to circle round
again. It sounds very much like a winnowing-machine
increasing rapidly in intensity for a few seconds.
There will be no moon till toward morning. A
slight mist is rising from the surface of the water.
Hear what I should not hesitate to call the squeak
of the nighthawk,-only Wilson makes them arrive
early in May,--also over the meadow. Can it be the
snipe? It is a little fainter than the nighthawk, per-
haps, but it is further off.2
[Two interrogation-points in pencil here.]
SIt may be the squeak of the snipe mentioned by Nuttall. May be
Without a mist the river appears indefinitely wide.
Looking westward, the water, still reflecting the twi-
light, appears elevated, and the shore-line, being in-
visible, lost against the distant highland, is referred
toward the highland against which it is seen, for the
slope of the hill and the expanse of the meadow can-
not be appreciated, appearing only edgewise as height.
We therefore make the water, which extends but a
rod or two, wash the base of hills a quarter of a mile
distant. There are but three elements in the land-
scape now, the star-studded sky, the water, reflect-
ing the stars and the lingering daylight, and the dark
but comparatively narrow land between. At first there
was no fog.
Hear ducks, disturbed, make a quacking or loud
croaking. Now, at night, the scent of muskrats is very
strong in particular localities. Next to the skunk it is
perceived further than that of any of our animals that
I think of. I perceive no difference between this and
the musk with which ladies scent themselves, though
here I pronounce it a strong, rank odor. In the faint
reflected twilight, I distinguish one rapidly swimming
away from me, leaving a widening ripple behind, and
now hear one plunge from some willow or rock. A
faint croaking from over the meadow up the Assabet,
exactly like frogs. Can it be ducks? They stop when
I walk toward them. How happens it that I never
found them on the water when spearing? Now and
then, when I pass an opening in the trees which line
the shore, I am startled by the reflection of some
brighter star from a bay.
HAWKS AND POULTRY
Ascend Nawshawtuct. See a fire in horizon to-
ward Boston. The first spearer's fire I have noticed
is floating along the meadow-side in the south. The
mist is now all gone. The baying of dogs is borne
to me with great loudness down the river. We still
have the wolf in the village.
April 2. 5.30 A. M. Down railroad.
Ground white with frost and slippery. Thin ice
formed over pools. The beaked hazel pistillate blos-
soms (i. e. by Walden road). Do not find its flower de-
scribed. Are not its catkins distinct from the common
in not being stalked ? .The tree sparrows and a few blue
snowbirds in company sing (the former) very sweetly in
the garden this morning. I now see a faint spot on the
breast. It says something like a twee twee, chit chit, chit
chit chee var-r. Notice still plenty of sumach berries,
Juniperus repens (those in shade green, in light turning
purplish), green-briar, and a few barberries, etc., etc.
The farmers are trembling for their poultry nowa-
days. I heard the scream of hens, and a tumult among
their mistresses (at Dugan's), calling them and scaring
away the hawk, yesterday. They say they do not lose
by hawks in midsummer. White quotes Linnaeus as
saying of hawks, Paciscuntur inducias cum avibus,
quamdiu cuculus cuculat," but White doubts it.
"'Beetles, flies, worms, form part of the lion and
tiger's food, as they do that of the fox.' See Jarrold's Dis-
sert. on Man." 1 (Mitford, Note to White's "Selborne.")
1 [Dissertations on Man, London, 1806, p. 232. Mitford's quota-
tion, if it is from Jarrold, is inexact.]
Found twenty or thirty of the little brown nuts of
the skunk-cabbage deposited on a shelf of the turf
under an apple tree by E. Hubbard's close, as I have
done before. What animal uses them?
The song sparrows, the three-spotted, away by the
meadow-sides, are very shy and cunning: instead of
flying will frequently trot along the ground under the
bushes, or dodge through a wall like a swallow; and
I have observed that they generally bring some object,
as a rail or branch, between themselves and the face
of the walker,- often with outstretched necks will peep
at him anxiously for five or ten minutes.
P. M. To Second Division Brook.
The rain cleared away yesterday afternoon, and to-
day that haziness is all gone, and the air is remark-
ably clear. I can see houses with distinct and sharp
outlines at a great distance, though there is a little
seething shimmer in the air. Especially I can see far
into the pine woods to tree behind tree and one tower
behind another of silvery needles, stage above stage,
relieved with shade. The edge of the wood is not a
plane surface, but has depth. Was that Rana fon-
tinalis or pipiens in the pool by E. Wood's railroad
crossing? The first large frog I have seen. C. says
a wasp lit on him.
A wood tortoise by river above Derby's Bridge;
extreme length of shell seven and three eighths inches,
extreme breadth five inches, across the back part, fore
part about one half inch less, and a trifle less still in
middle. The orange-color of its inner parts. It was
A WOOD TORTOISE
sluggish, lean, and I judged old from the shell being
worn beneath and it not resisting much when I drew
out its claws; unlike [in] these respects to one I after
found. Irides golden. A singularly flat and broad
head with a beak slanting backward much like a
snake's head. There were some hundreds of small
dark-colored leeches in masses in the chink over his
tail and under his hind quarters, a kind of vermin
they are much infested by. The same was the case
with second one.
Heard and saw what I call the pine warbler, -
vetter better better better vet, the cool woodland
sound. The first this year of the higher-colored birds,
after the bluebird and the blackbird's wing; is it
not? It so affects me as something more tender. To-
gether with the driftwood on the shore of the Assabet
and the sawdust from Heywood's mill, I pick up
teasel-heads from the factory with the wool still in
them. How many tales the stream tells! The poplars
by the railroad and near Harrington's, male aspens,
begin to-day. A turtle dove. It sailed like a hawk.
Heard the hooting owl in Ministerial Swamp. It
sounded somewhat like the hounding or howling of
some dogs, and as often as the whistle of the engine
sounded, I noticed a resemblance in the tone. A sin-
gular kind of squealing introduced into its note. See
the larger red-and-black-abdomen ants at work. See
the fine moss in the pastures with beautiful red stems
even crimsoning the ground. This is its season. The
amelanchier buds look more forward than those of
any shrub I notice. The cowslip at Second Division
shows the yellow in its bud; will blossom in four or
five days. I see the skins of many caddis-worms in
the water there. Have not the ephemerae already
flown? Again I notice the sort of small green ova in
the water there like frog's ova, on the weeds and even
on the shells of the snails. The stem, so to speak,
of a. cocoon,- though it inclosed the leaf-stem of
the plant (a viburnum) it was on, and so put on the
guise of the leaf, -was still so strongly fastened about
the main stem that I broke the latter in getting it
off. Cheney's elm blossomed to-day. Many others
scarcely a day behind it.
We cannot well afford not to see the geese go over
a single spring, and so commence our year regularly.
Observed the first female willow just coming out,
apparently Salix eriocephala, just beyond woods
by Abel Hosmer's field by railroad. Apparently the
female willows, as well as white maples and poplars,
are a few days later than the males. The swollen
red maple buds now conspicuously tinge the tops of
Methinks some birds are earlier this year because
the ground has been bare so long. Observed some
April 3. Saturday. Nothing is more saddening than
an ineffectual and proud intercourse with those of
whom we expect sympathy and encouragement. I re-
peatedly find myself drawn toward certain persons but
to be disappointed. No concessions which are not radi-
cal are the least satisfaction. By myself I can live and
thrive, but in the society of incompatible friends I
starve. To cultivate their society is to cherish a sore
which can only be healed by abandoning them. I can-
not trust my neighbors whom I know any more than
I can trust the law of gravitation and jump off the
The last two Tribunes I have not looked at. I have
no time to read newspapers. If you chance to live
and move and have your being in that thin stratum
in which the events which make the news transpire,
- thinner than the paper on which it is printed, -
then these things will fill the world for you; but if
you soar above or dive below that plane, you cannot
remember nor be reminded of them.1
No fields are so barren to me as the men of whom
I expect everything but get nothing. In their neigh-
borhood I experience a painful yearning for society,
which cannot be satisfied, for the hate is greater than
P. M. To Cliffs.
At Hayden's I hear hylas on two keys or notes.
Heard one after the other, it might be mistaken for
the varied note of one. The little croakers, too, are
very lively there. I get close to them and witness a
great commotion and half hopping, half swimming,
about, with their heads out, apparently in pursuit
of each other, perhaps thirty or forty within a few
square yards and fifteen or twenty within one yard.
There is not only the incessant lively croaking of many
[Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 472; Misc., Riv. 275.]