THE WRITINGS OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
THE WRITINGS OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
EDITED BY BRADFORD TORREY
NOVEMBER 1, 1855-AUGUST 15, 1856
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
Qie itberitt P1rese Cambribge
COPYRIGHT 1906 BY HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
All rigkis reserved
CHAPTER I. November, 1855 (ET. 38) 3
A Beautiful Indian-Summer Day- A Swimming Kitten -
The River-Brink in November Living and Getting a Living
-The White Birch Fungus The Lecheas Collecting
Driftwood Birches and Willows The Pleasures of a Miz-
zling Afternoon A Dead Mouse A Summer Duck -The
Uses of Driftwood Ways of Living The Muskrat's House
The Hemlock Fall A Mink The Opening of a Pine
Cone A Muskrat under the Ice Rice's Successful Life -
Tracks in the Snow Getting the Winter's Wood A Talk
with Minott Rice's Turtle Story An Old Way of Catch-
ing Wolves Bringing Home the Boat.
CHAPTER II. December, 1855 (~T. 38) 88
Empty Halls A Talk with Therien A Spruce Swamp -
The Lesser Redpolls Visits of the Northern Birds The
Beauty of Nature Geese going over Cities Tracks in the
Snow A Hemlock in Winter- Red Squirrels Detect-
ing Holes in the Ice December Colors Moderation in Buy-
ing Land Root Fences An Ice-incrusted World Auto-
biographical A Shrike Red-wings' Nests A Walk in a
Swamp Ice-coated Grass Birds' Nests in. Winter One
of the Mornings of Creation Snow on the Railroad.
CHAPTER III. January, 1856 (Air. 38) 76
Leaf Crystals on the Ice- Tracing Tracks in the Snow -
Squirrel-Burrows in Snow Honorables Snow Ice -
Pickerel-Fishing Snow-Crystals The Voracious Pickerel
A Snow-Drift A Dangerous Cow Family Reminis-
cences Green Ice Snow and Sand The Swamp in
Winter A Snowed-up House The January Sunsets -
Fishes in Winter Measuring Snow A Vireo's Nest -
Hemlock Twigs Analysis of a Bird's Nest Blue Shadows
on the Snow Clouds at Night Water Milkweed Fibre -
The Disadvantages of Wealth Walking on the River An-
other Nest Analyzed A Big Elm Squirrels and Hollow
Trees Crows and Pickerel-Bait The Passing of an Old
Tree Tracks in the Snow The Charm of the Journal -
The Hymns of the Rig Veda A Crow's Tracks The Citi-
zenship of the Elms A Cold, Windy Day Taking Ether -
The Great Elm Walking on the River Rings of Growth
in Trees Traces of Ancient Mills The September Gale -
Measuring Snow A New Leaf of Nature's Album -
Tracks of Mice and Birds.
CHAPTER IV. February, 1856 (2ET. 38) 158
A Gray Rabbit- A Crow Blackbird's Nest The Great
Snow of 1717 Cutting out a Cake of Ice-- Icy Snow-Crust -
Pickerel-Fishing Mud Turtles Gray Squirrels Popular
Astronomy A Fox's Track A Partridge Fallen Pine-
Needles A Natural Willow Hedge Measuring Snow An
Otter-Track The Jones Genealogy The Prospect of War
between England and America A Sawmill Min, the Cat
Minott's Stories Minott and Emerson.
CHAPTER V. March, 1856 (XT. 38) 196
Haynes's Axe-Helves Birch Seed on the Snow Two
Friends A Cold March Day The Art of Printing The
Dissipation of Travel Measuring Ice on Walden Tap-
ping Trees Spilt Sap Fishes in Nut Meadow Brook -
Measuring Snow and Ice- What Befell at Mrs. Brooks's
Thawing Sap-Spouts Making Maple-Sugar Maple
Sap The Loss of the Nobler Animals A Striped Squirrel
Sugar-making The Melting Ice on Walden The His-
tory of Husbandry Death of Uncle Charles Dunbar -
Diverging Paths of Friends- The Footsteps of Spring -
Leaves Sunk in Snow.
CHAPTER VI. April, 1856 (JET. 88) 236
The Melting of the Snow Evidences of Spring Rain and
Green Grass Columella and Hosmer Stories of Uncle
Charles The Breaking-up of the River Skunk-Cabbage
Sheldrakes in the Meadow The First Bluish Haze A
Large Bird Muskrat-Shooting Ice in the River Cow-
slips in Bloom Muskrats Marsh Hawks The Return of
the Birds Yellow-Spot Tortoises A Striped Snake The
Pine Warbler Fast-Day Rusty Grackles Birch Sap and
Birch Wine The Swift Assabet White Maple and Alder -
The Bay-Wing's Song A Fish Hawk A Sail on the River
The First Painted Tortoise The First Toad of the Year--
Some Bird-Notes Hail and Thunder Rain on the River -
White Lily Roots The Seringo Description of a Muskrat
bought of Goodwin Sailing in the Rain A White-throated
Sparrow Eels stopping a Mill-Wheel April Wells A Coot
The Voice of the Toad Shamrock Lucretius Up
Assabet Tarbell Anemones in Bloom The Charm of
Sailing The First Brown Thrasher A Flight of Swallows.
CHAPTER VII. May, 1856 (MET. 88) 821
Myriads of Gnats Luke Dodge A Colony of Bank Swallows
Spearing Fish at Miles's Dam A Young Snapping Turtle
Some Birds and Flowers Man and Marshes Puzzling
Willows- Dead Bank Swallows- The Succession of For-
est Trees Clearing out a Spring A Box Tortoise A
Splendid Hummingbird The Cow's Food and Drink -
Iridescent Oil on Water- A Venerable Mud Turtle- A
Traveller's Song Barrett's Sawmill Nature's Summer
Voice Rose-breasted Grosbeaks Stellaria A Way to
catch Partridges A Sparrow's Nest A Ground-Bird's
CHAPTER VIII. June, 1856 (XT. 38) 361
The Succession of Forest Trees A Chickadee's Nest -
"Perch" Hosmer A Star-nosed Mole The Vivacious Wil
low A Flight of Ephemeroe Lily Pads A Tortoise lay-
ing her Eggs The Stillness of Summer Noons A Partridge
with Young To Worcester From Worcester to Purgatory
Rev. Horace James's Reptiles- Some Rare Plants- A
Downy Woodpecker's Nest At Ricketson's, New Bedford -
To Sassacowen Pond and Long Pond Brewer on Song
Sparrows Sconticut Neck Martha Simons, an Indian -
Naushon- To the Middleborough Ponds- The Tweezer-
Bird Perch and Alewives.
CHAPTER IX. July, 1856 (iET. 38-39) 398
Menhaden in the Acushnet Return to Concord Tortoises
along the River A Peetweet and its Young Gerard, the
Lion-Killer Screech Owls The Great Meadows The
Short-tailed Shrew Birds and Cherry Trees A School of
Little Pouts- A Water Adder- Minnows- A Box Tor-
toise The Money-Diggers Partridges' Dusting-Places -
Up River with Russell A Bullfrog swallowing a Smaller
Frog The Grass Balls Hypericums Birch Wine -
Rocks in the River A Chimney Swallow's Nest A Perfect
Dog-Day A Green Bittern Fair Haven Pond.
CHAPTER X. August, 1856 (XT. 39) 438
The Dog-Days Bright Beds of Rhexia The Emblematic
Green Bittern Dragon-Flies River-Meadow Hay A
Profusion of Berries The House-Leek The Steam Cal-
liope- A Lost Pig In Pursuit of the Pig The Pig
caught at last Getting him Home A Long Thunder-
Storm Some Asters The Convexity of the Earth A
Puzzling Goldenrod Toads' Temples Labor Lost -
Toadstools Six Young Mice Parsnip Seed.
CONCORD ELMS (page 136) Frontispiece
FROST-CRYSTALS ON ICE 78
BAKER FARM AND FAIR HAVEN POND 402
THE JOURNAL OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
NOVEMBER, 1855 (ET. 38)
*Nov. 1. Thursday. P. M. Up Assabet, a-wood-
After a rain-threatening morning it is a beautiful
Indian-summer day, the most remarkable hitherto and
equal to any of the kind. Yet we kept fires in the fore-
noon, the warmth not having got into the house. It is
akin to sin to spend such a day in the house. The air is
still and warm. This, too, is the recovery of the year, -
as if the year, having nearly or quite accomplished
its work, and abandoned all design, were in a more
favorable and poetic mood, and thought rushed in to
fill the vacuum. The river is perfectly smooth. Whole
schools of little minnows leap from the surface at once
with a silvery gleam. The wool-grass, with its drooping
head and the slender withered leaves dangling about
its stem, stands in little sheaves upon its tussocks,
clean dry straw, and is thus reflected in the water. This
is the November shore. The maples and swamp oaks
and willows are for the most part bare, but some of
the oaks are partly clothed yet with withered ones [sic].
I see one white maple quite thick and green, and some
black willows are thinly clad with green leaves, and
many yellowish leaves are seen on the sallows rising
above the bare button-bushes. Yet I see no painted
tortoises out, and I think it is about a fortnight since I
As I pushed up the river past Hildreth's, I saw the
blue heron (probably of last Monday) arise from the
shore and disappear with heavily-flapping wings around
a bend in front; the greatest of the bitterns (Ardew),
with heavily-undulating wings, low over the water, seen
against the woods, just disappearing round a bend in
front; with a great slate-colored expanse of wing,
suited to the shadows of the stream, a tempered blue
as of the sky and dark water commingled. This is the
aspect under which the Musketaquid might be repre-
sented at this season: a long, smooth lake, reflecting
the bare willows and button-bushes, the stubble, and
the wool-grass on its tussock, a muskrat-cabin or two
conspicuous on its margin amid the unsightly tops of
pontederia, and a bittern disappearing on undulating
wing around a bend.
The wood I get is pretty rotten. The under side of
an oak which has lain for years on the miry bank is
turned almost to mould, in this I find ants, while
the upper is hard and dry. Or else it is stumps whose
fangs have so rotted off that I can kick them over at
last, but then I must shake out a half a peck or more
of mould. I made out to get one great and heavy stump
SSee forward, Nov. 11.
A SWIMMING KITTEN
to the water twenty rods distant by ant-like turning it
over and over laboriously. It sunk my craft low in the
water. Others are boughs which in the winter fell or
were dragged down by the ice, their tops in the water
and their butts on shore. These I saw off where they dip
into the water, though the saw pinches.
Returning in the twilight, I see a bat over the river.
Nov. 4. P. M. To Hill by Assabet.
This forenoon the boys found a little black kitten
about a third grown on the Island or Rock, but could
not catch it. We supposed that some one had cast it
in to drown it. This afternoon, as I was paddling by the
Island, I saw what I thought a duck swimming down
the river diagonally, to the south shore just below the
grassy island, opposite the rock; then I thought it two
ducks, then a muskrat. It passed out of sight round
a bend. I landed and walked alongshore, and found
that it was a kitten, which had just got ashore. It was
quite wet excepting its back. It swam quite rapidly,
the whole length of its back out, but was carried down
about as fast by the stream. It had probably first
crossed from the rock to the grassy island, and then from
the lower end of this to the town side of the stream, on
which' side it may have been attracted by the noise
of the town. It was rather weak and staggered as it
ran, from starvation or cold, being wet, or both. A
very pretty little black kitten.
It is a dark, almost rainy day. Though the river
appears to have risen considerably, it is not more than
nine or ten inches above the lowest summer level, as
I see by the bridge. Yet it brings along a little drift-
wood. Whatever rails or boards have been left by the
vater's edge the river silently takes up and carries away.
Much small stuff from the pail-factory.
The winter is approaching. The birds are almost
all gone. The note of the dee de de sounds now more
distinct, prophetic of winter, as I go amid the wild
apples on Nawshawtuct. The autumnal dandelion
sheltered by this apple-tree trunk is drooping and half
closed and shows but half its yellow, this dark, late,
wet day in the fall.
Gathered a bag of wild apples. A great part are
decayed now on the ground. The snail slug is still eat-
ing them. Some have very fiery crimson spots or eyes
on a very white ground.
Returned, and went up the main stream. Larches
are now quite yellow, in the midst of their fall.
The river-brink at a little distance at least is now
all sere and rustling, except a few yellowed sallow leaves,
though beyond in the meadows there is some fresh
greenness, but cattle seem to stray wider for food than
they did. They are turned into the meadows now,
where is all the greenness. New fences are erected to
take advantage of all the fall feed. But the rank herb-
age of the river's brink is more tender and has fallen
before the frosts. Many new muskrat-houses have
been erected this wet weather, and much gnawed root
is floating. When I look away to the woods, the oaks
have a dull, dark red now, without brightness. The
willow-tops on causeways have a pale, bleached, silvery,
or wool-grass-like look.
1855] LIVING AND GETTING A LIVING 7
See some large flocks of F. hyemalis, which fly with
a clear but faint chinking chirp, and from time to
time you hear quite a strain, half warbled, from them.
They rise in a body from the ground and fly to the
trees as you approach. There are a few tree sparrows
with them. These and one small soaring hawk are all
the birds I see.
I have failed to find white pine seed this year, though
I began to look for it a month ago. The cones were
fallen and open. Look the first of September.
From my experience with wild apples I can under-
stand that there may be a reason for a savage prefer-
ring many kinds of food which the civilized man rejects.
The former has the palate of an outdoor man. It
takes a savage or wild taste to appreciate a wild apple.'
I remember two old maids to whose house I enjoyed
carrying a purchaser to talk about buying their farm in
the winter, because they offered us wild apples, though
with an unnecessary apology for their wildness.
Nov. 5. I hate the present modes of living and getting
a living. Farming and shopkeeping and working at a
trade or profession are all odious to me. I should relish
getting my living in a simple, primitive fashion. The
life which society proposes to me to live is so artificial
and complex bolstered up on many weak supports,
and sure to topple down at last -'that no man surely
can ever be inspired to live it, and only "old fogies"
ever praise it. At best some think it their duty to live
it. I believe in the infinite joy and satisfaction of help-
1 [Excursions, p. 313; Riv. 385.]
ing myself and others to the extent of my ability.
But what is the use in trying to live simply, raising
what you eat, making what you wear, building what
you inhabit, burning what you cut or dig, when those
to whom you are allied insanely want and will have
a thousand other things which neither you nor they .
can raise and nobody else, perchance, will pay for ? The
fellow-man to whom you are yoked is a steer that is
ever bolting right the other way.
I was suggesting once to a man who was wincing
under some of the consequences of our loose and ex-
pensive way of living, "But you might raise all your
own potatoes, etc., etc." We had often done it at our
house and had some to sell. At which he demurring,
I said, setting it high, "You could raise twenty bushels
even." "But," said he, "I use thirty-five." "How
large is your family?" "A wife and three infant chil-
dren." This was the real family; I need not enumerate
those who were hired to help eat the potatoes and waste
them. So he had to hire a man to raise his potatoes.
Thus men invite the devil in at every angle and then
prate about the garden of Eden and the fall of man.
I know many children to whom I would fain make
a present on some one of their birthdays, but they are
so far gone in the luxury of presents have such per-
fect museums of costly ones that it would absorb my
entire earnings for a year to buy them something which
would not be beneath their notice.
P. M. To foot of Fair Haven Hill via Hubbard's
1855] THE WHITE BIRCH FUNGUS 9
I see the shepherd's-purse, hedge-mustard, and red
clover, November flowers. Crossing the Depot Field
Brook, I observe the downy, fuzzy globular tops of the
Aster puniceus. They are slightly tinged with yellow,
compared with the hoary gray of the goldenrod. The
distant willow-tops are yellowish like them in the right
At Hubbard's Crossing I see a large male hen-har-
rier skimming over the meadow, its deep slate some-
what sprinkled or mixed with black; perhaps young. It
flaps a little and then sails straight forward, so low it
must rise at every fence. But I perceive that it follows
the windings of the meadow over many fences. I pass
a great white pine stump, -half a cord in it and more,
-turned up out of a meadow. I look upon it with
interest, and wish I had it at my door, for there are
many warm fires in that. You could have many thoughts
and tell many stories while that was burning.
Walked through Potter's Swamp. That white birch
fungus always presents its face to the ground, parallel
with it. For here are some on an upright dead birch
whose faces or planes are at right angles with the axis
of the tree as usual, looking down; but others, attached
to the top of the tree, which lies prostrate on the ground,
have their planes parallel with the axis of the tree, as
if looking round the birch. When the epidermis is
cracked, apparently as they grew, they are watered
handsomely with white streams an eighth of an inch
wide above. They have remarkably thick necks. They
protrude through a rent in the bark, carrying it along
with their necks, a little way.
The brightness of the foliage generally ceased pretty
exactly with October. The still bright leaves which
I see as I walk along the river edge of this swamp
are birches, clear yellow at top; high blueberry, some
very bright scarlet red still; some sallows; Vibur-
num nudum, fresh dark red; alder sprouts, large green
leaves. Swamp-pink buds now begin to show. The
late growth of the pyrus is now checked by the frost.
The bark of many frQstweeds is now cracked or burst
off, and curled backward in five or six strips for about
an inch, leaving the woody part bare at, or an inch
above, the ground, sometimes five or six inches above
the ground. I suspect the frost is the dying breath
of the weed congealed.
I am pleased to see that the lower and larger four
or five leaves of the water andromeda on the edge of
the. meadow next the swamp are pretty commonly
turned a dark scarlet now, just as they fall, confirm-
ing my old impression. I have not observed for some
A nest made very thick, of grass and stubble, and
lined with finer grass and horsehair, as big as a king-
bird's, on an alder, within eighteen inches of ground,
close to the water, at Cardinal Shore. The alder had
been broken down at that height by the ice, and the
nest rested on the stub ends. I took a few dead leaves
out and to my surprise found an egg, -very pale
greenish-blue. Probably the wood thrush,' if not the
olivaceous one, whose eggs I have not seen described.
Not quite so big as a bluebird's. This egg popped and
burst suddenly, with a noise about as loud as popping
corn, or like a pop-gun, while I held it in my hand in my
chamber. It had been addled when new. I had another
pop in the chamber some months ago. So you must
blow them before you bring them into a warm room.'
I am puzzled with the lecheis. Are there not four
kinds? First, there is the L. major, with broad leaves;
and second, the least, with fine spreading branches
and with branched shoots at base. Third, there is the
very common one, intermediate in size, with large fruit
and linear-lanceolate leaves, now commonly fallen. But
I see, fourth (?), this afternoon, one fifteen inches high,
half a dozen rods from Cardinal Shore, and stout, with
leaves like the third, but fruit very small and abundant
(there is apparently a little recent-growth opening of
leaves at the extremities of it, some radical shoots on
stem six inches from ground!); and fifth, close by, a
slender one a foot high, with leaves elliptic pointed,
one half inch by one sixth, and larger fruit than last,
at top and generally. (May be a variety of L. major ?
It has some leaves like it.) It is perhaps the third kind
which, when only three or four inches high now, has
such dense linear leaves one half inch plus long, pine-
tree-like and spreading branches just above radical
I find that one of my bld oak logs, which was lying
on the damp bank of the river, half rotted through
below, contained many great black ants gone into
winter quarters in those great eaten cells of the rotten
wood. Yet this would have been covered with water
1 Vide Nov. 13. 2 Vide July 30, 1856.
in the winter. Those with wings were three quarters
of an inch or more long. They move but slowly when
exposed. In one I set up for splitting in the yard, I
find a clamshell, carried in by a muskrat.
Nov. 6. A mizzling" rain from the east drives me
home from my walk. The knawel in the sand on the
railroad causeway grows in dense green tufts like the
hudsonia, six or eight inches in diameter and one or
two high. It is still in bloom. The gooseberry leaves
at the end of the currant row, being wet, are a still more
A great many rainy or mizzling days the last fort-
night, yet not much rain.
Pennyroyal has a long time stood withered and dark,
blackish brown, in the fields, yet scented.
I can hardly resist the inclination to collect driftwood,
to collect a great load of various kinds, which will sink
my boat low in the water, and paddle or sail slowly
home with it. I love this labor so much that I would
gladly collect it for some person of simple habits who
might want it. Men ordinarily do not have the plea-
sure of sawing and splitting their wood even, for while
they are buying it an Irishman stands by with his
sawhorse on his back, and the next thing I see him
in their yards him and his understrapper saw-
ing for dear life and two shillings a cut. When I think,
too, of the many decaying stumps and logs which the
coming freshets will carry off perchance to sea. Rails
and posts and bits of boards and boughs are carried
far into the swamps.
1855] BIRCHES AND WILLOWS
Nov. 7. Another drizzling day, as fine a mist as
P. M. Up Assabet.
I see a painted tortoise swimming under water, and
to my surprise another afterward out on a willow trunk
this dark day. It is long since I have seen one of any
species except the insculpta. They must have begun
to keep below and go into winter quarters (?) about
three weeks ago.1
Looking west over Wheeler's meadow, I see that
there has been much gossamer on the grass, and it is
now revealed by the dewy mist which has collected on
it. Some green-briar leaves still left, a dull red or
scarlet, others yellowish; also the silky cornel is con-
spicuously dull-red, and others yellowish-red. And
the sallow on river's brink (not cordata), with a nar-
row leaf pointed at both ends, shows some clear chrome-
yellow leaves atop. The white birches lose their lower
leaves first, and now their tops show crescents or cones
of bright-yellow springg flames) leaves, some of the
topmost even green still. The black willows almost
everywhere entirely bare, yet the color* of their twigs
gives them the aspect of the crisp brown weeds of the
river's brink. How completely crisp and shrivelled the
leaves and stems of the Polygonum amphibium var. ter-
restre, still standing above the water and grass!
The river has risen a little more, the North Branch
especially, and the pail-stuff which has drifted down
it has been carried a few rods up the main stream above
the junction. It rises and falls very suddenly, and I was
SCome out again. Vide Nov. 11.
surprised to see the other day a line of sawdust more
than a foot above the water's edge, showing that it had
risen to that height and suddenly fallen without my
Opened a muskrat-house nearly two feet high, but
there was no hollow to it. Apparently they do not
form that part yet.
I find it good to be out this still, dark, mizzling
afternoon; my walk or voyage is more suggestive and
profitable than in bright weather. The view is con-
tracted by the misty rain, the water is perfectly smooth,
and the stillness is favorable to reflection. I am more
open to impressions, more sensitive (not calloused or
indurated by sun and wind), as if in a chamber still.
My thoughts are concentrated; I am all compact.
The solitude is real, too, for the weather keeps other
men at home. This mist is like a roof and walls over
and around, and I walk with a domestic feeling. The
sound of a wagon going over an unseen bridge is louder
than ever, and so of other sounds. I am compelled to look
at near objects. All things have a soothing effect; the
very clouds and mists brood over me. My power of
observation and contemplation is much increased. My
attention does not wander. The world and my life are
simplified. What now of Europe and Asia?
Birds are pretty rare now. I hear a few tree sparrows
in one place on the trees and bushes near the river, -
a clear, chinking chirp and a half-strain,- a jay at a
distance; and see a nuthatch flit with a ricochet flight
across the river, and hear his gnah half uttered when
A gray squirrel as day before yesterday runs
down a limb, of an oak and hides behind the trunk
and I lose him. A red one runs along the trees to scold
at me, boldly or carelessly, with a chuckling, bird-
like note and that other peculiar sound at intervals,
between a purr and a grunt. He is more familiar than
the gray and more noisy. 'What sound does the gray
Some of my driftwood is the burnt timbers of a mill,
which the swollen river has gleaned for me.
Found in Wheeler's potato-field, which has been
burned over to get rid of the weeds before digging,
near the Hemlocks by river, a little mouse dead.
Whole length three inches (minus); tail hardly seven
eighths of an inch, so short (less than half the body) I
thought at first it had been bitten off by some animal.
General color above, a rust of brown or tawny brown,
with mouse-color seen through it; beneath, rather
hoary mouse-color, but nowhere white; the fur dark-
slate. Snout and head blunt, the latter large. Hind
legs longest. Ears quite concealed in the fur. It
answers to Emmons's Arvicola hirsutus, or meadow
mouse, except that it is smaller. Is it a young one?
Tips of incisors light-yellow.
Nov. 8. A quite warm and foggy morning. I can
sit with my window open and no fire. Much warmer
than this time last year. Though there is quite a fog
over the river and doubtful weather behind, the reflection
1 Hemlock cones all closed, but open partly next day in chamber,
and entirely in a day or two.
A DEAD MOUSE
of the wool-grass, etc., is quite distinct, the reflection
from the fog or mist making the water light for a back-
Nov. 9. 7 A. M. Grass white and stiff with frost.
9 A. M. With Blake up Assabet.
A clear and beautiful day after frost.
Looking over the meadow westward from Merrick's
Pasture Shore, I see the alders beyond Dodd's, now
quite bare and gray (maple-like) in the morning sun
(the frost melted off, though I found a little ice on my
boat-seat), that true November sight, ready to
wear frost leaves and to transmit (so open) the tinkle
of tree sparrows. How wild and refreshing to see these
old black willows of the river-brink, unchanged from
the first, which man has never cut for fuel or for timber!
Only the muskrat, tortoises, blackbirds, bitterns, and
swallows use them.
Two blackbirds fly over pretty near, with a chuck,
-either red-wings or grackles, but I see wn red. See a
painted tortoise and a wood tortoise in different places
out on the bank still!
Saw in the pool at the Hemlocks what I at first thought
was a brighter leaf moved by the zephyr on the sur-
face of the smooth dark water, but it was a splendid
male summer duck, which allowed us to approach
within seven or eight rods, sailing up close to the shore,
and then rose and flew up the curving stream. We soon
overhauled it again, and got a fair and long view of it.
It was a splendid bird, a perfect floating gem, and Blake,
who had never seen the like, was greatly surprised, not
A SUMMER DUCK
knowing that so splendid a bird was found in this part
of the world. There it was, constantly moving back
and forth by invisible means and wheeling on the smooth
surface, showing now its breast, now its side, now its
rear. It had a large, rich, flowing, green burnished
crest, a most ample head-dress, two crescents of
dazzling white on the side of the head and the black
neck, a pirikish(?)-red bill (with black tip) and similar
irides, and a long white mark under and at wing point
on sides; the side, as if the form of wing at this distance,
light bronze or greenish brown; but, above all, its breast,
when it turns into the right light, all aglow with splendid
purple (?) or ruby (?) reflections, like the throat of the
hummingbird. It might not appear so close at hand.
This was the most surprising to me. What an ornament
to a river to see that glowing gem floating in contact with
its waters! As if the hummingbird should recline its
ruby throat and its breast on the water. Like dipping
a glowing coal in water! It so affected me.
It became excited, fluttered or flapped its wings with
a slight whistling noise, and arose and flew two or three
rods and alighted. It sailed close up to the edge of a
rock, by which it lay pretty still, and finally sailed fast
up one side of the river by the willows, etc., off the
duck swamp beyond the spring, now and then turning
and sailing back a foot or two, while we paddled up
the opposite side a rod in the rear, for twenty or thirty
rods. At length we went by it, and it flew back low a
few rods to where we roused it. It never offered to
dive. We came equally near it again on our return.
Unless you are thus near, and have a glass, the
splendor and beauty of its colors will not be discov-
Found a good stone jug, small size, floating stopple
up. I drew the stopple and smelled, as I expected, mo-
lasses and water, or something stronger (black-strap?),
which it had contained. Probably some meadow-
haymakers' jug left in the grass, which the recent rise
of the river has floated off. It will do to put with the
white pitcher I found and keep flowers in. Thus I
get my furniture.
Yesterday I got a perfectly sound oak timber, eight
inches square and twenty feet long, which had lodged
on some rocks. It had probably been the sill of a build-
ing. As it was too heavy to lift aboard, I towed it. As
I shall want some shelves to put my Oriental books
on,' I shall begin to save boards now.
I deal so much with my fuel, what with finding
it, loading it, conveying it home, sawing and splitting
it, get so many values out of it, am warmed in so
many ways by it, that the heat it will yield when in
the stove is of a lower temperature and a lesser value
in my eyes, though when I feel it I am reminded of
all my adventures. I just turned to put on a stick.
I had my choice in the box of gray chestnut rail, black
and brown snag of an oak stump, dead white pine top,
gray and round, with stubs of limbs, or else old bridge
plank, and chose the last. Yes, I lose sight of the ulti-
mate uses of this wood and work, the immediate ones
are so great, and yet most of mankind, those called
1 [Cholmondeley's gift arrived Nov. 80. See p. 25 and Familiar
Letters, p. 270; Riv. 319.]
most successful in obtaining the necessaries of life, -
getting their living,- obtain none of this, except a
mere vulgar and perhaps stupefying warmth. I feel
disposed, to this extent, to do the getting a living and
the living for any three or four of my neighbors who
really want the fuel and will appreciate the act, now
that I have supplied myself. There was a fat pine
plank, heavy as lead, I gave to Aunt L. for kindling.
That duck was all jewels combined, showing different
lustres as it turned on the unrippled element in various
lights, now brilliant glossy green, now dusky violet,
now a rich bronze, now the reflections that sleep in the
I see floating, just above the Hemlocks, the large
sliding door of a railroad car, burnt to a cinder on one
side and lettered in large bright-yellow letters on the
other, "Cheshire 1510." It may have been cast over at
the railroad bridge.
I affect what would commonly be called a mean and
miserable way of living. I thoroughly sympathize with
all savages and gypsies in so far as they merely assert
the original right of man to the productions of Nature
and a place in her. The Irishman moves into the town,
sets up a shanty on the railroad land, and then gleans
the dead wood from the neighboring forest, which
would never get to market. But the so-called owner
forbids it and complains of him as a trespasser. The
highest law gives a thing to him who can use it.
Nov. 11. P. M. Up Assabet.
As long as the sun is out, it is warm and pleasant.
WAYS OF LIVING
The water is smooth. I see the reflections, not only
of the wool-grass, but the bare button-bush, with its
brown balls beginning to crumble and show the lighter
inside, and the brittle light-brown twigs of the black
willow, and the coarse rustling sedge, now completely
withered (and hear it pleasantly whispering), and the
brown and yellowish sparganium blades curving over
like well-tempered steel, and the gray cottony mikania.
The bricks of which the muskrat builds his house
are little masses or wads of the dead weedy rubbish
on the muddy bottom, which it probably takes up
with its mouth. It consists of various kinds of weeds,
now agglutinated together by the slime and dried con-
ferve threads, utricularia, hornwort, etc., a stream-
ing, tuft-like wad. The building of these cabins ap-
pears to be coincident with the commencement of their
clam diet, for now their vegetable food, excepting
roots, is cut off. I see many small collections of shells
already left along the river's brink. Thither they re-
sort with their clam to open and eat it. But if it is the
edge of a meadow which is being overflowed, they
must raise it and make a permanent dry stool there,
for they cannot afford to swim far with each clam.
I see where one has left half a peck of shells on per-
haps the foundation of an old stool or a harder clod,
which the water is just about to cover, and he has
begun his stool by laying two or three fresh wads upon
the shells, the foundation of his house. Thus their
cabin is first apparently intended merely for a stool,
and afterward, when it is large, is perforated as if it
were the bank! There is no cabin for a long way above
THE HEMLOCK FALL
the Hemlocks, where there is no low meadow border-
ing the stream.
The clamshells freshly opened are handsomest this
month (or rather are most observable, before the ice
and snow conceal them) and in the spring.
I am surprised to see quite a number of painted
tortoises out on logs and stones and to hear the wood
tortoise rustling down the bank. Frogs are rare and
sluggish, as if going into winter quarters. A cricket
also sounds rather rare and distinct.
At the Hemlocks I see a narrow reddish line of hem-
lock leaves and, half an inch below, a white line of saw-
dust, eight inches above the present surface, on the
upright side of a rock, both mathematically level.
This chronicles the hemlock fall, which I had not
noticed, we have so few trees, and also the river's rise.
The North Branch must have risen suddenly before
the South, for I see much pail-stuff from the Fort
Pond Brook, which has been carried eighteen rods up
the latter stream above the Rock, or as far as it extends
immediately due west there. By "pail-stuff" I mean
the curved and grooved pieces which form the sides
and the flat ones for the bottom and their.trimmings.
High blueberry leaves still conspicuous bright scarlet;
also duller and darker green-briar leaves hold on on
I hear gray squirrels coursing about on the dry leaves,
pursuing one another, and now they come in sight,
coursing from pine to pine on their winding way, on
their unweariable legs, on their undulating and wind-
ing course. It is a motion intermediate between run-
ning and flying. I hear but a tree sparrow and a chick-
adee this voyage.
Nov. 13. In mid-forenoon (10.45), seventy or eighty
geese, in three harrows successively smaller, flying
southwest pretty well west over the house. A
completely overcast, occasionally drizzling forenoon. I
at once heard their clangor and rushed to and opened
the window. The three harrows were gradually formed
into one great one before they were out of sight, the
geese shifting their places without slacking their pro-
P. M. To Cardinal Shore.
Going over Swamp Bridge Brook at 3 P. M., I saw
in the pond by the roadside, a few rods before me,
the sun shining bright, a mink swimming, the whole
length of his back out. It was a rich brown fur, glow-
ing internally as the sun fell on it, like some ladies' boas,
not black, as it sometimes appears, especially on ice.
It landed within three rods, showing its long, some-
what cat-like neck, and I observed was carrying some-
thing by its mouth, dragging it overland. At first I
thought it a fish, maybe an eel, and when it had got
half a dozen feet, I ran forward, and it dropped its
prey and went into the wall. It was a muskrat, the
head and part of the fore legs torn off and gone, but
the rest still fresh and quite heavy, including hind legs
and tail. It had probably killed this muskrat in the
brook, eaten so much, and was dragging the remainder
to its retreat in the wall.
1855] THE OPENING OF A PINE CONE 23
A fine clear afternoon after the misty morning and
heavy rain of the night. Even after all this rain I see
the streaming lines of gossamer from trees and fences.
From Fair Haven Hill the air is clear and fine-grained,
and now it is a perfect russet November landscape,
- including the reddish brown of the oaks, excepting
where the winter-rye fields and some low meadows
show their green, the former quite bright, and also the
evergreen patches of pines, edged in the northwest by
the blue mountain ridges.
Got the wood thrush's (?) nest of November 5th.
It is about five inches [in] diameter from outside to
outside, and two and a half within. Outside of some
weedy tufts (beneath), weed stems and stubble (some
dry galium stems, small), and lined with a little fine
grass and horsehair. I found the egg partly concealed
by some dry alder leaves which had fallen into the nest.
Nov. 14. Minott hears geese to-day.
Heard to-day in my chamber, about 11 A. M., a
singular sharp crackling sound by the window, which
made me think of the snapping of an insect (with its
wings, or striking something). It was produced by
one of three small pitch pine cones which I gathered
on the 7th, and which lay in the sun on the window-sill.
I noticed a slight motion in the scales at the apex, when
suddenly, with a louder crackling, it burst, or the scales
separated, with a snapping sound on all sides of it.
It was a general and sudden bursting or expanding of
all the scales with a sharp crackling sound and mo-
tion of the whole cone, as by a force pent up within it.
I suppose the strain only needed to be relieved in one
point for the whole to go off.
I was remarking to-day to Mr. Rice on the pleasant-
ness of this November thus far, when he remarked that
he remembered a similar season fifty-four years ago,
and he remembered it because on the 18th of Novem-
ber that year he was engaged in pulling turnips and saw
wild geese go over, when one came to tell him that his
father was killed by a bridge giving way when his team
was crossing it, and the team falling on him walking
at its side.
P. M. Up Assabet with Sophia.
A clear, bright, warm afternoon. A painted tortoise
swimming under water and a wood tortoise out on
the bank. The rain has raised the river an additional
foot or more, and it is creeping over the meadows. My
boat is two thirds full and hard to come at. The old
weedy margin is covered and a new grassy one acquired.
The current is stronger, though the surface is pretty
smooth. Much small rubbish is drifting down and
slowly turning in the eddies. The motion of my boat
sends an undulation to the shore, which rustles the dry
sedge half immersed there, as if a tortoise were tumbling
through it. Leaves and sticks and billets of wood come
floating down in middle of the full, still stream, turn-
ing round in the eddies, and I mistake them for ducks
at first. See two red-wing blackbirds alight on a black
Nov. 15. The river rising. I see a spearer's light
1855] A MUSKRAT UNDER THE ICE
Nov. 16. Minott speaks of the last fortnight as
good weather to complete the harvesting, corn, pota-
toes, turnips, carrots, etc. It seemed late for harvest,
but some of the above crops were not gathered.
A part of to-day and yesterday I have been making
shelves for my Oriental books, which I hear to-day are
now on the Atlantic in the Canada.
Mr. Rice asked me to-night if I knew how hard a head
a goat had. When he lived in Roxbury a man asked him
to kill a goat for him. He accordingly struck the goat
with a hatchet, hard enough, as he supposed, to dash his
brains out, but the goat instantly, with a bleat, leaped
on to a wall and ran twenty rods on the wall faster than
they could on the ground after him, and he saw him as
much as a month afterward none the worse for the blow.
He thinks that muskrats have always, even in the
winter, a dry bed in the bank, as well as the wet place
to eat in their cabins. Told me again the story of the
muskrat which he saw resting under the ice, he himself
lying flat and still upon the ice and the muskrat having
a long way to go from the bank to his cabin. As soon
as he stopped with his nose against the ice, a bubble
issued from his mouth and flatted out to three inches
in diameter against the ice, and he remained for half a
minute with his mouth in it. Then drew it in, all but
a little, and proceeded.
He spoke of the mud turtle resting on the "river-
bush" (meaning the button-bush) in the spring, so
near the top of the water that he could put his snout
out when he pleased. Has taken them in April formerly,
I think that by the "swamp robin" he means the
I see many more nests in the alders now than I sus-
pected in the summer.
Nov. 17. Just after dark the first snow is falling,
after a chilly afternoon with cold gray clouds, when
my hands were uncomfortably cold.
It is interesting to me to talk with Rice, he lives so
thoroughly and satisfactorily to himself. He has learned
that rare art of living, the very elements of which most
professors do not know. His life has been not a failure
but a success. Seeing me going to sharpen some plane-
irons, and hearing me complain of the want of tools,
he said that I ought to have a chest of tools. But I said
it was not worth the while. I should not use them
enough to pay for them. "You would use them more,
if you had them," said he. "When I came to do a piece
of work I used to find commonly that I wanted a certain
tool, and I made it a rule first always to make that
tool. I have spent as much as $3000 thus on my tools."
Comparatively speaking, his life is a success; not such
a failure as most men's. He gets more out of any en-
terprise than his neighbors, for he helps himself more
and hires less. Whatever pleasure there is in it he
enjoys. By good sense and calculation he has become
rich and has invested his property well, yet practices
a fair and neat economy, dwells not in untidy luxury.
It costs him less to live, and he gets more out of life,
than others. To get his living, or keep it, is not a hasty
or disagreeable toil. He works slowly but surely, en-
1855] RICE'S SUCCESSFUL LIFE
joying the sweet of it. He buys a piece of meadow at
a profitable rate, works at it in pleasant weather, he and
his son, when they are inclined, goes a-fishing or a-bee-
hunting or a-rifle-shooting quite as often, and thus the
meadow gets redeemed, and potatoes get planted, per-
chance, and he is very sure to have a good crop stored
in his cellar in the fall, and some to sell. He always
has the best of potatoes there. In the same spirit in
which he and his son tackle up their Dobbin (he never
keeps a fast horse) and go a-spearing or a-fishing through
the ice, they also tackle up and go to their Sudbury
farm to hoe or harvest a little, and when they return
they bring home a load of stumps in their hay-rigging,
.which impeded their labors, but, perchance, supply
them with their winter wood. All the woodchucks they
shoot or trap in the bean-field are brought home also.
And thus their life is a long sport and they know not
what hard times are.
Rice says there are no bees worth hunting about
here now. He has sometimes been to a large wood in
the west part of Sudbury, and also to Nagog, yet there
was little honey there.
Saw Goodwin this afternoon returning from the
river with two minks, one trapped, the other shot,
and half a dozen muskrats. Mink seem to be more
commonly seen now, and the rising of the river begins
to drive out the muskrats.
Labaume says that he wrote his journal of the Cam-
paign in Russia each night, in the midst of incredible
danger and suffering, with "a raven's quill, and a lit-
tle gunpowder, mixed with some melted snow, in the
hollow of my hand," the quill cut and mended with
"the knife with which I had carved my scanty morsel
of horse-flesh." Such a statement promises well for the
writer's qualifications to treat such a theme.
Nov. 18. About an inch of snow fell last night, but
the ground was not at all frozen or prepared for it. A
little greener grass and stubble here and there seems to
burn its way through it this forenoon.
It clears up at noon, and at
2 P. M. I go to Fair Haven Hill via Hubbard's
As, I sat in the house, I was struck with the bright-
ness and heat of the sun reflected from this our first
snow. There was an intense light in the house, and
I felt an uncommon heat from the sun's rays on my
back. The air is very clear, and the sky heavenly, with
a few floating downy clouds. I am prepared to hear
sharp, screaming notes rending the air, from the winter
birds. I do, in fact, hear many jays, and the tinkling,
like rattling glass, from chickadees and tree sparrows.
I do not detect any peculiar brightness whatever in
the osiers on the Hubbard causeway; they are scarcely,
if at all, brighter than the tops of the trees. Now first
mark the stubble and numerous withered weeds rising
above the snow. They have suddenly acquired a new
character. Tansy still shows its yellow disks, but yar-
row is particularly fresh and perfect, cold and chaste,
with its pretty little dry-looking rounded white petals
and green leaves. Its very color gives it a right to bloom
above the snow, as level as a snow-crust on the top
TRACKS IN THE SNOW
of the stubble. It looks like a virgin wearing a white
The snow is the great track-revealer. I come across
the tracks of persons who, at a different hour from
myself, have crossed, and perhaps often cross, some re-
mote field on their errands, when I had not suspected
a predecessor; and the track of the dog or staff are
seen too. The cattle have tracked their whole pasture
over, as if there had been a thousand. I have this silent
but unerring evidence of any who have crossed the
fields since last night. It is pleasant to see tracks lead-
ing towards the woods, to be reminded that any have
engagements there. Yet for the most part the snow
is quite untrodden. Most fields have no track of man
in them. I only see where a squirrel has leaped from
I now remark how the perfectly leafless alder thickets
are much darker than the maples, now that the ground
is whitened. The pasture directly under my face is
white, but, seen aslant a few rods off, mostly russet.
Gathered a bagful of fair apples on Fair Haven, show-
ing their red cheeks above the snow.
I was so warmed in spirit in getting my wood that
the heat it finally yielded when burnt was coldness in
comparison. That first is a warmth which you cannot
These apples which I get nowadays russets and
Baldwins are the ripest of all, being acted on by the
frost and partly left because they were slightly over-
ripe for keeping. I come home with a heavy bagful
and rob no one.
Instead of walking in the wood-market amid sharp-
visaged teamsters, I float over dark reflecting waters
in which I see mirrored the stumps on the bank, and
am dazzled by the beauty of a summer duck. Though
I should get no wood, I should get a beauty perhaps
more valuable. The price of this my wood, however
high, is the very thing which I delight to pay. What
I obtain with the most labor the most water-logged
and heaviest wood which I fish up from the bottom and
split and dry warms the most. The greater, too, the
distance from which I have conveyed it, the more I
am warmed by it in my thought. All the intervening
shores glow and are warmed by it as it passes, or as
I repass them in my mind. And yet men will cut their
wood with sorrow, and burn it with lucifer matches.
This was where I drove my team afield, and, instead
of the grey-fly,' I heard the wood tortoises even yet
rustling through the sedge to the water, or the gray
squirrel coursing from maple to maple.
One man thinks that he has a right to burn his thirty
cords in a year because he can give a certain sum of
money in exchange for them, but that another has no
right to pick up the fagots which else nobody would
burn. They who will remember only this kind of right
do as if they stood under a shed and affirmed that they
were under the unobscured heavens. The shed has its
use, but what is it to the heavens above ? 2
So of the warmth which food, shelter, and clothing
1 ["We drove a-field, and both together heard
What time the grey-fly winds her sultry horn." Lycidas.]
2 [Channing, p. 90.]
A TALK WITH MINOTT
afford, or might afford, if we used economical stoves.
We might burn the smoke which now puts our eyes
out. The pleasure, the warmth, is not so much in
having as in a true and simple manner getting these
Men prefer foolishly the gold to that of which it is
the symbol, simple, honest, independent labor. Can
gold be said to buy food, if it does not buy an appe-
tite for food ? It is fouler and uglier to have too much
than not to have enough.
Nov. 19. A cold, gray day, once spitting snow.
Water froze in tubs enough to bear last night.
Minott had two cats on his knee. One given away
without his knowledge a fortnight before had just
found its way back. He says he would not kill a cat
for twenty dollars, no, not for fifty. Finally he told
his women folks that he would not do it for five hundred,
or any sum. He thought they loved life as well as we.
Johnny Vose would n't do it. He used to carry down
milk to a shop every day for a litter of kittens.
Speaking of geese, he says that Dr. Hurd told a
tough story once. He said that when he went out to
the well there came a flock of geese flying so low that
they had to rise to clear the well-sweep. M. says that
there used to be a great many more geese formerly;
he used to hear a great many flocks in a day go yelling"
over. Brant, too, he used to see.
Told me of his fishing for pickerel once in the brook,
/ when a mink leaped into the water toward his bait
(a frog), but, seeing the end of his pole, he dived and
made off. Some years ago he saw a mink steal out of
the brook, which, being disturbed, dropped a pout
half grown which it had caught. This was in his rye,
then five or six inches high. Presently it returned and
carried the pout to the wall by the elm at R. W. E.'s
bound. He followed, looked under a rock, and saw
two young minks. He has taken the jackets off many
a one, but they smell so rank it is unpleasant work.
Rice says that that brook which crosses the road
just beyond his brother Israel's is called Cold Brook.
It comes partly from Dunge Hole. When the river is
rising it will flow up the brook a great way.
Rice told his turtle story the other night: "One
day I was going through Boston market and I saw a
huddle of men around something or other. I edged my
way between them and saw that they had got a great
mud turtle on a plank, and a butcher stood over him
with a cleaver in his hand. 'Eh,' said I, 'what are
you trying to do?' 'We are waiting for him to put
out his head so that we may cut it off. Look out,'
they said; 'don't come so near, or he 'll bite you.'
'Look here,' said I, 'let me try. I guess I can make
him put his head out.' 'Let him try. Let him try,'
they said, with a laugh. So I stepped into the ring and
stood astride of the turtle, while they looked on to see
the sport. After looking at him a moment, I put down
my hands and turned him over on to his back, where-
upon he immediately ran out his head and pushed
against the plank to turn himself back, but, as they
were not ready to cut at once, or his neck was not in
a good position, I seized his head in both hands and,
1835] RICE'S TURTLE STORY 33
putting my feet against his breast-bone, drew his
head out the full length of his neck and said, 'Now
cut away. Only take care you don't cut my fingers.'
They cut, and I threw the head down on the floor. As I
walked away, some one said, 'I guess that fellow has
seen mud turtles before to-day.' "
Nov. 20. Again I hear that sharp, crackling, snap-
ping sound and, hastening to the window, find that
another of the pitch pine cones gathered November
7th, lying in the sun, or which the sun has reached,
has separated its scales very slightly at the apex. It
is only discoverable on a close inspection, but while
I look the whole cone opens its scales with a smart
crackling and rocks and seems to bristle up, scatter-
ing the dry pitch on the surface. They all thus fairly
loosen and open, though they do not at once spread
wide open. It is almost like the disintegration of glass.
As soon as the tension is relaxed in one part, it is re-
laxed in every part.
A cold day. The snow that fell November 17th
in the evening is still seen on the ground.
Nov. 24. Geese went over on the 13th and 14th,
on the 17th the first snow. fell, and the 19th it began
to be cold and blustering. That first slight snow has
not yet gone off! and very little has been added. The
last three or four days have been quite cold, the side-
walks a glare of ice and very little melting. To-day
has been exceedingly blustering and disagreeable, as I
found while surveying for Moore. The farmers now
bring the apples they have engaged (and the cider);
it is time to put them in the cellar, and the turnips.
Ice has frozen pretty thick in the bottom of my boat.
Nov. 26. Bottom of boat covered with ice. The ice
next the shore bore me and my boat.
Nov. 27. P. M. By river to J. Farmer's.
He gave me the head of a gray rabbit which his boy
had snared. This rabbit is white beneath, the whole
length, reddish-brown on the sides, and the same
spotted with black, above; the hairs coarse and homely,
yet the fur beneath thick and slate-colored as usual.
Well defended from the cold. Sides I might say pale
brick-color, the brown part. The fur under the feet
dirty-yellowish, as if stained by what it trod upon.
He makes no use of their skins or fur. The skin is
very tender. The tail, short and curled up, is white
on the inside like that of the deer described by Loskiel,
q. v., Indian book.
He showed me the preserved skin of the heads of a
double-headed calf, still-born, also the adjoining portion
of the spine, where two short spinal columns, two or
three inches long, merged in one. Only one body and
I told him I saw a mink. He said he would have
given me $1.50 and perhaps something more for him.
I hear that he gives $1.75, and sells them again at a
profit. They are used to trim ladies' coats with, among
other things. A mink skin which he showed me was a
darker brown than the one I saw last (he says they
1855] OLD WAY OF CATCHING WOLVES 35
changed suddenly to darker about a fortnight since);
and the tail was nearly all black.
He said that his grandfather, who could remember
one hundred and twenty-five years before this, told
him that they used to catch wolves in what is now
Carter's pasture by the North River (east of Dodge's
Brook) in this manner:- They piled up logs, cob-house
fashion, beginning with a large base, eight or ten feet
square, and narrowing successively each tier, so as to
make steps for the wolves to the top, say ten feet high.
Then they put a dead sheep within. A wolf soon found
it in the night, sat down outside and howled till he
called his comrades to him, and then they ascended step
by step and jumped down within; but when they had
done they could not get out again. They always found
one of the wolves dead, and supposed that he was pun-
ished for betraying the others into this trap.
A man in Brighton, whom he fully believes, told
him that he built a bower near a dead horse and placed
himself within to shoot crows. One crow took his
station as sentinel on the top of the tree, and thirty or
forty alighted upon the horse. He fired and killed seven
or eight, but the rest, instead of minding him, immedi-
ately flew to their sentinel and pecked him to pieces
before his eyes. Also Mr. Joseph Clark told him that,
as he was going along the road, he cast a stick over
the wall and hit some crows in a field, whereupon they
flew directly at their sentinel on an apple tree and beat
and buffeted him away to the woods as far as he could
There is little now to be heard along the river but
the sedge rustling on the brink. There is a little ice
along most of the shore throughout the day.
Farmer told me that some one told him he found
a pickerel washed up in the river, choked by a bream
which it had endeavored to swallow.
Nov. 30. River skimmed over behind Dodd's and
elsewhere. Got in my boat. River remained iced over
This evening I received Cholmondeley's gift of In-
dian books, forty-four volumes in all, which came by
the Canada, reaching Boston on the morning of the
24th. Left Liverpool the 10th.
Goodwin and Farmer think that a dog will not touch
the dead body of a mink, it smells so strongly. The
former, after skinning them, throws the carcass into
a tree for the crows. He has got eleven this fall; shot
two and trapped the rest.
On the 27th, when I made my last voyage for the sea-
son, I found a large sound pine log about four feet
long floating, and brought it home. Off the larger end
I sawed two wheels, about a foot in diameter and
seven or eight inches thick, and I fitted to them an
axle-tree made of a joist, which also I found in the
river, and thus I had a convenient pair of wheels on
which to get my boat up and roll it about. The assess-
ors called me into their office this year and said they
wished to get an inventory of my property; asked if
I had any real estate. No. Any notes at interest or
railroad shares? No. Any taxable property? None
that I knew of. "I own a boat," I said; and one of
1855] BRINGING HOME THE BOAT
them thought that that might come under the head of a
pleasure carriage, which is taxable. Now that I have
wheels to it, it comes nearer to it. I was pleased to
get my boat in by this means rather than on a bor-
rowed wheelbarrow. It was fit that the river should
furnish the material, and that in my last voyage on
it, when the ice reminded me that it was time to put it
in winter quarters.
I am waiting for colder weather to survey a swamp,
now inaccessible on account of the water.
I asked Aunt L. to-night why Scheeter Potter was so
called. She said, because his neighbors regarded him
as so small a man that they said in jest that it was his
business to make mosquitoes' bills. He was accused
of catching his neighbor's hens in a trap and eating
them. But he was crazy.
William Wheeler says that he went a-spearing on
the 28th (night before Thanksgiving) and, besides
pouts and pickerel, caught two great suckers. He
had one of the last stuffed and baked for Thanks-
giving, and made himself sick by eating too heartily
Dec. 3. Monday. A pleasant day. No snow yet
(since that first whitening which lasted so long), nor do
I see any ice to speak of.
Hear and see, of birds, only a tree sparrow in the
willows on the Turnpike. Met Goodwin going out with
his gun. He shot (evidently) some crossbills once in
Roxbury. He sometimes gets a skunk drowned in his
muskrat or mink traps, and so can get at their secre-
tion without being disturbed by the scent. He, too, has
heard that it is a sure cure for the phthisic.
The fields and woods seem now particularly empty
and bare. No cattle in pasture; only here and there a
man carting or spreading manure.
Every larger tree which I knew and admired is
being gradually culled out and carried to mill. I see
one or two more large oaks in E. Hubbard's wood
lying high on stumps, waiting for snow to be removed.
I miss them as surely and with the same feeling that
I do the old inhabitants out of the village street. To
me they were something more than timber; to their
owner not so.
Dec. 4. Melvin says that he shot a sheldrake once
in the act of swallowing a perch seven or eight inches
long He had got nothing to-day, for he forgot his
A pleasant day and yet no snow not ice. The younger
osiers on Shattuck's row do shine.
Dec. 6. 10 P. M. Hear geese going over..
Dec. 8. Saturday. Still no snow, nor ice notice-
able. I might have left my boat out till now. I have
not worn gloves yet.
This afternoon I go to the woods down the railroad,
seeking the society of some flock of little birds, or some
squirrel, but in vain. I only hear the faint lisp of (prob-
ably) a tree sparrow. I go through empty halls, appar-
ently unoccupied by bird or beast. Yet it is cheering
to walk there while the sun is reflected from far through
the aisles with a silvery light from the needles of the
pine. The contrast of light or sunshine and shade,
though the latter is now so thin, is food enough for me.
Some scarlet oak leaves on the forest floor, when I
stoop low, appear to have a little blood in them still.
The shrivelled Solomon's-seal berries are conspicu-
ously red amid the dry leaves. I visited the door of
many a squirrel's burrow, and saw his nutshells and
cone-scales and tracks in the sand, but a snow would
reveal much more. Let a snow come and clothe the
ground and trees, and I shall see the tracks of many
inhabitants now unsuspected, and the very snow cov-
ering up the withered leaves will supply the place of
the green ones which are gone. In a little busy flock
of lisping birds, chickadees or lesser redpolls, -
even in a nuthatch or downy woodpecker, there would
have been a sweet society for me, but I did not find [it].
Yet I had the sun penetrating into the deep hollows
through the aisles of the wood, and the silvery sheen of
its reflection from masses of white pine needles.
Met Therien coming from Lincoln on the railroad.
He says that he carried a cat from Jacob Baker's to
Riordan's shanty in a bag in the night, but she ran
home again. "Had they not a cat in the shanty ?" I
asked. "Yes," said he, "but she was run over by the
cars and killed; they found her head on the track
separated from her body, just below the pond." That
cat of Baker's used to eat eggs and so he wished to
get rid of her. He carried her in a bag to Waltham,
but she came back.
Therien had several times seen where tortoises had
been run over. They lie just under the rail, and put
their heads out upon the rail to see what is coming,
and so their heads are crushed. Also he has seen snakes
cut in two. The men on the road told him that small
birds were frequently run over.
Jacob Farmer brought me the head of a mink to-
night and took tea here. He says that partridges some-
times fly against a house in the night, he thinks when
started by a fox. His man found one in his barn this
fall, which had come in in the night, and caught it
before it could get out.
The mink has a delicate pard-like nose, cat-like.
The long hairs are black or blackish, yet the general
aspect is brown.
Farmer says he can call a male quail close to him
A SPRUCE SWAMP
by imitating the note of the female, which is only a
single faint whistle. He says if you take eggs out of a
partridge's nest and put them back, you will find just
as many cast out afterwards as you took out.
Dec. 9. A still, completely gray, overcast, chilly
morning. At 8.30 a fine snow begins to fall, increasing
verygradually, perfectly straight down, till in fifteen min-
utes the ground is white, the smooth places first, and
thus the winter landscape is ushered in. And now it is
falling thus all the land over, sifting down through the
tree-tops in woods, and on the meadow and pastures,
where the dry grass and weeds conceal it at first, and
on the river and ponds, in which it is dissolved. But
in a few minutes it turns to rain, and so the wintry
landscape is postponed for the present.
Dec. 10. To Cambridge.
Dec. 11. P. M. -To Holden Swamp, Conantum.
For the first time I wear gloves, but I have not
walked early this season.
I see no birds, but hear, methinks, one or two tree
sparrows. No snow; scarcely any ice to be detected.
It is only an aggravated November. I thread the tan-
gle of the spruce swamp, admiring the leafets of the
swamp pyrus which had put forth again, now frost-
bitten, the great yellow buds of the swamp-pink, the
round red buds of the high blueberry, and the fine
sharp red ones of the panicled andromeda. Slowly
I worm my way amid the snarl, the thicket of black
alders and blueberry, etc.; see the forms, apparently,
of rabbits at the foot of maples, and catbirds' nests now
exposed in the leafless thicket.
Standing there, though in this bare November land-
scape, I am reminded of the incredible phenomenon
of small birds in winter. That ere long, amid the cold
powdery snow, as it were a fruit of the season, will come
twittering a flock of delicate crimson-tinged birds, lesser
redpolls, to sport and feed on the seeds and buds now
just ripe for them on the sunny side of a wood, shak-
ing down the powdery snow there in their cheerful
social feeding, as if it were high midsummer to them.
These crimson aerial creatures have wings which would
bear them quickly to the regions of summer, but here
is all the summer they want. What a rich contrast!
tropical colors, crimson breasts, on cold white snow!
Such etherealness, such delicacy in their forms, such
ripeness in their colors, in this stern and barren season!
It is as surprising as if you were to find a brilliant crim-
son flower which flourished amid snows. They greet
the chopper and the hunter in their furs. Their Maker
gave them the last touch and launched them forth the
day of the Great Snow. He made this bitter imprison-
ing cold before which man quails, but He made at the
same time these warm and glowing creatures to twitter
and be at home in it. He said not only, Let there
be linnets in winter, but linnets of rich plumage and
pleasing twitter, bearing summer in their natures. The
snow will be three feet deep, the ice will be two feet
thick, and last night, perchance, the mercury sank to
thirty degrees below zero. All the fountains of nature
THE LESSER REDPOLLS
seem to be sealed up. The traveller is frozen on his
way. But under the edge of yonder birch wood will
be a little flock of crimson-breasted lesser redpolls,
busily feeding on the seeds of the birch and shaking
down the powdery snow! As if a flower were created
to be now in bloom, a peach to be now first fully ripe
on its stem. I am struck by the perfect confidence and
success of nature. There is no question about the exist-
ence of these delicate creatures, their adaptedness to
their circumstances. There is superadded superfluous
paintings and adornments, a crystalline, jewel-like
health and soundness, like the colors reflected from
When some rare northern bird like the pine gros-
beak is seen thus far south in the winter, he does not
suggest poverty, but dazzles us with his beauty. There
is in them a warmth akin to the warmth that melts
the icicle. Think of these brilliant, warm-colored, and
richly warbling birds, birds of paradise, dainty-footed,
downy-clad, in the midst of a New England, a Canadian
winter. The woods and fields, now somewhat solitary,
being deserted by their more tender summer residents,
are now frequented by these rich but delicately tinted
and hardy northern immigrants of the air. Here is
no imperfection to be suggested. The winter, with its
snow and ice, is not an evil to be corrected. It is as it
was designed and made to be, for the artist has had
leisure to add beauty to use. My acquaintances, angels
from the north. I had a vision thus prospectively of
these birds as I stood in the swamps. I saw this fa-
miliar too familiar fact at a different angle, and
I was charmed and haunted by it. But I could only at-
tain to be thrilled and enchanted, as by the sound of a
strain of music dying away. I had seen into paradisaic
regions, with their air and sky, and I was no longer
wholly or merely a denizen of this vulgar earth. Yet
had I hardly a foothold there. I was only sure that
I was charmed, and no mistake. It is only necessary
to behold thus the least fact or phenomenon, however
familiar, from a point a hair's breadth aside from our
habitual path or routine, to be overcome, enchanted by
its beauty and significance. Only what we have touched
and worn is trivial, our scurf, repetition, tradition,
conformity. To perceive freshly, with fresh senses, is
to be inspired. Great winter itself looked like a pre-
cious gem, reflecting rainbow colors from one angle.
My body is all sentient. As I go here or there, I am
tickled by this or that I come in contact with, as if
I touched the wires of a battery. I can generally re-
call have fresh in my mind several scratches last
received. These I continually recall to mind, reim-
press, and harp upon. The age of miracles is each
moment thus returned. Now it is wild apples, now
river reflections, now a flock of lesser redpolls. In win-
ter, too, resides immortal youth and perennial summer.
Its head is not silvered; its cheek is not blanched but
has a ruby tinge to it.
If any part of nature excites our pity, it is for our-
selves we grieve, for there is eternal health and beauty.
We get only transient and partial glimpses of the beauty
of the world. Standing at the right angle, we are dazzled
by the colors of the rainbow in colorless ice. From the
THE BEAUTY OF NATURE
right point of view, every storm and every drop in it
is a rainbow. Beauty and music are not mere traits
and exceptions. They are the rule and character. It is
the exception that we see and hear. Then I try to
discover what it was in the vision that charmed and
translated me. What if we could daguerreotype our
thoughts and feelings! for I am surprised and enchanted
often by some quality which I cannot detect. I have
seen an attribute of another world and condition of
things. It is a wonderful fact that I should be affected,
and thus deeply and powerfully, more than by aught
else in all my experience, that this fruit should be
borne in me, sprung from a seed finer than the spores
of fungi, floated from other atmospheres! finer than
the dust caught in the sails of vessels a thousand miles
from land! Here the invisible seeds settle, and spring,
and bear flowers and fruits of immortal beauty.
Dec. 13. This morning it is snowing, and the ground
is whitened. The countless flakes, seen against the
dark evergreens like a web that is woven in the air,
impart a cheerful and busy aspect to nature. It is like
a grain that is sown, or like leaves that have come to
clothe the bare trees. Now, by 9 o'clock, it comes
down in larger flakes, and I apprehend that it will soon
stop. It does.
How pleasant a sense of preparedness for the winter,
plenty of wood in the shed and potatoes and apples,
etc., in the cellar, and the house banked up! Now it
will be a cheerful sight to see the snows descend and
hear the blast howl.
Sanborn tells me that he was waked up a few nights
ago in Boston, about midnight, by the sound of a flock
of geese passing over the city, probably about the same
night I heard them here. They go honking over cities
where the arts flourish, waking the inhabitants; over
State-houses and capitols, where legislatures sit; over
harbors where fleets lie at anchor; mistaking the city,
perhaps, for a swamp or the edge of a lake, about set-
tling in it, not suspecting that greater geese than they
have settled there.
Dec. 14. It began to snow again last evening, but
soon ceased, and now it has turned out a fine winter
morning, with half an inch of snow on the ground, the
air full of mist, through which the smokes rise up per-
fectly straight; and the mist is frozen in minute leafets
on the fences and trees and the needles of the pines,
I stood by Bigelow the blacksmith's forge yesterday,
and saw him repair an axe. He burned the handle out,
then, with a chisel, cut off the red-hot edge even, there
being some great gaps in it, and by hammering drew
it out and shaped it anew, all in a few minutes. It
was interesting to see performed so simply and easily,
by the aid of fire and a few rude tools, a work which
would have surpassed the skill of a tribe of savages.
P. M. To Pink Azalea Woods.
The warm sun has quite melted the thin snow on
the south sides of the hills, but I go to see the tracks
of animals that have been out on the north sides. First,
getting over the wall under the walnut trees on the south
TRACKS IN THE SNOW
brow of the hill, I see the broad tracks of squirrels,
probably red, where they have ascended and descended
the trees, and the empty shells of walnuts which they
have gnawed left on the snow. The snow is so very
shallow that the impression of their toes is the more
distinctly seen. It imparts life to the landscape to see
merely the squirrels' track in the snow at the base of
the walnut tree. You almost realize a squirrel at every
tree. The attractions of nature are thus condensed
or multiplied. You see not merely bare trees and ground
which you might suspect that a squirrel had left, but
you have this unquestionable and significant evidence
that a squirrel has been there since the snow fell, -
as conclusive as if you had seen him.
A little further I heard the sound [of] a downy wood-
pecker tapping a pitch pine in a little grove, and saw
him inclining to dodge behind the stem. He flitted from
pine to pine before me. Frequently, when I pause to
listen, I hear this sound in the orchards or streets.
This was in one of these dense groves of young pitch
Suddenly I heard the screwing mew and then the
whir of a partridge on or beneath an old decaying
apple tree which the pines had surrounded. There
were several such, and another partridge burst away
from one. They shoot off swift and steady, showing
their dark-edged tails, almost like a cannon-ball. I
saw one's track under an apple tree and where it had
pecked a frozen-thawed apple.
Then I came upon a fox-track made last night,
leading toward a farmhouse, Wheeler's, where there
are many hens, running over the side of the hill par-
allel with Wheeler's new wall. He was dainty in the
choice of his ground, for I observed that for a mile, he
had adhered to a narrow cow-path, in which the snow
lay level, for smoothness. Sometimes he had cantered,
and struck the snow with his foot between his tracks.
Little does the farmer think of the danger which
threatens his hens.
In a little hollow I see the sere gray pennyroyal
rising above the snow, which, snuffed, reminds me of
garrets full of herbs.
Now I hear, half a mile off, the hollow sound of
woodchopping, the work of short winter days begun,
which is gradually laying bare and impoverishing our
landscape. In two or three thicker woods which I have
visited this season, I was driven away by this ominous
Further over toward the river, I see the tracks of a
deer mouse on a rock, which suddenly come to an
end where apparently it had ascended a small pine by
a twig which hung over it. Sometimes the mark of its
tail was very distinct. Afterwards I saw in the pasture
westward where many had run about in the night.
In one place many had crossed the cow-path in which
I was walking, in one trail, or the same one had come
and gone many times. In the large hollows where rocks
have been blasted, and on the sides of the river, I see
irregular spaces of dark ice bare of snow, which was
frozen after the snow ceased to fall. But this ice is
rotten and mixed with snow. I am surprised to see the
river frozen over for the most part with this thin and
1855] A HEMLOCK IN WINTER
rotten snow ice, and the drooping or bent alders are
already frozen into this slush, giving to the stream a
very wintry aspect. I see some squirrel-tracks about
a hole in a stump.
At the azalea meadow or swamp, the red tops of the
osiers, which are very dense and of a uniform height,
are quite attractive, in the absence of color at this sea-
son. Any brighter and warmer color catches our eye
at this season. I see an elm there whose bark is worn
quite smooth and white and bare of lichens, showing
exactly the height at which the ice stood last winter.
Looking more closely at the light snow there near
the swamp, I found that it was sprinkled all over (as
with pellets of cotton) with regular star-shaped cot-
tony flakes with six points, about an eighth of an inch
in diameter and on an average a half an inch apart. It
How snug and warm a hemlock looks in the winter!
That by the azalea looks thus:
There is a tendency in the limbs to
arrange themselves ray-wise about a
point one third from the base to the
top. What singular regularity in the
outline of a tree!
I noticed this morning successive
banks of frost on the windows, marked
by their irregular waving edges, like
the successive five, ten, and fifteen
fathom lines which mark the depth of the shores on
Thus by the snow I was made aware in this short
walk of the recent presence there of squirrels, a fox,
and countless mice, whose trail I had crossed, but none
of which I saw, or probably should have seen before
the snow fell. Also I saw this afternoon the track of
one sparrow, probably a tree sparrow, which had run
among the weeds in the road.
Dec. 15. This morning it has begun to snow ap-
parently in earnest. The air is quite thick and the
*. :*. view confined. It is quite still, yet some
S flakes come down from one side and
..: 'some from another, crossing each other
like woof and warp apparently, as they
are falling in different eddies and cur-
rents of air. In the midst of it, I hear and see a few
little chickadees prying about the twigs of the locusts
in the graveyard. They have come into town with the
snow. They now and then break forth into a short
sweet strain, and then seem suddenly to check them-
selves, as if they had done it before they thought.
The boys have skated a little within two or three
days, but it has not been thick enough to bear a man
How like a bird of ill omen the crow behaves! Still
holding its ground in our midst like a powwow that is
not to be exterminated! Sometimes when I am going
through the Deep Cut, I look up and see half a dozen
black crows flitting silently across in front and ominously
eying down; passing from one wood to another, yet
as if their passage had reference to me.
The snow turned to rain, and this afternoon I walk
in it down the railroad and through the woods. The
low grass and weeds, bent down with a myriad little
crystalline drops, ready to be frozen perhaps, are very
interesting, but wet my feet through very soon. A
steady but gentle, warm rain.
Dec. 16. Steady, gentle, warm rain all the forenoon,
and mist and mizzling in the afternoon, when I go
round by Abel Hosmer's and back by the railroad.
The mist makes the near trees dark and noticeable,
like pictures, and makes the houses more interesting,
revealing but orie at a time. The old apple trees are
very important to this landscape, they have so much
body and are so dark. It is very pleasing to distinguish
the dim outline of the woods, more or less distant,
through the mist, sometimes the merest film and sus-
picion of a wood. On one side it is the plump and
rounded but soft masses of pitch pines, on another the
brushy tops of maples, birches, etc. Going by Hosmer's,
the very heaps of stones in the pasture are obvious as
cairns in one of Ossian's landscapes.
Saw two red squirrels on the fence, one on each side
of his house, particularly red along their backs and top
of head and tail. They are remarkably tame. One
sits twirling apparently a dried apple in his ,
paws, with his tail curled close over his back
as if to keep it warm, fitting its curve. How -
much smothered sunlight in their wholesome brown red
this misty day! It is clear New England, Nov-anglia,
like the red subsoil. It is springlike.
As we go over the bridge, admire the reflection of
the trees and houses from the smooth open water over
the channel, where the ice has been dissolved by the
Dec. 17. 9.30 A. M. To Hill.
A remarkably fine, springlike morning. The earth
all bare; the sun so bright and warm; the steam curl-
ing up from every fence and roof, and carried off at
[an] angle by the slight northwesterly air. After those
rainy days the air is apparently uncommonly clear,
and hence (?) the sound of cock-crowing is so sweet, and
I hear the sound of the sawmill even at the door, also
the cawing of crows. There is a little ice, which makes
it as yet good walking, in the roads. The peculiar
brightness and sunniness may be partly owing to the
sun being reflected through the cleansed air from the
more than russet, the bleached, surface of the earth.
Methinks every squirrel will be out now. This is the
morning. Ere long the wind will rise and this season.
will be over. There will probably be some wrack in
the afternoon sky.
Columella says you must be careful not to carry
out seeds in your manure and so have segetes herbidas
Dec. 18. Saw to-day a dark-colored spider of the
very largest kind on ice, the mill-pond at E. Wood's
J. Farmer says that he once tried to kill a cat by
taking her by the legs and striking her head against a
stone, but she made off, and in a week was about again,
1855] DETECTING HOLES IN THE ICE 53
apparently as well as ever, and he did not meddle with
Dec. 20. Still no snow, and, as usual, I wear no
P. M. To Hubbard's skating meadow.
A few chickadees busily inspecting the buds at the
willow-row ivy tree, for insects, with a short, clear chink
from time to time, as if to warn me of their neighbor-
Boys are now devoted to skating after school at
night, far into evening, going without their suppers.
It is pretty good on the meadows, which are somewhat
overflown, and the sides of the river, but the greater
part of it is open. I walk along the side of the river,
on the ice beyond the Bath Place. Already there is
dust on this smooth ice, on its countless facets, revealed
by the sun. How warm the dull-red cranberry vine
rises above the ice here and there! I stamped and
shook the ice to detect the holes and weak places where
that little brook comes in there. They were plainly
revealed, for the water beneath, being agitated, pro-
claimed itself at every hole far and wide or for three
or four rods. The edge of the ice toward the channel
is either rubbed up or edged with a ridge of frozen
I see some gossamer on the weeds above the ice.
Also, in now hard, dark ice, the tracks apparently of
a fox, made when it was saturated snow. So long his
trail is revealed, but over the pastures no hound can
now trace him. There has been much overflow about
every tussock in the meadow, making that rough,
opaque ice, like yeast. I mark the many preparations
for another year which the farmer has made, his late
plowings, his muck-heaps in fields, perhaps of grass,
which he intends to plow and cultivate, his ditches
to carry off the winter's floods, etc. How placid, like
silver or like steel in different lights, the surface of the
still, living water between these borders of ice, reflecting
the weeds and trees, and now the warm colors of the
sunset sky! The ice is that portion of the flood which
is congealed and laid up in our fields for a season.
Dec. 21. Going to the post-office at 9 A. M. this very
pleasant morning, I hear and see tree sparrows on
Wheildon's pines, and just beyond scare a downy
woodpecker and a brown creeper in company, from
near the base of a small elm within three feet of me.
The former dashes off with a loud rippling of the wing,
and the creeper flits across the street to the base of
another small elm, whither I follow. At first he hides
behind the base, but ere long works his way upward
and comes in sight. He is a gray-brown, a low curve
from point of beak to end of tail, resting flat against
P. M. Via Hubbard's Grove and river to Fair
Haven Pond. Return by Andromeda Ponds.
See only a jay (?) flying high over the fields, and
chickadees. The last rarely seem to mind you, keeping
busy at work, yet hop nearer and nearer. Hubbard's
barren pasture under Fair Haven Hill, whose surface
is much broken, alternate sod and bare sand, is now
tinged .with the pale leather or cinnamon color of the
second-sized pinweed, which thickly covers it.
I here take to the riverside. The broader places are
frozen over, but I do not trust them yet. Fair Haven
is entirely frozen over, probably some days. Already
some eager fisherman has been here, this morning or
yesterday, and I hear that a great pickerel was carried
through the street. I see, close under the high bank
on the east side, a distinct tinge of that red in the ice
for a rod.
I remark the different pale colors to which the
grasses have faded and bleached. Those coarse sedges
amid the button bushes are bleached particularly
light. Some, more slender, in the Pleasant Meadow,
is quite light with singular reddish or pinkish radical
blades making a mat at the base. Some dense
sedge or rushes in tufts in the Andromeda Ponds
have a decided greenish tinge, somewhat like
A few simple colors now prevail. Even the apples
on the trees have assumed the brown color of the
I do not remember to have seen the Andromeda
Ponds so low. The weedy and slimy bottom is for
the most part exposed. The slime, somewhat clay-
colored, is collected here and there into almost organic
forms,- manna[ ?]-like, with a skin to it. I make a
nosegay of the sphagnum, which must suffer from this
unusual exposure. It is frozen stiff at the base. What
rugged castellated forms it takes at the base of the
andromeda which springs from it! Some is green or
yellowish-green, some bright-crimson, some brown,
some quite white, with different shades of all these
colors. Such are the temples and cheeks of these soft
crags. What a primitive and swampy wilderness for
the wild mice to run amidst! the andromeda woods!
Walden is skimmed over, all but an acre, in my
cove. It will probably be finished to-night.'
No doubt the healthiest man in the world is pre-
vented from doing what he would like by sickness.
Dec. 22. Dull overcast morning, so warm that it has
actually thawed in the night, and there is a wet space
larger than the ice on the sidewalk. It draws forth
crowing from cockerels, as spring does rills from glaciers.
P. M. Warm rain and frost coming out and muddy
In reading Columella I am frequently reminded, not
only by the general tone, but even by the particular
warnings and directions, of our agricultural journals
and reports of farmers' clubs. Often what is last and
most insisted on among us, was most insisted on by
the Romans. As when he says it is better to cultivate
a little land well than a great deal ill, and quotes the
"... Laudato ingentia rura,
"Modus ergo, qui in omnibus rebus, etiam paran-
dis agris adhibebitur: tantum enim obtinendum est,
quanto est opus, ut emisse videamur quo potiremur,
I No, it proved too warm.
1855] MODERATION IN BUYING LAND 57
non quo oneraremur ipsi, atque aliis fruendum eripe-
remus, more praepotentium, qui possident fines gen-
tium, quos ne circumire equis quidem valent, scd pro-
culcandos pecudibus, et vastandos ac populandos feris
derelinquunt, aut occupatos nexu civium, ct ergastulis
tenent." (Therefore, as in all things, so in buying
land moderation will be used; for only so much is to
be obtained as is necessary, to make it appear that we
have bought what we can use, not what we may be
burdened with, and hinder others from enjoying, like
those overpowerful ones who possess the territory of
nations, which they cannot go round even with horses,
but leave to be trampled by herds, and to be laid waste
and depopulated by wild beasts, or keep occupied by
nexu civium 1 and prisons.)
This reminds me of those extensive tracts said to
belong to the Peter Piper estate, running back a mile
or more and absorbing several old farms, but almost
wholly neglected and run out, which I often traverse
and am better acquainted with than their so-called
owners. Several times I have had to show such the
nearest way out of their wood-lots.2 Extensive wood-lots
and cranberry meadows, perhaps, and a rambling old
.country house on one side, but you can't buy an acre
of land for a house-lot. "Where wealth accumulates
and men decay."
Dec. 23. P. M. To Conantum-End.
1 Confinement and compulsory labor on farms of fellow-citizens
2 [Excursions, p. 185; Riv. 226.]
A very bright and pleasant day with remarkably soft
wind from a little north of west. The frost has come
out so in the rain of yesterday that I avoid the muddy
plowed fields and keep on the grass ground, which
shines with moisture. I think I do not remember such
and so much pleasant, springlike weather as this and
some other days of this month.
I admire those old root fences which have almost
entirely disappeared from tidy fields, white pine roots
got out when the neighboring meadow was a swamp,
- the monuments of many a revolution. These roots
have not penetrated into the ground, but spread over
the surface, and, having been cut off four or five feet
from the stump, were hauled off And set up on their
edges for a fence. The roots are not merely interwoven,
but grown together into solid frames, full of loopholes
like Gothic windows of various sizes and all shapes,
triangular and oval and harp-like, and the slenderer
parts are dry and resonant like harp-strings. They are
rough and unapproachable, with a hundred snags and
horns which bewilder and balk the calculation of the
walker who would surmount them. The part of the
trees above ground presents no such fantastic forms.
Here is one seven paces, or more than a rod, long, six
feet high in the middle, and yet only one foot thick,
and two men could turn it up, and in this case the roots
were six or nine inches thick at the extremities. The
roots of pines growing in swamps grow thus in the
form of solid frames or rackets, and those of differ-
ent trees are interwoven with all so that they stand on
a very broad foot and stand or fall together to some
extent before the blasts, as herds meet the assault of
beasts of prey with serried front. You have thus only
to dig into the swamp a little way to find your fence,
- post, rails, and slats already solidly grown together
and of material more durable than any timber. How
pleasing a thought that a field should be fenced with
the roots of the trees got out in clearing the land a cen-
tury before! I regret them as mementoes of the prim-
itive forest. The tops of the same trees made into fen-
cing-stuff would have decayed generations ago. These
roots are singularly unobnoxious to the effects of mois-
The swamp is thus covered with a complete web
of roots. Wild trees, such as are fitted to grow in the
I detect the Irishman where the elms and maples on
the causeway are cut off at the saine height with the
willows to make pollards of !
I sit on the hillside near the wall corner, in the further
Conantum field, as I might in an Indian-summer day
in November or October. These are the colors of the
earth now: all land that has been some time cleared,
except it is subject to the plow, is russet, the color of
withered herbage and the ground finely commixed, a
lighter straw-color where are rank grasses next water;
sprout-lands, the pale leather-color of dry oak leaves;
pine woods, green; deciduous woods (bare twigs and
stems and withered leaves commingled), a brownish
or reddish gray; maple swamps, smoke-color; land
just cleared, dark brown and earthy; plowed land,
dark brown or blackish; ice and water, slate-color or
blue; andromeda swamps, dull red and dark gray; rocks,
At Lee's Cliff I notice these radical (?) leaves quite
fresh: saxifrage, sorrel, polypody, mullein, columbine,
veronica, thyme-leaved sandwort, spleenwort, straw-
berry, buttercup, radical johnswort, mouse-ear, radical
pinweeds, cinquefoils, checkerberry, wintergreen, this-
tles, catnip, Turritis stricta especially fresh and bright.
What is that fine very minute plant thickly covering the
ground, like a young arenaria ?
Think of the life of a kitten, ours for instance: last
night her eyes set in a fit, doubtful if she will ever
come out of it, and she is set away in a basket and sub-
mitted to the recuperative powers of nature; this morn-
ing running up the clothes-pole and erecting her back
in frisky sport to every passer.
Dec. 25. 9 A. M. Snow driving almost horizontally
from the northeast and fast whitening the ground, and
with it the first tree sparrows I have noticed in the
yard. It turns partly to rain and hail at midday.
Dec. 26. After snow, rain, and hail yesterday and
last night, we have this morning quite a glaze, there
being at last an inch or two of crusted snow on the
ground, the most we have had. The sun comes out at
9 A. M. and lights up the ice-incrusted trees, but it is
pretty warm and the ice rapidly melts.
I go to Walden via the almshouse and up the railroad.
Trees seen in the west against the dark cloud, the sun
shining on them, are perfectly white as frostwork, and
their outlines very perfectly and distinctly revealed,
1855] AN ICE-INCRUSTED WORLD 61
great wisps that they are and ghosts of trees, with
recurved twigs. The walls and fences are encased,
and the fields bristle with a myriad of crystal spears.
Already the wind is rising and a brattling is heard
overhead in the street. The sun, shining down a gorge
over the woods at Brister's Hill, reveals a wonderfully
brilliant as well as seemingly solid and diversified re-
gion in the air. The ice is from an eighth to a quarter
of an inch thick about the twigs and pine-needles, only
half as thick commonly on one side. Their heads are
bowed; their plumes and needles are stiff, as if pre-
served under glass for the inspection of posterity.
Thus is our now especially slow-footed river laid up
not merely on the meadows, but on the twigs and leaves
of the trees, on the needles of the pines. The pines
thus weighed down are sharp-pointed
at top and remind me of firs and even
hemlocks, their drooping boughs being
wrapped about them like the folds of a .
cloak or a shawl. The crust is already -
strewn with bits of the green needles
which have been broken off. Frequently
the whole top stands up bare, while the
middle and lower branches are drooping
*and massed together, resting on one an-
other. But the low and spreading weeds
S in the fields and the wood-paths are the
most interesting. Here are asters, savory-
leaved, whose flat imbricated calyxes,
three quarters of an inch over, are sur-
mounted and inclosed in a perfectly transparent ice
button, like a glass knob, through which you see the
reflections of the brown calyx. These are very common.
Each little blue-curls calyx has a spherical button like
those brass ones on little boys' jackets, little sprigs
on them, -and the pennyroyal has still smaller spheres,
more regularly arranged about its stem, chandelier-wise,
and still smells through the ice. The finest grasses
support the most wonderful burdens of ice and most
branched on their minute threads. These weeds are
spread and arched over into the snow again, count-
less little arches a few inches high, each cased in ice,
which you break with a tinkling crash at each step.
The scarlet fruit of the cockspur lichen, seen glowing
through the more opaque whitish or snowy crust of a
stump, is, on close inspection, the richest sight of all,
for the scarlet is increased and multiplied by reflection
through the bubbles and hemispherical surfaces of the
crust, as if it covered some vermilion grain thickly
strewn. And the brown cup lichens stand in their midst.
The whole rough bark, too, is encased.
Already a squirrel has perforated the crust above
the mouth of his burrow, here and there by the side of
the path, and left some empty acorn shells on the snow.
He has shovelled out this morning before the snow was
frozen on his door-step.
Now, at 10 A. M., there blows a very strong wind from
the northwest, and it grows cold apace.
1855] AN ICE-INCRUSTED WORLD
Particularly are we attracted in the winter by green-
ness and signs of growth, as the green and white shoots
of grass and weeds, pulled or floating on the water,
and also by color, as cockspur lichens and crimson
Thorny bushes look more thorny than ever; each
thorn is prolonged and exaggerated.
Some boys have come out to a wood-side hill to
coast. It must be sport to them, lying on their stom-
achs, to hear their sled cronching the crystalled weeds
when they have reached' the more weedy pasture
4 P. M. Up railroad.
Since the sun has risen higher and fairly triumphed
over the clouds, the ice has glistened with all the pris-
matic hues. On the trees it is now considerably dis-
sipated, but rather owing to the wind than the sun.
The ice is chiefly on the upper and on the storm side
of twigs, etc. The whole top of the pine forest, as
seen miles off in the horizon, is of sharp points, the
leading shoots with a few plumes, even more so than
I have drawn on the last page but one.
It has grown cold, and the crust bears. The weeds
and grasses, being so thickened by this coat of ice,
appear much more numerous in the fields. It is sur-
prising what a bristling crop they are. The sun is
gone before five. Just before I looked for rainbow
flocks in the west, but saw none, only some small
pink-dun (?) clouds. In the east still larger ones, which
after sunset turned to pale slate.
In a true history or biography, of how little conse-
quence those events of which so much is commonly
made! For example, how difficult for a man to remem-
ber in what towns or houses he has lived, or when!
Yet one of the first steps of his biographer will be to
establish these facts, and he will thus give an undue
importance to many of them. I find in my Journal
that the most important events in my life, if recorded
at all, are not dated.
Dec. 27. Recalled this evening, with the aid of Mother,
the various houses (and towns) in which I have lived
and some events of my life.
Born, July 12, 1817, in the
Minott House, on the Virginia Road, where Father
occupied Grandmother's thirds, car-
rying on the farm. The Catherines
the other half of the house. Bob
Catherines and John threw up the
turkeys. Lived there about eight
months. Si Merriam next neigh-
bor. Uncle David died when I
was six weeks old. I was baptized
in old M. H. by Dr. Ripley, when
I was three months, and did not
The Red House, where Grandmother lived, we the'
west side till October, 1818, hiring
of Josiah Davis, agent for Wood-
wards. (There were Cousin Charles
and Uncle C. more or less.) Accord-
ing to day-book, Father hired of
Proctor, October 16, 1818, and shop
of Spaulding, November 10, 1818.
Day-book first used by Grandfather,
dated 1797. His part cut out and
used by Father in Concord in 1808-9,
and in Chelmsford, 1818-19-20-21.
till March, 1821. (Last charge in
Chelmsford about middle of March,
1821.) Aunt Sarah taught me to
walk there when fourteen months
old. Lived next the meeting-house,
where they kept the powder in the
garret. Father kept shop and
painted signs, etc.
at South End in Boston, five or six (?)
months, a ten-footer. Moved from
Chelmsford through Concord, and
may have tarried in Concord a little
while. Day-book says, "Moved to
Pinkney Street Sep 10th 1821 on
Pinckney Street, Boston, to March,
Concord, to spring of 1826.
(next to S. Hoar's) to May 7th,
(now William Monroe's) to spring
of 1835. (Hollis, Cambridge,
to spring of 1837. At Brownson's
(Hollis Hall and
(R. W. E.'s)
son's, Staten Is-
while teaching in winter of 1835.
Went to New York with Father,
peddling, in 1836.
to fall of 1844. Was graduated in
1837. Kept town school a fortnight
in 1837 (?). Began the big Red
Journal, October, 1837. Found first
arrowheads, fall of 1837. Wrote a
lecture (my first) on Society, March
14th, 1838, and read it before the
Lyceum in the Masons' Hall,
April 11th, 1838. Went to Maine
for a school in May, 1838. Com-
menced school in the house in
summer of 1838. Wrote an essay
on Sound and Silence, December,
1838. Fall of 1839 up Merrimack
to White Mountains. "Aulus Per-
sius Flaccus," first printed paper of
consequence, February 10th, 1840.
The Red Journal of 546 pages ended,
June, 1840. Journal of 396 pages
ended January 31st, 1841. Went to
R. W. E.'s in spring of 1841 and
stayed there to summer of 1843.
Went to Staten Island, June, 1843,'
and returned in December,' 1843, or
to Thanksgiving. Made pencils in
[It was really in May of that year that he went to Staten Island.
See Familiar Letters, p. 68; Riv. 79, 80.]
1855] A SHRIKE 67
Texas House, to August 29th, 1850. At Walden,
(Walden) July, 1845, to fall of 1847, then at
(R. W. E.'s) R. W. E.'s to fall of 1848, or while
he was in Europe.
Yellow House, reformed, till present.
Dec. 28. P. M. Hollowell place and back near
To-day and yesterday the boys have been skating on
the crust in the streets, -it is so hard, the snow being
very shallow. Considerable ice still clings to the rails
and trees and especially weeds, though much attenu-
ated. The birches were most bent -.
and are still--in hollows on the north/-
sides of hills. Saw some rabbit's fur
on the crust and some (apparently
bird?) droppings, since the sleet fell,-a few pinches
of fur the only trace of the murder. Was it a hawk's
work ? Crossed the river on the ice in front of Puffer's.
What do the birds do when the seeds and bark are thus
encased in ice ?
Dec. 29. Down railroad to Andromeda Ponds.
I occasionally see a small snowflake in the air against
the woods. It is quite cold, and a serious storm seems
to be beginning. Just before reaching the Cut I see
a shrike flying low beneath the level of the railroad,
which rises and alights on the topmost twig of an elm
within four or five rods. All ash or bluish-slate above
down to middle of wings; dirty-white breast, and a
broad black mark through eyes on side of head; pri-
marines (?) black, and some white appears when it flies.
Most distinctive its small hooked bill (upper mandible).
It makes no sound, but flits to the top of an oak further
off. Probably a male.
Am surprised to find eight or ten acres of Walden
still open, notwithstanding the cold of the 26th, 27th,
and 28th and of to-day. It must be owing to the wind
partly. If quite cold, it will probably freeze to-night.1
I find in the andromeda bushes in the Andromeda
Ponds a great many nests apparently of the red-wing (?) 2
suspended after their fashion amid the twigs of the an-
dromeda, each now filled with ice. I count twenty-one
within fifteen rods of a centre, and have no doubt
there are a hundred in that large swamp, for I only
looked about the edge part way. It is remarkable that
I do not remember to have seen flocks of these birds
there. It is an admirable place for them, these swamps
are so impassable and the andromeda so dense. It would
seem that they steal away to breed here, are not noisy
here as along the river.3
I never knew, or rather do not remember, the crust
so strong [and] hard as it is now and has been for three
days. You can skate over it as on ice in any direction.
I see the tracks of skaters on all the roads, and they
seem hardly to prefer the ice. Above Abiel Wheeler's,
on the back road, the crust is not broken yet, though
many sleds and sleighs have passed. The tracks of
the skaters are as conspicuous [as] any there. But the
snow is but two or three inches deep. Jonas Potter
SNot quite. Say the night of the 30th.
2Yes. 3 Vide next page.
A WALK IN A SWAMP
tells me that [he] has known the crust on snow two
feet deep to be as strong as this, so that he could drive
his sled anywhere over the walls; so that he cut off
the trees in Jenny's lot three feet from the ground,
and cut again after the snow was melted.
When two men, Billings and Prichard, were divid-
ing the stock of my father and Hurd, the former acting
for Father, P. was rather tight for Hurd. They came
to a cracked bowl, at which P. hesitated and asked,
" Well, what shall we do with this ? B. took it in haste
and broke it, and, presenting him one piece, said,
"There, that is your half and this is ours."
A good time to walk in swamps, there being ice but no
snow to speak of,- all crust. It is a good walk along the
edge of the river, the wild side, amid the button-bushes
and willows. The eupatorium stalks
still stand there, with their brown j'
hemispheres of little twigs, orreries.
The nests of last page are sus-
pended very securely between eight
or ten andromeda stems, about half-
way up them; made of more or less
coarse grass or sedge without, then
about half an inch of dense and fine,
now frozen sphagnum, then fine wild
grass or sedge very regularly, and
sometimes another layer of sphagnum and of fine grass
above these, the whole an inch thick, the bottom com-
monly rounded. The outside grasses are well twisted
about whatever andromeda stems stand at or near the
river. I saw the traces of mice in some of them.
Dec. 30. The snow which began last night has con-
tinued to fall very silently but steadily, and now it is
not far from a foot deep, much the most we have had
yet; a dry, light, powdery snow. When I come down
I see it in miniature drifts against the panes, alternately
streaked dark and light as it is more or less dense. A
remarkable, perfectly regular conical peak, a foot high,
with concave sides, stands in the fireplace under the
sink-room chimney. The pump has a regular conical
Persian (?) cap, and every post about the house a
similar one. It is quite light, but has not drifted. About
9 A. M. it ceases, and the sun comes out, and shines
dazzlingly over the white surface. Every neighbor is
shovelling out, and hear the sound of shovels scraping
on door-steps. Winter now first fairly commenced, I feel.
The places which are slowest to freeze in our river
are, first, on account of warmth as well as motion, where
a brook comes in, and also probably where are springs
in banks and under bridges; then, on account of shal-
lowness and rapidity, at bends. I perceive that the cold
respects the same places every winter. In the dark, or
after a heavy snow, I know well where to cross the river
most safely. Where the river is most like a lake, broad
with a deep and muddy bottom, there it freezes first and
thickest. The open water at a bend seems to be owing
to the swiftness of the current, and this to the shallow-
ness, and this to the sands taken out of the opposing
bank and deposited there.
There was yesterday eight or ten acres of open water
at the west end of Walden, where is depth and breadth
What a horrid shaggy and stiff low wilderness were
the Andromeda Ponds yesterday! What then-must
they have been on the 21st! As it was, it was as if I
walked through a forest of glass (with a tough woody
core) up to my middle. That dense tufted grass with a
greenish tinge was still stiffly coated with ice, as well
as everything else,
and my shoes
were filled with
/ but here and
there the crim-
the crust beneath.
Think of that
dense grass, a
horrid stiff crop,
[Water Milkweed Pods. See page 72] each stem as big
as your finger, firm but brittle and about two feet high,
and the count-
even with ice!
P. M. -
and over Hill.
The wind -
has been blow-
ing and the
snow drifting. [Rose Hips. See page 72]
The paths are filled up again. The surface of the
snow is coarsely waved and rough now, as if it caught
at every straw and faced its windy foe again. It
appears a coarser grain now. By the river are con-
spicuous the now empty and spread pods of the water
milkweed, gray-brown without, silky-white within, -
in some a seed or two left still; also the late rose
corymbs of red hips; also the eupatorium drawn
at venture four pages back, or more erect, thus, -
some with brown fuzz and seeds still;
the sium sometimes, with its very flat
cymes; and that light-brown
sedge or rush.
ash keys still hang on amid
the black abortions (?).
For a few days I have noticed the
snow sprinkled with alder and birch
scales. I go now through the birch
meadow southwest of the Rock. The high wind
is scattering them over the snow there. See one
downy (?) woodpecker and one or two chick-
adees. The track of a squirrel on the Island
Neck. Tracks are altered by the depth of the
The Mead-snow. Looking up over the top of the hill now,
ow-Sweet southwest, at 3.30 P. M., I see a few mother-o'-
pearl tints, and methinks the same or rainbow tints in
the drifting snow there, against the bright light of the
unseen sun. Only in such clear cold air as this have
the small clouds in the west that fine evanishing edge.
It requires a state of the air that quickly dissipates all
1855] BIRDS' NESTS IN WINTER
moisture. It must be rare in summer. In this rare
atmosphere all cloud is quickly dissipated and mother-
o'-pearl tinted as it passes away. The snow is too deep
and soft yet for many tracks. No doubt the mice have
been out beneath it.
Recrossing the river behind Dodd's, now at 4 p. M., the
sun quite low, the open reach just below is quite green, a
vitreous green, as if seen through a junk-bottle. Perhaps
I never observed this phenomenon but when the sun was
He who would study birds' nests must look for them
in November and in winter as well as in midsummer,
for then the trees are bare and he can see them, and
the swamps and streams are frozen and he can approach
new kinds. He will often be surprised to find how many
have haunted where he little suspected, and will re-
ceive many hints accordingly, which he can act upon
in the summer. I am surprised to find many new ones
(i. e. not new species) in groves which I had examined
several times with particular care in the summer.
This was not a lodging snow, and the wind has
already blown most of it off the trees, yet the long-
limbed oak on the north of the hill still supports a ridge
of its pure white as thick as its limbs. They lie parallel
like the ulna and radius, and one is a bare white bone.
Beside the other weeds on the last page,
I might have shown the tall rough golden-
rod, still conspicuous:-
Found, in the Wheeler meadow, south-
west of the Island, a nest in the fork of an
alder about eight feet from ground, partly
saddled on, made apparently chiefly of fine grass and
bark fibres, quite firm and very thick bottomed, and
well bound without with various kind of lint. This is a
little oval, three by three and a half inches within and
seven eighths deep, with a very firm, smooth rim of fine
grass and dark shreds, lined with the same and some
lint. A few alder leaves dangle from the edge, and,
what is remarkable, the outer edge all around is de-
filed, quite covered, with black and white caterpillar-
like droppings of the young birds. It is broader and
shallower than a yellowbird's and larger than a wood
pewee's. Can it be a redstart's ? I should think it too
Dec. 31. It is one of the mornings of creation, and the
trees, shrubs, etc., etc., are covered with a fine leaf
frost, as if they had their morning robes on, seen against
the sun. There has been a mist in the night. Now,
at 8.30 A. M., I see, collected over the low grounds
behind Mr. Cheney's, a dense fog (over a foot of snow),
which looks dusty like smoke by contrast with the
snow. Though limited to perhaps twenty or thirty
acres, it [is] as dense as any in August. This accounts
for the frost on the twigs. It consists of minute leaves,
the longest an eighth of an inch, all around the twigs,
but longest commonly on one side, in one instance the
Clearing out the paths, which the drifting snow had
filled, I find already quite [a] crust, from the sun and the
blowing making it compact; but it is soft in the woods.
9 A. M. To Partridge Glade.
SNOW ON THE RAILROAD
I see many partridge-tracks in the light snow, where
they have sunk deep amid the shrub oaks; also gray
rabbit and deer mice tracks, for the last ran over this
soft surface last night. In a hollow in the glade, a
gray rabbit's track, apparently, leading to and from a
hole in the snow, which, following, and laying open,
I found to extend curving about this pit, four feet
through and under the snow, to a small hole in the
earth, which apparently led down deep.
At ten the frost leaves are nearly all melted.
It is invariably the east track on the railroad cause-
way which has the least snow on it. Though it is nearly
all blown off elsewhere on the causeway, Trillium
Woods have prevented its being blown off opposite to
them. The snow-plow yesterday cast the snow six feet
one side the edge of the cars, and it fell thick and
rich, evenly broken like well-plowed land. It lies like
a rich tilth in the sun, with its glowing cottony-white
ridges and its shadowy hollows.
Jan. 1. Speaking of foxes, J. Farmer told me last
evening that some time ago Sherman Barrett's folks
heard a squealing, and, running up, saw a fox leap
out of the pen with a sucking-pig in his mouth and
escape with it. Farmer says they commonly take the
dead lambs from the fields, though most dogs will not.
P. M. To Walden.
Walden is covered with white snow ice six inches
thick, for it froze while it was snowing, though com-
monly there is a thin dark beneath. This is now, there-
fore, bare, while the river, which was frozen before,
is covered with snow. A very small patch of Walden,
frozen since the snow, looks at a little distance exactly
like open water by contrast with the snow ice, the trees
being reflected in it, and indeed I am not certain but
a very small part of this patch was water.
The track-repairers have shovelled four little paths
by the sides of the rails, all the way from the depot to
Walden. As I went by the engine- house, I
saw great icicles fourfeet long hanging from the
eastern eaves, like slender pointed spears, the
last half blown aside by the wind: and still
more. By the side of the Deep Cut are the
tracks of probably tree sparrows about the
weeds, and of partridges.
1856] LEAF CRYSTALS ON THE ICE
On the ice at Walden are very beautiful great leaf
crystals in great profusion. The ice is frequently thickly
covered with them for many rods. They seem to be
connected with the rosettes, -a running together of
them. They look like a loose web of small white feathers
springing from a tuft of down, for their shafts are lost in
a tuft of fine snow like the down about the shaft of a
feather, as if a feather bed had been shaken over the ice.
They are, on a close examination, surprisingly perfect
leaves, like ferns, only very broad for their length and
commonly more on one side the midrib than the other.
They are from an inch to an inch and a half long and
three quarters wide, and slanted, where I look, from the
southwest. They have, first, a very distinct midrib,
though so thin that they cannot be taken up; then,
distinct ribs branching from this, commonly opposite,
and minute ribs springing again from these last, as in
many ferns, the last run-
ning to each creation in v
the border. How much -
further they are subdi-
vided, the naked eye can- --,--
not discern. They are so
thin and fragile that they melt under your breath while
looking closely at them. A fisherman says they were
much finer in the morning. In other places the ice is
strewn with a different kind of frostwork in little patches,
as if oats had been spilled, like fibres of asbestos rolled,
a half or three quarters of an inch long and an eighth
or more wide. Here and there patches of them a foot
or two over. Like some boreal grain spilled.
Here are two fishermen, and one has preceded them.
They have not had a bite, and know not why. It has
been a clear winter day.
On the north shore, near the railroad, I see the tracks
apparently of a white rabbit, afterward many tracks
of gray rabbits, and where they had squatted under
or rather by the side of an alder stem or the like,
and left many balls in the pure snow. Many have
run in one course. In the midst of them I see the
track of a large rabbit, probably a white one, which
was evidently on the full spring. Its tracks are four
feet apart, and, unlike the others, which are on the
surface even of this light snow, these break through
deep, making a hole six inches over. Why was this
one in such haste ? I conclude to trace him back
and find out. His bounds grow greater and greater as
I go back, now six feet quite, and a few rods further
are the tracks of a fox (possibly a dog, but I think
not) exactly on the trail! A little further, where the
rabbit was ascending a considerable slope, through this
snow nearly a foot deep, the bounds measure full seven
feet, leaving the snow untouched for that space be-
tween. It appeared that the fox had started the rabbit
from a bank on which it was resting, near a young
hemlock, and pursued it only a dozen rods up the
hill, and then gave up the chase,-and well he might,
Goodwin says that the white rabbit never bur-
rows, but the gray regularly. Yet he once knew a white
one to earth itself.
Frost-Crystals on Ice
1856] TRACING TRACKS IN THE SNOW 79
In a rabbit's track the two fore feet are the
furthest apart, thus : '*
This chase occurred probably in the night, either
the last or night before, when there was not a man
within a mile; but, treading on these very deep and
distinct tracks, it was as if I had witnessed it, and
in imagination I could see the sharp eyes of the crafty
fox and the palpitating breast of the timorous rabbit,
listening behind. We unwittingly traverse the scen-
ery of what tragedies Every square rod, perchance,
was the scene of a life or death struggle last night. As
you track the rabbit further off, its bounds becoming
shorter and shorter, you follow also surely its chan-
ging moods from desperate terror till it walks calmly
and reassured over the snow without breaking its very
slight crust, perchance till it gnaws some twig com-
posedly, and in the other direction you trace the
retreating steps of the disappointed fox until he has
forgotten this and scented some new game, maybe
dreams of partridges or wild mice. Your own feelings
are fluttered proportionably.'
Jan. 2. Probably the coldest morning yet, our ther-
mometer 60 below zero at 8 A. M.; yet there was quite
a mist in the air.2 The neighbors say it was 100 below
zero at 7 A. M.
P. M. To Walden.
As for the fox and rabbit race described yesterday,
I find that the rabbit was going the other way, and pos-
1 Vire [below].
2 This mist for several mornings after the first deep snow.
sibly the fox was a rabbit, for, tracing back the rabbit,
I found that it had first been walking with alternate
There were many white rabbits' tracks in those woods,
and many more of the gray rabbit, but the former
broke through and made a deep track, except where
there was a little crust on the south slope, while the
latter made but a faint impression on the surface.
The latter run very much in the same path, which is
well trodden, and you would think you were in the
midst of quite a settlement of them.
Crossing the railroad at the Heywood meadow, I saw
some snow buntings rise from the side of the embank-
ment, and with surging, rolling flight wing their way
up through the cut. I walked through the western-
most Heywood swamp. There are the tracks of many
rabbits, both gray and white, which have run about
the edges of these swamps since this snow came, amid
the alders and shrub oaks, and one white one has
crossed it. The cat-tails rise high above the snow in
the swamp, their brown heads bursting on one side into
creamy (?) billows and wreaths, or partly bare. Also
the rattlesnake grass is still gracefully drooping on
every side, with the weight of its seeds, a rich, wild
grain. And other wild grasses and rushes rise above
the snow. There is the wild-looking remnant of a white
pine, quite dead, rising fifteen or twenty feet, which
the woodpeckers have bored; and it is still clad with
sulphur lichens and many dark-colored tufts of cetraria
in the forks of its branches.
Returning, I saw, near the back road and railroad,
1856] SQUIRREL-BURROWS IN SNOW
a small flock of eight snow buntings feeding on the
seeds of the pigweed, picking them from the snow, -
apparently flat on the snow, their legs so short, and,
when I approached, alighting on the rail fence. They
were pretty black, with white wings and a brown cres-
cent on their breasts. They have come with this deeper
snow and colder weather.
Jan. 3. Snows again. About two inches have fallen
in the night, but it turns to a fine mist. It was a damp
P. M. To Hill.
The snow turned to a fine mist or mizzling, through
which I see a little blue in the snow, lurking in the ruts.
In the river meadows and on the (perhaps moist)
sides of the hill, how common and conspicuous the
brown spear-heads of the hardhack, above the snow,
and looking black by contrast with it!
Just beyond the Assabet Spring I see where a squirrel,
gray or red, dug through the snow last night in search
of acorns, i know it was last night, for it was while
the last snow was falling, and the tracks are partly
filled by it; they are like this: T h Thi s
squirrel has burrowed to the ground
in many places within a few yards, probing the leaves
for acorns in various directions, making a short burrow
under the snow, sometimes passing under the snow
a yard and coming out at another place; for, though
it is somewhat hardened on the surface by the nightly
freezing and the hail, it is still quite soft and light beneath
next the earth, and a squirrel or mouse can burrow
very fast indeed there. I am surprised to find how easily
I can pass my hand through it there. In many places
it has dropped the leaves, etc., about the mouth of the
hole. (The whole snow about ten inches deep.) I
see where it sat in a young oak and ate an acorn, drop-
ping the shells on the snow beneath, for there is no
track to the shells, but only to the base of the oak.
How independently they live, not alarmed, though the
snow be two feet deep!
Now, when all the fields and meadows are covered
deep with snow, the warm-colored shoots of osiers,
red and yellow, rising above it, remind me of
It is astonishing how far a merely well-dressed and
good-looking man may go without being challenged by
any sentinel. What is called good society will bid high
The man whom the State has raised to high office, like
that of governor, for instance, from some, it may be,
honest but less respected calling, cannot return to his
former humble but profitable pursuits, his old cus-
tomers will be so shy of him. His ex-honorableness-
ship stands seriously in his way, whether he is a lawyer
or a shopkeeper. He can't get ex-honorated. So he
becomes a sort of State pauper, an object of charity
on its hands, which the State is bound in honor to
see through and provide still with offices of similar re-
spectability, that he may not come to want. A man
who has been President becomes the Ex-President,
and can't travel or stay at home anywhere but men
will persist in paying respect to his ex-ship. It is cruel
to remember his deeds so long. When his time is out,
why can't they let the poor fellow go ?
Jan. 4.1 A clear, cold day.
P. M. To Walden to examine the ice.
I think it is only such a day as this, when the fields on
all sides are well clad with snow, over which the sun
shines brightly, that you observe the blue shadows on
the snow. I see a little of it to-day.
December 29th there were eight or ten acres of Walden
still open. That evening it began to snow and snowed
all night, and the remainder of the pond was frozen
on that [and] the succeeding night. But on January
1st I was surprised to find all the visible ice snow ice,
when I expected that only the eight or ten acres would
be; but it appeared that the weight of the snow had
sunk the ice already formed and then partly dissolved
in the water, which rose above it and partly was frozen
with it. The whole ice January 1st was about six inches
thick, and I should have supposed that over the greater
part of the pond there would be a clear ice about two
inches thick on the lower side,'yet, where I cut through
near the shore, I distinguished two kinds of ice, the
upper two and a half inches thick and evidently snow
ice, the lower about four inches thick and clearer, yet
not remarkably clear.
Some fishermen had, apparently by accident, left two
of their lines there, which were frozen in. I could see
their tracks leading from hole to hole, where they
1 [The first page of the manuscript journal which begins here is
headed "The Long, Snowy Winter."]
had run about day before yesterday, or -before the
snow, and their dog with them. And the snow was
stained with tobacco-juice. They had had lines set
in two or three distant coves. They had, apparently,
taken no fish, for they had cut no well to put them in.
I cut out the lines, the ice being about an inch thick
around them, and pulled up a fine yellow pickerel
which would weigh two pounds or more. At first I
thought there was none, for he was tired of struggling,
but soon I felt him. The hook had caught in the out-
side of his jaws, and the minnow hung entire by his
side. It was very cold, and he struggled but a short time,
not being able to bend and quirk his tail; in a few min-
utes became quite stiff as he lay on the snowy ice.
The water in his eyes was frozen, so that he looked
as if he had been dead a week. About fifteen minutes
after, thinking of what I had heard about fishes coming
to life again after being frozen, on being put into water,
I thought I would try it. This one was to appearance
as completely dead as if he had been frozen a week.
I stood him up on his tail without bending it. I put
him into the water again without removing the hook.
The ice melted off, and its eyes looked bright again;
and after a minute or two [I] was surprised by a sudden,
convulsive quirk of the fish, and a minute or two later
by another, and I saw that it would indeed revive, and
drew it out again. Yet I do not believe that if it had
been frozen solid through and through it would have
revived, but only when it is superficially frozen.
This reminded me of the pickerel which I caught
here under similar circumstances for Peter Hutchin-
son, and thrust my mittened hands in after. When I
put this pickerel in again after half an hour, it did not
revive, but I held it there only three or four minutes,
not long enough to melt the ice which encased it.
Another man had passed since the last snow fell, and
pulled up at least one of the lines. I knew it was to-day
and not yesterday by the character of his track, for
it was made since the stiff crust formed on this snow
last night, a broad depression cracking the crust around;
but yesterday it was comparatively soft and moist.
Aunt says that Mr. Hoar tells a story of Abel Davis
to this purport: He had once caught a pickerel in the
brook near his house and was overheard to say, Why,
who 'd 'a' thought to find you here in Temple Brook.
With a slice of pork you '11 make Rhody" (or what-
ever the name of his wife was) "and I a good meal."
He probably was not much of a fisherman, and could
hardly contain himself for joy.
It is snapping cold this night (10 P. M.). I see the
frost on the windows sparkle as I go through the
passageway with a light.
Jan. 5. One of the coldest mornings. Thermometer
-90, say some.
P. M. Up river to Hubbard's Bridge.
It has been trying to snow all day, but has not suc-
ceeded; as if it were too cold. Though it has been
falling all day, there has not been .enough to whiten
the coat of the traveller. I come to the river, for here
it is the best walking. The snow is not so deep over
the ice. Near the middle, the superincumbent snow
has so far been converted into a coarse snow ice that
it will bear me, though occasionally I slump through
intervening water to another ice below. Also, perhaps,
the snow has been somewhat blown out of the river
valley. At any rate, by walking where the ice was frozen
last, or over the channel, I can get along quite com-
fortably, while it is hard travelling through this crusted
snow in the fields. Generally, to be sure, the river
is but a white snow-field, indistinguishable from the
fields, but over the channel there is a thread, com-
monly, of yellowish porous-looking snow ice.
The hardhack above the snow has this form:
Should not that meadow where
the first bridge was built be
called Hardhack Meadow? Also
there are countless small ferns,
with terminal leafet only left
on, still rising above the snow,
-for I notice the herbage of the
riverside now,--thus, like the large ones in swamps:
What with the
S grasses -that coarse
grass and the stems
of the button-bushes, the snow about the button-bushes
forms often broad, -several rods broad, -low mounds,
nearly burying the bushes, along which the tops of the
S, button-bushes and that
broad-bladed, now straw-
colored grass still rise,
with masses of thin, now black-looking balls, erect or
1856] SNOW-CRYSTALS 87
dangling. The black willows have here and there still a
very few little curled and crispy leaves.
The river is last open, methinks, just below a bend,1
as now at the Bath Place and at Clamshell Hill; and
quite a novel sight is the dark water there. How little
locomotive now look the boats whose painted sterns
I just detect where they are half filled with ice and
almost completely buried in snow, so neglected by
their improvident owners, some frozen in the ice,
opening their seams, some drawn up on the bank. This
is not merely improvidence; it is ingratitude.
Now and then I hear a sort of creaking twitter,
maybe from a passing snow bunting. This is the weather
for them. I am surprised that Nut Meadow Brook
has overflowed its meadow and converted it into that
.crse yellowish snow ice. Otherwise it had been a
broad snow-field, concealing a little ice under it. There
is a narrow thread of open water over its channel.
The thin snow now driving from the north and
lodging on my coat consists of those beautiful star
crystals, not cottony and chubby spokes, as on the
13th December, but thin and partly transparent crystals.
They are about a tenth of an inch in diameter, perfect
little wheels with six spokes without a tire, or rather
with six perfect little leafets, fern-like, with a distinct
straight and slender midrib, raying from the centre.
On each side of each midrib there is a transparent thin
blade with a crenate edge, thus: How full of the
creative genius is the air in which these are gener-
ated! I should hardly admire more if real stars fell and
1 Vide the 27th inst.
88 JOURNAL [JAN. 5
lodged on my coat. Nature is full of genius, full of the
divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning
hand. Nothing is cheap and coarse, neither dewdrops
nor snowflakes. Soon the storm increases, it was al-
ready very severe to face, and the snow comes finer,
more white and powdery. Who knows but this is
the original form of all snowflakes, but that when I
observe these crystal stars falling around me they are
but just generated in the low mist next the earth? I
am nearer to the source of the snow, its primal, auroral,
and golden hour or infancy, but commonly the flakes
reach us travel-worn and agglomerated, comparatively
without order or beauty, far down in their fall, like men
in their advanced age.
As for the circumstances under which this phenom-
enon occurs, it is quite cold, and the driving store .
is bitter to face,1 though very little snow is falling. It
comes almost horizontally from the north. Methinks
this kind of snow never falls in any quantity.2
A divinity must have stirred within them before the
crystals did thus shoot and set. Wheels of the storm-
chariots. The same law that shapes the earth-star
shapes the snow-star. As surely as the petals of a flower
are fixed, each of these countless snow-stars comes
whirling to earth, pronouncing thus, with emphasis, the
number six. Order, K6o-Tos.3
On the Saskatchewan, when no man of science is
there to behold, still down they come, and not the less
1 Vide Mar. 19th. 2 Yes, it does.
3This was the beginning of a storm which reached far and wide
and elsewhere was more severe than here.