Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

Part 4 out of 6

string of fish, though they had the opportunity of seeing the pond
all the while. They might go there a thousand times before the
sediment of fishing would sink to the bottom and leave their purpose
pure; but no doubt such a clarifying process would be going on all
the while. The Governor and his Council faintly remember the pond,
for they went a-fishing there when they were boys; but now they are
too old and dignified to go a-fishing, and so they know it no more
forever. Yet even they expect to go to heaven at last. If the
legislature regards it, it is chiefly to regulate the number of
hooks to be used there; but they know nothing about the hook of
hooks with which to angle for the pond itself, impaling the
legislature for a bait. Thus, even in civilized communities, the
embryo man passes through the hunter stage of development.
I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot fish
without falling a little in self-respect. I have tried it again and
again. I have skill at it, and, like many of my fellows, a certain
instinct for it, which revives from time to time, but always when I
have done I feel that it would have been better if I had not fished.
I think that I do not mistake. It is a faint intimation, yet so are
the first streaks of morning. There is unquestionably this instinct
in me which belongs to the lower orders of creation; yet with every
year I am less a fisherman, though without more humanity or even
wisdom; at present I am no fisherman at all. But I see that if I
were to live in a wilderness I should again be tempted to become a
fisher and hunter in earnest. Beside, there is something
essentially unclean about this diet and all flesh, and I began to
see where housework commences, and whence the endeavor, which costs
so much, to wear a tidy and respectable appearance each day, to keep
the house sweet and free from all ill odors and sights. Having been
my own butcher and scullion and cook, as well as the gentleman for
whom the dishes were served up, I can speak from an unusually
complete experience. The practical objection to animal food in my
case was its uncleanness; and besides, when I had caught and cleaned
and cooked and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me
essentially. It was insignificant and unnecessary, and cost more
than it came to. A little bread or a few potatoes would have done
as well, with less trouble and filth. Like many of my
contemporaries, I had rarely for many years used animal food, or
tea, or coffee, etc.; not so much because of any ill effects which I
had traced to them, as because they were not agreeable to my
imagination. The repugnance to animal food is not the effect of
experience, but is an instinct. It appeared more beautiful to live
low and fare hard in many respects; and though I never did so, I
went far enough to please my imagination. I believe that every man
who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties
in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from
animal food, and from much food of any kind. It is a significant
fact, stated by entomologists -- I find it in Kirby and Spence --
that "some insects in their perfect state, though furnished with
organs of feeding, make no use of them"; and they lay it down as "a
general rule, that almost all insects in this state eat much less
than in that of larvae. The voracious caterpillar when transformed
into a butterfly ... and the gluttonous maggot when become a fly"
content themselves with a drop or two of honey or some other sweet
liquid. The abdomen under the wings of the butterfly still
represents the larva. This is the tidbit which tempts his
insectivorous fate. The gross feeder is a man in the larva state;
and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without fancy
or imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them.
It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean a diet as
will not offend the imagination; but this, I think, is to be fed
when we feed the body; they should both sit down at the same table.
Yet perhaps this may be done. The fruits eaten temperately need not
make us ashamed of our appetites, nor interrupt the worthiest
pursuits. But put an extra condiment into your dish, and it will
poison you. It is not worth the while to live by rich cookery.
Most men would feel shame if caught preparing with their own hands
precisely such a dinner, whether of animal or vegetable food, as is
every day prepared for them by others. Yet till this is otherwise
we are not civilized, and, if gentlemen and ladies, are not true men
and women. This certainly suggests what change is to be made. It
may be vain to ask why the imagination will not be reconciled to
flesh and fat. I am satisfied that it is not. Is it not a reproach
that man is a carnivorous animal? True, he can and does live, in a
great measure, by preying on other animals; but this is a miserable
way -- as any one who will go to snaring rabbits, or slaughtering
lambs, may learn -- and he will be regarded as a benefactor of his
race who shall teach man to confine himself to a more innocent and
wholesome diet. Whatever my own practice may be, I have no doubt
that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual
improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage
tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact
with the more civilized.
If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his
genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or
even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more
resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured
objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over
the arguments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed his
genius till it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness,
yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be
regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles.
If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and
life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more
elastic, more starry, more immortal -- that is your success. All
nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to
bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from
being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon
forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most
astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The
true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and
indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little
star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.
Yet, for my part, I was never unusually squeamish; I could
sometimes eat a fried rat with a good relish, if it were necessary.
I am glad to have drunk water so long, for the same reason that I
prefer the natural sky to an opium-eater's heaven. I would fain
keep sober always; and there are infinite degrees of drunkenness. I
believe that water is the only drink for a wise man; wine is not so
noble a liquor; and think of dashing the hopes of a morning with a
cup of warm coffee, or of an evening with a dish of tea! Ah, how
low I fall when I am tempted by them! Even music may be
intoxicating. Such apparently slight causes destroyed Greece and
Rome, and will destroy England and America. Of all ebriosity, who
does not prefer to be intoxicated by the air he breathes? I have
found it to be the most serious objection to coarse labors long
continued, that they compelled me to eat and drink coarsely also.
But to tell the truth, I find myself at present somewhat less
particular in these respects. I carry less religion to the table,
ask no blessing; not because I am wiser than I was, but, I am
obliged to confess, because, however much it is to be regretted,
with years I have grown more coarse and indifferent. Perhaps these
questions are entertained only in youth, as most believe of poetry.
My practice is "nowhere," my opinion is here. Nevertheless I am far
from regarding myself as one of those privileged ones to whom the
Ved refers when it says, that "he who has true faith in the
Omnipresent Supreme Being may eat all that exists," that is, is not
bound to inquire what is his food, or who prepares it; and even in
their case it is to be observed, as a Hindoo commentator has
remarked, that the Vedant limits this privilege to "the time of
Who has not sometimes derived an inexpressible satisfaction from
his food in which appetite had no share? I have been thrilled to
think that I owed a mental perception to the commonly gross sense of
taste, that I have been inspired through the palate, that some
berries which I had eaten on a hillside had fed my genius. "The
soul not being mistress of herself," says Thseng-tseu, "one looks,
and one does not see; one listens, and one does not hear; one eats,
and one does not know the savor of food." He who distinguishes the
true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not
cannot be otherwise. A puritan may go to his brown-bread crust with
as gross an appetite as ever an alderman to his turtle. Not that
food which entereth into the mouth defileth a man, but the appetite
with which it is eaten. It is neither the quality nor the quantity,
but the devotion to sensual savors; when that which is eaten is not
a viand to sustain our animal, or inspire our spiritual life, but
food for the worms that possess us. If the hunter has a taste for
mud-turtles, muskrats, and other such savage tidbits, the fine lady
indulges a taste for jelly made of a calf's foot, or for sardines
from over the sea, and they are even. He goes to the mill-pond, she
to her preserve-pot. The wonder is how they, how you and I, can
live this slimy, beastly life, eating and drinking.
Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an
instant's truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only
investment that never fails. In the music of the harp which
trembles round the world it is the insisting on this which thrills
us. The harp is the travelling patterer for the Universe's
Insurance Company, recommending its laws, and our little goodness is
all the assessment that we pay. Though the youth at last grows
indifferent, the laws of the universe are not indifferent, but are
forever on the side of the most sensitive. Listen to every zephyr
for some reproof, for it is surely there, and he is unfortunate who
does not hear it. We cannot touch a string or move a stop but the
charming moral transfixes us. Many an irksome noise, go a long way
off, is heard as music, a proud, sweet satire on the meanness of our
We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion
as our higher nature slumbers. It is reptile and sensual, and
perhaps cannot be wholly expelled; like the worms which, even in
life and health, occupy our bodies. Possibly we may withdraw from
it, but never change its nature. I fear that it may enjoy a certain
health of its own; that we may be well, yet not pure. The other day
I picked up the lower jaw of a hog, with white and sound teeth and
tusks, which suggested that there was an animal health and vigor
distinct from the spiritual. This creature succeeded by other means
than temperance and purity. "That in which men differ from brute
beasts," says Mencius, "is a thing very inconsiderable; the common
herd lose it very soon; superior men preserve it carefully." Who
knows what sort of life would result if we had attained to purity?
If I knew so wise a man as could teach me purity I would go to seek
him forthwith. "A command over our passions, and over the external
senses of the body, and good acts, are declared by the Ved to be
indispensable in the mind's approximation to God." Yet the spirit
can for the time pervade and control every member and function of
the body, and transmute what in form is the grossest sensuality
into purity and devotion. The generative energy, which, when we are
loose, dissipates and makes us unclean, when we are continent
invigorates and inspires us. Chastity is the flowering of man; and
what are called Genius, Heroism, Holiness, and the like, are but
various fruits which succeed it. Man flows at once to God when the
channel of purity is open. By turns our purity inspires and our
impurity casts us down. He is blessed who is assured that the
animal is dying out in him day by day, and the divine being
established. Perhaps there is none but has cause for shame on
account of the inferior and brutish nature to which he is allied. I
fear that we are such gods or demigods only as fauns and satyrs, the
divine allied to beasts, the creatures of appetite, and that, to
some extent, our very life is our disgrace.--

"How happy's he who hath due place assigned
To his beasts and disafforested his mind!
. . . . . . .
Can use this horse, goat, wolf, and ev'ry beast,
And is not ass himself to all the rest!
Else man not only is the herd of swine,
But he's those devils too which did incline
Them to a headlong rage, and made them worse."

All sensuality is one, though it takes many forms; all purity is
one. It is the same whether a man eat, or drink, or cohabit, or
sleep sensually. They are but one appetite, and we only need to see
a person do any one of these things to know how great a sensualist
he is. The impure can neither stand nor sit with purity. When the
reptile is attacked at one mouth of his burrow, he shows himself at
another. If you would be chaste, you must be temperate. What is
chastity? How shall a man know if he is chaste? He shall not know
it. We have heard of this virtue, but we know not what it is. We
speak conformably to the rumor which we have heard. From exertion
come wisdom and purity; from sloth ignorance and sensuality. In the
student sensuality is a sluggish habit of mind. An unclean person
is universally a slothful one, one who sits by a stove, whom the sun
shines on prostrate, who reposes without being fatigued. If you
would avoid uncleanness, and all the sins, work earnestly, though it
be at cleaning a stable. Nature is hard to be overcome, but she
must be overcome. What avails it that you are Christian, if you are
not purer than the heathen, if you deny yourself no more, if you are
not more religious? I know of many systems of religion esteemed
heathenish whose precepts fill the reader with shame, and provoke
him to new endeavors, though it be to the performance of rites
I hesitate to say these things, but it is not because of the
subject -- I care not how obscene my words are -- but because I
cannot speak of them without betraying my impurity. We discourse
freely without shame of one form of sensuality, and are silent about
another. We are so degraded that we cannot speak simply of the
necessary functions of human nature. In earlier ages, in some
countries, every function was reverently spoken of and regulated by
law. Nothing was too trivial for the Hindoo lawgiver, however
offensive it may be to modern taste. He teaches how to eat, drink,
cohabit, void excrement and urine, and the like, elevating what is
mean, and does not falsely excuse himself by calling these things
Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the
god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by
hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and
our material is our own flesh and blood and bones. Any nobleness
begins at once to refine a man's features, any meanness or
sensuality to imbrute them.
John Farmer sat at his door one September evening, after a hard
day's work, his mind still running on his labor more or less.
Having bathed, he sat down to re-create his intellectual man. It
was a rather cool evening, and some of his neighbors were
apprehending a frost. He had not attended to the train of his
thoughts long when he heard some one playing on a flute, and that
sound harmonized with his mood. Still he thought of his work; but
the burden of his thought was, that though this kept running in his
head, and he found himself planning and contriving it against his
will, yet it concerned him very little. It was no more than the
scurf of his skin, which was constantly shuffled off. But the notes
of the flute came home to his ears out of a different sphere from
that he worked in, and suggested work for certain faculties which
slumbered in him. They gently did away with the street, and the
village, and the state in which he lived. A voice said to him --
Why do you stay here and live this mean moiling life, when a
glorious existence is possible for you? Those same stars twinkle
over other fields than these. -- But how to come out of this
condition and actually migrate thither? All that he could think of
was to practise some new austerity, to let his mind descend into his
body and redeem it, and treat himself with ever increasing respect.

Brute Neighbors

Sometimes I had a companion in my fishing, who came through the
village to my house from the other side of the town, and the
catching of the dinner was as much a social exercise as the eating
of it.
Hermit. I wonder what the world is doing now. I have not heard
so much as a locust over the sweet-fern these three hours. The
pigeons are all asleep upon their roosts -- no flutter from them.
Was that a farmer's noon horn which sounded from beyond the woods
just now? The hands are coming in to boiled salt beef and cider and
Indian bread. Why will men worry themselves so? He that does not
eat need not work. I wonder how much they have reaped. Who would
live there where a body can never think for the barking of Bose?
And oh, the housekeeping! to keep bright the devil's door-knobs, and
scour his tubs this bright day! Better not keep a house. Say, some
hollow tree; and then for morning calls and dinner-parties! Only a
woodpecker tapping. Oh, they swarm; the sun is too warm there; they
are born too far into life for me. I have water from the spring,
and a loaf of brown bread on the shelf. -- Hark! I hear a rustling
of the leaves. Is it some ill-fed village hound yielding to the
instinct of the chase? or the lost pig which is said to be in these
woods, whose tracks I saw after the rain? It comes on apace; my
sumachs and sweetbriers tremble. -- Eh, Mr. Poet, is it you? How do
you like the world to-day?
Poet. See those clouds; how they hang! That's the greatest
thing I have seen to-day. There's nothing like it in old paintings,
nothing like it in foreign lands -- unless when we were off the
coast of Spain. That's a true Mediterranean sky. I thought, as I
have my living to get, and have not eaten to-day, that I might go
a-fishing. That's the true industry for poets. It is the only
trade I have learned. Come, let's along.
Hermit. I cannot resist. My brown bread will soon be gone. I
will go with you gladly soon, but I am just concluding a serious
meditation. I think that I am near the end of it. Leave me alone,
then, for a while. But that we may not be delayed, you shall be
digging the bait meanwhile. Angleworms are rarely to be met with in
these parts, where the soil was never fattened with manure; the race
is nearly extinct. The sport of digging the bait is nearly equal to
that of catching the fish, when one's appetite is not too keen; and
this you may have all to yourself today. I would advise you to set
in the spade down yonder among the ground-nuts, where you see the
johnswort waving. I think that I may warrant you one worm to every
three sods you turn up, if you look well in among the roots of the
grass, as if you were weeding. Or, if you choose to go farther, it
will not be unwise, for I have found the increase of fair bait to be
very nearly as the squares of the distances.
Hermit alone. Let me see; where was I? Methinks I was nearly
in this frame of mind; the world lay about at this angle. Shall I
go to heaven or a-fishing? If I should soon bring this meditation
to an end, would another so sweet occasion be likely to offer? I
was as near being resolved into the essence of things as ever I was
in my life. I fear my thoughts will not come back to me. If it
would do any good, I would whistle for them. When they make us an
offer, is it wise to say, We will think of it? My thoughts have
left no track, and I cannot find the path again. What was it that I
was thinking of? It was a very hazy day. I will just try these
three sentences of Confutsee; they may fetch that state about again.
I know not whether it was the dumps or a budding ecstasy. Mem.
There never is but one opportunity of a kind.
Poet. How now, Hermit, is it too soon? I have got just
thirteen whole ones, beside several which are imperfect or
undersized; but they will do for the smaller fry; they do not cover
up the hook so much. Those village worms are quite too large; a
shiner may make a meal off one without finding the skewer.
Hermit. Well, then, let's be off. Shall we to the Concord?
There's good sport there if the water be not too high.
Why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world?
Why has man just these species of animals for his neighbors; as if
nothing but a mouse could have filled this crevice? I suspect that
Pilpay & Co. have put animals to their best use, for they are all
beasts of burden, in a sense, made to carry some portion of our
The mice which haunted my house were not the common ones, which
are said to have been introduced into the country, but a wild native
kind not found in the village. I sent one to a distinguished
naturalist, and it interested him much. When I was building, one of
these had its nest underneath the house, and before I had laid the
second floor, and swept out the shavings, would come out regularly
at lunch time and pick up the crumbs at my feet. It probably had
never seen a man before; and it soon became quite familiar, and
would run over my shoes and up my clothes. It could readily ascend
the sides of the room by short impulses, like a squirrel, which it
resembled in its motions. At length, as I leaned with my elbow on
the bench one day, it ran up my clothes, and along my sleeve, and
round and round the paper which held my dinner, while I kept the
latter close, and dodged and played at bopeep with it; and when at
last I held still a piece of cheese between my thumb and finger, it
came and nibbled it, sitting in my hand, and afterward cleaned its
face and paws, like a fly, and walked away.
A phoebe soon built in my shed, and a robin for protection in a
pine which grew against the house. In June the partridge (Tetrao
umbellus), which is so shy a bird, led her brood past my windows,
from the woods in the rear to the front of my house, clucking and
calling to them like a hen, and in all her behavior proving herself
the hen of the woods. The young suddenly disperse on your approach,
at a signal from the mother, as if a whirlwind had swept them away,
and they so exactly resemble the dried leaves and twigs that many a
traveler has placed his foot in the midst of a brood, and heard the
whir of the old bird as she flew off, and her anxious calls and
mewing, or seen her trail her wings to attract his attention,
without suspecting their neighborhood. The parent will sometimes
roll and spin round before you in such a dishabille, that you
cannot, for a few moments, detect what kind of creature it is. The
young squat still and flat, often running their heads under a leaf,
and mind only their mother's directions given from a distance, nor
will your approach make them run again and betray themselves. You
may even tread on them, or have your eyes on them for a minute,
without discovering them. I have held them in my open hand at such
a time, and still their only care, obedient to their mother and
their instinct, was to squat there without fear or trembling. So
perfect is this instinct, that once, when I had laid them on the
leaves again, and one accidentally fell on its side, it was found
with the rest in exactly the same position ten minutes afterward.
They are not callow like the young of most birds, but more perfectly
developed and precocious even than chickens. The remarkably adult
yet innocent expression of their open and serene eyes is very
memorable. All intelligence seems reflected in them. They suggest
not merely the purity of infancy, but a wisdom clarified by
experience. Such an eye was not born when the bird was, but is
coeval with the sky it reflects. The woods do not yield another
such a gem. The traveller does not often look into such a limpid
well. The ignorant or reckless sportsman often shoots the parent at
such a time, and leaves these innocents to fall a prey to some
prowling beast or bird, or gradually mingle with the decaying leaves
which they so much resemble. It is said that when hatched by a hen
they will directly disperse on some alarm, and so are lost, for they
never hear the mother's call which gathers them again. These were
my hens and chickens.
It is remarkable how many creatures live wild and free though
secret in the woods, and still sustain themselves in the
neighborhood of towns, suspected by hunters only. How retired the
otter manages to live here! He grows to be four feet long, as big
as a small boy, perhaps without any human being getting a glimpse of
him. I formerly saw the raccoon in the woods behind where my house
is built, and probably still heard their whinnering at night.
Commonly I rested an hour or two in the shade at noon, after
planting, and ate my lunch, and read a little by a spring which was
the source of a swamp and of a brook, oozing from under Brister's
Hill, half a mile from my field. The approach to this was through a
succession of descending grassy hollows, full of young pitch pines,
into a larger wood about the swamp. There, in a very secluded and
shaded spot, under a spreading white pine, there was yet a clean,
firm sward to sit on. I had dug out the spring and made a well of
clear gray water, where I could dip up a pailful without roiling it,
and thither I went for this purpose almost every day in midsummer,
when the pond was warmest. Thither, too, the woodcock led her
brood, to probe the mud for worms, flying but a foot above them down
the bank, while they ran in a troop beneath; but at last, spying me,
she would leave her young and circle round and round me, nearer and
nearer till within four or five feet, pretending broken wings and
legs, to attract my attention, and get off her young, who would
already have taken up their march, with faint, wiry peep, single
file through the swamp, as she directed. Or I heard the peep of the
young when I could not see the parent bird. There too the turtle
doves sat over the spring, or fluttered from bough to bough of the
soft white pines over my head; or the red squirrel, coursing down
the nearest bough, was particularly familiar and inquisitive. You
only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods
that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns.
I was witness to events of a less peaceful character. One day
when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I
observed two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly
half an inch long, and black, fiercely contending with one another.
Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled
and rolled on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was
surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants,
that it was not a duellum, but a bellum, a war between two races of
ants, the red always pitted against the black, and frequently two
red ones to one black. The legions of these Myrmidons covered all
the hills and vales in my wood-yard, and the ground was already
strewn with the dead and dying, both red and black. It was the only
battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battle-field I ever
trod while the battle was raging; internecine war; the red
republicans on the one hand, and the black imperialists on the
other. On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet
without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought
so resolutely. I watched a couple that were fast locked in each
other's embraces, in a little sunny valley amid the chips, now at
noonday prepared to fight till the sun went down, or life went out.
The smaller red champion had fastened himself like a vice to his
adversary's front, and through all the tumblings on that field never
for an instant ceased to gnaw at one of his feelers near the root,
having already caused the other to go by the board; while the
stronger black one dashed him from side to side, and, as I saw on
looking nearer, had already divested him of several of his members.
They fought with more pertinacity than bulldogs. Neither manifested
the least disposition to retreat. It was evident that their
battle-cry was "Conquer or die." In the meanwhile there came along
a single red ant on the hillside of this valley, evidently full of
excitement, who either had despatched his foe, or had not yet taken
part in the battle; probably the latter, for he had lost none of his
limbs; whose mother had charged him to return with his shield or
upon it. Or perchance he was some Achilles, who had nourished his
wrath apart, and had now come to avenge or rescue his Patroclus. He
saw this unequal combat from afar -- for the blacks were nearly
twice the size of the red -- he drew near with rapid pace till be
stood on his guard within half an inch of the combatants; then,
watching his opportunity, he sprang upon the black warrior, and
commenced his operations near the root of his right fore leg,
leaving the foe to select among his own members; and so there were
three united for life, as if a new kind of attraction had been
invented which put all other locks and cements to shame. I should
not have wondered by this time to find that they had their
respective musical bands stationed on some eminent chip, and playing
their national airs the while, to excite the slow and cheer the
dying combatants. I was myself excited somewhat even as if they had
been men. The more you think of it, the less the difference. And
certainly there is not the fight recorded in Concord history, at
least, if in the history of America, that will bear a moment's
comparison with this, whether for the numbers engaged in it, or for
the patriotism and heroism displayed. For numbers and for carnage
it was an Austerlitz or Dresden. Concord Fight! Two killed on the
patriots' side, and Luther Blanchard wounded! Why here every ant
was a Buttrick -- "Fire! for God's sake fire!" -- and thousands
shared the fate of Davis and Hosmer. There was not one hireling
there. I have no doubt that it was a principle they fought for, as
much as our ancestors, and not to avoid a three-penny tax on their
tea; and the results of this battle will be as important and
memorable to those whom it concerns as those of the battle of Bunker
Hill, at least.
I took up the chip on which the three I have particularly
described were struggling, carried it into my house, and placed it
under a tumbler on my window-sill, in order to see the issue.
Holding a microscope to the first-mentioned red ant, I saw that,
though he was assiduously gnawing at the near fore leg of his enemy,
having severed his remaining feeler, his own breast was all torn
away, exposing what vitals he had there to the jaws of the black
warrior, whose breastplate was apparently too thick for him to
pierce; and the dark carbuncles of the sufferer's eyes shone with
ferocity such as war only could excite. They struggled half an hour
longer under the tumbler, and when I looked again the black soldier
had severed the heads of his foes from their bodies, and the still
living heads were hanging on either side of him like ghastly
trophies at his saddle-bow, still apparently as firmly fastened as
ever, and he was endeavoring with feeble struggles, being without
feelers and with only the remnant of a leg, and I know not how many
other wounds, to divest himself of them; which at length, after half
an hour more, he accomplished. I raised the glass, and he went off
over the window-sill in that crippled state. Whether he finally
survived that combat, and spent the remainder of his days in some
Hotel des Invalides, I do not know; but I thought that his industry
would not be worth much thereafter. I never learned which party was
victorious, nor the cause of the war; but I felt for the rest of
that day as if I had had my feelings excited and harrowed by
witnessing the struggle, the ferocity and carnage, of a human battle
before my door.
Kirby and Spence tell us that the battles of ants have long been
celebrated and the date of them recorded, though they say that Huber
is the only modern author who appears to have witnessed them.
"AEneas Sylvius," say they, "after giving a very circumstantial
account of one contested with great obstinacy by a great and small
species on the trunk of a pear tree," adds that "this action was
fought in the pontificate of Eugenius the Fourth, in the presence of
Nicholas Pistoriensis, an eminent lawyer, who related the whole,
history of the battle with the greatest fidelity." A similar
engagement between great and small ants is recorded by Olaus Magnus,
in which the small ones, being victorious, are said to have buried
the bodies of their own soldiers, but left those of their giant
enemies a prey to the birds. This event happened previous to the
expulsion of the tyrant Christiern the Second from Sweden." The
battle which I witnessed took place in the Presidency of Polk, five
years before the passage of Webster's Fugitive-Slave Bill.
Many a village Bose, fit only to course a mud-turtle in a
victualling cellar, sported his heavy quarters in the woods, without
the knowledge of his master, and ineffectually smelled at old fox
burrows and woodchucks' holes; led perchance by some slight cur
which nimbly threaded the wood, and might still inspire a natural
terror in its denizens; -- now far behind his guide, barking like a
canine bull toward some small squirrel which had treed itself for
scrutiny, then, cantering off, bending the bushes with his weight,
imagining that he is on the track of some stray member of the
jerbilla family. Once I was surprised to see a cat walking along
the stony shore of the pond, for they rarely wander so far from
home. The surprise was mutual. Nevertheless the most domestic cat,
which has lain on a rug all her days, appears quite at home in the
woods, and, by her sly and stealthy behavior, proves herself more
native there than the regular inhabitants. Once, when berrying, I
met with a cat with young kittens in the woods, quite wild, and they
all, like their mother, had their backs up and were fiercely
spitting at me. A few years before I lived in the woods there was
what was called a "winged cat" in one of the farm-houses in Lincoln
nearest the pond, Mr. Gilian Baker's. When I called to see her in
June, 1842, she was gone a-hunting in the woods, as was her wont (I
am not sure whether it was a male or female, and so use the more
common pronoun), but her mistress told me that she came into the
neighborhood a little more than a year before, in April, and was
finally taken into their house; that she was of a dark brownish-gray
color, with a white spot on her throat, and white feet, and had a
large bushy tail like a fox; that in the winter the fur grew thick
and flatted out along her sides, forming stripes ten or twelve
inches long by two and a half wide, and under her chin like a muff,
the upper side loose, the under matted like felt, and in the spring
these appendages dropped off. They gave me a pair of her "wings,"
which I keep still. There is no appearance of a membrane about
them. Some thought it was part flying squirrel or some other wild
animal, which is not impossible, for, according to naturalists,
prolific hybrids have been produced by the union of the marten and
domestic cat. This would have been the right kind of cat for me to
keep, if I had kept any; for why should not a poet's cat be winged
as well as his horse?
In the fall the loon (Colymbus glacialis) came, as usual, to
moult and bathe in the pond, making the woods ring with his wild
laughter before I had risen. At rumor of his arrival all the
Mill-dam sportsmen are on the alert, in gigs and on foot, two by two
and three by three, with patent rifles and conical balls and
spy-glasses. They come rustling through the woods like autumn
leaves, at least ten men to one loon. Some station themselves on
this side of the pond, some on that, for the poor bird cannot be
omnipresent; if he dive here he must come up there. But now the
kind October wind rises, rustling the leaves and rippling the
surface of the water, so that no loon can be heard or seen, though
his foes sweep the pond with spy-glasses, and make the woods resound
with their discharges. The waves generously rise and dash angrily,
taking sides with all water-fowl, and our sportsmen must beat a
retreat to town and shop and unfinished jobs. But they were too
often successful. When I went to get a pail of water early in the
morning I frequently saw this stately bird sailing out of my cove
within a few rods. If I endeavored to overtake him in a boat, in
order to see how he would manoeuvre, he would dive and be completely
lost, so that I did not discover him again, sometimes, till the
latter part of the day. But I was more than a match for him on the
surface. He commonly went off in a rain.
As I was paddling along the north shore one very calm October
afternoon, for such days especially they settle on to the lakes,
like the milkweed down, having looked in vain over the pond for a
loon, suddenly one, sailing out from the shore toward the middle a
few rods in front of me, set up his wild laugh and betrayed himself.
I pursued with a paddle and he dived, but when he came up I was
nearer than before. He dived again, but I miscalculated the
direction he would take, and we were fifty rods apart when he came
to the surface this time, for I had helped to widen the interval;
and again he laughed long and loud, and with more reason than
before. He manoeuvred so cunningly that I could not get within half
a dozen rods of him. Each time, when he came to the surface,
turning his head this way and that, he cooly surveyed the water and
the land, and apparently chose his course so that he might come up
where there was the widest expanse of water and at the greatest
distance from the boat. It was surprising how quickly he made up
his mind and put his resolve into execution. He led me at once to
the widest part of the pond, and could not be driven from it. While
he was thinking one thing in his brain, I was endeavoring to divine
his thought in mine. It was a pretty game, played on the smooth
surface of the pond, a man against a loon. Suddenly your
adversary's checker disappears beneath the board, and the problem is
to place yours nearest to where his will appear again. Sometimes he
would come up unexpectedly on the opposite side of me, having
apparently passed directly under the boat. So long-winded was he
and so unweariable, that when he had swum farthest he would
immediately plunge again, nevertheless; and then no wit could divine
where in the deep pond, beneath the smooth surface, he might be
speeding his way like a fish, for he had time and ability to visit
the bottom of the pond in its deepest part. It is said that loons
have been caught in the New York lakes eighty feet beneath the
surface, with hooks set for trout -- though Walden is deeper than
that. How surprised must the fishes be to see this ungainly visitor
from another sphere speeding his way amid their schools! Yet he
appeared to know his course as surely under water as on the surface,
and swam much faster there. Once or twice I saw a ripple where he
approached the surface, just put his head out to reconnoitre, and
instantly dived again. I found that it was as well for me to rest
on my oars and wait his reappearing as to endeavor to calculate
where he would rise; for again and again, when I was straining my
eyes over the surface one way, I would suddenly be startled by his
unearthly laugh behind me. But why, after displaying so much
cunning, did he invariably betray himself the moment he came up by
that loud laugh? Did not his white breast enough betray him? He
was indeed a silly loon, I thought. I could commonly hear the
splash of the water when he came up, and so also detected him. But
after an hour he seemed as fresh as ever, dived as willingly, and
swam yet farther than at first. It was surprising to see how
serenely he sailed off with unruffled breast when he came to the
surface, doing all the work with his webbed feet beneath. His usual
note was this demoniac laughter, yet somewhat like that of a
water-fowl; but occasionally, when he had balked me most
successfully and come up a long way off, he uttered a long-drawn
unearthly howl, probably more like that of a wolf than any bird; as
when a beast puts his muzzle to the ground and deliberately howls.
This was his looning -- perhaps the wildest sound that is ever heard
here, making the woods ring far and wide. I concluded that he
laughed in derision of my efforts, confident of his own resources.
Though the sky was by this time overcast, the pond was so smooth
that I could see where he broke the surface when I did not hear him.
His white breast, the stillness of the air, and the smoothness of
the water were all against him. At length having come up fifty rods
off, he uttered one of those prolonged howls, as if calling on the
god of loons to aid him, and immediately there came a wind from the
east and rippled the surface, and filled the whole air with misty
rain, and I was impressed as if it were the prayer of the loon
answered, and his god was angry with me; and so I left him
disappearing far away on the tumultuous surface.
For hours, in fall days, I watched the ducks cunningly tack and
veer and hold the middle of the pond, far from the sportsman; tricks
which they will have less need to practise in Louisiana bayous.
When compelled to rise they would sometimes circle round and round
and over the pond at a considerable height, from which they could
easily see to other ponds and the river, like black motes in the
sky; and, when I thought they had gone off thither long since, they
would settle down by a slanting flight of a quarter of a mile on to
a distant part which was left free; but what beside safety they got
by sailing in the middle of Walden I do not know, unless they love
its water for the same reason that I do.


In October I went a-graping to the river meadows, and loaded
myself with clusters more precious for their beauty and fragrance
than for food. There, too, I admired, though I did not gather, the
cranberries, small waxen gems, pendants of the meadow grass, pearly
and red, which the farmer plucks with an ugly rake, leaving the
smooth meadow in a snarl, heedlessly measuring them by the bushel
and the dollar only, and sells the spoils of the meads to Boston and
New York; destined to be jammed, to satisfy the tastes of lovers of
Nature there. So butchers rake the tongues of bison out of the
prairie grass, regardless of the torn and drooping plant. The
barberry's brilliant fruit was likewise food for my eyes merely; but
I collected a small store of wild apples for coddling, which the
proprietor and travellers had overlooked. When chestnuts were ripe
I laid up half a bushel for winter. It was very exciting at that
season to roam the then boundless chestnut woods of Lincoln -- they
now sleep their long sleep under the railroad -- with a bag on my
shoulder, and a stick to open burs with in my hand, for I did not
always wait for the frost, amid the rustling of leaves and the loud
reproofs of the red squirrels and the jays, whose half-consumed nuts
I sometimes stole, for the burs which they had selected were sure to
contain sound ones. Occasionally I climbed and shook the trees.
They grew also behind my house, and one large tree, which almost
overshadowed it, was, when in flower, a bouquet which scented the
whole neighborhood, but the squirrels and the jays got most of its
fruit; the last coming in flocks early in the morning and picking
the nuts out of the burs before they fell, I relinquished these
trees to them and visited the more distant woods composed wholly of
chestnut. These nuts, as far as they went, were a good substitute
for bread. Many other substitutes might, perhaps, be found.
Digging one day for fishworms, I discovered the ground-nut (Apios
tuberosa) on its string, the potato of the aborigines, a sort of
fabulous fruit, which I had begun to doubt if I had ever dug and
eaten in childhood, as I had told, and had not dreamed it. I had
often since seen its crumpled red velvety blossom supported by the
stems of other plants without knowing it to be the same.
Cultivation has well-nigh exterminated it. It has a sweetish taste,
much like that of a frost-bitten potato, and I found it better
boiled than roasted. This tuber seemed like a faint promise of
Nature to rear her own children and feed them simply here at some
future period. In these days of fatted cattle and waving
grain-fields this humble root, which was once the totem of an Indian
tribe, is quite forgotten, or known only by its flowering vine; but
let wild Nature reign here once more, and the tender and luxurious
English grains will probably disappear before a myriad of foes, and
without the care of man the crow may carry back even the last seed
of corn to the great cornfield of the Indian's God in the southwest,
whence he is said to have brought it; but the now almost
exterminated ground-nut will perhaps revive and flourish in spite of
frosts and wildness, prove itself indigenous, and resume its ancient
importance and dignity as the diet of the hunter tribe. Some Indian
Ceres or Minerva must have been the inventor and bestower of it; and
when the reign of poetry commences here, its leaves and string of
nuts may be represented on our works of art.
Already, by the first of September, I had seen two or three
small maples turned scarlet across the pond, beneath where the white
stems of three aspens diverged, at the point of a promontory, next
the water. Ah, many a tale their color told! And gradually from
week to week the character of each tree came out, and it admired
itself reflected in the smooth mirror of the lake. Each morning the
manager of this gallery substituted some new picture, distinguished
by more brilliant or harmonious coloring, for the old upon the
The wasps came by thousands to my lodge in October, as to winter
quarters, and settled on my windows within and on the walls
overhead, sometimes deterring visitors from entering. Each morning,
when they were numbed with cold, I swept some of them out, but I did
not trouble myself much to get rid of them; I even felt complimented
by their regarding my house as a desirable shelter. They never
molested me seriously, though they bedded with me; and they
gradually disappeared, into what crevices I do not know, avoiding
winter and unspeakable cold.
Like the wasps, before I finally went into winter quarters in
November, I used to resort to the northeast side of Walden, which
the sun, reflected from the pitch pine woods and the stony shore,
made the fireside of the pond; it is so much pleasanter and
wholesomer to be warmed by the sun while you can be, than by an
artificial fire. I thus warmed myself by the still glowing embers
which the summer, like a departed hunter, had left.
When I came to build my chimney I studied masonry. My bricks,
being second-hand ones, required to be cleaned with a trowel, so
that I learned more than usual of the qualities of bricks and
trowels. The mortar on them was fifty years old, and was said to be
still growing harder; but this is one of those sayings which men
love to repeat whether they are true or not. Such sayings
themselves grow harder and adhere more firmly with age, and it would
take many blows with a trowel to clean an old wiseacre of them.
Many of the villages of Mesopotamia are built of second-hand bricks
of a very good quality, obtained from the ruins of Babylon, and the
cement on them is older and probably harder still. However that may
be, I was struck by the peculiar toughness of the steel which bore
so many violent blows without being worn out. As my bricks had been
in a chimney before, though I did not read the name of
Nebuchadnezzar on them, I picked out its many fireplace bricks as I
could find, to save work and waste, and I filled the spaces between
the bricks about the fireplace with stones from the pond shore, and
also made my mortar with the white sand from the same place. I
lingered most about the fireplace, as the most vital part of the
house. Indeed, I worked so deliberately, that though I commenced at
the ground in the morning, a course of bricks raised a few inches
above the floor served for my pillow at night; yet I did not get a
stiff neck for it that I remember; my stiff neck is of older date.
I took a poet to board for a fortnight about those times, which
caused me to be put to it for room. He brought his own knife,
though I had two, and we used to scour them by thrusting them into
the earth. He shared with me the labors of cooking. I was pleased
to see my work rising so square and solid by degrees, and reflected,
that, if it proceeded slowly, it was calculated to endure a long
time. The chimney is to some extent an independent structure,
standing on the ground, and rising through the house to the heavens;
even after the house is burned it still stands sometimes, and its
importance and independence are apparent. This was toward the end
of summer. It was now November.
The north wind had already begun to cool the pond, though it
took many weeks of steady blowing to accomplish it, it is so deep.
When I began to have a fire at evening, before I plastered my house,
the chimney carried smoke particularly well, because of the numerous
chinks between the boards. Yet I passed some cheerful evenings in
that cool and airy apartment, surrounded by the rough brown boards
full of knots, and rafters with the bark on high overhead. My house
never pleased my eye so much after it was plastered, though I was
obliged to confess that it was more comfortable. Should not every
apartment in which man dwells be lofty enough to create some
obscurity overhead, where flickering shadows may play at evening
about the rafters? These forms are more agreeable to the fancy and
imagination than fresco paintings or other the most expensive
furniture. I now first began to inhabit my house, I may say, when I
began to use it for warmth as well as shelter. I had got a couple
of old fire-dogs to keep the wood from the hearth, and it did me
good to see the soot form on the back of the chimney which I had
built, and I poked the fire with more right and more satisfaction
than usual. My dwelling was small, and I could hardly entertain an
echo in it; but it seemed larger for being a single apartment and
remote from neighbors. All the attractions of a house were
concentrated in one room; it was kitchen, chamber, parlor, and
keeping-room; and whatever satisfaction parent or child, master or
servant, derive from living in a house, I enjoyed it all. Cato
says, the master of a family (patremfamilias) must have in his
rustic villa "cellam oleariam, vinariam, dolia multa, uti lubeat
caritatem expectare, et rei, et virtuti, et gloriae erit," that is,
"an oil and wine cellar, many casks, so that it may be pleasant to
expect hard times; it will be for his advantage, and virtue, and
glory." I had in my cellar a firkin of potatoes, about two quarts
of peas with the weevil in them, and on my shelf a little rice, a
jug of molasses, and of rye and Indian meal a peck each.
I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house, standing
in a golden age, of enduring materials, and without gingerbread
work, which shall still consist of only one room, a vast, rude,
substantial, primitive hall, without ceiling or plastering, with
bare rafters and purlins supporting a sort of lower heaven over
one's head -- useful to keep off rain and snow, where the king and
queen posts stand out to receive your homage, when you have done
reverence to the prostrate Saturn of an older dynasty on stepping
over the sill; a cavernous house, wherein you must reach up a torch
upon a pole to see the roof; where some may live in the fireplace,
some in the recess of a window, and some on settles, some at one end
of the hall, some at another, and some aloft on rafters with the
spiders, if they choose; a house which you have got into when you
have opened the outside door, and the ceremony is over; where the
weary traveller may wash, and eat, and converse, and sleep, without
further journey; such a shelter as you would be glad to reach in a
tempestuous night, containing all the essentials of a house, and
nothing for house-keeping; where you can see all the treasures of
the house at one view, and everything hangs upon its peg, that a man
should use; at once kitchen, pantry, parlor, chamber, storehouse,
and garret; where you can see so necessary a thing, as a barrel or a
ladder, so convenient a thing as a cupboard, and hear the pot boil,
and pay your respects to the fire that cooks your dinner, and the
oven that bakes your bread, and the necessary furniture and utensils
are the chief ornaments; where the washing is not put out, nor the
fire, nor the mistress, and perhaps you are sometimes requested to
move from off the trap-door, when the cook would descend into the
cellar, and so learn whether the ground is solid or hollow beneath
you without stamping. A house whose inside is as open and manifest
as a bird's nest, and you cannot go in at the front door and out at
the back without seeing some of its inhabitants; where to be a guest
is to be presented with the freedom of the house, and not to be
carefully excluded from seven eighths of it, shut up in a particular
cell, and told to make yourself at home there -- in solitary
confinement. Nowadays the host does not admit you to his hearth,
but has got the mason to build one for yourself somewhere in his
alley, and hospitality is the art of keeping you at the greatest
distance. There is as much secrecy about the cooking as if he had a
design to poison you. I am aware that I have been on many a man's
premises, and might have been legally ordered off, but I am not
aware that I have been in many men's houses. I might visit in my
old clothes a king and queen who lived simply in such a house as I
have described, if I were going their way; but backing out of a
modern palace will be all that I shall desire to learn, if ever I am
caught in one.
It would seem as if the very language of our parlors would lose
all its nerve and degenerate into palaver wholly, our lives pass at
such remoteness from its symbols, and its metaphors and tropes are
necessarily so far fetched, through slides and dumb-waiters, as it
were; in other words, the parlor is so far from the kitchen and
workshop. The dinner even is only the parable of a dinner,
commonly. As if only the savage dwelt near enough to Nature and
Truth to borrow a trope from them. How can the scholar, who dwells
away in the North West Territory or the Isle of Man, tell what is
parliamentary in the kitchen?
However, only one or two of my guests were ever bold enough to
stay and eat a hasty-pudding with me; but when they saw that crisis
approaching they beat a hasty retreat rather, as if it would shake
the house to its foundations. Nevertheless, it stood through a
great many hasty-puddings.
I did not plaster till it was freezing weather. I brought over
some whiter and cleaner sand for this purpose from the opposite
shore of the pond in a boat, a sort of conveyance which would have
tempted me to go much farther if necessary. My house had in the
meanwhile been shingled down to the ground on every side. In
lathing I was pleased to be able to send home each nail with a
single blow of the hammer, and it was my ambition to transfer the
plaster from the board to the wall neatly and rapidly. I remembered
the story of a conceited fellow, who, in fine clothes, was wont to
lounge about the village once, giving advice to workmen. Venturing
one day to substitute deeds for words, he turned up his cuffs,
seized a plasterer's board, and having loaded his trowel without
mishap, with a complacent look toward the lathing overhead, made a
bold gesture thitherward; and straightway, to his complete
discomfiture, received the whole contents in his ruffled bosom. I
admired anew the economy and convenience of plastering, which so
effectually shuts out the cold and takes a handsome finish, and I
learned the various casualties to which the plasterer is liable. I
was surprised to see how thirsty the bricks were which drank up all
the moisture in my plaster before I had smoothed it, and how many
pailfuls of water it takes to christen a new hearth. I had the
previous winter made a small quantity of lime by burning the shells
of the Unio fluviatilis, which our river affords, for the sake of
the experiment; so that I knew where my materials came from. I
might have got good limestone within a mile or two and burned it
myself, if I had cared to do so.
The pond had in the meanwhile skimmed over in the shadiest and
shallowest coves, some days or even weeks before the general
freezing. The first ice is especially interesting and perfect,
being hard, dark, and transparent, and affords the best opportunity
that ever offers for examining the bottom where it is shallow; for
you can lie at your length on ice only an inch thick, like a skater
insect on the surface of the water, and study the bottom at your
leisure, only two or three inches distant, like a picture behind a
glass, and the water is necessarily always smooth then. There are
many furrows in the sand where some creature has travelled about and
doubled on its tracks; and, for wrecks, it is strewn with the cases
of caddis-worms made of minute grains of white quartz. Perhaps
these have creased it, for you find some of their cases in the
furrows, though they are deep and broad for them to make. But the
ice itself is the object of most interest, though you must improve
the earliest opportunity to study it. If you examine it closely the
morning after it freezes, you find that the greater part of the
bubbles, which at first appeared to be within it, are against its
under surface, and that more are continually rising from the bottom;
while the ice is as yet comparatively solid and dark, that is, you
see the water through it. These bubbles are from an eightieth to an
eighth of an inch in diameter, very clear and beautiful, and you see
your face reflected in them through the ice. There may be thirty or
forty of them to a square inch. There are also already within the
ice narrow oblong perpendicular bubbles about half an inch long,
sharp cones with the apex upward; or oftener, if the ice is quite
fresh, minute spherical bubbles one directly above another, like a
string of beads. But these within the ice are not so numerous nor
obvious as those beneath. I sometimes used to cast on stones to try
the strength of the ice, and those which broke through carried in
air with them, which formed very large and conspicuous white bubbles
beneath. One day when I came to the same place forty-eight hours
afterward, I found that those large bubbles were still perfect,
though an inch more of ice had formed, as I could see distinctly by
the seam in the edge of a cake. But as the last two days had been
very warm, like an Indian summer, the ice was not now transparent,
showing the dark green color of the water, and the bottom, but
opaque and whitish or gray, and though twice as thick was hardly
stronger than before, for the air bubbles had greatly expanded under
this heat and run together, and lost their regularity; they were no
longer one directly over another, but often like silvery coins
poured from a bag, one overlapping another, or in thin flakes, as if
occupying slight cleavages. The beauty of the ice was gone, and it
was too late to study the bottom. Being curious to know what
position my great bubbles occupied with regard to the new ice, I
broke out a cake containing a middling sized one, and turned it
bottom upward. The new ice had formed around and under the bubble,
so that it was included between the two ices. It was wholly in the
lower ice, but close against the upper, and was flattish, or perhaps
slightly lenticular, with a rounded edge, a quarter of an inch deep
by four inches in diameter; and I was surprised to find that
directly under the bubble the ice was melted with great regularity
in the form of a saucer reversed, to the height of five eighths of
an inch in the middle, leaving a thin partition there between the
water and the bubble, hardly an eighth of an inch thick; and in many
places the small bubbles in this partition had burst out downward,
and probably there was no ice at all under the largest bubbles,
which were a foot in diameter. I inferred that the infinite number
of minute bubbles which I had first seen against the under surface
of the ice were now frozen in likewise, and that each, in its
degree, had operated like a burning-glass on the ice beneath to melt
and rot it. These are the little air-guns which contribute to make
the ice crack and whoop.
At length the winter set in good earnest, just as I had finished
plastering, and the wind began to howl around the house as if it had
not had permission to do so till then. Night after night the geese
came lumbering in the dark with a clangor and a whistling of wings,
even after the ground was covered with snow, some to alight in
Walden, and some flying low over the woods toward Fair Haven, bound
for Mexico. Several times, when returning from the village at ten
or eleven o'clock at night, I heard the tread of a flock of geese,
or else ducks, on the dry leaves in the woods by a pond-hole behind
my dwelling, where they had come up to feed, and the faint honk or
quack of their leader as they hurried off. In 1845 Walden froze
entirely over for the first time on the night of the 22d of
December, Flint's and other shallower ponds and the river having
been frozen ten days or more; in '46, the 16th; in '49, about the
31st; and in '50, about the 27th of December; in '52, the 5th of
January; in '53, the 31st of December. The snow had already covered
the ground since the 25th of November, and surrounded me suddenly
with the scenery of winter. I withdrew yet farther into my shell,
and endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within
my breast. My employment out of doors now was to collect the dead
wood in the forest, bringing it in my hands or on my shoulders, or
sometimes trailing a dead pine tree under each arm to my shed. An
old forest fence which had seen its best days was a great haul for
me. I sacrificed it to Vulcan, for it was past serving the god
Terminus. How much more interesting an event is that man's supper
who has just been forth in the snow to hunt, nay, you might say,
steal, the fuel to cook it with! His bread and meat are sweet.
There are enough fagots and waste wood of all kinds in the forests
of most of our towns to support many fires, but which at present
warm none, and, some think, hinder the growth of the young wood.
There was also the driftwood of the pond. In the course of the
summer I had discovered a raft of pitch pine logs with the bark on,
pinned together by the Irish when the railroad was built. This I
hauled up partly on the shore. After soaking two years and then
lying high six months it was perfectly sound, though waterlogged
past drying. I amused myself one winter day with sliding this
piecemeal across the pond, nearly half a mile, skating behind with
one end of a log fifteen feet long on my shoulder, and the other on
the ice; or I tied several logs together with a birch withe, and
then, with a longer birch or alder which had a book at the end,
dragged them across. Though completely waterlogged and almost as
heavy as lead, they not only burned long, but made a very hot fire;
nay, I thought that they burned better for the soaking, as if the
pitch, being confined by the water, burned longer, as in a lamp.
Gilpin, in his account of the forest borderers of England, says
that "the encroachments of trespassers, and the houses and fences
thus raised on the borders of the forest," were "considered as great
nuisances by the old forest law, and were severely punished under
the name of purprestures, as tending ad terrorem ferarum -- ad
nocumentum forestae, etc.," to the frightening of the game and the
detriment of the forest. But I was interested in the preservation
of the venison and the vert more than the hunters or woodchoppers,
and as much as though I had been the Lord Warden himself; and if any
part was burned, though I burned it myself by accident, I grieved
with a grief that lasted longer and was more inconsolable than that
of the proprietors; nay, I grieved when it was cut down by the
proprietors themselves. I would that our farmers when they cut down
a forest felt some of that awe which the old Romans did when they
came to thin, or let in the light to, a consecrated grove (lucum
conlucare), that is, would believe that it is sacred to some god.
The Roman made an expiatory offering, and prayed, Whatever god or
goddess thou art to whom this grove is sacred, be propitious to me,
my family, and children, etc.
It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood even in
this age and in this new country, a value more permanent and
universal than that of gold. After all our discoveries and
inventions no man will go by a pile of wood. It is as precious to
us as it was to our Saxon and Norman ancestors. If they made their
bows of it, we make our gun-stocks of it. Michaux, more than thirty
years ago, says that the price of wood for fuel in New York and
Philadelphia "nearly equals, and sometimes exceeds, that of the best
wood in Paris, though this immense capital annually requires more
than three hundred thousand cords, and is surrounded to the distance
of three hundred miles by cultivated plains." In this town the
price of wood rises almost steadily, and the only question is, how
much higher it is to be this year than it was the last. Mechanics
and tradesmen who come in person to the forest on no other errand,
are sure to attend the wood auction, and even pay a high price for
the privilege of gleaning after the woodchopper. It is now many
years that men have resorted to the forest for fuel and the
materials of the arts: the New Englander and the New Hollander, the
Parisian and the Celt, the farmer and Robin Hood, Goody Blake and
Harry Gill; in most parts of the world the prince and the peasant,
the scholar and the savage, equally require still a few sticks from
the forest to warm them and cook their food. Neither could I do
without them.
Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I
love to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to
remind me of my pleasing work. I had an old axe which nobody
claimed, with which by spells in winter days, on the sunny side of
the house, I played about the stumps which I had got out of my
bean-field. As my driver prophesied when I was plowing, they warmed
me twice -- once while I was splitting them, and again when they
were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat. As for
the axe, I was advised to get the village blacksmith to "jump" it;
but I jumped him, and, putting a hickory helve from the woods into
it, made it do. If it was dull, it was at least hung true.
A few pieces of fat pine were a great treasure. It is
interesting to remember how much of this food for fire is still
concealed in the bowels of the earth. In previous years I had often
gone prospecting over some bare hillside, where a pitch pine wood
had formerly stood, and got out the fat pine roots. They are almost
indestructible. Stumps thirty or forty years old, at least, will
still be sound at the core, though the sapwood has all become
vegetable mould, as appears by the scales of the thick bark forming
a ring level with the earth four or five inches distant from the
heart. With axe and shovel you explore this mine, and follow the
marrowy store, yellow as beef tallow, or as if you had struck on a
vein of gold, deep into the earth. But commonly I kindled my fire
with the dry leaves of the forest, which I had stored up in my shed
before the snow came. Green hickory finely split makes the
woodchopper's kindlings, when he has a camp in the woods. Once in a
while I got a little of this. When the villagers were lighting
their fires beyond the horizon, I too gave notice to the various
wild inhabitants of Walden vale, by a smoky streamer from my
chimney, that I was awake.--

Light-winged Smoke, Icarian bird,
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight,
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling, and by day
Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
Go thou my incense upward from this hearth,
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.

Hard green wood just cut, though I used but little of that,
answered my purpose better than any other. I sometimes left a good
fire when I went to take a walk in a winter afternoon; and when I
returned, three or four hours afterward, it would be still alive and
glowing. My house was not empty though I was gone. It was as if I
had left a cheerful housekeeper behind. It was I and Fire that
lived there; and commonly my housekeeper proved trustworthy. One
day, however, as I was splitting wood, I thought that I would just
look in at the window and see if the house was not on fire; it was
the only time I remember to have been particularly anxious on this
score; so I looked and saw that a spark had caught my bed, and I
went in and extinguished it when it had burned a place as big as my
hand. But my house occupied so sunny and sheltered a position, and
its roof was so low, that I could afford to let the fire go out in
the middle of almost any winter day.
The moles nested in my cellar, nibbling every third potato, and
making a snug bed even there of some hair left after plastering and
of brown paper; for even the wildest animals love comfort and warmth
as well as man, and they survive the winter only because they are so
careful to secure them. Some of my friends spoke as if I was coming
to the woods on purpose to freeze myself. The animal merely makes a
bed, which he warms with his body, in a sheltered place; but man,
having discovered fire, boxes up some air in a spacious apartment,
and warms that, instead of robbing himself, makes that his bed, in
which he can move about divested of more cumbrous clothing, maintain
a kind of summer in the midst of winter, and by means of windows
even admit the light, and with a lamp lengthen out the day. Thus he
goes a step or two beyond instinct, and saves a little time for the
fine arts. Though, when I had been exposed to the rudest blasts a
long time, my whole body began to grow torpid, when I reached the
genial atmosphere of my house I soon recovered my faculties and
prolonged my life. But the most luxuriously housed has little to
boast of in this respect, nor need we trouble ourselves to speculate
how the human race may be at last destroyed. It would be easy to
cut their threads any time with a little sharper blast from the
north. We go on dating from Cold Fridays and Great Snows; but a
little colder Friday, or greater snow would put a period to man's
existence on the globe.
The next winter I used a small cooking-stove for economy, since
I did not own the forest; but it did not keep fire so well as the
open fireplace. Cooking was then, for the most part, no longer a
poetic, but merely a chemic process. It will soon be forgotten, in
these days of stoves, that we used to roast potatoes in the ashes,
after the Indian fashion. The stove not only took up room and
scented the house, but it concealed the fire, and I felt as if I had
lost a companion. You can always see a face in the fire. The
laborer, looking into it at evening, purifies his thoughts of the
dross and earthiness which they have accumulated during the day.
But I could no longer sit and look into the fire, and the pertinent
words of a poet recurred to me with new force.--

"Never, bright flame, may be denied to me
Thy dear, life imaging, close sympathy.
What but my hopes shot upward e'er so bright?
What but my fortunes sunk so low in night?
Why art thou banished from our hearth and hall,
Thou who art welcomed and beloved by all?
Was thy existence then too fanciful
For our life's common light, who are so dull?
Did thy bright gleam mysterious converse hold
With our congenial souls? secrets too bold?
Well, we are safe and strong, for now we sit
Beside a hearth where no dim shadows flit,
Where nothing cheers nor saddens, but a fire
Warms feet and hands -- nor does to more aspire;
By whose compact utilitarian heap
The present may sit down and go to sleep,
Nor fear the ghosts who from the dim past walked,
And with us by the unequal light of the old wood fire talked."

Former Inhabitants and Winter Visitors

I weathered some merry snow-storms, and spent some cheerful
winter evenings by my fireside, while the snow whirled wildly
without, and even the hooting of the owl was hushed. For many weeks
I met no one in my walks but those who came occasionally to cut wood
and sled it to the village. The elements, however, abetted me in
making a path through the deepest snow in the woods, for when I had
once gone through the wind blew the oak leaves into my tracks, where
they lodged, and by absorbing the rays of the sun melted the snow,
and so not only made a my bed for my feet, but in the night their
dark line was my guide. For human society I was obliged to conjure
up the former occupants of these woods. Within the memory of many
of my townsmen the road near which my house stands resounded with
the laugh and gossip of inhabitants, and the woods which border it
were notched and dotted here and there with their little gardens and
dwellings, though it was then much more shut in by the forest than
now. In some places, within my own remembrance, the pines would
scrape both sides of a chaise at once, and women and children who
were compelled to go this way to Lincoln alone and on foot did it
with fear, and often ran a good part of the distance. Though mainly
but a humble route to neighboring villages, or for the woodman's
team, it once amused the traveller more than now by its variety, and
lingered longer in his memory. Where now firm open fields stretch
from the village to the woods, it then ran through a maple swamp on
a foundation of logs, the remnants of which, doubtless, still
underlie the present dusty highway, from the Stratton, now the
Alms-House Farm, to Brister's Hill.
East of my bean-field, across the road, lived Cato Ingraham,
slave of Duncan Ingraham, Esquire, gentleman, of Concord village,
who built his slave a house, and gave him permission to live in
Walden Woods; -- Cato, not Uticensis, but Concordiensis. Some say
that he was a Guinea Negro. There are a few who remember his little
patch among the walnuts, which he let grow up till he should be old
and need them; but a younger and whiter speculator got them at last.
He too, however, occupies an equally narrow house at present.
Cato's half-obliterated cellar-hole still remains, though known to
few, being concealed from the traveller by a fringe of pines. It is
now filled with the smooth sumach (Rhus glabra), and one of the
earliest species of goldenrod (Solidago stricta) grows there
Here, by the very corner of my field, still nearer to town,
Zilpha, a colored woman, had her little house, where she spun linen
for the townsfolk, making the Walden Woods ring with her shrill
singing, for she had a loud and notable voice. At length, in the
war of 1812, her dwelling was set on fire by English soldiers,
prisoners on parole, when she was away, and her cat and dog and hens
were all burned up together. She led a hard life, and somewhat
inhumane. One old frequenter of these woods remembers, that as he
passed her house one noon he heard her muttering to herself over her
gurgling pot -- "Ye are all bones, bones!" I have seen bricks amid
the oak copse there.
Down the road, on the right hand, on Brister's Hill, lived
Brister Freeman, "a handy Negro," slave of Squire Cummings once --
there where grow still the apple trees which Brister planted and
tended; large old trees now, but their fruit still wild and ciderish
to my taste. Not long since I read his epitaph in the old Lincoln
burying-ground, a little on one side, near the unmarked graves of
some British grenadiers who fell in the retreat from Concord --
where he is styled "Sippio Brister" -- Scipio Africanus he had some
title to be called -- "a man of color," as if he were discolored.
It also told me, with staring emphasis, when he died; which was but
an indirect way of informing me that he ever lived. With him dwelt
Fenda, his hospitable wife, who told fortunes, yet pleasantly --
large, round, and black, blacker than any of the children of night,
such a dusky orb as never rose on Concord before or since.
Farther down the hill, on the left, on the old road in the
woods, are marks of some homestead of the Stratton family; whose
orchard once covered all the slope of Brister's Hill, but was long
since killed out by pitch pines, excepting a few stumps, whose old
roots furnish still the wild stocks of many a thrifty village tree.
Nearer yet to town, you come to Breed's location, on the other
side of the way, just on the edge of the wood; ground famous for the
pranks of a demon not distinctly named in old mythology, who has
acted a prominent and astounding part in our New England life, and
deserves, as much as any mythological character, to have his
biography written one day; who first comes in the guise of a friend
or hired man, and then robs and murders the whole family --
New-England Rum. But history must not yet tell the tragedies
enacted here; let time intervene in some measure to assuage and lend
an azure tint to them. Here the most indistinct and dubious
tradition says that once a tavern stood; the well the same, which
tempered the traveller's beverage and refreshed his steed. Here
then men saluted one another, and heard and told the news, and went
their ways again.
Breed's hut was standing only a dozen years ago, though it had
long been unoccupied. It was about the size of mine. It was set on
fire by mischievous boys, one Election night, if I do not mistake.
I lived on the edge of the village then, and had just lost myself
over Davenant's "Gondibert," that winter that I labored with a
lethargy -- which, by the way, I never knew whether to regard as a
family complaint, having an uncle who goes to sleep shaving himself,
and is obliged to sprout potatoes in a cellar Sundays, in order to
keep awake and keep the Sabbath, or as the consequence of my attempt
to read Chalmers' collection of English poetry without skipping. It
fairly overcame my Nervii. I had just sunk my head on this when the
bells rung fire, and in hot haste the engines rolled that way, led
by a straggling troop of men and boys, and I among the foremost, for
I had leaped the brook. We thought it was far south over the woods
-- we who had run to fires before -- barn, shop, or dwelling-house,
or all together. "It's Baker's barn," cried one. "It is the Codman
place," affirmed another. And then fresh sparks went up above the
wood, as if the roof fell in, and we all shouted "Concord to the
rescue!" Wagons shot past with furious speed and crushing loads,
bearing, perchance, among the rest, the agent of the Insurance
Company, who was bound to go however far; and ever and anon the
engine bell tinkled behind, more slow and sure; and rearmost of all,
as it was afterward whispered, came they who set the fire and gave
the alarm. Thus we kept on like true idealists, rejecting the
evidence of our senses, until at a turn in the road we heard the
crackling and actually felt the heat of the fire from over the wall,
and realized, alas! that we were there. The very nearness of the
fire but cooled our ardor. At first we thought to throw a frog-pond
on to it; but concluded to let it burn, it was so far gone and so
worthless. So we stood round our engine, jostled one another,
expressed our sentiments through speaking-trumpets, or in lower tone
referred to the great conflagrations which the world has witnessed,
including Bascom's shop, and, between ourselves, we thought that,
were we there in season with our "tub," and a full frog-pond by, we
could turn that threatened last and universal one into another
flood. We finally retreated without doing any mischief -- returned
to sleep and "Gondibert." But as for "Gondibert," I would except
that passage in the preface about wit being the soul's powder --
"but most of mankind are strangers to wit, as Indians are to
It chanced that I walked that way across the fields the
following night, about the same hour, and hearing a low moaning at
this spot, I drew near in the dark, and discovered the only survivor
of the family that I know, the heir of both its virtues and its
vices, who alone was interested in this burning, lying on his
stomach and looking over the cellar wall at the still smouldering
cinders beneath, muttering to himself, as is his wont. He had been
working far off in the river meadows all day, and had improved the
first moments that he could call his own to visit the home of his
fathers and his youth. He gazed into the cellar from all sides and
points of view by turns, always lying down to it, as if there was
some treasure, which he remembered, concealed between the stones,
where there was absolutely nothing but a heap of bricks and ashes.
The house being gone, he looked at what there was left. He was
soothed by the sympathy which my mere presence, implied, and showed
me, as well as the darkness permitted, where the well was covered
up; which, thank Heaven, could never be burned; and he groped long
about the wall to find the well-sweep which his father had cut and
mounted, feeling for the iron hook or staple by which a burden had
been fastened to the heavy end -- all that he could now cling to --
to convince me that it was no common "rider." I felt it, and still
remark it almost daily in my walks, for by it hangs the history of a
Once more, on the left, where are seen the well and lilac bushes
by the wall, in the now open field, lived Nutting and Le Grosse.
But to return toward Lincoln.
Farther in the woods than any of these, where the road
approaches nearest to the pond, Wyman the potter squatted, and
furnished his townsmen with earthenware, and left descendants to
succeed him. Neither were they rich in worldly goods, holding the
land by sufferance while they lived; and there often the sheriff
came in vain to collect the taxes, and "attached a chip," for form's
sake, as I have read in his accounts, there being nothing else that
he could lay his hands on. One day in midsummer, when I was hoeing,
a man who was carrying a load of pottery to market stopped his horse
against my field and inquired concerning Wyman the younger. He had
long ago bought a potter's wheel of him, and wished to know what had
become of him. I had read of the potter's clay and wheel in
Scripture, but it had never occurred to me that the pots we use were
not such as had come down unbroken from those days, or grown on
trees like gourds somewhere, and I was pleased to hear that so
fictile an art was ever practiced in my neighborhood.
The last inhabitant of these woods before me was an Irishman,
Hugh Quoil (if I have spelt his name with coil enough), who occupied
Wyman's tenement -- Col. Quoil, he was called. Rumor said that he
had been a soldier at Waterloo. If he had lived I should have made
him fight his battles over again. His trade here was that of a
ditcher. Napoleon went to St. Helena; Quoil came to Walden Woods.
All I know of him is tragic. He was a man of manners, like one who
had seen the world, and was capable of more civil speech than you
could well attend to. He wore a greatcoat in midsummer, being
affected with the trembling delirium, and his face was the color of
carmine. He died in the road at the foot of Brister's Hill shortly
after I came to the woods, so that I have not remembered him as a
neighbor. Before his house was pulled down, when his comrades
avoided it as "an unlucky castle," I visited it. There lay his old
clothes curled up by use, as if they were himself, upon his raised
plank bed. His pipe lay broken on the hearth, instead of a bowl
broken at the fountain. The last could never have been the symbol
of his death, for he confessed to me that, though he had heard of
Brister's Spring, he had never seen it; and soiled cards, kings of
diamonds, spades, and hearts, were scattered over the floor. One
black chicken which the administrator could not catch, black as
night and as silent, not even croaking, awaiting Reynard, still went
to roost in the next apartment. In the rear there was the dim
outline of a garden, which had been planted but had never received
its first hoeing, owing to those terrible shaking fits, though it
was now harvest time. It was overrun with Roman wormwood and
beggar-ticks, which last stuck to my clothes for all fruit. The
skin of a woodchuck was freshly stretched upon the back of the
house, a trophy of his last Waterloo; but no warm cap or mittens
would he want more.
Now only a dent in the earth marks the site of these dwellings,
with buried cellar stones, and strawberries, raspberries,
thimble-berries, hazel-bushes, and sumachs growing in the sunny
sward there; some pitch pine or gnarled oak occupies what was the
chimney nook, and a sweet-scented black birch, perhaps, waves where
the door-stone was. Sometimes the well dent is visible, where once
a spring oozed; now dry and tearless grass; or it was covered deep
-- not to be discovered till some late day -- with a flat stone
under the sod, when the last of the race departed. What a sorrowful
act must that be -- the covering up of wells! coincident with the
opening of wells of tears. These cellar dents, like deserted fox
burrows, old holes, are all that is left where once were the stir
and bustle of human life, and "fate, free will, foreknowledge
absolute," in some form and dialect or other were by turns
discussed. But all I can learn of their conclusions amounts to just
this, that "Cato and Brister pulled wool"; which is about as
edifying as the history of more famous schools of philosophy.
Still grows the vivacious lilac a generation after the door and
lintel and the sill are gone, unfolding its sweet-scented flowers
each spring, to be plucked by the musing traveller; planted and
tended once by children's hands, in front-yard plots -- now standing
by wallsides in retired pastures, and giving place to new-rising
forests; -- the last of that stirp, sole survivor of that family.
Little did the dusky children think that the puny slip with its two
eyes only, which they stuck in the ground in the shadow of the house
and daily watered, would root itself so, and outlive them, and house
itself in the rear that shaded it, and grown man's garden and
orchard, and tell their story faintly to the lone wanderer a
half-century after they had grown up and died -- blossoming as fair,
and smelling as sweet, as in that first spring. I mark its still
tender, civil, cheerful lilac colors.
But this small village, germ of something more, why did it fail
while Concord keeps its ground? Were there no natural advantages --
no water privileges, forsooth? Ay, the deep Walden Pond and cool
Brister's Spring -- privilege to drink long and healthy draughts at
these, all unimproved by these men but to dilute their glass. They
were universally a thirsty race. Might not the basket,
stable-broom, mat-making, corn-parching, linen-spinning, and pottery
business have thrived here, making the wilderness to blossom like
the rose, and a numerous posterity have inherited the land of their
fathers? The sterile soil would at least have been proof against a
low-land degeneracy. Alas! how little does the memory of these
human inhabitants enhance the beauty of the landscape! Again,
perhaps, Nature will try, with me for a first settler, and my house
raised last spring to be the oldest in the hamlet.
I am not aware that any man has ever built on the spot which I
occupy. Deliver me from a city built on the site of a more ancient
city, whose materials are ruins, whose gardens cemeteries. The soil
is blanched and accursed there, and before that becomes necessary
the earth itself will be destroyed. With such reminiscences I
repeopled the woods and lulled myself asleep.
At this season I seldom had a visitor. When the snow lay
deepest no wanderer ventured near my house for a week or fortnight
at a time, but there I lived as snug as a meadow mouse, or as cattle
and poultry which are said to have survived for a long time buried
in drifts, even without food; or like that early settler's family in
the town of Sutton, in this State, whose cottage was completely
covered by the great snow of 1717 when he was absent, and an Indian
found it only by the hole which the chimney's breath made in the
drift, and so relieved the family. But no friendly Indian concerned
himself about me; nor needed he, for the master of the house was at
home. The Great Snow! How cheerful it is to hear of! When the
farmers could not get to the woods and swamps with their teams, and
were obliged to cut down the shade trees before their houses, and,
when the crust was harder, cut off the trees in the swamps, ten feet
from the ground, as it appeared the next spring.
In the deepest snows, the path which I used from the highway to
my house, about half a mile long, might have been represented by a
meandering dotted line, with wide intervals between the dots. For a
week of even weather I took exactly the same number of steps, and of
the same length, coming and going, stepping deliberately and with
the precision of a pair of dividers in my own deep tracks -- to such
routine the winter reduces us -- yet often they were filled with
heaven's own blue. But no weather interfered fatally with my walks,
or rather my going abroad, for I frequently tramped eight or ten
miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech
tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines;
when the ice and snow causing their limbs to droop, and so
sharpening their tops, had changed the pines into fir trees; wading
to the tops of the highest hills when the show was nearly two feet
deep on a level, and shaking down another snow-storm on my head at
every step; or sometimes creeping and floundering thither on my
hands and knees, when the hunters had gone into winter quarters.
One afternoon I amused myself by watching a barred owl (Strix
nebulosa) sitting on one of the lower dead limbs of a white pine,
close to the trunk, in broad daylight, I standing within a rod of
him. He could hear me when I moved and cronched the snow with my
feet, but could not plainly see me. When I made most noise he would
stretch out his neck, and erect his neck feathers, and open his eyes
wide; but their lids soon fell again, and he began to nod. I too
felt a slumberous influence after watching him half an hour, as he
sat thus with his eyes half open, like a cat, winged brother of the
cat. There was only a narrow slit left between their lids, by which
be preserved a pennisular relation to me; thus, with half-shut eyes,
looking out from the land of dreams, and endeavoring to realize me,
vague object or mote that interrupted his visions. At length, on
some louder noise or my nearer approach, he would grow uneasy and
sluggishly turn about on his perch, as if impatient at having his
dreams disturbed; and when he launched himself off and flapped
through the pines, spreading his wings to unexpected breadth, I
could not hear the slightest sound from them. Thus, guided amid the
pine boughs rather by a delicate sense of their neighborhood than by
sight, feeling his twilight way, as it were, with his sensitive
pinions, he found a new perch, where he might in peace await the
dawning of his day.
As I walked over the long causeway made for the railroad through
the meadows, I encountered many a blustering and nipping wind, for
nowhere has it freer play; and when the frost had smitten me on one
cheek, heathen as I was, I turned to it the other also. Nor was it
much better by the carriage road from Brister's Hill. For I came to
town still, like a friendly Indian, when the contents of the broad
open fields were all piled up between the walls of the Walden road,
and half an hour sufficed to obliterate the tracks of the last
traveller. And when I returned new drifts would have formed,
through which I floundered, where the busy northwest wind had been
depositing the powdery snow round a sharp angle in the road, and not
a rabbit's track, nor even the fine print, the small type, of a
meadow mouse was to be seen. Yet I rarely failed to find, even in
midwinter, some warm and springly swamp where the grass and the
skunk-cabbage still put forth with perennial verdure, and some
hardier bird occasionally awaited the return of spring.
Sometimes, notwithstanding the snow, when I returned from my
walk at evening I crossed the deep tracks of a woodchopper leading
from my door, and found his pile of whittlings on the hearth, and my
house filled with the odor of his pipe. Or on a Sunday afternoon,
if I chanced to be at home, I heard the cronching of the snow made
by the step of a long-headed farmer, who from far through the woods
sought my house, to have a social "crack"; one of the few of his
vocation who are "men on their farms"; who donned a frock instead of
a professor's gown, and is as ready to extract the moral out of
church or state as to haul a load of manure from his barn-yard. We
talked of rude and simple times, when men sat about large fires in
cold, bracing weather, with clear heads; and when other dessert
failed, we tried our teeth on many a nut which wise squirrels have
long since abandoned, for those which have the thickest shells are
commonly empty.
The one who came from farthest to my lodge, through deepest
snows and most dismal tempests, was a poet. A farmer, a hunter, a
soldier, a reporter, even a philosopher, may be daunted; but nothing
can deter a poet, for he is actuated by pure love. Who can predict
his comings and goings? His business calls him out at all hours,
even when doctors sleep. We made that small house ring with
boisterous mirth and resound with the murmur of much sober talk,
making amends then to Walden vale for the long silences. Broadway
was still and deserted in comparison. At suitable intervals there
were regular salutes of laughter, which might have been referred
indifferently to the last-uttered or the forth-coming jest. We made
many a "bran new" theory of life over a thin dish of gruel, which
combined the advantages of conviviality with the clear-headedness
which philosophy requires.
I should not forget that during my last winter at the pond there
was another welcome visitor, who at one time came through the
village, through snow and rain and darkness, till he saw my lamp
through the trees, and shared with me some long winter evenings.
One of the last of the philosophers -- Connecticut gave him to the
world -- he peddled first her wares, afterwards, as he declares, his
brains. These he peddles still, prompting God and disgracing man,
bearing for fruit his brain only, like the nut its kernel. I think
that he must be the man of the most faith of any alive. His words
and attitude always suppose a better state of things than other men
are acquainted with, and he will be the last man to be disappointed
as the ages revolve. He has no venture in the present. But though
comparatively disregarded now, when his day comes, laws unsuspected
by most will take effect, and masters of families and rulers will
come to him for advice.

"How blind that cannot see serenity!"

A true friend of man; almost the only friend of human progress. An
Old Mortality, say rather an Immortality, with unwearied patience
and faith making plain the image engraven in men's bodies, the God
of whom they are but defaced and leaning monuments. With his
hospitable intellect he embraces children, beggars, insane, and
scholars, and entertains the thought of all, adding to it commonly
some breadth and elegance. I think that he should keep a
caravansary on the world's highway, where philosophers of all
nations might put up, and on his sign should be printed,
"Entertainment for man, but not for his beast. Enter ye that have
leisure and a quiet mind, who earnestly seek the right road." He is
perhaps the sanest man and has the fewest crotchets of any I chance
to know; the same yesterday and tomorrow. Of yore we had sauntered
and talked, and effectually put the world behind us; for he was
pledged to no institution in it, freeborn, ingenuus. Whichever way
we turned, it seemed that the heavens and the earth had met
together, since he enhanced the beauty of the landscape. A
blue-robed man, whose fittest roof is the overarching sky which
reflects his serenity. I do not see how he can ever die; Nature
cannot spare him.
Having each some shingles of thought well dried, we sat and
whittled them, trying our knives, and admiring the clear yellowish
grain of the pumpkin pine. We waded so gently and reverently, or we
pulled together so smoothly, that the fishes of thought were not
scared from the stream, nor feared any angler on the bank, but came
and went grandly, like the clouds which float through the western
sky, and the mother-o'-pearl flocks which sometimes form and
dissolve there. There we worked, revising mythology, rounding a
fable here and there, and building castles in the air for which
earth offered no worthy foundation. Great Looker! Great Expecter!
to converse with whom was a New England Night's Entertainment. Ah!
such discourse we had, hermit and philosopher, and the old settler I
have spoken of -- we three -- it expanded and racked my little
house; I should not dare to say how many pounds' weight there was
above the atmospheric pressure on every circular inch; it opened its
seams so that they had to be calked with much dulness thereafter to
stop the consequent leak; -- but I had enough of that kind of oakum
already picked.
There was one other with whom I had "solid seasons," long to be
remembered, at his house in the village, and who looked in upon me
from time to time; but I had no more for society there.
There too, as everywhere, I sometimes expected the Visitor who
never comes. The Vishnu Purana says, "The house-holder is to remain
at eventide in his courtyard as long as it takes to milk a cow, or
longer if he pleases, to await the arrival of a guest." I often
performed this duty of hospitality, waited long enough to milk a
whole herd of cows, but did not see the man approaching from the

Winter Animals

When the ponds were firmly frozen, they afforded not only new
and shorter routes to many points, but new views from their surfaces
of the familiar landscape around them. When I crossed Flint's Pond,
after it was covered with snow, though I had often paddled about and
skated over it, it was so unexpectedly wide and so strange that I
could think of nothing but Baffin's Bay. The Lincoln hills rose up
around me at the extremity of a snowy plain, in which I did not
remember to have stood before; and the fishermen, at an
indeterminable distance over the ice, moving slowly about with their
wolfish dogs, passed for sealers, or Esquimaux, or in misty weather
loomed like fabulous creatures, and I did not know whether they were
giants or pygmies. I took this course when I went to lecture in
Lincoln in the evening, travelling in no road and passing no house
between my own hut and the lecture room. In Goose Pond, which lay
in my way, a colony of muskrats dwelt, and raised their cabins high
above the ice, though none could be seen abroad when I crossed it.
Walden, being like the rest usually bare of snow, or with only
shallow and interrupted drifts on it, was my yard where I could walk
freely when the snow was nearly two feet deep on a level elsewhere
and the villagers were confined to their streets. There, far from
the village street, and except at very long intervals, from the
jingle of sleigh-bells, I slid and skated, as in a vast moose-yard
well trodden, overhung by oak woods and solemn pines bent down with
snow or bristling with icicles.
For sounds in winter nights, and often in winter days, I heard
the forlorn but melodious note of a hooting owl indefinitely far;
such a sound as the frozen earth would yield if struck with a
suitable plectrum, the very lingua vernacula of Walden Wood, and
quite familiar to me at last, though I never saw the bird while it
was making it. I seldom opened my door in a winter evening without
hearing it; Hoo hoo hoo, hoorer, hoo, sounded sonorously, and the
first three syllables accented somewhat like how der do; or
sometimes hoo, hoo only. One night in the beginning of winter,
before the pond froze over, about nine o'clock, I was startled by
the loud honking of a goose, and, stepping to the door, heard the
sound of their wings like a tempest in the woods as they flew low
over my house. They passed over the pond toward Fair Haven,
seemingly deterred from settling by my light, their commodore
honking all the while with a regular beat. Suddenly an unmistakable
cat-owl from very near me, with the most harsh and tremendous voice
I ever heard from any inhabitant of the woods, responded at regular
intervals to the goose, as if determined to expose and disgrace this
intruder from Hudson's Bay by exhibiting a greater compass and
volume of voice in a native, and boo-hoo him out of Concord horizon.
What do you mean by alarming the citadel at this time of night
consecrated to me? Do you think I am ever caught napping at such an
hour, and that I have not got lungs and a larynx as well as
yourself? Boo-hoo, boo-hoo, boo-hoo! It was one of the most
thrilling discords I ever heard. And yet, if you had a
discriminating ear, there were in it the elements of a concord such
as these plains never saw nor heard.
I also heard the whooping of the ice in the pond, my great
bed-fellow in that part of Concord, as if it were restless in its
bed and would fain turn over, were troubled with flatulency and had
dreams; or I was waked by the cracking of the ground by the frost,
as if some one had driven a team against my door, and in the morning
would find a crack in the earth a quarter of a mile long and a third
of an inch wide.
Sometimes I heard the foxes as they ranged over the snow-crust,
in moonlight nights, in search of a partridge or other game, barking
raggedly and demoniacally like forest dogs, as if laboring with some
anxiety, or seeking expression, struggling for light and to be dogs
outright and run freely in the streets; for if we take the ages into
our account, may there not be a civilization going on among brutes
as well as men? They seemed to me to be rudimental, burrowing men,
still standing on their defence, awaiting their transformation.
Sometimes one came near to my window, attracted by my light, barked
a vulpine curse at me, and then retreated.
Usually the red squirrel (Sciurus Hudsonius) waked me in the
dawn, coursing over the roof and up and down the sides of the house,
as if sent out of the woods for this purpose. In the course of the
winter I threw out half a bushel of ears of sweet corn, which had
not got ripe, on to the snow-crust by my door, and was amused by
watching the motions of the various animals which were baited by it.
In the twilight and the night the rabbits came regularly and made a
hearty meal. All day long the red squirrels came and went, and
afforded me much entertainment by their manoeuvres. One would
approach at first warily through the shrub oaks, running over the
snow-crust by fits and starts like a leaf blown by the wind, now a
few paces this way, with wonderful speed and waste of energy, making
inconceivable haste with his "trotters," as if it were for a wager,
and now as many paces that way, but never getting on more than half
a rod at a time; and then suddenly pausing with a ludicrous
expression and a gratuitous somerset, as if all the eyes in the
universe were eyed on him -- for all the motions of a squirrel, even
in the most solitary recesses of the forest, imply spectators as
much as those of a dancing girl -- wasting more time in delay and
circumspection than would have sufficed to walk the whole distance
-- I never saw one walk -- and then suddenly, before you could say
Jack Robinson, he would be in the top of a young pitch pine, winding
up his clock and chiding all imaginary spectators, soliloquizing and
talking to all the universe at the same time -- for no reason that I
could ever detect, or he himself was aware of, I suspect. At length
he would reach the corn, and selecting a suitable ear, frisk about
in the same uncertain trigonometrical way to the topmost stick of my
wood-pile, before my window, where he looked me in the face, and
there sit for hours, supplying himself with a new ear from time to
time, nibbling at first voraciously and throwing the half-naked cobs
about; till at length he grew more dainty still and played with his
food, tasting only the inside of the kernel, and the ear, which was
held balanced over the stick by one paw, slipped from his careless
grasp and fell to the ground, when he would look over at it with a
ludicrous expression of uncertainty, as if suspecting that it had
life, with a mind not made up whether to get it again, or a new one,
or be off; now thinking of corn, then listening to hear what was in
the wind. So the little impudent fellow would waste many an ear in
a forenoon; till at last, seizing some longer and plumper one,
considerably bigger than himself, and skilfully balancing it, he
would set out with it to the woods, like a tiger with a buffalo, by
the same zig-zag course and frequent pauses, scratching along with
it as if it were too heavy for him and falling all the while, making
its fall a diagonal between a perpendicular and horizontal, being
determined to put it through at any rate; -- a singularly frivolous
and whimsical fellow; -- and so he would get off with it to where he
lived, perhaps carry it to the top of a pine tree forty or fifty
rods distant, and I would afterwards find the cobs strewn about the
woods in various directions.
At length the jays arrive, whose discordant screams were heard
long before, as they were warily making their approach an eighth of
a mile off, and in a stealthy and sneaking manner they flit from
tree to tree, nearer and nearer, and pick up the kernels which the
squirrels have dropped. Then, sitting on a pitch pine bough, they
attempt to swallow in their haste a kernel which is too big for
their throats and chokes them; and after great labor they disgorge
it, and spend an hour in the endeavor to crack it by repeated blows
with their bills. They were manifestly thieves, and I had not much
respect for them; but the squirrels, though at first shy, went to
work as if they were taking what was their own.
Meanwhile also came the chickadees in flocks, which, picking up
the crumbs the squirrels had dropped, flew to the nearest twig and,
placing them under their claws, hammered away at them with their
little bills, as if it were an insect in the bark, till they were
sufficiently reduced for their slender throats. A little flock of
these titmice came daily to pick a dinner out of my woodpile, or the
crumbs at my door, with faint flitting lisping notes, like the
tinkling of icicles in the grass, or else with sprightly day day
day, or more rarely, in spring-like days, a wiry summery phe-be
from the woodside. They were so familiar that at length one
alighted on an armful of wood which I was carrying in, and pecked at
the sticks without fear. I once had a sparrow alight upon my
shoulder for a moment while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I
felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I
should have been by any epaulet I could have worn. The squirrels
also grew at last to be quite familiar, and occasionally stepped
upon my shoe, when that was the nearest way.
When the ground was not yet quite covered, and again near the
end of winter, when the snow was melted on my south hillside and
about my wood-pile, the partridges came out of the woods morning and
evening to feed there. Whichever side you walk in the woods the
partridge bursts away on whirring wings, jarring the snow from the
dry leaves and twigs on high, which comes sifting down in the
sunbeams like golden dust, for this brave bird is not to be scared
by winter. It is frequently covered up by drifts, and, it is said,
"sometimes plunges from on wing into the soft snow, where it remains
concealed for a day or two." I used to start them in the open land
also, where they had come out of the woods at sunset to "bud" the
wild apple trees. They will come regularly every evening to
particular trees, where the cunning sportsman lies in wait for them,
and the distant orchards next the woods suffer thus not a little. I
am glad that the partridge gets fed, at any rate. It is Nature's
own bird which lives on buds and diet drink.
In dark winter mornings, or in short winter afternoons, I
sometimes heard a pack of hounds threading all the woods with
hounding cry and yelp, unable to resist the instinct of the chase,
and the note of the hunting-horn at intervals, proving that man was
in the rear. The woods ring again, and yet no fox bursts forth on
to the open level of the pond, nor following pack pursuing their
Actaeon. And perhaps at evening I see the hunters returning with a
single brush trailing from their sleigh for a trophy, seeking their
inn. They tell me that if the fox would remain in the bosom of the
frozen earth he would be safe, or if be would run in a straight line
away no foxhound could overtake him; but, having left his pursuers
far behind, he stops to rest and listen till they come up, and when
he runs he circles round to his old haunts, where the hunters await
him. Sometimes, however, he will run upon a wall many rods, and
then leap off far to one side, and he appears to know that water
will not retain his scent. A hunter told me that he once saw a fox
pursued by hounds burst out on to Walden when the ice was covered
with shallow puddles, run part way across, and then return to the
same shore. Ere long the hounds arrived, but here they lost the
scent. Sometimes a pack hunting by themselves would pass my door,
and circle round my house, and yelp and hound without regarding me,
as if afflicted by a species of madness, so that nothing could
divert them from the pursuit. Thus they circle until they fall upon
the recent trail of a fox, for a wise hound will forsake everything
else for this. One day a man came to my hut from Lexington to
inquire after his hound that made a large track, and had been
hunting for a week by himself. But I fear that he was not the wiser
for all I told him, for every time I attempted to answer his
questions he interrupted me by asking, "What do you do here?" He
had lost a dog, but found a man.
One old hunter who has a dry tongue, who used to come to bathe
in Walden once every year when the water was warmest, and at such
times looked in upon me, told me that many years ago he took his gun
one afternoon and went out for a cruise in Walden Wood; and as he
walked the Wayland road he heard the cry of hounds approaching, and
ere long a fox leaped the wall into the road, and as quick as
thought leaped the other wall out of the road, and his swift bullet
had not touched him. Some way behind came an old hound and her
three pups in full pursuit, hunting on their own account, and
disappeared again in the woods. Late in the afternoon, as he was
resting in the thick woods south of Walden, he heard the voice of
the hounds far over toward Fair Haven still pursuing the fox; and on
they came, their hounding cry which made all the woods ring sounding
nearer and nearer, now from Well Meadow, now from the Baker Farm.
For a long time he stood still and listened to their music, so sweet
to a hunter's ear, when suddenly the fox appeared, threading the
solemn aisles with an easy coursing pace, whose sound was concealed
by a sympathetic rustle of the leaves, swift and still, keeping the
round, leaving his pursuers far behind; and, leaping upon a rock
amid the woods, he sat erect and listening, with his back to the
hunter. For a moment compassion restrained the latter's arm; but
that was a short-lived mood, and as quick as thought can follow
thought his piece was levelled, and whang! -- the fox, rolling over
the rock, lay dead on the ground. The hunter still kept his place
and listened to the hounds. Still on they came, and now the near
woods resounded through all their aisles with their demoniac cry.
At length the old hound burst into view with muzzle to the ground,
and snapping the air as if possessed, and ran directly to the rock;
but, spying the dead fox, she suddenly ceased her hounding as if
struck dumb with amazement, and walked round and round him in
silence; and one by one her pups arrived, and, like their mother,
were sobered into silence by the mystery. Then the hunter came
forward and stood in their midst, and the mystery was solved. They
waited in silence while he skinned the fox, then followed the brush
a while, and at length turned off into the woods again. That
evening a Weston squire came to the Concord hunter's cottage to
inquire for his hounds, and told how for a week they had been
hunting on their own account from Weston woods. The Concord hunter
told him what he knew and offered him the skin; but the other
declined it and departed. He did not find his hounds that night,
but the next day learned that they had crossed the river and put up
at a farmhouse for the night, whence, having been well fed, they
took their departure early in the morning.
The hunter who told me this could remember one Sam Nutting, who
used to hunt bears on Fair Haven Ledges, and exchange their skins
for rum in Concord village; who told him, even, that he had seen a
moose there. Nutting had a famous foxhound named Burgoyne -- he
pronounced it Bugine -- which my informant used to borrow. In the
"Wast Book" of an old trader of this town, who was also a captain,
town-clerk, and representative, I find the following entry. Jan.
18th, 1742-3, "John Melven Cr. by 1 Grey Fox 0--2--3"; they are not
now found here; and in his ledger, Feb, 7th, 1743, Hezekiah Stratton
has credit "by 1/2 a Catt skin 0--1--4+"; of course, a wild-cat, for
Stratton was a sergeant in the old French war, and would not have
got credit for hunting less noble game. Credit is given for
deerskins also, and they were daily sold. One man still preserves
the horns of the last deer that was killed in this vicinity, and
another has told me the particulars of the hunt in which his uncle
was engaged. The hunters were formerly a numerous and merry crew
here. I remember well one gaunt Nimrod who would catch up a leaf by
the roadside and play a strain on it wilder and more melodious, if
my memory serves me, than any hunting-horn.
At midnight, when there was a moon, I sometimes met with hounds
in my path prowling about the woods, which would skulk out of my
way, as if afraid, and stand silent amid the bushes till I had
Squirrels and wild mice disputed for my store of nuts. There
were scores of pitch pines around my house, from one to four inches
in diameter, which had been gnawed by mice the previous winter -- a
Norwegian winter for them, for the snow lay long and deep, and they
were obliged to mix a large proportion of pine bark with their other
diet. These trees were alive and apparently flourishing at
midsummer, and many of them had grown a foot, though completely
girdled; but after another winter such were without exception dead.
It is remarkable that a single mouse should thus be allowed a whole
pine tree for its dinner, gnawing round instead of up and down it;
but perhaps it is necessary in order to thin these trees, which are
wont to grow up densely.
The hares (Lepus Americanus) were very familiar. One had her
form under my house all winter, separated from me only by the
flooring, and she startled me each morning by her hasty departure
when I began to stir -- thump, thump, thump, striking her head
against the floor timbers in her hurry. They used to come round my
door at dusk to nibble the potato parings which I had thrown out,
and were so nearly the color of the ground that they could hardly be
distinguished when still. Sometimes in the twilight I alternately
lost and recovered sight of one sitting motionless under my window.
When I opened my door in the evening, off they would go with a
squeak and a bounce. Near at hand they only excited my pity. One
evening one sat by my door two paces from me, at first trembling
with fear, yet unwilling to move; a poor wee thing, lean and bony,
with ragged ears and sharp nose, scant tail and slender paws. It
looked as if Nature no longer contained the breed of nobler bloods,
but stood on her last toes. Its large eyes appeared young and
unhealthy, almost dropsical. I took a step, and lo, away it scud
with an elastic spring over the snow-crust, straightening its body
and its limbs into graceful length, and soon put the forest between
me and itself -- the wild free venison, asserting its vigor and the
dignity of Nature. Not without reason was its slenderness. Such
then was its nature. (Lepus, levipes, light-foot, some think.)
What is a country without rabbits and partridges? They are
among the most simple and indigenous animal products; ancient and
venerable families known to antiquity as to modern times; of the
very hue and substance of Nature, nearest allied to leaves and to
the ground -- and to one another; it is either winged or it is
legged. It is hardly as if you had seen a wild creature when a
rabbit or a partridge bursts away, only a natural one, as much to be
expected as rustling leaves. The partridge and the rabbit are still
sure to thrive, like true natives of the soil, whatever revolutions
occur. If the forest is cut off, the sprouts and bushes which
spring up afford them concealment, and they become more numerous
than ever. That must be a poor country indeed that does not support
a hare. Our woods teem with them both, and around every swamp may
be seen the partridge or rabbit walk, beset with twiggy fences and
horse-hair snares, which some cow-boy tends.

The Pond in Winter

After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some
question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to
answer in my sleep, as what -- how -- when -- where? But there was
dawning Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad
windows with serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips.
I awoke to an answered question, to Nature and daylight. The snow
lying deep on the earth dotted with young pines, and the very slope
of the hill on which my house is placed, seemed to say, Forward!
Nature puts no question and answers none which we mortals ask. She
has long ago taken her resolution. "O Prince, our eyes contemplate
with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied
spectacle of this universe. The night veils without doubt a part of
this glorious creation; but day comes to reveal to us this great
work, which extends from earth even into the plains of the ether."
Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in
search of water, if that be not a dream. After a cold and snowy
night it needed a divining-rod to find it. Every winter the liquid
and trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every
breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the
depth of a foot or a foot and a half, so that it will support the
heaviest teams, and perchance the snow covers it to an equal depth,
and it is not to be distinguished from any level field. Like the
marmots in the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes
dormant for three months or more. Standing on the snow-covered
plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through
a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my
feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of
the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of
ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer;
there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight
sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the
inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet is well as over our heads.
Early in the morning, while all things are crisp with frost, men
come with fishing-reels and slender lunch, and let down their fine
lines through the snowy field to take pickerel and perch; wild men,
who instinctively follow other fashions and trust other authorities
than their townsmen, and by their goings and comings stitch towns
together in parts where else they would be ripped. They sit and eat
their luncheon in stout fear-naughts on the dry oak leaves on the
shore, as wise in natural lore as the citizen is in artificial.
They never consulted with books, and know and can tell much less
than they have done. The things which they practice are said not
yet to be known. Here is one fishing for pickerel with grown perch
for bait. You look into his pail with wonder as into a summer pond,
as if he kept summer locked up at home, or knew where she had
retreated. How, pray, did he get these in midwinter? Oh, he got
worms out of rotten logs since the ground froze, and so he caught
them. His life itself passes deeper in nature than the studies of
the naturalist penetrate; himself a subject for the naturalist. The
latter raises the moss and bark gently with his knife in search of
insects; the former lays open logs to their core with his axe, and
moss and bark fly far and wide. He gets his living by barking
trees. Such a man has some right to fish, and I love to see nature
carried out in him. The perch swallows the grub-worm, the pickerel
swallows the perch, and the fisher-man swallows the pickerel; and so
all the chinks in the scale of being are filled.
When I strolled around the pond in misty weather I was sometimes
amused by the primitive mode which some ruder fisherman had adopted.
He would perhaps have placed alder branches over the narrow holes in
the ice, which were four or five rods apart and an equal distance
from the shore, and having fastened the end of the line to a stick
to prevent its being pulled through, have passed the slack line over
a twig of the alder, a foot or more above the ice, and tied a dry
oak leaf to it, which, being pulled down, would show when he had a
bite. These alders loomed through the mist at regular intervals as
you walked half way round the pond.
Ah, the pickerel of Walden! when I see them lying on the ice, or
in the well which the fisherman cuts in the ice, making a little
hole to admit the water, I am always surprised by their rare beauty,
as if they were fabulous fishes, they are so foreign to the streets,
even to the woods, foreign as Arabia to our Concord life. They
possess a quite dazzling and transcendent beauty which separates
them by a wide interval from the cadaverous cod and haddock whose
fame is trumpeted in our streets. They are not green like the
pines, nor gray like the stones, nor blue like the sky; but they
have, to my eyes, if possible, yet rarer colors, like flowers and
precious stones, as if they were the pearls, the animalized nuclei
or crystals of the Walden water. They, of course, are Walden all
over and all through; are themselves small Waldens in the animal
kingdom, Waldenses. It is surprising that they are caught here --
that in this deep and capacious spring, far beneath the rattling
teams and chaises and tinkling sleighs that travel the Walden road,
this great gold and emerald fish swims. I never chanced to see its
kind in any market; it would be the cynosure of all eyes there.
Easily, with a few convulsive quirks, they give up their watery
ghosts, like a mortal translated before his time to the thin air of
As I was desirous to recover the long lost bottom of Walden
Pond, I surveyed it carefully, before the ice broke up, early in
'46, with compass and chain and sounding line. There have been many
stories told about the bottom, or rather no bottom, of this pond,
which certainly had no foundation for themselves. It is remarkable
how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without
taking the trouble to sound it. I have visited two such Bottomless
Ponds in one walk in this neighborhood. Many have believed that
Walden reached quite through to the other side of the globe. Some
who have lain flat on the ice for a long time, looking down through
the illusive medium, perchance with watery eyes into the bargain,
and driven to hasty conclusions by the fear of catching cold in
their breasts, have seen vast holes "into which a load of hay might
be driven," if there were anybody to drive it, the undoubted source
of the Styx and entrance to the Infernal Regions from these parts.
Others have gone down from the village with a "fifty-six" and a
wagon load of inch rope, but yet have failed to find any bottom; for


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