May 1, 1851. Khaled would have his weary soldiers vigilant still. Apprehending a midnight sally from the enemy, "Let no man sleep," said he; "we shall have rest enough after death."
May 1, 1852. Five A. M. To Cliffs. A smart frost in the night. The ploughed ground and platforms white with it. I hear the little forked-tailed chipping-sparrow (Fringilla socialis) shaking out his rapid "tchi-tchi-tchi-tchi-tchi-tchi,"--a little jingle from the oak behind the depot. I hear the note of that plump bird with a dark streaked breast, that runs and hides in the grass, whose note sounds so like a cricket's in the grass. I used to hear it when I walked by moonlight last summer. I hear it now from deep in the sod, for there is hardly grass yet. The bird keeps so low you do not see it. You do not suspect how many there are till their heads appear. The word seringo reminds me of its note, as if it were produced by some kind of fine metallic spring. It is an earth sound.
It is a moist, lowering morning for the Mayers. The sun now shines under a cloud in the horizon, and his still yellow light falls on the western fields as sometimes on the eastern after a shower in a summer afternoon. Nuttall says the note of the chipping-sparrow is "given from time to time in the night, like the reverie of a dream." Have I not heard it when spearing? Found the first violet which would open to-day, V. sagittata var. ovata,--or cucullata? for the leaves are not toothed at base nor arrow-shaped as in the first, yet they are hairy, and, I should say, petiole-margined; still, like the latter, they are rolled in at base, and the scape is four-angled. . . . The woods have a damp smell this morning. I hear a robin amid them. Yet there are fewer singers to be heard than on a very pleasant morning some weeks ago. The low early blueberry (June berry) is well budded. The grass ground--low ground, at least--wears a good green tinge; there are no leaves on the woods; the river is high over the meadows. There is a thin, gauze-like veil over the village (I am on Fairhaven Hill), probably formed of the smokes. As yet we have had no morning fogs, to my knowledge. I hear the first to-wee finch; he says, "to-wee-to-wee;" and another, much farther off than I supposed when I went in search of him, says, "whip your chr-r-r-r-r-r," with a metallic ring. I hear the first cat-bird, also, mewing, and the wood-thrush, which still thrills me,--a sound to be heard in a new country from one side of a clearing. I heard a black and white creeper just now, "wicher-wicher-wicher-wich." I am on the Cliff. It is about six. The flicker cackles. I hear a woodpecker tapping. The tinkle of the huckleberry bird comes up from the shrub-oak plain. He commonly lives away from the habitations of men, in retired bushy fields and sprout lands. We have thus flowers and the song of birds before the woods leave out, like poetry. When leaving the woods I heard the hooting of an owl, which sounded very much like a clown calling to his team. Saw two large woodpeckers on an oak. I am tempted to say that they were other and larger than the flicker; but I have been deceived in him before. . . .
The little peeping frogs which I got last night resemble the description of the Hylodes Pickeringii, and in some respects the peeping hyla; but they are probably the former, though every way considerably smaller. Mine are about three fourths of an inch long as they sit, seven eighths if stretched; four-fingered and five-toed, with small tubercles on the ends of them. Some difference in their color. One is like a pale oak leaf at this season, streaked with brown. Two others more ashy. Two have crosses on back, of dark brown, with transverse bands on the legs. I keep them in a tumbler. They peep at twilight and evening; occasionally at other times. One that got out in the evening on to the carpet was found soon after, by his peeping, on the piano. They easily ascend the glass of the window. Jump eighteen inches or more. When they peep, the loose, wrinkled skin of the throat is swelled up into a globular bubble, very large and transparent, and quite round, except on the throat side, behind which their little heads are lost, mere protuberances on the side of this sphere. The peeping wholly absorbs them, their mouths being shut, or apparently so. Will sit half a day on the side of a smooth tumbler. Made that trilling note in the house. Remain many hours at the bottom of the water in the tumbler, or sit as long on the leaves above. A pulse in the throat always, except in one for. an hour or two, apparently asleep. They change their color to a darker or lighter shade, chameleon-like.
May 1, 1853. To Cliffs. The oak leaves on the plain are fallen. The colors are now light blue above (where is my cyanometer? Saussure invented one, and Humboldt used it in his travels); the landscape russet and greenish, spotted with fawn-colored ploughed lands, with green pine and gray or reddish oak woods intermixed, and dark blue or slate-colored water here and there. It is greenest in the meadows and where water has lately stood, and a strong, invigorating scent comes up from the fresh meadows. It is like the greenness of an apple faintly or dimly appearing through the russet.
May 1, 1854. Early starlight by river-side. The water smooth and broad. I hear the loud and incessant cackling of probably the pigeon woodpecker, what some time since I thought to be a different kind. Thousands of robins are filling the air with their trills, mingling with the peeping of hylodes and ringing of frogs; and now the snipes have just begun their winnowing sounds and squeaks.
May 1, 1855. P. M. By boat with S--to Conantum a-maying.
The myrtle bird is one of the commonest and tamest birds now. It catches insects like a pewee, darting off from its perch and returning to it, and sings something like "a-chill chill, chill chill, chill chill, a-twear, twill twill twee," or it may be all tw (not loud, a little like the Fringilla hiemalis, or more like the pine warbler), rapid, and more and more intense as it advances. There is an unaccountable sweetness as of flowers in the air. A true May day,--raw and drizzling in the morning. The grackle still. What various brilliant and evanescent colors on the surface of this agitated water,--now, as we are crossing Willow Bay, looking toward the half-concealed sun over the foam-spotted flood! It reminds me of the sea. . . .
Went to G--'s for the hawk of yesterday. It was nailed to the barn in terrorem, and as a trophy. He gave it to me, with an egg. He called it the female, and probably was right, it was so large. He tried in vain to shoot the male, which I saw circling about just out of gunshot, and screaming, while he robbed the nest. He climbed the tree when I was there yesterday P. M., and found two young, which he thought not more than a fortnight old, with only down, at least no feathers, and one addled egg; also three or four white-bellied or deer mice (Mus leucopus), a perch and a sucker, and a gray rabbit's skin. I think they must have found the fish dead. They were now stale. I found the remains of a partridge under the tree. G--had seen squirrels, etc., in other nests.
May 1, 1857. Two P. M. First notice the ring of the toad as I am crossing the common in front of the meeting-house. There is a cool and breezy south wind, and the ring of the first toad leaks into the general stream of sound unnoticed by most, as the mill brook empties into the river, and the voyager cannot tell if he is above or below its mouth. The bell was ringing for town meeting, and every one heard it, but none heard this older and more universal bell, rung by more native Americans all the land over. It is a sound from amid the waves of the aerial sea, that breaks on our ears with the surf of the air,--a sound that is almost breathed with the wind, taken into the lungs instead of being heard by the ears. It comes from far over and through the troughs of the aerial sea, like a petrel; and who can guess by what pool the singer sits?--whether behind the meeting-house sheds, or over the burying-ground hill, or by the river-side. A new reign has commenced. Bufo the first has ascended his throne, the surface of the earth, marshaled into office by the south wind. Bufo, the double-chinned, inflates his throat. Attend to his message. Take off your great coats, swains, and prepare for the summer campaign. Hop a few paces farther toward your goals. The measures which I shall advocate are warmth, moisture, and low-flying insects. . . .
It is foolish for a man to accumulate material wealth chiefly, houses and lands. Our stock in life, our real estate, is that amount of thought which we have had, which we have thought out. The ground we have thus created is forever pasturage for our thoughts. I fall back on to visions which I have had. What else adds to my possessions, and makes me rich in all lands? If you have ever done any work with those finest tools, the Imagination and Fancy and Reason, it is a new creation, independent of the world, and a possession forever. You have laid up something against a rainy day. You have, to that extent, cleared the wilderness.
May 1, 1859. We accuse savages of worshiping only the bad spirit or devil. Though they may distinguish both a good and a bad, they regard only that one which they fear, worship the devil only. We too are savages in this, doing precisely the same thing. This occurred to me yesterday, as I sat in the woods admiring the beauty of the blue butterfly. We are not chiefly interested in birds and insects, for example, as they are ornamental to the earth and cheering to man, but we spare the lives of the former only on condition that they eat more grubs than they do cherries, and the only account of the insects which the State encourages is of the insects injurious to vegetation. We too admit both a good and bad spirit, but we worship chiefly the bad spirit whom we fear. We do not think first of the good, but of the harm things will do us. The catechism says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, which of course is applicable mainly to God as seen in his works. Yet the only account of the beautiful insects, butterflies, etc., which God has made and set before us, which the State ever thinks of spending any money on is the account of those which are injurious to vegetation! This is the way we glorify God and enjoy him forever. . . .
We have attended to the evil, and said nothing about the good. This is looking a gift horse in the mouth, with a vengeance. Children are attracted by the beauty of butterflies, but their parents and legislators deem it an idle pursuit. The parents remind one of the devil, but the children of God. Though God may have pronounced his work good, we ask, Is it not poisonous?
Science is inhuman. Things seen with a microscope begin to be insignificant. So described, they are monstrous, as if they should be magnified a thousand diameters. Suppose I should see and describe men and horses and trees and birds as if they were a thousand times larger than they are. With our prying instruments we disturb the harmony and balance of nature.
May 2, 1852. Reptiles must not be omitted, especially frogs. Their croaking is the most earthy sound now, a rustling of the scurf of the earth, not to be overlooked in the awakening of the year. . . .
The commonplaces of one age or nation make the poetry of another. . . .
The handsome, blood-red, lacquered marks on the edge and under the edge of the painted tortoise's shell, like the marks on a waiter, concentric. Few colors like it in nature. This tortoise, too, like the guttata, painted on thin parts of the shell, and on legs and tail in this style, but on throat bright yellow stripes. Sternum dull yellowish or buff. It hisses like the spotted tortoise. Is the male the larger and flatter, with depressed sternum? There is some regularity in the guttata's spots, generally a straight row on back. Some of the spots are orange sometimes on the head. . . .
If you would obtain insight, avoid anatomy. . . .
May 2, 1855. The anemone is well named, for see now the nemorosa amid the fallen brush and leaves, trembling in the wind, so fragile.
May 2, 1859. A peetweet and its mate. The river seems really inhabited when the peetweet is back. This bird does not return to our stream until the weather is decidedly pleasant and warm. He is perched on the accustomed rock. His note peoples the river like the prattle of children once more in the yard of a house that has stood empty. . . .
I am surprised by the tender yellowish green of the aspen leaves, just expanded suddenly, even like a fire, seen in the sun against the dark brown twigs of the wood, though these leaflets are yet but thinly dispersed. It is very enlivening.
I feel no desire to go to California or Pike's Peak, but I often think at night, with inexpressible satisfaction and yearning, of the arrow-headiferous sands of Concord. I have often spent whole afternoons, especially in the spring, pacing back and forth over a sandy field, looking for these relics of a race. This is the gold which our sands yield. The soil of that rocky spot of Simon Brown's land is quite ash-colored (now that the sod is turned up) from Indian fires, with numerous pieces of coal in it. There is a great deal of this ash-colored soil in the country. We do literally plough up the hearths of a people, and plant in their ashes. The ashes of their fires colors much of our soil.
May 2, 1860. I observed on the 29th that the clams had not only been moving much, furrowing the sandy bottom near the shore, but generally, or almost invariably, had moved toward the middle of the river. Perhaps it had something to do with the low stage of the water. I saw one making his way,--or perhaps it had rested since morning,--over that sawdust bar just below Turtle Bar, toward the river, the surface of the bar being an inch or two higher than the water. Probably the water falling left it thus on moist land.
A crowd of men seems to generate vermin even of the human kind. In great towns there is degradation undreamed of elsewhere, gamblers, dog-killers, rag-pickers. Some live by robbing or by luck. There was the Concord muster of last September. I see still a well-dressed man carefully and methodically searching for money on the muster field far off across the river. I turn my glass upon him and notice how he proceeds. (I saw them searching in the fall till the snow came.) He walks, regularly and slowly, back and forth over the ground where the soldiers had their tents, still marked by the straw, with his head prone, and picking in the straw with a stick, now and then turning back or aside to examine something more closely. He is dressed, methinks, better than. the average man whom you meet in the streets. How can he pay for his board thus? He dreams of finding a few coppers, or perchance half a dime, which have fallen from the soldiers' pockets, and no doubt he will find something of the kind, having dreamed of it. Having knocked, this door will be opened to him.
May 3, 1841. We are all pilots of the most intricate Bahama channels. Beauty may be the sky overhead, but duty is the water underneath. When I see a man with serene countenance in garden or parlor, it looks like a great inward leisure that he enjoys, but in reality he sails on no summer's sea. This steady sailing comes of a heavy hand on the tiller. We do not attend to larks and bluebirds so leisurely but that conscience is as erect as the attitude of the listener. The man of principle gets never a holiday. Our true character underlies all our words and actions, as the granite underlies the other strata. Its steady pulse does not cease for any deed of ours, as the sap is still ascending in the stalk of the fairest flower.
May 3, 1852. Five A.M. To Cliffs. A great brassy moon going down in the west. . . . Looking from the Cliff, now about six A. M., the landscape is as if seen in a mirage, the Cliff being in shadow, and that in the cool sunlight. The earth and water smell fresh and new, and the latter is marked by a few smooth streaks. The atmosphere suits the grayish-brown landscape, the still, ashy maple swamps, and now nearly bare shrub oaks. The white pine, left here and there over the sprout land, is never more beautiful than with the morning light, before the water is rippled and the morning song of the birds is quenched.
Hear the first brown thrasher, two of them. They drown all the rest. He says, "cherruwit, cherruwit, go ahead, go ahead, give it to him, give it to him," etc. Plenty of birds in the woods this morning. The huckleberry birds and the chickadees are as numerous, if not as loud, as any. The flicker taps a dead tree somewhat as one uses a knocker on a door in the village street. In his note he begins low, rising higher and higher.
Anursnack looks green three miles off. This is an important epoch, when the distant bare hills begin to show green or verdurous to the eye. The earth wears a new aspect. Not tawny or russet now, but green are such bare hills. Some of the notes, the trills of the lark sitting amid the tussocks and stubble, are like the notes of my seringo bird. May these birds that live so low in the grass be called the cricket birds? and does their song resemble that of the cricket, an earth song?
Evening. The moon is full. The air is filled with a certain luminous, liquid white light. You can see the moonlight, as it were reflected from the atmosphere, which some might mistake for a haze,--a glow of mellow light, somewhat like the light I saw in the afternoon sky some weeks ago, as if the air were a very thin but transparent liquid, not dry as in winter, nor gross as in summer. The sky has depth, and not merely distance. Going through the depot field, I hear the dream frog at a distance. The little peeping frogs make a background of sound in the horizon, which you do not hear unless you attend. The former is a trembling note, some higher, some lower, along the edge of the earth,--an all-pervading sound. Nearer, it is a blubbering or rather bubbling sound, such as children, who stand nearer to nature, can and do often make. . . . The little peeper prefers a pool on the edge of a wood, which mostly dries up at midsummer, whose shore is covered with leaves, and where there are twigs in the water, as where choppers have worked. Theirs is a clear, sharp, ear-piercing peep, not shrill, sometimes a squeak from one whose pipe is out of order. . . . They have much the greatest apparatus for peeping of any frogs that I know. . . . I go along the side of Fairhaven Hill. The clock strikes distinctly, showing the wind is easterly. There is a grand, rich, musical echo trembling in the air long after the clock has ceased to strike, like a vast organ, filling the air with a trembling music, like a flower of sound. Nature adopts it. The water is so calm, the woods and single trees are doubled by the reflection, and in this light you cannot divide them as you walk along the river. See the spearer's lights, one northeast, one southwest, toward Sudbury, beyond Lee's Bridge,--scarlet-colored fires. From the hill, the river is a broad blue stream exactly the color of the heavens which it reflects. Sit on the Cliff with comfort in great-coat. All the tawny and russet earth (for no green is seen upon the ground at this hour) sending only this faint, multitudinous sound (of frogs) to heaven. The vast, wild earth. The first whip-poor-will startles me; I hear three. Summer is coming apace. Within three or four days the birds have come so fast I can hardly keep the run of them,--much faster than the flowers.
Sunday, May 3, 1857. A remarkably warm and pleasant morning. A.M. To battle ground by river. I heard the ring of toads at six A. M. The flood on the meadows, still high, is quite smooth, and many are out this still and suddenly very warm morning, pushing about in boats. Now, thinks many a one, is the time to paddle or push gently far up or down the river, along the still, warm meadow's edge, and perhaps we may see some large turtles, or musk-rats, or otter, or rare fish or fowl. It will be a grand forenoon for a cruise, to explore these meadow shores and inundated maple swamps which we have never explored. Now we shall be recompensed for the week's confinement in shop or garden. We will spend our Sabbath exploring these smooth, warm vernal waters. Up or down shall we go,--to Fairhaven Bay and the Sudbury meadows, or to Ball's Hill and Carlisle Bridge? Along the meadow's edge, lined with willows and alders and maples; underneath the catkins of the early willow, and brushing those of the sweet-gale with our prow; where the sloping pasture and the ploughed ground submerged are fast drinking up the flood, what fair isles, what remote coast, shall we explore? what San Salvador or Bay of All Saints arrive at? All are tempted forth, like flies into the sun. All isles seem Fortunate and blessed to-day, all capes are of Good Hope. The same sun and calm that tempt the turtles out tempt the voyagers. It is an opportunity to explore their own natures, to float along their own shores. The woodpecker cackles and the crow blackbird utters his jarring chatter from the oaks and maples. All well men and women who are not restrained by superstitious custom come abroad this morning, by land or water, and such as have boats launch them and put forth in search of adventure. Others, less free or it may be less fortunate, take their station on bridges, watching the rush of waters through them and the motions of the departing voyagers, and listening to the note of blackbirds from over the smooth water. Perhaps they see a swimming snake or a musk-rat dive,--airing and sunning themselves there till the first bell rings. Up and down the town men and boys that are under subjection are polishing their shoes and brushing their go-to-meeting clothes.
I sympathize not to-day with those who go to church in newest clothes, and sit quietly in straight-backed pews. I sympathize rather with the boy who has none to look after him, who borrows a boat and paddle, and in common clothes sets out to explore these temporary vernal lakes. I meet one paddling along under a sunny bank, with bare feet and his pants rolled up above his knees, ready to leap into the water at a moment's warning. Better for him to read Robinson Crusoe than Baxter's Saints' Rest. . . .
The pine-warbler is perhaps the commonest bird heard now from the wood sides. It seems left to it almost alone to fill the empty aisles.
May 4, 1852. This excitement about Kossuth is not interesting to me, it is so superficial. . . . Men are making speeches to him all over the country, but each expresses only the thought or the want of thought of the multitude. No man stands on truth. They are merely banded together as usual, one leaning on another, and all together on nothing, as the Hindoos made the world rest on an elephant, and the elephant on a tortoise, and had nothing to put under the tortoise. You can pass your hand under the largest mob, a nation in revolution even, and however solid a bulk they may make, like a hail cloud in the atmosphere, you may not meet so much as a cobweb of support. They may not rest, even by a point, on eternal foundations. But an individual standing on truth you cannot pass your hand under, for his foundations reach to the centre of the universe. So superficial these men and their doings. It is life on a leaf, or a chip, which has nothing but air or water beneath. I love to see a man with a tap-root, though it make him difficult to transplant. It is unimportant what these men do. Let them try forever, they can effect nothing. Of what significance are the things you can forget?
May 4, 1853. Cattle are going up country. Hear the "tull-lull" of the white-throated sparrow.
Eight A. M. To Walden and Cliffs. The sound of the oven-bird. . . . The woods and fields next the Cliffs now ring with the silver jingle of the field sparrow, the medley of the brown thrasher, the honest qui vive of the chewink, or his jingle from the top of a low copse tree, while his mate scratches in the dry leaves beneath. The black and white creeper is hopping along the oak boughs, head downward, pausing from time to time to utter its note, like a fine, delicate saw sharpening, and ever and anon rises, clear over all, the smooth rich melody of the wood-thrush. Could that have been a jay? I think it was some large, uncommon woodpecker that uttered that very loud, strange, cackling note. The dry woods have the smell of fragrant everlasting. I am surprised by the cool drops which now at ten o'clock fall from the flowers of the amelanchier, while other plants are dry, as if these had attracted more moisture. The white pines have started. The indigo bird and its mate, dark throat, light beneath, white spot on wings which is not described, a hoarse note and rapid, the first two or three syllables "twe, twe, twee," the last being dwelt upon, or "twe, twe, twe, tweee," or as if there were an r in it, "tre," etc., not musical. . . .
It is stated in the "Life of Humboldt" that he proved "that the expression, 'The ocean reflects the sky,' was a purely poetical, not a scientifically correct one, as the sea is often blue when the sky is almost totally covered with light, white clouds." He used Saussure's cyanometer even to measure the color of the sea. This might probably be used to measure the intensity of blue flowers, like lupines, at a distance.
May 4, 1855. A robin sings, when I in the house cannot distinguish the earliest dawning from the full moonlight. His song first advertises me of the daybreak when I thought it was night, as I lay looking out into the full moonlight. I heard a robin begin his strain, and yielded the point to him, believing that he was better acquainted with the signs of day than I.
May 4, 1858. P. M. By boat to Holden swamp. To go among the willows now and hear the bees hum is equal to going some hundreds of miles southward toward summer.
Go into Holden swamp to hear warblers. See a little blue butterfly (or moth) (saw one yesterday) fluttering about on the dry brown leaves in a warm place by the swamp side, making a pleasant contrast. From time to time have seen the large Vanessa antiopa resting on the black willows, like a leaf still adhering. As I sit by the swamp side this warm summery afternoon I hear the crows cawing hoarsely, and from time to time see one flying toward the top of a tall white pine. At length I distinguish a hen-hawk perched on the top. The crow repeatedly stoops toward him, now from this side, now from that, passing near his head each time, but he pays not the least attention to it.
I hear the "veer-e, ver-e, ver-e" of the creeper continually in the swamp. It is the prevailing note there, and methought I heard a redstart's note, but oftener than the last the tweezer or screeper note of the party-colored warbler, bluish above, throat and breast yellow or orange, white on wings, and neck above yellowish, going restlessly over the trees (maples, etc.) by the swamp, in creeper fashion; and as you may hear at the same time the true creeper's note without seeing it, you might think this bird uttered the creeper's note also.
The redwings, though here and there in flocks, are apparently beginning to build. I infer this from their shyness and alarm in the bushes along the river, and their richer solitary warbling.
May 4, 1859: P. M. To Lee's Cliff on foot. . . . Crossing the first Conantum field I perceive a peculiar fragrance in the air (not the meadow fragrance), like that of vernal flowers or of expanding buds. The ground is covered with the mouse-ear in full bloom, and it may be that in part. It is a temperate southwest breeze, and this is a scent of willows (flowers and leaflets), bluets, violets, shad-bush, mouse-ear, etc., combined, or perhaps the last chiefly. At any rate, it is very perceptible. The air is more genial, laden with the fragrance of spring flowers. I, sailing on the spring ocean, getting in from my winter voyage, begin to smell the land. Such a scent perceived by a mariner would be very exciting. I not only smell the land breeze, but I perceive in it the fragrance of spring flowers. I come out expecting to see the redstart or the party-colored warbler, and as soon as I get within a dozen rods of the Holden wood I hear the screeper note of the tweezer bird, that is, the party-colored warbler, which also I see, but not distinctly. Two or three are flitting from tree-top to tree-top about the swamp there, and you have only to sit still on one side and wait for them to come round. The water has what you may call a summer ripple and sparkle on it; that is, the ripple does not suggest coldness in the breeze that raises it. It is a hazy day; the air is made hazy, you might fancy, with a myriad expanding buds. After crossing the arrow-head fields, we see a woodchuck run along and climb to the top of a wall and sit erect there,--our first. It is almost exactly the color of the ground, the wall, and the bare brown twigs altogether. When in the Miles swamp field we see two, one chasing the other, coming very fast down the lilac-field hill, straight toward us, while we squat still in the middle of the field. The foremost is a small gray or slaty-colored one; the other, two or three times as heavy, and a warm tawny, decidedly yellowish in the sun, a very large and fat one, pursuing the first. . . . Suddenly the foremost, when thirty or forty rods off, perceives us, and tries, as it were, to sink into the earth, and finally gets behind a low tuft of grass and peeps out. Also the other (which at first appears to fondle the earth, inclining his cheek to it and dragging his body a little along it) tries to hide himself, and at length gets behind an apple-tree and peeps out on one side in an amusing manner. This makes three that we see. They are clumsy runners, with their short legs and heavy bodies,--run with an undulating or wabbling motion, jerking up their hind quarters. They can run pretty fast, however. Their tails were dark-tipped. They are low when the animal is running.
Looking up through this soft and warm southwest wind I notice the conspicuous shadow of mid-Conantum Cliff, now at three P. M., and elsewhere the shade of a few apple-trees, trunks and boughs. Through this warm and hazy air the sheeny surface of the hill, now considerably greened, looks soft as velvet, and June is suggested to my mind. It is remarkable that shadow should only be noticed now when decidedly warm weather comes, though before the leaves have expanded, that is, when it begins to be grateful to our senses. The shadow of the Cliff is like a dark pupil on the side of the hill. The first shadow is as noticeable and memorable as a flower. I observe annually the first shadow of this cliff, when we begin to pass from sunshine into shade for our refreshment; when we look on shade with yearning, as on a friend. That cliff and its shade suggest dark eyes and eyelashes, and overhanging brows. Few things are more suggestive of heat than this first shade, though now we see only the tracery of tree boughs on the greening grass and the sandy street. This I notice at the same time with the first humble-bee; when the Rana palustris purrs in the meadow generally; when the white willow and the aspen display their tender green, full of yellow light; when the party-colored warbler is first heard over the swamp; the woodchuck, who loves warmth, is out on the hill-sides in numbers; the jingle of the chipbird and the song of the thrasher are heard incessantly; the first cricket is heard in a warm, rocky place; and that scent of vernal flowers is in the air. This is an intenser expression of that same influence or aspect of nature which I began to perceive ten days ago, the same Lieferung.
These days we begin to think in earnest of bathing in the river and to sit at an open window. Life out-of-doors begins.
It would require a good deal of time and patience to study the habits of woodchucks, they are so shy and watchful. They hear the least sound of a footstep on the ground, and are quick to see also. One should go clad in a suit somewhat like their own, the warp of tawny and the woof of green, and then with painted or well-tanned face he might lie out on a sunny bank till they appeared.
We hear a thrasher sing for half an hour steadily, a very rich singer, and heard one fourth of a mile off very distinctly. This is first heard commonly at planting time. He sings as if conscious of his power.
May 4, 1860. P. M. To Great Meadows by boat. . . . Walking over the river meadows to examine the pools and see how much dried up they are, I notice, as usual, the track of the musquash, some five inches wide always, and always exactly in the lowest part of the muddy hollows connecting one pool with another, winding as they wind, as if loath to raise itself above the lowest mud. At first he swam there, and now as the water goes down he follows it steadily, and at length travels on the bare mud, but as low and close to the water as he can get. Thus he first traces the channel of the future brook and river, and deepens it by dragging his belly along it. He lays out and engineers its road. As our roads are said to follow the track of the cow, so rivers in another period follow the trail of the musquash. They are perfect rats to look at, and swim fast against the stream. When I am walking on a high bank, I often see one swimming along within half a dozen rods, and land openly, as if regardless of us. Probably, being under water at first, he did not notice us.
Looking across the peninsula toward Ball's Hill, I am struck by the bright blue of the river (a deeper blue than the sky) contrasting with the fresh yellow-green of the meadow (that is, of coarse sedges just starting), and between them a darker or greener green, next the edge of the river, especially where that small sandbar island is, the green of that early rank river-grass. This is the first painting or coloring in the meadows. These several colors are, as it were, daubed on, as on china-ware, or as distinct and simple as in a child's painting. I was struck by the amount and variety of color after so much brown.
As I stood there I heard a thumping sound, which I referred to P--, three fourths of a mile off over the meadow. But it was a pigeon woodpecker excavating its nest inside a maple within a rod of me. Though I had just landed and made a noise with my boat, he was too busy to hear me, but now he hears my tread, and I see hem put out his head and then withdraw it warily, and keep still while I stay there.
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|Author:||Thoreau, Henry David|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1993|
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