Part 4 - Walden Audiobook by Henry David Thoreau (Chs 09-11)


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Transcript:
CHAPTER 9 The Ponds
Sometimes, having had a surfeit of human society and gossip, and worn out all my
village friends, I rambled still farther westward than I habitually dwell, into yet
more unfrequented parts of the town, "to
fresh woods and pastures new," or, while the sun was setting, made my supper of
huckleberries and blueberries on Fair Haven Hill, and laid up a store for several days.
The fruits do not yield their true flavor to the purchaser of them, nor to him who
raises them for the market. There is but one way to obtain it, yet few
take that way.
If you would know the flavor of huckleberries, ask the cowboy or the
partridge.
It is a vulgar error to suppose that you have tasted huckleberries who never plucked
them.
A huckleberry never reaches Boston; they have not been known there since they grew
on her three hills.
The ambrosial and essential part of the fruit is lost with the bloom which is
rubbed off in the market cart, and they become mere provender.
As long as Eternal Justice reigns, not one innocent huckleberry can be transported
thither from the country's hills.
Occasionally, after my hoeing was done for the day, I joined some impatient companion
who had been fishing on the pond since morning, as silent and motionless as a duck
or a floating leaf, and, after practising
various kinds of philosophy, had concluded commonly, by the time I arrived, that he
belonged to the ancient sect of Caenobites.
There was one older man, an excellent fisher and skilled in all kinds of
woodcraft, who was pleased to look upon my house as a building erected for the
convenience of fishermen; and I was equally
pleased when he sat in my doorway to arrange his lines.
Once in a while we sat together on the pond, he at one end of the boat, and I at
the other; but not many words passed between us, for he had grown deaf in his
later years, but he occasionally hummed a
psalm, which harmonized well enough with my philosophy.
Our intercourse was thus altogether one of unbroken harmony, far more pleasing to
remember than if it had been carried on by speech.
When, as was commonly the case, I had none to commune with, I used to raise the echoes
by striking with a paddle on the side of my boat, filling the surrounding woods with
circling and dilating sound, stirring them
up as the keeper of a menagerie his wild beasts, until I elicited a growl from every
wooded vale and hillside.
In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute, and saw the perch,
which I seem to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon travelling over the
ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the wrecks of the forest.
Formerly I had come to this pond adventurously, from time to time, in dark
summer nights, with a companion, and, making a fire close to the water's edge,
which we thought attracted the fishes, we
caught pouts with a bunch of worms strung on a thread, and when we had done, far in
the night, threw the burning brands high into the air like skyrockets, which, coming
down into the pond, were quenched with a
loud hissing, and we were suddenly groping in total darkness.
Through this, whistling a tune, we took our way to the haunts of men again.
But now I had made my home by the shore.
Sometimes, after staying in a village parlor till the family had all retired, I
have returned to the woods, and, partly with a view to the next day's dinner, spent
the hours of midnight fishing from a boat
by moonlight, serenaded by owls and foxes, and hearing, from time to time, the
creaking note of some unknown bird close at hand.
These experiences were very memorable and valuable to me--anchored in forty feet of
water, and twenty or thirty rods from the shore, surrounded sometimes by thousands of
small perch and shiners, dimpling the
surface with their tails in the moonlight, and communicating by a long flaxen line
with mysterious nocturnal fishes which had their dwelling forty feet below, or
sometimes dragging sixty feet of line about
the pond as I drifted in the gentle night breeze, now and then feeling a slight
vibration along it, indicative of some life prowling about its extremity, of dull
uncertain blundering purpose there, and slow to make up its mind.
At length you slowly raise, pulling hand over hand, some horned pout squeaking and
squirming to the upper air.
It was very queer, especially in dark nights, when your thoughts had wandered to
vast and cosmogonal themes in other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which
came to interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again.
It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into the air, as well as downward
into this element, which was scarcely more dense.
Thus I caught two fishes as it were with one hook.
The scenery of Walden is on a humble scale, and, though very beautiful, does not
approach to grandeur, nor can it much concern one who has not long frequented it
or lived by its shore; yet this pond is so
remarkable for its depth and purity as to merit a particular description.
It is a clear and deep green well, half a mile long and a mile and three quarters in
circumference, and contains about sixty-one and a half acres; a perennial spring in the
midst of pine and oak woods, without any
visible inlet or outlet except by the clouds and evaporation.
The surrounding hills rise abruptly from the water to the height of forty to eighty
feet, though on the southeast and east they attain to about one hundred and one hundred
and fifty feet respectively, within a quarter and a third of a mile.
They are exclusively woodland.
All our Concord waters have two colors at least; one when viewed at a distance, and
another, more proper, close at hand. The first depends more on the light, and
follows the sky.
In clear weather, in summer, they appear blue at a little distance, especially if
agitated, and at a great distance all appear alike.
In stormy weather they are sometimes of a dark slate-color.
The sea, however, is said to be blue one day and green another without any
perceptible change in the atmosphere.
I have seen our river, when, the landscape being covered with snow, both water and ice
were almost as green as grass. Some consider blue "to be the color of pure
water, whether liquid or solid."
But, looking directly down into our waters from a boat, they are seen to be of very
different colors. Walden is blue at one time and green at
another, even from the same point of view.
Lying between the earth and the heavens, it partakes of the color of both.
Viewed from a hilltop it reflects the color of the sky; but near at hand it is of a
yellowish tint next the shore where you can see the sand, then a light green, which
gradually deepens to a uniform dark green in the body of the pond.
In some lights, viewed even from a hilltop, it is of a vivid green next the shore.
Some have referred this to the reflection of the verdure; but it is equally green
there against the railroad sandbank, and in the spring, before the leaves are expanded,
and it may be simply the result of the
prevailing blue mixed with the yellow of the sand.
Such is the color of its iris.
This is that portion, also, where in the spring, the ice being warmed by the heat of
the sun reflected from the bottom, and also transmitted through the earth, melts first
and forms a narrow canal about the still frozen middle.
Like the rest of our waters, when much agitated, in clear weather, so that the
surface of the waves may reflect the sky at the right angle, or because there is more
light mixed with it, it appears at a little
distance of a darker blue than the sky itself; and at such a time, being on its
surface, and looking with divided vision, so as to see the reflection, I have
discerned a matchless and indescribable
light blue, such as watered or changeable silks and sword blades suggest, more
cerulean than the sky itself, alternating with the original dark green on the
opposite sides of the waves, which last appeared but muddy in comparison.
It is a vitreous greenish blue, as I remember it, like those patches of the
winter sky seen through cloud vistas in the west before sundown.
Yet a single glass of its water held up to the light is as colorless as an equal
quantity of air.
It is well known that a large plate of glass will have a green tint, owing, as the
makers say, to its "body," but a small piece of the same will be colorless.
How large a body of Walden water would be required to reflect a green tint I have
never proved.
The water of our river is black or a very dark brown to one looking directly down on
it, and, like that of most ponds, imparts to the body of one bathing in it a
yellowish tinge; but this water is of such
crystalline purity that the body of the bather appears of an alabaster whiteness,
still more unnatural, which, as the limbs are magnified and distorted withal,
produces a monstrous effect, making fit studies for a Michael Angelo.
The water is so transparent that the bottom can easily be discerned at the depth of
twenty-five or thirty feet.
Paddling over it, you may see, many feet beneath the surface, the schools of perch
and shiners, perhaps only an inch long, yet the former easily distinguished by their
transverse bars, and you think that they
must be ascetic fish that find a subsistence there.
Once, in the winter, many years ago, when I had been cutting holes through the ice in
order to catch pickerel, as I stepped ashore I tossed my axe back on to the ice,
but, as if some evil genius had directed
it, it slid four or five rods directly into one of the holes, where the water was
twenty-five feet deep.
Out of curiosity, I lay down on the ice and looked through the hole, until I saw the
axe a little on one side, standing on its head, with its helve erect and gently
swaying to and fro with the pulse of the
pond; and there it might have stood erect and swaying till in the course of time the
handle rotted off, if I had not disturbed it.
Making another hole directly over it with an ice chisel which I had, and cutting down
the longest birch which I could find in the neighborhood with my knife, I made a slip-
noose, which I attached to its end, and,
letting it down carefully, passed it over the knob of the handle, and drew it by a
line along the birch, and so pulled the axe out again.
The shore is composed of a belt of smooth rounded white stones like paving-stones,
excepting one or two short sand beaches, and is so steep that in many places a
single leap will carry you into water over
your head; and were it not for its remarkable transparency, that would be the
last to be seen of its bottom till it rose on the opposite side.
Some think it is bottomless.
It is nowhere muddy, and a casual observer would say that there were no weeds at all
in it; and of noticeable plants, except in the little meadows recently overflowed,
which do not properly belong to it, a
closer scrutiny does not detect a flag nor a bulrush, nor even a lily, yellow or
white, but only a few small heart-leaves and potamogetons, and perhaps a water-
target or two; all which however a bather
might not perceive; and these plants are clean and bright like the element they grow
in.
The stones extend a rod or two into the water, and then the bottom is pure sand,
except in the deepest parts, where there is usually a little sediment, probably from
the decay of the leaves which have been
wafted on to it so many successive falls, and a bright green weed is brought up on
anchors even in midwinter.
We have one other pond just like this, White Pond, in Nine Acre Corner, about two
and a half miles westerly; but, though I am acquainted with most of the ponds within a
dozen miles of this centre I do not know a
third of this pure and well-like character.
Successive nations perchance have drank at, admired, and fathomed it, and passed away,
and still its water is green and pellucid as ever.
Not an intermitting spring!
Perhaps on that spring morning when Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden Walden Pond
was already in existence, and even then breaking up in a gentle spring rain
accompanied with mist and a southerly wind,
and covered with myriads of ducks and geese, which had not heard of the fall,
when still such pure lakes sufficed them.
Even then it had commenced to rise and fall, and had clarified its waters and
colored them of the hue they now wear, and obtained a patent of Heaven to be the only
Walden Pond in the world and distiller of celestial dews.
Who knows in how many unremembered nations' literatures this has been the Castalian
Fountain? or what nymphs presided over it in the Golden Age?
It is a gem of the first water which Concord wears in her coronet.
Yet perchance the first who came to this well have left some trace of their
footsteps.
I have been surprised to detect encircling the pond, even where a thick wood has just
been cut down on the shore, a narrow shelf- like path in the steep hillside,
alternately rising and falling, approaching
and receding from the water's edge, as old probably as the race of man here, worn by
the feet of aboriginal hunters, and still from time to time unwittingly trodden by
the present occupants of the land.
This is particularly distinct to one standing on the middle of the pond in
winter, just after a light snow has fallen, appearing as a clear undulating white line,
unobscured by weeds and twigs, and very
obvious a quarter of a mile off in many places where in summer it is hardly
distinguishable close at hand. The snow reprints it, as it were, in clear
white type alto-relievo.
The ornamented grounds of villas which will one day be built here may still preserve
some trace of this.
The pond rises and falls, but whether regularly or not, and within what period,
nobody knows, though, as usual, many pretend to know.
It is commonly higher in the winter and lower in the summer, though not
corresponding to the general wet and dryness.
I can remember when it was a foot or two lower, and also when it was at least five
feet higher, than when I lived by it.
There is a narrow sand-bar running into it, with very deep water on one side, on which
I helped boil a kettle of chowder, some six rods from the main shore, about the year
1824, which it has not been possible to do
for twenty-five years; and, on the other hand, my friends used to listen with
incredulity when I told them, that a few years later I was accustomed to fish from a
boat in a secluded cove in the woods,
fifteen rods from the only shore they knew, which place was long since converted into a
meadow.
But the pond has risen steadily for two years, and now, in the summer of '52, is
just five feet higher than when I lived there, or as high as it was thirty years
ago, and fishing goes on again in the meadow.
This makes a difference of level, at the outside, of six or seven feet; and yet the
water shed by the surrounding hills is insignificant in amount, and this overflow
must be referred to causes which affect the deep springs.
This same summer the pond has begun to fall again.
It is remarkable that this fluctuation, whether periodical or not, appears thus to
require many years for its accomplishment.
I have observed one rise and a part of two falls, and I expect that a dozen or fifteen
years hence the water will again be as low as I have ever known it.
Flint's Pond, a mile eastward, allowing for the disturbance occasioned by its inlets
and outlets, and the smaller intermediate ponds also, sympathize with Walden, and
recently attained their greatest height at the same time with the latter.
The same is true, as far as my observation goes, of White Pond.
This rise and fall of Walden at long intervals serves this use at least; the
water standing at this great height for a year or more, though it makes it difficult
to walk round it, kills the shrubs and
trees which have sprung up about its edge since the last rise--pitch pines, birches,
alders, aspens, and others--and, falling again, leaves an unobstructed shore; for,
unlike many ponds and all waters which are
subject to a daily tide, its shore is cleanest when the water is lowest.
On the side of the pond next my house a row of pitch pines, fifteen feet high, has been
killed and tipped over as if by a lever, and thus a stop put to their encroachments;
and their size indicates how many years
have elapsed since the last rise to this height.
By this fluctuation the pond asserts its title to a shore, and thus the shore is
shorn, and the trees cannot hold it by right of possession.
These are the lips of the lake, on which no beard grows.
It licks its chaps from time to time.
When the water is at its height, the alders, willows, and maples send forth a
mass of fibrous red roots several feet long from all sides of their stems in the water,
and to the height of three or four feet
from the ground, in the effort to maintain themselves; and I have known the high
blueberry bushes about the shore, which commonly produce no fruit, bear an abundant
crop under these circumstances.
Some have been puzzled to tell how the shore became so regularly paved.
My townsmen have all heard the tradition-- the oldest people tell me that they heard
it in their youth--that anciently the Indians were holding a pow-wow upon a hill
here, which rose as high into the heavens
as the pond now sinks deep into the earth, and they used much profanity, as the story
goes, though this vice is one of which the Indians were never guilty, and while they
were thus engaged the hill shook and
suddenly sank, and only one old squaw, named Walden, escaped, and from her the
pond was named.
It has been conjectured that when the hill shook these stones rolled down its side and
became the present shore.
It is very certain, at any rate, that once there was no pond here, and now there is
one; and this Indian fable does not in any respect conflict with the account of that
ancient settler whom I have mentioned, who
remembers so well when he first came here with his divining-rod, saw a thin vapor
rising from the sward, and the hazel pointed steadily downward, and he concluded
to dig a well here.
As for the stones, many still think that they are hardly to be accounted for by the
action of the waves on these hills; but I observe that the surrounding hills are
remarkably full of the same kind of stones,
so that they have been obliged to pile them up in walls on both sides of the railroad
cut nearest the pond; and, moreover, there are most stones where the shore is most
abrupt; so that, unfortunately, it is no longer a mystery to me.
I detect the paver.
If the name was not derived from that of some English locality--Saffron Walden, for
instance--one might suppose that it was called originally Walled-in Pond.
The pond was my well ready dug.
For four months in the year its water is as cold as it is pure at all times; and I
think that it is then as good as any, if not the best, in the town.
In the winter, all water which is exposed to the air is colder than springs and wells
which are protected from it.
The temperature of the pond water which had stood in the room where I sat from five
o'clock in the afternoon till noon the next day, the sixth of March, 1846, the
thermometer having been up to 65° or 70°
some of the time, owing partly to the sun on the roof, was 42°, or one degree colder
than the water of one of the coldest wells in the village just drawn.
The temperature of the Boiling Spring the same day was 45°, or the warmest of any
water tried, though it is the coldest that I know of in summer, when, beside, shallow
and stagnant surface water is not mingled with it.
Moreover, in summer, Walden never becomes so warm as most water which is exposed to
the sun, on account of its depth.
In the warmest weather I usually placed a pailful in my cellar, where it became cool
in the night, and remained so during the day; though I also resorted to a spring in
the neighborhood.
It was as good when a week old as the day it was dipped, and had no taste of the
pump.
Whoever camps for a week in summer by the shore of a pond, needs only bury a pail of
water a few feet deep in the shade of his camp to be independent of the luxury of
ice.
There have been caught in Walden pickerel, one weighing seven pounds--to say nothing
of another which carried off a reel with great velocity, which the fisherman safely
set down at eight pounds because he did not
see him--perch and pouts, some of each weighing over two pounds, shiners, chivins
or roach (Leuciscus pulchellus), a very few breams, and a couple of eels, one weighing
four pounds--I am thus particular because
the weight of a fish is commonly its only title to fame, and these are the only eels
I have heard of here;--also, I have a faint recollection of a little fish some five
inches long, with silvery sides and a
greenish back, somewhat dace-like in its character, which I mention here chiefly to
link my facts to fable. Nevertheless, this pond is not very fertile
in fish.
Its pickerel, though not abundant, are its chief boast.
I have seen at one time lying on the ice pickerel of at least three different kinds:
a long and shallow one, steel-colored, most like those caught in the river; a bright
golden kind, with greenish reflections and
remarkably deep, which is the most common here; and another, golden-colored, and
shaped like the last, but peppered on the sides with small dark brown or black spots,
intermixed with a few faint blood-red ones, very much like a trout.
The specific name reticulatus would not apply to this; it should be guttatus
rather.
These are all very firm fish, and weigh more than their size promises.
The shiners, pouts, and perch also, and indeed all the fishes which inhabit this
pond, are much cleaner, handsomer, and firmer-fleshed than those in the river and
most other ponds, as the water is purer,
and they can easily be distinguished from them.
Probably many ichthyologists would make new varieties of some of them.
There are also a clean race of frogs and tortoises, and a few mussels in it;
muskrats and minks leave their traces about it, and occasionally a travelling mud-
turtle visits it.
Sometimes, when I pushed off my boat in the morning, I disturbed a great mud-turtle
which had secreted himself under the boat in the night.
Ducks and geese frequent it in the spring and fall, the white-bellied swallows
(Hirundo bicolor) skim over it, and the peetweets (Totanus macularius) "teeter"
along its stony shores all summer.
I have sometimes disturbed a fish hawk sitting on a white pine over the water; but
I doubt if it is ever profaned by the wind of a gull, like Fair Haven.
At most, it tolerates one annual loon.
These are all the animals of consequence which frequent it now.
You may see from a boat, in calm weather, near the sandy eastern shore, where the
water is eight or ten feet deep, and also in some other parts of the pond, some
circular heaps half a dozen feet in
diameter by a foot in height, consisting of small stones less than a hen's egg in size,
where all around is bare sand.
At first you wonder if the Indians could have formed them on the ice for any
purpose, and so, when the ice melted, they sank to the bottom; but they are too
regular and some of them plainly too fresh for that.
They are similar to those found in rivers; but as there are no suckers nor lampreys
here, I know not by what fish they could be made.
Perhaps they are the nests of the chivin.
These lend a pleasing mystery to the bottom.
The shore is irregular enough not to be monotonous.
I have in my mind's eye the western, indented with deep bays, the bolder
northern, and the beautifully scalloped southern shore, where successive capes
overlap each other and suggest unexplored coves between.
The forest has never so good a setting, nor is so distinctly beautiful, as when seen
from the middle of a small lake amid hills which rise from the water's edge; for the
water in which it is reflected not only
makes the best foreground in such a case, but, with its winding shore, the most
natural and agreeable boundary to it.
There is no rawness nor imperfection in its edge there, as where the axe has cleared a
part, or a cultivated field abuts on it.
The trees have ample room to expand on the water side, and each sends forth its most
vigorous branch in that direction.
There Nature has woven a natural selvage, and the eye rises by just gradations from
the low shrubs of the shore to the highest trees.
There are few traces of man's hand to be seen.
The water laves the shore as it did a thousand years ago.
A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature.
It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own
nature.
The fluviatile trees next the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the
wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows.
Standing on the smooth sandy beach at the east end of the pond, in a calm September
afternoon, when a slight haze makes the opposite shore-line indistinct, I have seen
whence came the expression, "the glassy surface of a lake."
When you invert your head, it looks like a thread of finest gossamer stretched across
the valley, and gleaming against the distant pine woods, separating one stratum
of the atmosphere from another.
You would think that you could walk dry under it to the opposite hills, and that
the swallows which skim over might perch on it.
Indeed, they sometimes dive below this line, as it were by mistake, and are
undeceived.
As you look over the pond westward you are obliged to employ both your hands to defend
your eyes against the reflected as well as the true sun, for they are equally bright;
and if, between the two, you survey its
surface critically, it is literally as smooth as glass, except where the skater
insects, at equal intervals scattered over its whole extent, by their motions in the
sun produce the finest imaginable sparkle
on it, or, perchance, a duck plumes itself, or, as I have said, a swallow skims so low
as to touch it.
It may be that in the distance a fish describes an arc of three or four feet in
the air, and there is one bright flash where it emerges, and another where it
strikes the water; sometimes the whole
silvery arc is revealed; or here and there, perhaps, is a thistle-down floating on its
surface, which the fishes dart at and so dimple it again.
It is like molten glass cooled but not congealed, and the few motes in it are pure
and beautiful like the imperfections in glass.
You may often detect a yet smoother and darker water, separated from the rest as if
by an invisible cobweb, boom of the water nymphs, resting on it.
From a hilltop you can see a fish leap in almost any part; for not a pickerel or
shiner picks an insect from this smooth surface but it manifestly disturbs the
equilibrium of the whole lake.
It is wonderful with what elaborateness this simple fact is advertised--this
piscine murder will out--and from my distant perch I distinguish the circling
undulations when they are half a dozen rods in diameter.
You can even detect a water-bug (Gyrinus) ceaselessly progressing over the smooth
surface a quarter of a mile off; for they furrow the water slightly, making a
conspicuous ripple bounded by two diverging
lines, but the skaters glide over it without rippling it perceptibly.
When the surface is considerably agitated there are no skaters nor water-bugs on it,
but apparently, in calm days, they leave their havens and adventurously glide forth
from the shore by short impulses till they completely cover it.
It is a soothing employment, on one of those fine days in the fall when all the
warmth of the sun is fully appreciated, to sit on a stump on such a height as this,
overlooking the pond, and study the
dimpling circles which are incessantly inscribed on its otherwise invisible
surface amid the reflected skies and trees.
Over this great expanse there is no disturbance but it is thus at once gently
smoothed away and assuaged, as, when a vase of water is jarred, the trembling circles
seek the shore and all is smooth again.
Not a fish can leap or an insect fall on the pond but it is thus reported in
circling dimples, in lines of beauty, as it were the constant welling up of its
fountain, the gentle pulsing of its life, the heaving of its breast.
The thrills of joy and thrills of pain are undistinguishable.
How peaceful the phenomena of the lake!
Again the works of man shine as in the spring.
Ay, every leaf and twig and stone and cobweb sparkles now at mid-afternoon as
when covered with dew in a spring morning.
Every motion of an oar or an insect produces a flash of light; and if an oar
falls, how sweet the echo!
In such a day, in September or October, Walden is a perfect forest mirror, set
round with stones as precious to my eye as if fewer or rarer.
Nothing so fair, so pure, and at the same time so large, as a lake, perchance, lies
on the surface of the earth. Sky water.
It needs no fence.
Nations come and go without defiling it.
It is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver will never wear off,
whose gilding Nature continually repairs; no storms, no dust, can dim its surface
ever fresh;--a mirror in which all impurity
presented to it sinks, swept and dusted by the sun's hazy brush--this the light dust-
cloth--which retains no breath that is breathed on it, but sends its own to float
as clouds high above its surface, and be reflected in its bosom still.
A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air.
It is continually receiving new life and motion from above.
It is intermediate in its nature between land and sky.
On land only the grass and trees wave, but the water itself is rippled by the wind.
I see where the breeze dashes across it by the streaks or flakes of light.
It is remarkable that we can look down on its surface.
We shall, perhaps, look down thus on the surface of air at length, and mark where a
still subtler spirit sweeps over it.
The skaters and water-bugs finally disappear in the latter part of October,
when the severe frosts have come; and then and in November, usually, in a calm day,
there is absolutely nothing to ripple the surface.
One November afternoon, in the calm at the end of a rain-storm of several days'
duration, when the sky was still completely overcast and the air was full of mist, I
observed that the pond was remarkably
smooth, so that it was difficult to distinguish its surface; though it no
longer reflected the bright tints of October, but the sombre November colors of
the surrounding hills.
Though I passed over it as gently as possible, the slight undulations produced
by my boat extended almost as far as I could see, and gave a ribbed appearance to
the reflections.
But, as I was looking over the surface, I saw here and there at a distance a faint
glimmer, as if some skater insects which had escaped the frosts might be collected
there, or, perchance, the surface, being so
smooth, betrayed where a spring welled up from the bottom.
Paddling gently to one of these places, I was surprised to find myself surrounded by
myriads of small perch, about five inches long, of a rich bronze color in the green
water, sporting there, and constantly
rising to the surface and dimpling it, sometimes leaving bubbles on it.
In such transparent and seemingly bottomless water, reflecting the clouds, I
seemed to be floating through the air as in a balloon, and their swimming impressed me
as a kind of flight or hovering, as if they
were a compact flock of birds passing just beneath my level on the right or left,
their fins, like sails, set all around them.
There were many such schools in the pond, apparently improving the short season
before winter would draw an icy shutter over their broad skylight, sometimes giving
to the surface an appearance as if a slight
breeze struck it, or a few rain-drops fell there.
When I approached carelessly and alarmed them, they made a sudden splash and
rippling with their tails, as if one had struck the water with a brushy bough, and
instantly took refuge in the depths.
At length the wind rose, the mist increased, and the waves began to run, and
the perch leaped much higher than before, half out of water, a hundred black points,
three inches long, at once above the surface.
Even as late as the fifth of December, one year, I saw some dimples on the surface,
and thinking it was going to rain hard immediately, the air being full of mist, I
made haste to take my place at the oars and
row homeward; already the rain seemed rapidly increasing, though I felt none on
my cheek, and I anticipated a thorough soaking.
But suddenly the dimples ceased, for they were produced by the perch, which the noise
of my oars had seared into the depths, and I saw their schools dimly disappearing; so
I spent a dry afternoon after all.
An old man who used to frequent this pond nearly sixty years ago, when it was dark
with surrounding forests, tells me that in those days he sometimes saw it all alive
with ducks and other water-fowl, and that there were many eagles about it.
He came here a-fishing, and used an old log canoe which he found on the shore.
It was made of two white pine logs dug out and pinned together, and was cut off square
at the ends.
It was very clumsy, but lasted a great many years before it became water-logged and
perhaps sank to the bottom. He did not know whose it was; it belonged
to the pond.
He used to make a cable for his anchor of strips of hickory bark tied together.
An old man, a potter, who lived by the pond before the Revolution, told him once that
there was an iron chest at the bottom, and that he had seen it.
Sometimes it would come floating up to the shore; but when you went toward it, it
would go back into deep water and disappear.
I was pleased to hear of the old log canoe, which took the place of an Indian one of
the same material but more graceful construction, which perchance had first
been a tree on the bank, and then, as it
were, fell into the water, to float there for a generation, the most proper vessel
for the lake.
I remember that when I first looked into these depths there were many large trunks
to be seen indistinctly lying on the bottom, which had either been blown over
formerly, or left on the ice at the last
cutting, when wood was cheaper; but now they have mostly disappeared.
When I first paddled a boat on Walden, it was completely surrounded by thick and
lofty pine and oak woods, and in some of its coves grape-vines had run over the
trees next the water and formed bowers under which a boat could pass.
The hills which form its shores are so steep, and the woods on them were then so
high, that, as you looked down from the west end, it had the appearance of an
amphitheatre for some land of sylvan spectacle.
I have spent many an hour, when I was younger, floating over its surface as the
zephyr willed, having paddled my boat to the middle, and lying on my back across the
seats, in a summer forenoon, dreaming
awake, until I was aroused by the boat touching the sand, and I arose to see what
shore my fates had impelled me to; days when idleness was the most attractive and
productive industry.
Many a forenoon have I stolen away, preferring to spend thus the most valued
part of the day; for I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and
spent them lavishly; nor do I regret that I
did not waste more of them in the workshop or the teacher's desk.
But since I left those shores the woodchoppers have still further laid them
waste, and now for many a year there will be no more rambling through the aisles of
the wood, with occasional vistas through which you see the water.
My Muse may be excused if she is silent henceforth.
How can you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down?
Now the trunks of trees on the bottom, and the old log canoe, and the dark surrounding
woods, are gone, and the villagers, who scarcely know where it lies, instead of
going to the pond to bathe or drink, are
thinking to bring its water, which should be as sacred as the Ganges at least, to the
village in a pipe, to wash their dishes with!--to earn their Walden by the turning
of a cock or drawing of a plug!
That devilish Iron Horse, whose ear-rending neigh is heard throughout the town, has
muddied the Boiling Spring with his foot, and he it is that has browsed off all the
woods on Walden shore, that Trojan horse,
with a thousand men in his belly, introduced by mercenary Greeks!
Where is the country's champion, the Moore of Moore Hill, to meet him at the Deep Cut
and thrust an avenging lance between the ribs of the bloated pest?
Nevertheless, of all the characters I have known, perhaps Walden wears best, and best
preserves its purity. Many men have been likened to it, but few
deserve that honor.
Though the woodchoppers have laid bare first this shore and then that, and the
Irish have built their sties by it, and the railroad has infringed on its border, and
the ice-men have skimmed it once, it is
itself unchanged, the same water which my youthful eyes fell on; all the change is in
me. It has not acquired one permanent wrinkle
after all its ripples.
It is perennially young, and I may stand and see a swallow dip apparently to pick an
insect from its surface as of yore.
It struck me again tonight, as if I had not seen it almost daily for more than twenty
years--Why, here is Walden, the same woodland lake that I discovered so many
years ago; where a forest was cut down last
winter another is springing up by its shore as lustily as ever; the same thought is
welling up to its surface that was then; it is the same liquid joy and happiness to
itself and its Maker, ay, and it may be to me.
It is the work of a brave man surely, in whom there was no guile!
He rounded this water with his hand, deepened and clarified it in his thought,
and in his will bequeathed it to Concord.
I see by its face that it is visited by the same reflection; and I can almost say,
Walden, is it you?
It is no dream of mine, To ornament a line;
I cannot come nearer to God and Heaven Than I live to Walden even.
I am its stony shore,
And the breeze that passes o'er; In the hollow of my hand
Are its water and its sand, And its deepest resort
Lies high in my thought.
The cars never pause to look at it; yet I fancy that the engineers and firemen and
brakemen, and those passengers who have a season ticket and see it often, are better
men for the sight.
The engineer does not forget at night, or his nature does not, that he has beheld
this vision of serenity and purity once at least during the day.
Though seen but once, it helps to wash out State Street and the engine's soot.
One proposes that it be called "God's Drop."
I have said that Walden has no visible inlet nor outlet, but it is on the one hand
distantly and indirectly related to Flint's Pond, which is more elevated, by a chain of
small ponds coming from that quarter, and
on the other directly and manifestly to Concord River, which is lower, by a similar
chain of ponds through which in some other geological period it may have flowed, and
by a little digging, which God forbid, it can be made to flow thither again.
If by living thus reserved and austere, like a hermit in the woods, so long, it has
acquired such wonderful purity, who would not regret that the comparatively impure
waters of Flint's Pond should be mingled
with it, or itself should ever go to waste its sweetness in the ocean wave?
Flint's, or Sandy Pond, in Lincoln, our greatest lake and inland sea, lies about a
mile east of Walden.
It is much larger, being said to contain one hundred and ninety-seven acres, and is
more fertile in fish; but it is comparatively shallow, and not remarkably
pure.
A walk through the woods thither was often my recreation.
It was worth the while, if only to feel the wind blow on your cheek freely, and see the
waves run, and remember the life of mariners.
I went a-chestnutting there in the fall, on windy days, when the nuts were dropping
into the water and were washed to my feet; and one day, as I crept along its sedgy
shore, the fresh spray blowing in my face,
I came upon the mouldering wreck of a boat, the sides gone, and hardly more than the
impression of its flat bottom left amid the rushes; yet its model was sharply defined,
as if it were a large decayed pad, with its veins.
It was as impressive a wreck as one could imagine on the seashore, and had as good a
moral.
It is by this time mere vegetable mould and undistinguishable pond shore, through which
rushes and flags have pushed up.
I used to admire the ripple marks on the sandy bottom, at the north end of this
pond, made firm and hard to the feet of the wader by the pressure of the water, and the
rushes which grew in Indian file, in waving
lines, corresponding to these marks, rank behind rank, as if the waves had planted
them.
There also I have found, in considerable quantities, curious balls, composed
apparently of fine grass or roots, of pipewort perhaps, from half an inch to four
inches in diameter, and perfectly spherical.
These wash back and forth in shallow water on a sandy bottom, and are sometimes cast
on the shore.
They are either solid grass, or have a little sand in the middle.
At first you would say that they were formed by the action of the waves, like a
pebble; yet the smallest are made of equally coarse materials, half an inch
long, and they are produced only at one season of the year.
Moreover, the waves, I suspect, do not so much construct as wear down a material
which has already acquired consistency.
They preserve their form when dry for an indefinite period.
Flint's Pond! Such is the poverty of our nomenclature.
What right had the unclean and stupid farmer, whose farm abutted on this sky
water, whose shores he has ruthlessly laid bare, to give his name to it?
Some skin-flint, who loved better the reflecting surface of a dollar, or a bright
cent, in which he could see his own brazen face; who regarded even the wild ducks
which settled in it as trespassers; his
fingers grown into crooked and bony talons from the long habit of grasping harpy-
like;--so it is not named for me.
I go not there to see him nor to hear of him; who never saw it, who never bathed in
it, who never loved it, who never protected it, who never spoke a good word for it, nor
thanked God that He had made it.
Rather let it be named from the fishes that swim in it, the wild fowl or quadrupeds
which frequent it, the wild flowers which grow by its shores, or some wild man or
child the thread of whose history is
interwoven with its own; not from him who could show no title to it but the deed
which a like-minded neighbor or legislature gave him--him who thought only of its money
value; whose presence perchance cursed all
the shores; who exhausted the land around it, and would fain have exhausted the
waters within it; who regretted only that it was not English hay or cranberry meadow-
-there was nothing to redeem it, forsooth,
in his eyes--and would have drained and sold it for the mud at its bottom.
It did not turn his mill, and it was no privilege to him to behold it.
I respect not his labors, his farm where everything has its price, who would carry
the landscape, who would carry his God, to market, if he could get anything for him;
who goes to market for his god as it is; on
whose farm nothing grows free, whose fields bear no crops, whose meadows no flowers,
whose trees no fruits, but dollars; who loves not the beauty of his fruits, whose
fruits are not ripe for him till they are turned to dollars.
Give me the poverty that enjoys true wealth.
Farmers are respectable and interesting to me in proportion as they are poor--poor
farmers.
A model farm! where the house stands like a fungus in a muckheap, chambers for men,
horses, oxen, and swine, cleansed and uncleansed, all contiguous to one another!
Stocked with men!
A great grease-spot, redolent of manures and buttermilk!
Under a high state of cultivation, being manured with the hearts and brains of men!
As if you were to raise your potatoes in the churchyard!
Such is a model farm.
No, no; if the fairest features of the landscape are to be named after men, let
them be the noblest and worthiest men alone.
Let our lakes receive as true names at least as the Icarian Sea, where "still the
shore" a "brave attempt resounds."
Goose Pond, of small extent, is on my way to Flint's; Fair Haven, an expansion of
Concord River, said to contain some seventy acres, is a mile southwest; and White Pond,
of about forty acres, is a mile and a half beyond Fair Haven.
This is my lake country.
These, with Concord River, are my water privileges; and night and day, year in year
out, they grind such grist as I carry to them.
Since the wood-cutters, and the railroad, and I myself have profaned Walden, perhaps
the most attractive, if not the most beautiful, of all our lakes, the gem of the
woods, is White Pond;--a poor name from its
commonness, whether derived from the remarkable purity of its waters or the
color of its sands. In these as in other respects, however, it
is a lesser twin of Walden.
They are so much alike that you would say they must be connected under ground.
It has the same stony shore, and its waters are of the same hue.
As at Walden, in sultry dog-day weather, looking down through the woods on some of
its bays which are not so deep but that the reflection from the bottom tinges them, its
waters are of a misty bluish-green or glaucous color.
Many years since I used to go there to collect the sand by cartloads, to make
sandpaper with, and I have continued to visit it ever since.
One who frequents it proposes to call it Virid Lake.
Perhaps it might be called Yellow Pine Lake, from the following circumstance.
About fifteen years ago you could see the top of a pitch pine, of the kind called
yellow pine hereabouts, though it is not a distinct species, projecting above the
surface in deep water, many rods from the shore.
It was even supposed by some that the pond had sunk, and this was one of the primitive
forest that formerly stood there.
I find that even so long ago as 1792, in a "Topographical Description of the Town of
Concord," by one of its citizens, in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical
Society, the author, after speaking of
Walden and White Ponds, adds, "In the middle of the latter may be seen, when the
water is very low, a tree which appears as if it grew in the place where it now
stands, although the roots are fifty feet
below the surface of the water; the top of this tree is broken off, and at that place
measures fourteen inches in diameter."
In the spring of '49 I talked with the man who lives nearest the pond in Sudbury, who
told me that it was he who got out this tree ten or fifteen years before.
As near as he could remember, it stood twelve or fifteen rods from the shore,
where the water was thirty or forty feet deep.
It was in the winter, and he had been getting out ice in the forenoon, and had
resolved that in the afternoon, with the aid of his neighbors, he would take out the
old yellow pine.
He sawed a channel in the ice toward the shore, and hauled it over and along and out
on to the ice with oxen; but, before he had gone far in his work, he was surprised to
find that it was wrong end upward, with the
stumps of the branches pointing down, and the small end firmly fastened in the sandy
bottom.
It was about a foot in diameter at the big end, and he had expected to get a good saw-
log, but it was so rotten as to be fit only for fuel, if for that.
He had some of it in his shed then.
There were marks of an axe and of woodpeckers on the butt.
He thought that it might have been a dead tree on the shore, but was finally blown
over into the pond, and after the top had become water-logged, while the butt-end was
still dry and light, had drifted out and sunk wrong end up.
His father, eighty years old, could not remember when it was not there.
Several pretty large logs may still be seen lying on the bottom, where, owing to the
undulation of the surface, they look like huge water snakes in motion.
This pond has rarely been profaned by a boat, for there is little in it to tempt a
fisherman.
Instead of the white lily, which requires mud, or the common sweet flag, the blue
flag (Iris versicolor) grows thinly in the pure water, rising from the stony bottom
all around the shore, where it is visited
by hummingbirds in June; and the color both of its bluish blades and its flowers and
especially their reflections, is in singular harmony with the glaucous water.
White Pond and Walden are great crystals on the surface of the earth, Lakes of Light.
If they were permanently congealed, and small enough to be clutched, they would,
perchance, be carried off by slaves, like precious stones, to adorn the heads of
emperors; but being liquid, and ample, and
secured to us and our successors forever, we disregard them, and run after the
diamond of Kohinoor. They are too pure to have a market value;
they contain no muck.
How much more beautiful than our lives, how much more transparent than our characters,
are they! We never learned meanness of them.
How much fairer than the pool before the farmer's door, in which his ducks swim!
Hither the clean wild ducks come. Nature has no human inhabitant who
appreciates her.
The birds with their plumage and their notes are in harmony with the flowers, but
what youth or maiden conspires with the wild luxuriant beauty of Nature?
She flourishes most alone, far from the towns where they reside.
Talk of heaven! ye disgrace earth.
>
CHAPTER 10 Baker Farm
Sometimes I rambled to pine groves, standing like temples, or like fleets at
sea, full-rigged, with wavy boughs, and rippling with light, so soft and green and
shady that the Druids would have forsaken
their oaks to worship in them; or to the cedar wood beyond Flint's Pond, where the
trees, covered with hoary blue berries, spiring higher and higher, are fit to stand
before Valhalla, and the creeping juniper
covers the ground with wreaths full of fruit; or to swamps where the usnea lichen
hangs in festoons from the white spruce trees, and toadstools, round tables of the
swamp gods, cover the ground, and more
beautiful fungi adorn the stumps, like butterflies or shells, vegetable winkles;
where the swamp-pink and dogwood grow, the red alderberry glows like eyes of imps, the
waxwork grooves and crushes the hardest
woods in its folds, and the wild holly berries make the beholder forget his home
with their beauty, and he is dazzled and tempted by nameless other wild forbidden
fruits, too fair for mortal taste.
Instead of calling on some scholar, I paid many a visit to particular trees, of kinds
which are rare in this neighborhood, standing far away in the middle of some
pasture, or in the depths of a wood or
swamp, or on a hilltop; such as the black birch, of which we have some handsome
specimens two feet in diameter; its cousin, the yellow birch, with its loose golden
vest, perfumed like the first; the beech,
which has so neat a bole and beautifully lichen-painted, perfect in all its details,
of which, excepting scattered specimens, I know but one small grove of sizable trees
left in the township, supposed by some to
have been planted by the pigeons that were once baited with beechnuts near by; it is
worth the while to see the silver grain sparkle when you split this wood; the bass;
the hornbeam; the Celtis occidentalis, or
false elm, of which we have but one well- grown; some taller mast of a pine, a
shingle tree, or a more perfect hemlock than usual, standing like a pagoda in the
midst of the woods; and many others I could mention.
These were the shrines I visited both summer and winter.
Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of a rainbow's arch, which filled
the lower stratum of the atmosphere, tinging the grass and leaves around, and
dazzling me as if I looked through colored crystal.
It was a lake of rainbow light, in which, for a short while, I lived like a dolphin.
If it had lasted longer it might have tinged my employments and life.
As I walked on the railroad causeway, I used to wonder at the halo of light around
my shadow, and would fain fancy myself one of the elect.
One who visited me declared that the shadows of some Irishmen before him had no
halo about them, that it was only natives that were so distinguished.
Benvenuto Cellini tells us in his memoirs, that, after a certain terrible dream or
vision which he had during his confinement in the castle of St. Angelo a resplendent
light appeared over the shadow of his head
at morning and evening, whether he was in Italy or France, and it was particularly
conspicuous when the grass was moist with dew.
This was probably the same phenomenon to which I have referred, which is especially
observed in the morning, but also at other times, and even by moonlight.
Though a constant one, it is not commonly noticed, and, in the case of an excitable
imagination like Cellini's, it would be basis enough for superstition.
Beside, he tells us that he showed it to very few.
But are they not indeed distinguished who are conscious that they are regarded at
all?
I set out one afternoon to go a-fishing to Fair Haven, through the woods, to eke out
my scanty fare of vegetables.
My way led through Pleasant Meadow, an adjunct of the Baker Farm, that retreat of
which a poet has since sung, beginning,--
"Thy entry is a pleasant field, Which some mossy fruit trees yield
Partly to a ruddy brook, By gliding musquash undertook,
And mercurial trout, Darting about."
I thought of living there before I went to Walden.
I "hooked" the apples, leaped the brook, and scared the musquash and the trout.
It was one of those afternoons which seem indefinitely long before one, in which many
events may happen, a large portion of our natural life, though it was already half
spent when I started.
By the way there came up a shower, which compelled me to stand half an hour under a
pine, piling boughs over my head, and wearing my handkerchief for a shed; and
when at length I had made one cast over the
pickerelweed, standing up to my middle in water, I found myself suddenly in the
shadow of a cloud, and the thunder began to rumble with such emphasis that I could do
no more than listen to it.
The gods must be proud, thought I, with such forked flashes to rout a poor unarmed
fisherman.
So I made haste for shelter to the nearest hut, which stood half a mile from any road,
but so much the nearer to the pond, and had long been uninhabited:--
"And here a poet builded, In the completed years,
For behold a trivial cabin That to destruction steers."
So the Muse fables.
But therein, as I found, dwelt now John Field, an Irishman, and his wife, and
several children, from the broad-faced boy who assisted his father at his work, and
now came running by his side from the bog
to escape the rain, to the wrinkled, sibyl- like, cone-headed infant that sat upon its
father's knee as in the palaces of nobles, and looked out from its home in the midst
of wet and hunger inquisitively upon the
stranger, with the privilege of infancy, not knowing but it was the last of a noble
line, and the hope and cynosure of the world, instead of John Field's poor
starveling brat.
There we sat together under that part of the roof which leaked the least, while it
showered and thundered without.
I had sat there many times of old before the ship was built that floated his family
to America.
An honest, hard-working, but shiftless man plainly was John Field; and his wife, she
too was brave to cook so many successive dinners in the recesses of that lofty
stove; with round greasy face and bare
breast, still thinking to improve her condition one day; with the never absent
mop in one hand, and yet no effects of it visible anywhere.
The chickens, which had also taken shelter here from the rain, stalked about the room
like members of the family, too humanized, methought, to roast well.
They stood and looked in my eye or pecked at my shoe significantly.
Meanwhile my host told me his story, how hard he worked "bogging" for a neighboring
farmer, turning up a meadow with a spade or bog hoe at the rate of ten dollars an acre
and the use of the land with manure for one
year, and his little broad-faced son worked cheerfully at his father's side the while,
not knowing how poor a bargain the latter had made.
I tried to help him with my experience, telling him that he was one of my nearest
neighbors, and that I too, who came a- fishing here, and looked like a loafer, was
getting my living like himself; that I
lived in a tight, light, and clean house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent
of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month
or two build himself a palace of his own;
that I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so
did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat
hard, and it cost me but a trifle for my
food; but as he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to
work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat hard again to
repair the waste of his system--and so it
was as broad as it was long, indeed it was broader than it was long, for he was
discontented and wasted his life into the bargain; and yet he had rated it as a gain
in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day.
But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a
mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not
endeavor to compel you to sustain the
slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly
result from the use of such things. For I purposely talked to him as if he were
a philosopher, or desired to be one.
I should be glad if all the meadows on the earth were left in a wild state, if that
were the consequence of men's beginning to redeem themselves.
A man will not need to study history to find out what is best for his own culture.
But alas! the culture of an Irishman is an enterprise to be undertaken with a sort of
moral bog hoe.
I told him, that as he worked so hard at bogging, he required thick boots and stout
clothing, which yet were soon soiled and worn out, but I wore light shoes and thin
clothing, which cost not half so much,
though he might think that I was dressed like a gentleman (which, however, was not
the case), and in an hour or two, without labor, but as a recreation, I could, if I
wished, catch as many fish as I should want
for two days, or earn enough money to support me a week.
If he and his family would live simply, they might all go a-huckleberrying in the
summer for their amusement.
John heaved a sigh at this, and his wife stared with arms a-kimbo, and both appeared
to be wondering if they had capital enough to begin such a course with, or arithmetic
enough to carry it through.
It was sailing by dead reckoning to them, and they saw not clearly how to make their
port so; therefore I suppose they still take life bravely, after their fashion,
face to face, giving it tooth and nail, not
having skill to split its massive columns with any fine entering wedge, and rout it
in detail;--thinking to deal with it roughly, as one should handle a thistle.
But they fight at an overwhelming disadvantage--living, John Field, alas!
without arithmetic, and failing so. "Do you ever fish?"
I asked.
"Oh yes, I catch a mess now and then when I am lying by; good perch I catch."--"What's
your bait?" "I catch shiners with fishworms, and bait
the perch with them."
"You'd better go now, John," said his wife, with glistening and hopeful face; but John
demurred.
The shower was now over, and a rainbow above the eastern woods promised a fair
evening; so I took my departure.
When I had got without I asked for a drink, hoping to get a sight of the well bottom,
to complete my survey of the premises; but there, alas! are shallows and quicksands,
and rope broken withal, and bucket irrecoverable.
Meanwhile the right culinary vessel was selected, water was seemingly distilled,
and after consultation and long delay passed out to the thirsty one--not yet
suffered to cool, not yet to settle.
Such gruel sustains life here, I thought; so, shutting my eyes, and excluding the
motes by a skilfully directed undercurrent, I drank to genuine hospitality the
heartiest draught I could.
I am not squeamish in such cases when manners are concerned.
As I was leaving the Irishman's roof after the rain, bending my steps again to the
pond, my haste to catch pickerel, wading in retired meadows, in sloughs and bog-holes,
in forlorn and savage places, appeared for
an instant trivial to me who had been sent to school and college; but as I ran down
the hill toward the reddening west, with the rainbow over my shoulder, and some
faint tinkling sounds borne to my ear
through the cleansed air, from I know not what quarter, my Good Genius seemed to say-
-Go fish and hunt far and wide day by day-- farther and wider--and rest thee by many
brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving.
Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth.
Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures.
Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee everywhere at home.
There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played.
Grow wild according to thy nature, like these sedges and brakes, which will never
become English bay. Let the thunder rumble; what if it threaten
ruin to farmers' crops?
That is not its errand to thee. Take shelter under the cloud, while they
flee to carts and sheds. Let not to get a living be thy trade, but
thy sport.
Enjoy the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise and faith men
are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs.
O Baker Farm! "Landscape where the richest element
Is a little sunshine innocent."... "No one runs to revel
On thy rail-fenced lea."...
"Debate with no man hast thou, With questions art never perplexed,
As tame at the first sight as now, In thy plain russet gabardine
dressed."...
"Come ye who love, And ye who hate,
Children of the Holy Dove, And Guy Faux of the state,
And hang conspiracies From the tough rafters of the trees!"
Men come tamely home at night only from the next field or street, where their household
echoes haunt, and their life pines because it breathes its own breath over again;
their shadows, morning and evening, reach farther than their daily steps.
We should come home from far, from adventures, and perils, and discoveries
every day, with new experience and character.
Before I had reached the pond some fresh impulse had brought out John Field, with
altered mind, letting go "bogging" ere this sunset.
But he, poor man, disturbed only a couple of fins while I was catching a fair string,
and he said it was his luck; but when we changed seats in the boat luck changed
seats too.
Poor John Field!--I trust he does not read this, unless he will improve by it--
thinking to live by some derivative old- country mode in this primitive new country-
-to catch perch with shiners.
It is good bait sometimes, I allow.
With his horizon all his own, yet he a poor man, born to be poor, with his inherited
Irish poverty or poor life, his Adam's grandmother and boggy ways, not to rise in
this world, he nor his posterity, till
their wading webbed bog-trotting feet get talaria to their heels.
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CHAPTER 11 Higher Laws
As I came home through the woods with my string of fish, trailing my pole, it being
now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt
a strange thrill of savage delight, and was
strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw; not that I was hungry then, except for
that wildness which he represented.
Once or twice, however, while I lived at the pond, I found myself ranging the woods,
like a half-starved hound, with a strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison
which I might devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me.
The wildest scenes had become unaccountably familiar.
I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is
named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage
one, and I reverence them both.
I love the wild not less than the good. The wildness and adventure that are in
fishing still recommended it to me. I like sometimes to take rank hold on life
and spend my day more as the animals do.
Perhaps I have owed to this employment and to hunting, when quite young, my closest
acquaintance with Nature.
They early introduce us to and detain us in scenery with which otherwise, at that age,
we should have little acquaintance.
Fishermen, hunters, woodchoppers, and others, spending their lives in the fields
and woods, in a peculiar sense a part of Nature themselves, are often in a more
favorable mood for observing her, in the
intervals of their pursuits, than philosophers or poets even, who approach
her with expectation. She is not afraid to exhibit herself to
them.
The traveller on the prairie is naturally a hunter, on the head waters of the Missouri
and Columbia a trapper, and at the Falls of St. Mary a fisherman.
He who is only a traveller learns things at second-hand and by the halves, and is poor
authority.
We are most interested when science reports what those men already know practically or
instinctively, for that alone is a true humanity, or account of human experience.
They mistake who assert that the Yankee has few amusements, because he has not so many
public holidays, and men and boys do not play so many games as they do in England,
for here the more primitive but solitary
amusements of hunting, fishing, and the like have not yet given place to the
former.
Almost every New England boy among my contemporaries shouldered a fowling-piece
between the ages of ten and fourteen; and his hunting and fishing grounds were not
limited, like the preserves of an English
nobleman, but were more boundless even than those of a savage.
No wonder, then, that he did not oftener stay to play on the common.
But already a change is taking place, owing, not to an increased humanity, but to
an increased scarcity of game, for perhaps the hunter is the greatest friend of the
animals hunted, not excepting the Humane Society.
Moreover, when at the pond, I wished sometimes to add fish to my fare for
variety.
I have actually fished from the same kind of necessity that the first fishers did.
Whatever humanity I might conjure up against it was all factitious, and
concerned my philosophy more than my feelings.
I speak of fishing only now, for I had long felt differently about fowling, and sold my
gun before I went to the woods.
Not that I am less humane than others, but I did not perceive that my feelings were
much affected. I did not pity the fishes nor the worms.
This was habit.
As for fowling, during the last years that I carried a gun my excuse was that I was
studying ornithology, and sought only new or rare birds.
But I confess that I am now inclined to think that there is a finer way of studying
ornithology than this.
It requires so much closer attention to the habits of the birds, that, if for that
reason only, I have been willing to omit the gun.
Yet notwithstanding the objection on the score of humanity, I am compelled to doubt
if equally valuable sports are ever substituted for these; and when some of my
friends have asked me anxiously about their
boys, whether they should let them hunt, I have answered, yes--remembering that it was
one of the best parts of my education--make them hunters, though sportsmen only at
first, if possible, mighty hunters at last,
so that they shall not find game large enough for them in this or any vegetable
wilderness--hunters as well as fishers of men.
Thus far I am of the opinion of Chaucer's nun, who
"yave not of the text a pulled hen That saith that hunters ben not holy men."
There is a period in the history of the individual, as of the race, when the
hunters are the "best men," as the Algonquins called them.
We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun; he is no more humane, while
his education has been sadly neglected.
This was my answer with respect to those youths who were bent on this pursuit,
trusting that they would soon outgrow it.
No humane being, past the thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any
creature which holds its life by the same tenure that he does.
The hare in its extremity cries like a child.
I warn you, mothers, that my sympathies do not always make the usual phil-anthropic
distinctions.
Such is oftenest the young man's introduction to the forest, and the most
original part of himself.
He goes thither at first as a hunter and fisher, until at last, if he has the seeds
of a better life in him, he distinguishes his proper objects, as a poet or naturalist
it may be, and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind.
The mass of men are still and always young in this respect.
In some countries a hunting parson is no uncommon sight.
Such a one might make a good shepherd's dog, but is far from being the Good
Shepherd.
I have been surprised to consider that the only obvious employment, except wood-
chopping, ice-cutting, or the like business, which ever to my knowledge
detained at Walden Pond for a whole half-
day any of my fellow-citizens, whether fathers or children of the town, with just
one exception, was fishing.
Commonly they did not think that they were lucky, or well paid for their time, unless
they got a long 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 distress."
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 lives.
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 merely.
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 trifles.
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.
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