Scientists use Thoreau’s journal notes to track climate change

Researchers use Walden author’s tables of flowering dates in 1840s Massachusetts to show temperature has risen 2.4C

Walden Pond near Boston, Massachusetts, close to where Henry David Thoreau lived
Green grass of home … Walden Pond, Massachusetts, close to where Henry David Thoreau lived in a cabin as part of a two-year experiment. Photo: Joseph Sohm/Corbis

Fittingly for a man seen as the first environmentalist, Henry David Thoreau, who described his isolated life in 1840s Massachusetts in the classic of American literature Walden, is now helping scientists pin down the impacts of climate change.

The American author, who died in 1862, is best known for his account of the two years he spent living in a one-room wooden cabin near Walden Pond “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life”. Packed with descriptions of the natural world he loved, Walden is partly autobiographical, partly a manifesto for Thoreau’s belief in the rightness of living close to nature. “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” he writes. “Simplify, simplify.”

But Thoreau was also a naturalist, and he meticulously observed the first flowering dates for over 500 species of wildflowers in Concord, Massachusetts, between 1851 and 1858, recording them in a set of tables. When Richard Primack, a biology professor at Boston University, and fellow researcher Abraham Miller-Rushing discovered Thoreau’s unpublished records, they immediately realised how useful they would be for pinning down the impact of the changing climate over the last century and a half. The timing of seasonal events such as flowering dates is known as phenology, and the phenologies of plants in a temperate climate such as that of Massachusetts are very sensitive to temperature, say the scientists. Studying phenology is therefore a good indicator of ecological responses toclimate change.

“We had been searching for historical records for about six months when we learned about Thoreau’s plant observations. We knew right away that they would be incredibly useful for climate change research because they were from 150 years ago, there were so many species included, and they were gathered by Thoreau, who is so famous in theUnited States for his book Walden,” said Primack. “The records were surprisingly easy to locate once we were aware of them. A copy was given to us by an independent research scholar, who knew that they would be valuable for climate change research.”

After deciphering Thoreau’s “notoriously bad” handwriting, and spending “a large amount of time” matching the names used for plants in the 1850s with their modern equivalents, Primack and Miller-Rushing compared Thoreau’s data on flowering dates, coupled with research from the 19th-century local botanist Alfred Hosmer, with modern data of their own. Looking at 43 common Concord plant species, they found “unambiguously” that these plants, on average, “are now flowering 10 days earlier than they were in Thoreau’s time”, they write in an article for the journal BioScience.

Over the 155 intervening years, the average temperature in Concord increased by 2.4C, they estimate.

Primack and Miller-Rushing also searched for hundreds of the plant species mentioned by Thoreau, working with local botanists and naturalists to track them down. After three years of fieldwork, they were forced to recognise that many of the species observed by the Walden author in the 1850s were either no longer present in Concord or very hard to find. They concluded that 27% of the species recorded by Thoreau and other botanists were no longer present in Concord at all, and a further 36% of formerly common species were now rare. “Thoreau was a keen observer of nature and a dedicated journalist,” said Primack. “I am confident that he would have recognised the changing patterns of the timing of natural events in Concord. Thoreau was also an activist, and perhaps he would also be involved in the movement to reduce the greenhouse gases that are linked to climate change.

The Walden author will be involved further, at least obliquely: Primack and Miller-Rushing have now discovered that Thoreau also made detailed observations on the “leaf-out” dates of trees in Concord in the 1850s, and say it is clear already that trees in Concord are “leafing out” earlier than they did in Thoreau’s time. They are now planning more research in this area, guided by Thoreau’s notes from a century and a half ago.

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WHY READ THOREAU?      Because he can help us see what we might otherwise miss, and understand why it’s important!

March 28, 1858: “I go down the railroad, turning off in the cut. I notice the hazel stigmas in the warm hollow on the right there, just beginning to peep forth. This is an unobserved but very pretty and interesting evidence of the progress of the season. I should not have noticed it if I had not carefully examined the fertile buds. It is like a crimson star first dimly detected in the twilight. The warmth of the day, in this sunny hollow above the withered sedge, has caused the stigmas to show their lips through their scaly shield. They do not project more than the thirtieth of an inch, some not the sixtieth. The staminate catkins are also considerably loosened. Just as the turtle put forth their heads, so these put forth their stigmas in the spring. How many accurate thermometers there are on every hill and in every valley. Measure the length of the hazel stigmas, and you can tell how much warmth there has been this spring. How fitly and exactly any season of the year may be described by indicating the condition of some flower!” Henry David Thoreau


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I do not know that knowledge amounts to anything more definite than a novel and grand surprise, or a sudden revelation of the insufficiency of all that we had called knowledge before, and indefinite sense of the grandeur and glory of the universe. (Feb. 27, 1851)

It is surprising to go into a New England town in midwinter and find its five thousand inhabitants…confined at most to their narrow moose yard in the snow. Scarcely here and there has a citizen stepped aside one foot to let a sled pass. And almost as circumscribed is their summer life, giving only from house to shop and back to house again….Let a slight snow come and cover the earth, and the tracks of men will show how little the woods and fields are frequented. (Feb. 3, 1857)

As we grow older, is it not ominous that we have more to write about evening, less about morning? We must associate more with the early hours. (Feb. 24, 1852)

We are as often injured as benefited by our systems,for,to speak the truth, no human system is a true one, and a name is at most a mere convenience and carries no information with it. As soon as I begin to be aware of the life of any creature, I at once forget its name. To know the names of creatures is only a convenience to us at first, but so soon as we have learned to distinguish them, the sooner we forget their names the better. (Feb. 18, 1860}

If you look over a list of medicinal recipes in vogue in the last century, how foolish and useless they are seen to be! And yet we use equally absurd ones with faith today. (Feb. 18, 1860)

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I find myself inspecting little granules, as it were, on the bark of trees, little shields or apothecia springing from a thallus, such is the mood of my mind, and I call it studying lichens…The minute apothecium of the pertusaria, which the woodchopper never detected, occupies so large a space in my eye at present as to shut out a great part of the world. (March 5, 1852)

We would fain know something more about these animals and stones and trees around us. We are ready to skin the animals alive to come at them. Our scientific names convey a very partial information only; they suggest certain thoughts only: it does not occur to me that there are other names for most of these objects, given by a people who stood between me and them, who had better senses than our race. How little I know of that arbor-vitae when i have learned only what science can tell me! It is but a word. It is not a tree of life. But there are twenty words for the tree and its different parts which the Indian gave, which are not in our botanies, which imply a more practical and vital science. He used it every day. He was well acquainted with its wood, and its bark, and its leaves. No science does more than arrange what knowledge we have of any class of objects. But, generally speaking, how much more conversant was the Indian with any wild animal or plant than we are, and in his language is implied all that intimacy, as much as ours is expressed in our language….(March 5, 1858)

On one of these little pages he (Linnaeus in “Philosophia Botanica”) gives some instruction concerning…botanizing. Into this he introduces law and order and system, and…tells what dress you shall wear, what instruments you shall carry, what season and hour you shall observe, – viz from the leafing of the trees to the fall of the leaf, twice a week in summer, once in spring, from seven in the morning till seven at night, – when you shall dine and take your rest…how far you shall go, – two miles and a half at most, – what you shall collect and what kind of observations make, etc., etc. (March 12, 1852)

No mortal is alert enough to be present at the first dawn of the spring, but he will presently discover some evidence that vegetation had awaked some days at least before. Early as I have looked this year, perhaps the first unquestionable growth of an indigenous plant detected was the fine tips of grass blades which the frost had killed, floating plea and flaccid, though still attached to their stems, spotting the pools like alight fall or flurry of dull-colored snowflakes. (March 17, 1857)

It affects one’s philosophy, after so long living in winter quarters, to see the day dawn from some hill….It is as if we had migrated and were ready to being life again in a new country, with new hopes and resolutions. (March 22, 1853)

I would fain make two reports in my Journal, first the incidents and observations of to-day; and by tomorrow I review the same and record what was omitted before, which will often be the most significant and poetic part. I do not know at first what it is that charms me. The men and things of to-day are wont to lie fairer and truer in tomorrow’s memory. (Mar. 27, 1857}


April 1, 1852: “What is the significance of odors, of the odoriferous woods? Sweet and yellow birch, sassafras, fever-bush, etc., are an interesting class to me. When we bruise them in our walk, we are suddenly exhilarated by their odor. This sweet scent soon evaporates, and you must break the twig afresh. If you cut it, it is not as if you break it. Some, like the sassafras, have brought a great price as articles of commerce. No wonder that men thought they might have some effect toward renovating their lives. Gosnold, the discoverer of Cape Cod, carried home a cargo of sassafras. What could be more grateful to the discoverer of a new country than a new fragrant wood?”

April 2, 1852: “I do not value any view of the universe into which man and the institutions of man enter very largely and absorb much of the attention. Man is but the place where I stand, and the prospect hence is infinite….The universe is larger than enough for man’s abode. Some rarely go outdoors, most are always at home at night, very few indeed have stayed out all night once in their lives, fewer still have gone behind the world of humanity, seen its institutions like toadstools by the wayside.”

April 2, 1856: “It will take you half a lifetime to find out where to look for the earliest flower….Look for some narrow meadowy bay, running north into a hill and protected by the hill on the north and partly on the east and west. At the head of this meadow, where many springs ooze out from under the hill and saturate all the ground, dissolving the snow earl yin the spring, in the midst, or on the edge, of a narrow open alder swamp, there look for the earliest skunk-cabbage and cowslip, where some little black rills are seen to meander or heard to tinkle in the middle of the coldest winter.There appear the great spear-heads of the skunk-cabbage, yellow and red or uniform mahogany-color, ample hoods sheltering their purple spadixes.”

April 3, 1859: “The baeomyces is in its perfection this rainy day. I have for some weeks been insisting on the beauty and richness of the moist and saturated crust of the earth. It has seemed to me more attractive and living than ever, – a very sensitive cuticle, teaming with life, especially in the rainy days. I have looked on it as the skin of a pard And on a more close examination I am borne out by discovering in this now so bright baeomyces and in other earthy lichens and in cladonias, also in the very interesting and pretty red and yellow stemmed mosses, a manifest sympathy with and an expression of, the general life of the crust. This early and hardy cryptogamous vegetation is, as it were, a flowering of the crust of the earth. Lichens and these mosses, which depend on moisture, are now most rampant, If you examine it, this brown earth-crust is not dead. We need a popular name for the baeomyces. C. suggests ‘pink mould.’ Perhaps ‘pink shot’ or ‘eggs’ would do.”

April 4, 1859: “Such an appetite have we for new life that we begin by nibbling the very crust of the earth. We betray our vegetable and animal nature and sympathize by our delight in water. We rejoice in the full rills, the melting snow, the copious spring rains and the freshets, as if we were frozen earth to be thawed, or lichens and mosses, expanding and reviving under this influence……The epigaea looks as if it would open in two or three days at least. The flower-buds are protected by the withered leaves, oak leaves, which partly cover them, so that you must look pretty sharp to detect the first flower. These plants blossom by main strength, as it were, or the virtue that is in them, — not growing by water, as most early flowers, – in dry copes.”

April 5, 1859: “As I stood on a hill just cut off, I saw a half dozen rods below, the bright-yellow catkins of a tall willow just opened on the edge of the swamp, against the dark-brown twigs and the withered leaves. This early blossom looks bright and rare amid the withered leaves and the generally brown and dry surface, like the early butterflies. This is the most conspicuous of the March flowers (i.e., if it chances to be so early as March). It suggests unthought-of warmth and sunniness. It takes but little color and tender growth to make miles of dry brown woodland and swamp look habitable and home-like, as if a man could dwell there.”

April 6

April 7, 1857: “At sundown I went out to gather bayberries to make tallow of. Holding a basket beneath, I rubbed them off into it between my hands, and we got about a quart, to which were added enough to make about three pints. They are interesting little gray berries clustered close about the short bare twigs, just below the last year’s growth. The berries have little prominences, like those of an orange, encased with tallow, the tallow also filling the interstices, down to the nut. They require a great deal of boiling to get out all the tallow. The outmost case soon melted off, but the inmost part I did not get even after many hours of boiling. The oily part rose to the top, making it look like a savory black broth, which smelled just like balm or other herb tea. I got almost a quarter of a pound by weight from those say three pints of berries, and more yet remained. Boil a great while, let it cool, then skim off the tallow from the surface; melt again and strain it. What I got was more yellow than what I have seen in the shops. A small portion cooked in the form of small corns (nuggets I called them when I picked them out from amid the berries), flat hemispherical, of a very pure lemon yellow, and these needed no straining. The berries were left black and massed together by the remaining tallow.”

April 8, 1859: “The epigaea is not quite out. The earliest peculiarly woodland herbaceous flowers are epigaea, anemone, thalictrum, and – by the first of May – Viola pedata. They grow quite in the woods amid dry leaves, nor do they depend so much on water as the very earliest flowers. I am, perhaps, more surprised by the growth of the Viola pedata leaves, by the side of the paths amid the shrub oaks and half covered with oak leaves, than by any other growth, the situation is so dry and the surrounding bushes so apparently lifeless…..I find that the cress (Cardamine hirsuta) which was so forward at Well Meadow a fortnight ago has been almost entirely browsed off by some creature, so that, if I had not detected it, I might have been surprised that it made no more show. The skunk-cabbage leaf-buds, which have just begun to unroll, also have been entensively eaten off as they were yet rolled up like cigars. These early greens of the swamp are thus kept down. Is it by the rabbit? I could see the tracks of some animal, apparently as large, very indistinct in the mud and water. Also an early kind of sedge there was cropped. The only animals at all likely to have done this are rabbits, musquash, woodchuck (though I doubt if the lat has been about here long enough), and geese. Of these, I think it most likely to have been the first, and probably it was the same that gnawed the spathes and ate up the spadix of the cabbage some weeks ago…..The Alnus serrulata is evidently in its prime considerably later than the incana, for those of the former which I notice today have scarcely begun, while the latter chance to be done. The fertile flowers are an interesting bright crimson in the sun.”

April 9, 1856: “I go off a little to the right of the railroad, and sit on the edge of that sand-crater near the spring by the railroad. Sitting there on the warm bank, above the broad, shallow, crystalline pool, on the sand, amid russet banks of curled early sedge-grass, showing a little green at base, and dry leaves, I hear one hyla peep faintly several times. This is, then, a degree of warmth sufficient for the hyla. He is the first of his race to awaken to the new year and pierce the solitudes with his voice. He shall wear the medal for this year. You hear him, but you will never find him. He is somewhere down amid the withered sedge and alder bushes there by the water’s edge, but where? From that quarter his shrill blast sounded, but he is silent, and a kingdom will not buy it again.”

April 10, 1859: “I might class the twenty-two herbaceous flowers which I have known to be open before the first of May thus: - Garden flowers – chickweed and shepherd’s purse; Meadow flowers – skunk-cabbage, caltha, chrysosplenium, dandelion, strawberry, Viola cucullata, Ranuncullus repens; Rock flowers – saxifrage, crowfoot, columbine, and tower-mustard; Woodland flowers – epigaea, anemone, and thalictrum; Pasture flowers – cinquefoil, bluets, mouse-ear, and Viola sagittata; Water flowers – Callitriche verna and nuphar…..The woody plants – trees and shrubs – might be arranged under three heads, viz: - Wet Land – alders, white maple, most willows, sweet-gale, benzoin, cassandra, white-alder, larch; Dry Land – aspens, hazels, arbutus [= arctostaphylos], arbor-vitae, red cedar, fir-balsam, sweet-fern, shad-bush, Salix humilis, S. tristis, S. rostrata, yew; Intermediate – elms, red maple, peach, abele, cultivated cherry.”

April 12, 1852: “Saw the first blossoms (bright-yellow stamens or pistils) on the willow catkins today. The speckled alders and the maples are earlier then. The yellow blossom appears first on one side of the ament and is the most bright and sunny color the spring has shown, the most decidedly flower-like that I have seen. It flowers, then, I should say, without regard to the skunk-cabbage. First the speckled alder, then the maple without keys, then this earliest, perhaps swamp willow with its bright-yellow blossoms on one side of the ament. It is fit that this almost earliest spring flower should be yellow, the color of the sun.”

I do not value any view of the universe into which man and the institutions of man enter very largely and absorb much of the attention. Man is but the place where I stand, and the prospect hence is infinite….The universe is larger than enough for man’s abode. Some rarely go outdoors, most are always at home at night, very few indeed have stayed out all night once in their lives, fewer still have gone behind the world of humanity, seen its institutions like toadstools by the wayside. (April 2, 1852)

It will take you half a lifetime to find out where to look for the earliest flower….Look for some narrow meadowy bay, running north into a hill and protected by the hill on the north and partly on the east and west. At the head of this meadow, where many springs ooze out from under the hill and saturate all the ground, dissolving the snow earl yin the spring, in the midst, or on the edge, of a narrow open alder swamp, there look for the earliest skunk-cabbage and cowslip, where some little black rills are seen to meander or heard to tinkle in the middle of the coldest winter.There appear the great spear-heads of the skunk-cabbage, yellow and red or uniform mahogany-color, ample hoods sheltering their purple spadixes. (April 2, 1856)

 Saw the first blossoms (bright-yellow stamens or pistils) on the willow catkins today. The speckled alders and the maples are earlier then. The yellow blossom appears first on one side of the ament and is the most o bright and sunny color the spring has shown, the most decidedly flower-like that I have seen. It flowers, then, I should say, without regard to the skunk-cabbage. First the speckled alder, then the maple without keys, then this earliest, perhaps swamp, willow with its bright-yellow blossoms on one side of the ament. It is fit that this almost earliest spring flower should be yellow, the color of the sun. (Apr. 11, 1852)

Observe all kinds of coincidences, as what kinds of birds come with what flowers. (April 18, 1852)

A great part of our troubles are literally domestic or originate in the house and from living indoors. (April 26, 1857)

…I am reminded of the advantage to the poet, and philosopher, and naturalist, and whomsoever, of pursuing from time to time some other business than his chosen one, – seeing with the side of the eye. The poet will so get visions which no deliberate abandonment can secure. The philosopher is so forced to recognize principles which long study might not detect. And the naturalist will stumble upon some new and unexpected flower or animal. (April 28, 1856)

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I find that since I left Concord, April 11th, there have blossomed here, probably nearly in the following order, these plants, including those I saw in Haverhill: dandelion, field horse-tail, Antennaria plantaginifolia, sweet-gale, epigea, Populus grandidentata, Salix tristis, Viola ovata…. (May 1, 1853)

The colors are now: light blue above (where is my cyanometer? Saussare invented one, and Humboldt used it in his travels); landscape russet and greenish, spotted with fawn-colored plowed 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, 1853)

As I walk through the village at evening, when the air is still damp after the rainy morning, I perceive and am exhilarated by the sweet scent of expanding leaves…..(May 6, 1853)

With respect to leafing, the more conspicuous and forward trees and shrubs are the following, and nearly in this order, as I think, and these have formed small leaves: Gooseberry, aspens (not grandidentata), willows, young maples of all kinds, balm-0f-Gilead (?), elder, meadow-sweet, black cherry, and is that Jersey tea on Island? or Diervilla? ostrya, alder, white birch and the three others, Pyrus arbutifolia (?), apple, amelanchier, choke (?)-cherry, dwarf ditto, wild red, Viburnum nudum (?) and Lentago, barberry. (May 7, 1853)

Your observation, to be interesting, i.e., to be significant, must be subjective. The sum of what the writer of whatever class has to report is simply some human experience, whether he be poet or philosopher or man of science. The man of most science is the man most alive, whose life is the greatest event. Senses that take cognizance of outward things merely are of no avail. It matters not where or how far you travel, – the farther commonly the worse, – but how much alive you are. If it is possible to conceive of an event outside to humanity, it is not of the slightest significance. (May, 11, 1854)

Have just been looking at Nuttall’s “North American Sylva.” Much research, fine plates and print and paper, and unobjectionable periods, but no turpentine, or balsam, or quercitron, or slicin, or birch wine, or the aroma of balm-of-Gilead, no gallic, or ulmic, or even malice acid. The plates are greener and higher-colored than the words, etc., etc. It is sapless, if not leafless…..(May 15, 1854)

A timid botanist would never pluck it. Its flowers are more interesting than any of its family, almost globular, crystalline white, even the calyx, except its tips, tinged with red or rose. Properly called water andromeda, you must wade into water a foot or two deep to get it. (May 24, 1854) [water andromeda = bog rosemary = Andromeda polifolia]

When first I had sheltered myself under the rock, I began at once to look out on the pond with new eyes…I was at Lee’s Cliff as I had never been before, had taken up my residence there, as it were. Ordinarily we make haste away from all opportunities to be where we have instinctively endeavored to get. (May 30, 1857)

Some incidents in my life have seemed far more allegorical than actual; they were so significant that they plainly served no other use….they have been like myths or passages in a myth rather than mere incidents or history which have to wait to become significant….This, for instance: that when I thought I knew the flowers so well, the beautiful purple azalea or pinxter-flower should be shown me by the hunter who found it. Such facts are lifted quite above the level of the actual…The boundaries of the actual are no more fixed and rigid than the elasticity of our imagination. The fact that a rare and beautiful flower which we never saw, perhaps never heard of, for which therefore there was no place in our thoughts, may at length be found in our immediate neighborhood, is very suggestive. (May 31, 1853)

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The umbrella toadstool yesterday, and now decaying. A smaller one…..Galls are a surprising production of nature, suggestion a union or connivance of two kingdoms, the animal and vegetable, to produce. Many, like the ordinary black oak-balls (I see some fully grown), seem as natural to the tree as its proper fruit, and plainly anticipated by its whole economy. We hesitate to pronounce them abortions.Their grub is a foster-child of the oak. (June 1, 1854)

When I awake I hear the low universal chirping or twittering of the chip-birds, like the bursting bead on the surface of the uncorked day. First come, first served. You must taste the first glass of the day’s nectar, if you would get all the spirit of it. (June 2, 1853, 3:30am)

It has been a sultry day, and a slight thunder-shower, and now I see fireflies in the meadows at evening. (June 3, 1852)

Now is the time to observe the leaves, so fair in color and so perfect in form. I stood over a sprig of choke-cherry, with fair and perfect glossy green obovate and serrate leaves, in the wood tho p.m., as if it were a rare flower. Now the various forms of oak leaves in sprout-lands, wet-glossy, as if newly painted green and varnished, attract me. (June 4, 1854)

I am interested in each contemporary plant in my vicinity, and have attained to a certain acquaintance with the larger ones. They are cohabitants with me of this part of the planet, and they bear familiar names. Yet how essentially wild they are! as wild, really, as those strange fossil plants whose impressions I see on my coal. (June 5, 1857)

This is June, the month of grass and leaves. The deciduous trees are investing the evergreens and revealing how dark they are. Already the aspens are trembling again, and a new summer is offered me. I feel a little fluttered in my thoughts, as if I might be too late. Each season is but an infinitesimal point. It no sooner comes than it is gone. It has no duration. It simply gives a tone and hue to my thought. Each annual phenomenon is a reminiscence and prompting. Our thoughts and sentiments answer to the revolution of the seasons, as two cog-wheels fit into each other. We are conversant with only one point of contact at a time, from which we receive a prompting and impulse and instantly pass to a new season or point of contact. A year is made up of a certain series and number of sensations and thoughts which have their language in nature. Now I am ice, now I am sorrel. Each experience reduces itself to a mood of the mind. (June 6, 1857)

It is a certain fairyland where we live. You may walk out in any direction over the earth’s surface, lifting your horizon, and everywhere your path, climbing the convexity of the globe, leads you between heaven and earth, not away from the light of the sun and stars and the habitations of men. I wonder the I ever get five miles on my way, the walk is so crowded with events and phenomena. How many questions there are which I have not put to the inhabitants! (June 7, 1851)

Herndon, in his ‘Exploration of the Amazon,’ says that ‘there is wanting an industrious and active population, who know what the comforts of life are, and who have artificial wants to draw out the great resources of the country.’ But what are the ‘artificial wants,’ to be encouraged, and the ‘great resources’ of a country/ Surely not the love of luxuries like the tobacco and slaves of his native Virginia, or that fertility of soil which produces these. The chief want is ever a life of deep experiences – that is, character, – which alone draws out ‘the great resources’ of Nature. When our wants cease to be chiefly superficial and trivial, which is commonly meant by artificial, and begin to be wants of character, then the great resources of a country are taxed and drawn out, and the result, the staple production, is poetry. (June 8, 1854)

The season of waving boughs; and the lighter under sides of the new leaves are exposed. This is the first half of June. Already the grass is not so fresh and liquid-velvety a green, having much of it blossomed and some even gone to seed, and it is mixed with reddish ferns and other plants, but the general leafiness, shadiness, and waving of grass and boughs in the breeze characterize the season. (June 9, 1852)

Ripe strawberries, even in a meadows on sand thrown out of a ditch, hard at first to detect amid the red radical leaves. (June 10, 1856)

No one, to my knowledge, has observed the minute differences in the seasons. Hardly two nights are alike. The rocks do not feel warm to-night, for the air is warmest; nor does the sand particularly. A book of the seasons, each page of which should be written in its own season and out-of-doors, or in its own locality wherever it may be. (June 11, 1851)

There would be this advantage to traveling in your own country, even in your own neighborhood, that you would be so thoroughly prepared to understand what you saw you would make fewer traveler’s mistakes. (June 12, 1851)

We do not commonly live our life out and full; we do not fill all our pores with our blood; we do not inspire and expire fully and entirely enough, so that the wave, the cumber, of each inspiration shall break upon our extremest shores, rolling till it meets the sand which bounds us, and the sound of the surf come back to us. Might not a bellows assist us to breathe? That our breathing should create a wind in a calm day! We live but a fraction of our life. Why do we not let on the flood, raise the gates, and set all our wheels in motion? He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. Employ your senses. (June 13, 1851)

And now comes a hummingbird humming through the woods and alights on the blossom of a blue flag. The bullfrogs begin with one or two notes and with each peal add another trill to their trump. – er-roonk, er-er-roonk, er-er-er-roonk, etc. I am amused to hear one after another, and then an unexpectedly deep and confident bass, as if he had charged himself with more wind than the rest. And now, as if by a general agreement, they all trump together, making a deafening noise. Sometimes one jumps up a foot out of water in the midst of these concerts. What are they about? Suddenly a tree-toad in the overhanging woods begins, and another answers, and another, with load, ringing notes such as I never heard before, and in three minutes they are all silent again. A red-eye sings on a tree-top, and a cuckoo is heard far in the wood. These are the evening sounds. (June 14, 1853)

It is remarkable the rapidity with which the grass grows. The 25th of May I walked to the hills in Wayland, and when I returned across lots do not remember that I had much occasion to think of the grass, or to go round any fields to avoid treading on it; but just a week afterward, at Worcester, it was high and waving in the fields, and I was to some extent confined to the road; and the same was the case here…It has grown you hardly know when, be the weather what it may, sunshine or storm. (June 15, 1851)

Clover now in prime. What more luxuriant than a clover-field? The poorest soil that is covered with it looks incomparably fertile. This is perhaps the most characteristic feature of June, resounding with the hum of insects. It is so massive, such a blush on the fields. The rude health of the sorrel cheek has given place to the blush of clover. (June 15, 1853)

An old man who used to frequent Walden fifty-five 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 game. He went there to fish and used an old log canoe, made of two white pine logs dug out and pinned together and pitched, which he found on the shore. It was very clumsy but durable and belonged to the pond. He did not know whom it belonged to; it belonged to the pond. He used to make a cable for his anchor of hickory bark tied together. An old man, a potter, who lived in these woods before the Revolution, told him that there was an iron chest at the bottom of the pond, and he had seen it. It would sometimes come floating up toward the shore, and when you went toward it, go back into deep water and disappear. (June 16, 1853)

It appears to me that these phenomena occur simultaneously, say June 12th: heat about 85 degrees at 2pm (true summer); Hylodes cease to peep; purring frogs (Rana palustris) cease; lightning bugs first seen; bullfrogs trump generally; mosquitoes begin to be really troublesome; afternoon thunder-showers almost regularly; sleep with open window; turtles fairly and generally begun to lay. (June 16, 1860)

 No fog this morning. At easy dawn, the windows being open, I hear a steady, breathing cricket-like sound from the chip-bird, ushering in the day. Perhaps these mornings are the most memorable in the year – after a sultry night and before a sultry day – when, especially the morning is the most glorious season of the day, when its coolness is most refreshing and you enjoy the glory of the summer gilded or silvered with dews, without the torrid summer’s sun or the obscuring haze. The sound of the cricket at dawn after these first sultry nights seems like the dreaming of the earth still continued into the daylight. (June 17, 1852 – 4 a.m.)

(4 a.m.) As I was going up the hill, I was surprised to see rising about the June-grass, near a walnut, a whitish object, like a stone with a white top, or a skunk erect, for it was black below. It was an enormous toadstool, or fungus, a sharply conical parasol in the form of a sugar loaf, slightly turned up at the edges, which were rent half an inch in every inch or two. The whole height was sixteen inches. The pileus or cap was six inches long by seven in width, at the rim, though it appeared longer than wide. There was no veil, and the stem was about one inch in diameter and naked. The top of the cap was quite white within and without, hoariest at top of the cone like a mountain-top, not smooth but with a stringy kind of scales turned upward at the edge, which declined downward, i.e., down the cap, into a coarse hoariness, as if the compact white fibers had been burst by the spreading of the gills and showed the black. As you looked up within, the light was transmitted between the trembling gills. It looked much like an old felt hat that is pushed up into a cone and its rim all ragged and with some meal shaken on to it; in fact, it was almost big enough for a child’s head. It was so delicate and fragile that its whole cap trembled on the least touch, and as I could not lay it down without injuring it, I was obliged to carry it home all the way in my hand and erect, while I paddled my boat with one hand. It was a wonder how its soft cone ever broke through the earth. Such growths ally our age to former periods, such as geology reveals…It suggests a vegetative force which may almost make man tremble for his dominion….I have just been out (7:30 a.m.) to show my fungus. The milkman and the butcher followed me to inquire what it was, and children and young ladies addressed me in the street who never spoke to me before. It is so fragile I was obliged to walk at a funereal pace for fear of jarring it. It is so delicately balanced on its stem that it falls to one side across it on the least inclination; falls about like an umbrella that has lost its stays. It is rapidly curling up on the edge, and the rents increasing, until it is completely fringed, and an inch wider there. It is melting in the sun and light, and black drops and streams falling on my hand and fragments of the black fringed rim falling on the sidewalk. Evidently such a plant can only be seen in perfection in the early morning. It is a creature of the night, like the great moths. They wish me to send it to the first of a series of exhibitions of flowers and fruits to be held at the court-hourse this afternoon, which I promise to do if it is presentable then. Perhaps it might be placed in the court-house cellar and the company invited at last to walk down and examine it. Think of placing this giant parasol fungus in the midst of all their roses; yet they admit that it would overshadow and eclipse them all. (June 18, 1853)

Facts collected by a poet are set down at last as winged seeds of truth, samaras, tinged with his expectation. Oh, may my words be verdurous and sempiternal as the hills! Facts fall from the poetic observer as ripe seeds. (June 19, 1852)

Lying with my window open, these warm, sultry nights, I hear the sonorously musical trump of the bullfrogs from time to time, from some distant shore of the river, as if the world were given up to them. By those villagers who live on the street they are never seen and rarely heard by day, but in the quiet sultry nights their notes ring from one end of the town to another. It is as if you had waked up in the infernal regions. I do not know for a time in what world I am. It affects my morals, and all questions take a new aspect from the sound. At night bullfrogs lie on the pads and answer to one another all over North America; undoubtedly there is an incessant and uninterrupted chain of sound, tromp, tromp, tromp, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. (June 20, 1852)

Now see many bright red amelanchier [juneberry, serviceberry, shadbush] berries and some purple or dark-blue ones amid them. They are mostly injured by insects or apparently pecked and deformed by birds, but, from the few perfectly sound and ripe I have eaten today, I should pronounce them superior to either blueberries or huckleberries.Those of the Botryapium [a variety of A. canadensis] have a soft skin; of the shorter bush with a stiffer leaf, a tough skin. This is a little before blueberries. (June 21, 1853)

As i come over the hill, I hear the wood thrush singing his evening lay. This is the only bird whose note affects me like music, affects the flow and tenor of my thought, my fancy and imagination. It lifts and exhilarates me. It is inspiring. It is a medicative draught to my soul. It is an elixir to my eyes and a fountain of youth to all my senses. It changes all hours to an eternal morning. It banishes all trivialness. It reinstates me in my dominion, makes me the lord of creation, is chief musician of my court. This minstrel sings in a time, a heroic age, with which no event in the village can be contemporary. How can they be contemporary when only the latter is temporary at all? How can the infinite and eternal be contemporary with the finite and temporal? So there is something in the music of the cow-bell, something sweeter and more nutritious than in the milk which the farmers drink. This thrush’s song is a ranz des vaches to me. I long for wildness, a nature which I cannot put my foot through…(June 22, 1853)

These are the longest days of the year. The sun rises about 4:30 and sets about 7:30, leaving about eight hours of night. The strawberries may perhaps be considered a fruit of the spring, for they have depended chiefly on the freshness and moisture of spring, and on high lands are already dried up – a soft fruit, a sort of manna which falls in June – and in the meadows they lurk at the shady roots of the grass. Now the blueberry, a somewhat firmer fruit, is beginning. Nuts, the firmest, will be the last. Is not June the month in which all trees and shrubs grow – do the greater part of their growing? Will the shoots add much to their length in July? Berries are ripening now, when young birds are beginning to fly generally. (June 22, 1853)

I am inclined to think that my hat, whose lining is gathered in midway so as to make a shelf, is about as good a botany-box as I could have and far more convenient, and there is something in the darkness and the vapors that arise from the head – at least if you take a bath – which preserves flowers through a long walk. Flowers will frequently come fresh out of this botany-box at the end of the day, though they have had no sprinkling. (June 23, 1852)

What could a man learn by watching the clouds? The objects which go over our heads unobserved are vast and indefinite. Even those clouds which have the most distinct and interesting outlines are commonly below the zenith, somewhat low in the heavens, and seen on one side. They are among the most glorious objects in nature. A sky without clouds is a meadow without flowers, a sea without sails. Some days we have the mackerel fleet. But our devilishly industrious laborers rarely lie in the shade. How much better if they were to take their nooning like the Italians, relax and expand and never do any work in the middle of the day, enjoy a little sabbath in the middle of the day. (June 24, 1852)

Found in the Glade Meadows an unusual quantity of amelanchier berries – I think of the two common kinds – one a taller bush, twice as high as my head, with thinner and lighter-colored leaves and larger, or at least somewhat softer, fruit, the other a shorter bush, with more rigid and darker leaves and dark-blue berries, with often a sort of woolliness on them. Both these are now in their prime. These are the first berries after strawberries, or the first, and I think the sweetest, bush berries. Somewhat like high blueberries, but not so hard. Much eaten by insects, worms, etc. As big as the largest blueberries or peas. These are the “service-berries” which the Indians of the north and the Canadians use….They by a little precede the early blueberry (though Hollbrook brought two quarts of the last day before yesterday), being now in their prime, while blueberries are but just beginning. I never saw nearly so many before. It is a very agreeable surprise. I hear the cherry-birds and others about me, no doubt attracted by this fruit. It is owing to some peculiarity in the season that they bear fruit. I have picked a quart of them for a pudding. I felt all the while I was picking them, in the low, light, wavy shrubby wood they make, as if I were in a foreign country. Several old farmers say, ‘Well, though I have lived seventy years, I never saw nor heard of them.’ I think them a delicious berry, and no doubt they require only to be more abundant every year to be appreciated. (June 25, 1853)

I have not put darkness, duskiness, enough into my night and moonlight walks. Every sentence should contain some twilight or night. At least the light in it should be the yellow or creamy light of the moon or the fine beams of stars, and not the white light of day. The peculiar dusky serenity of the sentences must not allow the reader to forget that it is evening or night, without my saying that it is dark. (June 26, 1852)

Saw a very large white ash tree, three and a half feet in diameter, in front of the house which White formerly owned, under this hill, which was struck by lightning the 22nd, about 4 pm. The lightning apparently struck the top of the tree and scorched the bark and leaves for ten or fifteen feet downward, then began to strip off the bark and enter the wood, making a ragged narrow furrow or crack, till, reaching one of the upper limbs, it apparently divided, descending on both sides and entering deeper and deeper into the wood. At the first general branching, it had got full possession of the tree in its center and tossed off the main limbs butt foremost, making holes in the ground where they struck; and so it went down in the midst of the trunk to the earth, where it apparently exploded, rending the trunk into six segments, whose tops, ten or twenty feet long, were rayed out on every side at an angle of about 30 from a perpendicular, leaving the ground bare directly under where the tree had stood, though they were still fastened to the earth by their roots. The lightning appeared to have gone off through the roots, furrowing them as the branches, and through the earth, making a furrow like a plow, four or five rods in one direction, and in another passing through the cellar of the neighboring house about thirty feet distant, scorching the tin milk-pans and throwing dirt into the milk, and coming out the back side of the house in a furrow, splitting some planks there. The main body of the tree was completely stripped of bark, which was cast in every direction two hundred feet; and large pieces of the inside of the tree, fifteen feet long, were hurled with tremendous source in various directions, one into the side of a shed, smashing it, another burying itself in a wood-pile. The heart of the tree lay by itself…The windows in the house were broken and all the inhabitants knocked down by the concussion. All this was accomplished in an instant by a kind of fire out of the heavens called lightning, or a thunderbolt, accompanied by a crashing sound. For what purpose? The ancients called it Jove’s bolt, with which he punished the guilty, and we moderns understand it no better. (June 27, 1852)

There are meteorologists, but who keeps a record of the fairer sunsets! While men are recording the direction of the wind, they neglect to record the beauty of the sunset or the rainbow. The sun not yet set. The bobolink sings descending to the meadow as I go along the railroad to the pond…The plaintive strain of the lark, coming up from the meadow,is perfectly adapted to the hour. When I get nearer the wood, the veery is heard, and the oven-bird, or whet-saw, sounds hollowly from within the recesses of the wood….The sun is down. The nighthawks are squeaking in the somewhat dusky air and occasionally making the ripping sound; the chew inks sound; the bullfrogs begin, and the toads; also tree-toads more numerously….The moon is brassy or golden now, and the air more dusky; yet I hear the pea-wai and the wood thrush, and now a whip-poor-will before I have seen a star. The walking in the woods at this hour takes note of the different veins of air through which he passes – the fresher and cooler in the hollows, laden with the condensed fragrance of plants, at it were distilled in dews; and yet the warmer veins in a cool evening like this do not fail to be agreeable, though in them the air is comparatively lifeless or exhausted of its vitality. It circulates about from pillar to post, from wood-side to side-hill,like a dog that has lost its master, now the sun is gone…First there was sundown, then starlight. Starlight! That would be a good way to mark the hour, if we were precise. That is an epoch, when the last traces of daylight have disappeared and the night has fairly set in. Is not the moon a mediator? She is a light-giver that does not dazzle me. (June 28, 1852)

The wind exposes the red undersides of the white lily pads. This is one of the aspects of the river now. The bud-bearing stem of this plant is a little larger, but otherwise like the leaf-stem, and coming like it directly from the long, large root. It is interesting to pull up the lily root with flowers and leaves attached and see how it sends its buds upward to the light and air to expand and flower in another element. How interesting the bud’s progress from the water to the air! So many of these stems are leaf-bearing, and so many flower-bearing. Then consider how defended these plants against drought, at the bottom of the water, at most their leaves and flowers floating on its surface. How much mud and water are required to support their vitality! It is pleasant to remember those quiet Sabbath mornings by remote stagnant rivers and ponds, when pure white water-lilies, just expanded, not yet infested by insects, float on the waveless water and perfume the atmosphere. Nature never appears more serene and innocent and fragrant. A hundred white lilies, open to the sun, rest on the surface, smooth as oil amid their pads, while devil’s needles are glancing over them. It requires some skill to pull a lily as to get a long stem. The great yellow lily, the spatter-dock, expresses well the fertility of the river. (June 29, 1852)

Nature must be viewed humanly to be viewed at all; that is, her scenes must be associated with humane affections, such as are associated with one’s native place, for instance. She is most significant to a lover. A lover of Nature is preeminently a lover of man. If I have no friend, what is Nature to me? She ceases to be morally significant. (June 30, 1852)

Is not this period more than any other distinguished for its flowers, when roses, swamp-pinks, morning-glories, arethusas, pogonias, orchises, blue flags, epilobiums, mountain laurel, and white lilies are all in blossom at once?” (June 30, 1852)

If you paw into sand, both by day and night, you find the heat to be permanently greatest some three inches below the surface, and this is about the depth of which the tortoises place their eggs. Where the temperature is highest permanently and changes least between night and day. (June 30, 1860)

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At the spring, where much forget-me-not now in bloom, I found ripe – of a dark red color – what I think must be Gray’s Rubus triflorus, dwarf raspberry [now known as Rubus pubescens], though it was in a meadow – a pleasant lively acid fruit. It was running over some sand cast out in digging a ditch, and I observed none so large or edible elsewhere. This is the fourth kind of berry I have found ripe this season. I must see it again. It tastes and looks like a cross between raspberry and a blackberry. It may be this whose flowers I observed so early in Hubbard’s Grove Swamp. (July 1, 1852)

Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the range of our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray, i.e., we are not looking for it. So, in the largest sense, we find only the world we look for. (Jul. 2, 1857)

Bigelow tells me that saddlers sometimes use the excrescence, the whitish fungus on the birch to stick their awls in. Men find a use for everything at last. I saw one nailed up in his shop with an awl in it. (July 2, 1852)

I have plucked a white lily bud just ready to expand, and, after keeping it in water for two days, have turned back its sepals with my hand and touched the lapped points of the petals, when they sprung open and rapidly expanded in my hand into a perfect blossom, with the petals as perfectly disposed  at equal intervals as on their native lakes, and in this case, of course, untouched by an insect. I  cut the stem short and placed it in a broad dish of water, where it sailed about under the breath of the beholder with a slight undulatory motion. The breeze of his half-suppressed admiration it was that filled its sail. It was a rare-tinted one. A kind of popular aura that may be trusted, methinks. Men will travel to the Nile to see the lotus flower who have never seen in their glory the lotuses of their native streams. (July 2,1852)

The pickers have quite thinned the crop of early blueberries where Stow cut off winter before last. When the woods on some hillsides are cut off, the Vaccinium pennsylvanicum springs up, or grows more luxuriantly, being exposed to light and air, and by the second year its stems are weighed to the ground with clusters of blue berries covered with bloom, and much larger than they commonly grow, also with a livelier taste than usual, as if remembering some primitive mountain-side given up to them anciently. Such places supply the villagers with the earliest berries for two or three years, or until the rising wood overgrows them and they withdraw into the bosom of Nature again. They flourish during the few years between one forest’s fall and another’s rise. Before you had prepared your mind or made up your mouth for berries, thinking only of crude green ones, earlier by ten days than you had expected, some child of the woods is at your door with ripe blueberries…..Let alone your garden, cease your cultivation, and in how short a time will blueberries and huckleberries grow there! (July 3, 1852)

3 a.m. – To Conantum, to see the lilies open. I hear an occasional crowing of cocks in distant barns, as has been their habit for how many thousand years…I hear the croak of a tree-toad as I am crossing the yard. I am surprised to find the dawn so far advanced. There is a yellowish segment of light in the east, paling a star and adding sensibly to the light of the waning and now declining moon. There is very little dew on the uplands. I hear a little twittering and some clear singing from the seringo and the song sparrow as I go along the back road, and now then then the note of a bullfrog from the river…The crickets are remarkably loud at this season. The sound of the whip-poor-will is wafted from the woods…The daylight now balances the moonlight. How short the nights! The last traces of day have not disappeared much before 10 o’clock, or perchance 9:30, and before 3 a.m. you see them again in the east – probably 2:30 – leaving about 5 hours of solid night, the sun so soon coming round again…Ah! those mornings when you are awakened in the dawn by the singing, the matins, of the birds!…Methinks I saw the not yet extinguished lights of one or two fireflies in the darker ruts in the grass….Sunrise…Carefully looking both up and down the river I could perceive that the lilies began to open about fifteen minutes after the sun from over the opposite bank fell on them, which was perhaps three quarters of an hour after sunrise (which is about 4:30), and one was fully expanded about twenty minutes later. When I returned over the bridge about 6:15, there were perhaps a dozen open ones in sight. (July 4, 1852)

I know a man who never speaks of the sexual relation but jestingly, though it is a subject to be approached only with reverence and affection. What can be the character of that man’s love? It is ever the subject of a stale jest, though his health or his dinner can be seriously considered. The glory of the world is seen only by a chaste mind. To whomsoever this fact is not an awful but beautiful mystery, there are no flowers in nature. (July 5, 1852)

Some birds are poets and sing all summer. They are the true singers. Any man can write verses during the love season. I am reminded of this while we rest in the shade on the Major Heywood road and listen to a wood thrush, now just before sunset. We are most interested in those birds who sing for the love of the music and not of their mates, who meditate their strains, and amuse themselves with singing…not bobolinks, that lose their plumage, their bright colors, and their song so early….The wood thrush’s is no opera music; it is not so much the composition as the strain, the tone, – cool bars of melody from the atmosphere of everlasting morning or evening. It is the quality of the song, not the sequence. In the peawai’s note there is some sultriness, but in the wood thrush’s, though heard at noon, there is the liquid coolness of things that are just drawn from the bottom of springs. The thrush alone declares the immortal wealth and vigor that is in the forest. Here is a bird in whose strain the story is told, though Nature waited for the science of aesthetics to discover it to man. Whenever a man hears it, he is young, and Nature is in her spring. Whenever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him. Most other birds sing from the level of my ordinary cheerful hours – a carol; but this bird never fails to speak to me out of an ether purer than that I breathe, of immortal beauty and vigor. He deepens the significance of all things seen in the light of his strain. He sings to make men take higher and truer views of things. He sings to amend their institutions; to relieve the slave on the plantation and the prisoner in his dungeon, the slave in the house of luxury and the prisoner of his own low thoughts. (July 5, 1852)

How fitting to have every day in a vase of water on your table the wild-flowers of the season which are just blossoming! Can any house be said to be furnished without them? shall we be so forward to pluck the fruits of Nature and neglect her flowers? These are surely her finest influences. So may the season suggest the fine thoughts it is fitter to suggest. Shall we say, ‘A penny for your thoughts,’ before we have looked into the face of Nature? Let me know what picture she is painting, what poetry she is writing, what ode composing, now. (July 5, 1852)

The early blueberries ripen first on the hills, before those who confine themselves to the lowlands are aware of it. When the old folks find only one turned here and there, children, who are best acquainted with the localities of berries, bring pailfuls to sell at their doors. For birds’ nests and berries, give me a child’s eyes. But berries must be eaten on the hills, and then how far from the surfeiting luxury of an alderman’s dinner! (July 6, 1852)

Be ever so little distracted, your thoughts so little confused, your engagements so few, your attention so free, your existence so mundane, that in all places and in all hours you can hear the sound of crickets in those seasons when they are to be heard. It is a mark of serenity and health of mind when a person hears this sound much. – in streets of cities as well as in the fields.  (July 7, 1851)

I am inclined to think bathing almost one of the necessaries of life, but it is surprising how indifferent some are to it. What a coarse, foul, busy life we lead, compared even with the South-Sea-Islanders, in some respects. Truant boys steal away to bathe, but the farmers, who most need it, rarely dip their bodies into the streams or ponds. M____ was telling me last night that he had thought of bathing when he had done his hoeing, – of taking some soap and going down to Walden and giving himself a good scrubbing, – but something had occurred to prevent it, and now he will go unwashed to the harvesting, aye, even till the next hoeing is over. Better the faith and practice of the Hindoos, who worship the sacred Ganges. We have not faith enough in the Musketaquid to wash in it, even after hoeing. Men stay on shore, keep themselves dry, and drink rum. Pray what were rivers made for? One farmer who came to bathe in Walden one Sunday while I lived there, told me it was the first bath he had had for fifteen years. Now what kind of religion could his be? (July 8, 1852)

Morton, in his “Crania Americana,” says, referring to Wilkinson as his authority, that “vessels of porcelain of Chinese manufacture have of late been repeatedly found in the catacombs of Thebes, in Egypt,” some as old as the Pharaonic period, and the inscriptions on them have been read with ease by Chinese scholars, and in three instances record the following legend: “The flower opens, and lo! another year.” There is something sublime in the fact that some of the oldest written sentences should thus celebrate the coming of the spring. How many times have the flowers opened and a new year begun! Hardly a more cheerful sentence could have come down to us. How old is spring, a phenomenon still so fresh! Do we perceive any decay in Nature?  How much evidence is contained in this short and simple sentence respecting the former inhabitants of this globe! It is a sentence to be inscribed on vessels of porcelain. Suggesting that so many years had gone before. An observation as fit then as now. (July 9, 1852)

I ascended the stream in the afternoon and got out of the ravine [Tuckerman's Ravine, White Mtns., New Hampshire], after dining on chiogenes tea [Snowberry, Gaultheria hispidula], which plant I could gather without moving from my log seat. We like it so well that Blake gathered a parcel to carry home. (July 9, 1858)

The black flies were of various sizes here [Mt. Washington, New Hampshire], much larger than I noticed in Maine. They compelled me most of the time to sit in the smoke, which I preferred to wearing a veil. They lie along your forehead in a line, where your hat touches it, or behind your ears, or about your throat (if not protected by a beard), or into the rims of the eyes, or between the knuckles, and there suck till they are crushed. But fortunately they do not last far into the evening, and a wind or a fog disperses them. I did not mind them much, but I noticed that men working on the highway made a fire to keep them off. I find many of them accidentally pressed in my botany and plant book. A botanist’s books, if he has ever visited the primitive northern woods, will be pretty sure to contain these specimens of black fly. (July 10, 1858)

It is a sufficient reason for walking in the forenoon sometimes that some flowers shut up at noon and do not open again during the day, thus showing a preference for that portion of the day. (July 11, 1852)

Now at least the moon is full, and I walk alone, which is best by night, if not by day always. Your companion must sympathize with the present mood. The conversation must be located where the walkers are, and vary exactly with the scene and events and the contour of the ground. Farewell to those who will talk of nature unnaturally, whose presence is an interruption. I know but one with whom I can walk. I might as well be sitting in a bar-room with them as walk and talk with most. We are never side by side in our thoughts, and we cannot hear each other’s silence. Indeed, we cannot be silent. We are forever breaking silence, that is all, and mending nothing. How can they keep together who are going different ways. (July 12, 1851)

The northern wild red cherry of the woods is ripe, handsome, bright red, but scarcely edible; also, sooner than I expected, huckleberries, both blue and black; the former, not described by Gray or Bigelow, in the greater abundance, and must have been ripe several days. They are thick enough to pick. The black only here and there. The former’s is apparently a variety of the latter, blue with bloom and a tough or thick skin. There are evidently several kinds of huckleberries and blueberries not described by botanists: of the very early blueberries at least two varieties, one glossy black with dark-green leaves, the other a rich light blue with bloom and yellowish-green leaves; and more kinds I remember. I found the Vaccinium corymbosum well ripe on an exposed hillside…..It is impossible to say what day – almost what week – the huckleberries begin to be ripe, unless you are acquainted with, and daily visit, every huckleberry bush in the town, at least every place where they grow. (July 13, 1852)

Trees have commonly two growths in the year, a spring and a fall growth, the latter sometimes equally the former, and you can see where the first was checked whether by cold or drouth, and wonder what there was in the summer to produce this check, this blight. So is it with man; most have a spring growth only, and never get over this first check to their youthful hopes; but plants of hardier constitution, or perchance planted in a more genial soil, speedily recover themselves, and though they bear the scar or knot in remembrance of their disappointment, they push forward again and have a vigorous fall growth which is equivalent to a new spring. These two growths are now visible on the oak sprouts; the second already nearly equalling the first. (July 14, 1852)

Rained still in forenoon; now cloudy…This cooler, still cloudy weather after the rain is very autumnal and restorative to our spirits. The robin sings still, but the goldfinch twitters over oftener, and I hear the link link of the bobolink (one perfect strain!), and the crickets croak as in the fall. All these sounds dispose our minds to serenity. Perhaps the mosquitoes are most troublesome such days in the woods, if it is warm enough. We seem to be passing, or to have passed, a dividing line between spring and autumn, and begin to descend the long slope toward winter. On the shady side of the hill I go along Hubbard’s walls toward the bathing-place, stepping high to keep my feet as dry as may be…My thoughts are driven inward, even as clouds and trees are reflected in the still, smooth water. There is an inwardness even in the mosquitoes’ hum, while I am picking blueberries in the dank wood. (July 15, 1854)

Berries are just beginning to ripen, and children are planning expeditions after them. They are important as introducing children to the fields and woods, and as wild fruits of which much account is made. During the berry season the schools have a vacation, and many little fingers are busy picking these small fruits. It is even a pastime, not a drudgery. I remember how glad I was when I was kept from school a half a day to pick huckleberries on a neighboring hill all by myself to make a pudding for the family dinner. Ah, they got nothing but the pudding, but I got invaluable experience beside! A half a day of liberty like that was like the promise of eternal life. It was emancipation in New England. O, what a day was there, my countrymen! (July 16, 1851)

Beck Stow’s Swamp! What an incredible spot to think of in town or city! When life looks sandy and barren, is reduced to its lowest terms, we have no appetite, and it has no flavor, then let me visit such a swamp as this, deep and impenetrable, where the earth quakes for a rod around you at every step, with its open water where the swallows skim and twitter; its meadows and cotton-grass, its dense patches of dwarf andromeda, now brownish-green, with clumps of blueberry bushes, its spruces and its verdurous border of woods imbowering it on every side. The trees now in the rain look heavy and rich all day, as commonly at twilight, drooping with the weight of wet leaves. (July 17, 1852)

When I think of the London Times and the reviews here, the Revue des Deux Mondes, and of the kind of life which is possible to live here, I perceive that this, the natural side, has not got into literature. Think of an essay on human life, through all which was heard the note of the huckleberry-bird [field sparrow, Spizella pusilla - see Internet to hear song], still ringing, as here it rings ceaselessly. As it it were the muse invoked! The Revue des Deux Mondes does not embrace this view of things, nor imply it. (July 18, 1852)

Here I am thirty-four years old, and yet my life is almost wholly unexpanded. How much is in the germ! There is such an interval between my ideal and the actual in many instances that I may say I am unborn. There is the instinct for society, but no society. Life is not long enough for one success. Within another thirty-four years that miracle can hardly take place. Methinks my seasons revolve more slowly than those of nature; I am differently timed. I am contented. This rapid revolution of nature, even of nature in me, why should it hurry me? Let a man step to the music which he hears, however measured. Is it important that I should mature as soon as an apple tree? aye, as soon as an oak? May not my life in nature, in proportion as it is supernatural, be only the spring and infantile portion of my spirit’s life? Shall I turn my spring to summer? May I not sacrifice a hasty and petty completeness here to entireness there? If my curve is large, why bend it to a smaller circle? My spirit’s unfolding observes not the pace of nature. The society which I was made for is not here. Shall I, then, substitute for the anticipation of that this poor reality? I would rather have the unmixed expectation of that than this reality. If life is a waiting, so be it. I will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality…..When formerly I was looking about to see what I could do for a living, some sad experience in conforming to the wishes of friends being fresh in my mind to tax my ingenuity, I thought often and seriously of picking huckleberries; that surely I could do, and its small profits might suffice, so little capital is required, so little distraction from my wonted thoughts, I foolishly thought. While my acquaintances went unhesitatingly into trades or the professions, I thought of this occupation as most like theirs, ranging the hills all summer to pick the berries which came in my way, which I might carelessly dispose of, so to keep the flocks of King Admetus. My greatest skill has been to want but little. I also dreamed that I might gather the wild herbs, or carry evergreens to such villagers as loved to be reminded of the woods and so find my living got. But I have since learned that trade curses everything it handles; and though you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business. (July 19, 1851)

Some are poets, some are not, – as in relation to getting a living, so in getting a wife. As their ideals of life vary, so do their ideals of love. (July 20, 1851)

Now I yearn for one of those old, meandering, dry, uninhabited roads, which lead away from towns, which lead us away from temptation, which conduct us to the outside of earth, over its uppermost crust; where you may forget in what country you are traveling; where no farmer can complain that you are treading down his grass…where you head is more in heaven than your feet are on earth…There I can walk and stalk and pace and plod…There I can walk, and recover the lost child that I am without without any ringing of a bell…(July 21, 1852)

There is a kind of low blackberry which does not bear large fruit but very dense clusters by wall-sides, shaded by the vine or other plants often, of clammy and strong-tasted berries. (July 22, 1853)

Is the literary man to live always or chiefly sitting in a chamber through which nature enters by a window only? What is the use of summer? You must walk so gently as to hear the finest sounds, the faculties being in repose. You mind must not perspire. True, out of doors my thought is commonly drowned, as it were, and shrunken, pressed down by stupendous piles of light ethereal influences, for the pressure of the atmosphere is still fifteen pounds in a square inch. I can do little more than preserved the equilibrium and resist the pressure of the atmosphere. I can only nod like the rye-heads in the breeze. I expand more surely in my chamber, as far as expression goes, as if that pressure were taken off; but here outdoors is the place to store up influences. (July 23, 1851)

The buttonbush in blossom. The tobacco-pipe in damp woods. Certain localities only a few rods square in the fields and on the hills, sometimes the other side of a wall, attract me as if they had been the scene of pleasure in another state of existence…But this habit of close observation – in Humboldt, Darwin, and others. Is it to be kept up long, this science? Do not tread on the heels of your experience. Be impressed without making a minute of it. Poetry puts and interval between the impression and the expressions, – waits till the seed germinates naturally. (July 23, 1851)

The berries of Vaccinium vacillans [V. pallidum] are very abundant and large this year at Fair Haven, where I am now. Indeed these and huckleberries and blackberries are very abundant in this part of the town. Nature does her best to feed man. The traveller need not go out of the road to get as many as he wants; every bush and vine teems with palatable fruit. Man for once stands in such relation to Nature as the animals that pluck and eat as they go. the fields and hills are a table constantly spread. Wines of all kinds and qualities, of noblest vintage, are bottled up in the skins of countless berries, for the taste of men and animals. To men they seem offered not so much for food as for sociality, that they may picnic with Nature, – diet drinks, cordials, wines. We pluck and eat in remembrance of Her. It is a sacrament, a communion. The not-forbdden fruits, which no serpent tempts us to taste. Slight and innocent savors, which relate us to Nature, make us her guests and entitle us to her regard and protection. It is a Saturnalis, and we quaff her wines at every turn. This season of berrying is so far respected that the children have a vacation to pick berries, and women and children who never visit distant hills and fields and swamps on any other errand are seen making haste thither now, with half their domestic utensils in their hands. The woodchopper goes into the swamp for fuel in the winter; his wife and children for berries in the summer. (July 24, 1853)

I have for years had a great deal of trouble with my shoe-strings, because they get untied continually.They are leather, rolled and tied in a hard know. But some days I could hardly go twenty rods before I was obliged to stop and stoop to tie my shoes. My companion and I speculated on the distance to which one typing would carry you, – the length of a shoe-tie, – and we thought it nearly as appreciable and certainly a more simple and natural measure of distance than a stadium, or league, or mile. Ever and anon we raised our feet on whatever fence or wall or rock or stump we chanced to be passing, and drew the strings once more, pulling as hard as we could. It was very vexatious, when passing through low scrubby bushes, to become conscious that the string were already getting loose again before we had fairly started. What should we have done if pursued by a tribe of Indians? My companion sometimes went without strings altogether, but that loose way of proceeding was not to be thought of by me. One shoemaker sold us shoestrings made of the hide of a South American jackass, which he recommended; or rather he gave them to us and added their price to that of the shoes we bought of him. But I could not see that these were any better than the old. I wondered if anybody had exhibited a better article at the World’s Fair, whether England did not bear the palm from America in this respect. I thought of strings with recurved prickles and various other remedies myself. At last the other day it occurred to me that I would try an experiment, and instead of tying two simple knots one over the other the same way, putting the end which fell to the right over each time, that I would reverse the process, and put it under the other. Greatly to my satisfaction, the experiment was perfectly successful, and from that time my shoestrings have given me no trouble, except sometimes in untying them at night. (July 25, 1853)

Drank up the last of my birch wine. It is an exceedingly grateful drink now, especially the aromatic, mead-like, apparently checkerberry-flavored one, which on the whole I think must be the black birch. It is a surprisingly high-flavored drink, thus easily obtained, and considering that it had so little taste at first. Perhaps it would have continued to improve. (July 26, 1856)

That the luxury of walking in the river may be perfect it must be very warm, such as are few days even in July, so that the breeze on those parts of the body that have just been immersed may not produce the least chilliness. It cannot be too warm, so that with a shirt to fen the sun from your back, you may walk with perfect indifference, or rather with equal pleasure, alternately in deep and in shallow water. Both water and air must be unusually warm; otherwise we shall feel no impulse to cast ourselves into and remain in the stream. Today is uncomfortably cool for such a walk. It is very pleasant to walk up and down the stream, however, studying the further bank, which is six or seven feet high and completely covered with verdure of various kinds. I observe grape-vines with green clusters almost fully grown hanging over the water, and hazelnut husks are fully formed and are richly, autumnally, significant. Viburnum dentate, elder, and red-stemmed cornel, all with an abundance of green berries, help clothe the bank, and the Asclepias incarnate and meadow-rue fill the crevices. Above all there is the cardinal-flower just opened, close to the water’s edge, remarkable for its intense scarlet color, contrasting with the surrounding green. (July 27, 1852)

Methinks the season culminated about the middle of this month, – that the year was of indefinite promise before, but that, after the first intense heats, we postponed the fulfillment of many of our hopes for this year, and, having as it were attained the ridge of the summer, commenced to descend the long slope toward winter, the afternoon and down-hill of the year. Last evening it was much cooler, and I heard a decided fall sound of crickets. (July 28,1854)

Most fields are so completely shorn now that the walls and fence-sides, where plants are protected, appear unusually rich. I know not what aspect the flowers would present if our fields and meadows were untouched for a year, if the mower were not permitted to swing his scythe there. No doubt some plants contended long in vain with these vandals, and at last withdrew from the contest. About these times some hundreds of men with freshly sharpened scythes make an irruption into my garden when in its rankest condition, and clip my herbs all as close as they can, and I am restricted to the rough hedges and worn-out fields which had little to attract them, to the most barren and worthless pastures. I know how some fields of johnswort and goldenrod look, left in the natural state, but not much about our richest fields and meadows…Those huckleberries near the hibiscus are remarkably glossy, fresh, and plum in the lowland, but not so sweet as some. Crossed the river there, carrying over my clothes. (July 29, 1853)

The choke-cherries (Prunus virginiana) near Hosmer’s Spring are very abundant now; the bushes, about as high as your head, and loaded with full racemes, two or three inches long, of shinning dark-red berries the size of a pea, slightly oblong or oval, but, as yet at least, very astringent, puckering the mouth for a long time. No doubt frequently mistaken at sight for the rum cherry. (July 30, 1853)

What a variety of weeds by the riverside now, in the water of the stagnant portions! Not only lilies of three kinds, but hear-leaf, Utricularia vulgarism and purpurea, all (at least except two yellow lilies) in prime. Sium in bloom, too, and Bidans beckii just begun, and Ranunculus purshii still. The more peculiar feature of Concord River are seen in these stagnant, lake-like reaches, where the pads and heart-leaf, pickerel-weed, button-bush, urtricularias, black willows, etc., abound…..For refreshment on these voyages, we are compelled to drink the warm and muddy tasted river water out of a clamshell which we keep, – so that it reminds you of a clam soup, – taking many a sup, or else leaning over the side of the boat while the other leans the other way to keep your balance, and often plunging your whole face in at that, when the boat dips or the waves run. (July 31, 1859)

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How much of beauty – of color, as well as form – on which our eyes daily rest goes unperceived by us! No one but a botanist is likely to distinguish nicely the different shades of green with which the open surface of the earth is clothed, – not even a landscape-painter if he does not know the species of sedges and grasses which paint it. With respect to the color of grass, most of those even who attend peculiarly to the aspects of Nature only observe that it is more or less dark or light, green or brown, or velvety, fresh or parched, etc. But if you are studying grasses you look for another and different beauty, and you find it in the wonderful variety of color, etc., presented by the various species. (August 1, 1860)

I am inclined now for a pensive evening walk. Methinks we think of spring mornings and autumn evenings…July has been to me a trivial month. It began hot and continued drying, then rained some toward the middle, bringing anticipation of the fall, and then was hot again about the 29th. It has been a month of haying, heat, low water, and weeds. Birds have grown up and flown more or less in small flocks, though I notice a new sparrow’s nest and eggs and perhaps a catbird’s eggs lately. The woodland quire has steadily diminished in volume…Now blueberries, huckleberries, and low blackberries are in their prime.” (August 2, 1854)

Ah, what a poor, dry compilation is the “Annual of Scientific Discovery!” I trust that observations are made during the year which are not chronicled there, – that some mortal may have caught a glimpse of Nature in some corner of the earth during the year 1851. One sentence of perennial poetry would make me forget, would atone for, volumes of mere science. The astronomer is as blind to the significant phenomena, or the significance of phenomena, as the wood-sawyer who wears glasses to defend his eyes from sawdust. The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” (August 5, 1851)

Neglected gardens are full of fleabane now, not yet in blossom. Thoroughwort has opened, and goldenrod is gradually opening. The smooth sumac shows its red fruit. The berries of the bristly aralia are turning dark. The wild holly’s scarlet fruit is seen and the red cherry (Cerasus). After how few steps, how little exertion, the student stands in pine woods above the Solomon’s-seal and the cow-wheat, in a place still unaccountably strange and wild to him, and to all civilization! This so easy and so common, though our literature implies that it is rare! We in the country make no report of the seals and sharks in our neighborhood to those in the city. We send them only our huckleberries, not free wild thoughts. (August 6, 1851)

We live, as it were, within the calyx of a flower. (August 6, 1852)

I think that within a week I have heard the alder cricket, – a clearer and shriller sound from the leaves in low grounds, a clear shrilling out of a cool moist shade, an autumnal sound. The year is in the grasp of the crickets, and they are hurtling it round swiftly on its axle.” (August 7, 1853)

Men have, perchance, detected every kind of flower that grows in this township, have pursued it with children’s eyes into the thickest and darkest woods and swamps, where the painter’s color has betrayed it. Have they with proportionate thoroughness plucked every flower of thought which it is possible for a man to entertain, proved every sentiment which it is possible for a man to experience, here? Men have circumnavigated this globe of land and water, but how few have sailed out of sight of common sense over the ocean of knowledge?… The entertaining of a single thought of a certain elevation makes all men of one religion….Methinks I can be as intimate with the essence of an ancient worthy as, so to speak, he was with himself. (August 8, 1852)

I plucked a great toadstool today, nine inches in diameter and five high, with a stem like the bole of an oak, swelling above and below, and at the smallest one and a half inches in diameter; its top slightly curving like a great election cake. (August 9, 1853)

I see many tobacco-pipes, now perhaps in their prime, if not a little late, and hear of pine-sap. The Indian-pipe, though coming with the fungi and suggesting, no doubt, a close relation to them, – a sort of connecting link between flowers and fungi, – is a very interesting flower, and will bear close inspection when fresh. The whole plant has a sweetish, earthy odor…I see them now on the leafy floor of this oak wood, in families of twelve to thirty sisters of various heights, – from two to eight inches, – as close together as they can stand, the youngest standing close up to the others, all with faces yet modestly turned downwards under their long hoods…Springing up in the shade with so little color, they look like the more fragile and delicate. They have very delicate pinkish half-naked stems with a few semitransparent crystalline-white scales for leaves, and from the sinuses at the base of the petals without (when their heads are drooping) more or less dark purple is reflected, like the purple of the arteries seen on a nude body. (August 10, 1858)

I see some naked viburnum berries red and some purple now.There are berries which men do not use, like choke-berries, which here in Hubbard’s Swamp grow in great profusion and blacken the bushes. How much richer we feel for this unused abundance and superfluity! Nature would not appear so rich, the profusion so rich, if we knew a use for everything. (August 11, 1853)

I perceive that some high blueberries have a peculiar and decided bitter taste, which them almost inedible. Some of the blueberries growing sparingly on recent sprouts are very large. I eat the blueberry, but I am also interested in the rich-looking glossy black chokeberries which nobody eats, but which bend down the bushes on every side, – sweetish berries with a dry, and so choking, taste. Some of the bushes are more than a dozen feet high. (August 12, 1858)

I remember only with a pang the past spring and summer thus far. I have not been an early riser. Society seems to have invaded and overrun me. I have drunk tea and coffee and made myself cheap and vulgar. My days have all been noontides, without sacred mornings and evenings. I desire to rise early henceforth, to associate with those whose influence is elevating, to have such dreams and waking thoughts that my diet may not be indifferent to me. (August 13,1854)

In the low woodland paths fills of rank weeds, there are countless great fungi of various forms and colors, the produce of the warm rains and muggy weather of a week ago, now rapidly dissolving. One great one, more than a foot in diameter, with a stem 2 1/2 + inches through and 5 inches high, and which has sprung up since I passed here on the 10th, is already sinking like lead into that portion already melted. The ground is covered with foul spots where they have dissolved, and for most of my walk the air is tainted with a musty, carrion-like odor, in some places very offensive, so that I at first suspected a dead horse or cow. They impress me like humors or pimples on the face of the earth, toddy-blossoms by which it gets rid of its corrupt blood. A sort of excrement they are. It never occurred to me before today that those different forms belong to one species. (August 14, 1853)

May I love and revere myself above all the gods that men have ever invented. May I never let the vestal fire go out in my recesses. (August 15, 1851)

My plants in press are in a sad condition; mildew has invaded them during the late damp weather, even those that were nearly dry…very bad weather of late for pressing plants. (Aug. 16, 1856)

Perceived today and some weeks since (August 3d) the strong invigorating aroma of green walnuts, astringent and bracing to the spirits, the fancy and imagination, suggesting a tree that has its roots well in amid the bowels of nature. Their shells are, in fact and from association, exhilarating to smell, suggesting a strong,nutty native vigor. A fruit which I am glad that our zone produces, looking like the nutmeg of the East. I acquire some of the hardness and elasticity of the hickory when I smell them. They are among our spices. High-scented, aromatic, as you bruise one against another in our hand, almost like nutmegs, only more bracing and northern. Fragrant stones which the trees bear. (August 18, 1852)

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live! Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow, as if I had given vent to the stream at the lower end and consequently new fountains flowed into it at the upper. A thousand rills which have their rise in the sources of thought burst forth and fertilize my brain. (August 19, 1851)

How copious and precise the botanical language to describe the leaves, as well as the other parts of a plant! Botany is worth studying if only for the precision of its terms, – to learn the value of words and of system. It is wonderful how much pains has been taken to describe a flower’s leaf, compared for instance with the care that is taken in describing a psychological fact. Suppose as much ingenuity (perhaps it would be needless) in making a language to express the sentiments! We are armed with language adequate to describe each leaf in the field, or at least to distinguish it from each other, but not to describe a human character. With equally wonderful indistinctness and confusion we describe men.The precision and copiousness of botanical language applied to the description of moral qualities! (August 20, 1851)

Weeds in potato-fields are now very rank. What should we come to if the season were longer, and the reins were given to vegetation? Those savages that do not wither before the glance of civilization, that are waiting their turn to be cultivated, preparing a granary for the birds. (August 21, 1852)

When I used to pick the berries for dinner on the East Quarter hills I did not eat one till I had done, for going a-berrying implies more things than eating the berries. They at home got only the pudding. I got the forenoon out of doors, and the appetite for the pudding. (Aug. 22, 1860)

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of each. Let them be your only diet drink and botanical medicines. In August live on berries, not dried meats and pemmican, as if you were on shipboard making your way through a waste ocean, or in a northern desert. Be blown on by all the winds. Open all your pores and breathe in all the tides of nature in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons. (Aug. 23, 1852)

 Channing, thinking of walks and life in the country, says, ‘you don’t want to discover anything new, but to discover something old,’ i.e., be reminded that such things still are. (Aug. 23, 1858)
How far can we be apart and yet attract each other? There is one who almost wholly misunderstands me and whom I too probably misunderstand, toward whom, nevertheless, I am distinctly drawn. I have the utmost human good-will toward that one, and yet I know not what mistrust keeps us asunder. I am so much and so exclusively the friend of my friend’s virtue that I am compelled to be silent for the most part, because his vice is present. I am made dumb by this third party. I only desire sincere relations with the worthiest of my acquaintance, that they may give me an opportunity once in a year to speak the truth. They invite me to see them, and do not show themselves. Who are they, pray? I pine and starve near them….Like cuttlefish we conceal ourselves, we darken the atmosphere in which we move; we are not transparent. I pine for one to whom I can speak my first thoughts; thoughts which represent me truly, which are no better and no worse than I; thoughts which have the bloom on them, which alone can be sacred and divine. Our sin and shame prevent our expressing even the innocent thoughts we have. I know of no one to whom I can be transparent instinctively. I live the life of the cuttlefish; another appears, and the element in which I move is tinged and I am concealed. (August 24, 1852)
The farmers commonly say that the spring floods, being of cold water, do not injure the grass like later ones when the water is warm, but I suspect it is not so much owing to the warmth of the water as to the age and condition of the grass and whatever else is exposed to them. They say that if you let the water rise and stand some time over the roots of trees in warm weather it will kill them. This, then, may be the value of these occasional freshets in August: they steam and kill the shrubs and trees which had crept into the river meadows, and so keep them open perpetually, which, perchance, the spring floods alone might not do. (August 25, 1856)
That first frost on the 17th was the first stroke of winter aiming at the scalp of summer. Like a stealthy and insidious aboriginal enemy, it made its assault just before daylight in some deep and far-away hollow and then silently withdrew. Few have seen the drooping plants, but the news of this stroke circulates rapidly through the village. Men communicate it with a tone of warning. The foe is gone by sunrise, but some fearful neighbors who have visited their potato and cranberry patches report this stroke. The implacable and irresistible foe to all this tender greenness is not far off, nor can we be sure, any month in the year, that some scout from his low camp may not strike down the tenderest of the children of summer. The earliest and latest frosts are not distinguishable. This foe will go on steadily increasing in strength and boldness, till his white camps will be pitched over all the fields, and we shall be compelled to take refuge in our strongholds, with some of summer’s withered spoiled stored up in barns, maintaining ourselves and our herds on the seeds and roots and withered grass which we have embarked. Men in anticipation of this time have been busily collecting and curing the green blades all the country over, while they have still some nutriment in them. Cattle and horses have been dragging homeward their winter’s food. (August 26, 1859)
All our life, i.e., the living part of it, is a persistent dreaming awake. The boy does not camp in his father’s yard. That  would not be adventurous enough, there are too many sights and sounds to disturb the illusion; so he marches off twenty or thirty miles and there pitches his tent, where stranger inhabitants are tamely sleeping in their beds just like his father at home, and camps in their yard, perchance. But there he dreams uninterruptedly that he is anywhere but where he is. (August 27, 1859)
June, July, and August, the tortoise eggs are hatching a few inches beneath the surface in sandy fields. You tell of active labors, of works of art, and wars the past summer; meanwhile the tortoise eggs underlie this turmoil. What events have transpired on the lit and airy surface three inches above them!…How many worthy men have died and had their funeral sermons preached since I saw the mother turtle bury her eggs here! They contained an undeveloped liquid then, they are now turtles. June, July, and August – the livelong summer – what are they with their heats and fevers but sufficient to hatch a tortoise in. Be not in haste; mind your private affairs. Consider the turtle. A whole summer – June, July, and August – is not too good nor too much to hatch a turtle in. Perchance you have worried yourself, despaired of the world, meditated the end of life, and all things seemed rushing to destruction; but nature has steadily and serenely advanced with a turtle’s pace. The young turtle spends its infancy within its shell. It gets experience and learns the ways of the world through that wall. While it rests warily on the edge of its hole, rash schemes are undertaken by men and fail. Has not the tortoise also learned the true value of time? You go to India and back, and the turtle eggs in your field are still unhatched. French empires rise or fall, but the turtle is developed only so fast. What’s a summer? Time for a turtle’s egg to hatch. So is the turtle developed, fitted to endure, for he outlives twenty French dynasties. One turtle knows several Napoleons. They have seen no berries, had no cares, yet has not the great world existed for them as much as for you? (August 28, 1856)
We boast that we belong to the Nineteenth Century, and are making the most rapid strides of any nation. But consider how little this village does for its own culture. We have a comparatively decent system of common schools, schools for infants only, as it were, but, excepting the half-starved Lyceum in the winter, no school for ourselves. It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men. Comparatively few of my townsmen evince any interest in their own culture, however much they may boast of the school tax they pay. It is time that villages were universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows, with leisure – if they are indeed so well off – to pursue liberal studies as long as they live. (August 29, 1852)
I have come out this afternoon a-cranberrying, chiefly to gather some of the small cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccus, which Emerson says is the common cranberry of the north of Europe. This was a small object, yet not to be postponed, on account of imminent frosts, i.e.,if I would know this year the flavor of the European cranberry as compared with our larger kind. I thought I should like to have a dish of this sauce on the table at Thanksgiving of my own gathering. I could hardly make up my mind to come this way, it seemed so poor an object to spend the afternoon on. I kept foreseeing a lame conclusion  - how should I cross the Great Fields, look into Beck Stow’s, and then retrace my steps no richer than before. In fact, I expected little of this walk, yet it did pass through the side of my mind that somehow, on this very account (my small expectation), it would turn out well, as also the advantage of having some purpose, however small, to be accomplished, – of letting your deliberate wisdom and foresight in the house to some extent direct and control your steps. If you would really take a position outside the street and daily life of men, you must have deliberately planned your course, you must have business which is not your neighbors’ business, which they cannot understand. For only absorbing employment prevails, succeeds, takes up space, occupies territory, determines the future of individuals and states, drives Kansas out of your head, and actually and permanently occupies the only desirable and free Kansas against all border ruffians. The attitude of resistance is one of weakness, inasmuch as it only faces an enemy; it has its back to all that is truly attractive. You shall have your affairs, I will have mine. You will spend this afternoon in setting up your neighbor’s stove, and be paid for it; I will spend it in gathering the few berries of the Vaccinium oxycoccus which Nature produces here, before it is too late, and be paid for it also after another fashion. (August 30, 1856)
At Flint’s Pond I waded along the edge eight or ten rods to the wharf rock, carrying my shoes and stockings. Was surprised to see on the bottom and washing up on to the shore many little farinaceous roots or tubers like very small potatoes, in strings. I saw these at every step for more than a dozen rods and thought they must have been washed up from deeper waters. Examining very closely, I traced one long string through the sandy soil to the root of a ground-nut which grew on the edge of the bank, and afterwards saw many more, whose tuberous roots lying in the sand were washed bare, the pond being unusually high. I could have gathered quarts of them. I picked up one string floating loose, about eighteen inches long, with as usual a little greenness and vitality at one end, which had thirteen nuts on it about the size of a walnut or smaller. I never saw so many ground-nuts before, and this made on me the impression of an unusual fertility. (August 31, 1857)



November 1,1858: “It was as if I was promised the greatest novelty the world has ever seen or shall see, though the utmost possible novelty would be the difference between me and myself a year ago. This alone encouraged me, and was my fuel for the approaching winter. That we may behold the panorama with this slight improvement or change, this is what we sustain life for with so much effort from year to year. And yet there is no more tempting novelty than this new November. No going to Europe or another world is to be named with it. Give me the old familiar walk, post-office and all, with this ever new self, with this infinite expectation and faith, which does not know when it is beaten. We’ll go nutting once more. We’ll pluck the nut of the world, and crack it in the winter evenings. Theaters and all other sightseeing are puppet-shows in comparison. I will take another walk to the Cliff, another row on the river, another skate on the meadow, be in the first snow, and associate with the winter birds. Here I am at home. In the bare and bleached crust of the earth I recognize my friend”

November 1,1858: “We are not wont to see our dooryard as a part of the earth’s surface. The gardener does not perceive that some ridge or mound in his garden or lawn is related to yonder hill, or the still more distant mountain in the horizon is, perchance, a humble spur of the last. We are wont to look on the earth still as a sort of chaos, formless and lumpish.

November 2, 1853: “Among the buds, etc., etc., to be noticed now, remember the alder and birch catkins, so large and conspicuous, – on the alder, pretty red catkins dangling in bunches of three or four, – the minute red buds of the panicled Andromeda,the roundish plump ones of the common hazel, the longish sharp ones of the witch-hazel, etc.”

November 3, 1853: “Now is the time to observe the radical leaves of many plants, which put forth with springlike vigor and are so unlike the others with which we are familiar that it is sometimes difficult to identify them. What is that large circular green and reddish one, flat in the grass of upland which I have seen for a fortnight? (It is the great primrose.)…..I love to see a man occasionally from whom the usnea will hang as naturally as from a spruce.”

November 4, 1852: “Must be out-of-doors enough to get experience of wholesome reality, as a ballast to thought and sentiment. Health requires this relaxation, this aimless life. This life in the present. Let a man have thought what he will of Nature in the house, she will still be novel outdoors. I keep out of doors for the sake of the mineral, vegetable, and animal in me.” November 1,1858: “It was as if I was promised the greatest novelty the world has ever seen or shall see, though the utmost possible novelty would be the difference between me and myself a year ago. This alone encouraged me, and was my fuel for the approaching winter. That we may behold the panorama with this slight improvement or change, this is what we sustain life for with so much effort from year to year. And yet there is no more tempting novelty than this new November. No going to Europe or another world is to be named with it. Give me the old familiar walk, post-office and all, with this ever new self, with this infinite expectation and faith, which does not know when it is beaten. We’ll go nutting once more. We’ll pluck the nut of the world, and crack it in the winter evenings. Theaters and all other sightseeing are puppet-shows in comparison. I will take another walk to the Cliff, another row on the river, another skate on the meadow, be in the first snow, and associate with the winter birds. Here I am at home. In the bare and bleached crust of the earth I recognize my friend”

November 5, 1855: “I hate the present modes of living and getting a living. Farming and shop-keeping and working at a trade or profession are all odious to me. I should relish getting my living in a simple, primitive fashion. The life which society proposes to me to live is so artificial and complex – bolstered up on many weak supports, and sure to topple down at last – that no man surely can ever be inspired to live it, and only ‘old fogies’ ever praise it. At best some think it their duty to live it. I believe in the infinite joy and satisfaction of helping myself and others to the extent of my ability. But what is the use in trying to live simply, raising what you eat,  making what you wear, building what you inhabit, burning what you cut or dig, when those to whom you are allied insanely want and will have a thousand other things which neither you nor they can raise and nobody else, perchance, will pay for? The fellow-man to whom you are yoked is a steer that is ever bolting right the other way… invite the devil in at every angle and then prate about the garden of Eden and the fall of man….I know many children to whom I would fain make a present on some one of their birthdays, but they are so far gone in the luxury of presents – have such perfect museums of costly ones – that it would absorb my entire earnings for a year to buy them something which would not be beneath their notice.”

November 6, 1853: “It is remarkable how little we attend to what is passing before us constantly, unless our genius directs our attention that way. There are these little sparrows with white in tail, perhaps the prevailing bird of late, which have flitted before me so many falls and springs, and yet they have been as it were strangers to me, and I have not inquired whence they came or whither they were going, or what their habits were. It is surprising how little most of us are contented to know about the sparrows which drift about in the air before us just before the first snows.”

November 7, 1858: “My apple harvest! It is to glean after the husbandman and the cows, or to gather the crop of those wild trees far away on the edges of swamps which have escaped their notice. Now, when it is generally all fallen, if indeed any is left, though you would not suppose there were any on the first survey, nevertheless with experienced eyes I explore amid the clumps of alder (now bare) and in the crevices of the rocks full of leaves, and prying under the fallen and decaying ferns which, with apple and alder leaves, thickly strew the ground. From amid the leaves anywhere within the circumference of the tree, I draw forth the fruit, all wet and glossy, nibbled by rabbits and hollowed out by crickets, but still with the bloom on it and at least as ripe and well kept, if not better than those in barrels, while those which lay exposed are quite brown and rotten. Showing only a blooming cheek here and there between the wet leaves, or fallen into hollows long since and covered up with the leaves of the tree, – a proper kind of packing. I fill my pockets on each side, and as I retrace my steps, I eat one first from this side, and then from that, in order to preserve my balance. And here and there is one lodged as it fell between the bases of the suckers which spring thickly from a horizontal limb. In the midst of an alder clump, covered by leaves, there it lies, safe from cows which might smell it out and unobserved by the husbandman; reserved for me”

November 8, 1851: “Ah, those sun-sparkles on Dudley Pond  in this November air! What a heaven to live in! Intensely brilliant, as no artificial light I have seen, like a dance of diamonds. Coarse manes of a diamond dance seen through the trees. All objects shine today, even the sportsmen seen at a distance, as if a cavern were unroofed, and its crystals gave entertainment to the sun. This great see-saw of brilliants, the ‘anerithmon gelasma’*. You look several inches into the sod. The cedarn hills. The squirrels that run across the road sport their tails like banners. The gray squirrels in their cylinders are set out in the sun. When I saw the bare sand at Cochituate I felt my relation to the soil. These are my sands not yet run out. Not yet will the fates turn the glass. This air have I title to taint with my decay. In this clean sand my bones will gladly lie. Like Viola pedata [birdfoot violet], I shall be ready to bloom again here in my Indian summer days. Here every springing, never dying, with perennial root I stand; for the winter of the land is warm to me. While the flowers bloom again as in the spring, shall I pine? When I see her sands exposed, thrown up from beneath the surface, it touches me inwardly, it reminds me of my origin; for I am such a plant, so native to New England, methinks, as springs from the sand cast up from below……W.E.C. [William Ellery Channing] says he found a ripe strawberry last week in Berkshire.”

* “anerithmon gelasma” : Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound,” line 90: a quote expressing a superlative, the laughter of the sparkling sun reflecting off endlessly crashing ocean waves.

November 9, 1851: “Facts should only be as the frame to my pictures; they should be material to the mythology which I am writing; not facts to assist men to make money, farmers to farm profitably, in any common sense; facts to tell who I am, and where I have been or what I have thought; as now the bell rings for evening meeting, and its volumes of sound, like smoke which rises from where a cannon is fired, make the tent in which I dwell. My facts shall be falsehoods to the common sense. I would so state facts that they shall be significant, shall be myths or mythologic. Facts which the mind perceived, thought which the body thought, – with these I deal. I, too, cherish vague and misty forms, vaguest when the cloud of which I gaze is dissipated quite and naught but the skyey depths are seen…..Now the leaves are gone the birds’ nests are revealed, the brood being fledged and flown. There is a perfect adaptation in the material used in constructing a nest. There is one which I took from a maple on the causeway at Hubbard’s Bridge. It is fastened to the twigs by white woolen strings (out of a shawl?), which it has picked up in the road, though it is more than half a mile from a house; and the sharp eyes of the bird have discovered plenty of horsehairs out of the tail or mane, with which to give it form by their spring; with fine meadow hay for body, and the reddish woolly material which invests the ferns in the spring (apparently) for lining.” November 1,1858: “We are not wont to see our dooryard as a part of the earth’s surface. The gardener does not perceive that some ridge or mound in his garden or lawn is related to yonder hill, or the still more distant mountain in the horizon is, perchance, a humble spur of the last. We are wont to look on the earth still as a sort of chaos, formless and lumpish.

November 10, 1860: “How little is on an ordinary map! How little, I mean, that concerns the walker and the lover of nature. Between these lines indicating roads is a plain blank space in the form of a square or triangle or polygon or segment of a circle, and there is naught to distinguish this from another area of similar size and form. Yet the one may be covered, in fact, with a primitive oak wood, like that of Boxboro, waving and creaking in the wind, while the other is a stretching plain with scarcely a tree on it. The waving woods, the dells and glades and green banks and smiling fields, the huge boulders, etc., etc., are not on the map, nor to be inferred from the map. That grand old oak wood is just the most remarkable and memorable thing in Boxboro, and yet if there is a history of this town written anywhere, the history or even mention of this is probably altogether omitted, while that of the first (and my be last) parish is enlarged on. What sort of cultivation, or civilization and improvement, is ours to boast of, if it turns out that, as in this instance, unhandselled nature is worth more even by our modes of valuation than our improvements are, – if we leave the land poorer than we found it? Is it good economy, to try it by the lowest standards, to cut down all our forests, if a forest will pay into the town treasury a greater tax than the farms which may supplant it, – if the oaks by steadily growing according to their nature leave our improvements in the rear? How little we insist on truly grand and beautiful natural features! How many have ever heard of the Boxboro oak wood? How many have ever explored them? I have lived so long in this neighborhood and but just heard of this noble forest, – probably as fine an oak wood as thee is in New England, only eight miles west of me.”

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My first botany, as I remember, was Bigelow’s “Plants of Boston and Vicinity,” which I began to use about twenty years ago, looking chiefly for the popular names and the short references to the localities of plants, even without regard to the plant. I also learned the names of many, but without using any system, and forgot them soon. I was not inclined to pluck flowers; preferred to leave them where they were, liked them best there. I was never in the least interested in plants in the house. But from year to year we look at Nature with new eyes. About half a dozen years ago I found myself again attending to plants with more method,looking out the name of each one and remembering it. I began to bring them home in my hat, a straw one with a scaffold lining to it, which I called my botany-box. I never used any other, and when some whom I visited were evidently surprised at its dilapidated look, as I deposited it on their front entry table, I assured them it was not so much my hat as my botany-box. I remember gazing with interest at the swamps about those days and wondering if I could ever attain to such familiarity with plants that I should know the species of every twig and leaf in them, that I should be acquainted with every plant (excepting grasses and cryptogamous ones), summer and winter, that I saw. Though I knew most of the flowers, and there were not in any particular swamp more than half a dozen shrubs that I did not know, yet these made it seem like a maze to me, of a thousand strange species, and I even thought of commencing at one end and looking it faithfully and laboriously through till I knew it all. I little thought that in a year or two I should have attained to that knowledge without all that labor. Still I never studied botany, and do not today systematically, the most natural system is still so artificial. [Dec. 4, 1856]

We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day. We must make root, send out some little fibre at least, even every winter day. I am sensible that I am imbibing health when I open my mouth to the wind. Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity always. Every house is in this sense a hospital. A night and a forenoon is as much confinement to those wards as I can stand. I am aware that I recover some sanity which I had lost almost the instant that I come abroad. [Dec. 29, 1856]

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What you can recall of a walk on the second day will differ from what you remember on the first day, as the mountain chain differs in appearance, looking back the next day, from the aspect it wore when you were at its base, or generally, as any view changes to one who is journeying amid mountains when he has increased the distance. (Jan. 10, 1854)

Perhaps this is the main value of a habit of writing, of keeping a journal, – that so we remember our best hours and stimulate ourselves. (Jan. 22, 1852)

What is a winter unless you have risen and gone abroad frequently before sunrise and by starlight? (Jan. 23, 1854)

What a rich book might be made about buds, including, perhaps, sprouts! – the impregnable, vivacious willow catkins, but half asleep under the armor of their black scales, sleeping along the twigs; the birch and oak sprouts, and the rank and lusty dogwood sprouts; the round red buds of the blueberries; the small, pointed red buds, close to the twig, of the panicled andromeda; the large yellowish buds of the swamp-pink, etc. How healthy and vivacious must he be who would treat of these things. (Jan. 25, 1858}

In keeping a journal of one’s walks and thoughts it seems to be worth while to record those phenomena which are most interesting to us at the time. Such is the weather. It makes a material difference whether it is foul or fair, affecting surely our mood and thoughts. (Jan. 25, 1860)

When you think that your walk is profitless and a failure, and you can hardly persuade yourself not to return, it is on the point of being a success, for then you are in that subdued and knocking mood to which Nature never fails to open. (Jan. 27, 1860)


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