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Chapter 17


SPRING

    The opening of large tracts by the ice-cutters commonly causes a
pond to break up earlier; for the water, agitated by the wind, even
in cold weather, wears away the surrounding ice.  But such was not
the effect on Walden that year, for she had soon got a thick new
garment to take the place of the old.  This pond never breaks up so
soon as the others in this neighborhood, on account both of its
greater depth and its having no stream passing through it to melt or
wear away the ice.  I never knew it to open in the course of a
winter, not excepting that of '52-3, which gave the ponds so severe
a trial.  It commonly opens about the first of April, a week or ten
days later than Flint's Pond and Fair Haven, beginning to melt on
the north side and in the shallower parts where it began to freeze.
It indicates better than any water hereabouts the absolute progress
of the season, being least affected by transient changes of
temperature.  A severe cold of a few days duration in March may very
much retard the opening of the former ponds, while the temperature
of Walden increases almost uninterruptedly.  A thermometer thrust
into the middle of Walden on the 6th of March, 1847, stood at 32x,
or freezing point; near the shore at 33x; in the middle of Flint's
Pond, the same day, at 32+x; at a dozen rods from the shore, in
shallow water, under ice a foot thick, at 36x.  This difference of
three and a half degrees between the temperature of the deep water
and the shallow in the latter pond, and the fact that a great
proportion of it is comparatively shallow, show why it should break
up so much sooner than Walden.  The ice in the shallowest part was
at this time several inches thinner than in the middle.  In
midwinter the middle had been the warmest and the ice thinnest
there.  So, also, every one who has waded about the shores of the
pond in summer must have perceived how much warmer the water is
close to the shore, where only three or four inches deep, than a
little distance out, and on the surface where it is deep, than near
the bottom.  In spring the sun not only exerts an influence through
the increased temperature of the air and earth, but its heat passes
through ice a foot or more thick, and is reflected from the bottom
in shallow water, and so also warms the water and melts the under
side of the ice, at the same time that it is melting it more
directly above, making it uneven, and causing the air bubbles which
it contains to extend themselves upward and downward until it is
completely honeycombed, and at last disappears suddenly in a single
spring rain.  Ice has its grain as well as wood, and when a cake
begins to rot or "comb," that is, assume the appearance of
honeycomb, whatever may be its position, the air cells are at right
angles with what was the water surface.  Where there is a rock or a
log rising near to the surface the ice over it is much thinner, and
is frequently quite dissolved by this reflected heat; and I have
been told that in the experiment at Cambridge to freeze water in a
shallow wooden pond, though the cold air circulated underneath, and
so had access to both sides, the reflection of the sun from the
bottom more than counterbalanced this advantage.  When a warm rain
in the middle of the winter melts off the snow-ice from Walden, and
leaves a hard dark or transparent ice on the middle, there will be a
strip of rotten though thicker white ice, a rod or more wide, about
the shores, created by this reflected heat.  Also, as I have said,
the bubbles themselves within the ice operate as burning-glasses to
melt the ice beneath.
    The phenomena of the year take place every day in a pond on a
small scale.  Every morning, generally speaking, the shallow water
is being warmed more rapidly than the deep, though it may not be
made so warm after all, and every evening it is being cooled more
rapidly until the morning.  The day is an epitome of the year.  The
night is the winter, the morning and evening are the spring and
fall, and the noon is the summer.  The cracking and booming of the
ice indicate a change of temperature.  One pleasant morning after a
cold night, February 24th, 1850, having gone to Flint's Pond to
spend the day, I noticed with surprise, that when I struck the ice
with the head of my axe, it resounded like a gong for many rods
around, or as if I had struck on a tight drum-head.  The pond began
to boom about an hour after sunrise, when it felt the influence of
the sun's rays slanted upon it from over the hills; it stretched
itself and yawned like a waking man with a gradually increasing
tumult, which was kept up three or four hours.  It took a short
siesta at noon, and boomed once more toward night, as the sun was
withdrawing his influence.  In the right stage of the weather a pond
fires its evening gun with great regularity.  But in the middle of
the day, being full of cracks, and the air also being less elastic,
it had completely lost its resonance, and probably fishes and
muskrats could not then have been stunned by a blow on it.  The
fishermen say that the "thundering of the pond" scares the fishes
and prevents their biting.  The pond does not thunder every evening,
and I cannot tell surely when to expect its thundering; but though I
may perceive no difference in the weather, it does.  Who would have
suspected so large and cold and thick-skinned a thing to be so
sensitive?  Yet it has its law to which it thunders obedience when
it should as surely as the buds expand in the spring.  The earth is
all alive and covered with papillae.  The largest pond is as
sensitive to atmospheric changes as the globule of mercury in its
tube.
    One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should
have leisure and opportunity to see the Spring come in.  The ice in
the pond at length begins to be honeycombed, and I can set my heel
in it as I walk.  Fogs and rains and warmer suns are gradually
melting the snow; the days have grown sensibly longer; and I see how
I shall get through the winter without adding to my wood-pile, for
large fires are no longer necessary.  I am on the alert for the
first signs of spring, to hear the chance note of some arriving
bird, or the striped squirrel's chirp, for his stores must be now
nearly exhausted, or see the woodchuck venture out of his winter
quarters.  On the 13th of March, after I had heard the bluebird,
song sparrow, and red-wing, the ice was still nearly a foot thick.
As the weather grew warmer it was not sensibly worn away by the
water, nor broken up and floated off as in rivers, but, though it
was completely melted for half a rod in width about the shore, the
middle was merely honeycombed and saturated with water, so that you
could put your foot through it when six inches thick; but by the
next day evening, perhaps, after a warm rain followed by fog, it
would have wholly disappeared, all gone off with the fog, spirited
away.  One year I went across the middle only five days before it
disappeared entirely.  In 1845 Walden was first completely open on
the 1st of April; in '46, the 25th of March; in '47, the 8th of
April; in '51, the 28th of March; in '52, the 18th of April; in '53,
the 23d of March; in '54, about the 7th of April.
    Every incident connected with the breaking up of the rivers and
ponds and the settling of the weather is particularly interesting to
us who live in a climate of so great extremes.  When the warmer days
come, they who dwell near the river hear the ice crack at night with
a startling whoop as loud as artillery, as if its icy fetters were
rent from end to end, and within a few days see it rapidly going
out.  So the alligator comes out of the mud with quakings of the
earth.  One old man, who has been a close observer of Nature, and
seems as thoroughly wise in regard to all her operations as if she
had been put upon the stocks when he was a boy, and he had helped to
lay her keel -- who has come to his growth, and can hardly acquire
more of natural lore if he should live to the age of Methuselah --
told me -- and I was surprised to hear him express wonder at any of
Nature's operations, for I thought that there were no secrets
between them -- that one spring day he took his gun and boat, and
thought that he would have a little sport with the ducks.  There was
ice still on the meadows, but it was all gone out of the river, and
he dropped down without obstruction from Sudbury, where he lived, to
Fair Haven Pond, which he found, unexpectedly, covered for the most
part with a firm field of ice.  It was a warm day, and he was
surprised to see so great a body of ice remaining.  Not seeing any
ducks, he hid his boat on the north or back side of an island in the
pond, and then concealed himself in the bushes on the south side, to
await them.  The ice was melted for three or four rods from the
shore, and there was a smooth and warm sheet of water, with a muddy
bottom, such as the ducks love, within, and he thought it likely
that some would be along pretty soon.  After he had lain still there
about an hour he heard a low and seemingly very distant sound, but
singularly grand and impressive, unlike anything he had ever heard,
gradually swelling and increasing as if it would have a universal
and memorable ending, a sullen rush and roar, which seemed to him
all at once like the sound of a vast body of fowl coming in to
settle there, and, seizing his gun, he started up in haste and
excited; but he found, to his surprise, that the whole body of the
ice had started while he lay there, and drifted in to the shore, and
the sound he had heard was made by its edge grating on the shore --
at first gently nibbled and crumbled off, but at length heaving up
and scattering its wrecks along the island to a considerable height
before it came to a standstill.
    At length the sun's rays have attained the right angle, and warm
winds blow up mist and rain and melt the snowbanks, and the sun,
dispersing the mist, smiles on a checkered landscape of russet and
white smoking with incense, through which the traveller picks his
way from islet to islet, cheered by the music of a thousand tinkling
rills and rivulets whose veins are filled with the blood of winter
which they are bearing off.
    Few phenomena gave me more delight than to observe the forms
which thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the sides of a
deep cut on the railroad through which I passed on my way to the
village, a phenomenon not very common on so large a scale, though
the number of freshly exposed banks of the right material must have
been greatly multiplied since railroads were invented.  The material
was sand of every degree of fineness and of various rich colors,
commonly mixed with a little clay.  When the frost comes out in the
spring, and even in a thawing day in the winter, the sand begins to
flow down the slopes like lava, sometimes bursting out through the
snow and overflowing it where no sand was to be seen before.
Innumerable little streams overlap and interlace one with another,
exhibiting a sort of hybrid product, which obeys half way the law of
currents, and half way that of vegetation.  As it flows it takes the
forms of sappy leaves or vines, making heaps of pulpy sprays a foot
or more in depth, and resembling, as you look down on them, the
laciniated, lobed, and imbricated thalluses of some lichens; or you
are reminded of coral, of leopard's paws or birds' feet, of brains
or lungs or bowels, and excrements of all kinds.  It is a truly
grotesque vegetation, whose forms and color we see imitated in
bronze, a sort of architectural foliage more ancient and typical
than acanthus, chiccory, ivy, vine, or any vegetable leaves;
destined perhaps, under some circumstances, to become a puzzle to
future geologists.  The whole cut impressed me as if it were a cave
with its stalactites laid open to the light.  The various shades of
the sand are singularly rich and agreeable, embracing the different
iron colors, brown, gray, yellowish, and reddish.  When the flowing
mass reaches the drain at the foot of the bank it spreads out
flatter into strands, the separate streams losing their
semi-cylindrical form and gradually becoming more flat and broad,
running together as they are more moist, till they form an almost
flat sand, still variously and beautifully shaded, but in which you
can trace the original forms of vegetation; till at length, in the
water itself, they are converted into banks, like those formed off
the mouths of rivers, and the forms of vegetation are lost in the
ripple marks on the bottom.
    The whole bank, which is from twenty to forty feet high, is
sometimes overlaid with a mass of this kind of foliage, or sandy
rupture, for a quarter of a mile on one or both sides, the produce
of one spring day.  What makes this sand foliage remarkable is its
springing into existence thus suddenly.  When I see on the one side
the inert bank -- for the sun acts on one side first -- and on the
other this luxuriant foliage, the creation of an hour, I am affected
as if in a peculiar sense I stood in the laboratory of the Artist
who made the world and me -- had come to where he was still at work,
sporting on this bank, and with excess of energy strewing his fresh
designs about.  I feel as if I were nearer to the vitals of the
globe, for this sandy overflow is something such a foliaceous mass
as the vitals of the animal body.  You find thus in the very sands
an anticipation of the vegetable leaf.  No wonder that the earth
expresses itself outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea
inwardly.  The atoms have already learned this law, and are pregnant
by it.  The overhanging leaf sees here its prototype.  Internally,
whether in the globe or animal body, it is a moist thick lobe, a
word especially applicable to the liver and lungs and the leaves of
fat (jnai, labor, lapsus, to flow or slip downward, a lapsing;
jiais, globus, lobe, globe; also lap, flap, and many other words);
externally a dry thin leaf, even as the f and v are a pressed and
dried b.  The radicals of lobe are lb, the soft mass of the b
(single lobed, or B, double lobed), with the liquid l behind it
pressing it forward.  In globe, glb, the guttural g adds to the
meaning the capacity of the throat.  The feathers and wings of birds
are still drier and thinner leaves.  Thus, also, you pass from the
lumpish grub in the earth to the airy and fluttering butterfly.  The
very globe continually transcends and translates itself, and becomes
winged in its orbit.  Even ice begins with delicate crystal leaves,
as if it had flowed into moulds which the fronds of waterplants have
impressed on the watery mirror.  The whole tree itself is but one
leaf, and rivers are still vaster leaves whose pulp is intervening
earth, and towns and cities are the ova of insects in their axils.
    When the sun withdraws the sand ceases to flow, but in the
morning the streams will start once more and branch and branch again
into a myriad of others.  You here see perchance how blood-vessels
are formed.  If you look closely you observe that first there pushes
forward from the thawing mass a stream of softened sand with a
drop-like point, like the ball of the finger, feeling its way slowly
and blindly downward, until at last with more heat and moisture, as
the sun gets higher, the most fluid portion, in its effort to obey
the law to which the most inert also yields, separates from the
latter and forms for itself a meandering channel or artery within
that, in which is seen a little silvery stream glancing like
lightning from one stage of pulpy leaves or branches to another, and
ever and anon swallowed up in the sand.  It is wonderful how rapidly
yet perfectly the sand organizes itself as it flows, using the best
material its mass affords to form the sharp edges of its channel.
Such are the sources of rivers.  In the silicious matter which the
water deposits is perhaps the bony system, and in the still finer
soil and organic matter the fleshy fibre or cellular tissue.  What
is man but a mass of thawing clay?  The ball of the human finger is
but a drop congealed.  The fingers and toes flow to their extent
from the thawing mass of the body.  Who knows what the human body
would expand and flow out to under a more genial heaven?  Is not the
hand a spreading palm leaf with its lobes and veins?  The ear may be
regarded, fancifully, as a lichen, umbilicaria, on the side of the
head, with its lobe or drop.  The lip -- labium, from labor (?) --
laps or lapses from the sides of the cavernous mouth.  The nose is a
manifest congealed drop or stalactite.  The chin is a still larger
drop, the confluent dripping of the face.  The cheeks are a slide
from the brows into the valley of the face, opposed and diffused by
the cheek bones.  Each rounded lobe of the vegetable leaf, too, is a
thick and now loitering drop, larger or smaller; the lobes are the
fingers of the leaf; and as many lobes as it has, in so many
directions it tends to flow, and more heat or other genial
influences would have caused it to flow yet farther.
    Thus it seemed that this one hillside illustrated the principle
of all the operations of Nature.  The Maker of this earth but
patented a leaf.  What Champollion will decipher this hieroglyphic
for us, that we may turn over a new leaf at last?  This phenomenon
is more exhilarating to me than the luxuriance and fertility of
vineyards.  True, it is somewhat excrementitious in its character,
and there is no end to the heaps of liver, lights, and bowels, as if
the globe were turned wrong side outward; but this suggests at least
that Nature has some bowels, and there again is mother of humanity.
This is the frost coming out of the ground; this is Spring.  It
precedes the green and flowery spring, as mythology precedes regular
poetry.  I know of nothing more purgative of winter fumes and
indigestions.  It convinces me that Earth is still in her
swaddling-clothes, and stretches forth baby fingers on every side.
Fresh curls spring from the baldest brow.  There is nothing
inorganic.  These foliaceous heaps lie along the bank like the slag
of a furnace, showing that Nature is "in full blast" within.  The
earth is not a mere fragment of dead history, stratum upon stratum
like the leaves of a book, to be studied by geologists and
antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry like the leaves of a tree,
which precede flowers and fruit -- not a fossil earth, but a living
earth; compared with whose great central life all animal and
vegetable life is merely parasitic.  Its throes will heave our
exuviae from their graves.  You may melt your metals and cast them
into the most beautiful moulds you can; they will never excite me
like the forms which this molten earth flows out into.  And not only
it, but the institutions upon it are plastic like clay in the hands
of the potter.
    Ere long, not only on these banks, but on every hill and plain
and in every hollow, the frost comes out of the ground like a
dormant quadruped from its burrow, and seeks the sea with music, or
migrates to other climes in clouds.  Thaw with his gentle persuasion
is more powerful than Thor with his hammer.  The one melts, the
other but breaks in pieces.
    When the ground was partially bare of snow, and a few warm days
had dried its surface somewhat, it was pleasant to compare the first
tender signs of the infant year just peeping forth with the stately
beauty of the withered vegetation which had withstood the
winter -- life-everlasting, goldenrods, pinweeds, and graceful wild
grasses, more obvious and interesting frequently than in summer
even, as if their beauty was not ripe till then; even cotton-grass,
cat-tails, mulleins, johnswort, hard-hack, meadow-sweet, and other
strong-stemmed plants, those unexhausted granaries which entertain
the earliest birds -- decent weeds, at least, which widowed Nature
wears.  I am particularly attracted by the arching and sheaf-like
top of the wool-grass; it brings back the summer to our winter
memories, and is among the forms which art loves to copy, and which,
in the vegetable kingdom, have the same relation to types already in
the mind of man that astronomy has.  It is an antique style, older
than Greek or Egyptian.  Many of the phenomena of Winter are
suggestive of an inexpressible tenderness and fragile delicacy.  We
are accustomed to hear this king described as a rude and boisterous
tyrant; but with the gentleness of a lover he adorns the tresses of
Summer.
    At the approach of spring the red squirrels got under my house,
two at a time, directly under my feet as I sat reading or writing,
and kept up the queerest chuckling and chirruping and vocal
pirouetting and gurgling sounds that ever were heard; and when I
stamped they only chirruped the louder, as if past all fear and
respect in their mad pranks, defying humanity to stop them.  No, you
don't -- chickaree -- chickaree.  They were wholly deaf to my
arguments, or failed to perceive their force, and fell into a strain
of invective that was irresistible.
    The first sparrow of spring!  The year beginning with younger
hope than ever!  The faint silvery warblings heard over the
partially bare and moist fields from the bluebird, the song sparrow,
and the red-wing, as if the last flakes of winter tinkled as they
fell!  What at such a time are histories, chronologies, traditions,
and all written revelations?  The brooks sing carols and glees to
the spring.  The marsh hawk, sailing low over the meadow, is already
seeking the first slimy life that awakes.  The sinking sound of
melting snow is heard in all dells, and the ice dissolves apace in
the ponds.  The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire
-- "et primitus oritur herba imbribus primoribus evocata" -- as if
the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the returning sun; not
yellow but green is the color of its flame; -- the symbol of
perpetual youth, the grass-blade, like a long green ribbon, streams
from the sod into the summer, checked indeed by the frost, but anon
pushing on again, lifting its spear of last year's hay with the
fresh life below.  It grows as steadily as the rill oozes out of the
ground.  It is almost identical with that, for in the growing days
of June, when the rills are dry, the grass-blades are their
channels, and from year to year the herds drink at this perennial
green stream, and the mower draws from it betimes their winter
supply.  So our human life but dies down to its root, and still puts
forth its green blade to eternity.
    Walden is melting apace.  There is a canal two rods wide along
the northerly and westerly sides, and wider still at the east end.
A great field of ice has cracked off from the main body.  I hear a
song sparrow singing from the bushes on the shore -- olit, olit,
olit -- chip, chip, chip, che char -- che wiss, wiss, wiss.  He too
is helping to crack it.  How handsome the great sweeping curves in
the edge of the ice, answering somewhat to those of the shore, but
more regular!  It is unusually hard, owing to the recent severe but
transient cold, and all watered or waved like a palace floor.  But
the wind slides eastward over its opaque surface in vain, till it
reaches the living surface beyond.  It is glorious to behold this
ribbon of water sparkling in the sun, the bare face of the pond full
of glee and youth, as if it spoke the joy of the fishes within it,
and of the sands on its shore -- a silvery sheen as from the scales
of a leuciscus, as it were all one active fish.  Such is the
contrast between winter and spring.  Walden was dead and is alive
again.  But this spring it broke up more steadily, as I have said.
    The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather,
from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a
memorable crisis which all things proclaim.  It is seemingly
instantaneous at last.  Suddenly an influx of light filled my house,
though the evening was at hand, and the clouds of winter still
overhung it, and the eaves were dripping with sleety rain.  I looked
out the window, and lo! where yesterday was cold gray ice there lay
the transparent pond already calm and full of hope as in a summer
evening, reflecting a summer evening sky in its bosom, though none
was visible overhead, as if it had intelligence with some remote
horizon.  I heard a robin in the distance, the first I had heard for
many a thousand years, methought, whose note I shall not forget for
many a thousand more -- the same sweet and powerful song as of yore.
O the evening robin, at the end of a New England summer day!  If I
could ever find the twig he sits upon!  I mean he; I mean the twig.
This at least is not the Turdus migratorius.  The pitch pines and
shrub oaks about my house, which had so long drooped, suddenly
resumed their several characters, looked brighter, greener, and more
erect and alive, as if effectually cleansed and restored by the
rain.  I knew that it would not rain any more.  You may tell by
looking at any twig of the forest, ay, at your very wood-pile,
whether its winter is past or not.  As it grew darker, I was
startled by the honking of geese flying low over the woods, like
weary travellers getting in late from Southern lakes, and indulging
at last in unrestrained complaint and mutual consolation.  Standing
at my door, I could bear the rush of their wings; when, driving
toward my house, they suddenly spied my light, and with hushed
clamor wheeled and settled in the pond.  So I came in, and shut the
door, and passed my first spring night in the woods.
    In the morning I watched the geese from the door through the
mist, sailing in the middle of the pond, fifty rods off, so large
and tumultuous that Walden appeared like an artificial pond for
their amusement.  But when I stood on the shore they at once rose up
with a great flapping of wings at the signal of their commander, and
when they had got into rank circled about over my head, twenty-nine
of them, and then steered straight to Canada, with a regular honk
from the leader at intervals, trusting to break their fast in
muddier pools.  A "plump" of ducks rose at the same time and took
the route to the north in the wake of their noisier cousins.
    For a week I heard the circling, groping clangor of some
solitary goose in the foggy mornings, seeking its companion, and
still peopling the woods with the sound of a larger life than they
could sustain.  In April the pigeons were seen again flying express
in small flocks, and in due time I heard the martins twittering over
my clearing, though it had not seemed that the township contained so
many that it could afford me any, and I fancied that they were
peculiarly of the ancient race that dwelt in hollow trees ere white
men came.  In almost all climes the tortoise and the frog are among
the precursors and heralds of this season, and birds fly with song
and glancing plumage, and plants spring and bloom, and winds blow,
to correct this slight oscillation of the poles and preserve the
equilibrium of nature.
    As every season seems best to us in its turn, so the coming in
of spring is like the creation of Cosmos out of Chaos and the
realization of the Golden Age.--

  "Eurus ad Auroram Nabathaeaque regna recessit,
   Persidaque, et radiis juga subdita matutinis."

  "The East-Wind withdrew to Aurora and the Nabathean kingdom,
   And the Persian, and the ridges placed under the morning rays.
                           . . . . . . .

   Man was born.  Whether that Artificer of things,
   The origin of a better world, made him from the divine seed;
   Or the earth, being recent and lately sundered from the high
   Ether, retained some seeds of cognate heaven."

    A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener.  So
our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts.  We should
be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of
every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the
influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend
our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we
call doing our duty.  We loiter in winter while it is already
spring.  In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are forgiven.
Such a day is a truce to vice.  While such a sun holds out to burn,
the vilest sinner may return.  Through our own recovered innocence
we discern the innocence of our neighbors.  You may have known your
neighbor yesterday for a thief, a drunkard, or a sensualist, and
merely pitied or despised him, and despaired of the world; but the
sun shines bright and warm this first spring morning, recreating the
world, and you meet him at some serene work, and see how it is
exhausted and debauched veins expand with still joy and bless the
new day, feel the spring influence with the innocence of infancy,
and all his faults are forgotten.  There is not only an atmosphere
of good will about him, but even a savor of holiness groping for
expression, blindly and ineffectually perhaps, like a new-born
instinct, and for a short hour the south hill-side echoes to no
vulgar jest.  You see some innocent fair shoots preparing to burst
from his gnarled rind and try another year's life, tender and fresh
as the youngest plant.  Even he has entered into the joy of his
Lord.  Why the jailer does not leave open his prison doors -- why
the judge does not dismis his case -- why the preacher does not
dismiss his congregation!  It is because they do not obey the hint
which God gives them, nor accept the pardon which he freely offers
to all.
    "A return to goodness produced each day in the tranquil and
beneficent breath of the morning, causes that in respect to the love
of virtue and the hatred of vice, one approaches a little the
primitive nature of man, as the sprouts of the forest which has been
felled.  In like manner the evil which one does in the interval of a
day prevents the germs of virtues which began to spring up again
from developing themselves and destroys them.
    "After the germs of virtue have thus been prevented many times
from developing themselves, then the beneficent breath of evening
does not suffice to preserve them.  As soon as the breath of evening
does not suffice longer to preserve them, then the nature of man
does not differ much from that of the brute.  Men seeing the nature
of this man like that of the brute, think that he has never
possessed the innate faculty of reason.  Are those the true and
natural sentiments of man?"

   "The Golden Age was first created, which without any avenger
    Spontaneously without law cherished fidelity and rectitude.
    Punishment and fear were not; nor were threatening words read
    On suspended brass; nor did the suppliant crowd fear
    The words of their judge; but were safe without an avenger.
    Not yet the pine felled on its mountains had descended
    To the liquid waves that it might see a foreign world,
    And mortals knew no shores but their own.
                           . . . . . . .
    There was eternal spring, and placid zephyrs with warm
    Blasts soothed the flowers born without seed."

    On the 29th of April, as I was fishing from the bank of the
river near the Nine-Acre-Corner bridge, standing on the quaking
grass and willow roots, where the muskrats lurk, I heard a singular
rattling sound, somewhat like that of the sticks which boys play
with their fingers, when, looking up, I observed a very slight and
graceful hawk, like a nighthawk, alternately soaring like a ripple
and tumbling a rod or two over and over, showing the under side of
its wings, which gleamed like a satin ribbon in the sun, or like the
pearly inside of a shell.  This sight reminded me of falconry and
what nobleness and poetry are associated with that sport.  The
Merlin it seemed to me it might be called: but I care not for its
name.  It was the most ethereal flight I had ever witnessed.  It did
not simply flutter like a butterfly, nor soar like the larger hawks,
but it sported with proud reliance in the fields of air; mounting
again and again with its strange chuckle, it repeated its free and
beautiful fall, turning over and over like a kite, and then
recovering from its lofty tumbling, as if it had never set its foot
on terra firma.  It appeared to have no companion in the universe --
sporting there alone -- and to need none but the morning and the
ether with which it played.  It was not lonely, but made all the
earth lonely beneath it.  Where was the parent which hatched it, its
kindred, and its father in the heavens?  The tenant of the air, it
seemed related to the earth but by an egg hatched some time in the
crevice of a crag; -- or was its native nest made in the angle of a
cloud, woven of the rainbow's trimmings and the sunset sky, and
lined with some soft midsummer haze caught up from earth?  Its eyry
now some cliffy cloud.
    Beside this I got a rare mess of golden and silver and bright
cupreous fishes, which looked like a string of jewels.  Ah! I have
penetrated to those meadows on the morning of many a first spring
day, jumping from hummock to hummock, from willow root to willow
root, when the wild river valley and the woods were bathed in so
pure and bright a light as would have waked the dead, if they had
been slumbering in their graves, as some suppose.  There needs no
stronger proof of immortality.  All things must live in such a
light.  O Death, where was thy sting?  O Grave, where was thy
victory, then?
    Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the
unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.  We need the tonic
of wildness -- to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and
the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the
whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl
builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the
ground.  At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn
all things, we require that all things be mysterious and
unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and
unfathomed by us because unfathomable.  We can never have enough of
nature.  We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor,
vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the
wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the
thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces
freshets.  We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some
life pasturing freely where we never wander.  We are cheered when we
observe the vulture feeding on the carrion which disgusts and
disheartens us, and deriving health and strength from the repast.
There was a dead horse in the hollow by the path to my house, which
compelled me sometimes to go out of my way, especially in the night
when the air was heavy, but the assurance it gave me of the strong
appetite and inviolable health of Nature was my compensation for
this.  I love to see that Nature is so rife with life that myriads
can be afforded to be sacrificed and suffered to prey on one
another; that tender organizations can be so serenely squashed out
of existence like pulp -- tadpoles which herons gobble up, and
tortoises and toads run over in the road; and that sometimes it has
rained flesh and blood!  With the liability to accident, we must see
how little account is to be made of it.  The impression made on a
wise man is that of universal innocence.  Poison is not poisonous
after all, nor are any wounds fatal.  Compassion is a very untenable
ground.  It must be expeditious.  Its pleadings will not bear to be
stereotyped.
    Early in May, the oaks, hickories, maples, and other trees, just
putting out amidst the pine woods around the pond, imparted a
brightness like sunshine to the landscape, especially in cloudy
days, as if the sun were breaking through mists and shining faintly
on the hillsides here and there.  On the third or fourth of May I
saw a loon in the pond, and during the first week of the month I
heard the whip-poor-will, the brown thrasher, the veery, the wood
pewee, the chewink, and other birds.  I had heard the wood thrush
long before.  The phoebe had already come once more and looked in at
my door and window, to see if my house was cavern-like enough for
her, sustaining herself on humming wings with clinched talons, as if
she held by the air, while she surveyed the premises.  The
sulphur-like pollen of the pitch pine soon covered the pond and the
stones and rotten wood along the shore, so that you could have
collected a barrelful.  This is the "sulphur showers" we bear of.
Even in Calidas' drama of Sacontala, we read of "rills dyed yellow
with the golden dust of the lotus."  And so the seasons went rolling
on into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher grass.
    Thus was my first year's life in the woods completed; and the
second year was similar to it.  I finally left Walden September 6th,
1847.

Henry David Thoreau

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