As it is important to consider nature from the point of view of science, remembering the nomenclature and systems of men, and so, if possible go a step further in that direction,
so it is equally important often to ignore or forget all that men presume that they know, and take an original and unprejudiced view of Nature, letting her make what impression she will on you, as the first men, and all children, and natural men do.
When it snowed yesterday very large flakes, an inch in diameter, Aunt said, “They are picking geese.” This, it seems, is an old saying.
Measure your health by your sympathy with morning and spring. If there is no response in you to the awakening of nature, if the prospect of an early morning walk does not banish sleep, if the warble of the first bluebird does not thrill you, know that the morning and spring of your life are past. Thus you may feel your pulse.
Clear, but very cold and windy for the season. Northerly wind; smokes blown southerly.
Ground frozen harder still; but probably now and hereafter what ground freezes at night will in great part melt by middle of day. However, it is so cold this afternoon that there is no melting of the ground throughout the day.
A still warmer day— The snow is so solid that it still bears me—though we have had several warm suns on it. It is melting gradually under the sun. In the morning I make but little impression in it.
As it melts it acquires a rough but regularly waved surface. It is inspiriting to feel the increased heat of the sun reflected from the snow— There is a slight mist above the fields—through which the crowing of cocks sounds spring-like.
I sit by a maple on a maple— It wears a shaggy coat of lichens summer & winter.
The whole of the day should not be daytime, nor of the night night-time, but some portion be rescued from time to oversee time in. All our hours must not be current; all our time must not lapse. There must be one hour at least which the day did not bring forth, — of ancient parentage and long-established nobility, ––which will be a serene and lofty platform overlooking the rest.
We should make our notch every day on our characters, as Robinson Crusoe on his stick. We must be at the helm at least once a day; we must feel the tiller-rope in our hands, and know that if we sail, we steer.
It is the unexplored grandeur of the storm which keeps up the spirits of the traveller. When I contemplate a hard and bare life in the woods, I find my last consolation in its untrivialness— Shipwreck is less distressing because the breakers do not trifle with us. We are resigned as long as we recognise the sober and solemn mystery of nature. The dripping mariner finds consolation and sympathy in the infinite sublimity of the storm— It is a moral force as well as he. With courage he can lay down his life on the strand, for it never turned a deaf ear to him—nor has he ever exhausted its sympathy.
In the love of narrow souls I make many short voyages, but in vain—I find no sea room—but in great souls I sail before the wind without a watch, and never reach the shore.
The mice tracks are very amusing. It is surprising how numerous they are—& yet I rarely see one— ….Any tussocky ground is scored with them— ….You see deep & distinct channels in the snow in some places as if a whole colony had long traveled to & fro in them—a high-way—a well-known trail—but suddenly they will come to an end—& yet they have not dived beneath the snow…
Snows again this morning– For the last month the weather has been remarkably changeable; hardly 3 days together alike. That is an era—not yet arrived—when the earth being partially thawed, melts the slight snows which fall on it.
We shall see but little way if we require to understand what we see. How few things can a man measure with the tape of his understanding! How many greater things might he be seeing in the meanwhile!
One afternoon in the fall, November 21st, I saw Fair Haven Pond with its island and meadow; between the island and the shore, a strip of perfectly smooth water in the lee of the island; and two hawks sailing over it; and something more I saw which cannot easily be described, which made me say to myself that the landscape could not be improved. I did not see how it could be improved. Yet I do not know what these things can be; I begin to see such objects only when I leave off understanding them, and afterwards remember that I did not appreciate them before. But I get no further than this. How adapted these forms and colors to our eyes, a meadow and its islands! What are these things? Yet the hawks and the ducks keep so aloof, and nature is so reserved! We are made to love the river & the meadow as the wind is made to ripple the water….
We learn by the January thaw that the winter is intermittent and are reminded of other seasons. The back of the winter is broken.
Winter comes to make walking possible where there was no walking in the summer. Not till winter can we take possession of the whole of our territory…The wonderful stillness of a winter day! The sources of sound are, as it were, frozen up…A transient acquaintance with any phenomenon is not sufficient to make it completely the subject of your muse. You must be so conversant with it as to remember it, and be reminded of it long afterward, while it lies remotely fair and elysian in the horizon, approachable only by the imagination.
[I was drawn to this passage by the except immediately following. It comes near the end of Thoreau’s entry for February 12, 1860. Then thought to give the full entry (7 printed pages!) so readers could see how Thoreau came to the part I’ve excerpted. The 7 pages also contain some of Thoreau’s drawings.]
The winter is coming when I shall walk the sky. The ice is a solid sky on which we walk. It is the inverted year. There is an annual light in the darkness of the winter night. The shadows are blue, as the sky is forever blue. In winter we are purified and translated. The earth does not absorb our thoughts. It becomes a Valhalla.
I do not know of any more exhilarating walking than up or down a broad field of smooth ice like this in a cold, glittering, winter day, when your rubbers give you a firm hold on the ice….
In the cold, clear, rough air from the northwest we walk amid what simple surroundings! Surrounded by our thoughts or imaginary objects, living in our ideas, not one in a million even sees the objects which are actually around him.