I observed some mulleins growing on the western slope of the sandy railroad embankment, in as warm a place as can easily be found, where the heat was reflected from the sand oppressively at 3 o’clock p. m. this hot day; yet the green and living leaves felt rather cool than otherwise to the hand, but the dead ones at the root were quite warm. The living plant thus preserves a cool temperature in the hottest exposure, as if it kept a cellar below, from which cooling liquors were drawn up.
I am living this 27th of June, 1840, a dull, cloudy day and no sun shining.
The clink of the smith’s hammer sounds feebly over the roofs, and the wind is sighing gently, as if dreaming of cheerfuller days. The farmer is plowing in yonder field, craftsmen are busy in the shops, the trader stands behind the counter, and all works go steadily forward. But I will have nothing to do; I will tell fortune that I play no game with her, and she may reach me in my Asia of serenity and indolence if she can.
Just so much beauty and virtue as there is in the world, and just so much ugliness and vice, you see expressed in flowers. Each human being has his flower which expresses his character. In them nothing is concealed, but everything published.
The mountain laurel, with its milk-white flower, in cool and shady woods, reminds one of the vigor of nature. It is perhaps a first-rate flower, considering its size and ever-greenness. Its flower-buds, curiously folded in a ten- angled pyramidal form, are remarkable. A profusion of flowers, with an innocent fragrance. It reminds me of shady mountain-sides where it forms the underwood.
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.
Having noticed the pine pollen washed up on the shore of three or four ponds in the woods lately and at Ripple Lake, a dozen rods from the nearest pine, also having seen the pollen carried off visibly half a dozen rods from a pitch pine which I had jarred, and rising all the while when there was very little wind, it suggested to me that the air must be full of this fine dust at this season, that it must be carried to great distances, when dry, and falling at night perhaps, or with a change in the atmosphere, its presence might be detected remote from pines by examining the edges of pretty large bodies of water, where it would be collected to one side by the wind and waves from a large area.
So I thought over all the small ponds in the township in order to select one or more most remote from the woods or pines, whose shores I might examine and so test my theory. I could think of none more favorable than this little pond only four rods in diameter, a watering-place in John Brown’s pasture, which has but few pads in it. It is a small round pond at the bottom of a hollow in the midst of a perfectly bare, dry pasture. The nearest wood of any kind is just thirty-nine rods distant northward, and across a road from the edge of the pond. Any other wood in other directions is five or six times as far. I knew it was a bad time to try my experiment, —just after such heavy rains and when the pines are effete, —a little too late. The wind was now blowing quite strong from the northeast, whereas all the pollen that I had seen hitherto had been collected on the northeast sides of ponds by a southwest wind. I approached the pond from the northeast and, looking over it and carefully along the shore there, could detect no pollen. I then proceeded to walk round it, but still could detect none. I then said to myself, If there was any here before the rain and northeast wind, it must have been on the northeast side and then have been washed over and now up high quite at or on the shore. I looked there carefully, stooping down, and was gratified to find, after all, a distinct yellow line of pollen dust about half an inch in width —or washing off to two or three times that width —quite on the edge, and some dead twigs which I took up from the wet shore were completely coated with it, as with sulphur. This yellow line reached half a rod along the southwest side, and I then detected a little of the dust slightly graying the surface for two or three feet out there. (Many little snow (?) -fleas on it.)
When I thought I had failed, I was much pleased to detect, after all, this distinct yellow line, revealing unmistakably the presence of pines in the neighborhood and thus confirming my theory. As chemists detect the presence of ozone in the atmosphere by exposing to it a delicately prepared paper, so the lakes detect for us thus the presence of the pine pollen in the atmosphere. They are our pollinometers. How much of this invisible dust must be floating in the atmosphere, and be inhaled and drunk by us at this season! Who knows but the pollen of some plants may be unwholesome to inhale, and produce the diseases of the season?
Of course a large pond will collect the most, and you will find most at the bottom of long deep bays into which the wind blows.
I do not believe that there is any part of this town on which the pollen of the pine may not fall. The time to examine the ponds this year was, I should say, from the 15th to the 20th of this month. Looking at the trees today, I find that the pines are now effete, especially the pitch pine, the sterile flowers now turned reddish. The white pine is lighter-colored, and all but a very little indeed is effete. In the white pine it is a dense cluster of twenty or thirty little flowers about the base of this year’s shoot.
I did not expect to find any pollen, the pond was so small and distant from any wood, but I thought that I would examine. Who knows but the pollen of various kinds floating through the air at this season may be the source of some of the peculiar perfumes which are not traceable to their sources?
And then for my afternoon walks I have a garden––larger than any artificial garden that I have read of––and far more attractive to me, mile after mile of embowered walks, with animals running free & wild therein as from the first––varied with land & water prospect––and above all so retired that it is extremely rare that you meet a single wanderer in its maze –– No gardener is seen therein no gates nor… You may wander away to solitary bowers & brooks & hills….
Returned by Smith’s Hill and the Saw Mill Brook. Got quite a parcel of strawberries on the hill. The hellebore leaves by the brook are already half turned yellow. Plucked one blue early blueberry. The strain of the bobolink now begins to sound a little rare. It never again fills the air as the first week after its arrival. At this season we apprehend no long storm, only showers with or without thunder.
I see in the southerly bays of Walden the pine pollen now washed up thickly; only at the bottom of the bays, especially the deep long bay, where it is a couple of rods long by six to twenty-four inches wide and one inch deep; pure sulphur-yellow, and now has no smell. It has come quite across the pond from where the pines stand, full half a mile, probably washed across most of the way.
There is a cool east wind, —and has been afternoons for several days, —which has produced a very thick haze or a fog. I find a tortoise egg on this peak at least sixty feet above the pond. There is a fine ripple and sparkle on the pond, seen through the mist. But what signifies the beauty of nature when men are base? We walk to lakes to see our serenity reflected in them.
When we are not serene, we go not to them. Who can be serene in a country where both rulers and ruled are without principle? The remembrance of the baseness of politicians spoils my walks. My thoughts are murder to the State; I endeavor in vain to observe nature; my thoughts involuntarily go plotting against the State. I trust that all just men will conspire.
I stood by the river to-day considering the forms of the elms reflected in the water. For every oak and birch, too, growing on the hilltop, as well as for elms and willows, there is a graceful ethereal tree making down from the roots, as it were the original idea of the tree, and sometimes Nature in high tides brings her mirror to its foot and makes it visible. Anxious Nature sometimes reflects from pools and puddles the objects which our grovelling senses may fail to see relieved against the sky with the pure ether for background.
It would be well if we saw ourselves as in perspective always, impressed with distinct outline on the sky, side by side with the shrubs on the river’s brim. So let our life stand to heaven as some fair, sunlit tree against the western horizon, and by sunrise be planted on some eastern hill to glisten in the first rays of the daw
There are various new reflections now of the light, viz. from the under sides of leaves (fresh and white) turned up by the wind, and also from the bent blades (horizontal tops) of rank grass in the meadows, — a sort of bluish sheeny light, this last. Saw a wild rose from the cars’ in Weston. The early red roses are out in gardens at home.
How beautiful the solid cylinders of the lamb kill now just before sunset, small ten-sided rosy-crimson basins, about two inches above the recurved, dropping, dry capsules of last year, and sometimes those of the year before, two inches lower.
The whip-poor-will suggests how wide asunder the woods and the town. Its note is very rarely heard by those who live on the street, ‘and then it is thought to be of ill omen. Only the dwellers on the outskirts of the village hear it occasionally. It sometimes comes into their yards. But go into the woods in a warm night at this season, and it is the prevailing sound. I hear now five or six at once. It is no more of ill omen therefore here than the night and the moonlight are. It is a bird not only of the woods, but of the night side of the woods.
New beings have usurped the air we breathe, rounding Nature, filling her crevices with sound. To sleep where you may hear the whip-poor-will in your dreams!….
By night no flowers, at least no variety of colors. The pinks are no longer pink; they only shine faintly, reflecting more light. Instead of flowers underfoot, stars overhead.
My shadow has the distinctness of a second person, a certain black companion bordering on the imp, and I ask, “Who is this?” which I see dodging behind me as I am about to sit down on a rock.
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 out-of-doors, or in its own locality wherever it may be.
When you get into the road, though far from the town, and feel the sand under your feet, it is as if you had reached your own gravel walk. You no longer hear the whip-poor-will, nor regard your shadow, for here you expect a fellow-traveller. You catch yourself walking merely. The road leads your steps and thoughts alike to the town. You see only the path, and your thoughts wander from the objects which are presented to your senses. You are no longer in place. It is like conformity, —walking in the ways of men.