August 12, 1851

in Thoreau’s Journal:

Tuesday. 1.30 a. m. —Full moon. Arose and went to the river and bathed, stepping very carefully not to disturb the household, and still carefully in the street not to disturb the neighbors. I did not walk naturally and freely till I had got over the wall. Then to Hubbard’s Bridge at 2 a. m. There was a whip-poor-will in the road just beyond Goodwin’s, which flew up and lighted on the fence and kept alighting on the fence within a rod of me and circling round me with a slight squeak as if inquisitive about me. I do not remember what I observed or thought in coming hither.

The traveller’s whole employment is to calculate what cloud will obscure the moon and what she will triumph over. In the after-midnight hours the traveller’s sole companion is the moon. All his thoughts are centred in her. She is waging continual war with the clouds in his behalf. What cloud will enter the lists with her next, this employs his thoughts; and when she enters on a clear field of great extent in the heavens, and shines unobstructedly, he is glad. And when she has fought her way through all the squadrons of her foes, and rides majestic in a clear sky, he cheerfully and confidently pursues his way, and rejoices in his heart. But if he sees that she has many new clouds to contend with, he pursues his way moodily, as one disappointed and aggrieved he resents it as an injury to himself. It is his employment to watch the moon, the companion and guide of his journey, wading through clouds, and calculate what one is destined to shut out her cheering light. He traces her course, now almost completely obscured, through the ranks of her foes, and calculates where she will issue from them. He is disappointed and saddened when he sees that she has many clouds to contend with.

Sitting on the sleepers of Hubbard’s Bridge, which is being repaired, now, 3 o’clock a. m., I hear a cock crow. How admirably adapted to the dawn is that sound! as if made by the first rays of light rending the darkness, the creaking of the sun’s axle heard already over the eastern hills.

Though man’s life is trivial and handselled, Nature is holy and heroic. With what infinite faith and promise and moderation begins each new day! It is only a little after 3 o’clock, and already there is evidence of morning in the sky.

He rejoices when the moon comes forth from the squadrons of the clouds unscathed and there are no more any obstructions in her path, and the cricket also seems to express joy in his song. It does not concern men who are asleep in their beds, but it is very important to the traveller, whether the moon shines bright and unobstructed or is obscured by clouds. It is not easy to realize the serene joy of all the earth when the moon commences to shine unobstructedly, unless you have often been a traveller by night.

The traveller also resents it if the wind rises and rustles the leaves or ripples the water and increases the coolness at such an hour.

A solitary horse in his pasture was scared by the sudden sight of me, an apparition to him, standing still in the moonlight, and moved about, inspecting with alarm, but I spoke and he heard the sound of my voice; he was at once reassured and expressed his pleasure by wagging his stump of a tail, though still half a dozen rods off. How wholesome the taste of huckleberries, when now by moonlight I feel for them amid the bushes!

And now the first signs of morning attract the traveller’s attention, and he cannot help rejoicing, and the moon begins gradually to fade from his recollection. The wind rises and rustles the copses. The sand is cool on the surface but warm two or three inches beneath, and the rocks are quite warm to the hand, so that he sits on them or leans against them for warmth, though indeed it is not cold elsewhere. As I walk along the side of Fair Haven Hill, I see a ripple on the river, and now the moon has gone behind a large and black mass of clouds, and I realize that I may not see her again in her glory this night, that perchance ere she rises from this obscurity, the sun will have risen, and she will appear but as a cloud herself, and sink unnoticed into the west (being a little after full (a day ?)). As yet no sounds of awakening men; only the more frequent crowing of cocks, still standing on their perches in the barns. The milkmen are the earliest risers, though I see no lanterns carried to their barns in the distance, —preparing to carry the milk of cows in their tin cans for men’s breakfasts, even for those who dwell in distant cities. In the twilight now, by the light of the stars alone, the moon being concealed, they are pressing the bounteous streams from full udders into their milk-pails, and the sound of the streaming milk is all that breaks the sacred stillness of the dawn; distributing their milk to such as have no cows. I perceive no mosquitoes now. Are they vespertinal, like the singing of the whip-poor-will?  I see the light of the obscured moon reflected from the river brightly. With what mild emphasis Nature marks the spot!  —so bright and serene a sheen that does not more contrast with the night.

4 A. M. —It adds a charm, a dignity, a glory, to the earth to see the light of the moon reflected from her streams. There are but us three, the moon, the earth which wears this jewel (the moon’s reflection) in her crown, and myself. Now there has come round the Cliff (on which I sit), which faces the west, all unobserved and mingled with the dusky sky of night, a lighter and more ethereal living blue, whispering of the sun still far, far away, behind the horizon. From the summit of our atmosphere, perchance, he may already be seen by soaring spirits that inhabit those thin upper regions, and they communicate the glorious intelligence to us lower ones. There real divine, the heavenly, blue, the Jove-containing air, it is, I see through this dusky lower stratum. The sun gilding the summits of the air. The broad artery of light flows overall the sky. Yet not without sadness and compassion I reflect that I shall not see the moon again in her glory. (Not far from four, still in the night, I heard a nighthawk squeak and boom, high in the air, as I sat on the Cliff. What is said about this being less of a night bird than the whip-poor-will is perhaps to be questioned. For neither do I remember to have heard the whip-poor-will sing at 12 o’clock, though I met one sitting and flying between two and three this morning. I believe that both may be heard at midnight, though very rarely.) Now at very earliest dawn the nighthawk booms and the whip-poor-will sings. Returning down the hill by the path to where the woods [are] cut off, I see the signs of the day, the morning red. There is the lurid morning star, soon to be blotted out by a cloud. 

There is an early redness in the east which I was not prepared for, changing to amber or saffron, with clouds beneath in the horizon and also above this clear streak.

The birds utter a few languid and yawning notes, as if they had not left their perches, so sensible to light to wake so soon, —a faint peeping sound from I know not what kind, a slight, innocent, half-awake sound, like the sounds which a quiet housewife makes in the earliest dawn. Nature preserves her innocence like a beautiful child. I hear a wood thrush even now, long before sunrise, as in the heat of the day. And the pewee and the catbird and the vireo, red-eyed? I do not hear —or do not mind, perchance—the crickets now.  Now whip-poor-wills commence to sing in earnest, considerably after the wood thrush. The wood thrush, that beautiful singer, inviting the day once more to enter his pine woods. (So you may hear the wood thrush and whip-poor-will at the same time.) Now go by two whip-poor-wills, in haste seeking some coverts from the eye of day. And the bats are flying about on the edge of the wood, improving the last moments of their day in catching insects. The moon appears at length, not yet as a cloud, but with a frozen light, ominous of her fate. The early cars sound like a wind in the woods. The chewinks make a business now of waking each other up with their low yorrick in the neighboring low copse. The sun would have shown before but for the cloud. Now, on his rising, not the clear sky, but the cheeks of the clouds high and wide, are tinged with red, which, like the sky before, turns gradually to saffron and then to the white light of day.

The nettle-leaved vervain (Verbena urticifolia) by roadside at Emerson’s. What we have called hemp answers best to Urtica dioica, large stinging nettle? Now the great sunflower’s golden disk is seen.

The days for some time have been sensibly shorter; there is time for music in the evening.

I see polygonums in blossom by roadside, white and red. 

A eupatorium from Hubbard’s Bridge causeway answers to E. purpureum, except in these doubtful points, that the former has four leaves in a whorl, is unequally serrate, the stem is nearly filled with a thin pith, the corymb is not merely terminal, florets eight and nine. Differs from verticillatum in the stem being not solid, and I perceive no difference between calyx and corolla in color, if I know what the two are. It may be one of the intermediate varieties referred to.