November 16, 1850

in Thoreau’s Journal:

I found three good arrowheads today behind Dennis’s. The season for them began some time ago, as soon as the farmers had sown their winter rye, but the spring, after the melting of the snow, is still better.

I am accustomed to regard the smallest brook with as much interest for the time being as if it were the Orinoco or Mississippi. What is the difference, I would like to know, but mere size? And when a tributary rill empties in, it is like the confluence of famous rivers I have read of. When I cross one on a fence, I love to pause in mid-passage and look down into the water, and study its bottom, its little mystery.

There is none so small but you may see a pickerel regarding you with a wary eye, or a pygmy trout glance from under the bank, or in spring, perchance, a sucker will have found its way far up its stream. You are sometimes astonished to see a pickerel far up some now shrunken rill, where it is a mere puddle by the roadside. I have stooped to drink at a clear spring no bigger than a bushel basket in a meadow, from which a rill was scarcely seen to dribble away, and seen lurking at its bottom two little pickerel not so big as my finger, sole monarchs of this their ocean, and who probably would never visit a larger water.

In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is only another name for tameness. It is the untamed, uncivilized, free, and wild thinking in Hamlet, in the Iliad, and in all the scriptures and mythologies that delights us,— not learned in the schools, refined and polished by art. A truly good book is something as wildly natural and primitive, mysterious and marvellous, ambrosial and fertile, as a fungus or a lichen.  Suppose the muskrat or beaver were to turn his views to literature, what fresh views of nature would he present! The fault of our books and other deeds is that they are too humane, I want something speaking in some measure to the condition of muskrats and skunk-cabbage as well as of men, — not merely to a pining and complaining coterie of philanthropists.

I discover again about these times that cranberries are good to eat in small quantities as you are crossing the meadows.

I hear deep amid the birches some row among the birds or the squirrels, where evidently some mystery is being developed to them. The jay is on the alert, mimicking every woodland note. What has happened? Who’s dead? The twitter retreats before you, and you are never let into the secret. Some tragedy surely is being enacted, but murder will out. How many little dramas are enacted in the depth of the woods at which man is not present!

When I am considering which way I will walk, my needle is slow to settle, my compass varies by a few degrees and does not always point due southwest; and there is good authority for these variations in the heavens. It pursues the straighter course for it at last, like the ball which has come out of a rifle, or the quoit that is twirled when cast. Today it is some particular wood or meadow or deserted pasture in that direction that is my southwest.

I love my friends very much, but I find that it is of no use to go to see them. I hate them commonly when I am near them. They belie themselves and deny me continually.

Somebody shut the cat’s tail in the door just now, and she made such a caterwaul as has driven two whole worlds out of my thoughts. I saw unspeakable things in the sky and looming in the horizon of my mind, and now they are all reduced to a cat’s tail. Vast films of thought floated through my brain, like clouds pregnant with rain enough to fertilize and restore a world, and now they are all dissipated.

There is a place whither I should walk to-day. Though oftenest I fail to find, when by accident I ramble into it, great is my delight. I have stood by my door sometimes half an hour, irresolute as to what course I should take.

Apparently all but the evergreens and oaks have lost their leaves now. It is singular that the shrub oaks retain their leaves through the winter. Why do they?

The walnut trees spot the sky with black nuts. Only catkins are seen on the birches.

I saw the other day a dead limb which the wind or some other cause had broken nearly off, which had lost none of its leaves, though all the rest of the tree, which was flourishing, had shed them.

There seems to be in the fall a sort of attempt at a spring, a rejuvenescence, as if the winter were not expected by a part of nature. Violets, dandelions, and some other flowers blossom again, and mulleins and innumerable other plants begin again to spring and are only checked by the increasing cold. There is a slight uncertainty whether there will be any winter this year.

I was pleased today to hear a great noise and trampling in the woods produced by some cows which came running toward their homes, which apparently had been scared by something unusual, as their ancestors might have been by wolves. I have known sheep to be scared in the same [way] and a whole flock to run bleating to me for protection.

What shall we do with a man who is afraid of the woods, their solitude and darkness? What salvation is there for him? God is silent and mysterious.

Some of our richest days are those in which no sun shines outwardly, but so much the more a sun shines inwardly. I love nature, I love the landscape, because it is so sincere. It never cheats me. It never jests. It is cheerfully, musically earnest. I lie and relie on the earth.

Land where the wood has been cut off and is just beginning to come up again is called sprout land.

The sweet-scented life-everlasting has not lost its scent yet, but smells like the balm of the fields.

The partridge-berry leaves checker the ground on the side of moist hillsides in the woods. Are they not properly called checker-berries ?

The era of wild apples will soon be over. I wander through old orchards of great extent, now all gone to decay, all of native fruit which for the most part went to the cider mill. But since the temperance reform and the general introduction of grafted fruit, no wild apples, such as I see everywhere in deserted pastures, and where the woods have grown up among them, are set out. I fear that he who walks over these hills a century hence will not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples. Ah, poor man! there are many pleasures which he will be debarred from! Notwithstanding the prevalence of the Baldwin and the Porter, I doubt if as extensive orchards are set out to-day in this town as there were a century ago, when these vast straggling cider-orchards were planted. Men stuck in a tree then by every wall-side and let it take its chance. I see nobody planting trees today in such out of the way places, along almost every road and lane and wall-side, and at the bottom of dells in the wood. Now that they have grafted trees and pay a price for them, they collect them into a plot by their houses and fence them in.

My Journal should be the record of my love. I would write in it only of the things I love, my affection for any aspect of the world, what I love to think of. I have no more distinctness or pointedness in my yearnings than an expanding bud, which does indeed point to flower and fruit, to summer and autumn, but is aware of the warm sun and spring influence only. I feel ripe for something, yet do nothing, can’t discover what that thing is. I feel fertile merely. It is seed time with me. I have lain fallow long enough.

Notwithstanding a sense of unworthiness which possesses me, not without reason, notwithstanding that I regard myself as a good deal of a scamp, yet for the most part the spirit of the universe is unaccountably kind to me, and I enjoy perhaps an unusual share of happiness. Yet I question sometimes if there is not some settlement to come.