January 1, 1853

in Thoreau’s Journal:

Saturday. This morning we have something between ice and frost on the trees, etc. The whole earth, as last night, but much more, is encased in ice, which on the plowed fields makes a singular icy coat a quarter of an inch or more in thickness. About 9 o’clock a. m., I go to Lee’s via Hubbard’s Wood and Holden’s Swamp and the riverside, for the middle is open. The stones and cow-dung, and the walls too, are all cased in ice on the north side. The latter look like alum rocks. This, not frozen mist or frost, but frozen drizzle, collected around the slightest cores, gives prominence to the least withered herbs and grasses. Where yesterday was a plain, smooth field, appears now a teeming crop of fat, icy herbage. The stems of the herbs on their north sides are enlarged from ten to a hundred times. The addition is so universally on the north side that a traveller could not lose the points of compass to-day, though it should [be] never so dark, for every blade of grass would serve to guide him, telling from which side the storm came yesterday. These straight stems of grasses stand up like white batons or sceptres, and make conspicuous foreground to the landscape, from six inches to three feet high. C. thought that these fat, icy branches on the withered grass and herbs had no nucleus, but looking closer I showed him the fine black wiry threads on which they impinged, which made him laugh with surprise. The very cow- dung is incrusted, and the clover and sorrel send up a dull-green gleam through their icy coat, like strange plants. The pebbles in the plowed land are seen as through a transparent coating of gum. Some weeds bear the ice in masses, some, like the trumpet-weed and tansy, in balls for each dried flower. What a crash of jewels as you walk ! The most careless walker, who never deigned to look at these humble weeds before, cannot help observing them now. This is why the herbage is left to stand dry in the fields all winter. Upon a solid foundation of ice stand out, pointing in all directions between northwest and northeast, or within the limits of ninety degrees, little spicula or crystallized points, half an inch or more in length.

Upon the dark, glazed plowed ground, where a mere wiry stem rises, its north side is thickly clad with these snow-white spears, like some Indian’s head-dress, as if it had attracted all the frost. I saw a prinos bush full of large berries, by the wall in Hubbard’s field. Standing on the west side, the contrast of the red berries with their white incrustation or prolongation on the north was admirable. I thought I had never seen the berries so dazzlingly bright. The whole north side of the bush, berries and stock, was beautifully incrusted. And when I went round to the north side, the redness of the berries came softened through and tingeing the allied snow-white bush, like an evening sky beyond. These adjoined snow or ice berries being beset, within the limits of ninety degrees on the north, with those icy prickles or spicula, between which the red glow and sometimes the clear red itself appeared, gave it the appearance of a raspberry bush full of over-ripe fruit.

Standing on the north side of a bush or tree, looking against the sky, you see only a white ghost of a tree, without a mote of earthiness, but as you go round it, the dark core comes into view. It makes all the odds imaginable whether you are travelling north or south. The drooping birches along the edges of woods are the most feathery, fairy-like ostrich plumes of the trees, and the color of their trunks increases the delusion. The weight of the ice gives to the pines the forms which northern trees, like the firs, constantly wear, bending and twisting the branches; for the twigs and plumes of the pines, being frozen, remain as the wind held them, and new portions of the trunk are exposed. Seen from the north, there is no greenness in the pines, and the character of the tree is changed. The willows along the edge of the river look like sedge in meadows. The sky is overcast, and a fine snowy hail and rain is falling, and these ghost-like trees make a scenery which reminds you of Spitzbergen. I see now the beauty of the causeway, by the bridge alders below swelling into the road, over topped by willows and maples. The fine grasses and shrubs in the meadow rise to meet and mingle with the drooping willows, and the whole make an indistinct impression like a mist, and between this the road runs toward those white ice-clad ghostly or fairy trees in the distance, —toward spirit-land.  The pines are as white as a counterpane, with raised embroidery and white tassels and fringes. Each fascicle of leaves or needles is held apart by an icy club surmounted by a little snowy or icy ball. Finer than the Saxon arch is this path running under the pines, roofed, not with crossing boughs, but drooping ice-covered twigs in irregular confusion. See in the midst of this stately pine, towering like the solemn ghost of a tree, the white ice-clad boughs of other trees appearing, of a different character; sometimes oaks with leaves incrusted, or fine-sprayed maples or walnuts. But finer than all, this red oak, its leaves incrusted like shields a quarter of an inch thick, and a thousand fine spicula, like long serrations at right angles with their planes, upon their edges. It has an indescribably rich effect, with color of the leaf coming softened through the ice, a delicate fawn-color of many shades. Where the plumes of the pitch pine are short and spreading close upon the trunk, sometimes perfect cups or rays are formed. Pitch pines present rough, massy grenadier plumes, with each a darker spot or cavity in the end, where you look in to the buds.

I listen to the booming of the pond as if it were a reasonable creature. I return at last in a rain, and am coated with a glaze, like the fields.

Being at Cambridge day before yesterday, Sibley told me that Agassiz told him that Harris was the greatest entomologist in the world, and gave him permission to repeat his remark. As I stood on the top of a ladder, he came along with his hand full of papers and inquired, ” Do you value autographs?” ” No, I do not,” I answered slowly and gravely. “Oh, I did n’t know but you did. I had some of Governor Dunlap,” said he, retreating.

After talking with Uncle Charles the other night about the worthies of this country, Webster and the rest, as usual considering who were geniuses and who not, I showed him up to bed, and when I had got into bed myself, I heard his chamber door opened, after eleven o’clock, and he called out, in an earnest, stentorian voice, loud enough to wake the whole house, “Henry! was John Quincy Adams a genius?” “No, I think not,” was my reply. “Well, I didn’t think he was,” answered he.