January 4, 1858

in Thoreau’s Journal:

[This citation is taken from the Princeton Transcripts of the to be published 1858 Journal.  I’m supposing that Thoreau took down the first three paragraphs as “field notes” and then set about polishing the singular event of the light on the stubble.  Perhaps this passage shows us something of one of Thoreau’s working methods?]

The pm weather still remarkably warm— The ice too soft for skiing— I go through by the Andromeda Ponds & down river from Fair Haven— I am encouraged by the sight of men fishing on the F.H. Pond—for it reminds me that they have animal spirits for such adventures— I am glad to be reminded that any go a-fishing. When I get down near to Cardinal shore the sun near setting, its light is wonderfully reflected from a narrow edging of yellowish stubble—at the edge of the meadow ice & part of the hill—an edging only 2 or 3 feet wide—& the stubble but a few inches high—

I am looking East— It is remarkable—because the ice is but a dull lead color (It is so soft & sodden) reflecting no light—& the hill beyond is a dark russet here & there patched with snow—but this warm intermediate line of stubble is all aglow— I get its true color & brightness best when I do not look directly at it, but a little above it toward the hills seeing it with the lower part of eye more truly and abstractly. It is as if all the rays slid over the ice & lodged against & were reflected by the stubble. It is surprising how much sun light a little straw that survives the winter will reflect—

The channel of the river is open part of the way— The corpus sericea & some young willow shoots are the red-barked twigs so conspicuous now along the river sides—


That bright & warm reflection of sunlight from the insignificant edging of stubble was remarkable— I was coming down stream over the meadow, on the ice within 4 or 5 rods of the eastern shore— The sun on my left was about a quarter of an hour above the horizon— The ice was soft & sodden—of a dull lead color—quite dark & reflecting no light as I looked eastward—but my eyes caught by accident a singular sunny brightness—reflected from the narrow border of stubble only 3 or 4 inches high (and as many feet wide perhaps) which rose along the edge of the ice at the foot of the hill. It was not a mere brightening of the bleached stubble—but the warm & yellow light of the sun, which, it appeared, it was peculiarly fitted to reflect— It was that amber light from the west which we sometimes witness after a storm—concentrated on this stubble—for the hill beyond was merely a dark russet spotted with snow— All the yellow rays seems to be reflected by this insignificant stubble alone—& when I looked more generally a little above it—seeing it with the under part of my eye—it appeared yet more truly & more bright— The reflected light made its due impression on the eye separated from the proper color of the stubble— —& it glowed almost like a low—steady & serene fire. It was precisely as if the sun light had mechanically slid over the thin ice & lodged against the stubble— — It will be enough to say of something warmly & sunnily bright that it glowed like lit stubble. It was remarkable that, looking eastward this was the only evidence of the light in the west.

January 3, 1853

in Thoreau’s Journal:

I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. Here a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself. I should lose all hope. He is constraint; she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world; she makes me content with this. None of the joys she supplies is subject to his rules and definitions. What he touches he taints. In thought he moralises. One would think that no free, joyful labor was possible to him. How infinite and pure the least pleasure of which nature is basis compared with the congratulation of mankind!


The joy which nature yields is like that afforded by the frank words of one we love….There is no law so strong which a little gladness may not transgress. I have a room all to myself. It is nature. It is a place beyond the jurisdiction of human government. 

January 2, 1858

in Thoreau’s Journal:


Going up the hill thro’ Stow’s young oak wood-land—I listen to the sharp dry rustle of the withered oak leaves— This is the voice of the wood now. It would be comparatively still & more dreary here in other respects if if were not for these leaves that hold on— It sounds like the roar of the seas—& is enlivening & inspiriting like that—suggesting how all the land is sea coast to the aerial ocean— It is the sound of the surf—the surf of an unseen Ocean billow of air breaking in the forest—like water on itself or on sand & rocks—  It rises & falls—sweeps & dies away—with agreeable alternation as the sea-surf does. Perhaps the the landsman can foretell a storm by it. It is remarkable how universal these grand murmurs are—these backgrounds of sound—the surf—the wind in the forest—water falls—&c which yet to the ear & in their origins are essentially one voice—the Earth voice—


January 1, 1852


01:01:52.jpegin Thoreau’s Journal:

 9 1/2 PM to Fair Haven. Moon little more than 1/2 full — Not a cloud in the sky—a remarkably warm night for the season, the sound almost entirely bare. The stars dazzlingly bright. The fault may be in my own barrenness, but methinks there is a certain poverty about the winter nights sky. The stars of higher magnitude are more bright & dazzling and therefore appear more near & numerable, while those that appear indistinct and infinitely remote in the Summer—imparting the impression of unfathomability to the sky—are scarcely seen at all. The front halls of heaven are so dazzlingly lighted that they quite eclipse the more remote. The sky has fallen many degrees.

The river has risen and flooded the meadows again. The white pines now seen against the moon, with their single foliage look thin.

These are some of the differences between this and the autumn or summer nights.

The stiffened-glebe under my feet—the dazzle and seeming nearness of the stars—the duller gleam from ice on rivers & ponds— the white spots in the fields & streaks by the wall sides where are the remains of drifts, yet unmelted. Perhaps the only things that spoke to me in this walk, was the bare lichen covered grey rock at the cliff, in the moonlight—naked and almost warm as in summer.

December 31, 1841

in Thoreau’s Journal:

Books of natural history make the most cheerful winter reading.  I read in Audubon with a thrill of delight when the snow covers the ground of the magnolia and the Florida keys and their warm seas breezes—of the fence rail and the cotton tree and the migrations of the rice bird—or of the breaking up of winter in Labrador.  I seem to hear the melting of the snow on the forks of the Missouri as I read. I imbibe some portion of health from these reminiscences of luxuriant nature.

The is a singular health for me in those words of Labrador and East Main—which no desponding creed recognizes.

How much more than federal are these States—!  If there no other vicissitude but the seasons—with their attendant and consequent changes our interest would never flag. Much more is adoing than Congress wots of in the winter season. What journal do the Persimon and Buckeye keep—or the sharp shinned hawk?  What is transpiring from summer to winter in the Carolinas—the great Pine forest, and the valley of the Mohawk? The merely political aspect of the land is never very cheering— Men are degraded when considered as the members of a political organization.

As a nation the people never utter one great and healthy word— From side all nations present only the symptoms of disease…In society you will not find health but in nature— You must converse much with the field and woods if you would imbibe such health into your mind and spirit as you covet for your body….


I should like to keep some books of natural history always by me as a sort of elixir—the reading of which would restore the tone of my system—and secure me true and cheerful views of life….To the soul that contemplates some trait of natural beauty no harm nor disappointment can come. The doctrines of despair—of spiritual or political servitude—no priestcraft nor tyranny—was ever taught by such as drank in the harmony of nature.

December 29, 1841

in Thoreau’s Journal:

Whole weeks or months of my summer life slide away in thin volumes like mist or smoke—till at length some warm morning perchance I see a sheet of mist blow down the brook to the swamp—its shadow flitting across the fields which have caught a new significance from that accident.  And as that vapor is raised above the earth so shall the next weeks be elevated above the plane of the actual— Or when the setting sun slants across the pastures—and the cows low to my inward ear—and only enhance the stillness—and the eve is as the dawn—a beginning hour and not a final one—as if it would never have done—  With its clear western amber inciting men to lives of as limpid purity— Then do other parts of my days work shine than I had thought at noon—for I discover the real purport of my toil—As when the husbandman has reached the end of the furrow and looks back—he can best tell where the pressed earth shines most. 


All true greatness runs as level as course and is as unaspiring as the plough in the furrow—  ….There is no wisdom which can take place of humanity….I can recall to my mind the stillest summer hour—in which the grasshopper sings over the mulleins—and there is a valor in that time the memory of which is armor that can laugh at any blow of fortunes. And man should go out nature with the chirp of the cricket, or the trill of the veery ringing in his ear. These earthly sounds should only die away for a season.

December 28, 1840


in Thoreau’s Journal:  

The snow hangs on the trees as the fruit of the season.  In those twigs which the wind has preserved naked, there is a warmer green for the contrast. The whole tree exhibits a kind of interior and household comfort—a sheltered and covert aspect— It has the snug inviting look of a cottage on the Moors, buried in snows.

How like your house are the woods, your voice rings hollowly through them as through a chamber— The twigs crackle under feet with private and household echoes. All sound in the woods in private and domestic still, though never so loud.

I have observed of a clear winters morning that the woods have their southern window as well as the house, through which the first beams of the sun stream along their aisles and corridors. The sun goes up swiftly behind the limbs of the white pine, as the sashes of a window.

The sun reflected from the red leaves of the shrub oak on the hill side—and the green pine needles, is as warm as a cottage fire. It has the ancient principle of heat in it—a gentle simmering to eternity.  There is a Slumbering fire, an infinite eternal warmth in nature which never goes out, and no cold can chill. It melts the great snow. 


December 27, 1857


in Thoreau’s Journal:  

I frequently hear a dog bark at some distance in the night….The commonest and cheapest sounds, as the barking of a dog, produce the same effect on fresh and healthy ears that the rarest music does. It depends on your appetite for sound. Just as a crust is sweeter to a healthy appetite than confectionery to a pampered or diseased one. It is better that these cheap sounds be music to us than that we have the rarest ears for music in any other sense. I have lain awake a night many a time to think of the barking of a dog which I had heard long before, bathing my being again in those waves of sound, as a frequenter of the opera might lie awake remembering the music he had heard.

December 26, 1853

in Thoreau’s Journal:  

The snow has fallen so gently that if forms an upright wall on the slenderest twig. The agreeable maze which the  branches make is come obvious than ever, and every twig thus laden is as still as the hillside itself…


The sight of the pure and trackless road up Brister’s Hill, with branches and trees supporting snowy burdens bending over it on each side, would tempt us to begin life again.

December 25, 1841

in Thoreau’s Journal:  

It does seem as if Nature did for a long time gently overlook the profanity of man—the wood still kindly echoes the strokes of the axe—and when the strokes are few and seldom—they add a new charm to a walk—  All the elements strive to naturalize the sound.

Such is our sympathy with the seasons that we experience the same degrees of heat in the winter as in the summer.

It is not a true apology for any coarseness to say that it is nature. The grim woods can afford to be very delicate and perfect in the details.

I don’t want to feel as if my life were a sojourn any longer—that philosophy cannot be true which so paints it. It is time now that I begin to live.



December 23, 1851

in Thoreau’s Journal:

It is a record of the mellow and ripe moments that I would keep.  

I would not preserve the husk of life—but the kernel.

When the cup of life is full and flowing over—preserve some drops as a specimen-sample. When the intellect enlightens the heart & the heart warms the intellect.

The snow which we have had for the past week or 10 days has been remarkably light & dry. It is pleasant walking in the woods now when the sun is just coming out & shining on the woods freshly covered with snow— At a distance the oak woods look very venerable—a fine hale wintry aspect things wear and the pines all snowed up even suggest comfort. Where boughs cross each other much snow is caught—which now in all woods is gradually coming down.


December 22, 1853

in Thoreau’s Journal:

A slight whitening of snow last evening—the 2nd whitening of the winter—just enough to spoil the skating now 10 days old on the ponds— Walden skimmed over in the widest part, but some acres still open—will prob. freeze entirely to-night if this weather holds.


You cannot go out so early but you will find the track of some wild creature.

December 21, 1853

in Thoreau’s Journal:

We are tempted to call these the finest days of the year.


Take Fair Haven Pond, for instance, a perfectly level plain of snow, untrodden as yet by any fisherman, surrounded by snow-clad hills, dark evergreen woods, and reddish oak leaves, so pure and still.

December 20, 1840

in Thoreau’s Journal:


My home is as much of nature as my heart embraces.  If I only warm my house, then is that only my home. But if I sympathize with the heats and colds, the sounds and silence of nature, and share the respose and equanimity that reign around me in the fields, then are they my house, as much as if the kettle sang and fagots crackled, and the clock ticked on the wall.

December 18, 1852

in Thoreau’s Journal:

Loring’s Pond beautifully frozen. (This is the first skating.)


So polished the surface, I took many parts of it for water. It was waved or watered with a slight dust, nevertheless. Cracked into large squares, like the faces of a reflector, it was so exquisitely polished that the sky and dun-colored scudding clouds, with mother-o’-pearl tints, were reflected in it as in the calmest water. I slid over it with a little misgiving, mistaking the ice before me for water. Still the ruby-crowned birds about.

December 17, 1851

in Thoreau’s Journal:

The winter morning is the time to see in perfection the woods and shrubs wearing their snowy and frosty dress. Even he who visits them half an hour after sunrise will have lost some of their most delicate and fleeting beauties. The trees wear their morning burden but coarsely after midday, and it no longer expresses the character of the tree…the stems and branches of the trees look black by contrast.  You wander zigzag through the aisles of the woods where stillness and twilight reign. I do not know but a pine woods is as substantial and as memorable a fact as a friend. I am more sure to come away from it cheered than from this who are nearest to being my friends.  


Improve every opportunity to express yourself in writing, as if it were your last….

My acquaintances sometimes wonder why I will impoverish myself by living aloof from this or that company, but greater would be the impoverishment if I should associate with them.

December 16, 1840

in Thoreau’s Journal:

Speech is fractional, silence is integral.


Beauty is where it is perceived. When I see the sun shining on the woods across the pond, I think this side the richer which sees it.