Not finding the birches, I returned to the first swamp and tapped two more white birches. They flow generally faster than the red or white maples when I tried them. I sit on a rock in the warm, sunny swamp, where the ground is bare, and wait for my vessels to be filled. It is perfectly warm and perhaps drier than ever here. The great butterflies, black with buff-edged wings, are fluttering about, and flies are buzzing over rock. The spathes of the skunk-cabbage stand thickly amid the dead leaves, the only obvious sign of vegetable life. A few rods off I hear some sparrows busily scratching the floor of the swamp, uttering a faint tseep tseep and from time to time a sweet strain. It is probably the fox-colored sparrow. These always feed thus, I think, in woody swamps, a flock of them rapidly advancing, flying before one another, through the swamp. A robin peeping at a distance is mistaken for a hyla. A gun fired at a muskrat on the other side of the island towards the village sounds like planks thrown down from a scaffold, borne over the water. Meanwhile I hear the sap dropping into my pail. The birch sap flows thus copiously before there is any other sign of life in the tree, the buds not visibly swollen. Yet the aspen, though in bloom, shows no sap when I cut it, nor does the alder. Will their sap flow later? Probably this birch sap, like the maple, flows little if any at night. It is remarkable that this dead-looking trunk should observe such seasons, —-that a stock should distinguish between day and night.
My life will wait for nobody, but is being matured still irresistibly while I go about the streets and chaffer with this man and that to secure it a living. It will cut its own channel, like the mountain stream, which by the longest ridges and by level prairies is not kept from the sea finally. So flows a man’s life, and will reach the sea water, if not by an earthy channel, yet in dew and rain, overleaping all barriers, with rainbows to announce its victory. It can wind as cunningly and unerringly as water that seeks its level; and shall I complain if the gods make it meander?
It is surprising how the earth on bare south banks begins to show some greenness in its russet cheeks in this rain and fog—a precious emerald-green tinge—almost like a green mildew, the growth of the night — a green blush suffusing her cheek — heralded by twittering birds. This sight is no less interesting than the corresponding bloom & ripe blush of the fall. How encouraging to perceive again that faint tinge of green, spreading amid the russet on earth’s cheeks! I revive with Nature—her victory is mine.
How unexpectedly dumb and poor and cold does Nature look, when, where we had expected to find a glassy lake reflecting the skies and trees in the spring, we find only dull, white ice. Such I am, no doubt, to many friends.
It is incredible what a revolution in our feelings and in the aspect of nature this warmer air alone has produced. Yesterday the earth was simple to barrenness, and dead, bound out. Out of doors there was nothing but the wind and the withered grass, and the cold though sparkling blue water, and you were driven in upon yourself. Now, you would think there was a sudden awakening in the very crust of the earth, as if flowers were expanding and leaves putting forth; but not so. I listen in vain to hear a frog or a new bird as yet. Only the frozen ground is melting a little deeper, and the water is trickling from the hills in some places. No, the change is mainly in us. We feel as if we had obtained a new lease of life.
The early willow will bloom tomorrow. Its catkins have lost many of their scales. The crowded yellow anthers are already bursting out through the silvery down, like the sun of spring through the clouds of winter. How measuredly this plant has advanced, sensitive to the least change of temperature, its expanding not to be foretold, unless you can foretell the weather. This is the earliest willow that I know. Yet it is on a dry upland. There is a great difference in localities in respect to warmth, and a corresponding difference in the blossoming of plants of the same species.
We know too well what shall have for our Saturday’s dinner—but each days feast in Nature’s year is a surprise to us & adapted to our appetite & spirits— She has arranged such an order of feasts as never tires– Her motive is not economy but satisfaction.
A score of my townsmen have been shooting and trapping musquash and mink of late. They are gone all day—early and late they scan the rising tide—stealthily they set their traps in remote swamps, avoiding one another. Am not I a trapper too? Early and late scanning the rising flood, ranging by distant woodsides, setting my traps in solitude and baiting them as well as I know how, that I may catch life and light…. As to the color of spring, I should say that hitherto in dry weather it was fawn-colored; in wet, more yellowish or tawny. When wet, the green of the fawn is supplied by the lichens and the mosses.
When I think what were the various sounds and notes, the migrations and works, and changes of fur and plumage which ushered in the spring and marked the other seasons of the year, I am reminded that this my life in nature, this particular round of natural phenomena which I call a year, is lamentably incomplete. I listen to [a] concert in which so many parts are wanting. The whole civilized country is to some extent turned into a city, and I am that citizen whom I pity. Many of those animal migrations and other phenomena by which the Indians marked the season are no longer to be observed. I seek acquaintance with Nature, ––to know her moods and manners….
I am reassured and reminded that I am the heir of eternal inheritances which are inalienable, when I feel the warmth reflected from the sunny bank, and see the yellow sand and the reddish soil, and hear some dried leaves rustle and the trickling of melted snow in some sluiceway. The eternity which I detect in Nature I predicate of myself also. How many springs I have had this same experience! I am encouraged for I recognize this steady persistency and recovery of Nature as a quality of myself.
As soon as those spring mornings arrive in which the birds sing I am sure to be an early riser— I am waked by my genius— I wake to inaudible melodies, and am surprised to find myself awaiting the dawn—in so serene and joyful & expectant a mood. I have an appointment with spring.
It is a genial and reassuring day; the mere warmth of the west wind amounts almost to balminess. The softness of the air mollifies our own dry and congealed substance. I sit down by a wall to see if I can muse again. We become, as it were, pliant and ductile again to strange but memorable influences; we are led a little way by our genius. We are affected like the earth, and yield to the elemental tenderness. Winter breaks up within us. The frost is coming out of me, and I am heaved like the road. Accumulated masses of ice and snow dissolve, and thoughts like a freshet, pour down unwonted channels. A strain of music comes to solace the traveler over earth’s downs and dignify his chagrins. The petty men whom he meets are shadows of grander to come. Roads lead else-wither than to Carlisle and Sudbury. The earth is uninhabited, but fair to inhabit, like the old Carlisle road. Is, then, the road so rough that it should be neglected? Not only narrow, but rough, is the way that leads to life everlasting. Our experience does not wear upon us. It is seen to be fabulous or symbolical, and the future is worth expecting. Encouraged, I set out once more to climb the mountain of the earth, for my steps are symbolical.