I see the old pale-faced farmer out again on his sled now for the five-thousandth time, - Cyrus Hubbard, a man of a certain New England probity and worth, immortal and natural, like a natural product, like the sweetness of a nut, like the toughness of hickory. He, too, is a redeemer for me. How superior actually to the faith he professes! He is not an office-seeker. What an institution, what a revelation is a man! We are wont foolishly to think that the creed which a man professes is more significant than the fact he is. It matters not how hard the conditions seemed, how mean the world, for a man is a prevalent force and a new law himself. He is a system whose law is to be observed. The old farmer condescends to countenance still this nature and order of things. It is a great encouragement that an honest man makes this world his abode. He rides on the sled drawn by oxen, world-wise, yet comparatively so young, as if they had seen scores of winters. The farmer spoke to me, I can swear, clean, cold, moderate as the snow. He does not melt the snow where he treads. Yet what a faint impression that encounter may make on me after all! Moderate, natural, true, as if he were made of earth, stone, wood, snow. I thus meet in this universe kindred of mine, composed of these elements. I see men like frogs; their peeping I partially understand.
Several inches of snow, but a rather soft and mild air still. Now see the empty chalices of the blue-curls and the rich brown-fruited pinweed above the crust. (The very cat was full of spirits this morning, rushing about and frisking on the snow-crust, which bore her alone. When I came home from New Jersy the other day, was struck with the sudden growth and stateliness of our cat Min, - his cheeks puffed out like a regular grimalkin. I suspect it is a new coat of fur against the winter chiefly. The cat is a third bigger than a month ago, like a patriarch wrapped in furs; and a mouse a day, I hear, is nothing to him now.) This as I go through the Depot Field, where the stub ends of corn-stalks rise above the snow. I find half a dozen russets, touched and discolored within by frost, still hanging on Wheeler’s tree by the wall.
How bright and light the day now! Methinks it is as good as half an hour added to the day. White houses no longer stand out and stare in the landscape. The pine woods snowed up look more like the bare oak woods with their gray boughs. The river meadows show now far off a dull straw-color or pale brown amid the general white, where the coarse sedge rises above the snow; and distant oak woods are now more distinctly reddish. It is a clear and pleasant winter day. The snow has taken all the November out of the sky. Now blue shadows, green rivers, - both which I see, - and still winter life.
How much more remote the newly discovered species seems to dwell than the old and familiar ones, though both inhabit the same pond! Where the Pomotis obesus swims must be a new country, unexplored by science. The seashore may be settled, but aborigines dwell unseen only thus far inland. This country is so new that species of fishes and birds and quadrupeds inhabit it which science has not yet detected. The water which such a fish swims in must still have a primitive forest decaying in it.
Walden is very low, compared with itself for some years. The bar between pond and Hubbard’s pond-hole is four feet wide, but the main bar is not bare. There is a shore at least six feet wide inside the alders at my old shore, and what is remarkable, I find that not only Goose Pond also has fallen correspondingly within a month, but even the smaller pond-holes only four or five rods over, such as Little Goose Pond, shallow as they are. I begin to suspect, therefore, that this rise and fall extending through a long series of years is not peculiar to the Walden system of ponds, but is true of ponds generally, and perhaps of rivers, though in their case it may be more difficult to detect. Even around Little Goose Pond the shore is laid bare for a space even wider than at Walden, it being less abrupt. The Pout’s Nest, also has lost ten feet on all sides.
While most keep close to their parlor fires this cold and blustering Thanksgiving afternoon, and think with compassion of those who are abroad, I find the sunny south side of this swamp as warm as their parlors, and warmer to my spirit. Aye, there is a serenity and warmth here which the parlor does not suggest, enhanced by the sound of the wind roaring on the northwest side of the swamp a dozen or so rods off. What a wholesome and inspiring warmth is this! I see aspen (tremuliformis) leaves, which have long since fallen, turned black, which also shows the relation of this tree to the willow, many species of which also turn black.
Commonly we use life sparingly, we husband it as if it were scarce, and admit the right of prudence; but occasionally we see how ample and inexhaustible is the stock from which we so scantily draw, and learn that we need not be prudent, that we may be prodigal, and all expenses will be met.
To-day it has been finger-cold. Unexpectedly I found ice by the side of the brooks this afternoon nearly an inch thick. Prudent people get in their barrels of apples to-day. The difference of the temperature of various localities is greater than is supposed. If I was surprised to find ice on the sides of the brooks, I was much more surprised to find quite a pond in the woods, containing an acre or more, quite frozen over so that I walked across it. It was in a cold corner, where a pine wood excluded the sun. In the larger ponds and the river, of course, there is no ice yet. It is a shallow, weedy pond. I lay down on the ice and looked through at the bottom. The plants appeared to grow more uprightly than on the dry land, being sustained and protected by the water. Caddis-worms were everywhere crawling about in their handsome quiver-like sheaths or cases.
I was just thinking it would be fine to get a specimen leaf from each changing tree and shrub and plant in autumn, in September and October, when it had got its brightest characteristic color, the intermediate ripeness in its transition from the green to the russet or brown state, outline and copy its color exactly with paint in a book - a book which should be a memorial of October, be entitled October Hues or Autumnal Tints. I remember especially the beautiful yellow of the Populus grandidentata and the tint of the scarlet maple. What a memento such a book would be, beginning with the earliest reddening of the leaves, woodbine and ivy, etc., etc., and the lake of radical leaves, down to the latest oaks! I might get the impression of their veins and outlines in the summer with lampblack, and after color them.