I have thoughts, as I walk, on some subject that is running in my head, but all their pertinence seems gone before I can get home to set them down. The most valuable thoughts which I entertain are anything but what I thought. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I can only walk with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled.
As it is important to consider Nature from the point of view of science, remembering the nomenclatures and system of men, and so, if possible, go a step further in that direction, so it is equally important often to ignore or forget all that men presume that they know, and take an original and unprejudiced view of Nature, letting her make what impression she will on you, as the first men, and all children and natural men still do. For our science, so called, is always more barren and mixed up with error than our sympathies are.
I had noticed for some time, far in the middle of the Great Meadows, something dazzlingly white, which I took, of course, to be a small cake of ice on its end, but now that I have climbed the pitch pine hill and can overlook the whole meadow, I see it to be the white breast of a male sheldrake accompanied perhaps by his mate (a darker one). They have settled warily in the very midst of the meadow, where the wind has blown a space of clear water for an acre or two. The aspect of the meadow is sky-blue and dark-blue, the former a thin ice, the latter the spaces of open water which the wind has made, but it is chiefly ice still. Thus as soon as the river breaks up or begins to break up fairly, and the strong wind widening the cracks makes at length open spaces in the ice of the meadow, this hardy bird appears, and is seen sailing in the first widened crack in the ice, where it can come at the water. Instead of a piece of ice I find it to be the breast of the sheldrake, which so reflects the light as to look larger than it is, steadily sailing this way and that with its companion, who is diving from time to time. They have chosen the opening farthest removed from all shores. As I look I see the ice drifting in upon them and contracting their water, till finally they have but a few square rods left, while there are forty or fifty acres near by. This is the first bird of the spring that I have seen or heard of.
The east side of Deep Cut nearly dry; sand has ceased flowing; west side just beginning. Now begin to see the Cladonia rangiferina (”reindeer moss”) in the dry pastures. Observed for the first time on and about Bear Hill in Lincoln the Parmelia conspersa (?), “greenish straw-colored,” and what I suppose is P. saxatilis, “glaucous-cinerescent.” The P. conspersa is a very handsome and memorable lichen, which every child has admired. I love to find it where the rocks will split into their laminæ so that I can easily carry away a specimen. The low hills in the northeast beyond Bedford, seen from Bear Hill about 4.30 P. M., were remarkably dark blue, much more blue than the mountains in the northwest. The sky was in great part concealed by white clouds. Had this blue the same cause with the blue in the crevices of the snow?
The fields of open water amid the thin ice of the meadows are the spectacle to-day. They are especially dark blue when I look southwest. Has it anything to do with the direction of the wind? It is pleasant to see high dark-blue waves half a mile off running incessantly along the edge of white ice. There the motion of the blue liquid is the most distinct. As the waves rise and fall they seem to run swiftly along the edge of the ice.
2 P. M. - Thermometer 42. A very spring-ike day, so much sparkling light in the air.
The clouds reflecting a dazzling brightness from their edges, and though it is rather warm (the wind raw) there are many, finely divided, in a stream southwest to northeast all the afternoon, and some most brilliant mother-o’-pearl. I never saw the green in it more distinct. This on the thin white edges of clouds as if it were a small piece of a rainbow. Some of the finest imaginable rippling, and some fine strings of clouds, narrow ant-eater skeletons, stretching from southwest to northeast, with the wind, looking like a little cotton caught on a crooked telegraph-wire, the spine is so distinct.
P. M. - Walk to Quinsigamond Pond, where was good skating yesterday, but this very pleasant and warm day it is suddenly quite too soft. I was just saying to Blake that I should look for hard ice in the shade, or [on the] north side, of some wooded hill close to the shore, though skating was out of the question elsewhere, when, looking up, I saw a gentleman and lady very gracefully gyrating and, as it were, courtesying to each other in a small bay under such a hill on the opposite shore of the pond. Intervening bushes and shore concealed the ice, so that their swift and graceful motions, their bodies inclined at various angles as they gyrated forward and backward about a small space, looking as if they would hit each other, reminded me of the circling of two winged insects in the air, or hawks receding and approaching.
The river is unusually high, owing to the melting of the snow. Men go in boats over their gardens and potato-fields, and all the children of the village are on tiptoe to see whose fence will be carried away next. Great numbers of muskrats, which have been driven out of their holes by the water, are killed by the sportsmen.
They are to us instead of the beaver. The wind from over the meadows is laden with a strong scent of musk, and by its racy freshness advertises us of an unexplored wildness. Those backwoods are not far off. I am affected by the sight of their cabins of mud and grass, raised four or five feet, along the river, as when I read of the Pyramids, or the barrows of Asia.
I see now, in the ruts in sand on hills in the road, those interesting ripples which I only notice to advantage in very shallow running water, a phenomenon almost, as it were, confined to melted snow running in ruts in the road in a thaw, especially in the spring. It is a spring phenomenon. The water, meeting with some slight obstacle, ever and anon appears to shoot across diagonally to the opposite side, while ripples from the opposite side intersect the former, producing countless regular and sparkling diamond-shaped ripples.
If you hold your head low and look along up such a stream in a right light, it is seen to have a regularly braided surface, tress-like, preserving its figures as if it were solid, though the stream is seen pulsing high through the middle ripples in the thread of the stream. The ripples are as rectilinear as ice-crystals. When you see the sparkling stream from melting snow in the ruts, know that then is to be seen this braid of the spring.
P. M. - I see directly in front [of] the Depot Lee [?] house, on the only piece of bare ground I see hereabouts, a large flock of lesser redpolls feeding. They must be picking up earth, sand, or the withered grass. They are so intent on it that they allow me to come quite near. This, then, is one use for the drifting of snow which lays bare some spots, however deep it may be elsewhere, - so that the birds, etc., can come at the earth. I never thought of this use before. First the snow fell deep and level on the 18th, then, the 19th, came high wind and plowed it out here and there to the ground; and so it will always be in some places, however deep it may have been.