Saw the first bee of the season on the railroad causeway, also a small red butterfly and, later, a large dark one with buff-edged wings.
There is an early willow on sand-bank of the railroad, against the pond, by the fence, grayish below and yellowish above. The railroad men have dug around the sleepers that the sun may thaw the ground and let them down. It is not yet out. Cut across near Baker’s barn. The swollen buds of some trees now give a new tint to their tops seen at a distance, - to the maples at least. Baker’s peach orchard looks at this distance purplish below and red above, the color of the last year’s twigs. The geranium (?) is the most common green leaf to be seen everywhere on the surface now the snow is gone.
It would be worth the while to tell why a swamp pleases us, what kinds please us, also what weather, etc., etc., - analyze our impressions. Why the moaning of the storm gives me pleasure. Methinks it is because it puts to rout the trivialness of our fair-weather life and gives it at least a tragic interest. The sound has the effect of a pleasing challenge, to call forth our energy to resist the invaders of our life’s territory. It is musical and thrilling, as the sound of an enemy’s bugle. Our spirtis revive like lichens in the storm. There is something worth living for when we are resisted, threatened. As at the last day we might be thrilled with the prospect of the grandeur of our destiny, so in these first days our destiny appears grander. What would the days, what would our life, be worth, if some nights were not dark as pitch, - of darkness tangible or that you can cut with a knife? How else could the light in the mind shine? How should we be conscious of the light of reason? If it were not for physical cold, how should we have discovered the warmth of the affections? I sometimes feel that I need to sit in a far-away cave through a three weeks’ storm, cold and wet, to give a tone to my system. The spring has its windy March to usher it in, with many soaking rains reaching into April. Methinks I would share every creature’s suffering for the sake of its experience and joy. The song sparrow and the transient fox-colored sparrow, - have they brought me no message this year? Do they go to lead heroic lives in Rupert’s Land? They are so small, I think their destinies must be large. Have I heard what this tiny passenger has to say, while it flits thus from tree to tree? Is not the coming of the fox-colored sparrow something more earnest and significant than I have dreamed of? Can I forgive myself if I let it go to Rupert’s Land before I have appreciated it? God did not make this world in jest; no, nor in indifference. These migrating sparrows all bear messages that concern my life. I do not pluck the fruits in their season. I love the birds and beasts because they are mythologically in earnest. I see that the sparrow cheeps and flits and sings adequately to the great design of the universe; that man does not communicate with it, understand its language, because he is not at one with nature. I reproach myself because I have regarded with indifference the passage of the birds; I have thought them no better than I.
Having occasion to-day to put up a long ladder against the house, I found, from the trembling of my nerves with the exertion, that I had not exercised that part of my system this winter. How much I may have lost! It would do me good to go forth and work hard and sweat. Though the frost is nearly out of the ground, the winter has not broken up in me. It is a backward season with me. Perhaps we grow older and older till we no longer sympathize with the revolution of the seasons, and our winters never break up.
There is an evident spring in the grass about springs and brooks, as at Tarbell’s. Some mosses now in fruit. Icicles still form under the banks at night on the north side of hills, from the dripping of the melting snow during the day. The leaves of the rattlesnake-plantain continue green but not so distinctly reticulated. Struck Second Division Brook at the old dam. It is as deep as wide, three feet or more, with a very handsome sandy bottom, rapidly flowing and meandering. A very attractive brook, to trout, etc., as well as men. It not only meanders as you look down on it, but the line of its bottom is very serpentine, in this wise, (sketch) successively deep and shallow. There is a great volume of water for so small a show as it makes. The sands, where they are rippled, are agreeably diversified with the black sediment of decayed wood and leaves in the ripple-marks. This apparently is not a deep or a peat meadow, but has a sandy foundation. The only obvious signs of spring in the vegetation of this meadow are the just expanding downy buds of a rather late kind of slender willow that stands in the brook and, if this can be regarded as a spring phenomenon, the green leaves of the cowslip everywhere. Saw two wood tortoises at the bottom of the brook, one upon another. The upper and larger one was decidedly bronze on the back; the under one, with more sharply grooved scales. The former, perhaps the male, with a decided depression of the sternum. Their legs a reddish orange. In the deeper parts of the brook, where, in the elbow of a meander, it had gullied under the bank, the surface was narrowest, and the dead grass almost met, making coverts for the trout. These tortoises crawled off very clumsily on the bottom. The flippers on one side were not both put forward at the same time, but one moved up to the other. Found the mayflower budded, though mostly covered with snow. There commenced to fall, not hail, but cotton-like pellets of snow, or like crispy snow broken up into triangular prismical [sic] pieces.
Sam Barrett tells me that a boy caught a crow in his neighborhood the other day in a trap set for mink. Its leg was broken. He brought it home under his arm, and laid it down in a shop, thinking to keep it there alive. It looked up sidewise, as it lay seemingly helpless on the floor, but, the door being open, all at once, to their surprise, it lifted itself on its wings and flitted out and away without the least trouble. Many crows have been caught in mink-traps the past winter, they have been compelled to visit the few openings in brooks, etc., so much for food.
6:30 A. M. - To Island.
The ducks sleep these nights in the shallowest water which does not freeze, and there may be found early in the morning. I think that they prefer that part of the shore which is permanently covered.
Snow last evening, about one inch deep, and now it [is] fair and somewhat warmer. Again I see the tracks of rabbits, squirrels, etc. It would be a good time this forenoon to examine the tracks of woodchucks and see what they are about.
They are just beginning to use wheels in Concord, but only in the middle of the town, where the snow is at length worn and melted down to bare ground in the middle of the road, from two to ten feet wide. Sleighs are far the most common, even here. In Cambridge there is no sleighing. For the most part, the middle of the road from Porter’s to the College is bare and even dusty for twenty to thirty feet in width. The College Yard is one half bare. So, if they have had more snow than we, as some say, it has melted much faster. There is also less in the towns between us and Cambridge than in Concord. The snow lies longer on the low, level plain surrounded by hills in which Concord is situated. I am stuck by the more wintry aspect - almost entirely uninterrupted snow-fields - on coming into Concord in the cars.
I now slump from two to four inches into Walden, though there has been no rain since I can remember. I cannot cut through, on account of the water in the softened ice flowing into the hole. At last, in a drier place, I was not troubled with water, till I had cut about a foot, or through the snow ice, when two or three streams of water half an inch or more in diameter spurted up through holes in the disorganized, partly honeycombed clear ice; so I failed to get through. Probably the clear ice is thus riddled all over the pond, for this was a drier place than usual. Is it the effect of the melted snow and surface working down? or partly of water pressing up? The whole mass in the middle is about twenty-four inches thick, but I scrape away about two inches of the surface with my foot, leaving twenty-two inches. For about a rod from the shore, on the north and west sides (I did not examine the others), it is comparatively firm and dry, then for two rods you slump four inches or more, then, and generally, only about two. Is that belt the effect of reflection from the hills?
Returning about 5 P. M. across the Depot Field, I scare up from the ground a flock of about twenty birds, which fly low, making a short circuit to another part of the field. At first they remind me of bay-wings, except that they are in a flock, show no white in tail, are, I see, a little larger, and utter a faint sveet sveet merely, a sort of sibilant chip. Starting them again, I see that they have black tails, very conspicuous when they pass near. They fly in a flock somewhat like snow buntings, occasionally one surging upward a few feet in pursuit of another, and they alight about where they first were. It [is] almost impossible to discover them on the ground, they squat so flat and so much resemble it, running amid the stubble. But at length I stand within two rods of one and get a good view of its markings with my glass. They are the Alauda alpestris, or shore lark, quite a sizable and handsome bird; delicate pale-lemon-yellow line above the [eye], with a dark line through the eye; the yellow again on the sides of the neck and on the throat, with a black crescent below the throat; with a buff-ash breast and reddish-brown tinges; beneath, white; above, rusty-brown behind, and darker, ash or slate, with purplish-brown reflection, forward; legs, black; and bill, blue-black. Common to the Old and New Worlds.
Now then the steep south hillsides begin to be bare, and the early sedge and sere, but still fragrant, pennyroyal and rustling leaves are exposed, and you see where the mice have sheared off the sedge and also made nests of its top during the winter. There, too, the partridges resort, and perhaps you hear the bark of a striped squirrel, and see him scratch toward his hole, rustling the leaves. For all the inhabitants of nature are attracted by this bare and dry spot, as well as you.