It is quite mild and pleasant to-day. I saw a little green hemisphere of moss which looked as if it covered a stone, but, thrusting my cane into it, I found it was nothing but moss, about fifteen inches in diameter and eight or nine inches high. When I broke it up, it appeared as if the annual growth was marked by successive layers half an inch deep each. The lower ones were quite rotten, but the present year’s quite green, the intermediate white. I counted fifteen or eighteen. It was quite solid, and I saw that it continued solid as it grew by branching occasionally, just enough to fill the newly gained space, and the tender extremities of each plant, crowded close together, made the firm and compact surface of the bed. There was a darker line separating the growths, where I thought the surface had been exposed to the winter. It was quite saturated with water, though firm and solid.
I cannot but see still in my mind’s eye those little striped breams poised in Walden’s glaucous water. They balance all the rest of the world in my estimation at present, for this is the bream that I have just found, and for the time I neglect all its brethren and am ready to kill the fatted calf on its account. For more than two centuries have men fished here and have not distinguished this permanent settler of the township. It is not like a new bird, a transient visitor that may not be seen again for years, but there it swells and has dwelt permanently, who can tell how long? When my eyes first rested on Walden the striped bream was poised in it, though I did not see it, and when Tahatawan paddled his canoe there. How wild it makes the pond and the township to find a new fish in it!
Cattle still abroad in the fields, though there is little to be got there. They say that young cattle can stand the cold and starvation best. If I am not mistaken, their coats have less sleekness than in the spring; they have a shaggy, frowzy, and nipped look, their hair standing on end, and the sorrel color seems to predominate. Their pastures look as barren of nutriment as their own backs.
Monday. Saw boys skating in Cambridgeport, - the first ice to bear. Settled with J. Munroe & Co., and on a new account placed twelve of my books with him on sale. I have paid him directly out of pocket since the book was published two hundred and ninety dollars and taken his receipt for it. This does not include postage on proof-sheets, etc., etc. I have received from other quarters about fifteen dollars. This has been the pecuniary value of the book. Saw at the Natural History rooms the skeleton of a moose with horns. The length of the spinal processes (?) over the shoulder was very great. The hind legs were longer than the front, and the horns rose about two feet above the shoulders and spread between four and five, I judged.
The Greeks and Romans made much of honey because they had no sugar; olive oil also was very important. Our poets (?) still sing of honey, though we have sugar, and oil, though we do not produce and scarcely use it.
I find, sometimes, after I have been lotting off a large wood-lot for auction, that I have been cutting new paths to walk in. I cut lines an inch [sic] or two long in arbitrary directions, in and around some dense woodlot which perhaps is not crossed once a month by any mortal, nor has been for thirty or fifty years, and thus I open to myself new works [sic], - enough in a lot of forty acres to occupy me for an afternoon. A forty-acre wood-lot which otherwise would not detain a walker more than half an hour, being thus opened and carved out, will entertain him for half a day.
In this case there was a cultivated field here some thirty years ago, but, the wood being suffered to spring up, from being open and revealed this part of the earth became a covert and concealed place. Excepting an occasional hunter who crossed it maybe once in several months, nobody has walked there, nobody has penetrated its recesses. The walker habitually goes round it, or follows the single cart-path that winds through it. Woods, both the primitive and those which are suffered to spring up in cultivated fields, thus preserve the mystery of nature. How private and sacred a place a grove thus becomes! - merely because its denseness excludes man. It is worth the while to have these thickets on various sides of the town, where the rabbit lurks and the jay builds its nest.
At Walden. - I hear at sundown what I mistake for the squawking of a hen, - for they are firing at chickens hereabouts, - but it proved to be a flock of wild geese going south. This proves how much the voices of all fowls are alike.
Setting stakes in the swamp (Ministerial), Saw seven black ducks fly out of the peat-hole. Saw there also a tortoise still stirring, the painted tortoise, I believe.
Found on the south side of the swamp the Lygodium palmatum, which Bigelow calls the only climbing fern in our latitude, an evergreen, called (with others) snake-tongue, as I find in Loudon.
The Irishman who helped me says, when I ask why his countrymen do not learn trades, - do something but the plainest and hardest work, - they are too old to learn trades when they come here.
Irish immigrants, Jacob Bigelow, Lygodium palmatum
This is a very beautiful November day, - a cool but clear, crystalline air, through which even the white pines with their silvery sheen are an affecting sight. It is a day to behold and to ramble over the hard (stiffening) and withered surface of the tawny earth. Every plant’s down glitters with a silvery light along the Marlborough road, - the sweet-fern, the lespedeza, and bare blueberry twigs, to say nothing of the weather-worn tufts of Andropogon scoparius. A thousand bare twigs gleam like cobwebs in the sun. I rejoice in the bare, bleak, hard, and barren-looking surface of the tawny pastures, the firm outline of the hills, so convenient to walk over, and the air so bracing and wholesome. Though you are finger-cold toward night, and you cast a stone on to your first ice, and see the unmelted crystals under every bank, it is glorious November weather, and only November fruits are out. On some hickories you see a thousand black nuts against the sky.