Found some splendid fungi on old aspens used for a fence; quite firm; reddish-white above and bright-vermilion beneath, or perhaps more scarlet, reflecting various shades as it is turned. It is remarkable that the upper side of this fungus, which must, as here, commonly be low on decaying wood, so that we look down on it, is not bright-colored nor handsome, and it was only when I had broken it off and turned it over that I was surprised by its brilliant color. This intense vermilion (?) face, which would be known to every boy in the town if it were turned upward, faces the earth and is discovered only by the curious naturalist. Its ear is turned down, listening to the honest praises of the earth.
In those days when how to get my living honestly, with freedom left for my proper pursuits, was a question which vexed me even more than it does now, I used to see a large box by the railroad, six feet long by three wide, in which the workmen locked up their tools at night; and it suggested to me that every man who was hard pushed might get him such a one for a dollar, and, having bored a few auger-holes in it, to admit the air at least, get into it when it rained and at night, and shut the lid and hook it, and so have freedom in his mind, and in his soul be free. This did not seem the worst alternative, nor by any means a despicable resource. You could sit up as late as you pleased; and, whenever you got up in the morning, you would not have any creditor dogging you for rent. I should not be in a bad box. Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box, who would not have frozen to death in such a box as this. I should not be in so bad a box as many a man is in now.
It is so mild and moist as I saunter along by the wall east of the Hill that I remember, or anticipate, one of those warm rain-storms in the spring, when the earth is just laid bare, the wind is south, and the cladonia lichens are swollen and lusty with moisture, your foot sinking into them and pressing the water out as from a sponge, and the sandy places also are drinking it in. You wander indefinitely in a beaded coat, wet to the skin of your legs, sit on moss-clad rocks and stumps, and hear the lisping of migrating sparrows flitting amid the shrub oaks, sit long at a time, still, and have your thoughts. A rain which is as serene as fair weather, suggesting fairer weather than was ever seen. You could hug the clods that defile you. You feel the fertilizing influence of the rain in your mind. The part of you that is wettest is fullest of life, like the lichens. You discover evidences of immortality not known to divines. You cease to die. You detect some buds and sprouts of life. Every step in the old rye-field is on virgin soil.
How protean is life! One may eat and drink and sleep and digest, and do the ordinary duties of a man, and have no excuse for sending for a doctor, and yet he may have reason to doubt if he is as truly alive or his life is as valuable and divine as that of an oyster. He may be the very best citizen in the town, and yet it shall occur to him to prick himself with a pin to see if he is alive. It is wonderful how quiet, harmless, and ineffective a living creature may be. No more energy may it have than a fungus that lifts the bark of a decaying tree. I raised last summer a squash which weighed 123 1/2 pounds. If it had fallen on me it would have made as deep and lasting an impression as most men do. I would just as lief know what it thinks about God as what most men think, or are said to think. In such a squash you have already got the bulk of a man. My man, perchance, when I have put such a question to him, opes his eyes for a moment, essays in vain to think, like a rusty firelock out of order, then calls for a plate of that same squash to eat and goes to sleep, as it is called, - and that is no great distance to go, surely.
When I first paddled a boat on Walden, it was completely surrounded by thick and lofty pine and oak woods, and in some of its coves grape-vines had run over the trees and formed bowers under which a boat could pass. The hills which form its shores are so steep, and the woods on them were then so high, that, as you looked down the pond from west to east, it looked like an amphitheatre for some kind of sylvan spectacle. I have spent many an hour, when I was younger, floating over its surface as the zephyr willed, having paddled to the middle, lying on my back across the seats of my boat, in a summer forenoon, and looking into the sky above, dreaming awake, until I was aroused by my boat touching the sand, and I arose to see what shore my fates had impelled me to; when idleness was the most attractive and productive industry. Many a forenoon have I stolen away thus, preferring thus to spend the most valued part of the day. For I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly. Nor do I regret that I did not spend more of them behind a counter or in the workshop or the teacher’s desk, in which last two places I have spent so many of them.
I experimented on the large bubbles under the ice. Some, the oldest and nearest the surface, were white; others, the newest and against the present under surface, were of a bluish or slate color, more transparent. I found that the whiteness of the first was owing to the great quantity of little bubbles above and below the great one produced by the heat of this “burning-glass,” while those of recent formation have not had time to accomplish this. When I cut through with my knife an inch or two to one of the latter kind, making a very slight opening, the confined air, pressed by the water, burst up with a considerable hissing sound, sometimes spurting a little water with it, and thus the bubble was contracted, almost annihilated; but frequently, when I cut into one of the old or white ones, there was no sound, the air did not rush out because there was no pressure, there being ice below as well as above it; but when I also pierced the lower ice it did rush out with a sound like the others.
8 A. M. - On river.
Walking on the ice by the side of the river this very pleasant morning, I see many minnows (may be dace) from one and a half to four inches long which have come out, through holes or cracks a foot wide more or less, where the current has worn through and shows the dark stream, and the water has flown over the adjacent ice, sinking it down so as to form a shallow water four or five feet wide or more, and often several rods long, and four or five inches deep on the side next the crack, or deepest side. This water has a yellowish color, and a fish or anything else in it is at once seen. I think that they come out into this thin water overlying the ice for the sake of the sun’s warmth. Much heat must be reflected from the icy bottom this sunny morning, - a sort of anticipation of spring to them. This shallow surface water is also thinly frozen over, and I can sometimes put my hand close over the minnow. When alarmed they make haste back to the dark water of the crack, and seek the depths again.
Each pleasant morning like this all creatures recommence life with new resolutions, - even these minnows, methinks.
The energy and excitement of the musquash-hunter even, not despairing of life, but keeping the same rank and savage hold on it that his predecessors have for so many generations, while so many are sick and despairing, even this is inspiriting to me. Even these deeds of death are interesting as evidences of life, for life will still prevail in spite of all accidents. I have a certain faith that even musquash are immortal and not born to be killed by Melvin’s double-B (?) shot.