Walking in the woods, it may be, some afternoon, the shadow of the wings of a thought flits across the landscape of my mind, and I am reminded how little eventful are our lives. What have been all these wars and rumors of wars, and modern discoveries and improvements so-called? A mere irritation in the skin. But this shadow which is so soon past, and whose substance is not detected, suggests that there are events of importance whose interval is to us a true historic period.
Of two men, one of whom knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, and the other really knows something about it, but thinks that he knows all, - what great advantage has the latter over the former? which is the best to deal with? I do not know that knowledge amounts to anything more definite than a novel and grand surprise, or a sudden revelation of the insufficiency of all that we had called knowledge before; an indefinite sense of the grandeur and glory of the universe. It is the lighting up of the mist by the sun. But man cannot be said to know in any higher sense [any more] than he can look serenely and with impunity in the face of the sun.
Friday. My prickles or smoothness are as much a quality of your hand as of myself. I cannot tell you what I am, more than a ray of the summer’s sun. What I am I am, and say not. Being is the great explainer. In the attempt to explain, shall I plane away all the spines, till it is no thistle, but a cornstalk?
Ice at Walden eleven inches thick and very soggy, sinking to a level with the water, though there is but a trifling quantity of snow on it. Does it not commonly begin to be soggy even thus early, and thick, sinking deeper? I hear of sudden openings in ponds - as at Cochituate - this year.
A fact stated barely is dry. It must be the vehicle of some humanity in order to interest us. It is like giving a man a stone when he asks you for bread. Ultimately the moral is all in all, and we do not mind it if inferior truth is sacrificed to superior, as when the moralist fables and makes animals speak and act like men. It must be warm, moist, incarnated, - have been breathed on at least. A man has not seen a thing who has not felt it.
Every man will take such views as he can afford to take. Views one would think were the most expensive guests to entertain. I perceive that the reason my neighbor cannot entertain certain views is the narrow limit within which he is obliged to live, on account of the smallness of his means. His instinct tells him that it will not do to relax his hold here and take hold where he cannot keep hold.
A saw a mole (?) run along under the bank by the edge of the pond, but it was only by watching long and sharply that I glimpsed him now and then, he ran so close to the ground and under rather than over anything, as roots and beds of leaves and twigs, and yet without making any noise. No wonder that we so rarely see these animals, though their tracks are so common. I have been astonished to observe before, after holding them in my hand, how quickly they will bury themselves and glide along just beneath the surface, whatever it may be composed of, - grass or leaves or twigs or earth or snow. So some men are sly and subterranean in their ways, and skulk, though often they raise a mound of earth or snow above their backs, which betrays rather than conceals them. For privacy they prefer to travel in a gallery like the mole, though it sometimes happens that it is arched above the ground when they think themselves deep in the sod. The mole goes behind and beneath, rather than before and above.