He is in the lowest scale of laborers who is merely an able-bodied man and can compete with others only in physical strength. Woodchoppers in this neighborhood get but fifty cents a cord, but, though many can chop two cords in a day in pleasant weather and under favorable circumstances, yet most do not average more than seventy-five cents a day, take the months together. But one among them of only equal physical strength and skill as a chopper, having more wit, buys a cross-cut saw for four dollars, hires a man to help him at a dollar a day, and saws down trees all winter at ten cents apiece and thirty or forty a day, and clears two or more dollars a day by it. Yet as long as the world may last few will be found to buy the cross-cut saw, and probably the wages of the sawyer will never be reduced to a level with those of the chopper.
P. M. - To Peter’s via Winter Street [?].
I see the scarlet tops of white maples nearly a mile off, down the river, the lusty shoots of last year. Those of the red maple do not show thus.
I see many little holes in this old and solid snow where leaves have sunk down gradually and perpendicularly, eleven or twelve inches, - the hole no larger at the top than at the bottom, nay, often partly closed at top by the drifting, and exactly the form and size of the leaf. It is as if the sun had driven this thin shield like a bullet thus deep into the solid snow. It is remarkable how deep the leaves settle into an old snow like this.
See a small ant running about over a piece of meadow turf. The celandine begins to be conspicuous, springing under Brown’s fence.
I go to Fair Haven via the Andromeda Swamps. The snow is a foot and more in depth there still. There is a little bare ground in and next to the swampy woods at the head of Well Meadow, where the springs and little black rills are flowing. I see already one blade, three or four inches long, of that purple or lake grass, lying flat on some water, between snow-clad banks, - the first leaf with a rich bloom on it. How silent are the footsteps of Spring!
You might frequently say of a poet away from home that he was as mute as a bird of passage, uttering a mere chip from time to time, but follow him to his true habitat, and you shall not know him, he will sing so melodiously.
Can you ever be sure that you have heard the very first wood frog in the township croak? Ah! how weather-wise must he be! There is no guessing at the weather with him. He makes the weather in his degree; he encourages it to be mild. The weather, what is it but the temperament of the earth? and he is wholly of the earth, sensitive as its skin in which he lives and of which he is a part. His life relaxes with the thawing ground. He pitches and tunes his voice to chord with the rustling leaves which the March wind has dried. Long before the frost is quite out, he feels the influence of the spring rains and the warmer days. His is the very voice of the weather. He rises and falls like quicksilver in the thermometer. You do not perceive the spring so surely in the actions of men, their lives are so artificial. They may make more fire or less in their parlors, and their feelings accordingly are not good thermometers. The frog far away in the wood, that burns no coal nor wood, perceives more surely the general and universal changes.
The qualities of the land that are most attractive to our eyes now are dryness and firmness. It is not the rich black soil, but warm and sandy hills and plains which tempt our steps. We love to sit on and walk over sandy tracts in the spring like cicindelas. These tongues of russet land tapering and sloping into the flood do almost speak to one. They are alternately in sun and shade. When the cloud is passed, and they reflect their pale-brown light to me, I am tempted to go to them.
As, on the 4th, I clambered over those great white pine masts which lay in all directions one upon another on the hillside south of Fair Haven, where the woods have been laid waste, I was struck, in favorable lights, with the jewel-like brilliancy of the sawed ends thickly bedewed with crystal drops of turpentine, thickly as a shield, as if the dryads (?), oreads (?), pine-wood nymphs had seasonably wept there the fall of the tree. The perfect sincerity of these terbinthine drops, each one reflecting the world, colorless as light, or like drops of dew heaven-distilled and trembling to their fall, is incredible when you remember how firm their consistency. And is this that pitch which you cannot touch without being defiled?
It is a good plan to go to some old orchard on the south side of a hill, sit down, and listen, especially in the morning when all is still. You can thus often hear the distant warble of some bluebird lately arrived, which, if you had been walking, would not have been audible to you. As I walk, these first mild spring days, with my coat thrown open, stepping over tinkling rills of melting snow, excited by the sight of the bare ground, especially the reddish subsoil, where it is exposed by a cutting, and by the few green radical leaves, I stand still, shut my eyes, and listen from time to time, in order to hear the note of some bird of passage just arrived.
P. M. - To Lee’s Hill.
I am pleased to cut the small woods with my knife to see their color. The high blueberry, hazel, and swamp-pink are green. I love to see the dear green sprouts of the sassafras and its large and fragrant buds and bark. The twigs or extremities of the branches of young trees twenty feet high look as if scorched and blackened. I gathered a pocketful of pignuts from a tree of Lee’s Hill. Still sound, half of them. The water is pretty high on the meadows (though the ground is covered with snow), so that we get a little of the peculiar still lake view at evening when the wind goes down.
P. M. - To E. Hosmer Spring. Down Turnpike and back by E. Hubbard’s Close.
We stood still a few moments on the Turnpike below Wright’s (the Turnpike, which had no wheel-track beyond Tuttle’s and no track at all beyond Wright’s), and listened to hear a spring bird. We heard only the jay screaming in the distance and the cawing of a crow. What a perfectly New England sound is this voice of the crow! If you stand perfectly still anywhere in the outskirts of the town and listen, stilling the almost incessant hum of your own personal factory, this is perhaps the sound which you will be most sure to hear rising above all sounds of human industry and leading your thoughts to some far bay in the woods where the crow is venting his disgust. This bird sees the white man come and the Indian withdraw, but it withdraws not. Its untamed voice is still heard above the tinkling of the forge. It sees a race pass away, but it passes not away. It remains to remind us of aboriginal nature.