It is remarkable how native man proves himself to the earth, after all, and the completeness of his life in all its appurtenances. His alliances, how wide! He has domesticated not only beasts but fowl, not only hens and geese and ducks and turkeys, but his doves, winging their way to their dovecots over street and village and field, enhance the picturesqueness of his sky, to say nothing of his trained falcons, his beautiful scouts in the upper air. He is lord of the fowl and the brute. His allies are not only on the land, but in the air and water. The dove, the martin, the bluebird, the swallow, and, in some countries, the hawk have attached themselves to his fortunes. The doves that wing their way so near the clouds, they too are man’s retainers.
I see some of those great chocolate-colored fungi already emptied. They burst open and expand into a saucer, and the dust blows out, leaving a distinct spongy bottom or base, often more than an inch thick. Like sponge to the eye, but how unlike it in its repugnance to water! Many small grubs, covered and disguised with the dust, are feeding on these fungi. What primitive and simple bread or manna these are!
Out of a natural curiosity, the growth of the woods, we walked into the dark and musty log house there, trampling down the rank herd’s-grass three feet high which grew close up to the door, and the hunter followed us as if to see us put the house on as he had done. He behaved as if he were the latest comer, and was so absorbed in us that he did not appear to own the newly baked loaf of bread in a blackened Yankee baker on the counter by his side, and I thought at first it had lain over from another season.
The squirrels have no notion of starving in a hard winter, and therefore they are unceasingly employed in the fall in foraging. Every thick wood, especially evergreens, is their storehouse against necessity, and they pack it as thickly as they can with nuts and seeds of all kinds. The squirrel which you see at this season running so glibly along the fence with his tail waving over his head, with frequent pauses on a post or stone, which you watch, perhaps, for twenty or thirty rods, has probably a nut or two in his mouth which he is conveying to yonder thicket.
Yesterday and to-day I have walked rapidly through extensive chestnut woods without seeing what I thought was a seedling chestnut, yet I can soon find them in our Concord pines a quarter or half a mile from the chestnut woods. Several have expressed their surprise to me that they cannot find a seedling chestnut to transplant. I think that [it] is with them precisely as with the oaks; not only a seedling is more difficult to distinguish in a chestnut wood, but it is really far more rare there than in the adjacent pine, mixed, and oak woods. After considerable experience in searching for these and seedling oaks, I have learned to neglect the chestnut and oak woods and go only to the neighboring woods of a different species for them. Only that course will pay.
Goldenrods and asters have been altogether lingering some days. Walnuts commonly fall, and the black walnuts at Smith’s are at least half fallen. They are of the form and size of a small lemon and - what is singular - have a rich nutmeg fragrance. They are now turning dark-brown. Gray says it is rare in the Eastern but very common in the Western States. Is it indigenous in Massachusetts? If so, it is much the most remarkable nut that we have.
Monday. Began to survey along the shore and through the woods. One of the largest and commonest trees, the tulip, in the moist ravines; its dried tulip-shaped relic of a flower, the broad flat stamens still remaining. Noticed a medicinal odor, somewhat like fever-bush, in the bark of twigs. It is said to be a valuable tonic.
The liquidambar or sweet-bum trees, very common and large, oak-like. The corky bark on young trees and twigs was raised into two ears, so as to form a channel, which would conduct the rain down the branches to the main stem, I should say. The fruit was a coarse, rigid, spherical bur, and inch or more in diameter, which opened and dropped much fine seed in my trunk.
Black walnut and bayberry were pretty common, though I noticed no berries on the last.
I well remember the time this year when I first heard the dream of the toads. I was laying out house-lots on Little River in Haverhill. We had had some raw, cold and wet weather. But this day was remarkably warm and pleasant, and I had thrown off my outside coat. I was going home to dinner, past a shallow pool, which was green with springing grass, and where a new house was about being erected, when it occurred to me that I heard the dream of the toad. It rang through and filled all the air, though I had not heard it once. And I turned my companion’s attention to it, but he did not appear to perceive it as a new sound in the air. Loud and prevailing as it is, most men do not notice it at all. It is to them, perchance, a sort of simmering or seething of all nature. That afternoon the dream of the toads rang through the elms by Little River and affected the thoughts of men, though they were not conscious that they heard it.
I know of no object more unsightly to a careless glance than an empty thistle-head, yet, if you examine it closely, it may remind you of the silk-lined cradle in which a prince was rocked. Thus that which seemed a mere brown and worn-out relic of the summer, sinking into the earth by the roadside, turns out to be a precious casket.
I notice in the pitch pine wood behind Moore’s the common pinweed (Lechea major or the next) growing on the top of a pitch pine stump which is yet quite in shape and firm, one foot from the ground, with its roots firmly set in it, reaching an inch or two deep. Probably the seed was blown there, perhaps over the snow when it was on a level with the stump.
Black willows bare. Golden willow with yellow leaves. Larch yellow. Most alders by river bare except at top. Waxwork shows red. Celtis almost bare, with greenish-yellow leaves at top. Some hickories bare, some with rich golden-brown leaves. Locusts half bare, with greenish-yellow leaves. Catnip fresh and green and in bloom. Barberries green, reddish, or scarlet. Cranberry beds at distance in meadows (from hill) are red, for a week or more. Lombardy poplar yellow. Red maples and elms alone very conspicuously bare in our landscape. White thorns bare, and berries mostly fallen, reddening the ground. Hedge-mustard still fresh and in bloom. Buttonwoods half bare. The rock maple leaves a clear yellow; now and then [one] shows some blood in its veins, and blushes. People are busy raking the leaves before their houses; some put them over their strawberries.
It has rained all day, filling the streams. Just after dark, high southerly winds arise, but very warm, blowing the rain against the windows and roof and shaking the house. It is very dark withal, so that I can hardly find my way to a neighbor’s. We think of vessels on the coast, and shipwrecks, and how this will bring down the remaining leaves and to-morrow morning the street will be strewn with rotten limbs of the elms amid the leaves and puddles, and some loose chimney or crazy building will have fallen. Some fear to go to bed, lest the roof be blown off.
There is no such mortality in nobler seeds - seeds of living creatures, as eggs of birds, for instance - as I have noticed in white oak acorns. What if the eggs of any species of bird should be addled to this extent, so that it should be hard to find a sound one? In Egypt, where they hatch eggs artificially in an oven, they can afford to return one chicken for every two eggs they receive (and do so) and yet find it profitable. It is true one third of human infants are said to die before they are five years old, but even this is a far less mortality than that of the acorns. The oak is a scarce bearer, yet it lasts a good while.