All along under the south side of this hill on the edge of the meadow, the air resounds with the hum of honey-bees, attracted by the flower of the skunk-cabbage. I first heard the fine, peculiarly sharp hum of the honey-bee before I thought of them. Some hummed hollowly within the spathes, perchance to give notice to their fellows that plant was occupied, for they repeatedly looked in, and backed out on finding another. It was surprising to see them, directed by their instincts to these localities, while the earth has still but a wintry aspect so far as vegetation is concerned, buzz around some obscure spathe close to the ground, well knowing what they were about, then alight and enter. As the cabbages were very numerous for thirty or forty rods, there must have been some hundreds of bees there at once, at least. I watched many when they entered and came out, and they all had little yellow pellets of pollen at their thighs. As the skunk-cabbage comes out before the willow, it is probably that the former is the first flower they visit. It is the more surprising, as the flower for the most part invisible within the spathe. Some of these spathes are now quite large and twisted up like cows’ horns, not curved over as usual. Commonly they make a pretty little crypt or shrine for the flower, like the overlapping door of a tent. It must be bee-bread (?), then, they are after. Lucky that this flower does not flavor their honey. I have noticed for a month or more the bare ground sprinkled here and there with several kinds of fungi, now conspicuous, - the starred kind, puffballs, etc. Now it is fair, and the sun shines, though it shines and rains with short intervals to-day. I do not see so much greenness in the grass as I expected, though a considerable change. No doubt the rain exaggerates a little by showing all the greenness there is! The thistle is now ready to wear the rain-drops.
What a variety of old garden herbs - mints, etc. - are naturalized along an old settled road, like this to Boston which the British travelled! And then there is the site, apparently, of an old garden by the tanyard, where the spearmint grows so rankly. I am intoxicated with the fragrance. Though I find only one new plant (the cassia), yet old acquaintances grow so rankly, and the spearmint intoxicates me so, that I am bewildered, as it were by a variety of new things. An infinite novelty. All the roadside is the site of an old garden where fragrant herbs have become naturalized, - hounds-tongue, bergamot, spearmint, elecampane, etc. I see even the tiger lily, with its bulbs, growing by the roadside far from houses (near Leighton’s graveyard). I think I have found many new plants, and am surprised when I can reckon but one. A little distance from my ordinary walk and a little variety in the growth or luxuriance will produce this illusion. By the discovery of one new plant all bounds seem to be infinitely removed.
He must have a great deal of life in him to draw upon, who can pick up a subsistence in November and March. Man comes out of his winter quarters this month as lean as a woodchuck. Not till late could the skunk find a place where the ground was thawed on the surface. Except for science, do not travel in such a climate as this in November and March. I tried if a fish would take the bait to-day; but in vain; I not get a nibble. Where are they? I read that a great many bass were taken in the Merrimack last week. Do not the suckers move at the same time?
It is colder than yesterday; wind strong from northwest. The mountains are still covered with snow. They have not once been bare. I go looking for meadow mice nests, but the ground is frozen so hard, except in the meadow below the banks, that I cannot come at them. That portion of the meadow next the upland, which is now thawed, has already many earthworms in it. I can dig a quantity of them, - I suspect more than in summer. Moles might already get their living there. A yellow-spotted tortoise in a still ditch, which has a little ice also. It at first glance reminds me of a bright freckled leaf, skunk-cabbage scape, perhaps. They are generally quite still at this season, or only slowly put their heads out (of their shells). I see where a skunk (apparently) has been probing the sod, though it is thawed but a few inches, and all around this spot frozen hard still. I dig up there a frozen and dead white grub, the large potato grub; this I think he was after. The skunk’s nose has made small round holes such as a stick or cane would make. The river has not yet quite worn its way through Fair Haven Pond, but probably will to-morrow.
I have not seen a tree sparrow, methinks, since January. Probably the woods have been so generally buried by the snow this winter that they have migrated further south. There has not been one in the yard the past winter, nor a redpoll. I saw perhaps one redpoll in the town; that is all. The pinched crows are feeding in the road to-day in front of the house and alighting on the elms, and blue jays also, as in the middle of the hardest winter, for such is this weather. The blue jays hop about in yards.
The past has been a winter of such unmitigated severity that I have not chanced to notice a snow-flea, which are so common in thawing days.
I go over the fields now in any direction, sinking but an inch or two to the old solid snow of the winter. In the road you are on a level with the fences, and often considerably higher, and sometimes, where it is a level causeway in summer, you climb up and coast down great swells of hard-frozen snow, much higher than the fences. I may say that I have not had to climb a fence this winter, but have stepped over them on the snow.
I had two friends. The one offered me friendship on such terms that I could not accept it, without a sense of degradation. He would not meet me on equal terms, but only be to some extent my patron. He would not come to see me, but was hurt if I did not visit him. He would not readily accept a favor, but would gladly confer one. He treated me with ceremony occasionally, though he could be simple and downright sometimes; and from time to time acted a part, treating me as if I were a distinguished stranger; was on stilts, using made words. Our relation was one long tragedy, yet I did not directly speak of it. I do not believe in complaint, nor in explanation. The whole is but too plain, alas, already. We grieve that we do not love each other, that we cannot confide in each other. I could not bring myself to speak, and so recognize an obstacle to our affection.
I had another friend, who, through a slight obtuseness, perchance, did not recognize a fact which the dignity of friendship would by no means allow me to descend so far as to speak of, and yet the inevitable effect of that ignorance was to hold us apart forever.
Has snowed three or four inches - very damp snow - in the night; stops about 9 A. M. This will probably help carry off the old snow, so solid and deep.
P. M. - Walking up the river by Prichard’s, was surprised to see, on the snow over the river, a great many seeds and scales of birches, though the snow had so recently fallen, there had been but little wind, and it was already spring. There was one seed or scale to a square foot, yet the nearest birches were, about fifteen of them, along the wall thirty rods east. As I advanced toward them, the seeds became thicker and thicker, till they quite discolored the snow half a dozen rods distant, while east of the birches there was not one. The birches appear not to have lost a quarter of their seeds yet. As I went home up the river, I saw some of the seeds forty rods off, and perhaps, in a more favorable direction, I might have found them much further. It suggested how unwearied Nature is, spreading her seeds. Even the spring does not find her unprovided with birch, aye, and alder and pine seed. A great proportion of the seed that was carried to a distance lodged in the hollow over the river, and when the river breaks up will be carried far away, to distant shores and meadows.
The opening in the river at Merrick’s is now increased to ten feet in width in some places.
I can hardly believe that hen-hawks may be beginning to build their nests now, yet their young were a fortnight old the last of April last year.
The high wind takes off the oak leaves. I see them scrambling up the slopes of the Deep Cut, hurry-scurry over the slippery snow-crust, like a flock of squirrels. The ice on Walden is of a dull white as I look directly down on it, but not half a dozen rods distant on every side it is a light-blue color.
For the past month there has been more sea-room in the day, without so great danger of running aground on one of those two promontories that make it arduous to navigate the winter day, the morning or the evening. It is a narrow pass, and you must go through with the tide. Might not some of my pages by called “The Short Days of Winter”?
They who live in the outskirts of the town do not like to have woods very near their houses, but cut them down. They are more of a bugbear than an ornament in their eyes. They who live on the village street take still more pains to rear a pine grove about their houses.