Nature provides shelter for her creatures in various ways. If the musquash, etc., has no longer extensive fields of weed and grass to crawl in, what an extensive range it has under the ice of the meadows and riversides! for, the water settling directly after freezing, an icy roof of indefinite extent is thus provided for it, and it passes almost its whole winter under shelter, out of the wind and invisible to men.
It is surprising how suddenly the slumbering snow has been melted, and with what a rush it now seeks the lowest ground on all sides. Yesterday, in the streets and fields, it was all snow and ice and rest; now it is chiefly water and motion. Yesterday afternoon I walked in the merely moist snow-track of sleds and sleighs, while all the sides of the road and the ditches rested under a white mantle of snow. This morning I go picking my way in rubbers through broad puddles on a slippery icy bottom, stepping over small torrents which have worn channels six or eight inches deep, and on each side rushes past with a loud murmur a stream large enough to turn a mill, occasionally spreading out into a sizable mill-pond.
What confirmation of our hopes is in the fragrance of the water-lily! I shall not so soon despair of the world for it, notwithstanding slavery, and the cowardice and want of principle of the North. It suggests that the time may come when man’s deeds will smell as sweet.
--- June 16, 1854
I doubt if I can convey an idea of the appearance of the woods yesterday, as you stood in their midst and looked round on their boughs and twigs laden with snow. It seemed as if there could have been none left to reach the ground. These countless zigzag white arms crossing each other at every possible angle completely closed up the view, like a light drift within three or four rods on every side. The wintriest prospect imaginable. That snow which sifted down into the wood-path was much drier and lighter than elsewhere.
I have thought, when walking in the woods through a certain retired dell, bordered with shrub oaks and pines, far from the village and affording a glimpse only through an opening of the mountains in the horizon, how my life might pass there, simple and true and natural, and how many things would be impossible to be done there. How many books I might not read!
We sometimes think that the inferior animals act foolishly, but are there any greater fools than mankind? Consider how so many, perhaps most, races - Chinese, Japanese, Arabs, Mussulmans generally, Russians - treat the traveller; what fears and prejudices he has to contend with. So many millions believing that he has come [to] do them some harm. Let a traveller set out to go round the world, visiting every race, and he shall meet with such treatment at their hands that he will be obliged to pronounce them incorrigible fools. Even in Virginia a naturalist who was seen crawling through a meadow catching frogs, etc., was seized and carried before the authorities.
When we can no longer ramble in the fields of nature, we ramble in the fields of thought and literature. The old become readers. Our heads retain their strength when our legs have become weak.
When I was surveying Shattuck’s [and] Merrick’s pasture fields the other day, McManus, who was helping me, said that they would be worth a hundred or two hundred dollars more if it were not for the willow-rows which bound and separate them, for you could not plow parallel with them within five rods on account of the roots, you must plow at right angles with them. Yet it is not many years since they were set out, as I remember. However, there should be a great amount of root to account for their wonderful vivaciousness, making seven or eight feet in a year when trimmed.
The tracks of the mice near the head of Well Meadow were particularly interesting. There was a level surface of pure snow there, unbroken by bushes or grass, about four rods across, and here were nine tracks of mice running across it from the bushes on this side to those on the other, the tracks quite near together but repeatedly crossing each other at very acute angles, but each particular course was generally quite direct. The snow was so light that only one distinct track was made by all four of the feet, five or six inches apart, but the tail left a very distinct mark. A single track, thus stretching away almost straight, sometimes half a dozen rods, over unspotted snow, is very handsome, like a chain of a new pattern; and then they suggest an airy lightness in the body that impressed them. Though there may have been but one or two here, the tracks suggesting quite a little company that had gone gadding over to their neighbors under the opposite bush. Such is the delicacy of the impression on the surface of the lightest snow, where other creatures sink, and night, too, being the season when these tracks are made, they remind me of a fairy revel. It is almost as good as if the actors were here. I can easily imagine all the rest. Hopping is expressed by the tracks themselves. Yet I should like much to see by broad daylight a company of these revellers hopping over the snow. There is a still life in America that is little observed or dreamed of. Here were possible auditors and critics which the lecturer at the Lyceum last night did not think of. How snug they are somewhere under the snow now, not to be thought of, if it were not for these pretty tracks! And for a week, or fortnight even, of pretty still weather the tracks will remain, to tell of the nocturnal adventures of a tiny mouse who was not beneath the notice of the Lord. So it was so many thousands of years before Gutenberg invented printing with his types, and so it will be so many thousands of years after his types are forgotten, perchance. The deer mouse will be printing on the snow of Well Meadow to be read by a new race of men.
I despair of ever getting anything quite simple and honest done in this world by the help of men. They would have to be passed through a powerful press, a la cider-mill, that their old notions might be thoroughly squeezed out of them, and it would be some time before they would get upon their legs again. Then undoubtedly there would be some one with a maggot in his head, offspring of an egg deposited there nobody knows when; fire does not kill these things, and you would have lost your labor. I could cry, if it were not for laughing.