Henry David Thoreau.

Autumn: from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau online

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when they enter the water again joins them
within two feet, still diving from time to time,
and threatening to come up in their midst.
They return up stream more or less alarmed,
and pursued in this wise by the dipper, who
doe^ not know what to make of their fears. It
is tlius toled along to within twenty feet of
where I sit, and I can watch it at my leisure.
It has a dark bill, and considerable white on the
sides of the head or neck with black between,
no tufts, and no observable white on back or tail.
When at last disturbed by me, it suddenly sinks
low (all its body) in the water without diving.
Thus it can float at various heights. So, on the
30th, I saw one suddenly dash along the surface
from the meadow ten rods before me to the mid-
dle of the river, and then dive, and though I
watched fifteen minutes and examined the tufts
of grass, I could see no more of it.

Sept. 28, 1840. The world thinks it knows
only what it comes in contact with, and whose
repelling points give it a configuration to the
senses ; a hard crust aids its distinct knowledge.
But what we truly know has no points of repul-
sion, and consequently no objective form, being



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82 AUTUMN.

surveyed from within. "We are acquainted with
the soul and its phenomena as a bird with the
air in which it floats. Distinction is superficial
and formal merely. We touch objects as the
earth we stand on, but the soul as the air we
breathe. We know the world superficially, but
the soul centrally. In the one case our surfaces
meet, in the other our centres coincide.

Sept. 28, 1851. Hugh Miller, in his "Old
Red Sandstone," speaking of "the consistency
of style which obtains among the ichthyolites of
this formation " and the " microscopic beauty
of these ancient fishes," says : " The artist who
sculptured the cherry-stone consigned it to a
cabinet, and placed a microscope beside it ; the
microscopic beauty of these ancient fishes was
consigned to the twilight depths of a primeval
ocean. There is a feeling which at times grows
upon the painter and the statuary, as if the per-
ception and love of the beautiful had been sub-
limed into a kind of moral sense. Art comes to
be pursued for its own sake : the exquisite con-
ception in the mind or the elegant and elaborate
model becomes all in all to the worker, and the
dread of criticism or the appetite for praise al-
most nothing ; and thus, through the influence of
a power somewhat akin to conscience, but whose
province is not the just and the good, but the
fair, the refined, the exquisite, have works, pros-



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AUTUMN. 83

ecuted in solitude, and never intended for the
world, been found fraught with loveliness." ' The
hesitation with which this is said, to say no-
thing of its simplicity, betrays a latent infidel-
ity, more fatal far than that of the "Vestiges of
Creation " which in another work this author en-
deavors to correct. He describes that as an ex-
ception which is in fact the rule. The supposed
want of harmony between " the perception and
love of the beautiful " and a delicate moral sense
betrays what kind of beauty the writer has been
conversant with. He speaks of his work becom-
ing all in all to the worker in rising above the
dread of criticism and the appetite of praise, as
if these were the very rare exceptions in a great
artist's life, and not the very definition of it.

2 p. M. To Conantum. For a week or ten
days I have ceased to look for new flowers or
carry my Botany in my pocket. The fall dan-
delion is now very fresh and abundant, in its
prime.

This swamp [the spruce swamp in G)nant's
Grove] contains beautiful specimens of th e sid e-
sailfl ^ft flower ^ Sarracenia purpurea^ better
called pitcher plant. The leaves ray out around
the dry scape and flower, which still remain, rest-
ing on rich imeven beds of a coarse reddish
moss, through which the small-flowered androm-
eda puts up, presenting altogether a most rich



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34 AUTUMN.

and luxuriant appearance to the eye. Though
the moss is . comparatively dry, I cannot walk
without upsetting the numerous pitchers, which
are now full of water, and so wetting my feet.
I once accidentally sat down on such a bed of
pitcher plants, and f o;imd an uncommonly wet
seat where I expected a dry one. These leaves
are of various colors, from plain green to a rich
striped yellow or deep red. No plants are more
richly painted and streaked than the inside of
the broad lips of these. Old Josselyn called this
" hollow-leaved lavender," I think we have no
other plant so singular and remarkable.

Here was a large hornets' nest which, when I
went to take, first knocking on it to see if any-
body was at home, out came the whole swarm
upon me, lively enough. I do not know why
they should linger longer than their fellows
whom I saw the other day, unless because the
swamp is warmer. They were all within, but
not working.

What honest, homely, earth-loving, unaspiring
houses people used to live in ! — that on Conan-
tum, for instance, so low you can put your hand
on the eaves behind. There are few whose pride
could stoop to enter such a house to-day. And
then the broad chimney, built for comfort, not
for beauty, with no coping of bricks to catch the
eye, no alto or basso relievo.



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AUTUMN. 35

Sept. 28, 1852. p. m. To the Boulder Field.
I find tlift Tinofl-l^i^Yf^d vi^^ftt quite abundant in a
meadow, and the gfidata in the Boulder Field.
Those now seen, all but the blanda, palmata, and
pubescens, blooming again. Bluebirds, robins,
etc., are heard again in the air. This is the
commencement, then, of the second spring. Vio-
lets, Potentilla Canadensis^ lambkill, wild rose,
yellow lily, etc., begin again.

A windy day. What have these high and
roaring winds to do with the fall ? No doubt
they speak plainly enough to the sap that is in
these trees, and perchance check its upward flow.

Ah, if I could put into words that music
which I hear ; that music which can bring tears
to the eyes of marble statues, to which the very
muscles of men are obedient!

Sept. 28, 1858. p. m. To Great Fields via
Gentian Lane. The gentian (^Andrewsit) now
generally in prime, on low, moist, shady banks.
Its transcendent blue shows best in the shade
and suggests coolness ; contrasts there with the
fresh green ; a splendid blue, light in the shade,
turning to purple with age. They are particu-
larly abimdant under the north side of the wil-
low row in Merrick's pasture. I count fifteen
in a single cluster there, and afterward twenty
in Gentian Lane near Flint's Bridge, and there
were other clusters below ; bluer than the bluest



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86 AUTUMN.

sky, they lurk in the moist and shady recesses of
the banks.

Sept. 28, 1859. In proportion as a man has
a poor ear for music, or loses his ear for it, he
is obliged to go far for it, or fetch it from far,
or pay a great price for such as he can hear.
Operas and the like only affect him. It is like
the difference between a young and healthy
appetite and the appetite of an epicure, an appe-
tite for a sweet crust and for a mock-turtle soup.

As the lion is said to lie in a thicket or in tall
reeds and grass by day, slumbering, and sally
out at night, just so with the cat. She wiU en-
sconce herself for the day in the grass or weeds
in some out-of-the-way nook near the house, and
arouse herself toward night.

Sept 29, 1840. Wisdom is a sort of mongrel
between Instinct and Prudence, which, however,
inclining to the side of the father, will finally
assert its pure blood again, as the white race at
length prevails over the black. It is minister
plenipotentiary from earth to heaven, but occa-
sionally Instinct, like a bom celestial, comes to
earth and adjusts the controversy.

All fair action in man is the product of
enthusiasm. There is enthusiasm in the sunset.
The shell on the shore takes new layers and new
tints from year to year with such rapture as the
bard writes his poem. There is a thriU in the



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AUTUMN. 37

spring when it buds and blossoms. There is a
happiness in the sununer, a contentedness in the
autumn, a patient repose in the winter. All the
birds and blossoms and fruits are the product
of enthusiasm. Nature does nothing in the prose
mood, though she acts sometimes grimly, with
poetic fury, as in earthquakes, etc., and at other
times humorously.

Sept. 29, 1851. The intense brilliancy of
the red -ripe maples scattered here and there
in the midst of the green oaks and hickories
on the hiUy shore of Walden is quite charming.
They are unexpectedly and incredibly brilliant,
especially on the western shore and close to
the water's edge, where, alternating with yellow
birches and poplars and green oaks, they remind
me of a line of soldiers, redcoats and riflemen
in green mixed together.

The pine is one of the richest of trees, to my
eye. It stands like a great moss, a luxuriant
mildew, the pumpkin pine, which the earth pro-
duces without effort.

Sept. 29, 1853. The yi'i^h.hfi^^l^ at Lee's Cliff,
in a favorable situation, has but begun to blos-
som, has not been long out, so that I think it
must be later than the gentian. Its leaves are
yellowed, l^ufits [Houstonia] stiU. Lambkill
blossoms again.

Sept. 29, 1854. When I look at the starsr



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38 AUTUMN.

nothing which the astronomers have said at-
taches to them, they are so simple and remote.
Their knowledge is felt to be all terrestrial, and
to concern the earth alone. This suggests that
the same is the case with every object, however
familiar ; our so-called knowledge of it is equally
vulgar and remote. One might say that all
views through a telescope or microscope were
purely visionary, for it is only by his eye, and
not by any other sense, not by the whole man,
that the beholder is there where he is presumed
to be. It is a disruptive mode of viewing so far
as the beholder is concerned.

Sept. 29, 1856. p.m. To Grape Cliff. lean
hardly clamber along this "cliff without getting
my clothes covered with desmodium ticks, these
especially, the rotundifolium and paniculatum.
Though you were running for your life, they
would have time to catch and cling to your
clothes, often the whole row of pods of the Z>es-
modium paniculatum, like a piece of saw-blade
with three teeth. They will even cling to your
hand as you go by. They cling like babes to a
mother's breast, by instinct. Instead of being
caught ourselves and detained by bird-lime, we
are compelled to catch these seeds and carry
them with us. These almost invisible nets, as it
were, are spread for us, and whole coveys of
desmodium and bideus seeds steal transporta-



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AUTUMN. 39

tion out of us. I have found myself often gov-
ered, as it were, with an imbricated coat of the
brown desmodium seeds or a bristling chevaux^
derfriae of beggar ticks, and had to spend a
quarter of an hour or more picking them off in
some convenient spot ; and so they get just what
they wanted, deposited in another place. How
surely the desmodium growing on some rough
cliff-side, or the bidens on the edge of a pool,
prophesy the coming of the traveler, brute or
human, that will transport their seeds on his
coat !

Dr. Reynolds told me the other day of a Can-
flilfl. lymT^ (?) killed in Andover, in a swamp,
some years ago, when he was teaching school in
Tewksbury, thought to be one of a pair, the
other being killed or seen in Derry. Its large
track was seen in the snow in Tewksbury, and
traced to Andover and back. They saw where
it had leaped thirty feet, and where it devoured
rabbits. It was on a tree when shot.

Sept. 29, 1859. Juniper repens berries are
quite green yet. I see some of last year's dark
purple ones at the base of the branchlets. There
is a very large specimen on the side of Fair
Haven Hill, above Cardinal shore. It is very
handsome this bright afternoon, especially if you
stand on the lower and sunny side, on account
of the various ways in which its surging flakes



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40 AUTUMN.

and leaflets, green or silvery, reflect the ligHt.
It is as if we were giants and looked down on
an evergreen forest from whose flaky surface
the light is variously reflected. Though so
low, it is so dense and rigid that neither men
nor cows think of wading through it We got
a bird's-eye view of this evergreen forest, as of
a hawk sailing over, looking into its inapproach-
able clefts and recesses, reflecting a green or
else a cheerful silvery light.

Having just dug my potatoes in the garden,
which did not turn out very well, I took a bas-
ket and trowel and went forth to dig my wild
potatoes, or ground nuts, by the railroad fence.
I dug up the tubers of some half a dozen plants,
and found an unexpected yield. One string
weighed a little more than three quarters of a
pound. There were thirteen that I should have
put with the large potatoes this year, if they
had been the common kind. The biggest was
two and three quarters inches long, and seven
inches in circumference the smallest way. Five
would have been called good-sized potatoes. It
is but a slender vine, now killed by the frost,
and not promising such a yield ; but deep in the
soil, here sand, five or six inches, or sometimes
a foot, you come to the string of brown and
commonly knobby nuts. The cuticle of the
tuber is more or less cracked longitudinally,



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AUTUMN. 41

forming meridional furrows, and the root or
shoot bears a large proportion to the tuber. In
ease of a famine I should soon resort to these
roots. If they increased in size, on being cul-
tivated, as much as the common potato, they
would become monstrous.

Sept. 30, 1851. The white ash has got its
autimmal mulberry hue. What is the autumnal
tint of the black ash? The former contrasts
strongly with the other shade trees on the vil-
lage street, the elms and buttonwoods, at this
season, looking almost black at the first glance.
The different characters of the trees appear
better now, when their leaves, so to speak, are
ripe, than at any other season ; than in the win-
ter, for instance, when they are little remarka-
ble, and almost uniformly gray or brown, or in
the spring and summer, when they are undistin-
guishably green. Now, a red maple, an ash, a
white birch, a Popvlus grandidentata^ etc., is
distinguished almost as far as it is visible. It
is with leaves as with fruits and woods, animals
and men : when they are mature, their different
characters appear.

Sept. 30, 1852. 10 a. m. To Fair Haven
Pond, bee-hunting, — Pratt, Rice, Hastings, and
myself in a wagon. A fine, clear day after the
coolest night and severest frost we have had.
Our apparatus was first a simple round tin box,



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42 AUTUMN.

about f onr and a half inches in diameter and
one and a half inches deep, containing a piece
of empty honeycomb of its own size and form,
filling it within one third of an inch of the
top ; then a wooden box, about two and a half
inches square, with a glass window occupying
two thirds of the upper side under a slide, with
a couple of narrow slits in the wood, each side
of the glass, to admit air, but too narrow for
the bees to pass, the whole resting on a circular
bottom a little larger than the lid of the tin
box, with a sliding door in it. We were ear-
nest to go this week, before the flowers were
gone, and we feared the frosty night might
make the bees slow to come forth. . • . After
eating our lunch we set out on our return [hav-
ing been unsuccessful thus far]. By the road-
side at Walden, on the sunny hillside sloping
to the pond, we saw a large mass of golden-rod
and aster, several rods square and comparatively
fresh. Getting out of our wagon, we found it to
be resounding with the hum of bees. It was
about one o'clock. Here were far more flow-
ers than we had seen elsewhere, and bees in
great numbers, both bumble-bees and honey-
bees, as well as butterflies, wasps, and flies. So
pouring a mixture of honey and water intp the
empty comb in the tin box, and holding the lid
of the tin box in one hand and the wooden box



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AUTUMN. 43

With the slides shut in the other, we proceeded
to catch the honey-bees by shutting them in
suddenly between the lid of the tin box and the
large circular bottom of the wooden one, cutting
off the flower stem with the edge of the lid
at the same time. Then holding the lid still
against the wooden box, we drew the slide in
the bottom, and also the slide covering the win-
dow at the top, that the light might attract the
bee to pass up into the wooden box. As soon
as he had done so, and was buzzing against the
glass, the lower side was closed, and more bees
were caught in the same way. Then placing
the open tin box close under the wooden one,
the slide was drawn again, and the upper slide
closed, making it dark, and in about a min-
ute they went to feeding, as was ascertained
by raising slightly the wooden box. Then the
latter was wholly removed, and they were left
feeding or sucking up the honey in broad day-
light. In from two to three minutes one had
loaded himself and commenced leaving the box.
He would buzz round it back and forth a foot
or more, and then sometimes, perhaps, finding
that he was too heavily loaded, alight to empty
himself or clear his feet. Then, starting once
more, he would circle round irregularly at first,
in a small circle, only a foot or two in diameter,
as if to examine the premises, that he might



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44 AUTUMN.

know them again, till at length, rising higher
and higher, and circling wider and wider, and
swifter and swifter, tiU his orbit was ten or
twelve feet in diameter, and as much from the
ground, though its centre might be moved to
one side (all this as if to ascertain the course to
his nest), in a minute or less from his first start-
ing, he darted off in a bee line, a waving or sinu-
ous line right and left, toward his nest ; that is,
as far as I could see him, which might be eight
or ten rods, looking against the sky. You had
to follow his whole career very attentively in-
deed, to see when and where he went off at a
tangent. It was very difficult to follow him,
especially if you looked against a wood or the
hill, and you had to lie low to fetch him against
the sky. You must operate in an open place,
not in a wood. We sent forth as many as a
dozen bees, which flew in about three directions,
but all toward the village, or where we knew
there were hives. They did not fly almost
straight, as I had heard, but within three or four
feet of the same course, for half a dozen rods, or
as far as we could see. Those belonging to one
hive all had to digress to get round an apple-
tree. As none flew in the right direction for us,
we did not attempt to line them. In less than
half an hour the first returned to the box, which
was lying on a woodpile. Not one of the bees



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AUTUMN. 45

in 'the surroanding flowers Iiad discovered it.
So they came back one after another, loaded
themselves and departed. But now they went
on with very little preliminary circling, as if
assured of their course. We were furnished with
little boxes of red, blue, green, yellow, and white
paint in dry powder, and with a stick we sprin-
kled a little of the red powder on the back of one
while he was feeding, gave him a little dab, and
it settled down amid the fuzz of his back, and
gave him a distinct red jacket. He went off
like most of them toward some hives about three
quarters of a mile distant, and we observed, by
the watch, the time of his departure. In just
twenty-two minutes red jacket came back, with
enough of the powder still on his back to mark
him plainly. He may have gone more than
three quarters of a mile. At any rate, he had
a head wind to contend with while laden. They
fly swiftly and surely to their nests, never resting
by the way, and I was surprised, though I had
been informed of it, at the distance to which
the village bees go for flowers. The rambler in
the most remote woods and pastures little thinks
that the bees which are humming so industri-
ously on the rare wild flowers he is plucking for
the herbarium in some out-of-the-way nook, are,
like himself, ramblers from the village, perhaps
from his own yard, come to get their honey for



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46 AUTUMN

his hives. All the honey-bees we saw were 'on
the blue-stemmed golden-rod, Solidago ccesia^
which lasts long and which emitted a sw€^t,
agreeable fragrance, not on the asters. I feel
the richer for this experience. It taught me
that even the insects in my path are not loafers,
but have their special errands, not merely and
vaguely in this world, but in this hour each is
about his business. If there are any sweet flow-
ers still lingering on the hillsides, it is known
to the bees, both of the forest and the village.
The botanist should make interest with the bees
if he would know when the flowers open and
when they dose. Those above named were the
only common and prevailing flowers on which to
look for them. Our red jacket had performed
the voyage in safety. No bird had picked him
up. Are the kingbirds gone? Now is the
time to hunt bees and take them up, when their
combs are full of honey, and before the flowers
are so scarce that they begin to consmne the
honey they have stored. Forty pounds of honey
was the most our company had got hereabouts.
We also caught and sent f oi*th a bumble-bee
which manoeuvred like the others, though we
thought he took time to eat some before he
loaded himself, and then he was» so overloaded
and bedaubed that he had to alight after he had
started, and it took him several minutes to clear



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AUTUMN. 47

himself. It is not in vain that the flowers
bloom, and bloom late, too, in favored spots*
To us they are a culture and a luxury, but to
bees meat and drink. The tiny bee which we
thought lived far away there in a flower-bell, in
that remote vale, is a great voyager, and anon
he rises up over the top of the wood, and sets
sail with his sweet cargo straight for his distant
haven. How well they know the woods and
fields, and the haimt of every flower! The
flowers are widely dispersed, perhaps because
the sweet which they collect from the atmos-
phere is rare and also widely dispersed, and
the bees are enabled to travel far to find it,
a precious burden which the heavens bear and
deposit on the earth.

Sept. 80, 1858. A large flock of gr y^kles
amid the willows by the river-side, or chiefly
concealed low in the button bushes beneath
them, though quite near me. There they keep
up their spluttering notes, though somewhat less
loud, I fancy, thaii in spring. These are the
first I have seen, and now for some time I think
the redwings have been gone. These are the
first arrivers from the north, where they breed.

I observe the peculiar steel-bluish purple of
the night-shade , i. 6., the tips of the twigs, while
all beneath is green, dotted with bright berries
over the water. Perhaps this is the most sin-



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48 AUTUMN,

gular among the autumnal tints. It is almost
black in some lights, distinctly steel-blue in the
shade, contrasting with the green beneath ; but
seen against the sun, it is a rich purple, its veins
full of fire. The form of the leaf is peculiar.

The pearly everlasting is an interesting white
at present. Though the stem and leaves are
stiU green, it is dry and unwithering like an
artificial flower ; its white flexuous stem and
branches, too, like wire wound with cotton.
Neither is there any scent to betray it. Its
amaranthine quality is instead of high color.
Its very brown centre now affects me as a
fresh and original color. It monopolizes small
circles in the midst of sweet fern, perchance, on
a dry hillside.

In our late walk on the Cape [Ann], we
entered Gloucester each time in the dark at
mid-evening, traveling partly a<5ross lots tiU we
fell into the road, and as we were simply seek-
ing a bed, inquiring the way of villagers whom
we could not see. The town seemed far more
home-like to us than when we made our way
out of it in the morning. It was comparatively
still, and the inhabitants were sensibly or poeti-
cally employed, too. Then we went straight
to our chamber, and saw the moonlight reflected
from the smooth harbor and lighting up the
fishing-vessels, as if it had been the harbor of



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