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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 9
    Previous Chapter
    THE PONDS

    Sometimes, having had a surfeit of human society and gossip, and
    worn out all my village friends, I rambled still farther westward
    than I habitually dwell, into yet more unfrequented parts of the
    town, "to fresh woods and pastures new," or, while the sun was
    setting, made my supper of huckleberries and blueberries on Fair
    Haven Hill, and laid up a store for several days. The fruits do not
    yield their true flavor to the purchaser of them, nor to him who
    raises them for the market. There is but one way to obtain it, yet
    few take that way. If you would know the flavor of huckleberries,
    ask the cowboy or the partridge. It is a vulgar error to suppose
    that you have tasted huckleberries who never plucked them. A
    huckleberry never reaches Boston; they have not been known there
    since they grew on her three hills. The ambrosial and essential
    part of the fruit is lost with the bloom which is rubbed off in the
    market cart, and they become mere provender. As long as Eternal
    Justice reigns, not one innocent huckleberry can be transported
    thither from the country's hills.
    Occasionally, after my hoeing was done for the day, I joined
    some impatient companion who had been fishing on the pond since
    morning, as silent and motionless as a duck or a floating leaf, and,
    after practising various kinds of philosophy, had concluded
    commonly, by the time I arrived, that he belonged to the ancient
    sect of Coenobites. There was one older man, an excellent fisher
    and skilled in all kinds of woodcraft, who was pleased to look upon
    my house as a building erected for the convenience of fishermen; and
    I was equally pleased when he sat in my doorway to arrange his
    lines. Once in a while we sat together on the pond, he at one end
    of the boat, and I at the other; but not many words passed between
    us, for he had grown deaf in his later years, but he occasionally
    hummed a psalm, which harmonized well enough with my philosophy.
    Our intercourse was thus altogether one of unbroken harmony, far
    more pleasing to remember than if it had been carried on by speech.
    When, as was commonly the case, I had none to commune with, I used
    to raise the echoes by striking with a paddle on the side of my
    boat, filling the surrounding woods with circling and dilating
    sound, stirring them up as the keeper of a menagerie his wild
    beasts, until I elicited a growl from every wooded vale and
    hillside.
    In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute,
    and saw the perch, which I seem to have charmed, hovering around me,
    and the moon travelling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed
    with the wrecks of the forest. Formerly I had come to this pond
    adventurously, from time to time, in dark summer nights, with a
    companion, and, making a fire close to the water's edge, which we
    thought attracted the fishes, we caught pouts with a bunch of worms
    strung on a thread, and when we had done, far in the night, threw
    the burning brands high into the air like skyrockets, which, coming
    down into the pond, were quenched with a loud hissing, and we were
    suddenly groping in total darkness. Through this, whistling a tune,
    we took our way to the haunts of men again. But now I had made my
    home by the shore.
    Sometimes, after staying in a village parlor till the family had
    all retired, I have returned to the woods, and, partly with a view
    to the next day's dinner, spent the hours of midnight fishing from a
    boat by moonlight, serenaded by owls and foxes, and hearing, from
    time to time, the creaking note of some unknown bird close at hand.
    These experiences were very memorable and valuable to me -- anchored
    in forty feet of water, and twenty or thirty rods from the shore,
    surrounded sometimes by thousands of small perch and shiners,
    dimpling the surface with their tails in the moonlight, and
    communicating by a long flaxen line with mysterious nocturnal fishes
    which had their dwelling forty feet below, or sometimes dragging
    sixty feet of line about the pond as I drifted in the gentle night
    breeze, now and then feeling a slight vibration along it, indicative
    of some life prowling about its extremity, of dull uncertain
    blundering purpose there, and slow to make up its mind. At length
    you slowly raise, pulling hand over hand, some horned pout squeaking
    and squirming to the upper air. It was very queer, especially in
    dark nights, when your thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal
    themes in other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to
    interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again. It seemed as if
    I might next cast my line upward into the air, as well as downward
    into this element, which was scarcely more dense. Thus I caught two
    fishes as it were with one hook.
    The scenery of Walden is on a humble scale, and, though very
    beautiful, does not approach to grandeur, nor can it much concern
    one who has not long frequented it or lived by its shore; yet this
    pond is so remarkable for its depth and purity as to merit a
    particular description. It is a clear and deep green well, half a
    mile long and a mile and three quarters in circumference, and
    contains about sixty-one and a half acres; a perennial spring in the
    midst of pine and oak woods, without any visible inlet or outlet
    except by the clouds and evaporation. The surrounding hills rise
    abruptly from the water to the height of forty to eighty feet,
    though on the southeast and east they attain to about one hundred
    and one hundred and fifty feet respectively, within a quarter and a
    third of a mile. They are exclusively woodland. All our Concord
    waters have two colors at least; one when viewed at a distance, and
    another, more proper, close at hand. The first depends more on the
    light, and follows the sky. In clear weather, in summer, they
    appear blue at a little distance, especially if agitated, and at a
    great distance all appear alike. In stormy weather they are
    sometimes of a dark slate-color. The sea, however, is said to be
    blue one day and green another without any perceptible change in the
    atmosphere. I have seen our river, when, the landscape being
    covered with snow, both water and ice were almost as green as grass.
    Some consider blue "to be the color of pure water, whether liquid or
    solid." But, looking directly down into our waters from a boat,
    they are seen to be of very different colors. Walden is blue at one
    time and green at another, even from the same point of view. Lying
    between the earth and the heavens, it partakes of the color of both.
    Viewed from a hilltop it reflects the color of the sky; but near at
    hand it is of a yellowish tint next the shore where you can see the
    sand, then a light green, which gradually deepens to a uniform dark
    green in the body of the pond. In some lights, viewed even from a
    hilltop, it is of a vivid green next the shore. Some have referred
    this to the reflection of the verdure; but it is equally green there
    against the railroad sandbank, and in the spring, before the leaves
    are expanded, and it may be simply the result of the prevailing blue
    mixed with the yellow of the sand. Such is the color of its iris.
    This is that portion, also, where in the spring, the ice being
    warmed by the heat of the sun reflected from the bottom, and also
    transmitted through the earth, melts first and forms a narrow canal
    about the still frozen middle. Like the rest of our waters, when
    much agitated, in clear weather, so that the surface of the waves
    may reflect the sky at the right angle, or because there is more
    light mixed with it, it appears at a little distance of a darker
    blue than the sky itself; and at such a time, being on its surface,
    and looking with divided vision, so as to see the reflection, I have
    discerned a matchless and indescribable light blue, such as watered
    or changeable silks and sword blades suggest, more cerulean than the
    sky itself, alternating with the original dark green on the opposite
    sides of the waves, which last appeared but muddy in comparison. It
    is a vitreous greenish blue, as I remember it, like those patches of
    the winter sky seen through cloud vistas in the west before sundown.
    Yet a single glass of its water held up to the light is as colorless
    as an equal quantity of air. It is well known that a large plate of
    glass will have a green tint, owing, as the makers say, to its
    "body," but a small piece of the same will be colorless. How large
    a body of Walden water would be required to reflect a green tint I
    have never proved. The water of our river is black or a very dark
    brown to one looking directly down on it, and, like that of most
    ponds, imparts to the body of one bathing in it a yellowish tinge;
    but this water is of such crystalline purity that the body of the
    bather appears of an alabaster whiteness, still more unnatural,
    which, as the limbs are magnified and distorted withal, produces a
    monstrous effect, making fit studies for a Michael Angelo.
    The water is so transparent that the bottom can easily be
    discerned at the depth of twenty-five or thirty feet. Paddling over
    it, you may see, many feet beneath the surface, the schools of perch
    and shiners, perhaps only an inch long, yet the former easily
    distinguished by their transverse bars, and you think that they must
    be ascetic fish that find a subsistence there. Once, in the winter,
    many years ago, when I had been cutting holes through the ice in
    order to catch pickerel, as I stepped ashore I tossed my axe back on
    to the ice, but, as if some evil genius had directed it, it slid
    four or five rods directly into one of the holes, where the water
    was twenty-five feet deep. Out of curiosity, I lay down on the ice
    and looked through the hole, until I saw the axe a little on one
    side, standing on its head, with its helve erect and gently swaying
    to and fro with the pulse of the pond; and there it might have stood
    erect and swaying till in the course of time the handle rotted off,
    if I had not disturbed it. Making another hole directly over it
    with an ice chisel which I had, and cutting down the longest birch
    which I could find in the neighborhood with my knife, I made a
    slip-noose, which I attached to its end, and, letting it down
    carefully, passed it over the knob of the handle, and drew it by a
    line along the birch, and so pulled the axe out again.
    The shore is composed of a belt of smooth rounded white stones
    like paving-stones, excepting one or two short sand beaches, and is
    so steep that in many places a single leap will carry you into water
    over your head; and were it not for its remarkable transparency,
    that would be the last to be seen of its bottom till it rose on the
    opposite side. Some think it is bottomless. It is nowhere muddy,
    and a casual observer would say that there were no weeds at all in
    it; and of noticeable plants, except in the little meadows recently
    overflowed, which do not properly belong to it, a closer scrutiny
    does not detect a flag nor a bulrush, nor even a lily, yellow or
    white, but only a few small heart-leaves and potamogetons, and
    perhaps a water-target or two; all which however a bather might not
    perceive; and these plants are clean and bright like the element
    they grow in. The stones extend a rod or two into the water, and
    then the bottom is pure sand, except in the deepest parts, where
    there is usually a little sediment, probably from the decay of the
    leaves which have been wafted on to it so many successive falls, and
    a bright green weed is brought up on anchors even in midwinter.
    We have one other pond just like this, White Pond, in Nine Acre
    Corner, about two and a half miles westerly; but, though I am
    acquainted with most of the ponds within a dozen miles of this
    centre I do not know a third of this pure and well-like character.
    Successive nations perchance have drank at, admired, and fathomed
    it, and passed away, and still its water is green and pellucid as
    ever. Not an intermitting spring! Perhaps on that spring morning
    when Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden Walden Pond was already in
    existence, and even then breaking up in a gentle spring rain
    accompanied with mist and a southerly wind, and covered with myriads
    of ducks and geese, which had not heard of the fall, when still such
    pure lakes sufficed them. Even then it had commenced to rise and
    fall, and had clarified its waters and colored them of the hue they
    now wear, and obtained a patent of Heaven to be the only Walden Pond
    in the world and distiller of celestial dews. Who knows in how many
    unremembered nations' literatures this has been the Castalian
    Fountain? or what nymphs presided over it in the Golden Age? It is
    a gem of the first water which Concord wears in her coronet.
    Yet perchance the first who came to this well have left some
    trace of their footsteps. I have been surprised to detect
    encircling the pond, even where a thick wood has just been cut down
    on the shore, a narrow shelf-like path in the steep hillside,
    alternately rising and falling, approaching and receding from the
    water's edge, as old probably as the race of man here, worn by the
    feet of aboriginal hunters, and still from time to time unwittingly
    trodden by the present occupants of the land. This is particularly
    distinct to one standing on the middle of the pond in winter, just
    after a light snow has fallen, appearing as a clear undulating white
    line, unobscured by weeds and twigs, and very obvious a quarter of a
    mile off in many places where in summer it is hardly distinguishable
    close at hand. The snow reprints it, as it were, in clear white
    type alto-relievo. The ornamented grounds of villas which will one
    day be built here may still preserve some trace of this.
    The pond rises and falls, but whether regularly or not, and
    within what period, nobody knows, though, as usual, many pretend to
    know. It is commonly higher in the winter and lower in the summer,
    though not corresponding to the general wet and dryness. I can
    remember when it was a foot or two lower, and also when it was at
    least five feet higher, than when I lived by it. There is a narrow
    sand-bar running into it, with very deep water on one side, on which
    I helped boil a kettle of chowder, some six rods from the main
    shore, about the year 1824, which it has not been possible to do for
    twenty-five years; and, on the other hand, my friends used to listen
    with incredulity when I told them, that a few years later I was
    accustomed to fish from a boat in a secluded cove in the woods,
    fifteen rods from the only shore they knew, which place was long
    since converted into a meadow. But the pond has risen steadily for
    two years, and now, in the summer of '52, is just five feet higher
    than when I lived there, or as high as it was thirty years ago, and
    fishing goes on again in the meadow. This makes a difference of
    level, at the outside, of six or seven feet; and yet the water shed
    by the surrounding hills is insignificant in amount, and this
    overflow must be referred to causes which affect the deep springs.
    This same summer the pond has begun to fall again. It is remarkable
    that this fluctuation, whether periodical or not, appears thus to
    require many years for its accomplishment. I have observed one rise
    and a part of two falls, and I expect that a dozen or fifteen years
    hence the water will again be as low as I have ever known it.
    Flint's Pond, a mile eastward, allowing for the disturbance
    occasioned by its inlets and outlets, and the smaller intermediate
    ponds also, sympathize with Walden, and recently attained their
    greatest height at the same time with the latter. The same is true,
    as far as my observation goes, of White Pond.
    This rise and fall of Walden at long intervals serves this use
    at least; the water standing at this great height for a year or
    more, though it makes it difficult to walk round it, kills the
    shrubs and trees which have sprung up about its edge since the last
    rise -- pitch pines, birches, alders, aspens, and others -- and,
    falling again, leaves an unobstructed shore; for, unlike many ponds
    and all waters which are subject to a daily tide, its shore is
    cleanest when the water is lowest. On the side of the pond next my
    house a row of pitch pines, fifteen feet high, has been killed and
    tipped over as if by a lever, and thus a stop put to their
    encroachments; and their size indicates how many years have elapsed
    since the last rise to this height. By this fluctuation the pond
    asserts its title to a shore, and thus the shore is shorn, and the
    trees cannot hold it by right of possession. These are the lips of
    the lake, on which no beard grows. It licks its chaps from time to
    time. When the water is at its height, the alders, willows, and
    maples send forth a mass of fibrous red roots several feet long from
    all sides of their stems in the water, and to the height of three or
    four feet from the ground, in the effort to maintain themselves; and
    I have known the high blueberry bushes about the shore, which
    commonly produce no fruit, bear an abundant crop under these
    circumstances.
    Some have been puzzled to tell how the shore became so regularly
    paved. My townsmen have all heard the tradition -- the oldest
    people tell me that they heard it in their youth -- that anciently
    the Indians were holding a pow-wow upon a hill here, which rose as
    high into the heavens as the pond now sinks deep into the earth, and
    they used much profanity, as the story goes, though this vice is one
    of which the Indians were never guilty, and while they were thus
    engaged the hill shook and suddenly sank, and only one old squaw,
    named Walden, escaped, and from her the pond was named. It has been
    conjectured that when the hill shook these stones rolled down its
    side and became the present shore. It is very certain, at any rate,
    that once there was no pond here, and now there is one; and this
    Indian fable does not in any respect conflict with the account of
    that ancient settler whom I have mentioned, who remembers so well
    when he first came here with his divining-rod, saw a thin vapor
    rising from the sward, and the hazel pointed steadily downward, and
    he concluded to dig a well here. As for the stones, many still
    think that they are hardly to be accounted for by the action of the
    waves on these hills; but I observe that the surrounding hills are
    remarkably full of the same kind of stones, so that they have been
    obliged to pile them up in walls on both sides of the railroad cut
    nearest the pond; and, moreover, there are most stones where the
    shore is most abrupt; so that, unfortunately, it is no longer a
    mystery to me. I detect the paver. If the name was not derived
    from that of some English locality -- Saffron Walden, for instance
    -- one might suppose that it was called originally Walled-in Pond.
    The pond was my well ready dug. For four months in the year its
    water is as cold as it is pure at all times; and I think that it is
    then as good as any, if not the best, in the town. In the winter,
    all water which is exposed to the air is colder than springs and
    wells which are protected from it. The temperature of the pond
    water which had stood in the room where I sat from five o'clock in
    the afternoon till noon the next day, the sixth of March, 1846, the
    thermometer having been up to 65x or 70x some of the time, owing
    partly to the sun on the roof, was 42x, or one degree colder than
    the water of one of the coldest wells in the village just drawn.
    The temperature of the Boiling Spring the same day was 45x, or the
    warmest of any water tried, though it is the coldest that I know of
    in summer, when, beside, shallow and stagnant surface water is not
    mingled with it. Moreover, in summer, Walden never becomes so warm
    as most water which is exposed to the sun, on account of its depth.
    In the warmest weather I usually placed a pailful in my cellar,
    where it became cool in the night, and remained so during the day;
    though I also resorted to a spring in the neighborhood. It was as
    good when a week old as the day it was dipped, and had no taste of
    the pump. Whoever camps for a week in summer by the shore of a
    pond, needs only bury a pail of water a few feet deep in the shade
    of his camp to be independent of the luxury of ice.
    There have been caught in Walden pickerel, one weighing seven
    pounds -- to say nothing of another which carried off a reel with
    great velocity, which the fisherman safely set down at eight pounds
    because he did not see him -- perch and pouts, some of each weighing
    over two pounds, shiners, chivins or roach (Leuciscus pulchellus), a
    very few breams, and a couple of eels, one weighing four pounds -- I
    am thus particular because the weight of a fish is commonly its only
    title to fame, and these are the only eels I have heard of here; --
    also, I have a faint recollection of a little fish some five inches
    long, with silvery sides and a greenish back, somewhat dace-like in
    its character, which I mention here chiefly to link my facts to
    fable. Nevertheless, this pond is not very fertile in fish. Its
    pickerel, though not abundant, are its chief boast. I have seen at
    one time lying on the ice pickerel of at least three different
    kinds: a long and shallow one, steel-colored, most like those caught
    in the river; a bright golden kind, with greenish reflections and
    remarkably deep, which is the most common here; and another,
    golden-colored, and shaped like the last, but peppered on the sides
    with small dark brown or black spots, intermixed with a few faint
    blood-red ones, very much like a trout. The specific name
    reticulatus would not apply to this; it should be guttatus rather.
    These are all very firm fish, and weigh more than their size
    promises. The shiners, pouts, and perch also, and indeed all the
    fishes which inhabit this pond, are much cleaner, handsomer, and
    firmer-fleshed than those in the river and most other ponds, as the
    water is purer, and they can easily be distinguished from them.
    Probably many ichthyologists would make new varieties of some of
    them. There are also a clean race of frogs and tortoises, and a few
    mussels in it; muskrats and minks leave their traces about it, and
    occasionally a travelling mud-turtle visits it. Sometimes, when I
    pushed off my boat in the morning, I disturbed a great mud-turtle
    which had secreted himself under the boat in the night. Ducks and
    geese frequent it in the spring and fall, the white-bellied swallows
    (Hirundo bicolor) skim over it, and the peetweets (Totanus
    macularius) "teeter" along its stony shores all summer. I have
    sometimes disturbed a fish hawk sitting on a white pine over the
    water; but I doubt if it is ever profaned by the wind of a gull,
    like Fair Haven. At most, it tolerates one annual loon. These are
    all the animals of consequence which frequent it now.
    You may see from a boat, in calm weather, near the sandy
    eastern shore, where the water is eight or ten feet deep, and also
    in some other parts of the pond, some circular heaps half a dozen
    feet in diameter by a foot in height, consisting of small stones
    less than a hen's egg in size, where all around is bare sand. At
    first you wonder if the Indians could have formed them on the ice
    for any purpose, and so, when the ice melted, they sank to the
    bottom; but they are too regular and some of them plainly too fresh
    for that. They are similar to those found in rivers; but as there
    are no suckers nor lampreys here, I know not by what fish they could
    be made. Perhaps they are the nests of the chivin. These lend a
    pleasing mystery to the bottom.
    The shore is irregular enough not to be monotonous. I have in
    my mind's eye the western, indented with deep bays, the bolder
    northern, and the beautifully scalloped southern shore, where
    successive capes overlap each other and suggest unexplored coves
    between. The forest has never so good a setting, nor is so
    distinctly beautiful, as when seen from the middle of a small lake
    amid hills which rise from the water's edge; for the water in which
    it is reflected not only makes the best foreground in such a case,
    but, with its winding shore, the most natural and agreeable boundary
    to it. There is no rawness nor imperfection in its edge there, as
    where the axe has cleared a part, or a cultivated field abuts on it.
    The trees have ample room to expand on the water side, and each
    sends forth its most vigorous branch in that direction. There
    Nature has woven a natural selvage, and the eye rises by just
    gradations from the low shrubs of the shore to the highest trees.
    There are few traces of man's hand to be seen. The water laves the
    shore as it did a thousand years ago.
    A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature.
    It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the
    depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next the shore are
    the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooded hills and
    cliffs around are its overhanging brows.
    Standing on the smooth sandy beach at the east end of the pond,
    in a calm September afternoon, when a slight haze makes the opposite
    shore-line indistinct, I have seen whence came the expression, "the
    glassy surface of a lake." When you invert your head, it looks like
    a thread of finest gossamer stretched across the valley, and
    gleaming against the distant pine woods, separating one stratum of
    the atmosphere from another. You would think that you could walk
    dry under it to the opposite hills, and that the swallows which skim
    over might perch on it. Indeed, they sometimes dive below this
    line, as it were by mistake, and are undeceived. As you look over
    the pond westward you are obliged to employ both your hands to
    defend your eyes against the reflected as well as the true sun, for
    they are equally bright; and if, between the two, you survey its
    surface critically, it is literally as smooth as glass, except where
    the skater insects, at equal intervals scattered over its whole
    extent, by their motions in the sun produce the finest imaginable
    sparkle on it, or, perchance, a duck plumes itself, or, as I have
    said, a swallow skims so low as to touch it. It may be that in the
    distance a fish describes an arc of three or four feet in the air,
    and there is one bright flash where it emerges, and another where it
    strikes the water; sometimes the whole silvery arc is revealed; or
    here and there, perhaps, is a thistle-down floating on its surface,
    which the fishes dart at and so dimple it again. It is like molten
    glass cooled but not congealed, and the few motes in it are pure and
    beautiful like the imperfections in glass. You may often detect a
    yet smoother and darker water, separated from the rest as if by an
    invisible cobweb, boom of the water nymphs, resting on it. From a
    hilltop you can see a fish leap in almost any part; for not a
    pickerel or shiner picks an insect from this smooth surface but it
    manifestly disturbs the equilibrium of the whole lake. It is
    wonderful with what elaborateness this simple fact is advertised --
    this piscine murder will out -- and from my distant perch I
    distinguish the circling undulations when they are half a dozen rods
    in diameter. You can even detect a water-bug (Gyrinus) ceaselessly
    progressing over the smooth surface a quarter of a mile off; for
    they furrow the water slightly, making a conspicuous ripple bounded
    by two diverging lines, but the skaters glide over it without
    rippling it perceptibly. When the surface is considerably agitated
    there are no skaters nor water-bugs on it, but apparently, in calm
    days, they leave their havens and adventurously glide forth from the
    shore by short impulses till they completely cover it. It is a
    soothing employment, on one of those fine days in the fall when all
    the warmth of the sun is fully appreciated, to sit on a stump on
    such a height as this, overlooking the pond, and study the dimpling
    circles which are incessantly inscribed on its otherwise invisible
    surface amid the reflected skies and trees. Over this great expanse
    there is no disturbance but it is thus at once gently smoothed away
    and assuaged, as, when a vase of water is jarred, the trembling
    circles seek the shore and all is smooth again. Not a fish can leap
    or an insect fall on the pond but it is thus reported in circling
    dimples, in lines of beauty, as it were the constant welling up of
    its fountain, the gentle pulsing of its life, the heaving of its
    breast. The thrills of joy and thrills of pain are
    undistinguishable. How peaceful the phenomena of the lake! Again
    the works of man shine as in the spring. Ay, every leaf and twig
    and stone and cobweb sparkles now at mid-afternoon as when covered
    with dew in a spring morning. Every motion of an oar or an insect
    produces a flash of light; and if an oar falls, how sweet the echo!
    In such a day, in September or October, Walden is a perfect
    forest mirror, set round with stones as precious to my eye as if
    fewer or rarer. Nothing so fair, so pure, and at the same time so
    large, as a lake, perchance, lies on the surface of the earth. Sky
    water. It needs no fence. Nations come and go without defiling it.
    It is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver will
    never wear off, whose gilding Nature continually repairs; no storms,
    no dust, can dim its surface ever fresh; -- a mirror in which all
    impurity presented to it sinks, swept and dusted by the sun's hazy
    brush -- this the light dust-cloth -- which retains no breath that
    is breathed on it, but sends its own to float as clouds high above
    its surface, and be reflected in its bosom still.
    A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air. It is
    continually receiving new life and motion from above. It is
    intermediate in its nature between land and sky. On land only the
    grass and trees wave, but the water itself is rippled by the wind.
    I see where the breeze dashes across it by the streaks or flakes of
    light. It is remarkable that we can look down on its surface. We
    shall, perhaps, look down thus on the surface of air at length, and
    mark where a still subtler spirit sweeps over it.
    The skaters and water-bugs finally disappear in the latter part
    of October, when the severe frosts have come; and then and in
    November, usually, in a calm day, there is absolutely nothing to
    ripple the surface. One November afternoon, in the calm at the end
    of a rain-storm of several days' duration, when the sky was still
    completely overcast and the air was full of mist, I observed that
    the pond was remarkably smooth, so that it was difficult to
    distinguish its surface; though it no longer reflected the bright
    tints of October, but the sombre November colors of the surrounding
    hills. Though I passed over it as gently as possible, the slight
    undulations produced by my boat extended almost as far as I could
    see, and gave a ribbed appearance to the reflections. But, as I was
    looking over the surface, I saw here and there at a distance a faint
    glimmer, as if some skater insects which had escaped the frosts
    might be collected there, or, perchance, the surface, being so
    smooth, betrayed where a spring welled up from the bottom. Paddling
    gently to one of these places, I was surprised to find myself
    surrounded by myriads of small perch, about five inches long, of a
    rich bronze color in the green water, sporting there, and constantly
    rising to the surface and dimpling it, sometimes leaving bubbles on
    it. In such transparent and seemingly bottomless water, reflecting
    the clouds, I seemed to be floating through the air as in a balloon,
    and their swimming impressed me as a kind of flight or hovering, as
    if they were a compact flock of birds passing just beneath my level
    on the right or left, their fins, like sails, set all around them.
    There were many such schools in the pond, apparently improving the
    short season before winter would draw an icy shutter over their
    broad skylight, sometimes giving to the surface an appearance as if
    a slight breeze struck it, or a few rain-drops fell there. When I
    approached carelessly and alarmed them, they made a sudden splash
    and rippling with their tails, as if one had struck the water with a
    brushy bough, and instantly took refuge in the depths. At length
    the wind rose, the mist increased, and the waves began to run, and
    the perch leaped much higher than before, half out of water, a
    hundred black points, three inches long, at once above the surface.
    Even as late as the fifth of December, one year, I saw some dimples
    on the surface, and thinking it was going to rain hard immediately,
    the air being fun of mist, I made haste to take my place at the oars
    and row homeward; already the rain seemed rapidly increasing, though
    I felt none on my cheek, and I anticipated a thorough soaking. But
    suddenly the dimples ceased, for they were produced by the perch,
    which the noise of my oars had seared into the depths, and I saw
    their schools dimly disappearing; so I spent a dry afternoon after
    all.
    An old man who used to frequent this pond nearly sixty years
    ago, when it was dark with surrounding forests, tells me that in
    those days he sometimes saw it all alive with ducks and other
    water-fowl, and that there were many eagles about it. He came here
    a-fishing, and used an old log canoe which he found on the shore.
    It was made of two white pine logs dug out and pinned together, and
    was cut off square at the ends. It was very clumsy, but lasted a
    great many years before it became water-logged and perhaps sank to
    the bottom. He did not know whose it was; it belonged to the pond.
    He used to make a cable for his anchor of strips of hickory bark
    tied together. An old man, a potter, who lived by the pond before
    the Revolution, told him once that there was an iron chest at the
    bottom, and that he had seen it. Sometimes it would come floating
    up to the shore; but when you went toward it, it would go back into
    deep water and disappear. I was pleased to hear of the old log
    canoe, which took the place of an Indian one of the same material
    but more graceful construction, which perchance had first been a
    tree on the bank, and then, as it were, fell into the water, to
    float there for a generation, the most proper vessel for the lake.
    I remember that when I first looked into these depths there were
    many large trunks to be seen indistinctly lying on the bottom, which
    had either been blown over formerly, or left on the ice at the last
    cutting, when wood was cheaper; but now they have mostly
    disappeared.
    When I first paddled a boat on Walden, it was completely
    surrounded by thick and lofty pine and oak woods, and in some of its
    coves grape-vines had run over the trees next the water and formed
    bowers under which a boat could pass. The hills which form its
    shores are so steep, and the woods on them were then so high, that,
    as you looked down from the west end, it had the appearance of an
    amphitheatre for some land of sylvan spectacle. I have spent many
    an hour, when I was younger, floating over its surface as the zephyr
    willed, having paddled my boat to the middle, and lying on my back
    across the seats, in a summer forenoon, dreaming awake, until I was
    aroused by the boat touching the sand, and I arose to see what shore
    my fates had impelled me to; days when idleness was the most
    attractive and productive industry. Many a forenoon have I stolen
    away, preferring to spend thus the most valued part of the day; for
    I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and
    spent them lavishly; nor do I regret that I did not waste more of
    them in the workshop or the teacher's desk. But since I left those
    shores the woodchoppers have still further laid them waste, and now
    for many a year there will be no more rambling through the aisles of
    the wood, with occasional vistas through which you see the water.
    My Muse may be excused if she is silent henceforth. How can you
    expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down?
    Now the trunks of trees on the bottom, and the old log canoe,
    and the dark surrounding woods, are gone, and the villagers, who
    scarcely know where it lies, instead of going to the pond to bathe
    or drink, are thinking to bring its water, which should be as sacred
    as the Ganges at least, to the village in a pipe, to wash their
    dishes with! -- to earn their Walden by the turning of a cock or
    drawing of a plug! That devilish Iron Horse, whose ear-rending
    neigh is heard throughout the town, has muddied the Boiling Spring
    with his foot, and he it is that has browsed off all the woods on
    Walden shore, that Trojan horse, with a thousand men in his belly,
    introduced by mercenary Greeks! Where is the country's champion,
    the Moore of Moore Hill, to meet him at the Deep Cut and thrust an
    avenging lance between the ribs of the bloated pest?
    Nevertheless, of all the characters I have known, perhaps Walden
    wears best, and best preserves its purity. Many men have been
    likened to it, but few deserve that honor. Though the woodchoppers
    have laid bare first this shore and then that, and the Irish have
    built their sties by it, and the railroad has infringed on its
    border, and the ice-men have skimmed it once, it is itself
    unchanged, the same water which my youthful eyes fell on; all the
    change is in me. It has not acquired one permanent wrinkle after
    all its ripples. It is perennially young, and I may stand and see a
    swallow dip apparently to pick an insect from its surface as of
    yore. It struck me again tonight, as if I had not seen it almost
    daily for more than twenty years -- Why, here is Walden, the same
    woodland lake that I discovered so many years ago; where a forest
    was cut down last winter another is springing up by its shore as
    lustily as ever; the same thought is welling up to its surface that
    was then; it is the same liquid joy and happiness to itself and its
    Maker, ay, and it may be to me. It is the work of a brave man
    surely, in whom there was no guile! He rounded this water with his
    hand, deepened and clarified it in his thought, and in his will
    bequeathed it to Concord. I see by its face that it is visited by
    the same reflection; and I can almost say, Walden, is it you?

    It is no dream of mine,
    To ornament a line;
    I cannot come nearer to God and Heaven
    Than I live to Walden even.
    I am its stony shore,
    And the breeze that passes o'er;
    In the hollow of my hand
    Are its water and its sand,
    And its deepest resort
    Lies high in my thought.

    The cars never pause to look at it; yet I fancy that the
    engineers and firemen and brakemen, and those passengers who have a
    season ticket and see it often, are better men for the sight. The
    engineer does not forget at night, or his nature does not, that he
    has beheld this vision of serenity and purity once at least during
    the day. Though seen but once, it helps to wash out State Street
    and the engine's soot. One proposes that it be called "God's Drop."
    I have said that Walden has no visible inlet nor outlet, but it
    is on the one hand distantly and indirectly related to Flint's Pond,
    which is more elevated, by a chain of small ponds coming from that
    quarter, and on the other directly and manifestly to Concord River,
    which is lower, by a similar chain of ponds through which in some
    other geological period it may have flowed, and by a little digging,
    which God forbid, it can be made to flow thither again. If by
    living thus reserved and austere, like a hermit in the woods, so
    long, it has acquired such wonderful purity, who would not regret
    that the comparatively impure waters of Flint's Pond should be
    mingled with it, or itself should ever go to waste its sweetness in
    the ocean wave?
    Flint's, or Sandy Pond, in Lincoln, our greatest lake and inland
    sea, lies about a mile east of Walden. It is much larger, being
    said to contain one hundred and ninety-seven acres, and is more
    fertile in fish; but it is comparatively shallow, and not remarkably
    pure. A walk through the woods thither was often my recreation. It
    was worth the while, if only to feel the wind blow on your cheek
    freely, and see the waves run, and remember the life of mariners. I
    went a-chestnutting there in the fall, on windy days, when the nuts
    were dropping into the water and were washed to my feet; and one
    day, as I crept along its sedgy shore, the fresh spray blowing in my
    face, I came upon the mouldering wreck of a boat, the sides gone,
    and hardly more than the impression of its flat bottom left amid the
    rushes; yet its model was sharply defined, as if it were a large
    decayed pad, with its veins. It was as impressive a wreck as one
    could imagine on the seashore, and had as good a moral. It is by
    this time mere vegetable mould and undistinguishable pond shore,
    through which rushes and flags have pushed up. I used to admire the
    ripple marks on the sandy bottom, at the north end of this pond,
    made firm and hard to the feet of the wader by the pressure of the
    water, and the rushes which grew in Indian file, in waving lines,
    corresponding to these marks, rank behind rank, as if the waves had
    planted them. There also I have found, in considerable quantities,
    curious balls, composed apparently of fine grass or roots, of
    pipewort perhaps, from half an inch to four inches in diameter, and
    perfectly spherical. These wash back and forth in shallow water on
    a sandy bottom, and are sometimes cast on the shore. They are
    either solid grass, or have a little sand in the middle. At first
    you would say that they were formed by the action of the waves, like
    a pebble; yet the smallest are made of equally coarse materials,
    half an inch long, and they are produced only at one season of the
    year. Moreover, the waves, I suspect, do not so much construct as
    wear down a material which has already acquired consistency. They
    preserve their form when dry for an indefinite period.
    Flint's Pond! Such is the poverty of our nomenclature. What
    right had the unclean and stupid farmer, whose farm abutted on this
    sky water, whose shores he has ruthlessly laid bare, to give his
    name to it? Some skin-flint, who loved better the reflecting
    surface of a dollar, or a bright cent, in which he could see his own
    brazen face; who regarded even the wild ducks which settled in it as
    trespassers; his fingers grown into crooked and bony talons from the
    long habit of grasping harpy-like; -- so it is not named for me. I
    go not there to see him nor to hear of him; who never saw it, who
    never bathed in it, who never loved it, who never protected it, who
    never spoke a good word for it, nor thanked God that He had made it.
    Rather let it be named from the fishes that swim in it, the wild
    fowl or quadrupeds which frequent it, the wild flowers which grow by
    its shores, or some wild man or child the thread of whose history is
    interwoven with its own; not from him who could show no title to it
    but the deed which a like-minded neighbor or legislature gave him --
    him who thought only of its money value; whose presence perchance
    cursed all the shores; who exhausted the land around it, and would
    fain have exhausted the waters within it; who regretted only that it
    was not English hay or cranberry meadow -- there was nothing to
    redeem it, forsooth, in his eyes -- and would have drained and sold
    it for the mud at its bottom. It did not turn his mill, and it was
    no privilege to him to behold it. I respect not his labors, his
    farm where everything has its price, who would carry the landscape,
    who would carry his God, to market, if he could get anything for
    him; who goes to market for his god as it is; on whose farm nothing
    grows free, whose fields bear no crops, whose meadows no flowers,
    whose trees no fruits, but dollars; who loves not the beauty of his
    fruits, whose fruits are not ripe for him till they are turned to
    dollars. Give me the poverty that enjoys true wealth. Farmers are
    respectable and interesting to me in proportion as they are poor --
    poor farmers. A model farm! where the house stands like a fungus in
    a muckheap, chambers for men horses, oxen, and swine, cleansed and
    uncleansed, all contiguous to one another! Stocked with men! A
    great grease-spot, redolent of manures and buttermilk! Under a high
    state of cultivation, being manured with the hearts and brains of
    men! As if you were to raise your potatoes in the churchyard! Such
    is a model farm.
    No, no; if the fairest features of the landscape are to be named
    after men, let them be the noblest and worthiest men alone. Let our
    lakes receive as true names at least as the Icarian Sea, where
    "still the shore" a "brave attempt resounds."
    Goose Pond, of small extent, is on my way to Flint's; Fair
    Haven, an expansion of Concord River, said to contain some seventy
    acres, is a mile southwest; and White Pond, of about forty acres, is
    a mile and a half beyond Fair Haven. This is my lake country.
    These, with Concord River, are my water privileges; and night and
    day, year in year out, they grind such grist as I carry to them.
    Since the wood-cutters, and the railroad, and I myself have
    profaned Walden, perhaps the most attractive, if not the most
    beautiful, of all our lakes, the gem of the woods, is White Pond; --
    a poor name from its commonness, whether derived from the remarkable
    purity of its waters or the color of its sands. In these as in
    other respects, however, it is a lesser twin of Walden. They are so
    much alike that you would say they must be connected under ground.
    It has the same stony shore, and its waters are of the same hue. As
    at Walden, in sultry dog-day weather, looking down through the woods
    on some of its bays which are not so deep but that the reflection
    from the bottom tinges them, its waters are of a misty bluish-green
    or glaucous color. Many years since I used to go there to collect
    the sand by cartloads, to make sandpaper with, and I have continued
    to visit it ever since. One who frequents it proposes to call it
    Virid Lake. Perhaps it might be called Yellow Pine Lake, from the
    following circumstance. About fifteen years ago you could see the
    top of a pitch pine, of the kind called yellow pine hereabouts,
    though it is not a distinct species, projecting above the surface in
    deep water, many rods from the shore. It was even supposed by some
    that the pond had sunk, and this was one of the primitive forest
    that formerly stood there. I find that even so long ago as 1792, in
    a "Topographical Description of the Town of Concord," by one of its
    citizens, in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical
    Society, the author, after speaking of Walden and White Ponds, adds,
    "In the middle of the latter may be seen, when the water is very
    low, a tree which appears as if it grew in the place where it now
    stands, although the roots are fifty feet below the surface of the
    water; the top of this tree is broken off, and at that place
    measures fourteen inches in diameter." In the spring of '49 I
    talked with the man who lives nearest the pond in Sudbury, who told
    me that it was he who got out this tree ten or fifteen years before.
    As near as he could remember, it stood twelve or fifteen rods from
    the shore, where the water was thirty or forty feet deep. It was in
    the winter, and he had been getting out ice in the forenoon, and had
    resolved that in the afternoon, with the aid of his neighbors, he
    would take out the old yellow pine. He sawed a channel in the ice
    toward the shore, and hauled it over and along and out on to the ice
    with oxen; but, before he had gone far in his work, he was surprised
    to find that it was wrong end upward, with the stumps of the
    branches pointing down, and the small end firmly fastened in the
    sandy bottom. It was about a foot in diameter at the big end, and
    he had expected to get a good saw-log, but it was so rotten as to be
    fit only for fuel, if for that. He had some of it in his shed then.
    There were marks of an axe and of woodpeckers on the butt. He
    thought that it might have been a dead tree on the shore, but was
    finally blown over into the pond, and after the top had become
    water-logged, while the butt-end was still dry and light, had
    drifted out and sunk wrong end up. His father, eighty years old,
    could not remember when it was not there. Several pretty large logs
    may still be seen lying on the bottom, where, owing to the
    undulation of the surface, they look like huge water snakes in
    motion.
    This pond has rarely been profaned by a boat, for there is
    little in it to tempt a fisherman. Instead of the white lily, which
    requires mud, or the common sweet flag, the blue flag (Iris
    versicolor) grows thinly in the pure water, rising from the stony
    bottom all around the shore, where it is visited by hummingbirds in
    June; and the color both of its bluish blades and its flowers and
    especially their reflections, is in singular harmony with the
    glaucous water.
    White Pond and Walden are great crystals on the surface of the
    earth, Lakes of Light. If they were permanently congealed, and
    small enough to be clutched, they would, perchance, be carried off
    by slaves, like precious stones, to adorn the heads of emperors; but
    being liquid, and ample, and secured to us and our successors
    forever, we disregard them, and run after the diamond of Kohinoor.
    They are too pure to have a market value; they contain no muck. How
    much more beautiful than our lives, how much more transparent than
    our characters, are they! We never learned meanness of them. How
    much fairer than the pool before the farmers door, in which his
    ducks swim! Hither the clean wild ducks come. Nature has no human
    inhabitant who appreciates her. The birds with their plumage and
    their notes are in harmony with the flowers, but what youth or
    maiden conspires with the wild luxuriant beauty of Nature? She
    flourishes most alone, far from the towns where they reside. Talk
    of heaven! ye disgrace earth.
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