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    Chapter 14

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    Chapter 14
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    I weathered some merry snow-storms, and spent some cheerful
    winter evenings by my fireside, while the snow whirled wildly
    without, and even the hooting of the owl was hushed. For many weeks
    I met no one in my walks but those who came occasionally to cut wood
    and sled it to the village. The elements, however, abetted me in
    making a path through the deepest snow in the woods, for when I had
    once gone through the wind blew the oak leaves into my tracks, where
    they lodged, and by absorbing the rays of the sun melted the snow,
    and so not only made a my bed for my feet, but in the night their
    dark line was my guide. For human society I was obliged to conjure
    up the former occupants of these woods. Within the memory of many
    of my townsmen the road near which my house stands resounded with
    the laugh and gossip of inhabitants, and the woods which border it
    were notched and dotted here and there with their little gardens and
    dwellings, though it was then much more shut in by the forest than
    now. In some places, within my own remembrance, the pines would
    scrape both sides of a chaise at once, and women and children who
    were compelled to go this way to Lincoln alone and on foot did it
    with fear, and often ran a good part of the distance. Though mainly
    but a humble route to neighboring villages, or for the woodman's
    team, it once amused the traveller more than now by its variety, and
    lingered longer in his memory. Where now firm open fields stretch
    from the village to the woods, it then ran through a maple swamp on
    a foundation of logs, the remnants of which, doubtless, still
    underlie the present dusty highway, from the Stratton, now the
    Alms-House Farm, to Brister's Hill.
    East of my bean-field, across the road, lived Cato Ingraham,
    slave of Duncan Ingraham, Esquire, gentleman, of Concord village,
    who built his slave a house, and gave him permission to live in
    Walden Woods; -- Cato, not Uticensis, but Concordiensis. Some say
    that he was a Guinea Negro. There are a few who remember his little
    patch among the walnuts, which he let grow up till he should be old
    and need them; but a younger and whiter speculator got them at last.
    He too, however, occupies an equally narrow house at present.
    Cato's half-obliterated cellar-hole still remains, though known to
    few, being concealed from the traveller by a fringe of pines. It is
    now filled with the smooth sumach (Rhus glabra), and one of the
    earliest species of goldenrod (Solidago stricta) grows there
    Here, by the very corner of my field, still nearer to town,
    Zilpha, a colored woman, had her little house, where she spun linen
    for the townsfolk, making the Walden Woods ring with her shrill
    singing, for she had a loud and notable voice. At length, in the
    war of 1812, her dwelling was set on fire by English soldiers,
    prisoners on parole, when she was away, and her cat and dog and hens
    were all burned up together. She led a hard life, and somewhat
    inhumane. One old frequenter of these woods remembers, that as he
    passed her house one noon he heard her muttering to herself over her
    gurgling pot -- "Ye are all bones, bones!" I have seen bricks amid
    the oak copse there.
    Down the road, on the right hand, on Brister's Hill, lived
    Brister Freeman, "a handy Negro," slave of Squire Cummings once --
    there where grow still the apple trees which Brister planted and
    tended; large old trees now, but their fruit still wild and ciderish
    to my taste. Not long since I read his epitaph in the old Lincoln
    burying-ground, a little on one side, near the unmarked graves of
    some British grenadiers who fell in the retreat from Concord --
    where he is styled "Sippio Brister" -- Scipio Africanus he had some
    title to be called -- "a man of color," as if he were discolored.
    It also told me, with staring emphasis, when he died; which was but
    an indirect way of informing me that he ever lived. With him dwelt
    Fenda, his hospitable wife, who told fortunes, yet pleasantly --
    large, round, and black, blacker than any of the children of night,
    such a dusky orb as never rose on Concord before or since.
    Farther down the hill, on the left, on the old road in the
    woods, are marks of some homestead of the Stratton family; whose
    orchard once covered all the slope of Brister's Hill, but was long
    since killed out by pitch pines, excepting a few stumps, whose old
    roots furnish still the wild stocks of many a thrifty village tree.
    Nearer yet to town, you come to Breed's location, on the other
    side of the way, just on the edge of the wood; ground famous for the
    pranks of a demon not distinctly named in old mythology, who has
    acted a prominent and astounding part in our New England life, and
    deserves, as much as any mythological character, to have his
    biography written one day; who first comes in the guise of a friend
    or hired man, and then robs and murders the whole family --
    New-England Rum. But history must not yet tell the tragedies
    enacted here; let time intervene in some measure to assuage and lend
    an azure tint to them. Here the most indistinct and dubious
    tradition says that once a tavern stood; the well the same, which
    tempered the traveller's beverage and refreshed his steed. Here
    then men saluted one another, and heard and told the news, and went
    their ways again.
    Breed's hut was standing only a dozen years ago, though it had
    long been unoccupied. It was about the size of mine. It was set on
    fire by mischievous boys, one Election night, if I do not mistake.
    I lived on the edge of the village then, and had just lost myself
    over Davenant's "Gondibert," that winter that I labored with a
    lethargy -- which, by the way, I never knew whether to regard as a
    family complaint, having an uncle who goes to sleep shaving himself,
    and is obliged to sprout potatoes in a cellar Sundays, in order to
    keep awake and keep the Sabbath, or as the consequence of my attempt
    to read Chalmers' collection of English poetry without skipping. It
    fairly overcame my Nervii. I had just sunk my head on this when the
    bells rung fire, and in hot haste the engines rolled that way, led
    by a straggling troop of men and boys, and I among the foremost, for
    I had leaped the brook. We thought it was far south over the woods
    -- we who had run to fires before -- barn, shop, or dwelling-house,
    or all together. "It's Baker's barn," cried one. "It is the Codman
    place," affirmed another. And then fresh sparks went up above the
    wood, as if the roof fell in, and we all shouted "Concord to the
    rescue!" Wagons shot past with furious speed and crushing loads,
    bearing, perchance, among the rest, the agent of the Insurance
    Company, who was bound to go however far; and ever and anon the
    engine bell tinkled behind, more slow and sure; and rearmost of all,
    as it was afterward whispered, came they who set the fire and gave
    the alarm. Thus we kept on like true idealists, rejecting the
    evidence of our senses, until at a turn in the road we heard the
    crackling and actually felt the heat of the fire from over the wall,
    and realized, alas! that we were there. The very nearness of the
    fire but cooled our ardor. At first we thought to throw a frog-pond
    on to it; but concluded to let it burn, it was so far gone and so
    worthless. So we stood round our engine, jostled one another,
    expressed our sentiments through speaking-trumpets, or in lower tone
    referred to the great conflagrations which the world has witnessed,
    including Bascom's shop, and, between ourselves, we thought that,
    were we there in season with our "tub," and a full frog-pond by, we
    could turn that threatened last and universal one into another
    flood. We finally retreated without doing any mischief -- returned
    to sleep and "Gondibert." But as for "Gondibert," I would except
    that passage in the preface about wit being the soul's powder --
    "but most of mankind are strangers to wit, as Indians are to
    It chanced that I walked that way across the fields the
    following night, about the same hour, and hearing a low moaning at
    this spot, I drew near in the dark, and discovered the only survivor
    of the family that I know, the heir of both its virtues and its
    vices, who alone was interested in this burning, lying on his
    stomach and looking over the cellar wall at the still smouldering
    cinders beneath, muttering to himself, as is his wont. He had been
    working far off in the river meadows all day, and had improved the
    first moments that he could call his own to visit the home of his
    fathers and his youth. He gazed into the cellar from all sides and
    points of view by turns, always lying down to it, as if there was
    some treasure, which he remembered, concealed between the stones,
    where there was absolutely nothing but a heap of bricks and ashes.
    The house being gone, he looked at what there was left. He was
    soothed by the sympathy which my mere presence, implied, and showed
    me, as well as the darkness permitted, where the well was covered
    up; which, thank Heaven, could never be burned; and he groped long
    about the wall to find the well-sweep which his father had cut and
    mounted, feeling for the iron hook or staple by which a burden had
    been fastened to the heavy end -- all that he could now cling to --
    to convince me that it was no common "rider." I felt it, and still
    remark it almost daily in my walks, for by it hangs the history of a
    Once more, on the left, where are seen the well and lilac bushes
    by the wall, in the now open field, lived Nutting and Le Grosse.
    But to return toward Lincoln.
    Farther in the woods than any of these, where the road
    approaches nearest to the pond, Wyman the potter squatted, and
    furnished his townsmen with earthenware, and left descendants to
    succeed him. Neither were they rich in worldly goods, holding the
    land by sufferance while they lived; and there often the sheriff
    came in vain to collect the taxes, and "attached a chip," for form's
    sake, as I have read in his accounts, there being nothing else that
    he could lay his hands on. One day in midsummer, when I was hoeing,
    a man who was carrying a load of pottery to market stopped his horse
    against my field and inquired concerning Wyman the younger. He had
    long ago bought a potter's wheel of him, and wished to know what had
    become of him. I had read of the potter's clay and wheel in
    Scripture, but it had never occurred to me that the pots we use were
    not such as had come down unbroken from those days, or grown on
    trees like gourds somewhere, and I was pleased to hear that so
    fictile an art was ever practiced in my neighborhood.
    The last inhabitant of these woods before me was an Irishman,
    Hugh Quoil (if I have spelt his name with coil enough), who occupied
    Wyman's tenement -- Col. Quoil, he was called. Rumor said that he
    had been a soldier at Waterloo. If he had lived I should have made
    him fight his battles over again. His trade here was that of a
    ditcher. Napoleon went to St. Helena; Quoil came to Walden Woods.
    All I know of him is tragic. He was a man of manners, like one who
    had seen the world, and was capable of more civil speech than you
    could well attend to. He wore a greatcoat in midsummer, being
    affected with the trembling delirium, and his face was the color of
    carmine. He died in the road at the foot of Brister's Hill shortly
    after I came to the woods, so that I have not remembered him as a
    neighbor. Before his house was pulled down, when his comrades
    avoided it as "an unlucky castle," I visited it. There lay his old
    clothes curled up by use, as if they were himself, upon his raised
    plank bed. His pipe lay broken on the hearth, instead of a bowl
    broken at the fountain. The last could never have been the symbol
    of his death, for he confessed to me that, though he had heard of
    Brister's Spring, he had never seen it; and soiled cards, kings of
    diamonds, spades, and hearts, were scattered over the floor. One
    black chicken which the administrator could not catch, black as
    night and as silent, not even croaking, awaiting Reynard, still went
    to roost in the next apartment. In the rear there was the dim
    outline of a garden, which had been planted but had never received
    its first hoeing, owing to those terrible shaking fits, though it
    was now harvest time. It was overrun with Roman wormwood and
    beggar-ticks, which last stuck to my clothes for all fruit. The
    skin of a woodchuck was freshly stretched upon the back of the
    house, a trophy of his last Waterloo; but no warm cap or mittens
    would he want more.
    Now only a dent in the earth marks the site of these dwellings,
    with buried cellar stones, and strawberries, raspberries,
    thimble-berries, hazel-bushes, and sumachs growing in the sunny
    sward there; some pitch pine or gnarled oak occupies what was the
    chimney nook, and a sweet-scented black birch, perhaps, waves where
    the door-stone was. Sometimes the well dent is visible, where once
    a spring oozed; now dry and tearless grass; or it was covered deep
    -- not to be discovered till some late day -- with a flat stone
    under the sod, when the last of the race departed. What a sorrowful
    act must that be -- the covering up of wells! coincident with the
    opening of wells of tears. These cellar dents, like deserted fox
    burrows, old holes, are all that is left where once were the stir
    and bustle of human life, and "fate, free will, foreknowledge
    absolute," in some form and dialect or other were by turns
    discussed. But all I can learn of their conclusions amounts to just
    this, that "Cato and Brister pulled wool"; which is about as
    edifying as the history of more famous schools of philosophy.
    Still grows the vivacious lilac a generation after the door and
    lintel and the sill are gone, unfolding its sweet-scented flowers
    each spring, to be plucked by the musing traveller; planted and
    tended once by children's hands, in front-yard plots -- now standing
    by wallsides in retired pastures, and giving place to new-rising
    forests; -- the last of that stirp, sole survivor of that family.
    Little did the dusky children think that the puny slip with its two
    eyes only, which they stuck in the ground in the shadow of the house
    and daily watered, would root itself so, and outlive them, and house
    itself in the rear that shaded it, and grown man's garden and
    orchard, and tell their story faintly to the lone wanderer a
    half-century after they had grown up and died -- blossoming as fair,
    and smelling as sweet, as in that first spring. I mark its still
    tender, civil, cheerful lilac colors.
    But this small village, germ of something more, why did it fail
    while Concord keeps its ground? Were there no natural advantages --
    no water privileges, forsooth? Ay, the deep Walden Pond and cool
    Brister's Spring -- privilege to drink long and healthy draughts at
    these, all unimproved by these men but to dilute their glass. They
    were universally a thirsty race. Might not the basket,
    stable-broom, mat-making, corn-parching, linen-spinning, and pottery
    business have thrived here, making the wilderness to blossom like
    the rose, and a numerous posterity have inherited the land of their
    fathers? The sterile soil would at least have been proof against a
    low-land degeneracy. Alas! how little does the memory of these
    human inhabitants enhance the beauty of the landscape! Again,
    perhaps, Nature will try, with me for a first settler, and my house
    raised last spring to be the oldest in the hamlet.
    I am not aware that any man has ever built on the spot which I
    occupy. Deliver me from a city built on the site of a more ancient
    city, whose materials are ruins, whose gardens cemeteries. The soil
    is blanched and accursed there, and before that becomes necessary
    the earth itself will be destroyed. With such reminiscences I
    repeopled the woods and lulled myself asleep.
    At this season I seldom had a visitor. When the snow lay
    deepest no wanderer ventured near my house for a week or fortnight
    at a time, but there I lived as snug as a meadow mouse, or as cattle
    and poultry which are said to have survived for a long time buried
    in drifts, even without food; or like that early settler's family in
    the town of Sutton, in this State, whose cottage was completely
    covered by the great snow of 1717 when he was absent, and an Indian
    found it only by the hole which the chimney's breath made in the
    drift, and so relieved the family. But no friendly Indian concerned
    himself about me; nor needed he, for the master of the house was at
    home. The Great Snow! How cheerful it is to hear of! When the
    farmers could not get to the woods and swamps with their teams, and
    were obliged to cut down the shade trees before their houses, and,
    when the crust was harder, cut off the trees in the swamps, ten feet
    from the ground, as it appeared the next spring.
    In the deepest snows, the path which I used from the highway to
    my house, about half a mile long, might have been represented by a
    meandering dotted line, with wide intervals between the dots. For a
    week of even weather I took exactly the same number of steps, and of
    the same length, coming and going, stepping deliberately and with
    the precision of a pair of dividers in my own deep tracks -- to such
    routine the winter reduces us -- yet often they were filled with
    heaven's own blue. But no weather interfered fatally with my walks,
    or rather my going abroad, for I frequently tramped eight or ten
    miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech
    tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines;
    when the ice and snow causing their limbs to droop, and so
    sharpening their tops, had changed the pines into fir trees; wading
    to the tops of the highest hills when the show was nearly two feet
    deep on a level, and shaking down another snow-storm on my head at
    every step; or sometimes creeping and floundering thither on my
    hands and knees, when the hunters had gone into winter quarters.
    One afternoon I amused myself by watching a barred owl (Strix
    nebulosa) sitting on one of the lower dead limbs of a white pine,
    close to the trunk, in broad daylight, I standing within a rod of
    him. He could hear me when I moved and cronched the snow with my
    feet, but could not plainly see me. When I made most noise he would
    stretch out his neck, and erect his neck feathers, and open his eyes
    wide; but their lids soon fell again, and he began to nod. I too
    felt a slumberous influence after watching him half an hour, as he
    sat thus with his eyes half open, like a cat, winged brother of the
    cat. There was only a narrow slit left between their lids, by which
    be preserved a pennisular relation to me; thus, with half-shut eyes,
    looking out from the land of dreams, and endeavoring to realize me,
    vague object or mote that interrupted his visions. At length, on
    some louder noise or my nearer approach, he would grow uneasy and
    sluggishly turn about on his perch, as if impatient at having his
    dreams disturbed; and when he launched himself off and flapped
    through the pines, spreading his wings to unexpected breadth, I
    could not hear the slightest sound from them. Thus, guided amid the
    pine boughs rather by a delicate sense of their neighborhood than by
    sight, feeling his twilight way, as it were, with his sensitive
    pinions, he found a new perch, where he might in peace await the
    dawning of his day.
    As I walked over the long causeway made for the railroad through
    the meadows, I encountered many a blustering and nipping wind, for
    nowhere has it freer play; and when the frost had smitten me on one
    cheek, heathen as I was, I turned to it the other also. Nor was it
    much better by the carriage road from Brister's Hill. For I came to
    town still, like a friendly Indian, when the contents of the broad
    open fields were all piled up between the walls of the Walden road,
    and half an hour sufficed to obliterate the tracks of the last
    traveller. And when I returned new drifts would have formed,
    through which I floundered, where the busy northwest wind had been
    depositing the powdery snow round a sharp angle in the road, and not
    a rabbit's track, nor even the fine print, the small type, of a
    meadow mouse was to be seen. Yet I rarely failed to find, even in
    midwinter, some warm and springly swamp where the grass and the
    skunk-cabbage still put forth with perennial verdure, and some
    hardier bird occasionally awaited the return of spring.
    Sometimes, notwithstanding the snow, when I returned from my
    walk at evening I crossed the deep tracks of a woodchopper leading
    from my door, and found his pile of whittlings on the hearth, and my
    house filled with the odor of his pipe. Or on a Sunday afternoon,
    if I chanced to be at home, I heard the cronching of the snow made
    by the step of a long-headed farmer, who from far through the woods
    sought my house, to have a social "crack"; one of the few of his
    vocation who are "men on their farms"; who donned a frock instead of
    a professor's gown, and is as ready to extract the moral out of
    church or state as to haul a load of manure from his barn-yard. We
    talked of rude and simple times, when men sat about large fires in
    cold, bracing weather, with clear heads; and when other dessert
    failed, we tried our teeth on many a nut which wise squirrels have
    long since abandoned, for those which have the thickest shells are
    commonly empty.
    The one who came from farthest to my lodge, through deepest
    snows and most dismal tempests, was a poet. A farmer, a hunter, a
    soldier, a reporter, even a philosopher, may be daunted; but nothing
    can deter a poet, for he is actuated by pure love. Who can predict
    his comings and goings? His business calls him out at all hours,
    even when doctors sleep. We made that small house ring with
    boisterous mirth and resound with the murmur of much sober talk,
    making amends then to Walden vale for the long silences. Broadway
    was still and deserted in comparison. At suitable intervals there
    were regular salutes of laughter, which might have been referred
    indifferently to the last-uttered or the forth-coming jest. We made
    many a "bran new" theory of life over a thin dish of gruel, which
    combined the advantages of conviviality with the clear-headedness
    which philosophy requires.
    I should not forget that during my last winter at the pond there
    was another welcome visitor, who at one time came through the
    village, through snow and rain and darkness, till he saw my lamp
    through the trees, and shared with me some long winter evenings.
    One of the last of the philosophers -- Connecticut gave him to the
    world -- he peddled first her wares, afterwards, as he declares, his
    brains. These he peddles still, prompting God and disgracing man,
    bearing for fruit his brain only, like the nut its kernel. I think
    that he must be the man of the most faith of any alive. His words
    and attitude always suppose a better state of things than other men
    are acquainted with, and he will be the last man to be disappointed
    as the ages revolve. He has no venture in the present. But though
    comparatively disregarded now, when his day comes, laws unsuspected
    by most will take effect, and masters of families and rulers will
    come to him for advice.

    "How blind that cannot see serenity!"

    A true friend of man; almost the only friend of human progress. An
    Old Mortality, say rather an Immortality, with unwearied patience
    and faith making plain the image engraven in men's bodies, the God
    of whom they are but defaced and leaning monuments. With his
    hospitable intellect he embraces children, beggars, insane, and
    scholars, and entertains the thought of all, adding to it commonly
    some breadth and elegance. I think that he should keep a
    caravansary on the world's highway, where philosophers of all
    nations might put up, and on his sign should be printed,
    "Entertainment for man, but not for his beast. Enter ye that have
    leisure and a quiet mind, who earnestly seek the right road." He is
    perhaps the sanest man and has the fewest crotchets of any I chance
    to know; the same yesterday and tomorrow. Of yore we had sauntered
    and talked, and effectually put the world behind us; for he was
    pledged to no institution in it, freeborn, ingenuus. Whichever way
    we turned, it seemed that the heavens and the earth had met
    together, since he enhanced the beauty of the landscape. A
    blue-robed man, whose fittest roof is the overarching sky which
    reflects his serenity. I do not see how he can ever die; Nature
    cannot spare him.
    Having each some shingles of thought well dried, we sat and
    whittled them, trying our knives, and admiring the clear yellowish
    grain of the pumpkin pine. We waded so gently and reverently, or we
    pulled together so smoothly, that the fishes of thought were not
    scared from the stream, nor feared any angler on the bank, but came
    and went grandly, like the clouds which float through the western
    sky, and the mother-o'-pearl flocks which sometimes form and
    dissolve there. There we worked, revising mythology, rounding a
    fable here and there, and building castles in the air for which
    earth offered no worthy foundation. Great Looker! Great Expecter!
    to converse with whom was a New England Night's Entertainment. Ah!
    such discourse we had, hermit and philosopher, and the old settler I
    have spoken of -- we three -- it expanded and racked my little
    house; I should not dare to say how many pounds' weight there was
    above the atmospheric pressure on every circular inch; it opened its
    seams so that they had to be calked with much dulness thereafter to
    stop the consequent leak; -- but I had enough of that kind of oakum
    already picked.
    There was one other with whom I had "solid seasons," long to be
    remembered, at his house in the village, and who looked in upon me
    from time to time; but I had no more for society there.
    There too, as everywhere, I sometimes expected the Visitor who
    never comes. The Vishnu Purana says, "The house-holder is to remain
    at eventide in his courtyard as long as it takes to milk a cow, or
    longer if he pleases, to await the arrival of a guest." I often
    performed this duty of hospitality, waited long enough to milk a
    whole herd of cows, but did not see the man approaching from the
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