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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 16
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    After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some
    question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to
    answer in my sleep, as what -- how -- when -- where? But there was
    dawning Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad
    windows with serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips.
    I awoke to an answered question, to Nature and daylight. The snow
    lying deep on the earth dotted with young pines, and the very slope
    of the hill on which my house is placed, seemed to say, Forward!
    Nature puts no question and answers none which we mortals ask. She
    has long ago taken her resolution. "O Prince, our eyes contemplate
    with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied
    spectacle of this universe. The night veils without doubt a part of
    this glorious creation; but day comes to reveal to us this great
    work, which extends from earth even into the plains of the ether."
    Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in
    search of water, if that be not a dream. After a cold and snowy
    night it needed a divining-rod to find it. Every winter the liquid
    and trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every
    breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the
    depth of a foot or a foot and a half, so that it will support the
    heaviest teams, and perchance the snow covers it to an equal depth,
    and it is not to be distinguished from any level field. Like the
    marmots in the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes
    dormant for three months or more. Standing on the snow-covered
    plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through
    a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my
    feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of
    the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of
    ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer;
    there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight
    sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the
    inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet is well as over our heads.
    Early in the morning, while all things are crisp with frost, men
    come with fishing-reels and slender lunch, and let down their fine
    lines through the snowy field to take pickerel and perch; wild men,
    who instinctively follow other fashions and trust other authorities
    than their townsmen, and by their goings and comings stitch towns
    together in parts where else they would be ripped. They sit and eat
    their luncheon in stout fear-naughts on the dry oak leaves on the
    shore, as wise in natural lore as the citizen is in artificial.
    They never consulted with books, and know and can tell much less
    than they have done. The things which they practice are said not
    yet to be known. Here is one fishing for pickerel with grown perch
    for bait. You look into his pail with wonder as into a summer pond,
    as if he kept summer locked up at home, or knew where she had
    retreated. How, pray, did he get these in midwinter? Oh, he got
    worms out of rotten logs since the ground froze, and so he caught
    them. His life itself passes deeper in nature than the studies of
    the naturalist penetrate; himself a subject for the naturalist. The
    latter raises the moss and bark gently with his knife in search of
    insects; the former lays open logs to their core with his axe, and
    moss and bark fly far and wide. He gets his living by barking
    trees. Such a man has some right to fish, and I love to see nature
    carried out in him. The perch swallows the grub-worm, the pickerel
    swallows the perch, and the fisher-man swallows the pickerel; and so
    all the chinks in the scale of being are filled.
    When I strolled around the pond in misty weather I was sometimes
    amused by the primitive mode which some ruder fisherman had adopted.
    He would perhaps have placed alder branches over the narrow holes in
    the ice, which were four or five rods apart and an equal distance
    from the shore, and having fastened the end of the line to a stick
    to prevent its being pulled through, have passed the slack line over
    a twig of the alder, a foot or more above the ice, and tied a dry
    oak leaf to it, which, being pulled down, would show when he had a
    bite. These alders loomed through the mist at regular intervals as
    you walked half way round the pond.
    Ah, the pickerel of Walden! when I see them lying on the ice, or
    in the well which the fisherman cuts in the ice, making a little
    hole to admit the water, I am always surprised by their rare beauty,
    as if they were fabulous fishes, they are so foreign to the streets,
    even to the woods, foreign as Arabia to our Concord life. They
    possess a quite dazzling and transcendent beauty which separates
    them by a wide interval from the cadaverous cod and haddock whose
    fame is trumpeted in our streets. They are not green like the
    pines, nor gray like the stones, nor blue like the sky; but they
    have, to my eyes, if possible, yet rarer colors, like flowers and
    precious stones, as if they were the pearls, the animalized nuclei
    or crystals of the Walden water. They, of course, are Walden all
    over and all through; are themselves small Waldens in the animal
    kingdom, Waldenses. It is surprising that they are caught here --
    that in this deep and capacious spring, far beneath the rattling
    teams and chaises and tinkling sleighs that travel the Walden road,
    this great gold and emerald fish swims. I never chanced to see its
    kind in any market; it would be the cynosure of all eyes there.
    Easily, with a few convulsive quirks, they give up their watery
    ghosts, like a mortal translated before his time to the thin air of
    As I was desirous to recover the long lost bottom of Walden
    Pond, I surveyed it carefully, before the ice broke up, early in
    '46, with compass and chain and sounding line. There have been many
    stories told about the bottom, or rather no bottom, of this pond,
    which certainly had no foundation for themselves. It is remarkable
    how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without
    taking the trouble to sound it. I have visited two such Bottomless
    Ponds in one walk in this neighborhood. Many have believed that
    Walden reached quite through to the other side of the globe. Some
    who have lain flat on the ice for a long time, looking down through
    the illusive medium, perchance with watery eyes into the bargain,
    and driven to hasty conclusions by the fear of catching cold in
    their breasts, have seen vast holes "into which a load of hay might
    be driven," if there were anybody to drive it, the undoubted source
    of the Styx and entrance to the Infernal Regions from these parts.
    Others have gone down from the village with a "fifty-six" and a
    wagon load of inch rope, but yet have failed to find any bottom; for
    while the "fifty-six" was resting by the way, they were paying out
    the rope in the vain attempt to fathom their truly immeasurable
    capacity for marvellousness. But I can assure my readers that
    Walden has a reasonably tight bottom at a not unreasonable, though
    at an unusual, depth. I fathomed it easily with a cod-line and a
    stone weighing about a pound and a half, and could tell accurately
    when the stone left the bottom, by having to pull so much harder
    before the water got underneath to help me. The greatest depth was
    exactly one hundred and two feet; to which may be added the five
    feet which it has risen since, making one hundred and seven. This
    is a remarkable depth for so small an area; yet not an inch of it
    can be spared by the imagination. What if all ponds were shallow?
    Would it not react on the minds of men? I am thankful that this
    pond was made deep and pure for a symbol. While men believe in the
    infinite some ponds will be thought to be bottomless.
    A factory-owner, hearing what depth I had found, thought that it
    could not be true, for, judging from his acquaintance with dams,
    sand would not lie at so steep an angle. But the deepest ponds are
    not so deep in proportion to their area as most suppose, and, if
    drained, would not leave very remarkable valleys. They are not like
    cups between the hills; for this one, which is so unusually deep for
    its area, appears in a vertical section through its centre not
    deeper than a shallow plate. Most ponds, emptied, would leave a
    meadow no more hollow than we frequently see. William Gilpin, who
    is so admirable in all that relates to landscapes, and usually so
    correct, standing at the head of Loch Fyne, in Scotland, which he
    describes as "a bay of salt water, sixty or seventy fathoms deep,
    four miles in breadth," and about fifty miles long, surrounded by
    mountains, observes, "If we could have seen it immediately after the
    diluvian crash, or whatever convulsion of nature occasioned it,
    before the waters gushed in, what a horrid chasm must it have

    "So high as heaved the tumid hills, so low
    Down sunk a hollow bottom broad and deep,
    Capacious bed of waters."

    But if, using the shortest diameter of Loch Fyne, we apply these
    proportions to Walden, which, as we have seen, appears already in a
    vertical section only like a shallow plate, it will appear four
    times as shallow. So much for the increased horrors of the chasm of
    Loch Fyne when emptied. No doubt many a smiling valley with its
    stretching cornfields occupies exactly such a "horrid chasm," from
    which the waters have receded, though it requires the insight and
    the far sight of the geologist to convince the unsuspecting
    inhabitants of this fact. Often an inquisitive eye may detect the
    shores of a primitive lake in the low horizon hills, and no
    subsequent elevation of the plain have been necessary to conceal
    their history. But it is easiest, as they who work on the highways
    know, to find the hollows by the puddles after a shower. The amount
    of it is, the imagination give it the least license, dives deeper
    and soars higher than Nature goes. So, probably, the depth of the
    ocean will be found to be very inconsiderable compared with its
    As I sounded through the ice I could determine the shape of the
    bottom with greater accuracy than is possible in surveying harbors
    which do not freeze over, and I was surprised at its general
    regularity. In the deepest part there are several acres more level
    than almost any field which is exposed to the sun, wind, and plow.
    In one instance, on a line arbitrarily chosen, the depth did not
    vary more than one foot in thirty rods; and generally, near the
    middle, I could calculate the variation for each one hundred feet in
    any direction beforehand within three or four inches. Some are
    accustomed to speak of deep and dangerous holes even in quiet sandy
    ponds like this, but the effect of water under these circumstances
    is to level all inequalities. The regularity of the bottom and its
    conformity to the shores and the range of the neighboring hills were
    so perfect that a distant promontory betrayed itself in the
    soundings quite across the pond, and its direction could be
    determined by observing the opposite shore. Cape becomes bar, and
    plain shoal, and valley and gorge deep water and channel.
    When I had mapped the pond by the scale of ten rods to an inch,
    and put down the soundings, more than a hundred in all, I observed
    this remarkable coincidence. Having noticed that the number
    indicating the greatest depth was apparently in the centre of the
    map, I laid a rule on the map lengthwise, and then breadthwise, and
    found, to my surprise, that the line of greatest length intersected
    the line of greatest breadth exactly at the point of greatest depth,
    notwithstanding that the middle is so nearly level, the outline of
    the pond far from regular, and the extreme length and breadth were
    got by measuring into the coves; and I said to myself, Who knows but
    this hint would conduct to the deepest part of the ocean as well as
    of a pond or puddle? Is not this the rule also for the height of
    mountains, regarded as the opposite of valleys? We know that a hill
    is not highest at its narrowest part.
    Of five coves, three, or all which had been sounded, were
    observed to have a bar quite across their mouths and deeper water
    within, so that the bay tended to be an expansion of water within
    the land not only horizontally but vertically, and to form a basin
    or independent pond, the direction of the two capes showing the
    course of the bar. Every harbor on the sea-coast, also, has its bar
    at its entrance. In proportion as the mouth of the cove was wider
    compared with its length, the water over the bar was deeper compared
    with that in the basin. Given, then, the length and breadth of the
    cove, and the character of the surrounding shore, and you have
    almost elements enough to make out a formula for all cases.
    In order to see how nearly I could guess, with this experience,
    at the deepest point in a pond, by observing the outlines of a
    surface and the character of its shores alone, I made a plan of
    White Pond, which contains about forty-one acres, and, like this,
    has no island in it, nor any visible inlet or outlet; and as the
    line of greatest breadth fell very near the line of least breadth,
    where two opposite capes approached each other and two opposite bays
    receded, I ventured to mark a point a short distance from the latter
    line, but still on the line of greatest length, as the deepest. The
    deepest part was found to be within one hundred feet of this, still
    farther in the direction to which I had inclined, and was only one
    foot deeper, namely, sixty feet. Of course, a stream running
    through, or an island in the pond, would make the problem much more
    If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only one fact,
    or the description of one actual phenomenon, to infer all the
    particular results at that point. Now we know only a few laws, and
    our result is vitiated, not, of course, by any confusion or
    irregularity in Nature, but by our ignorance of essential elements
    in the calculation. Our notions of law and harmony are commonly
    confined to those instances which we detect; but the harmony which
    results from a far greater number of seemingly conflicting, but
    really concurring, laws, which we have not detected, is still more
    wonderful. The particular laws are as our points of view, as, to
    the traveller, a mountain outline varies with every step, and it has
    an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely but one form.
    Even when cleft or bored through it is not comprehended in its
    What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics. It
    is the law of average. Such a rule of the two diameters not only
    guides us toward the sun in the system and the heart in man, but
    draws lines through the length and breadth of the aggregate of a
    man's particular daily behaviors and waves of life into his coves
    and inlets, and where they intersect will be the height or depth of
    his character. Perhaps we need only to know how his shores trend
    and his adjacent country or circumstances, to infer his depth and
    concealed bottom. If he is surrounded by mountainous circumstances,
    an Achillean shore, whose peaks overshadow and are reflected in his
    bosom, they suggest a corresponding depth in him. But a low and
    smooth shore proves him shallow on that side. In our bodies, a bold
    projecting brow falls off to and indicates a corresponding depth of
    thought. Also there is a bar across the entrance of our every cove,
    or particular inclination; each is our harbor for a season, in which
    we are detained and partially land-locked. These inclinations are
    not whimsical usually, but their form, size, and direction are
    determined by the promontories of the shore, the ancient axes of
    elevation. When this bar is gradually increased by storms, tides,
    or currents, or there is a subsidence of the waters, so that it
    reaches to the surface, that which was at first but an inclination
    in the shore in which a thought was harbored becomes an individual
    lake, cut off from the ocean, wherein the thought secures its own
    conditions -- changes, perhaps, from salt to fresh, becomes a sweet
    sea, dead sea, or a marsh. At the advent of each individual into
    this life, may we not suppose that such a bar has risen to the
    surface somewhere? It is true, we are such poor navigators that our
    thoughts, for the most part, stand off and on upon a harborless
    coast, are conversant only with the bights of the bays of poesy, or
    steer for the public ports of entry, and go into the dry docks of
    science, where they merely refit for this world, and no natural
    currents concur to individualize them.
    As for the inlet or outlet of Walden, I have not discovered any
    but rain and snow and evaporation, though perhaps, with a
    thermometer and a line, such places may be found, for where the
    water flows into the pond it will probably be coldest in summer and
    warmest in winter. When the ice-men were at work here in '46-7, the
    cakes sent to the shore were one day rejected by those who were
    stacking them up there, not being thick enough to lie side by side
    with the rest; and the cutters thus discovered that the ice over a
    small space was two or three inches thinner than elsewhere, which
    made them think that there was an inlet there. They also showed me
    in another place what they thought was a "leach-hole," through which
    the pond leaked out under a hill into a neighboring meadow, pushing
    me out on a cake of ice to see it. It was a small cavity under ten
    feet of water; but I think that I can warrant the pond not to need
    soldering till they find a worse leak than that. One has suggested,
    that if such a "leach-hole" should be found, its connection with the
    meadow, if any existed, might be proved by conveying some, colored
    powder or sawdust to the mouth of the hole, and then putting a
    strainer over the spring in the meadow, which would catch some of
    the particles carried through by the current.
    While I was surveying, the ice, which was sixteen inches thick,
    undulated under a slight wind like water. It is well known that a
    level cannot be used on ice. At one rod from the shore its greatest
    fluctuation, when observed by means of a level on land directed
    toward a graduated staff on the ice, was three quarters of an inch,
    though the ice appeared firmly attached to the shore. It was
    probably greater in the middle. Who knows but if our instruments
    were delicate enough we might detect an undulation in the crust of
    the earth? When two legs of my level were on the shore and the
    third on the ice, and the sights were directed over the latter, a
    rise or fall of the ice of an almost infinitesimal amount made a
    difference of several feet on a tree across the pond. When I began
    to cut holes for sounding there were three or four inches of water
    on the ice under a deep snow which had sunk it thus far; but the
    water began immediately to run into these holes, and continued to
    run for two days in deep streams, which wore away the ice on every
    side, and contributed essentially, if not mainly, to dry the surface
    of the pond; for, as the water ran in, it raised and floated the
    ice. This was somewhat like cutting a hole in the bottom of a ship
    to let the water out. When such holes freeze, and a rain succeeds,
    and finally a new freezing forms a fresh smooth ice over all, it is
    beautifully mottled internally by dark figures, shaped somewhat like
    a spider's web, what you may call ice rosettes, produced by the
    channels worn by the water flowing from all sides to a centre.
    Sometimes, also, when the ice was covered with shallow puddles, I
    saw a double shadow of myself, one standing on the head of the
    other, one on the ice, the other on the trees or hillside.
    While yet it is cold January, and snow and ice are thick and
    solid, the prudent landlord comes from the village to get ice to
    cool his summer drink; impressively, even pathetically, wise, to
    foresee the heat and thirst of July now in January -- wearing a
    thick coat and mittens! when so many things are not provided for.
    It may be that he lays up no treasures in this world which will cool
    his summer drink in the next. He cuts and saws the solid pond,
    unroofs the house of fishes, and carts off their very element and
    air, held fast by chains and stakes like corded wood, through the
    favoring winter air, to wintry cellars, to underlie the summer
    there. It looks like solidified azure, as, far off, it is drawn
    through the streets. These ice-cutters are a merry race, full of
    jest and sport, and when I went among them they were wont to invite
    me to saw pit-fashion with them, I standing underneath.
    In the winter of '46-7 there came a hundred men of Hyperborean
    extraction swoop down on to our pond one morning, with many carloads
    of ungainly-looking farming tools -- sleds, plows, drill-barrows,
    turf-knives, spades, saws, rakes, and each man was armed with a
    double-pointed pike-staff, such as is not described in the
    New-England Farmer or the Cultivator. I did not know whether they
    had come to sow a crop of winter rye, or some other kind of grain
    recently introduced from Iceland. As I saw no manure, I judged that
    they meant to skim the land, as I had done, thinking the soil was
    deep and had lain fallow long enough. They said that a gentleman
    farmer, who was behind the scenes, wanted to double his money,
    which, as I understood, amounted to half a million already; but in
    order to cover each one of his dollars with another, he took off the
    only coat, ay, the skin itself, of Walden Pond in the midst of a
    hard winter. They went to work at once, plowing, barrowing,
    rolling, furrowing, in admirable order, as if they were bent on
    making this a model farm; but when I was looking sharp to see what
    kind of seed they dropped into the furrow, a gang of fellows by my
    side suddenly began to hook up the virgin mould itself, with a
    peculiar jerk, clean down to the sand, or rather the water -- for it
    was a very springy soil -- indeed all the terra firma there was --
    and haul it away on sleds, and then I guessed that they must be
    cutting peat in a bog. So they came and went every day, with a
    peculiar shriek from the locomotive, from and to some point of the
    polar regions, as it seemed to me, like a flock of arctic
    snow-birds. But sometimes Squaw Walden had her revenge, and a hired
    man, walking behind his team, slipped through a crack in the ground
    down toward Tartarus, and he who was so brave before suddenly became
    but the ninth part of a man, almost gave up his animal heat, and was
    glad to take refuge in my house, and acknowledged that there was
    some virtue in a stove; or sometimes the frozen soil took a piece of
    steel out of a plowshare, or a plow got set in the furrow and had to
    be cut out.
    To speak literally, a hundred Irishmen, with Yankee overseers,
    came from Cambridge every day to get out the ice. They divided it
    into cakes by methods too well known to require description, and
    these, being sledded to the shore, were rapidly hauled off on to an
    ice platform, and raised by grappling irons and block and tackle,
    worked by horses, on to a stack, as surely as so many barrels of
    flour, and there placed evenly side by side, and row upon row, as if
    they formed the solid base of an obelisk designed to pierce the
    clouds. They told me that in a good day they could get out a
    thousand tons, which was the yield of about one acre. Deep ruts and
    "cradle-holes" were worn in the ice, as on terra firma, by the
    passage of the sleds over the same track, and the horses invariably
    ate their oats out of cakes of ice hollowed out like buckets. They
    stacked up the cakes thus in the open air in a pile thirty-five feet
    high on one side and six or seven rods square, putting hay between
    the outside layers to exclude the air; for when the wind, though
    never so cold, finds a passage through, it will wear large cavities,
    leaving slight supports or studs only here and there, and finally
    topple it down. At first it looked like a vast blue fort or
    Valhalla; but when they began to tuck the coarse meadow hay into the
    crevices, and this became covered with rime and icicles, it looked
    like a venerable moss-grown and hoary ruin, built of azure-tinted
    marble, the abode of Winter, that old man we see in the almanac --
    his shanty, as if he had a design to estivate with us. They
    calculated that not twenty-five per cent of this would reach its
    destination, and that two or three per cent would be wasted in the
    cars. However, a still greater part of this heap had a different
    destiny from what was intended; for, either because the ice was
    found not to keep so well as was expected, containing more air than
    usual, or for some other reason, it never got to market. This heap,
    made in the winter of '46-7 and estimated to contain ten thousand
    tons, was finally covered with hay and boards; and though it was
    unroofed the following July, and a part of it carried off, the rest
    remaining exposed to the sun, it stood over that summer and the next
    winter, and was not quite melted till September, 1848. Thus the
    pond recovered the greater part.
    Like the water, the Walden ice, seen near at hand, has a green
    tint, but at a distance is beautifully blue, and you can easily tell
    it from the white ice of the river, or the merely greenish ice of
    some ponds, a quarter of a mile off. Sometimes one of those great
    cakes slips from the ice-man's sled into the village street, and
    lies there for a week like a great emerald, an object of interest to
    all passers. I have noticed that a portion of Walden which in the
    state of water was green will often, when frozen, appear from the
    same point of view blue. So the hollows about this pond will,
    sometimes, in the winter, be filled with a greenish water somewhat
    like its own, but the next day will have frozen blue. Perhaps the
    blue color of water and ice is due to the light and air they
    contain, and the most transparent is the bluest. Ice is an
    interesting subject for contemplation. They told me that they had
    some in the ice-houses at Fresh Pond five years old which was as
    good as ever. Why is it that a bucket of water soon becomes putrid,
    but frozen remains sweet forever? It is commonly said that this is
    the difference between the affections and the intellect.
    Thus for sixteen days I saw from my window a hundred men at work
    like busy husbandmen, with teams and horses and apparently all the
    implements of farming, such a picture as we see on the first page of
    the almanac; and as often as I looked out I was reminded of the
    fable of the lark and the reapers, or the parable of the sower, and
    the like; and now they are all gone, and in thirty days more,
    probably, I shall look from the same window on the pure sea-green
    Walden water there, reflecting the clouds and the trees, and sending
    up its evaporations in solitude, and no traces will appear that a
    man has ever stood there. Perhaps I shall hear a solitary loon
    laugh as he dives and plumes himself, or shall see a lonely fisher
    in his boat, like a floating leaf, beholding his form reflected in
    the waves, where lately a hundred men securely labored.
    Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston
    and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my
    well. In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and
    cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat-Geeta, since whose composition
    years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our
    modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt
    if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of
    existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay
    down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the
    servant of the Bramin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who
    still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells
    at the root of a tree with his crust and water jug. I meet his
    servant come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it
    were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is
    mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges. With favoring winds it
    is wafted past the site of the fabulous islands of Atlantis and the
    Hesperides, makes the periplus of Hanno, and, floating by Ternate
    and Tidore and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, melts in the tropic
    gales of the Indian seas, and is landed in ports of which Alexander
    only heard the names.
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