Henry David Thoreau
Goldfinch ,1842 color lithograph
The Journal of Henry David Thoreau: 1837-1861
and Other Natural History Essays
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers / Walden; Or, Life in the Woods / The Maine Woods / Cape Cod
Searching for Thoreau
On the Trails and Shores of Wild New England
2.30 p.m. -To Lee's Cliff.
I saw yesterday for a moment by the river a small olivaceous-yellow bird; possibly a goldfinch, but I think too yellow. I see some gossamer on the causeway this afternoon, though it is very windy.
It is remarkable how little we attend to what is passing before us constantly, unless our genius directs our attention that way. There are these little sparrows with white in tail, perhaps the prevailing bird of late, which have flitted before me so many falls and springs, and yet they have been as it were strangers to me, and I have not inquired whence they came or whither they were going, or what their habits were. It is surprising how little most of us are contented to know about the sparrows which drift about in the air before us just before the first snows.
I hear the downy woodpecker's metallic tchip or peep.
Now I see where many a bird builded last spring or summer. These are leaves which do not fall. How similar in the main the nests of birds and squirrels and mice! I am not absolutely certain that the mice do not make the whole nest in a bush sometimes, instead of building on a bird's nest. There is in the squirrel in this respect an approach to the bird, and, beside, one of his family is partially winged.
Climbed the wooded hill by Holden's spruce swamp and got a novel view of the river and Fair Haven Bay through the almost leafless woods. How much handsomer a river or lake such as ours, seen thus through a foreground of scattered or else partially leafless trees. It is the most perfect and beautiful of all frames, which yet the sketcher is commonly careful to brush aside. I mean a pretty thick foreground, a view of the distant water through the near forest, through a thousand little vistas, as we are rushing toward the former, -that intimate mingling of wood and water which excites an expectation which the near and open view rarely realizes. We prefer that some part be concealed, which our imagination may navigate.
Still the Canada snapdragon, yarrow, autumnal dandelion, tansy, shepherd's-purse, silvery cinquefoil, witch-hazel. The sweet-briar hips are abundant and fresh, a dozen sometimes crowded in a space of two inches square. Their form is a handsome oval with a flat apex. Isit not somewhat like an olive-jar? The hips hold on, then, though the haws have fallen, and the prinos, too, for the most part. There are also some fragrant and green leaves left. These are about the prettiest red berries that we have.
I am struck with the variety in the form and size of the walnuts in shells, -some with a slight neck and slightly club-shaped perhaps the most common; some much longer, nearly twice as long as wide; some, like the mocker-nut, slightly depressed or rather flattened above; some pignuts very large and regularly obovate, an inch and a quarter in diameter.
November 6, 1853
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