Out of the Past

January 30

and Other Natural History Essays


Another cold morning. Mercury down to 13° below zero.

Frank showed me last night a white hare he had killed. It was frozen stiff, weighed four pounds, and was nearly three feet long. Its hind feet made soft brushes, which painters use in graining doors, etc.

This morning, though not so cold by a degree or two as yesterday morning, the cold has got more into the house, and the frost visits nooks never known to be visited before. The sheets are frozen about the sleeper's face; the teamster's beard is white with ice. Last night I felt it stinging cold as I came up the street at 9 o'clock; it bit my ears and face, but the stars shone all the brighter. The windows are all closed up with frost, as if they were ground glass.

The greater part of last week there was no melting in the roads nor on roofs . No more yesterday and today. The snow is dry and squeaks under the feet, and the teams creak as if they needed greasing - sounds associated with extremely cold weather.

P. M. Up river on ice and snow to Fair Haven Pond.

There is a few inches of snow, perfectly level, which now for nearly a week has covered the ice.

It is much easier and pleasanter to walk thus on the river, the snow being shallow and level, and there is no such loud squeaking or crouching of the snow as in the road, and this road is so wide that you do not feel confined in it, and you never meet travellers with whom you have no sympathy.

The winter, cold and bound out as it is, is thrown to us like a bone to a famishing clog, and we are expected to get the marrow out of it. While the milkmen in the outskirts are milking so many scores of cows before sunrise these winter mornings, it is our task to milk the winter itself. It is true it is like a cow that is dry, and our fingers are numb, and there is none to wake us up.

Some desert the field and go into winter quarters in the city. They attend the oratorios, while the only music that we countrymen hear is the squeaking of the snow under our boots. But the winter was not given to us for no purpose. We must thaw its cold with our genialness. We are tasked to find out and appropriate all the
nutriment it yields. If it is a cold and hard season, its fruit, no doubt, is the more concentrated and nutty. It took the cold and bleakness of November to ripen the walnut, but the human brain is the kernel which the winter itself matures. Not till then does its shell come off.

The seasons were not made in vain. Because the fruits of the earth are already ripe, we are not to suppose that there is no fruit left for winter to ripen. It is for man the seasons and all their fruits exist. The winter was made to concentrate and harden and mature the kernel of his brain, to give tone and firmness and consistency to his thought. Then is the great harvest of the year, the harvest of thought. All previous harvests are stubble to this, mere fodder and green crop.

Shall we take refuge in cities in November? Shall the nut fall green from the tree? Let not the year be disappointed of its crop. I knew a crazy man who walked into an empty pulpit one Sunday and, taking up a hymn-book, remarked: "We have had a good fall
for getting in corn and potatoes. Let us sing Winter." So I say, "Let us sing winter." What else can we sing, and our voices be in harmony with the season ?

Now is the time to fill ice-houses, for fear they may not have another chance for solid ice. Brown filled his last week.

Sometimes one of those great cakes of green ice from Walden or Sam Barrett's Pond slips from the ice-man's sled in the street and lies there like a great emerald, an object of interest to all travellers.

The hips of the late rose are still abundant and perfect, amid the button-bushes.

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