AFTER A still winter night I awoke with the impression that somequestion had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain toanswer in my sleep, as what- how- when- where? But there was dawningNature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad windowswith serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips. I awoketo an answered question, to Nature and daylight. The snow lying deepon the earth dotted with young pines, and the very slope of the hillon which my house is placed, seemed to say, Forward! Nature puts noquestion and answers none which we mortals ask. She has long ago takenher resolution. "O Prince, our eyes contemplate with admiration andtransmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of thisuniverse. The night veils without doubt a part of this gloriouscreation; but day comes to reveal to us this great work, which extendsfrom earth even into the plains of the ether."
Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go insearch of water, if that be not a dream. After a cold and snowynight it needed a divining-rod to find it. Every winter the liquid andtrembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath,and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth ofa foot or a foot and a half, so that it will support the heaviestteams, and perchance the snow covers it to an equal depth, and it isnot to be distinguished from any level field. Like the marmots inthe surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant forthree months or more. Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in apasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, andthen a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneelingto drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded bya softened light as through a window of ground glass, with itsbright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennialwaveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, correspondingto the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is underour feet is well as over our heads.
Early in the morning, while all things are crisp with frost, mencome with fishing-reels and slender lunch, and let down their finelines through the snowy field to take pickerel and perch; wild men,who instinctively follow other fashions and trust other authoritiesthan their townsmen, and by their goings and comings stitch townstogether in parts where else they would be ripped. They sit and eattheir luncheon in stout fear- naughts on the dry oak leaves on theshore, as wise in natural lore as the citizen is in artificial. Theynever consulted with books, and know and can tell much less thanthey have done. The things which they practice are said not yet tobe known. Here is one fishing for pickerel with grown perch forbait. You look into his pail with wonder as into a summer pond, asif he kept summer locked up at home, or knew where she hadretreated. How, pray, did he get these in midwinter? Oh, he gotworms out of rotten logs since the ground froze, and so he caughtthem. His life itself passes deeper in nature than the studies ofthe naturalist penetrate; himself a subject for the naturalist. Thelatter raises the moss and bark gently with his knife in search ofinsects; the former lays open logs to their core with his axe, andmoss 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 carriedout in him. The perch swallows the grub-worm, the pickerel swallowsthe perch, and the fisher-man swallows the pickerel; and so all thechinks in the scale of being are filled.
When I strolled around the pond in misty weather I was sometimesamused by the primitive mode which some ruder fisher-man hadadopted. He would perhaps have placed alder branches over the narrowholes in the ice, which were four or five rods apart and an equaldistance from the shore, and having fastened the end of the line toa stick to prevent its being pulled through, have passed the slackline over a twig of the alder, a foot or more above the ice, andtied a dry oak leaf to it, which, being pulled down, would show whenhe had a bite. These alders loomed through the mist at regularintervals as you walked half way round the pond.
Ah, the pickerel of Walden! when I see them lying on the ice, orin the well which the fisherman cuts in the ice, making a littlehole 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 possessa quite dazzling and transcendent beauty which separates them by awide interval from the cadaverous cod and haddock whose fame istrumpeted in our streets. They are not green like the pines, norgray like the stones, nor blue like the sky; but they have, to myeyes, if possible, yet rarer colors, like flowers and precious stones,as if they were the pearls, the animalized nuclei or crystals of theWalden water. They, of course, are Walden all over and all through;are themselves small Waldens in the animal kingdom, Waldenses. It issurprising that they are caught here- that in this deep andcapacious spring, far beneath the rattling teams and chaises andtinkling sleighs that travel the Walden road, this great gold andemerald fish swims. I never chanced to see its kind in any market;it would be the cynosure of all eyes there. Easily, with a fewconvulsive quirks, they give up their watery ghosts, like a mortaltranslated before his time to the thin air of heaven.
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, withcompass and chain and sounding line. There have been many stories toldabout the bottom, or rather no bottom, of this pond, which certainlyhad no foundation for themselves. It is remarkable how long men willbelieve in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the troubleto sound it. I have visited two such Bottomless Ponds in one walk inthis neighborhood. Many have believed that Walden reached quitethrough to the other side of the globe. Some who have lain flat on theice for a long time, looking down through the illusive medium,perchance with watery eyes into the bargain, and driven to hastyconclusions by the fear of catching cold in their breasts, have seenvast holes "into which a load of hay might be drived," if there wereanybody to drive it, the undoubted source of the Styx and entranceto the Infernal Regions from these parts. Others have gone down fromthe village with a "fifty-six" and a wagon load of inch rope, butyet have failed to find any bottom; for while the "fifty-six" wasresting by the way, they were paying out the rope in the vainattempt to fathom their truly immeasurable capacity formarvellousness. But I can assure my readers that Walden has areasonably tight bottom at a not unreasonable, though at an unusual,depth. I fathomed it easily with a cod-line and a stone weighing abouta pound and a half, and could tell accurately when the stone leftthe bottom, by having to pull so much harder before the water gotunderneath to help me. The greatest depth was exactly one hundredand two feet; to which may be added the five feet which it has risensince, making one hundred and seven. This is a remarkable depth for sosmall 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 ofmen? 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 bebottomless.
A factory-owner, bearing what depth I had found, thought that itcould not be true, for, judging from his acquaintance with dams,sand would not lie at so steep an angle. But the deepest ponds are notso deep in proportion to their area as most suppose, and, ifdrained, would not leave very remarkable valleys. They are not likecups between the hills; for this one, which is so unusually deep forits area, appears in a vertical section through its centre notdeeper than a shallow plate. Most ponds, emptied, would leave a meadowno more hollow than we frequently see. William Gilpin, who is soadmirable in all that relates to landscapes, and usually so correct,standing at the head of Loch Fyne, in Scotland, which he describesas "a bay of salt water, sixty or seventy fathoms deep, four milesin breadth, and about fifty miles long, surrounded by mountains,observes, "If we could have seen it immediately after the diluviancrash, or whatever convulsion of nature occasioned it, before thewaters gushed in, what a horrid chasm must it have appeared!
"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 theseproportions to Walden, which, as we have seen, appears already in avertical section only like a shallow plate, it will appear fourtimes as shallow. So much for the increased horrors of the chasm ofLoch Fyne when emptied. No doubt many a smiling valley with itsstretching cornfields occupies exactly such a "horrid chasm," fromwhich the waters have receded, though it requires the insight andthe far sight of the geologist to convince the unsuspectinginhabitants of this fact. Often an inquisitive eye may detect theshores of a primitive lake in the low horizon hills, and no subsequentelevation of the plain have been necessary to conceal their history.But it is easiest, as they who work on the highways know, to findthe hollows by the puddles after a shower. The amount of it is, theimagination, give it the least license, dives deeper and soarshigher than Nature goes. So, probably, the depth of the ocean willbe found to be very inconsiderable compared with its breadth.
As I sounded through the ice I could determine the shape of thebottom with greater accuracy than is possible in surveying harborswhich do not freeze over, and I was surprised at its generalregularity. In the deepest part there are several acres more levelthan almost any field which is exposed to the sun, wind, and plow.In one instance, on a line arbitrarily chosen, the depth did notvary more than one foot in thirty rods; and generally, near themiddle, I could calculate the variation for each one hundred feet inany direction beforehand within three or four inches. Some areaccustomed to speak of deep and dangerous holes even in quiet sandyponds like this, but the effect of water under these circumstancesis to level all inequalities. The regularity of the bottom and itsconformity to the shores and the range of the neighboring hills wereso perfect that a distant promontory betrayed itself in thesoundings quite across the pond, and its direction could be determinedby 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 observedthis remarkable coincidence. Having noticed that the number indicatingthe greatest depth was apparently in the centre of the map, I laid arule on the map lengthwise, and then breadthwise, and found, to mysurprise, that the line of greatest length intersected the line ofgreatest breadth exactly at the point of greatest depth,notwithstanding that the middle is so nearly level, the outline of thepond far from regular, and the extreme length and breadth were gotby measuring into the coves; and I said to myself, Who knows butthis hint would conduct to the deepest part of the ocean as well as ofa pond or puddle? Is not this the rule also for the height ofmountains, regarded as the opposite of valleys? We know that a hill isnot highest at its narrowest part.
Of five coves, three, or all which had been sounded, were observedto have a bar quite across their mouths and deeper water within, sothat the bay tended to be an expansion of water within the land notonly horizontally but vertically, and to form a basin or independentpond, 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. Inproportion as the mouth of the cove was wider compared with itslength, the water over the bar was deeper compared with that in thebasin. Given, then, the length and breadth of the cove, and thecharacter of the surrounding shore, and you have almost elementsenough to make out a formula for all cases.
In order to see how nearly I could guess, with this experience, atthe deepest point in a pond, by observing the outlines of a surfaceand 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 init, nor any visible inlet or outlet; and as the line of greatestbreadth fell very near the line of least breadth, where two oppositecapes approached each other and two opposite bays receded, Iventured to mark a point a short distance from the latter line, butstill on the line of greatest length, as the deepest. The deepest partwas found to be within one hundred feet of this, still farther inthe direction to which I had inclined, and was only one foot deeper,namely, sixty feet. Of course, a stream running through, or anisland in the pond, would make the problem much more complicated.
If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only one fact,or the description of one actual phenomenon, to infer all theparticular results at that point. Now we know only a few laws, and ourresult is vitiated, not, of course, by any confusion or irregularityin Nature, but by our ignorance of essential elements in thecalculation. Our notions of law and harmony are commonly confined tothose instances which we detect; but the harmony which results froma far greater number of seemingly conflicting, but reallyconcurring, laws, which we have not detected, is still more wonderful.The particular laws are as our points of view, as, to the traveller, amountain outline varies with every step, and it has an infinite numberof profiles, though absolutely but one form. Even when cleft orbored through it is not comprehended in its entireness.
What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics. It isthe law of average. Such a rule of the two diameters not only guidesus toward the sun in the system and the heart in man, but drawslines through the length and breadth of the aggregate of a man'sparticular daily behaviors and waves of life into his coves andinlets, and where they intersect will be the height or depth of hischaracter. Perhaps we need only to know how his shores trend and hisadjacent country or circumstances, to infer his depth and concealedbottom. If he is surrounded by mountainous circumstances, an Achilleanshore, whose peaks overshadow and are reflected in his bosom, theysuggest a corresponding depth in him. But a low and smooth shoreproves him shallow on that side. In our bodies, a bold projecting browfalls off to and indicates a corresponding depth of thought. Alsothere is a bar across the entrance of our every cove, or particularinclination; each is our harbor for a season, in which we are detainedand partially land-locked. These inclinations are not whimsicalusually, but their form, size, and direction are determined by thepromontories of the shore, the ancient axes of elevation. When thisbar is gradually increased by storms, tides, or currents, or thereis a subsidence of the waters, so that it reaches to the surface, thatwhich was at first but an inclination in the shore in which athought was harbored becomes an individual lake, cut off from theocean, wherein the thought secures its own conditions- changes,perhaps, from salt to fresh, becomes a sweet sea, dead sea, or amarsh. At the advent of each individual into this life, may we notsuppose that such a bar has risen to the surface somewhere? It istrue, we are such poor navigators that our thoughts, for the mostpart, stand off and on upon a harborless coast, are conversant onlywith the bights of the bays of poesy, or steer for the public ports ofentry, and go into the dry docks of science, where they merely refitfor this world, and no natural currents concur to individualize them.
As for the inlet or outlet of Walden, I have not discovered anybut rain and snow and evaporation, though perhaps, with athermometer and a line, such places may be found, for where thewater flows into the pond it will probably be coldest in summer andwarmest in winter. When the ice-men were at work here in '46-7, thecakes sent to the shore were one day rejected by those who werestacking them up there, not being thick enough to lie side by sidewith the rest; and the cutters thus discovered that the ice over asmall space was two or three inches thinner than elsewhere, which madethem think that there was an inlet there. They also showed me inanother place what they thought was a "leach-hole," through whichthe pond leaked out under a hill into a neighboring meadow, pushing meout on a cake of ice to see it. It was a small cavity under ten feetof water; but I think that I can warrant the pond not to needsoldering till they find a worse leak than that. One has suggested,that if such a "leach-hole" should be found, its connection with themeadow, if any existed, might be proved by conveying some, coloredpowder or sawdust to the mouth of the hole, and then putting astrainer over the spring in the meadow, which would catch some ofthe 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 alevel cannot be used on ice. At one rod from the shore its greatestfluctuation, when observed by means of a level on land directed towarda graduated staff on the ice, was three quarters of an inch, thoughthe ice appeared firmly attached to the shore. It was probably greaterin the middle. Who knows but if our instruments were delicate enoughwe might detect an undulation in the crust of the earth? When two legsof my level were on the shore and the third on the ice, and the sightswere directed over the latter, a rise or fall of the ice of analmost infinitesimal amount made a difference of several feet on atree across the pond. When I began to cut holes for sounding therewere three or four inches of water on the ice under a deep snowwhich had sunk it thus far; but the water began immediately to runinto these holes, and continued to run for two days in deep streams,which wore away the ice on every side, and contributed essentially, ifnot mainly, to dry the surface of the pond; for, as the water ranin, it raised and floated the ice. This was somewhat like cutting ahole in the bottom of a ship to let the water out. When such holesfreeze, and a rain succeeds, and finally a new freezing forms afresh smooth ice over all, it is beautifully mottled internally bydark figures, shaped somewhat like a spider's web, what you may callice rosettes, produced by the channels worn by the water flowingfrom all sides to a centre. Sometimes, also, when the ice wascovered with shallow puddles, I saw a double shadow of myself, onestanding on the head of the other, one on the ice, the other on thetrees or hillside.
While yet it is cold January, and snow and ice are thick andsolid, the prudent landlord comes from the village to get ice tocool his summer drink; impressively, even pathetically, wise, toforesee the heat and thirst of July now in January- wearing a thickcoat and mittens! when so many things are not provided for. It maybe that he lays up no treasures in this world which will cool hissummer drink in the next. He cuts and saws the solid pond, unroofs thehouse of fishes, and carts off their very element and air, held fastby chains and stakes like corded wood, through the favoring winterair, to wintry cellars, to underlie the summer there. It looks likesolidified azure, as, far off, it is drawn through the streets.These ice-cutters are a merry race, full of jest and sport, and when Iwent among them they were wont to invite me to saw pit-fashion withthem, I standing underneath.
In the winter of '46-7 there came a hundred men of Hyperboreanextraction swoop down on to our pond one morning, with many carloadsof ungainly-looking farming tools-sleds, plows, drill-barrows,turf-knives, spades, saws, rakes, and each man was armed with adouble-pointed pike-staff, such as is not described in the New-EnglandFarmer or the Cultivator. I did not know whether they had come tosow a crop of winter rye, or some other kind of grain recentlyintroduced from Iceland. As I saw no manure, I judged that theymeant to skim the land, as I had done, thinking the soil was deepand had lain fallow long enough. They said that a gentleman farmer,who was behind the scenes, wanted to double his money, which, as Iunderstood, amounted to half a million already; but in order tocover 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 modelfarm; but when I was looking sharp to see what kind of seed theydropped into the furrow, a gang of fellows by my side suddenly beganto book up the virgin mould itself, with a peculiar jerk, clean downto 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, andthen I guessed that they must be cutting peat in a bog. So they cameand went every day, with a peculiar shriek from the locomotive, fromand to some point of the polar regions, as it seemed to me, like aflock of arctic snow-birds. But sometimes Squaw Walden had herrevenge, and a hired man, walking behind his team, slipped through acrack in the ground down toward Tartarus, and he who was so bravebefore suddenly became but the ninth part of a man, almost gave up hisanimal heat, and was glad to take refuge in my house, and acknowledgedthat there was some virtue in a stove; or sometimes the frozen soiltook a piece of steel out of a plowshare, or a plow got set in thefurrow 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 intocakes by methods too well known to require description, and these,being sledded to the shore, were rapidly hauled off on to an iceplatform, and raised by grappling irons and block and tackle, workedby horses, on to a stack, as surely as so many barrels of flour, andthere placed evenly side by side, and row upon row, as if theyformed 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 sledsover the same track, and the horses invariably ate their oats out ofcakes of ice hollowed out like buckets. They stacked up the cakes thusin the open air in a pile thirty-five feet high on one side and six orseven rods square, putting hay between the outside layers to excludethe air; for when the wind, though never so cold, finds a passagethrough, it will wear large cavities, leaving slight supports or studsonly here and there, and finally topple it down. At first it lookedlike a vast blue fort or Valhalla; but when they began to tuck thecoarse meadow hay into the crevices, and this became covered with rimeand icicles, it looked like a venerable moss-grown and hoary ruin,built of azure-tinted marble, the abode of Winter, that old man we seein 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 reachits destination, and that two or three per cent would be wasted in thecars. However, a still greater part of this heap had a differentdestiny from what was intended; for, either because the ice wasfound not to keep so well as was expected, containing more air thanusual, or for some other reason, it never got to market. This heap,made in the winter of '46-7 and estimated to contain ten thousandtons, was finally covered with hay and boards; and though it wasunroofed the following July, and a part of it carried off, the restremaining exposed to the sun, it stood over that summer and the nextwinter, and was not quite melted till September, 1848. Thus the pondrecovered 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 fromthe white ice of the river, or the merely greenish ice of someponds, a quarter of a mile off. Sometimes one of those great cakesslips from the ice-man's sled into the village street, and liesthere for a week like a great emerald, an object of interest to allpassers. I have noticed that a portion of Walden which in the state ofwater was green will often, when frozen, appear from the same point ofview blue. So the hollows about this pond will, sometimes, in thewinter, be filled with a greenish water somewhat like its own, but thenext day will have frozen blue. Perhaps the blue color of water andice is due to the light and air they contain, and the most transparentis the bluest. Ice is an interesting subject for contemplation. Theytold me that they had some in the ice-houses at Fresh Pond fiveyears old which was as good as ever. Why is it that a bucket ofwater soon becomes putrid, but frozen remains sweet forever? It iscommonly said that this is the difference between the affections andthe intellect.
Thus for sixteen days I saw from my window a hundred men at worklike busy husbandmen, with teams and horses and apparently all theimplements of farming, such a picture as we see on the first page ofthe almanac; and as often as I looked out I was reminded of thefable of the lark and the reapers, or the parable of the sower, andthe like; and now they are all gone, and in thirty days more,probably, I shall look from the same window on the pure sea-greenWalden water there, reflecting the clouds and the trees, and sendingup its evaporations in solitude, and no traces will appear that aman has ever stood there. Perhaps I shall hear a solitary loon laughas he dives and plumes himself, or shall see a lonely fisher in hisboat, 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 andNew Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well. Inthe morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonalphilosophy of the Bhagvat-Geeta, since whose composition years ofthe gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern worldand its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if thatphilosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence,so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down the bookand go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of theBramin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in histemple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of atree with his crust and water jug. I meet his servant come to drawwater for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in thesame well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water ofthe Ganges. With favoring winds it is wafted past the site of thefabulous islands of Atlantis and the Hesperides, makes the periplus ofHanno, and, floating by Ternate and Tidore and the mouth of thePersian Gulf, melts in the tropic gales of the Indian seas, and islanded in ports of which Alexander only heard the names.