Fragrance in Nature Literature-Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Wikipedia article on Henry David Thoreau

Works by or about Henry David Thoreau

Walden, and On The Duty Of Civil
Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau



Sometimes I rambled to pine groves, standing like temples, or like
fleets at sea, full-rigged, with wavy boughs, and rippling with light,
so soft and green and shady that the Druids would have forsaken their
oaks to worship in them; or to the cedar wood beyond Flint's Pond, where
the trees, covered with hoary blue berries, spiring higher and higher,
are fit to stand before Valhalla, and the creeping juniper covers the
ground with wreaths full of fruit; or to swamps where the usnea lichen
hangs in festoons from the white spruce trees, and toadstools, round
tables of the swamp gods, cover the ground, and more beautiful fungi
adorn the stumps, like butterflies or shells, vegetable winkles; where
the swamp-pink and dogwood grow, the red alderberry glows like eyes of
imps, the waxwork grooves and crushes the hardest woods in its folds,
and the wild holly berries make the beholder forget his home with their
beauty, and he is dazzled and tempted by nameless other wild forbidden
fruits, too fair for mortal taste. Instead of calling on some scholar,
I paid many a visit to particular trees, of kinds which are rare in this
neighborhood, standing far away in the middle of some pasture, or in the
depths of a wood or swamp, or on a hilltop; such as the black birch, of
which we have some handsome specimens two feet in diameter; its cousin,
the yellow birch, with its loose golden vest, perfumed like the first;
the beech, which has so neat a bole and beautifully lichen-painted,
perfect in all its details, of which, excepting scattered specimens, I
know but one small grove of sizable trees left in the township, supposed
by some to have been planted by the pigeons that were once baited with
beechnuts near by; it is worth the while to see the silver grain
sparkle when you split this wood; the bass; the hornbeam; the Celtis
occidentalis, or false elm, of which we have but one well-grown; some
taller mast of a pine, a shingle tree, or a more perfect hemlock than
usual, standing like a pagoda in the midst of the woods; and many
others I could mention. These were the shrines I visited both summer and
winter.

At length the sun's rays have attained the right angle, and warm winds
blow up mist and rain and melt the snowbanks, and the sun, dispersing
the mist, smiles on a checkered landscape of russet and white smoking
with incense, through which the traveller picks his way from islet to
islet, cheered by the music of a thousand tinkling rills and rivulets
whose veins are filled with the blood of winter which they are bearing
off.

In view of the future
or possible, we should live quite laxly and undefined in front, our
outlines dim and misty on that side; as our shadows reveal an insensible
perspiration toward the sun. The volatile truth of our words should
continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement. Their truth
is instantly translated; its literal monument alone remains. The
words which express our faith and piety are not definite; yet they are
significant and fragrant like frankincense to superior natures.


I hewed the main timbers six inches square, most of the studs on two
sides only, and the rafters and floor timbers on one side, leaving
the rest of the bark on, so that they were just as straight and much
stronger than sawed ones. Each stick was carefully mortised or tenoned
by its stump, for I had borrowed other tools by this time. My days in
the woods were not very long ones; yet I usually carried my dinner of
bread and butter, and read the newspaper in which it was wrapped, at
noon, sitting amid the green pine boughs which I had cut off, and to my
bread was imparted some of their fragrance, for my hands were covered
with a thick coat of pitch. Before I had done I was more the friend than
the foe of the pine tree, though I had cut down some of them, having
become better acquainted with it. Sometimes a rambler in the wood was
attracted by the sound of my axe, and we chatted pleasantly over the
chips which I had made.

Bread I at first made of pure Indian meal and salt, genuine hoe-cakes,
which I baked before my fire out of doors on a shingle or the end of a
stick of timber sawed off in building my house; but it was wont to get
smoked and to have a piny flavor, I tried flour also; but have at last
found a mixture of rye and Indian meal most convenient and agreeable. In
cold weather it was no little amusement to bake several small loaves of
this in succession, tending and turning them as carefully as an Egyptian
his hatching eggs. They were a real cereal fruit which I ripened, and
they had to my senses a fragrance like that of other noble fruits, which
I kept in as long as possible by wrapping them in cloths.

I would not subtract anything from the praise that is due to
philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all who by their lives
and works are a blessing to mankind. I do not value chiefly a man's
uprightness and benevolence, which are, as it were, his stem and leaves.
Those plants of whose greenness withered we make herb tea for the sick
serve but a humble use, and are most employed by quacks. I want the
flower and fruit of a man; that some fragrance be wafted over from him
to me, and some ripeness flavor our intercourse. His goodness must not
be a partial and transitory act, but a constant superfluity, which costs
him nothing and of which he is unconscious. This is a charity that hides
a multitude of sins.

The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day,
is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an
hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of
the day and night. Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be
called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the
mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own
newly acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by
the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a
fragrance filling the air--to a higher life than we fell asleep from;
and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good,
no less than the light. That man who does not believe that each day
contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet
profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and
darkening way. After a partial cessation of his sensuous life, the soul
of man, or its organs rather, are reinvigorated each day, and his Genius
tries again what noble life it can make. All memorable events, I should
say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas
say, "All intelligences awake with the morning.

If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius,
which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even
insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute
and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection which one
healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs
of mankind. No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. Though
the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the
consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity
to higher principles. If the day and the night are such that you greet
them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented
herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal--that is your
success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause
momentarily to bless yourself.

In October I went a-graping to the river meadows, and loaded myself with
clusters more precious for their beauty and fragrance than for food.
There, too, I admired, though I did not gather, the cranberries, small
waxen gems, pendants of the meadow grass, pearly and red, which the
farmer plucks with an ugly rake, leaving the smooth meadow in a snarl,
heedlessly measuring them by the bushel and the dollar only, and sells
the spoils of the meads to Boston and New York; destined to be jammed,
to satisfy the tastes of lovers of Nature there.

It was very exciting at that
season to roam the then boundless chestnut woods of Lincoln--they now
sleep their long sleep under the railroad--with a bag on my shoulder,
and a stick to open burs with in my hand, for I did not always wait for
the frost, amid the rustling of leaves and the loud reproofs of the red
squirrels and the jays, whose half-consumed nuts I sometimes stole,
for the burs which they had selected were sure to contain sound ones.
Occasionally I climbed and shook the trees. They grew also behind my
house, and one large tree, which almost overshadowed it, was, when
in flower, a bouquet which scented the whole neighborhood, but the
squirrels and the jays got most of its fruit; the last coming in flocks
early in the morning and picking the nuts out of the burs before they
fell, I relinquished these trees to them and visited the more distant
woods composed wholly of chestnut.

The next winter I used a small cooking-stove for economy, since I
did not own the forest; but it did not keep fire so well as the open
fireplace. Cooking was then, for the most part, no longer a poetic, but
merely a chemic process. It will soon be forgotten, in these days of
stoves, that we used to roast potatoes in the ashes, after the Indian
fashion. The stove not only took up room and scented the house, but it
concealed the fire, and I felt as if I had lost a companion. You can
always see a face in the fire. The laborer, looking into it at evening,
purifies his thoughts of the dross and earthiness which they have
accumulated during the day.

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.

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.

I have occasional visits in the long winter evenings, when the snow
falls fast and the wind howls in the wood, from an old settler and
original proprietor, who is reported to have dug Walden Pond, and stoned
it, and fringed it with pine woods; who tells me stories of old time
and of new eternity; and between us we manage to pass a cheerful evening
with social mirth and pleasant views of things, even without apples
or cider--a most wise and humorous friend, whom I love much, who keeps
himself more secret than ever did Goffe or Whalley; and though he is
thought to be dead, none can show where he is buried. An elderly dame,
too, dwells in my neighborhood, invisible to most persons, in whose
odorous herb garden I love to stroll sometimes, gathering simples and
listening to her fables; for she has a genius of unequalled fertility,
and her memory runs back farther than mythology, and she can tell me the
original of every fable, and on what fact every one is founded, for the
incidents occurred when she was young. A ruddy and lusty old dame, who
delights in all weathers and seasons, and is likely to outlive all her
children yet.

Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored
forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness--to
wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and
hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only
some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls
with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are
earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things
be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild,
unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have
enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible
vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the
wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud,
and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need
to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely
where we never wander.