“A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring.”
— Henry David Thoreau, from “Spring,” Walden
This is one of the most eloquent statements about living in the present that I have ever read. Thoreau goes on to praise the season’s power of renewal: Continue reading →
In early spring it’s always pleasant to see the new shoots springing up from barely-thawed soil, or sometimes poking through snow. Even before they amount to much they’re full of the promise of summer.
But who on earth spends time admiring the dead vegetation left over from the previous year?
Thoreau, of course.
“When the ground was partially bare of snow, and a few warm days had dried its surface somewhat, it was pleasant to compare the first tender signs of the infant year just peeping forth with the stately beauty of the withered vegetation which had withstood the winter — life-everlasting, goldenrods, pinweeds, and graceful wild grasses, more obvious and interesting frequently than in summer even, as if their beauty was not ripe till then…”
He has a point. Even grasses, which we often mistakenly consider weak or insubstantial, stand up remarkably well under winter conditions. Henry was most impressed with the wool-grass (Scirpus cyperinus).
“Many of the phenomena of Winter are suggestive of an inexpressible tenderness and fragile delicacy. We are accustomed to hear this king described as a rude and boisterous tyrant; but with the gentleness of a lover he adorns the tresses of Summer.”
“One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the Spring come in… I am on the alert for the first signs of spring, to hear the chance note of some arriving bird, or the striped squirrel’s chirp, for his stores must be now nearly exhausted, or see the woodchuck venture out of his winter quarters. On the 13th of March, after I had heard the bluebird, song sparrow, and red-wing, the ice was still nearly a foot thick.” — Henry David Thoreau, “Spring,” Walden
Thoreau’s journal entries reveal that he got tired of winter just like anyone else, and that he was keenly aware of any sign — no matter how subtle — that spring was on its way. Continue reading →
While we’re still in winter 2015, we begin the chapter “Spring” in Walden and all but a thin slice of pages of the book are behind us. This is the last chapter before “Conclusion.” Thoreau begins with a long description of the ice melting from the pond. Here is just a bit:
“In spring the sun not only exerts an influence through the increased temperature of the air and earth, but its heat passes through ice a foot or more thick, and is reflected from the bottom in shallow water, and so also warms the water and melts the under side of the ice, at the same time that it is melting it more directly above, making it uneven, and causing the air bubbles which it contains to extend themselves upward and downward until it is completely honeycombed, and at last disappears suddenly in a single spring rain. Ice has its grain as well as wood, and when a cake begins to rot or ‘comb,’ that is, assume the appearance of honeycomb, whatever may be its position, the air cells are at right angles with what was the water surface.”
I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating: Have you noticed how most of the things Thoreau describes in detail are things you wouldn’t see if you went to the pond for only a short visit? What he describes requires prolonged, close observation, the insights you earn from living with a landscape for an extended period of time, in this case through the changing seasons. This, too, is part of the book’s message.
Spring is here, at least where I live. I drifted in my kayak closer and closer to these turtles but they didn’t move, even when I was practically on top of them.
Do yourself a favor and get outdoors. There’s so much going on this time of year, but you have to get out there and look for it. It’s amazing how much fun you can have at a city park with an inflatable kayak and a point-and-shoot camera.