Thoreau's Journal: 09-Dec-1856

From a little east of Wyman's I look over the pond westward. The sun is near setting, away beyond Fair Haven. A bewitching stillness reigns through all the woodland and over the snow-clad landscape. Indeed, the winter day in the woods or fields has commonly the stillness of twilight. The pond is perfectly smooth and full of light. I hear only the strokes of a lingering woodchopper at a distance, and the melodious hooting of an owl, which is as common and marked a sound as the axe or locomotive whistle. Yet where does the ubiquitous hooter sit, and who sees him? In whose wood-lot is he to be found? Few eyes have rested on him hooting; few on him silent on his perch even. Yet cut away the woods never so much year after year, though the chopper has not seen him and only a grove or two is left, still his aboriginal voice is heard indefinitely far and sweet, mingled oft, in strange harmony, with the newly invented din of trade, like a sentence of Allegri sounded in our streets—hooting from invisible perch at his foes the woodchoppers, who are invading his domains. As the earth only a few inches beneath the surface is undisturbed and what it was anciently, so are heard still some primeval sounds in the air. Some of my townsmen I never see, and of a great proportion I do not hear the voices in a year, though they live within my horizon; but every week almost I hear the loud voice of the hooting owl, though I do not see the bird more than once in ten years.


Anonymous said...

I can hear that woodchopper! The hootowl..not so much. I need to drive a piece to hear him.

Anonymous said...

Ah, those one-in-ten-year sightings of the elusive hooter!

Just a week ago I had the once-in-a-lifetime surprise of seeing the same white (English) barn owl three times over the course of my late afternoon walk through the Sussex countryside which surrounds our village, which bears, in societal terms, a somewhat disturbing resemblance to Thoreau's bittersweet Concord.

Three separate sightings within the half-hour: 1) hunting above a sloped field just to the left of a wood which he, then, entered, 2) flying over the same field, but close enough to me, and then toward me, such that I could see his darling face of a slightly darker, more yellowish hue than the rest of him, and, finally, 3) from atop my own perch in an ancient oak tree I climb daily in the nearby valley; I could scarcely believe my eyes when I turned from the direction I was facing to see him flying along one hedge toward a second which is at once perpendicular to the former and which ends at my dear oak. I watched, stunned, as he approached the latter hedge, and after taking a bit of an unseen breather in one of the limbs therein, saw him emerge and fly up the hedge in the direction of my oak which apparently he lays some claim to as well, because just as I was expecting to witness his royal wiseness in stunningly close proximity, he swiftly banked ninety degrees, swooped under the large branch which was just to my left, and flew directly towards me staring with his big dark circular eyes straight into my own -- he swept past me within an elbow's length of my arm were I to extend it (which I did not) -- only to do a bit of a heroic last-second wing-dipping maneuver as the shock set in of flying directly for one of those strange two-legged beasts in a place which is usually populated only with those of his winged world as well as those pesky grey squirrels which make such a fuss when their territory has been invaded by another.

He was obviously very aware, very present, as his quick corrective measure was followed in immediate succession by a dart to the right, right under the branch I was straddling, and without hesitation was doing a fly-by along a third hedge in pursuit of his dinner (or was it perhaps his breakfast?).

Must I, now, wait another ten years, or perhaps another lifetime?

Sean (Mindful Living Guide)