The chapter begins with Thoreau the Scientist and concludes with Thoreau the Philosopher. It’s his foundational pattern. Carefully observe the world and draw conclusions from nature into the realm of human experience. Weave in some Bible,Vedas, botany, architecture, Ovid, Confucius, Shakespeare, music, a few puns, and you’re good to go.
He takes us into the home stretch of Walden by way of spring. It’s a bright and beautiful way to end something— a promise of renewal for nature and humanity.
Just in case you didn’t get enough on ice, there’s more. The pond cracks, breaks, melts, and thunders. It doesn’t just contain life, it isn’t just a symbol, it wakes up now, it becomes alive with mighty presence.
Following this is one of Thoreau’s signature obsessions—the thawing “phenomena” of sand and clay creating a “luxuriant foliage” down the sides of the railroad bank. One Transcendental theme is finding inspiration and connection in the expression of nature. The thawing clay creates an architecture of leaves, vines, lichen, coral, animal paws, animal organs, and excrements of all kinds—“…a truly grotesque vegetation….” Thoreau finds nature expressing the same designs in leaf, animal, and sand. The spontaneous “rupture” of the sand bank makes him “feel as if I were nearer to the vitals of the globe.”
From here, of course, we go to human design. “What is man but a mass of thawing clay?” The exuberance of spring is an invitation—to see the perfection of “the operations of Nature” and our place therein. To the possibilities of renewal, forgiveness, and bright prospects. “We should be blessed if we lived in the present always….”
He concludes with another signature passage, here on the power of the wild.
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.
So the observer, explorer, surveyor, and note-taker concludes.