“Human beings make metaphors as naturally as bees make honey,” Adam Gopnik wrote in his wondrous love letter to winter, and no one has honeyed the spirit with more splendid metaphors wrung from winter than
Long before he contemplated winter cabbage as a lesson in optimism, Thoreau explored winter’s rapturous yet overlooked rewards in a stunning, meandering meditation titled “A Winter Walk,” included in his indispensable Excursions (free ebook | public library).
Writing in the winter of 1843, shortly after Margaret Fuller’s mentorship made him a writer, the twenty-five-year-old Thoreau awakens to a snow-covered wonderland and marvels at the splendor — a singularly earthly splendor — of a world reborn:
The wind has gently murmured through the blinds, or puffed with feathery softness against the windows, and occasionally sighed like a summer zephyr lifting the leaves along, the livelong night. The meadow-mouse has slept in his snug gallery in the sod, the owl has sat in a hollow tree in the depth of the swamp, the rabbit, the squirrel, and the fox have all been housed. The watch-dog has lain quiet on the hearth, and the cattle have stood silent in their stalls. The earth itself has slept, as it were its first, not its last sleep, save when some street-sign or wood-house door has faintly creaked upon its hinge, cheering forlorn nature at her midnight work, — the only sound awake twixt Venus and Mars, — advertising us of a remote inward warmth, a divine cheer and fellowship, where gods are met together, but where it is very bleak for men to stand. But while the earth has slumbered, all the air has been alive with feathery flakes descending, as if some northern Ceres reigned, showering her silvery grain over all the fields.
We sleep, and at length awake to the still reality…
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