Henry David Thoreau

Lesser Redpolls

December 11, 1855
On this day, Henry David Thoreau wrote about walking through a spruce swamp and stumbling on a flock of Lesser Redpolls (“Red-Poles”). These little birds are some of the smallest in the finch family. Lesser Redpolls are small and brown with red foreheads. If you’ve ever stumbled on a flock of birds enjoying berries during this time of year, you will be able to relate to Thoreau’s wonder at birds in winter.

To Holden Swamp…
For the first time I wear gloves,
but I have not walked early this season...
I thread the tangle of the spruce swamp,
admiring the leaflets of the swamp pyrus…
the great yellow buds of the swamp pink,
the round red buds of the high blueberry,
and the firm sharp red ones of the panicled andromeda.
Slowly I worm my way amid the snarl,
the thicket of black alder, blueberry, etc.,
see the forms, apparently of rabbits, at the foot of maples,
and cat-birds' nests now exposed in the leafless thicket.
Standing there,
though in this bare November landscape,
I am reminded of the incredible phenomenon of small birds in winter,
that erelong, amid the cold, powdery snow,
as it were a fruit of the season,
will come twittering a flock of delicate, crimson-tinged birds,
lesser red-polls,
to sport and feed on the seeds and buds
just ripe for them on the sunny side of a wood,
shaking down the powdery snow there in their cheerful social feeding,
as if it were high midsummer to them.
These crimson aerial creatures have wings
which would bear them quickly to the regions of summer,
but here is all the summer they want.
What a rich contrast!
tropical colors, crimson breasts, on cold white snow...
I am struck by the perfect confidence and success of Nature...
The winter with its snow and ice is not an evil to be corrected.
It is as it was designed and made to be…

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Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau

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