Summary and Analysis
Chapter 15 - Winter Animals
With all of the ponds in the area frozen, the narrator found new and shorter routes by which to roam the countryside. Most important, by standing in the middle of ponds such as Flint's, he was able to scan the landscape from unique points of view. Thus, on this "snowy plain," he could imaginatively enjoy the countryside's new appearance. Yet, after a moment of enjoyment, a somber note returns to the narrator's voice. He tells us that on winter nights the forlorn, melancholy notes of the owl resounded "indefinitely far." The owls' lonely cries would on some nights be interrupted by the honking of geese that circled over the pond. "It was one of the most thrilling discords I ever heard."
The narrator turns our attention to the plentiful wildlife that moved through the snowy woods. Some nights he would hear foxes ranging over the crusty snow; red squirrels scampered over his roof, jays screamed from the tree tops; and chickadees pecked at the crumbs placed before the cabin door. Hounds bellowed far off in the hills, chasing a fox.
One day the narrator encountered a hare in pitiful condition. The narrator was depressed to encounter such a wretched sight in nature, but then he received a welcome surprise: "I took a step, and lo, away it scud with an elastic spring over the snow crust, straightening its body and its limits into graceful length, and soon put the forest between me and itself — the wild free venison, asserting its vigour and the dignity of Nature."
The narrator's depressed state is once again revealed, as it was momentarily in "Sounds," by the forlorn hooting of owls in the night. Yet, note that the narrator is struggling to overcome his melancholy. This is indicated when, at the same time that the owls are droning their mournful tones, the circling geese respond with their happier tones (recall that flying birds signify spiritual elevation). The narrator is not surrendering to his "winter" state of mind, but he is becoming anxious, as is indicated by his description of the symbol for his self, Walden Pond. His restlessness is depicted when he tells us: "I . . . heard the whooping of the ice in the pond . . . as if it were restless in its bed and would fain turn over — were troubled with flatulency and bad dreams." That he is spiritually "low" is shown by the rest of the chapter, in which there are no touchings of heaven and earth, no mystical unions with nature and the divine — in short, no signs of the contentment that characterized the spring and summer chapters. Only once is there a truly optimistic note sounded, and that is when the "dropsical" rabbit suddenly reasserts the continuing vitality of nature that survives beneath the appearance of death. As in the case with the drowsy owl in the previous chapter, the narrator is again taught by nature that he need not spiritually die during his psychological "winter."