Lincoln was a close observer of nature, as well as of men. He used natural objects to complete his similes. Into the wonderful alembic of his mind everything was received, to be brought forth again as aphorism, parable, or trenchant saying. In woodcraft, for example, he was deeply skilled, his habit of close observation leading him to detect curious facts which escaped the notice of most men. Riding through a wood in Virginia, he observed a vine which wrapped a tree in its luxuriant growth. “Yes,” he said, “that is very beautful; but that vine is like certain habits of men; it decorates the ruin that it makes.” At another time, when we were in Virginia together, just after a fall of snow, I found him standing on the stump of a tree, looking out over the landscape. He called attention to various subtle features of the view, and said, among other things, that he liked the trees best when they were not in leaf, as their anatomy could then be studied. And he bade me look at the delicate yet firm outline of the leafless tree against the sky. Then, pointing to the fine net-work of shadows cast on the snow by the branches and twigs, he said that that was the profile of the tree. The very next day, somebody was discussing with him the difference between character and reputation, when he said,—with a look at me, as if to remind me of what he had been talking about the day before,—perhaps a man’s character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
— Noah Brooks in “Lincoln’s Imagination” published in Scribners Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine For the People, Vol. 18, May 1879 to October 1879, (New York: Press of Francis Hart & Company on behalf of Scribner & Company, 1879), p. 586. Thanks to Lee Graves for the pointer to this quotation in his Thought For The Day email of February 12th, 2010.
"Lincoln was a close observer of nature"