List Of Contents | Contents of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
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crow and the buzzard. The chickadees were silent at first, but now they
approach by little journeys, as if to make our acquaintance. The
nuthatches, also, cry "Yank! yank!" in no inhospitable tones; and those
purple finches there in the cedars,--are they not stealing our

How one lingers about a fire under such circumstances, loath to leave
it, poking up the sticks, throwing in the burnt ends, adding another
branch and yet another, and looking back as he turns to go to catch one
more glimpse of the smoke going up through the trees! I reckon it is
some remnant of the primitive man, which we all carry about with us. He
has not yet forgotten his wild, free life, his arboreal habitations,
and the sweet-bitter times he had in those long-gone ages. With me, he
wakes up directly at the smell of smoke, of burning branches in the
open air; and all his old love of fire and his dependence upon it, in
the camp or the cave, come freshly to mind.

On resuming our march, we filed off along a charming wood-path,--a
regular little tunnel through the dense pines, carpeted with silence,
and allowing us to look nearly the whole length of it through its soft
green twilight out into the open sunshine of the fields beyond. A pine
wood in Maryland or in Virginia is quite a different thing from a pine
wood in Maine or Minnesota,--the difference, in fact, between yellow
pine and white. The former, as it grows hereabout, is short and
scrubby, with branches nearly to the ground, and looks like the
dwindling remnant of a greater race.

Beyond the woods, the path led us by a colored man's habitation,--a
little, low frame house, on a knoll, surrounded by the quaint devices
and rude makeshifts of these quaint and rude people. A few poles stuck
in the ground, clapboarded with cedar-boughs and cornstalks, and
supporting a roof of the same, gave shelter to a rickety one-horse
wagon and some farm implements. Near this there was a large, compact
tent, made entirely of cornstalks, with, for door, a bundle of the
same, in the dry, warm, nest-like interior of which the husking of the
corn crop seemed to have taken place. A few rods farther on, we passed
through another humble dooryard, musical with dogs and dusky with
children. We crossed here the outlying fields of a large, thrifty,
well-kept-looking farm with a showy, highly ornamental frame house in
the centre. There was even a park with deer, and among the gayly
painted outbuildings I noticed a fancy dovecote, with an immense flock
of doves circling aboxe it; some whiskey-dealer from the city, we were
told, trying to take the poison out of his money by agriculture.

We next passed through some woods, when we emerged into a broad,
sunlit, fertile-looking valley, called Oxen Run. We stooped down and
drank of its clear white-pebbled stream, in the veritable spot, I
suspect, where the oxen do. There were clouds of birds here on the warm
slopes, with the usual sprinkling along the bushy margin of the stream
of scarlet grosbeaks. The valley of Oxen Run has many good-looking
farms, with old picturesque houses, and loose rambling barns, such as
artists love to put into pictures.

But it is a little awkward to go east.  It always seems left-handed.  I
think this is the feeling of all walkers, and that Thoreau's experience
in this respect was not singular. The great magnet is the sun, and we
follow him. I notice that people lost in the woods work to the
westward. When one comes out of his house and asks himself, "Which way
shall I walk?" and looks up and down and around for a sign or a token,
does he not nine times out of ten turn to the west? He inclines this
way as surely as the willow wand bends toward the water. There is
something more genial and friendly in this direction.

Occasionally in winter I experience a southern inclination, and cross
Long Bridge and rendezvous for the day in some old earthwork on the
Virginia hills. The roads are not so inviting in this direction, but
the line of old forts with rabbits burrowing in the bomb-proofs, and a
magazine, or officers' quarters turned into a cow stable by colored
squatters, form an interesting feature. But, whichever way I go, I am
glad I came. All roads lead up to the Jerusalem the walker seeks. There
is everywhere the vigorous and masculine winter air, and the impalpable
sustenance the mind draws from all natural forms.


       Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road.
                                               WALT WHITMAN.

Ocasionally on the sidewalk, amid the dapper, swiftly moving,
high-heeled boots and gaiters, I catch a glimpse of the naked human
foot. Nimbly it scuffs along, the toes spread, the sides flatten, the
heel protrudes; it grasps the curbing, or bends to the form of the
uneven surfaces,--a thing sensuous and alive, that seems to take
cognizance of whatever it touches or passes. How primitive and uncivil
it looks in such company,--a real barbarian in the parlor! We are so
unused to the human anatomy, to simple, unadorned nature, that it looks
a little repulsive; but it is beautiful for all that. Though it be a
black foot and an unwashed foot, it shall be exalted. It is a thing of
life amid leather, a free spirit amid cramped, a wild bird amid caged,
an athlete amid consumptives. It is the symbol of my order, the Order
of Walkers. That unhampered, vitally playing piece of anatomy is the
type of the pedestrian, man returned to first principles, in direct
contact and intercourse with the earth and the elements, his faculties
unsheathed, his mind plastic, his body toughened, his heart light, his
soul dilated; while those cramped and distorted members in the calf and
kid are the unfortunate wretches doomed to carriages and cushions.

I am not going to advocate the disuse of boots and shoes, or the
abandoning of the improved modes of travel; but I am going to brag as
lustily as I can on behalf of the pedestrian, and show how all the
shining angels second and accompany the man who goes afoot, while all
the dark spirits are ever looking out for a chance to ride.

When I see the discomforts that able-bodied American men will put up
with rather than go a mile or half a mile on foot, the abuses they will
tolerate and encourage, crowding the street car on a little fall in the
temperature or the appearance of an inch or two of snow, packing up to
overflowing, dangling to the straps, treading on each other's toes,
breathing each other's breaths, crushing the women and children,
hanging by tooth and nail to a square inch of the platform, imperiling
their limbs and killing the horses,--I think the commonest tramp in the
street has good reason to felicitate himself on his rare privilege of
going afoot. Indeed, a race that neglects or despises this primitive
gift, that fears the touch of the soil, that has no footpaths, no
community of ownership in the land which they imply, that warns off the
walker as a trespasser, that knows no way but the highway, the
carriage-way, that forgets the stile, the foot-bridge, that even
ignores the rights of the pedestrian in the public road, providing no
escape for him but in the ditch or up the bank, is in a fair way to far
more serious degeneracy.

Shakespeare makes the chief qualification of the walker a merry

       "Jog on, jog on, the footpath way,
          And merrily hent the stile-a;

       A merry heart goes all the day,
          Your sad tires in a mile-a."

The human body is a steed that goes freest and longest under a light
rider, and the lightest of all riders is a cheerful heart. Your sad, or
morose, or embittered, or preoccupied heart settles heavily into the
saddle, and the poor beast, the body, breaks down the first mile.
Indeed, the heaviest thing in the world is a heavy heart. Next to that,
the most burdensome to the walker is a heart not in perfect sympathy
and accord with the body,--a reluctant or unwilling heart. The horse
and rider must not only both be willing to go the same way, but the
rider must lead the way and infuse his own lightness and eagerness into
the steed. Herein is no doubt our trouble, and one reason of the decay
of the noble art in this country. We are unwilling walkers. We are not
innocent and simple-hearted enough to enjoy a walk. We have fallen from
that state of grace which capacity to enjoy a walk implies. It cannot
be said that as a people we are so positively sad, or morose, or
melancholic as that we are vacant of that sportiveness and surplusage
of animal spirits that characterized our ancestors, and that springs
from full and harmonious life,--a sound heart in accord with a sound
body. A man must invest himself near at hand and in common things, and
be content with a steady and moderate return, if he would know the
blessedness of a cheerful heart and the sweetness of a walk over the
round earth. This is a lesson the American has yet to
learn,--capability of amusement on a low key. He expects rapid and
extraordinary returns. He would make the very elemental laws pay usury.
He has nothing to invest in a walk; it is too slow, too cheap. We crave
the astonishing, the exciting, the far away, and do not know the
highways of the gods when we see them,--always a sign of the decay of
the faith and simplicity of man.

If I say to my neighbor, "Come with me, I have great wonders to show
you," he pricks up his ears and comes forthwith; but when I take him on
the hills under the full blaze of the sun, or along the country road,
our footsteps lighted by the moon and stars, and say to him, "Behold,
these are the wonders, these are the circuits of the gods, this we now
tread is a morning star," he feels defrauded, and as if I had played
him a trick. And yet nothing less than dilatation and enthusiasm like
this is the badge of the master walker.

If we are not sad, we are careworn, hurried, discontented, mortgaging
the present for the promise of the future. If we take a walk, it is as
we take a prescription, with about the same relish and with about the
same purpose; and the more the fatigue, the greater our faith in the
virtue of the medicine.

Of those gleesome saunters over the hills in spring, or those sallies
of the body in winter, those excursions into space when the foot
strikes fire at every step, when the air tastes like a new and finer
mixture, when we accumulate force and gladness as we go along, when the
sight of objects by the roadside and of the fields and woods pleases
more than pictures or than all the art in the world,--those ten or
twelve mile dashes that are but the wit and effluence of the corporeal
powers,--of such diversion and open road entertainment, I say, most of
us know very little.

I notice with astonishment that at our fashionable watering-places
nobody walks; that, of all those vast crowds of health-seekers and
lovers of country air, you can never catch one in the fields or woods,
or guilty of trudging along the country road with dust on his shoes and
sun-tan on his hands and face. The sole amusement seems to be to eat
and dress and sit about the hotels and glare at each other. The men
look bored, the women look tired, and all seem to sigh, "O Lord! what
shall we do to be happy and not be vulgar?" Quite different from our
British cousins across the water, who have plenty of amusement and
hilarity, spending most of the time at their watering-places in the
open air, strolling, picnicking, boating, climbing, briskly walking,
apparently with little fear of sun-tan or of compromising their

It is indeed astonishing with what ease and hilarity the English walk.
To an American it seems a kind of infatuation. When Dickens was in this
country, I imagine the aspirants to the honor of a walk with him were
not numerous. In a pedestrian tour of England by an American, I read
that, "after breakfast with the Independent minister, he walked with us
for six miles out of town upon our road. Three little boys and girls,
the youngest six years old, also accompanied us. They were romping and
rambling about all the while, and their morning walk must have been as
much as fifteen miles; but they thought nothing of it, and when we
parted were apparently as fresh as when they started, and very loath to

I fear, also, the American is becoming disqualified for the manly art
of walking by a falling off in the size of his foot. He cherishes and
cultivates this part of his anatomy, and apparently thinks his taste
and good breeding are to be inferred from its diminutive size. A small,
trim foot, well booted or gaitered, is the national vanity. How we
stare at the big feet of foreigners, and wonder what may be the price
of leather in those countries, and where all the aristocratic blood is,
that these plebeian extremities so predominate! If we were admitted to
the confidences of the shoemaker to Her Majesty or to His Royal
Highness, no doubt we should modify our views upon this latter point,
for a truly large and royal nature is never stunted in the extremities;
a little foot never yet supported a great character.

It is said that Englishmen, when they first come to this country, are
for some time under the impression that American women all have
deformed feet, they are so coy of them and so studiously careful to
keep them hid. That there is an astonishing difference between the
women of the two countries in this respect, every traveler can testify;
and that there is a difference equally astonishing between the
pedestrian habits and capabilities of the rival sisters, is also

The English pedestrian, no doubt, has the advantage of us in the matter
of climate; for, notwithstanding the traditional gloom and moroseness
of English skies, they have in that country none of those relaxing,
sinking, enervating days, of which we have so many here, and which seem
especially trying to the female constitution,--days which withdraw all
support from the back and loins, and render walking of all things
burdensome. Theirs is a climate of which it has been said that "it
invites men abroad more days in the year and more hours in the day than
that of any other country."

Then their land is threaded with paths which invite the walker, and
which are scarcely less important than the highways. I heard of a surly
nobleman near London who took it into his head to close a footpath that
passed through his estate near his house, and open another a little
farther off. The pedestrians objected; the matter got into the courts,
and after protracted litigation the aristocrat was beaten. The path
could not be closed or moved. The memory of man ran not to the time
when there was not a footpath there, and every pedestrian should have
the right of way there still.

I remember the pleasure I had in the path that connects
Stratford-on-Avon with Shottery, Shakespeare's path when he went
courting Anne Hathaway. By the king's highway the distance is some
farther, so there is a well-worn path along the hedgerows and through
the meadows and turnip patches. The traveler in it has the privilege of
crossing the railroad track, an unusual privilege in England, and one

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