List Of Contents | Contents of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
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denied to the lord in his carriage, who must either go over or under
it. (It is a privilege, is it not, to be allowed the forbidden, even if
it be the privilege of being run over by the engine?) In strolling over
the South Downs, too, I was delighted to find that where the hill was
steepest some benefactor of the order of walkers had made notches in
the sward, so that the foot could bite the better and firmer; the path
became a kind of stairway, which I have no doubt the plowman respected.

When you see an English country church withdrawn, secluded, out of the
reach of wheels, standing amid grassy graves and surrounded by noble
trees, approached by paths and shaded lanes, you appreciate more than
ever this beautiful habit of the people. Only a race that knows how to
use its feet, and holds footpaths sacred, could put such a charm of
privacy and humility into such a structure. I think I should be tempted
to go to church myself if I saw all my neighbors starting off across
the fields or along paths that led to such charmed spots, and were sure
I should not be jostled or run over by the rival chariots of the
worshipers at the temple doors. I think that is what ails our religion;
humility and devoutness of heart leave one when he lays by his walking
shoes and walking clothes, and sets out for church drawn by something.

Indeed, I think it would be tantamount to an astonishing revival of
religion if the people would all walk to church on Sunday and walk home
again. Think how the stones would preach to them by the wayside; how
their benumbed minds would warm up beneath the friction of the gravel;
how their vain and foolish thoughts, their desponding thoughts, their
besetting demons of one kind and another, would drop behind them,
unable to keep up or to endure the fresh air! They would walk away from
their ennui, their worldly cares, their uncharitableness, their pride
of dress; for these devils always want to ride, while the simple
virtues are never so happy as when on foot. Let us walk by all means;
but if we will ride, get an ass.

Then the English claim that they are a more hearty and robust people
than we are. It is certain they are a plainer people, have plainer
tastes, dress plainer, build plainer, speak plainer, keep closer to
facts, wear broader shoes and coarser clothes, and place a lower
estimate on themselves,--all of which traits favor pedestrian habits.
The English grandee is not confined to his carriage; but if the
American aristocrat leaves his, he is ruined. Oh the weariness, the
emptiness, the plotting, the seeking rest and finding none, that go by
in the carriages! while your pedestrian is always cheerful, alert,
refreshed, with his heart in his hand and his hand free to all. He
looks down upon nobody; he is on the common level. His pores are all
open, his circulation is active, his digestion good. His heart is not
cold, nor are his faculties asleep. He is the only real traveler; he
alone tastes the "gay, fresh sentiment of the road." He is not
isolated, but is at one with things, with the farms and the industries
on either hand. The vital, universal currents play through him. He
knows the ground is alive; he feels the pulses of the wind, and reads
the mute language of things. His sympathies are all aroused; his senses
are continually reporting messages to his mind. Wind, frost, rain,
heat, cold, are something to him. He is not merely a spectator of the
panorama of nature, but a participator in it. He experiences the
country he passes through,--tastes it, feels it, absorbs it; the
traveler in his fine carriage sees it merely. This gives the fresh
charm to that class of books that may be called "Views Afoot," and to
the narratives of hunters, naturalists, exploring parties, etc. The
walker does not need a large territory. When you get into a railway car
you want a continent, the man in his carriage requires a township; but
a walker like Thoreau finds as much and more along the shores of Walden
Pond. The former, as it were, has merely time to glance at the headings
of the chapters, while the latter need not miss a line, and Thoreau
reads between the lines. Then the walker has the privilege of the
fields, the woods, the hills, the byways. The apples by the roadside
are for him, and the berries, and the spring of water, and the friendly
shelter; and if the weather is cold, he eats the frost grapes and the
persimmons, or even the white-meated turnip, snatched from the field he
passed through, with incredible relish.

Afoot and in the open road, one has a fair start in life at last.
There is no hindrance now. Let him put his best foot forward. He is on
the broadest human plane. This is on the level of all the great laws
and heroic deeds. From this platform he is eligible to any good
fortune. He was sighing for the golden age; let him walk to it. Every
step brings him nearer. The youth of the world is but a few days'
journey distant. Indeed, I know persons who think they have walked back
to that fresh aforetime of a single bright Sunday in autumn or early
spring. Before noon they felt its airs upon their cheeks, and by
nightfall, on the banks of some quiet stream, or along some path in the
wood, or on some hilltop, aver they have heard the voices and felt the
wonder and the mystery that so enchanted the early races of men.

I think if I could walk through a country, I should not only see many
things and have adventures that I should otherwise miss, but that I
should come into relations with that country at first hand, and with
the men and women in it, in a way that would afford the deepest
satisfaction. Hence I envy the good fortune of all walkers, and feel
like joining myself to every tramp that comes along. I am jealous of
the clergyman I read about the other day, who footed it from Edinburgh
to London, as poor Effie Deans did, carrying her shoes in her hand most
of the way, and over the ground that rugged Ben Jonson strode, larking
it to Scotland, so long ago. I read with longing of the pedestrian
feats of college youths, so gay and light-hearted, with their coarse
shoes on their feet and their knapsacks on their backs. It would have
been a good draught of the rugged cup to have walked with Wilson the
ornithologist, deserted by his companions, from Niagara to Philadelphia
through the snows of winter. I almost wish that I had been born to the
career of a German mechanic, that I might have had that delicious
adventurous year of wandering over my country before I settled down to
work. I think how much richer and firmer-grained life would be to me if
I could journey afoot through Florida and Texas, or follow the windings
of the Platte or the Yellowstone, or stroll through Oregon, or browse
for a season about Canada. In the bright, inspiring days of autumn I
only want the time and the companion to walk back to the natal spot,
the family nest, across two States and into the mountains of a third.
What adventures we would have by the way, what hard pulls, what
prospects from hills, what spectacles we would behold of night and day,
what passages with dogs, what glances, what peeps into windows, what
characters we should fall in with, and how seasoned and hardy we should
arrive at our destination!

For companion I should want a veteran of the war!  Those marches put
something into him I like. Even at this distance his mettle is but
little softened. As soon as he gets warmed up, it all comes back to
him. He catches your step and away you go, a gay, adventurous,
half-predatory couple. How quickly he falls into the old ways of jest
and anecdote and song! You may have known him for years without having
heard him hum an air, or more than casually revert to the subject of
his experience during the war. You have even questioned and
cross-questioned him without firing the train you wished. But get him
out on a vacation tramp, and you can walk it all out of him. By the
camp-fire at night, or swinging along the streams by day, song,
anecdote, adventure, come to the surface, and you wonder how your
companion has kept silent so long.

It is another proof of how walking brings out the true character of a
man. The devil never yet asked his victims to take a walk with him. You
will not be long in finding your companion out. All disguises will fall
away from him. As his pores open his character is laid bare. His
deepest and most private self will come to the top. It matters little
with whom you ride, so he be not a pickpocket; for both of you will,
very likely, settle down closer and firmer in your reserve, shaken down
like a measure of corn by the jolting as the journey proceeds. But
walking is a more vital copartnership; the relation is a closer and
more sympathetic one, and you do not feel like walking ten paces with a
stranger without speaking to him.

Hence the fastidiousness of the professional walker in choosing or
admitting a companion, and hence the truth of a remark of Emerson, that
you will generally fare better to take your dog than to invite your
neighbor. Your cur-dog is a true pedestrian, and your neighbor is very
likely a small politician. The dog enters thoroughly into the spirit of
the enterprise; he is not indifferent or preoccupied; he is constantly
sniffing adventure, laps at every spring, looks upon every field and
wood as a new world to be explored, is ever on some fresh trail, knows
something important will happen a little farther on, gazes with the
true wonder-seeing eyes, whatever the spot or whatever the road finds
it good to be there,--in short, is just that happy, delicious,
excursive vagabond that touches one at so many points, and whose human
prototype in a companion robs miles and leagues of half their power to

Persons who find themselves spent in a short walk to the market or the
post-office, or to do a little shopping, wonder how it is that their
pedestrian friends can compass so many weary miles and not fall down
from sheer exhaustion; ignorant of the fact that the walker is a kind
of projectile that drops far or near according to the expansive force
of the motive that set it in motion, and that it is easy enough to
regulate the charge according to the distance to be traversed. If I am
loaded to carry only one mile and am compelled to walk three, I
generally feel more fatigue than if I had walked six under the proper
impetus of preadjusted resolution. In other words, the will or
corporeal mainspring, whatever it be, is capable of being wound up to
different degrees of tension, so that one may walk all day nearly as
easy as half that time, if he is prepared beforehand. He knows his
task, and he measures and distributes his powers accordingly. It is for
this reason that an unknown road is always a long road. We cannot cast
the mental eye along it and see the end from the beginning. We are
fighting in the dark, and cannot take the measure of our foe. Every
step must be preordained and provided for in the mind. Hence also the
fact that to vanquish one mile in the woods seems equal to compassing
three in the open country. The furlongs are ambushed, and we magnify

Then, again, how annoying to be told it is only five miles to the next
place when it is really eight or ten! We fall short nearly half the
distance, and are compelled to urge and roll the spent ball the rest of
the way. In such a case walking degenerates from a fine art to a
mechanic art; we walk merely; to get over the ground becomes the one
serious and engrossing thought; whereas success in walking is not to
let your right foot know what your left foot doeth. Your heart must
furnish such music that in keeping time to it your feet will carry you
around the globe without knowing it. The walker I would describe takes
no note of distance; his walk is a sally, a bonmot, an unspoken jeu
d'esprit; the ground is his butt, his provocation; it furnishes him the
resistance his body craves; he rebounds upon it, he glances off and
returns again, and uses it gayly as his tool.

I do not think I exaggerate the importance or the charms of
pedestrianism, or our need as a people to cultivate the art. I think it
would tend to soften the national manners, to teach us the meaning of
leisure, to acquaint us with the charms of the open air, to strengthen
and foster the tie between the race and the land. No one else looks out
upon the world so kindly and charitably as the pedestrian; no one else
gives and takes so much from the country he passes through. Next to the
laborer in the fields, the walker holds the closest relation to the
soil; and he holds a closer and more vital relation to nature because
he is freer and his mind more at leisure.

Man takes root at his feet, and at best he is no more than a potted
plant in his house or carriage till he has established communication
with the soil by the loving and magnetic touch of his soles to it. Then
the tie of association is born; then spring those invisible fibres and
rootlets through which character comes to smack of the soil, and which
make a man kindred to the spot of earth he inhabits.

The roads and paths you have walked along in summer and winter weather,
the fields and hills which you have looked upon in lightness and
gladness of heart, where fresh thoughts have come into your mind, or
some noble prospect has opened before you, and especially the quiet
ways where you have walked in sweet converse with your friend, pausing
under the trees, drinking at the spring,--henceforth they are not the
same; a new charm is added; those thoughts spring there perennial, your
friend walks there forever.

We have produced some good walkers and saunderers, and some noted
climbers; but as a staple recreation, as a daily practice, the mass of
the people dislike and despise walking. Thoreau said he was a good
horse, but a poor roadster. I chant the virtues of the roadster as
well. I sing of the sweetness of gravel, good sharp quartz-grit. It is
the proper condiment for the sterner seasons, and many a human gizzard
would be cured of half its ills by a suitable daily allowance of it. I
think Thoreau himself would have profited immensely by it. His diet was
too exclusively vegetable. A man cannot live on grass alone. If one has
been a lotus-eater all summer, he must turn gravel-eater in the fall
and winter. Those who have tried it know that gravel possesses an equal
though an opposite charm.

It spurs to action.  The foot tastes it and henceforth rests not.  The
joy of moving and surmounting, of attrition and progression, the thirst
for space, for miles and leagues of distance, for sights and prospects,
to cross mountains and thread rivers, and defy frost, heat, snow,
danger, difficulties, seizes it; and from that day forth its possessor
is enrolled in the noble army of walkers.


He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal
cause for wonder and admiration in winter. It is true the pomp and the
pageantry are swept away, but the essential elements remain,--the day
and the night, the mountain and the valley, the elemental play and
succession and the perpetual presence of the infinite sky. In winter

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