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- Hold Up Your Heads, Girls! - 5/19 -
generations may be more mindful of it.
When we refuse the gladness that Nature offers us, we dismiss a large share of the happiness God intended for us. I ought to be a little more lenient in my criticism on the lack of appreciating Nature, perhaps; for not a few of us may find lingering in our minds some autumnal glory which lights up our memories with colors of crimson and gold. We should remember, however, that not only the glow of autumn and the flush of summer are beautiful, but that every season, every climate, every aspect in the shifting panorama of Nature, has a beauty as real. Our own region, be it arid with parching suns, or wet with frequent rains; be it always winter there, or always summer, is full of beauty. There is sunset on the desert, moonrise on mid-ocean, gorgeous coloring and crowding life in the tropics, dazzling starlight over ice-bound lands. Neither is one day so much better than another for beholding Nature. Yesterday we let the mild sunshine redden the blood beneath the skin; to-day we are drawn from our study of the perfect harmony of grays in the clouds and trees to watch, within the house, the bright light which gleams from the coals,--Nature brought up out of the earth.
Regard even one day of our worst weather, as we say,--worst for our health or convenience we must always mean. Think of a bleak and sleety March day. As the storm whirls against the house with strong blasts of rain and snow, our excitement increases by watching the swaying trees, and by listening to the shaking windows, while the lawless winds howl and rage around the corner. When the winds settle from boisterousness into low complaints, and now and then fall into quiet utterances, musical murmurings, the rain pauses, the sky softens, and our minds grow calm and gentle. But when, again, the clouds gather darkness, and make strength for a new onslaught, we become sober with fear and doubt. Tell me, if, as we view these changes, and hear these stirring or weird sounds, we do not indeed behold battle scenes, and listen to music from which even Wagner might have learned.
But the storm is the exceptional aspect, and we ought to care more for ordinary views. Winter is common enough, but it has its perfections. Its colors, though less gorgeous than those of autumn, are the most restful and quiet in their tone and feeling. Those grays and browns, huddling together in silent lines side by side, are full of peaceful beauty as they rest upon the white snow or up against uncertain skies. I like a gray atmosphere relieved by silver birches, just enough sombreness set off by cheerfulness. It is wisdom and patience ornamented with gray locks.
Spring, early spring, in New England, we call more disagreeable than winter. Ah, but it is the budding time! When you meet spring, before the trees come out in full dress, when all that fluttering, fluffy greenness, and that crimson flowering etch, with innumerable branchlets, the embroidery of Nature against the sky, you meet, even though the east sea winds blow, a season incomparable.
An opportunity for getting acquainted with Nature is never wanting. If men should cut down all the forest trees, as they now threaten, they could not "cut the clouds out of the sky," as Thoreau affirms. A roof light in a garret, even, gives the eye visions dazzlingly beautiful over beyond all the chimney pots, if the eye only looks. We would go far to see on canvas the lake, the river, the wood that borders our heritage; and yet we rarely heed their living charms that daily offer us new pleasures. We cross the ocean to visit great churches, and we throng to hear an organ played by a master musician; while in yonder forest we may enter a cathedral, loftier and grander far than art can form, through whose densely branching arches and solemn aisles sweeps the music of the winds from the organ pipes of the pines.
Nature, in most of her aspects, will give us small chance for censuring her scant attractions. A field of grass and flowers, sunshine and chirping birds, the clinging, changing foliage, or the shimmer of snow and ice, the light of moon and stars, are in some of her commonest pictures. We are simply to give heed. As Carlyle suggests, it is not because we have such superior levity that we pay no attention to Nature. By not thinking, we simply cease to wonder, that is all.
Oh, get acquainted with Nature, my girls, and see how lovely the world will become! Do you know that beautiful sketch by Charles Kingsley called "My Winter Garden"? Read it, and see how he gets the world out of a small space,--how he becomes rich. You know no man can buy a landscape,--it belongs to all. We are, every one, rich in summer skies, in fair forests, in great tracts of meadow verdure. See how Kingsley grows contented,--how he becomes wise. "Have you eyes to see? Then lie down on the grass, and look near enough to see something more of what is to be seen; and you will find tropic jungles in every square foot of turf; mountain cliffs and debacles at the mouth of every rabbit burrow; dark strids, tremendous cataracts, 'deep glooms and sudden glories' in every foot-broad rill which wanders through the turf.... Nature, as every one will tell you who has seen dissected an insect under the microscope, is as grand and graceful in her smallest as in her largest forms."
We are told there is something most practical in physiology. One of its first requirements is proper exercise for the body. Now, no exercise combines so many advantages as walking: by no other means can we come so easily to an acquaintance with Nature. Never ride in the country, or anywhere within Nature's dearest precincts, when you can as well go on foot. You cannot see things flying by you. Do not adopt the custom of most pedestrians, that of getting over the ground as rapidly as possible. Take daily walks, no matter what the weather is; but do not go too far. Irregularity in this exercise is harmful. It is far better to walk two miles daily than ten miles at one time, and fifteen a week hence. Go to see something on your walks, if you discover nothing more than a great hole in the ground; and come home with some thought about what you have seen. I found out a great truth, one day last spring, of which I was wholly ignorant before,--that a rose is sweeter in the morning than in the noonday. Many a lesson in that; some practical knowledge too.
In a delightful way, the hermit of Walden tells us how to take walks, how to truly saunter. He says that the word saunterer was derived from those persons who, during the Middle Ages, went on crusades to the Holy Land. When one of them, as he journeyed towards the East, appeared among the children, they would exclaim, "'There goes a Sainte Terrer!'--a Holy Lander"--which, you can see, came to be called "Saunterer." Thoreau says that every one who walks as he should, with his eyes and his heart open, is bound to a Holy Land. "Every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels." Is not that a beautiful thought?
Walk with freedom of the chest and limbs, carrying nothing in the hands to prevent the play of any muscles. Breathe through the nose rather than through the mouth. I suppose the most of the girls can walk in an ordinary street dress; but I would suggest, if a girl is to go far, that she wear a full, short skirt, of not very heavy weight, a loose flannel blouse, and stout shoes. This costume can be arranged so that it will not in the least shock her townspeople. It is always safest, and usually most agreeable, to walk accompanied by one or more friends who are bound on the same quest. Begin your walk as you are to continue it: at an even, easy pace, or with such steps as you naturally take when the first signs of weariness appear. Use as much of your body as you can. Welcome the increased circulation of the blood, and the glow of the skin; but be very careful to retard these when you are nearing the end of your saunter, or are about to rest for a while. Remember the danger of standing or sitting quietly when in a perspiration.
It is profitable to rest early in a walk, and to break it by frequently sitting down for a few moments at a time. Do not walk too rapidly. Remember you are not to care who gets to the top of the mountain first. It should be your aim to see things on the way up, as well as from the summit. If one often turns to get views from behind, the ascent gradually prepares one's mind for the climacteric vision from the top. You may boast that you have walked a given number of miles, but count yourself still prouder because you have seen what that number of miles held for you along the way.
Be careful of your steps, yet be bold and confident, that you may leap the stream or scale the rock. If you stop to reflect, the stream will grow wider, and the rock steeper and smoother. A stick helps many in climbing, but I believe the skilled pedestrian climbs unaided. Do _not_ jump, girls. Creep, slide, crawl; but never shock your system with a jump of few or many feet in height.
The dangers of walking arise from too great an ambition to go a long distance, from striving to out-walk somebody, from walking too rapidly and irregularly, and from allowing the mind to become so exhilarated as not to be sensible of the fatigues of the body. Stop when you are tired. Remember that, in a walk of ten miles, the last five are longer than the first five; then reserve that second half for the next day.
Form observation clubs, mountain clubs, pedestrian clubs,--any worthy association which will take you out of doors, and teach you about the region in which you live. Be earnest about it, as about a solemn, necessary work. Take your English cousins for examples. I think it was Sara Coleridge who, in her old age, complained because she could no longer walk more than fifteen miles a day. In that delightful essay, written by Charles Lamb, on "Old China," Bridget Elia sighs because she and her companion have become so rich they cannot walk their thirty miles, as they had so often done, on a holiday.
In England or in Switzerland, one meets whole flocks of English girls out on a walk of a week's duration. Think of the sport in such a tramp,--the hilarity on the way! the lunches gathered by hap-hazard from country bake-shops and groceries, and eaten in any retired nook that offers by the roadside! Think of the appetite for commonest food, and of the amusing difficulties which come from lack of knives and forks! On such a walk, how easy to pick one's self up after lunch, throw the dinner-table away, and trot on to the next village. As a girl passes from town to town, how eager she is to note their characteristics, to look at the people curiously, and to pry into their shop-windows. How much she learns about Nature! Is the sky so blue at home? Are the wild flowers so abundant? Is the grass so soft and green? Oh, girls! try to make yourselves at home with Nature, and walk out among her attractions. In all your observations of Nature do not forget her living personality, her power to love you, to comfort you, and to develop you. Feel that you have a friend with you even when you seem to go solitary. Remember that, in learning to know Nature, you are learning to know yourselves. From your friends and your books, ask all about what you see. Be favored with every grand spectacle in Nature, but be never wearied with her commonplace aspects. Do not think of yourselves so much as living in rooms and houses, but as living in _the_ house, the palace of the earth and sky, whose every gallery, corridor and hall, is carpeted with Nature's tapestries of unfading color and deep softness; whose walls are hung with glowing sunsets; and through whose green roof, here and there, "a pane of blue sky" appears.
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF WORK.
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