How to Find the Trail and Keep It
By Lina Beard and Adelia Belle Beard An excerpt from Chapter 1 of On the Trail: An Outdoor Book for Girls, originally published in June of 1915
There is a something in you, as in everyone, every man, woman, girl and boy, that requires the tonic life of the wild. You may not know it, many do not, but there is a part of your nature that only the wild can reach, satisfy and develop. The much-housed, over-heated, overdressed and over-entertained life of most girls is artificial, and if one does not turn away from and leave it for a while, one also becomes greatly artificial and must go through life not knowing the joy, the strength, the poise that real outdoor life can give.
What is it about a true woodsman that instantly compels our respect, that sets him apart from the men who might be of his class in village or town and puts him in a class by himself, though he may be exteriorly rough and have little or no book education? The real Adirondack or the North Woods guide, alert, clean-limbed, clear-eyed, hard-muscled, bearing his pack-basket or duffel bag on his back, doing all the hard work of the camp, never loses his poise or the simple dignity, which he shares with all the things of the wild. It is bred in him, is a part of himself and the life he leads. He is as conscious of his superior knowledge of the woods as an astronomer is of his knowledge of the stars, and patiently tolerates the ignorance and awkwardness of the "tenderfoot" from the city. Only a keen sense of humor can make this toleration possible; for I have seen things done by a city-dweller at camp that would enrage a woodsman, unless the irresistibly funny side of it made him laugh his inward laugh that seldom reaches the surface.
You will know that the woods, the fields,
the streams and great waters bear wonderful
messages for you, and, little by little, you will
learn to read them.
To live for a while in the wild strengthens the muscles of your mind as well as of your body. Flabby thoughts and flabby muscles depart together and are replaced by enthusiasm and vigor of purpose, by strength of limb and chest and back. To have seems not so desirable as to be. When you have once come into sympathy with this world of the wild – which holds our cultivated, artificial world in the hollow of its hand and gives it life – new joy, good, wholesome, heartfelt joy, will well up within you. New and absorbing interests will claim your attention. You will breathe deeper, stand straighter. The small, petty things of life will lose their seeming importance and great things will look larger and infinitely more worthwhile. You will know that the woods, the fields, the streams and great waters bear wonderful messages for you, and, little by little, you will learn to read them.
The majority of people who visit the up-to-date hotels of the Adirondacks, which their wily proprietors call camps, may think they see the wild and are living in it. But for them it is only a big picnic ground through which they rush with unseeing eyes and whose cloisters they invade with unfeeling hearts, seemingly for the one purpose of building a fire, cooking their lunch, eating it and then hurrying back to the comforts of the hotel and the gayety of hotel life.
At their careless and noisy approach, the forest suddenly withdraws itself into its deep reserve and reveals no secrets. It is as if they entered an empty house and passed through deserted rooms, but all the time the intruders are stealthily watched by unseen, hostile or frightened eyes. Every form of moving life is stilled and magically fades into its background. The tawny rabbit halts amid the dry leaves of a fallen tree. No one sees it. The sinuous weasel slips silently under a rock by the side of the trail and is unnoticed. The mother grouse crouches low amid the underbrush and her little ones follow her example, but the careless company has no time to observe and drifts quickly by. Only the irrepressible red squirrel might be seen, but isn't, when he loses his balance and drops to a lower branch in his efforts to miss nothing of the excitement of the invasion.
If you strike the trail in the right spirit
you will find upon arrival that these
remnants of the wild world have much
to show and to teach you.
This is not romance, it is truth. To think sentimentally about nature, to sit by a babbling brook and try to put your supposed feelings into verse, will not help you to know the wild. The only way to cultivate the sympathy and understanding, which will enable you to feel its heartbeats, is to go to it humbly, ready to see the wonders it can show, ready to appreciate and love its beauties and ready to meet on friendly and cordial terms the animal life whose home it is. The wild world is, indeed, a wonderful world; how wonderful and interesting we learn only by degrees and actual experience. It is free, but not lawless; to enter it fully we must obey these laws that are slowly and silently impressed upon us. It is a wholesome, life-giving, inspiring world, and when you have learned to conform to its rules you are met on every hand by friendly messengers to guide you and teach you the ways of the wild: wild birds, wild fruits and plants and gentle, furtive, wild animals. You cannot put their messages into words, but you can feel them; and then, suddenly, you no longer care for soft cushions and rugs, for shaded lamps, dainty fare and finery, for paved streets and concrete walks. You want to plant your feet upon the earth in its natural state, however rugged or boggy it may be. You want your cushions to be of the soft moss-beds of the piny woods, and, with the unparalleled sauce of a healthy, hearty appetite, you want to eat your dinner out of doors, cooked over the outdoor fire, and to drink water from a birch-bark cup, brought cool and dripping from the bubbling spring.
You want, oh! how you want to sleep on a springy bed of balsam boughs, wrapped in soft, warm, woolen blankets with the sweet night air of all outdoors to breathe while you sleep. You want your flower garden, not with great and gorgeous masses of bloom in evident, orderly beds, but keeping always charming surprises for unexpected times and in unsuspected places. You want the flowers that grow without your help in ways you have not planned; that hold the enchantment of the wilderness. Some people are born with this love for the wild, some attain it, but in either case the joy is there, and to find it you must seek it. Your chosen trail may lead through the primeval forests or into the great western deserts or plains; or it may reach only left-over bits of the wild, which can be found at no great distance from home. Even a bit of meadow or woodland, even an uncultivated field on the hilltop, will give you a taste of the wild; and if you strike the trail in the right spirit you will find upon arrival that these remnants of the wild world have much to show and to teach you. There are the sky, the clouds, the lungfuls of pure air, the growing things that send their roots where they will and not in a man-ordered way. There is the wildlife that obeys no man's law: the insects, the birds and small four-footed animals. On all sides you will find evidences of wildlife if you will look for it. Here you may make camp for a day and enjoy that day as much as if it were one of many in a several weeks' camping trip.
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