Going Into the Woods

EVERY man of culture and intelligence feels at times the need of a recurrence to nature and to primitive life. These times are usually about the summer solstice or the autumnal equinox. The desire to break away from his surroundings becomes irresistible; he yearns for space, for solitude, for desolation, and he flies to the forest, the ocean, or the desert. Such a man should dwell in a world-city or a university town, and these spots should alternate with the waste places of earth; for, though he may find recreation in the former, it is in the latter only that he meets with re-creation. There is no halfway house between the metropolis and the desert for the man of imagination, of ideality and spirituality. He must live in each: in one to sustain his intellectual force by association with man and art, in the other to deepen and make broad his spiritual life by fellowship with simple nature. The forest, the ocean, the desert, these are where exhausted Antaeus renews his strength at the touch of mother earth: the sky, the winds, the waters, the trees, the rocks, the stars, these are counselors that feelingly persuade him what he is.

“ This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,
I better brook than flourishing peopled towns.”

Think of it, ye atoms of crowds and cities, ye have cut yourselves off from the most soulful source of inspiration, solitude; ye have turned your backs upon simplicity, and are bending your heads to the gutter, indifferent to the sublimest spectacle of the world, the vast dome of stars. Simplicity, the first of man’s conditions when he enters life, but which wanes constantly as he advances to his prime, has its fastnesses in the woods, on the waters, and among the rocks and sands.

It is singular how little admiration of wild scenery and fondness for wild life have come down to us from the ancients. There is more of these in a week’s publications of to-day than remains in the literature of Greece and Rome taken together. Of the waste places as sources of introspection and inspiration, the Greeks and Romans seem to have had no conception whatever: and as with them, so with their descendants. We know where the institutions of these races came from; they came from the cities and towns: but of the Teutonic institutions, it is just as certain that they came out of the woods. Equally inspiring were the deserts of the East. Let it not be forgotten that the Decalogue itself was given to man from the heights of a savage mountain, and that it was from the wilderness that the prophets and leaders, like John the Baptist and Mahomet, emerged after their long discipline to realize by their deeds the visions of the desert. Solitude is a stern creator and taskmaster, but to him who has the will to endure it is bounteous, filling his soul with deep feeling and lofty aspirations, hardening his fibre and enduing him with great thoughts and the force to express them. When it has done these things, when it has fed him on locusts and wild honey, it sends him forth to subdue men. Forty years in the desert were not deemed by the God of Israel too long, nor their privations too great, to weld the Jews into a chosen people; and when Jesus of Nazareth felt the need of inspiration, he withdrew from the crowd and went up into a mountain to pray. The whole history of the Jews, the most poetic and prophetic of all mankind, is alive with their sensitiveness to the spiritual uses of the desert. It was a realm where reigned a brooding mother to them, solitude; a place in which great souls sought the forces and the development that could not else be found, but where little men were crushed under the weight of the awful silence they had not the strength to break. The Jew and the Arab found solitude in the desert, and drew from it inspiration ; the Egyptians found there solitude also, and typified it with one solitary Sphinx; they perpetuated an impression but no inspiration. The Greeks and Romans were no friends to solitude; they feared it, and they drove it away before hordes of fauns, satyrs, and bacchanals.

Of all the forest-loving races of Europe, none has sought the woods for the woods’ sake like unto the Englishspeaking people; nor has any ever afforded the spectacle of an annual migration to the wilderness in such magnitude as do the Americans of to-day. They go with the eagerness of hounds loosed from the leash, and, buoyant with the spirit of adventure, accept adventure’s strokes or rewards with the indifference or delight of a knight of La Mancha. Nor have the Americans stayed at the mere enjoyment of their adventure; they have embodied it in their literature. They have been the first people to introduce into fiction the life, savage and civilized, of the forest, and to portray in classical accents the real life of the woods, the lakes, and the plains. Their first novelist of reputation, Cooper, laid his scenes in the forests of the upper Hudson, of the Susquehanna, and in the oak openings of Michigan; Irving descends the Bighorn in a bull-boat, and follows the adventurers across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, and through the desolation of Snake River, to the Oregon; and Parkman, enlightened by his tribeship with the Ogallalas, has endued history with the spirit of the wilderness, and has drawn inspiration from its woods and streams. The greatest and best of the Americans, their writers, poets, philosophers, and statesmen, all have worshiped Great Pan in his groves. Bryant, Lowell, Emerson, Agassiz, made annual pilgrimages to the woods; Webster composed a part of his Bunker Hill Monument oration on a trout stream; death overtook Governor Russell on the banks of a salmon river; and the present President of the United States was called out of the Adirondacks to assume his office, while President Harrison, the moment his duties were done, turned his back on the White House and sought repose in a cabin on the Fulton Chain. These are a few only of the worthies of our land out of the great number who have hied to the woods for rest, recreation, observation, and inspiration; who, indeed, have gone into the woods for the woods’ sake. We can say of the American forest what Jaques de Boys said of the forest of Arden: “Every day men of great worth resorted to this forest.”

Is this tendency to revert to primitive life a survival of latent savageness inherited by us, or is it an outcome of culture and of healthy aspiration that has sprung up out of the dust of ages ?

Happily we can reach our goal with no great effort, and it is due to this fact that the annual migration is partly accountable: for from the latitude of 44° north to the barrens of Labrador and the Great Lone Land extends a vast forest from the Atlantic to the western prairies. Stretching southward from Northern Pennsylvania to Georgia, another clothes the Appalachian range of mountains; the Rocky Mountains have their woods and parks, and the Coast Range, with its wonderful growth, runs from Alaska to Mexico. East of the Mississippi, this northern belt of woodland is drained by streams and broad rivers, and is broken by innumerable lakes of every size, and all are glacial lakes. Steamboats on the rivers and lakes, and railroads on the land, provide speedy and easy access. There is everything to tempt the adventurer: he “ must to the greenwood go, ” but not in banishment.

We are prone to regard things from the standpoint of our own personality, and we limit the application of the word “ new ” to what relates to ourselves. The word “ancient,” for the same reason, is apt to be restricted to what belongs to humankind; the Pyramids and the Rig-Veda are ancient, and even the Greeks and Romans are now the ancients: but this forest south of 41° latitude is older than man, for it must have existed ages before the Neanderthal man was born. North of 41°, it sprang up in the wake of the retreating ice-cap. Forests there have been far back in the palæozoic age, but this northern forest must have sprung up since the glacial epoch. Even from its latest origin, then, it has the prestige of prehistoric antiquity, for, when the melting ice-cap had left behind the lakes it had scooped out and dammed up, these very woods speedily clothed their banks, and not even the floods of the Champlain epoch could wash them from the uplands. This is what the forest primeval means.

All of the land covered by the Adirondacks, and all north of the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes, has a still higher claim to antiquity, for it is the oldest geological formation known to man, and it was the sole land washed by the boundless seas. It was so old when it rose above the waters that not a living thing, not even a sponge, existed upon it. Animal life had not yet visited the earth: the age was azoic. Of this land, the example best known to our people is that of the Adirondaeks; and these mountains are the most accessible and are nearest to the densest population. They are exquisitely picturesque, they inclose the most charming lakes and ponds, and they are covered by a dense growth. It is true that they are now despoiled, and that their solitude has been broken or can be found only in the farthest recesses; but the beauty of the mountains will endure forever, and somewhere will be always

“ Fountain heads and pathless groves,
Places which pale passion loves.”

Of a character quite different from the Adirondaeks, though of the same geological formation, are the Laurentides, which extend from Lake Superior to Labrador, and, after passing Lac St. Pierre, are in full sight of the voyager down the St. Lawrence. They rise in elevation as they run northward, and are not grouped nor massed like the Adirondaeks, but constitute a long drawn-out range of hills, never lofty, but of height exceedingly illusory to the distant observer. This range is all that is left of mighty mountains whose bases once withstood the shock of palaeozoic oceans, and they have been likened by Joseph Le Conte, in homely phrase, to the wornout and ground down teeth in the jaw of an old and decayed animal. Should you wish to see them in their best estate, seek on a clear evening the northern end of the Dufferin Terrace at Quebec, or mount the glacis of the Citadel, and look nearly due north at the break in their outline. You will then be looking up the valley of the Montmorenci and into the heart of the Laurentides. As the sun stoops to his bed the beautiful and changing lights and colors of the hour play along the range, and the forms of the mountains through which the Montmorenci has broken on its way to its final leap into the St. Lawrence are softened by haze, but are still perfectly discernible. You cannot fail to be struck with a character new to one who views them for the first time; they seem to be tumbling in upon each other. They are exquisitely beautiful, and the eye dwells upon them until the crimson has deepened into purple, and the purple into darkness.

Take the Saguenay steamer and descend the St. Lawrence. One gets a nearer view as the mountains come to the water’s edge and are under a morning light. They continue to rise in height, — a feature perfectly apparent from the Terrace, — and become bold and savage: at Tadousac the ascent of the Saguenay is begun, and one passes through the chain. The grandeur of the passage is too well known for description here, but it will add interest to the scene to recall that in gazing upon the Laurentides one is looking at the most ancient objects in the world; hills to which the Andes and the Himalaya are but things of yesterday.

At the bases of these worn-down mountains are charming lakes, all glacial, of which Lac Beauport and Lac St. Joseph are well-known examples, and all lakes, ponds, and streams are trout waters. The largest lakes are at the sources of the mountain torrents, away up near the watershed which runs between the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay, such as Lac des Neiges, or Snow Lake, at the head of the Montmorenci, Grand Lac Jacques Cartier, at the head of the river of this name, and Lac Edouard, or Lake Edward, the source of the Batiscan.

Far otherwise than beautiful is the southern shore of the St. Lawrence. The geological formation is a different one; the lower Silurian stretches from the foot of the Laurentian chain to the Atlantic, and the character of the landscape has altered at once; it is flat, inane, and barren to the eye, but none the less inviting to the hunter, and, with the New Brunswick and Baie des Chaleurs salmon rivers, to the angler.

He, therefore, whose inclination to the woods has a root in sentiment and in love of the picturesque, will start from the foundation and look to his geology before setting forth. He will be sure of the picturesque and ancient if he hie to the Laurentian formation, wherever it may be. Next to this, let him seek the less savage but ever beautiful Devonian.

The character of the Laurentian rivers, such as the Ste. Anne en haut, the Ste. Anne en has, the Montmorenci, the Jacques Cartier, and the Batiscan, differs widely from that of the rivers of Maine and of the Adirondack country; they are torrential. From Ste. Anne de Beaupré, near where the Laurentides touch the St. Lawrence, to the St. Maurice, their courses are short and precipitate, and they rush down the mountain slopes broken by falls and rapids. Canoeing on them is difficult and toilsome, and is done by poling; the portages are numerous. Not so the Moose River of Maine or the Raquette of the Adirondacks. These flow through alluvial soil in curves and ox-bows; the banks are clothed with dense vegetation, and the streams are fed by copious outlets of back-lying lakes and ponds ; lakelike expanses are more common, but, in comparison with the Laurentian rivers, rapids are few and falls still fewer.

The Jacques Cartier is one of the most picturesque of the Quebec streams, which may be described as mountain torrents broken by numerous rapids, the water even in the pools being “ quick; ” but I am better acquainted with the upper Montmorenci, which I have ascended and descended many times. Always has my heart leaped up, when, the Flat rapid passed, and poling up the reach, the murmur of the Paquet rapid has broken upon my ear. The scene is wild and savage. The valley — but there is none; the mountains on either side and ahead (for they seem to bar the way) rise from the shores of the stream, and have been stripped of their growth of timber by fire, by landslides, and by the lumberman. The rapid comes in sight as we painfully round a bend. If it is a clear day, with a bright sun, the river is intensely blue and crossed by a line of white water: it is the rapid tossing its inane in the air. We pole into the pool at its foot, where there is a portage to be taken by the angler. This portage is a short one and cuts across a bend to the head of the rapid. The canoe-man, at low water, poles upstream, leaving one to follow the path alone. The transition from the roar of the waters to the stillness of the woods is abrupt, and never has been wanting the momentary impression of being deserted and lost in the woods. The further end of the portage reached, one throws himself upon a patch of grass and waits for the canoe, which at last appears, the pole of the toiling canoeman ringing against the rocks. We are now on the pêche Ste. Anne, a trout pool famous for generations as one of big scores of heavy weights.

These torrents rise and fall quickly. Two years ago I came down the Paquet on a flood, and the descent was an exhilarating one. There is just enough danger in running rapids to quicken the nerves, but it is at low water that the greatest danger lies, for the sunken rocks are then most apt to be those upon which the canoe may split: at high water the canoe runs over everything. Often have I ascended rapids. This is done by hugging the shore and taking advantage of the back water ; and, when the canoe-man stops to take a rest, pleasant it is to lie in the canoe, with the water a few feet off rushing and roaring, and smoke a pipe. In fishing on the rapids, one makes his way up oxdown midstream, anchors, and casts in the back waters and edges of the current. We push on to the camp, which is surrounded by scarred and tempestbeaten ridges, some still having crests of pyramidal firs on their sharp outlines, while others, like the Snow River range, are absolutely bare. Below us is the Paquet rapid; above us is the Meeting of the Waters, immediately beyond which is the Rapide Noire or Black rapid; and still further beyond is the Snow River pool, above which the river of that name falls in, with its wealth of water pouring in multitudinous streams.

The little lakes that lie at the feet of the Laurentides in the vicinity of Quebec are mostly isolated, though here and there are small systems; but these systems do not compare with those of the Adirondacks or of Maine, where one can start from the Lower Saranac and go to the head of Fish Creek, through twenty lakes and ponds, or to Blue Mountain or to the Tupper lakes and beyond; or,leaving Jackman, go around the Bow up river, or down river by way of Moosehead to the St. John or lower Penobscot and tidewater. Nevertheless, the Quebec lakes exceed these in beauty, for the reason that the Laurentides are at their very heads; one is always sure of changing lights and colors such as mountains only can afford, and in stormy weather of shower after shower chasing along the hills. One tempestuous day, when caught at the first sand beach in the upper part of Lake St. Joseph, we counted five of these gusts scurrying in ghostly flight one after another. For the reason that the lakes at the feet of the Laurentides are so beautiful, — the fact that the hills rise from them in full height, — the larger lakes up on the divide are not so impressive in scenic effect: the relief of the background is not so high, the observer being near the summit of the range and not at its foot. One gets a glimpse, though, from Lake Edward, of the Bostonnais chain, which, in the full glory of autumnal color and under a bright sun, is very striking. There are beaches on the Quebec lakes, but few good landing places on the rivers, and the whole Laurentian formation, be it in the Adirondaeks, in Maine, or in Canada, is lacking in springs, such as there are being impregnated with lime or iron. The best water is that which flows from alder swamps on the hillsides; this is rain water which has percolated through moss, and, descending in the shade of dense growth, comes to one’s lips, clear, sweet, and cold.

There is a note of warning to be given concerning the flies that swarm in the woods, and which are a veritable curse during their period of existence. The Jesuit Le Jeune, in his Relation of 1632, enumerates the various kinds, from the house fly to the fire fly, dwelling with sanguinary particularity upon those that bite and sting. He says that he had seen men whose cheeks were so swollen from the stings that one could not distinguish their eyes; and adds that they draw blood from whomsoever they light upon, — an experience few have escaped who have ventured into the woods in “fly-time.” He says, further, that they attack some in preference to others, a discrimination confirmed to this day by the claim of the habitant to immunity from their assaults. Thoreau, also, in his article on The Allegash and East Branch, gives his enumeration under the headings, first, second, third, and fourth, putting mosquitoes first, then the black flies, next moose flies, and lastly the No-seeums, or sand flies.

I have never been molested by the moose or deer fly, but there are three places that will remain always in my recollection in connection with mosquitoes, and these are Barnegat, on the Jersey coast, Lac aux Ecorces, and Lake Edward; these last localities being in the Laurentides. Those at Barnegat were plentiful and vigorous, but it seems that the further north we go the worse they get, for a member of Hayes’s party told me that he had never seen a swarm denser than one which was hovering over a snow bank in the harbor of Upernavik, Greenland. At Lac aux Ecorces I learned why the Indian sleeps with his head buried in his blanket, — he has to do so, or be devoured. Of them all, the bruleau, or sand fly (Thoreau’s No-see-ums), is the worst. The black fly goes to rest with the sun, the mosquito at midnight, but the sand fly stays at its work all night. Once established in the cabin, it gets into the clothing, and, as a capping climax, into one’s blankets. The mosquito and sand fly puncture, but the black fly bites, and bites a piece out; this makes a bad and slow-healing wound; the sand fly pierces the-skin with a red-hot needle, and hence its name, the burner. The angler is driven off the pools by sudden irruption of bruleaux, and in the daytime I have seen the inside of a cabin’s windows yellowish green with them. There are palliatives against these pests, but little prevention. The bruleaux will fly into a fire, but those that have got into the clothing of man or bed remain. When once the tormentors have taken possession of the voyager and his hut there is but one of two things to do, — change camp, or return to the settlements until the pest has abated. From the middle of June until August, the woods of that vicinity are not friendly to the intruder, and he had better give them a wide berth.

When may a man go into the woods ? Leaving winter out of the question, the lover of the forest has from the middle of May to the middle of June, when the foliage is fast expanding to perfection, the wild flowers are in bloom, the streams are full, and the trout are jumping; and from the middle of August to November, when the wind blows fresh and bracing, when the woods are masses of color sharply contrasted with dark evergreens, and when the stags are leaping.

We lose much, however, if we leave winter out of the question, for yearly I meet caribou hunters, among whom are true lovers of nature, who tell me that to their minds the woods are in their glory during the subarctic winter. I recall one of these who was famous for his woodcraft, his love of adventure, his hardihood, his powers of observation, and his skill; and for his gentle disposition withal. He had held a responsible position for years in a noted line of steamers whose fleet plies between our ports and the tropics ; but he had never made a voyage. His love for the woods was a passion. “Where,” said he to me one day, “do you suppose I shall go, should I ever tear myself away for a winter ? ” “To the tropics, ” I answered. “No; I detest their very name.” “To Europe.” “No.” “Around the world.” “No; I shall take my axe, my snowshoes, my rifle, some provisions and books, and go into the wilderness north of the Saguenay, and there, with no neighbors but Montagnais Indians, and they fifty miles away, I shall build a cabin, and pass the livelong winter reading, studying the trees, the weather, and the snowbirds, and be happy in absolute solitude and contact with nature.” His was a voice for the woods in winter!

The latest picture of John Burroughs represents him standing in the snow, on the verge of a thicket, gazing intently at the tracks left by a roving animal.

Who should go into the woods ? All who would seek them for the woods’ sake. If I could have my way, none others should go. I should bar out every one and all who seek them merely to slaughter four-footed game; merely to kill fish or to kill time; merely to say, when they return home, that they have been there. These are sweeping restrictions, but my tyranny would be a beneficent one. How shocking, the vulgar incongruities of the Adirondacks ! Take the train from Greenville to Bangor during the open season for moose and deer, and hear the loud-voiced narrations of the “good times” the swashbucklers have been having up Penobscot way, or down the Allegash. The good times have been due, not to what the woods have given them, but to what they took into the woods with them ; times which they might have had more fully and more appropriately at a fish-house on Coney Island than in a camp on Caucomgomoc Lake. These men are intruders into “God’s first temple” as much as they would be were they to pitch their tents in a church. They bring back nothing worth having; not even a pair of horns. For them the stars have twinkled to blind eyes, and the music of the wind through the pines and of the wash of the waves on the shore has fallen on deaf ears; nor has the silence of the woods aroused awe in their bosoms, nor has their misspent energy produced an aspiration hitherto unfelt: they have exerted powers other than the power of an endless life. “Too low they build who build beneath the stars.”

He should go, on the contrary, who is open to that influence of nature which the forest alone exerts, and which can be had nowhere else than in its depths; who would see “how the pine lives and grows and spires, lifting its evergreen arms to the light; ” what the streams are working at, now building up, now sweeping away their own work ; what the rushes, struggling for life on a sandbar, are doing; what the winds of heaven, and the mosses, the lichens, the trees and the mould under them are achieving, and how they perform their tasks. He who delights in the sighing of the evergreens, the rustle of leaves, the murmur of ripples, the roar of rapids and falls, and of the gale lashing the chafed bosom of the lake, or bending the tops of trees before its blast; he who can find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything, he should go, must go, to the woods.

To catch fish and to shoot deer and ruffed grouse are perfectly legitimate acts, like all true sport, when they are incidental to higher purposes: but there are other and better things, touching the soul of man, which the woods offer and which imperious nature insists shall be first in his regard, to the subordination of everything else except sustenance, which is a need. This none know better than the sportsmen, who have ever contended that sport ceases to be sport when the pursuit is not founded on something higher than greed or labor, or when its enjoyment involves the sacrifice of higher things.

To competent skill in angling or hunting there should be added that in woodcraft. In these days of professional guides, it is true that one could live out his time in the woods without either knowledge or skill in the sylvan arts; but, apart from a possible need of such attributes, much pleasure is lost by not having them. The chase is natural to all animals, and he is wise who indulges in it within the limitations of true sport. As for woodcraft, there should be some knowledge, if only to understand what is going on before one’s eyes, to favor self-reliance, and to feel that one is not standing in jeopardy every hour.

Should one be interested in subjects for which the woods offer opportunity to study, great is the gain, for mere sensuous enjoyment of the forest, the waters, and the sky, or, on the other hand, mere idealization of them, is not enough: there should be acquisition of knowledge and reasoning thereon. A taste for geology, mineralogy, meteorology, botany, ornithology, or star-gazing, will meet with many an occasion for exercise on the lakes, in the woods, and in the clearings. Let it not be carried, though, to the sacrifice of higher delights. Once I met at my resting place in a remote corner of Canada a famous botanist, who, on the rumor of a high prize in plant life, had traveled eight hundred miles with the hope of winning it. We fished out of a quiet tarn, to his great joy, a long, snaky, and slimy water-weed, specimens of which, a day or two after, were labeled with the addresses of all the great universities and collections in Christendom. On our way back, I took note that he kept his eyes bent on the trees, bushes, and grasses that lined the road. “I suppose,” said I, “that you know every leaf, flower, and blade that you see.” There was real regret in his response: “Sometimes I wish that I did not know them so well as I do, and that I were not so possessed with plant hunger; for I should see many a beautiful thing that I am now blind to, and should be the better for.”

The woods offer a busy life to him who will lead it, but one tempered with sweet restfulness. What with the pursuit of some subject of natural science, with a pair of glasses for star-gazing, and a judicious exercise of woodcraft and angling or hunting, there is plenty to do, and we should come back to camp healthily tired, to a good book, and, not least, to a good meal and a good bed. It is a great mistake to go into the woods with the vulgar notion of “ roughing it; ” a term commonly expressive of hard toil and squalid living. There need not be and should not be anything of the kind. Gentle living is easily managed in these days of delicate supply and clean camp-keepers, and there is no excuse for subjecting one’s self to the labor and squalor of aboriginal savagery. Cabins can be made weather-proof and comfortable, and be kept kempt and tidy. Men should seek the woods to enjoy rest and tranquillity, and not to toil and worry; and, so far from roughing it, they should smooth it. We hie to the greenwood to escape the stress and rudeness of daily life in the world at home; it would be a downright failure to exchange one asperity for another. A change of mental labor may be mental rest, but no change of care can make one glad. The wise man will betake himself where no daily paper can reach him: it is essential to the success of his adventure that he cut himself off from the world. He who would carry his care and worry with him has no business in these still recesses: let him be wise in time and stay at home, for, if he will not be spiritually minded, he shall not have life and peace. “Man’s goings are of the Lord; when he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble ? ”

I once saw a noted poet, tired and dusty after a day’s journey, alight on the shore of the Lower Saranac. At the sight of the well-remembered lake and woods he broke forth in recitation of Fletcher’s Ode to Melancholy. “Hence, all you vain delights!” was at once his rejection of the world’s frivolities, upon which he had turned his back, and his salutation to the beloved wilds which then were clasping him to their bosom.

The man that goes into the woods ungoaded by the furies of trout killing or deer killing, but who is content to take these woods as he finds them, will so apportion his time as to have his nooning a long and restful one. Bird, beast, and fish unite in permitting him repose for several hours. This is the period that he can give to reading. There is no better place in the world than the camp to refresh one’s memory, to recall passages long ago familiar, but now growing dim; and no better time than when the body is resting, and resting on a bed of balsam boughs. Particularly is this the case with poetry. One does not wish in these surroundings to enter on the serious work of mastering an epic, or of familiarizing one’s self with a new poet; but there are times when it becomes fitting to brush up past readings, and the camp is a capital place for a task of this kind, and, for the hour, there is none better. Short poems or well - thumbed lyrical collections are what is wanted. There is nothing to distract the attention, and it is astonishing how speedily a dulled memory brightens up and sets to work to revive the old favorites, and to renew in activity as lively as ever the half-forgotten lines that once had stirred the blood and had become elements of the intellectual forces. Go back to the ancient lyrics, the favorites of your youth: they will renew a right spirit within you. If you are old, they will make you young again: if you are young and they are strange, you will take home with you friends that you had not when you entered the woodland, and friends they will be for a lifetime. Take one of the old odes and learn it by heart: you will be amazed at the rapidity with which it comes back; it runs to meet you, or, rather, you will discover that all along it has been a part of you, but that, to your confusion, you have neglected it. Now you are making amends: a recovered force is a new force, you have lost and have found, and your joy is great. One can hardly imagine a busy man subtracting hours from the daily life of a city to get back his poetry, a task long ago primitive to him: but the woods themselves are primitive, life there is primitive, and there, if anywhere, is the place to renew the lore of one’s youth, or to equip a young man with noble thoughts. They are never alone that are accompanied by noble thoughts, said Sir Philip Sidney. Observe, O ancient and O youth! that you do not go into the woods for intellectual work, but to rest from such work, and that the task here set you is a gentle one, requiring no greater exertion of the memory than that which exercised your body when you cast your fly in the morning’s angling, — and thus the inward man is renewed day by day.

There is no place where the imagination is appealed to more effectively than the woods. Who has ever stumbled upon the merest hunter’s camp, perhaps the resting place for a single night only, and not felt a thrill ? The charred chunks of wood, where the fire had blazed and lighted up the trees around, and had sent its beams into the cavernous darkness; the red, rusty, flattened balsam beds, where tired men had slept; a few tent pegs; these are worthless things, but they move deeply our social sense, and, mere vestiges though they be, remind us that we are indifferent to nothing that once has had the touch of a human being. It is the man’s footprint on the desert shore, and, as it affected Crusoe, so it affects us. A few months since I turned aside from my course to see what was left of a cabin in which I had passed some days a long time ago. As I neared the spot the canoe grazed a rock and I exclaimed, “ How thoughtless in me! I should have remembered that fellow; ” for we had been careful of old, in leaving or returning to camp, to steer clear of this obstruction. This came back to me with startling stress, and I thought I could now recognize every stone at the landing place. I found the scene a picture of desolation. Parts of one end and of a side were all that was left of the cabin. The blackened marks of fires on the ground showed that the logs which had composed it had been burnt by passing anglers, probably, who had made it a nooning place. Bushes and tall weeds were growing rank inside, where the stove, table, and bunks had stood. The place, which had been one of the model camps of my wood life, and which had kept its hold on my memory as the tidiest habitation I had ever been in during my forest wanderings, was unkempt and dirty. Trees, wantonly cut, had fallen over against others, and literally had died in their neighbors’ arms. The scene was forlorn, repulsive, and I was sorry that I had become a victim to my desire to revisit an ancient resting place. I had survived one of my habitations and one of the episodes that had made up my life. Decay without new growth, desecration by humankind, — the wreck was complete, and we paddled sadly away.

Let me impress upon the voyager an underlying truth: the pursuits that flow from one’s intellectual tastes, and the cultivation of special subjects, by no means constitute the main occupation of a sojourn in the wilds; like hunting and fishing, they are incidental only. The real study that is ever constant and enduring, the real study of the woods, is the woods themselves; what they are, how they are born, grow up, pass their days, and die; what is over them, in them, and under them; to see intelligently, to observe, this is the true study of the woods. When the power of observation has been developed, one of the great steps has been taken toward knowing and enjoying the processes of creation; for creation is ever going on. This gained, one at last is face to face with nature, and not until then can we reap the harvest of our surroundings. Further knowledge of sylvan life is acquired almost unconsciously, so easy is the advance into the field. Nature, indeed, takes her disciple by the hand and leads him on. The faculty to observe is as dirigible and expansive as any other faculty, and when it has been well started on its course, when it has been directed aright and has been faithfully sustained, it is as susceptible to development as are the rest of our faculties. Men saw this long ago and gave the seer a high place in their estimation. To see correctly, to observe intelligently, is a difficult task ; but once gained, the power becomes a possession for eternity. Observation is not a mere accomplishment; it is an art.

So much for what a man can make of himself in observing. What he can derive from the woods depends on himself and his own volition. To this point he has been a seer, and the woods have been the object of his endeavor, and all this endeavor has been that of his mind. His action has been limited by his intellect, which alone has been called into play. Quite different are the relations between man and nature, when Nature exerts her influence upon the man of imagination, of ideality, of feeling, and of aspiration. This influence is of the loftiest character, and has the soul of man for its field of action; not the mind only, but the very soul itself. Consider what led the prophets and leaders of old to the solitudes of the desert, and why the shrines of Great Pan were placed in thickets. It was not to study plant, beast, or bird, nor to recall the enthusiasms of youth: it was to pray, to commune with the infinite, to exert self-discipline, to invigorate and expand the soul. The seekers after God sought these wilds to subdue the lusts of the flesh and to beat down Satan under their feet: it was soul-need that took them to the waste places. Away from the distractions of the world, from its waywardness, its perversity, its brutality, its pollution; away from their false selves, they sought their true selves, and concentrated all the forces of their being on the contemplation of the highest and best.

Thoreau exemplifies the distinction between action of the mind and expansion of the soul when in the woods; the difference between the mental activity and the spiritual life called forth by his surroundings. He was a naturalist, and, as he pursued his way, studied trees and plants, birds and butterflies, four-footed beasts and waterfowl: he was indifferent to nothing that he could see and observe, and he carried his book with him, but, likewise, he was an idealist, and he possessed spirituality. Read, then, his apostrophe to Matter evoked by his passage over a tract of burnt lands in his descent from the summit of Ktaadn: “ And yet we have not seen pure Nature, unless we have seen her thus drear and inhuman, though in the midst of cities. Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful. I looked with awe at the ground I trod on, to see what the Powers had made there, the form and fashion and material of their work. This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night. . . . Man was not to be associated with it. It was Matter, vast, terrific, — not his Mother Earth that we have heard of, not for him to tread on, or be buried in, — no, it were being too familiar even to let his bones lie there — the home, this, of Necessity and Fate.” How responsive is he also to the sights and sounds of the forest; the thunder storm, the falling of a tree, the death of a moose, the laughter of a loon, the plaint of the white-throated sparrow, the chatter of a jay! All these things call forth the soul that is in him, and this it is that appeals to us from the pages of Burroughs and Muir more than do their lore or their science, for we feel that, when in the woods, “ they dwell with the King for his work.”

Eben Greenough Scott.