The footpath takes you across the farms and behind the houses; you are admitted to the family secrets and form a personal acquaintance. Even if you take the wrong path, it only leads you "across-lots" to some man ploughing, or some old woman picking berries,--perhaps a very spicy acquaintance, whom the road would never have brought to light. If you are led astray in the woods, that only teaches you to observe landmarks more closely, or to leave straws and stakes for tokens, like a gypsy's patteran, to show the ways already traversed. There is a healthy vigor in the mind of the boy who would like of all things to be lost in the woods, to build a fire out of doors,and sleep under a tree or in a haystack. Civilization is tiresome and enfeebling, unless we occasionally give it the relish of a little outlawry, and approach, in imagination at least, the zest of a gypsy life. The records of pedestrian journeys, the Wanderjahre and memoirs of good-for-noth-ings, and all the delightful German forest literature,--these belong to the footpath side of our nature. The passage I best remember in all Bayard Taylor's travels is the ecstasy of his Thuringian forester, who said: "I recall the time when just a sunny morning made me so happy that I did not know what to do with myself. One day in spring, as I went through the woods and saw the shadows of the young leaves upon the moss, and smelt the buds of the firs and larches, and thought to myself, 'All thy life is to be spent in the splendid forest,'I actually threw myself down and rolled in the grass like a dog, over and over, crazy with joy."
It is the charm of pedestrian journeys that they convert the grandest avenues to footpaths. Through them alone we gain intimate knowledge of the people, and of nature, and indeed of ourselves. It is easy to hurry too fast for our best reflections, which, as the old monk said of perfection, must be sought not by flying, but by walking, "Perfectionis via non pervolanda sed perambulanda." The thoughts that the railway affords us are dusty thoughts; we ask the news, read the journals, question our neighbor, and wish to know what is going on because we are a part of it. It is only in the footpath that our minds, like our bodies, move slowly, and we traverse thought, like space, with a patient thoroughness. Rousseau said that he had never experienced so much, lived so truly, and been so wholly himself, as during his travels on foot.
What can Hawthorne mean by saying in his English diary that "an American would never understand the passage in Bunyan about Christian and Hopeful going astray along a by-path into the grounds of Giant Despair, from there being no stiles and by-paths in our country"? So much of the charm of American pedestrianism lies in the by-paths! For instance, the whole interior of Cape Ann, beyond Gloucester, is a continuous woodland, with granite ledges everywhere cropping out, around which the high-road winds, following the curving and indented line of the sea, and dotted here and there with fishing hamlets. This whole interior is traversed by a network of footpaths, rarely passable for a wagon, and not always for a horse, but enabling the pedestrian to go from any one of these villages to any other, in a line almost direct, and always under an agreeable shade. By the longest of these hidden ways, one may go from Pigeon Cove to Gloucester, ten miles, without seeing a public road. In the little inn at the former village there used to hang an old map of this whole forest region, giving a chart of some of these paths, which were said to date back to the first settlement of the country. One of them, for instance, was called on the map "Old Road from Sandy Bay to Squam Meeting-house through the Woods"; but the road is now scarcely even a bridle-path, and the most faithful worshipper could not seek Squam Meeting-house in the family chaise. Those woods have been lately devastated; but when I first knew that region, it was as good as any German forest.
Often we stepped almost from the edge of the sea into some gap in the woods; there seemed hardly more than a rabbit-track, yet presently we met some wayfarer who had crossed the Cape by it. A piny dell gave some vista of the broad sea we were leaving, and an opening in the woods displayed another blue sea-line before; the encountering breezes interchanged odor of berry-bush and scent of brine; penetrating farther among oaks and chestnuts, we came upon some little cottage, quaint and sheltered as any Spenser drew; it was built on no high-road, and turned its vine-clad gable away from even the footpath.
Then the ground rose and we were surprised by a breeze from a new quarter; perhaps we climbed trees to look for landmarks, and saw only, still farther in the woods, some great cliff of granite or the derrick of an unseen quarry. Three miles inland, as I remember, we found the hearthstones of a vanished settlement; then we passed a swamp with cardinal-flowers; then a cathedral of noble pines, topped with crow's-nests. If we had not gone astray by this time, we presently emerged on Dogtown Common, an elevated table-land, over-spread with great boulders as with houses, and encircled with a girdle of green woods and an outer girdle of blue sea. I know of nothing more wild than that gray waste of boulders; it is a natural Salisbury Plain, of which icebergs and ocean-currents were the Druidic builders; in that multitude of couchant monsters there seems a sense of suspended life; you feel as if they must speak and answer to each other in the silent nights, but by day only the wandering sea-birds seek them, on their way across the Cape, and the sweet-bay and green fern embed them in a softer and deeper setting as the years go by. This is the "height of ground" of that wild footpath; but as you recede farther from the outer ocean and approach Gloucester, you come among still wilder ledges, unsafe without a guide, and you find in one place a cluster of deserted houses, too difficult of access to remove even their materials, so that they are left to moulder alone. I used to wander in those woods, summer after summer, till I had made my own chart of their devious tracks, and now when I close my eyes in this Oldport midsummer, the soft Italian air takes on something of a Scandinavian vigor; for the incessant roll of carriages I hear the tinkle of the quarryman's hammer and the veery's song; and I long for those perfumed and breezy pastures, and for those promontories of granite where the fresh water is nectar and the salt sea has a regal blue.
I recall another footpath near Worcester, Massachusetts; it leads up from the low meadows into the wildest region of all that vicinity, Tatesset Hill. Leaving behind you the open pastures where the cattle lie beneath the chestnut-trees or drink from the shallow brook, you pass among the birches and maples, where the woodsman's shanty stands in the clearing, and the raspberry-fields are merry with children's voices. The familiar birds and butterflies linger below with them, and in the upper and more sacred depths the wood-thrush chants his litany and the brown mountain butterflies hover among the scented vines. Higher yet rises the "Rattlesnake Ledge," spreading over one side of the summit a black avalanche of broken rock, now overgrown with reindeer-moss and filled with tufts of the smaller wild geranium. Just below this ledge,--amid a dark, dense track of second-growth forest, masked here and there with grape-vines, studded with rare orchises, and pierced by a brook that vanishes suddenly where the ground sinks away and lets the blue distance in,--there is a little monument to which the footpath leads, and which always seemed to me as wild a memorial of forgotten superstition as the traveller can find amid the forests of Japan.
It was erected by a man called Solomon Pearson (not to give his name too closely), a quiet, thoughtful farmer, long-bearded, low-voiced, and with that aspect of refinement which an ideal life brings forth even in quite uninstructed men. At the height of the "Second Advent" excitement this man resolved to build for himself upon these remote rocks a house which should escape the wrath to come, and should endure even amid a burning and transformed earth. Thinking, as he had once said to me, that, "if the First Dispensation had been strong enough to endure, there would have been no need of a Second," he resolved to build for his part something which should possess permanence at least. And there still remains on that high hillside the small beginning that he made.
There are four low stone walls, three feet thick, built solidly together without cement, and without the trace of tools. The end-walls are nine feet high (the sides being lower) and are firmly united by a strong iron ridge-pole, perhaps fifteen feet long, which is imbedded at each end in the stone. Other masses of iron lie around unused, in sheets, bars, and coils, brought with slow labor by the builder from far below. The whole building was designed to be made of stone and iron. It is now covered with creeping vines and the debris of the hillside; but though its construction had been long discontinued when I saw it, the interior was still kept scrupulously clean through the care of this modern Solomon, who often visited his shrine.
Source of this article：http://nyhps.medkent.com/html/787e998219.html
Copyright statement: The content of this article was voluntarily contributed by internet users, and the views expressed in this article only represent the author themselves. This website only provides information storage space services and does not hold any ownership or legal responsibility. If you find any suspected plagiarism, infringement, or illegal content on this website, please send an email to report it. Once verified, this website will be immediately deleted.