The Summer Afield
T HE word summer, being interpreted, means vacation; and vacation, being interpreted, means—so many things that I have not space in this book to name them. Yet how can there be a vacation without mountains, or seashore, or the fields, or the forests—days out of doors? My ideal vacation would have to be spent in the open; and this book, the larger part of it, is the record of one of my summer vacations—the vacation of the summer of 1912. That was an ideal vacation, and along with my account of it I wish to give you some hints on how to make the most of your summer chance to tramp the fields and woods.
For the real lover of nature is a tramp; not the kind of tramp that walks the railroad-ties and carries his possessions in a tomato-can, but one who follows the cow-paths to the fields, who treads the rabbit-roads in the woods, watching the ways of the wild things that dwell in the tree-tops, and in the deepest burrows under ground.
Do not tell anybody, least of all yourself, that you love the out-of-doors, unless you have your own path to the woods, your own cross-cut to the pond, your own particular huckleberry-patch and fishing-holes and friendships in the fields. The winds, the rain, the stars, the green grass, even the birds and a multitude of other wild folk try to meet you more than halfway, try to seek you out even in the heart of the great city; but the great out-of-doors you must seek, for it is not in books, nor in houses, nor in cities. It is out at the end of the car-line or just beyond the back-yard fence, maybe—far enough away, anyhow, to make it necessary for you to put on your tramping shoes and with your good stout stick go forth.
You must learn to be a good tramper. You thought you learned how to walk soon after you got out of the cradle, and perhaps you did, but most persons only know how to hobble when they get into the unpaved paths of the woods.
With stout, well-fitting shoes, broad in the toe and heel; light, stout clothes that will not catch the briers, good bird-glasses, and a bite of lunch against the noon, swing out on your legs; breathe to the bottom of your lungs; balance your body on your hips, not on your collar-bones, and, going leisurely, but not slowly (for crawling is deadly dull), do ten miles up a mountain-side or through the brush; and if at the end you feel like eating up ten miles more, then you may know that you can walk, can tramp, and are in good shape for the summer.
In your tramping-kit you need: a pocket-knife; some string; a pair of field-glasses; a botany-can or fish-basket on your back; and perhaps a notebook. This is all and more than you need for every tramp. To these things might be added a light camera. It depends upon what you go for. I have been afield all my life and have never owned or used a camera. But there are a good many things that I have never done. A camera may add a world of interest to your summer, so if you find use for a camera, don't fail to make one a part of your tramping outfit.
After all, what you carry on your back or on your feet or in your hands does not matter half so much as what you carry in your head and heart—your eye, and spirit, and purpose. For instance, when you go into the fields have some purpose in your going besides the indefinite desire to get out of doors.
If you long for the wide sky and the wide winds and the wide slopes of green, then that is a real and a definite desire. You want to get out, out, OUT, because you have been shut in. Very good; for you will get what you wish, what you go out to get. The point is this: always go out for something. Never yawn and slouch out to the woods as you might to the corner grocery store, because you don't know how else to kill time.
Go with some purpose; because you wish to visit some particular spot, see some bird, find some flower, catch some—fish! Anything that takes you into the open is good—ploughing, hoeing, chopping, fishing, berrying, botanizing, tramping. The aimless person anywhere is a failure, and he is sure to get lost in the woods!
It is a good plan to go frequently over the same fields, taking the beaten path, watching for the familiar things, until you come to know your haunt as thoroughly as the fox or the rabbit knows his. Don't be afraid of using up a particular spot. The more often you visit a place the richer you will find it to be in interest for you.
Now, do not limit your interest and curiosity to any one kind of life or to any set of things out of doors. Do not let your likes or your prejudices interfere with your seeing the whole out-of-doors with all its manifold life, for it is all interrelated, all related to you, all of interest and meaning.
The clover blossom and the bumblebee that carries the fertilizing pollen are related; the bumblebee and the mouse that eats up its grubs are related; and every one knows that mice and cats are related; thus the clover, the bumblebee, the mouse, the cat, and, finally, the farmer, are all so interrelated that if the farmer keeps a cat, the cat will catch the mice, the mice cannot eat the young bumblebees, the bumblebees can fertilize the clover, and the clover can make seed. So if the farmer wants clover seed to sow down a new field with, he must keep a cat.
I think it is well for you to have some one thing in which you are particularly interested. It may be flowers or birds or shells or minerals. But as the whole is greater than any of its parts, so a love and knowledge of nature, of the earth and the sky over your head and under your feet, with all that lives with you there, is more than a knowledge of its birds or trees or reptiles.
But be on your guard against the purpose to spread yourselves over too much. Don't be thin and superficial. Don't be satisfied with learning the long Latin names of things while never watching the ways of the things that have the names. As they sat on the porch, so the story goes, the school trustee called attention to a familiar little orange-colored bug, with black spots on his back, that was crawling on the floor.
"I s'pose you know what that is?" he said.
"Yes," replied the applicant, with conviction; "that is a Coccinella septempunctata."
"Young man," was the rejoinder, "a feller as don't know a ladybug when he sees it can't get my vote for teacher in this deestrict."
The "trustee" was right; for what is the use of knowing
that the little ladybug is Coc-ci-
Let us say, now, that you are spending your vacation in the edge of the country within twenty miles of a great city such as Boston. That might bring you out at Hingham, where I am spending mine. In such an ordinary place (if any place is ordinary), what might you expect to see and watch during the summer?
Sixty species of birds, to begin with! They will keep you busy all summer. The wild animals, beasts, that you will find depend so very much upon your locality—woods, waters, rocks, etc.—that it is hard to say how many they will be. Here in my woods you might come upon three or four species of mice, three species of squirrels, the mink, the muskrat, the weasel, the mole, the shrew, the fox, the skunk, the rabbit, and even a wild deer.
Of reptiles and amphibians you would see several more species than of fur-bearing animals,—six snakes, four common turtles, two salamanders, frogs, toads, newts,—a wonderfully interesting group, with a real live rattler among them if you should go over to the Blue Hills, fifteen miles away.
You will go many times into the fields before you can make of the reptiles your friends and neighbors. But by and by you will watch them and note their ways with as much interest as you watch the other wild folk about you. It is a pretty shallow lover of nature who jumps upon a little snake with both feet, or who shivers when a little salamander drops out of the leaf-mould at his feet.
And what shall I say of the fishes? There are a dozen of them in the stream and ponds within the compass of my haunt. They are a fascinating family, and one very little watched by the ordinary tramper. But you are not ordinary. Quiet and patience and much putting together of scraps of observations will be necessary if you are to get at the whole story of any fish's life. The story will be worth it, however.
No, I shall not even try to number the insects—the butterflies, beetles, moths, wasps, bees, bugs, ticks, mites, and such small "deer" as you will find in the round of your summer's tramp. Nor shall I try to name the flowers and trees, the ferns and mosses. It is with the common things that you ought now to become familiar, and one summer is all too short for the things you ought to see and hear and do in your vacation out of doors.