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Dallas Lore Sharp

An Outdoor Lesson

dropcap image HAVE had many a person ask me, "What is the best way to learn about the out of doors?" and I always answer, "Don't try to learn about  it, but first go out of the house and get into the out of doors. Then open both eyes, use both of your ears, and stand in one place stock still as long as you can; and you will soon know the out of doors itself, which is better than knowing about it."

"But," says my learner, "if I go out of the house, I don't get into the out of doors at all, but into a city street!"

Look there—in the middle of the street! What is it? An English sparrow? Yes, an English sparrow—six English sparrows. Are they not a part of the out of doors? And look up there, over your head—a strip of sky? Yes—is not a strip of blue sky a part of the out of doors?

Now let me tell you how I learned an outdoor lesson one night along a crowded city street.

It was a cold, wet night; and the thick, foggy twilight, settling down into the narrow streets, was full of smoke and smell and chill. A raw wind blew in from the sea and sent a shiver past every corner. The street lights blinked, the street mud glistened, the street noises clashed and rattled, and the street crowds poured up and down and bore me along with them.

I was homesick—homesick for the country. I longed to hear the sound of the wind in the pine trees; I longed to hear the single far-away bark of the dog on the neighboring farm, or the bang of a barn-door, or the clack of a guinea going to roost. It was half-past five, and thousands of clerks were pouring from the closing stores; but I was lonely, homesick for the quiet, the wideness, the trees and sky of the country.

Feeling thus, and seeing only the strange faces all about me, and the steep narrow walls of the street high above me, I drifted along, until suddenly I caught the sound of bird voices shrill and sharp through the din.

I stopped, but was instantly jostled out of the street, up against a grim iron fence, to find myself peering through the pickets into an ancient cemetery in the very heart of Boston.

As I looked, there loomed up in the fog and rain overhead the outlines of three or four gaunt trees, whose limbs were as thick with sparrows as they had ever been with leaves. A sparrow roost! Birds, ten thousand birds, gone to roost in the business section of a great city, with ten thousand human beings passing under them as they slept!

I got in behind a big waste-barrel by the iron fence and let the crowd surge past. It was such a sight as I had never seen. I had seen thousands of chimney swallows go to roost in the deserted chimneys of a great country house; I had many a time gone down at night to the great crow-roost in the pines at Cubby Hollow; but I had never stumbled upon a bird-roost on a crowded city street before!

The hurrying throng behind me thinned and straggled while I waited, watching by the iron fence. The wind freshened, the mist thickened into fine rain that came slanting down through the half-lighted trees; the sleeping sparrows twittered and shifted uneasily on the limbs.

The streets were being deserted. It was going to be a wild night on the water, and a wild night in the swaying, creaking tops of these old elm trees. I shivered at the thought of the sparrows sleeping out in such a night as this, and turned away toward my own snug roost hardly two blocks away.

The night grew wilder. The wind rattled down our street past a hundred loose shutters; the rain slapped against the windows, and then stopped as a heavy gust curled over the line of roofs opposite. I thought of the sparrows. Had they been driven from the tossing limbs? Could they cling fast in such a wind, and could they sleep?

Going to the window I looked down into the street. Only the electric light at the corner showed through the blur of the storm. The street was empty.

I slipped into my coat and went out; not even a policeman was in sight. Only the whirling sheets of rain, only the wild sounds of the wind were with me. The lights flared, but only to fill the streets with fantastic shadows and to open up a yawning cavern in every deep, dark doorway.

Keeping in the lee of the shuttered buildings, I made my way to the sparrow roost. I shall never forget the sight! Not a sparrow had left his perch, but every bird had now turned, facing the wind—breasting the wind, I should say; for every head was under a wing, as near as I could make out, and every breast was toward the storm. Here, on the limbs, as close as beads on a string, they clung and rocked in the arms of the wind, every one with his feathers tight to his body, his tail lying out flat on the storm.

Now there is the outdoor lesson I learned, and that is how I learned it. And what was the lesson? Why, this: that you are not shut away from Nature even in the heart of a great city; that the out of doors lies very close about you, as you hurry down a crowded city street.