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Footpaths
by [?]

AN intelligent English woman, spending a few years in this country with her family, says that one of her serious disappointments is that she finds it utterly impossible to enjoy nature here as she can at home–so much nature as we have and yet no way of getting at it; no paths, or byways, or stiles, or foot-bridges, no provision for the pedestrian outside of the public road. One would think the people had no feet and legs in this country, or else did not know how to use them. Last summer she spent the season near a small rural village in the valley of the Connecticut, but it seemed as if she had not been in the country: she could not come at the landscape; she could not reach a wood or a hill or a pretty nook anywhere without being a trespasser, or getting entangled in swamps or in fields of grass and grain, or having her course blocked by a high and difficult fence; no private ways, no grassy lanes; nobody walking in the fields or woods, nobody walking anywhere for pleasure, but everybody in carriages or wagons.

She was staying a mile from the village, and every day used to walk down to the post-office for her mail; but instead of a short and pleasant cut across the fields, as there would have been in England, she was obliged to take the highway and face the dust and the mud and the staring people in their carriages.

She complained, also, of the absence of bird voices,–so silent the fields and groves and orchards were, compared with what she had been used to at home. The most noticeable midsummer sound everywhere was the shrill, brassy crescendo of the locust.

All this is unquestionably true. There is far less bird music here than in England, except possibly in May and June, though, if the first impressions of the Duke of Argyle are to be trusted, there is much less even then. The duke says: “Although I was in the woods and fields of Canada and of the States in the richest moments of the spring, I heard little of that burst of song which in England comes from the blackcap, and the garden warbler, and the whitethroat, and the reed warbler, and the common wren, and (locally) from the nightingale.” Our birds are more withdrawn than the English, and their notes more plaintive and intermittent. Yet there are a few days here early in May, when the house wren, the oriole, the orchard starling, the kingbird, the bobolink, and the wood thrush first arrive, that are so full of music, especially in the morning, that one is loath to believe there is anything fuller or finer even in England. As walkers, and lovers of rural scenes and pastimes, we do not approach our British cousins. It is a seven days’ wonder to see anybody walking in this country except on a wager or in a public hall or skating-rink, as an exhibition and trial of endurance.

Countrymen do not walk except from necessity, and country women walk far less than their city sisters. When city people come to the country they do not walk, because that would be conceding too much to the country; beside, they would soil their shoes, and would lose the awe and respect which their imposing turn-outs inspire. Then they find the country dull; it is like water or milk after champagne; they miss the accustomed stimulus, both mind and body relax, and walking is too great an effort.

There are several obvious reasons why the English should be better or more habitual walkers than we are. Taken the year round, their climate is much more favorable to exercise in the open air. Their roads are better, harder, and smoother, and there is a place for the man and a place for the horse. Their country houses and churches and villages are not strung upon the highway as ours are, but are nestled here and there with reference to other things than convenience in “getting out.” Hence the grassy lanes and paths through the fields.