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Camping Out
by [?]

It seems to be agreed that civilization is kept up only by a constant effort: Nature claims its own speedily when the effort is relaxed. If you clear a patch of fertile ground in the forest, uproot the stumps, and plant it, year after year, in potatoes and maize, you say you have subdued it. But, if you leave it for a season or two, a kind of barbarism seems to steal out upon it from the circling woods; coarse grass and brambles cover it; bushes spring up in a wild tangle; the raspberry and the blackberry flower and fruit; and the humorous bear feeds upon them. The last state of that ground is worse than the first.

Perhaps the cleared spot is called Ephesus. There is a splendid city on the plain; there are temples and theatres on the hills; the commerce of the world seeks its port; the luxury of the Orient flows through its marble streets. You are there one day when the sea has receded: the plain is a pestilent marsh; the temples, the theatres, the lofty gates have sunken and crumbled, and the wild-brier runs over them; and, as you grow pensive in the most desolate place in the world, a bandit lounges out of a tomb, and offers to relieve you of all that which creates artificial distinctions in society. The higher the civilization has risen, the more abject is the desolation of barbarism that ensues. The most melancholy spot in the Adirondacks is not a tamarack-swamp, where the traveler wades in moss and mire, and the atmosphere is composed of equal active parts of black-flies, mosquitoes, and midges. It is the village of the Adirondack Iron-Works, where the streets of gaunt houses are falling to pieces, tenantless; the factory-wheels have stopped; the furnaces are in ruins; the iron and wooden machinery is strewn about in helpless detachment; and heaps of charcoal, ore, and slag proclaim an arrested industry. Beside this deserted village, even Calamity Pond, shallow, sedgy, with its ragged shores of stunted firs, and its melancholy shaft that marks the spot where the proprietor of the iron-works accidentally shot himself, is cheerful.

The instinct of barbarism that leads people periodically to throw aside the habits of civilization, and seek the freedom and discomfort of the woods, is explicable enough; but it is not so easy to understand why this passion should be strongest in those who are most refined, and most trained in intellectual and social fastidiousness. Philistinism and shoddy do not like the woods, unless it becomes fashionable to do so; and then, as speedily as possible, they introduce their artificial luxuries, and reduce the life in the wilderness to the vulgarity of a well-fed picnic. It is they who have strewn the Adirondacks with paper collars and tin cans. The real enjoyment of camping and tramping in the woods lies in a return to primitive conditions of lodging, dress, and food, in as total an escape as may be from the requirements of civilization. And it remains to be explained why this is enjoyed most by those who are most highly civilized. It is wonderful to see how easily the restraints of society fall off. Of course it is not true that courtesy depends upon clothes with the best people; but, with others, behavior hangs almost entirely upon dress. Many good habits are easily got rid of in the woods. Doubt sometimes seems to be felt whether Sunday is a legal holiday there. It becomes a question of casuistry with a clergyman whether he may shoot at a mark on Sunday, if none of his congregation are present. He intends no harm: he only gratifies a curiosity to see if he can hit the mark. Where shall he draw the line? Doubtless he might throw a stone at a chipmunk, or shout at a loon. Might he fire at a mark with an air-gun that makes no noise? He will not fish or hunt on Sunday (although he is no more likely to catch anything that day than on any other); but may he eat trout that the guide has caught on Sunday, if the guide swears he caught them Saturday night? Is there such a thing as a vacation in religion? How much of our virtue do we owe to inherited habits?