Outdoor Sports and Mental Games
( Originally Published 1906 )
NOW, after discussing some of the false sports, it is only fair that I should tell you what I think the true sports are. By way of preface to the list, let me make the obvious suggestion that for a man or woman of sedentary work, out-of-door sports should predominate, while those whose work brings into play the muscles and the lungs may rest satisfied with a larger proportion of mental games. Yet it is not true that an author, for example, should do no reading for recreation, only that his physical sports should be in excess of his mental play ; nor that a carpenter should not enjoy his game of baseball, for example, only that he would be wise to take the greater part of his play with a book.
As I cannot discuss all sports, since there are so many, I shall be egotistical of necessity, and shall speak of the sports that I know best, because they form my own recreation. They will serve just as well for examples. And first, for outdoor amusements.
At the head of my list of sports stands no game at all, only walking.
I bless God daily for a pair of feet cornless, bunionless, willing and strong ; for a good shoemaker ; for a pair of boots that covers the whole earth with leather ; and for God's wide, wonderful world to which these blessings give me pleasant access. In walking I have an amusement which costs nothing but sole leather; which is dependent on no tools, mechanism, or implements ; which can be carried on in all weathers, all seasons, all times of day, with company or without, for a long time or short, slowly or rapidly, carelessly or thoughtfully ; which fits my days of health or of sickness, of joy or gloom; an amusement that may be made to minister to a love fol. science, which may fill my geological cabinet or my insect cases, and my head as well ; a recreation that puts me in most serene and delightful converse with kindly nature in all her- witching changes ; that cleanses and expands the cramped lungs, sends the gay blood bounding to the farthest capillary, hardens the muscles, and disciplines the will.
What a loss people permit themselves when they permit themselves the loss of their feet ! I am sometimes half inclined to the opinion of Ruskin, who cursed all inventions, bicycle, railroad, electric engine, cable cars and what not, designed to supplant human feet on the earth God gave us to tread. Ruskin was not venting a cynical snarl at our modern civilization, but merely at that undoubted tendency of it to allow machinery to weaken men and enfeeble women.
To be sure, the steam horse can rattle me in an hour a distance over which shank's horses could scarcely transport me in six hours ; but it lands me less of a man than when I started, with quivering nerves, aching head, dust-filled eyes, disordered digestion, and thorny temper. Shank's horses land me more of a man than when I started, with clearer brain, more cheerful, exultant temper, stronger body, a firmer grasp on life, a keener sense of this beautiful world, and a closer knowledge of God. That is what Ruskin means,—that machinery is dear at the cost of manhood.
What pleasures, too, are open to the walker, which the foot-tied must resign ! He may see the sunset from the highest hilltops ; he is the first to note the spring flowers, the changes wrought by the winter floods. He can watch the rarest birds in their shyest haunts.
If to his walking your pedestrian add the ability to trot smartly for a mile or two, he is well equipped indeed. If walking has not sent oxygen to the most distant nook of his lungs, running will. If walking has not drawn tense his muscles, running will. There are just two faults to find with it ; for it might as well be acknowledged that there is no perfect sport, outdoors or in. One cannot talk much while one is running, nor indulge to any great extent in the contemplation of nature. Let it be acknowledged, too, that both walking and running, though they might well make a giant of a pigmy as to the matter of legs and feet, would leave him a pigmy still in regard to arms.
So the well-furnished player must have other sports at his disposal, not only to remedy these defects, but also for variety, which is the cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg of life. For just as one should have a vocation, to be sure, but also an avocation, so one should have not merely a recreation, but an ab-recreation, a side recreation, to which he can turn when the chief sport goes awry. My ab-recreations are . two, the bicycle and tennis, and each deserves a chapter.