Editor's Note: The following is a verbatim transcription of a chapter from Spalding's Winter Sports by James A. Cruikshank, published in 1917 and part of the Ray Ruge Collection at the Hudson River Maritime Museum. Many thanks to volunteer Adam Kaplan for transcribing this booklet.
Pry yourself away from that steam radiator some snowy day and take a winter walk! Put behind you the mellow charm of the open fire; it will be even more delightful when you return. Hunt up a few old togs, woolen underwear, close woven woolen suit, heavy sweater, mittens, cap with ear tabs, and heavy waterproof shoes and sally forth on the quest for a new sensation. Never mind that overcoat; you will never miss it after that first half mile. And don’t forget to stuff a few crackers in your pocket for that utterly unexpected hunger which will be waiting your arrival somewhere along the road. Now, strike out!
Immediately after warming up with the vigorous exercise, you feel perfectly sure that there is some sort of curious exhilaration which the air of summer never furnishes. Your imagination is not fooling you. There is one-seventh more oxygen in cold winter air than in warm summer air. That is the reason the “fire burns brighter.” And by the same token every human faculty is keener and sharper. Incidentally the falling snow carries to earth with it all floating impurities and you breathe the purest air to be found at any time of the year.
You have made but a few rods when you discover that snow is the greatest artist of nature. That unsightly shack which so distressed you, has taken on forms of unknown beauty; even that ash heap, eyesore that it was, now furnishes curves of unsullied purity; the snow, like a mantle of charity, has transformed the ugly into the beautiful. Nor is its gift to the world merely pictorial. It is nature’s warm blanket. This cold, frozen thing saves the wheat and the grain from freezing; fills up the chinks between ground and farmhouse, window and frame and makes the home warmer than it was before.
Close to your home, no matter where you live, the records on the snow will be found interesting and fascinating. The average city park is full of their strange story. To the open mind of the nature-lover they start all sorts of interesting speculations. Mouse, sparrow, squirrel, rabbit, fox, dog- which are they and what story do they tell?
You may even find pathetic tragedies writ clear in the snow, if only you have learned to read the winter book of nature. Here see the wide sweeping record of the wings of an owl as they touched the snow on either side of the tiny tracks of a mouse. Then the prints of the wings become deeper and clearer, and here, where a little tuft of bloody fur is found, and the snow is beaten down all about, the trail suddenly ends. Perhaps the story of the fox that dined upon squirrel or partridge is spread out there full upon the ermine page of nature. Here, indeed, is a new chapter in your reading of nature’s secrets; it is stranger than any fiction and dramatic as a novel.
Then sunset across the fields of white, nowhere more exquisitely beautiful. Great bloody stabs of crimson athwart the western sky. The very “souls of the trees,” as Holmes called them, when freed of their summer bodies. Across the tiny brook hurrying to sea under its arching canopy of snow-laden willow and alder. Then the open fire! No blaze so bright, no cheer so real as that which greets a winter rover fresh from a brave little ramble over the fresh snow.
Take a winter walk!
James A. Cruikshank was an expert on outdoors sports during the first half of the 20th century. Born in Scotland but spending most of his life in New York, he was the editor of The American Angler magazine, Field and Stream, and wrote numerous articles for a wide variety of other magazines and newspapers throughout his career, including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He also published at least three books: Spalding’s Winter Sports (1913, 1917), Canoeing and Camping (1915), and Figure Skating for Women (1921, 1922). He also contributed a chapter on artificial lures to The Basses: Freshwater and Marine (1905). In addition to his writing, Cruikshank was involved in public speaking, doing talks on outdoor sports sometimes illustrated by motion pictures. An avid photographer, Cruikshank’s photos often featured in his illustrated lectures, his articles, and his books, as he encouraged readers to take their own cameras out-of-doors. He had a home in the Catskills as well as a home and offices in New York City, and in the 1930s he helped found the Hudson River Yachting Association. At one point, he managed the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, and another in Rye, NY. His wife Alice was also an avid camper and hiker, and they often traveled together. In 1909, Alice went “viral” in newspapers around the country by being the first person to blaze a trail between Mount Field and Mount Wiley in the White Mountains of New Hampshire (James brought up the rear). James and Alice eventually moved to Drexel, PA and were vacationing in Lake Placid in July of 1957 when James died unexpectedly at the age of 88.
Stay tuned next week for the next chapter of Spalding's Winter Sports.
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