Helen Keller reveled in nature. Her enjoyment of physical exercise and her love of the outdoors is beautifully captured in an article written 80 years ago this month and published in "The Guardian," a magazine "For Leaders of Camp Fire Girls." Read the transcription below and become inspired to stretch those limbs and enjoy the spring!
Among our hundreds of thousands of joyous Camp Fire Girls there are some who are blind, some who are deaf and some who are otherwise handicapped. We thought of them especially when we read Helen Keller’s article in Good Housekeeping which she called "Nature’s Storehouse of Health. "…
I am partial to those forms of physical exercise and recreation which bring me into direct contact with nature. I have always the feeling that nature has the power to renew and refresh our minds, our bodies, and our spirits. One of the few quarrels I have with modern life is that it has removed us too far from a direct contact with nature. That, I am afraid, is particularly true in the case of women—in smaller communities as well as in cities. A large amount of freedom has come to women through the simplification of household tasks, but I believe that too much of this leisure flows into purely social, and even intellectual, activities.
The tug of nature that I feel is not unusual in view of the fact that until I was seven years old I was a primitive creature. I could neither see nor hear. So many of my contacts were the manifestations of nature, and with the animals on our Alabama farm—with the fowls of the barnyard, the horses, the dogs, with trees and fields and meadows. And these were as real to me as human beings. When my teacher began to teach me language, and to explain the marvels around me, my friendship for all phases of nature kept pace with my curiosity. This interest inspired me to scurry about, even to the point of climbing trees, and made my little body strong and active. And I am convinced that it is my abiding friendship with nature which has kept me unusually healthy throughout my life, for this fellow feeling with nature enters into most of my physical activities.
When I ride horseback, it is not merely as a sport, but also as a sort of communion with nature. I feel about me the beauties of the park or the quiet country road. I like to place my hand on my horse’s neck and feel the powerful ripple of his muscles. My mind is transported back to the pony of my childhood. (It is one of the compensations of blindness that sight can not interfere with imaginings). I am imbued with a sense of physical and mental well-being.
So, in walking or swimming or rowing, I am always conscious of that oneness with nature, and this feeling is a beautiful complement to the sense of health and physical well-being which I derive from exercise.
Rowing is one of my favorite sports, even if I am inclined to splash my companions now and then. If I am left to my own devices, I naturally row in a circle, but with another rower to correct the errors of my circular navigation, I can do quite well. I am fond of rowing, and I take every opportunity to do it. My favorite rowing place is Long Lake in the Adirondacks. I can "see" the banks lined with tall trees and fascinatingly dark under-growth. I can "see" the flashing glint of sun on water and I can "see" the scurrying of graceful fish even where no fish exist. Now and then I rest my oars and trail my hand in the delightful coolness of rippling water; and I feel the soothing breeze on my cheek. I like to feel the play of my muscles as I row. I am filled with a sense of physical power and well-being. I experience a sense of freedom, and of oneness with the primitiveness of man and nature.
I have something of the same sort of feeling when I swim and ride horseback. To me there is an inspiring exultation in swimming. One seems to be conquering an element which seems at once strange and natural. The water admits you to itself, enfolds you, embraces you so gently, but it remains a constant challenge to your strength and skill. If you can not meet the test, you die. But I have never been afraid of water. It has always been friendly to me. It has provided me with thrilling pleasure and a sense of tingling health.
I am particularly fond of my early morning walk in the meadows near our home in Forest Hills, Long Island. Perhaps there is no thrill so great as that which comes with a walk in the freshness of morning air. Though I do not see, I can feel earth’s eager awakening after a night of rest. I can feel the first gentle rays of the sun, smiling, "Here we are again." I can feel the yielding softness of dew-freshened soil. The keen sweet smells of nature-in-the-morning stream about me. And the acuteness of smell so noticeable in the blind is some compensation for their sightlessness. (Luther Burbank was kind enough to tell me once that by touch and smell I could recognize and name plants and flowers more readily than most experts who had the use of their eyes as well). Now and then I pick a flower or a stalk of grass and examine it with my fingers. Each is a new revelation of the wonders of nature.
Image: Head and shoulders three-quarter profile of Helen Keller in Mrs. Perle's garden, 1924