Macfadden's Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise/CHAPTER IX
Wet feet, especially feet wetted by a walk in the chill dew of a meadow, ranked with the chief sanitary bugbears of our forefathers, and that a bugbear of that sort should now be ridden as a fashionable hobby is certainly an encouraging sign of the times. It proves at all events that hygienic prejudices are not unconquerable, but the mass-pilgrimages to the meadows of Woerishofen in Southern Germany make it evident that—well, that not all of our fellow-Caucasians have a right to poke fun at Charley Lambs' house-burning Chinamen. A citizen of Qwang-Soo, according to the most immortal essay of the gentle "Eliah," once found the remains of a cremated pig in the ruins of a burnt dwelling, and, ecstasied by a taste of the crust, hastened to spread the tidings of great joy. Pork, thus far, had always been eaten raw, and opinions differed as to the propriety of improving its flavor by a deviation from a time-honored custom. The cremation party at last prevailed, and even secured the sanction of legislators, but every time they felt a hankering after roast spare-ribs they thought it necessary to set a house afire.
Yet the price of an old Chinese farmstead cabin can hardly have exceeded that of an American ticket to Woerishofen, where the presiding priest of the new temple of health compels his converts to perform barefoot gallopades in a wet clover-field. No doubt a good many of them do get their money's worth in improved health, but the physiological value of Father Kneipp's prescription is simply that of a refrigeration cure, and every one of his forty-odd thousands of yearly visitors—some of them from distant Canada—would have derived exactly the same amount of benefit from a sponge-bath in the woodshed of his native ranch. The hindfoot plan of the Woerishofen prophet is, in fact, nothing but localized hydrotherapy, out and out less efficacious that the system of Squire Priessnitz, and efficacious at all only by virtue of long-continued repetitions. Special virtues of dew-moisture? Of South-German varieties of clover? Believe it, if you can, but stop smiling at Qwang-Soo pork procedures.
All there is of sense in the semi-mystic circulars of the clover-patch Æsculapius is founded on the fact that the early morning may be a specially propitious time for hydropathic transactions; the patients' lungs get the benefit of the cool morning air while his body is revelling in the pond of Siloam, or his feet in the parsonage pasture.
And since cool mornings are rare in the summer season of our lowlands, the "mountain cure" has a legitimate claim to the attention of health-seekers, especially where highlands have preserved their wealth of air-filtering forests. Carbonic acid, the lung-poisoning residium of respiration and combustion, is heavier than the atmospheric air, and accumulates in low places—in wells, in cellars, in deep, narrow valleys, etc.—and often mingles with the malarious exhalations of low, swampy plains. On very high mountains, on the other hand, the air becomes too rarefied to be breathed with impunity. It causes a spasmodic acceleration of the respiratory process, and is, therefore, especially distressing to diseased (wasted) lungs, whose functions are already abnormally quickened, and cannot be further stimulated without overstraining their mechanism.
In the temperate zone the purest and at the same time most respirable air is found at an elevation of about four thousand feet above the level of the sea—an altitude corresponding to the midway terraces of the European Alps, and the average summit-regions of our Southern Alleghanies. The broad tablelands of the Cumberland Range are several hundred feet above the dust and mosquito level.
Between the thirty-fourth and thirty-sixth degrees of north latitude the elevated plateaux have the further advantage of a climate that equalizes the contrasts of the seasons: it mitigates the summer more than it aggravates the winter.
Southerly winds predominate, and melt the snow with the same breezes that cool the mid-summer weeks, for in the dog-days the Mexican tablelands are considerably cooler than our Northern prairie States.
Night frosts, it is true, occur a month earlier in the lowlands, but mark the beginning of the season when a sojourn in a mountain camp attains its maximum of sanitary benefit. How absurdly the risk of a bivouac in the snow has been overrated, may be inferred from the fact that the rumor of several miraculous cures a few years ago attracted hundreds of consumptives to winter-camps in the upper Adirondacks, in a climate quite as rigorous as that of Western Canada. They lived in tents, most of them, and passed the days hunting and snow-shoveling, and the nights comfortably enough under twenty woolen blankets, if a dozen were not sufficent, and all faithfully following Dr. Dio Lewis' plan of giving the ice-cold and ice-pure highland air a chance to expurgate their microbe-ridden lungs. Invalids who would have coughed away their lives in a tropical swamp-resort recovered in these cloudland camps—not men only but women and feeble children. It has, indeed, often been observed that the moral effect of protracted confinement in a hospital is not favorable to the chances of recovery, and, moreover, a private establishment lessens the danger of contagion. And in the highlands of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Northern Georgia land and labor are so cheap that even people of moderate means can build a sanitarium of their own.
A log house can be made as airy as any tent, and is out and out more comfortable. A rough-hewed porch-roof, projecting like the veranda of a Swiss chalet, will keep the cabin both dry and airy, square holes in the center of each wall can serve as windows in fine weather, and during a storm can be kept shut with a sliding board. Between May and November the winds of the Southern Alleghanies come from the south or southwest, and in order to get the full benefit of the pure air, the house should face the plain from one of the thousand promontories that rise above the terrace-land of the "Piedmont country." Have the door on the south side and keep it wide open all night, as well as the windows or louvres in the opposite wall. If the windows do not reach to the ground, spread your bedclothes upon a hurdle bedstead, rather than on the floor, in order to enjoy the full current of the night-breeze.
Night and day one can thus breathe mountain airs that have not been tainted by the touch of earthly things since they left the pine forests of the Mexican Sierras. Every inspiration is a draught from the fountain-head of the atmospheric stream.
There is no need of living on oiled sardines where the brooks are full of speckled trout. Those who must break the commandment of Brahma (and the highland air confers certain immunities) may devour their humble relatives in the form of wild turkeys, quails, and 'possums, but the products of the vegetable kingdom are cheap and diversified enough to make up a tolerable menu. Sweet potatoes at 12 cents a peck, string beans 15, green peas 25, strawberries 10 cents a quart.
Whortleberries "huckleberries") are sold at 10 cents a gallon, but the pleasure of picking them is worth a great deal more. The lamest and weakest can join in that sport, for the shrub attains a height of three feet, and thus saves one the trouble of stooping, to conquer health by that utilitarian method.
Whenever the weather becomes too warm to guarantee the benefit of the enterprise on the main point, air baths should be supplemented by plunge baths in one of the pools of the never-failing mountain brooks. In the great forest-preserves of our East American highlands every glen has a rivulet of its own, born in the Land of the Sky, and preserving the temperature of its headwaters in the shade of spruce-pines, laurel-thickets, and overhanging rocks. Tellico River, with its fountain in the summit regions of the Unakas, at the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, is still as cold as spring-water where it and there are fine bathing pools on the very plateaux, especially those of the Cumberland Range, which at several points north of Chattanooga attains a width of ten miles, with midway dells and hillocks.from the foothills, fifteen miles further west,
Nor is there any lack of opportunities for trying Professor Tyndall's combination of cooling baths with blood-warming exercise. The choice between the various chances for entertaining work is the only difficulty, for Nature has provided them in embarrassing profusion. Expert bee-hunters can find three or four hive trees in a single day. The chestnut forests of the upper ridges are full of squirrels, and with a dog, a sack, and a good axe it is not difficult to catch one alive and turn it over to the quartermaster of the pet department. Climbing trees is an exercise that brings in action nearly every muscle of the human body, and, like the mal de monte, the shudder that seizes the traveler at the brink of Alpine precipices, the dizziness that takes away the breath returns it with interest and is a mechanical asthma-cure.
Entomologists may combine the gratification of their mania with useful exercise by rolling logs in quest of staghorn beetles. Log-rolling and tumbling rocks from the tops of projecting cliffs is the spice of life in the engineering enterprises which a camp full of male North Americans are sure to set afoot—such as enlarging the entrance of a cave, constructing a graded trail to the next spring, to the next wagon-road, or to a favorite lookout point.
Enterprises of that sort involve a good deal of grubbing and chopping, but a suit of Turner Khaki makes work pleasant. The despotism of fashion is not recognized in mountain camps. A pair of linen trousers, a hunting shirt, and loose necktie suffice for a hygienic summer-dress. In the afternoon remove the necktie and roll up the sleeves. It can do no harm to imbibe fresh air by all available means and let the cutaneous lungs share in the luxury. Nor is there any excuse for the widespread fallacy that it is dangerous, even in the most sultry nights, to remove the bed-blankets. Kick them into the farthest corner if they become too warm, and sleep in your shirt and drawers, or under a linen bed-sheet. Half-naked lazzaroni sleep the year round on the stone terrace of the Museo Borbonico, and outlive the asthmatic burghers in their sweat-box dormitories.
The body effects part of its breathing through the pores. Painting a man all over with yellow ochre and copal varnish would kill him as surely as hanging him by the neck. The confined air between the sleeper's body and a stratum of heavy blankets gets gradually surcharged with carbonic acid—in warm weather even to the verge of the saturation-point. The perspiration is thus forced back upon the body; and the lungs—perhaps already weakened by disease—have to do double work.
"Hier bin ich Mensch, hier darf ich's sein."
says Goethe's "Faust," in his mountain retreat, and a prejudice-defying friend of mine makes no scruple of arising from the pallet of his summer-camps and roaming the moonlit woods in the costume of Adam, drinking in oxygen through every pore, and wondering if the longevity of the ancients had not something to do with the fact that they could enjoy air-baths of that sort all summer, and not in moonlight only.