I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
~Henry David Thoreau, 1854~
AP English, my junior year of High school, was taught by a lanky old fellow with a shiny bald head on top supported by an explosion of white hair at the bottom. Oh yes, the balding mullet. He wore huge 1970 tortoise frame eye glasses over his large rotund shiny blue eyes, Dr. Scholls old man kicks replete with the old man uniform – a white dress shirt and Khaki pants – which were perfectly pressed every day. Occasionally he wore a powder blue sweater vest – always unbuttoned and drooping over his shirt and pants.
You got the feeling that back in the day Mr. A had been a damned fine student of the establishment at one time. But you also got the sense that somewhere along the way, he took a left turn and never looked back toward the right. Mr. A rocked our world. He challenged us to read the greats and not just because it was his job to do so – no, he challenged us to look under the words, to really peer into the author’s soul and grasp with furor the process which allowed the words to come to life on the paper of our textbooks, on the paper of all books.
Through Mr. A, I came to know Mr. Henry David Thoreau. I met many other great authors through Mr. A – Emerson, Wharton, Wolfe, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Shelley, Yeats, Browning, Frost, and several others. But Thoreau and Emerson stood out the most.
I remember a joint field trip – one for both AP English & Government class. It wasn’t anything terribly spectacular, just a meandering in a pasture as the cool wind whipped through the throng of high school kids popping bubble gum while wondering what we were doing in a field with our teachers.
Mr. A had us stand in front of him as he sat down on a stump in the middle of the field to read us a portion of Thoreau’s works. At least that’s the way I remember it. I froze that day as the words of Thoreau swirled about me with the wind. But my mind grew exponentially as my soul was set afire as words sprung off the pages of Mr. A’s worn copy of Walden.
When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.
~Henry David Thoreau~
Later that year, during the summer, I convinced my parents to let me sleep in a tent up on the corner of one of our fields at our farm. They agreed but only if I took our trusty dog, an Akita, with me every night. I read my Bible, slept on the hard ground, returning every night for two weeks. I stopped going not because I loathed the hard cold ground but because there was a bobcat which got very close to the tent and caused our dog to growl for more than a few nights. It simply was not safe for me to continue to sleep in a cloth tent with such a threat lurking nearby. Even though I abandoned my tent, the lessons learned from Thoreau have stayed with me all these years.
As many of my followers already know, my father was involved in a motorcycle accident on Monday morning. He’s got a few broken bones but is otherwise just fine. My Monday was very difficult (Although I am sure my father’s was infinitely more so!)
I have always found solace in Nature, ever since I was a little girl. The lessons learned from Mr. Thoreau further impressed the importance of Nature and the lessons to be learned within her realm. This is a principle of which I had not given a terrible amount of thought to until today.
Today I found refuge at a local Botanical Garden. I needed some quiet time alone with my thoughts, time to just be, time to reflect and be peaceful in comparison to yesterday’s wild emotional roller coaster ride. Not only was I excited at the prospect of quiet time in the midst of hundred year old trees, I was excited about pushing my body to do more, to be more. I looked forward to the comforting feeling of pushing my muscles to work. Even a few months ago this prospect would not have thrilled me. But I’ve changed. Moved forward with my life.
There were three elements of nature which held lessons for me today. I did not go seeking lessons. They came to me.
My first lesson was 35 minutes into my hike – well after I had leapt across a broken bridge in the middle of a swamp (don’t be impressed – it was just a foot or so), hiked up to the very top of a high hill and back again, and stopped to take a photo of rocks arranged in a peace sign. I hiked back down the alternative route and back onto the main trail. Within a few hundred feet, the wide river, fed by the tiny stream I had been hiking along, curved against the shore. The water had clearly etched this curve after years and years of work.
I stood there, staring at the tiny eddys swirling just below me. Twisting, turning, always flowing. Every so often, a series of large bubbles came to the surface then rushed furiously toward the eddys swirling like over-caffeinated toddlers just ahead of them. As the muddy water repeated the same action over and over again, new water each time, the bubbling churning up and out, like pressure, it hit me. Water, in a river, is always changing. Water is always moving, it carries life, never stops to think or reflect, there’s no time. Water moves forward here, never backward. Water just does. If something blocks the path, it adjusts course or carries the object blocking its way out of it’s way. Suddenly I hated the water for being able to do such a thing. I hated the water for not having to do anything but just flow in a riverbed or swirl about in an ocean, never worrying about anything. Then I realized that life is just like that – if you let it be – it will naturally change course, force blockages to move, and never think or reflect. I think that’s where water misses out – in thinking and reflecting, we learn from the negatives in our life. It’s through thinking and reflecting we are then allowed to change course. We are therefore like water in that we too, are capable of changing course, but we are not like water in that we have to think and reflect in order to do so.
My next lesson hid in a giant Water Oak reaching out far over the wide and muddy river. This tree arched well over the water yet clung to the shore with a tenacity which screamed a desire to never give up. Trees are constantly reaching for the sky yet solidly rooted in the Earth. They are strong, sheltering, comforting. Trees watch, wait, witness, and are filled with patience. Trees give us shade when we are tired and weary. They also let us know if wind is barely playing or barreling down upon us with a frightful intensity. Mothers are like trees. We arch over those we love with sheltering arms. We cling to the shore (our home) with a tenacity like no other. We reach for the sky with our hopes and dreams yet stay firmly rooted in reality when things don’t quite work out. We watch, wait, witness, and are expected to be filled with patience – some of us are better at it than others. Some of us get bowled over by the lightest wind, others only fall in the face of a stiff derecho wind. But we all are. We stand in the great forest – all different kinds, in a band – together. For it is when we find our forest we are the strongest.
And finally, my last lesson depended upon a gleam of yellow – a lone daffodil at the edge of a swamp like a gleam of sunshine in the darkest of caves. Shortly up the hill from that lonely daffodil was a whole gaggle of daffodils. Even the most common beauty will spring forth in the gloomiest and most unexpected places. Even when we feel down, sad, lost, left out, trapped in the darkness, we are still beautiful. We may just be a bulb beneath the ground, but one day, with even what we feel is not enough care or support, we still bloom. Optimum care is of course, always desired, but even in the darkest of circumstances, we will always bloom, just as long as we learn to grow first – push ourselves through all the dirty stuff on top of us – and then we’ll be a beautiful flower in the midst of a powerful forest next to an always changing river.