American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide

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  Pages from Frances's Journal

"MP3 Off"

I tend to be obsessed with productivity. Itís for this reason that I havenít taken more than one walk in the area around my apartment since we moved in a few months ago. So little is ďaccomplishedĒ on a walk that I have a hard time justifying it unless Iíve got a large space of free time or Iíve been working particularly hard. Today, I took a walk because Iíve been working particularly hard. Itís been crazy the past two days, and itís planning on being crazy all this weekend and into next week. 

Hannah Hinchman really inspires me; yesterday I read the passage in Chapter 5 of A Trail Through Leaves, in which she takes a hike to meditate, and wanted badly to be outside with my journal. I couldnít walk yesterday because I had dinner plans with my dad, so I allowed myself a walk today. And what a great walk.

I started walking away from my apartment on the road Iíd taken the first time I walked here, but felt so uninspired I almost turned around. I wanted to make myself go on so I could get some exercise, satisfy the urge from yesterday, and hopefully have something to journal about. So I kept walking. I spotted, pretty quickly, what looked like the mouth of a little trail going into supposedly shallow woods following the road. Feeling like exploring, I decided to see if it was a trail.

At first, I thought it was probably just a deer trail because its narrow way went straight through some briars that I had to navigate carefully around. But I hadnít walked far before it turned into a well grooved four-wheeler trail. I followed it for a long time, amazed at how many trees grew in what Iíd assumed to be a tightly packed residential area. If I hadnít known better, I would have sworn I was farther out of Shepherdstown.

As the trail forked two or three times, I always chose the path in the general direction of my apartment, hoping to find a more convenient outlet than the one that had led me to the path in the first place. One break in the path, though, led me in the opposite direction. I came to a T in the trail where I could see out of the wood; it ended in a big field, looking beautifully warm with heavy color on the horizon and gold in the grass. Some white-tailed deer grazing by a spiky group of small trees inspired me to finally turn off my Mp3 player. I donít know why Iíd taken it in the first place. 

The open field reminded me of the walking and exploring I did as a kid, particularly with Anna on the seemingly never-ending land her grandparents owned in Morgan County, where we played equally unending games of fairies and explorers. I was helpless to leave the field without walking in it. I ventured out, armed with the excuse that I was just trying to orient myself and find the highway. I crossed the field, careful not to wander into any yards; and I did find the road. 

Crossing the field turned out to be anticlimactic; the first vivid childhood recollection was gone, and I was nervous about someone seeing me and fussing at me for trespassing. I followed a pair of wide tire marks to the road, past backyards with well-tended lawns in contrast with the tangles of yellow weeds in the field. I watched the houses for people, to whom I was preparing to explain how I had only gone for a short walk and gotten lost (untrue) and how I was just trying to find the road (true). When I spotted the road, I had to navigate between yards, finding the least intrusive outlet to the road to get a look at where I was, what road I was on. I oriented myself with a yellow ďcurveĒ sign that I recognized from my only previous walk. The field, it turns out, opened onto the same road Iíd walked on in the first place, so I hadnít gone as far as it had felt.

Back on the trail, I found a big tree broken, probably by ice, into a great sagging Y. It had beautiful hanging seeds that had dried out when that half of the tree had died. The seeds hung in such aesthetically pleasing groups, like papery brown grapes, that I decided to scrap my ďleave no traceĒ philosophy to take a branch, justifying it with the fact that they were already dead. It reminded me of something my mother would collect for decoration or art for the porch.  So I pulled the limb toward me, hand over hand like I was climbing it, until I had the branch I wanted. Amazingly, the piece snapped off cleanly and without coaxing; when it snapped, I could smell the dry wood. It smelled nothing like wood, but like everything cool weather should: rosemary, cinnamon, mint, chilled lemon; something cold to eat. I carried the branch home gingerly, holding it in front of me like a torch or flag, careful not to shake off the delicate seeds. Now itís the window treatment in my bedroom.


 

"Walden Pond"

At Walden Pond, itís finally okay with me to be cold. I left all the whining, every particle of complaint, behind.  And I just enjoyed, not for the sake of enlightenment, or the grade, but just to enjoy. The meditative spirit in simply using my senses because I was given them, because theyíre there, inspires me, shows me the genius of sitting with my eyes closed to listen, and not to shut things out. I enjoyed the peace and sun because theyíre beautiful, and not because I thought I should recognize their beauty.

Then later, the revelation stayed with me. I donít know if itís growing maturity, or the changing seasons, or if Iíve learned something, but my inner voice is a lot less whiny about being outside. The day at Walden Pond, it was sunny and beautiful in the afternoon, but there was still a nip in the air. Normally, I would say, ďOh how beautiful. But itís a bit cold; Iím not really enjoying it.Ē That day, I reveled in the chill. I had goose-bumps, but they didnít bother me; they just made me appreciate the sun more. The tension of ďIím cold so Iím not really happy out hereĒ on an otherwise beautiful day is gone. And it feels great.


  Take a look at a page from Frances's sketchbook and some photographs from her camera

Frances Gray is an English major at Shepherd University (Spring 2006).


"American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide" was produced by students in ENGL 446, American Transcendentalism, and ENGL 447, American Literature and the Prominence of Place: A Travel Practicum. These courses were team-taught in the Department of English at Shepherd University (formerly Shepherd College), Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in Spring 2002 by Dr. Patricia Dwyer and Dr. Linda Tate. The courses were taught again in Spring 2006 by Dr. Linda Tate. For more information on the course and the web project, visit "About This Site." © 2003 and 2006 Linda Tate.