American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide

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  Catherine's Scrapbook

This scrapbook has been created based on my experience in an American Transcendentalism course at Shepherd College.  The scrapbook includes excerpts of works read, my own journal entries, and graphics I chose to enhance the presentation of my experience.
                                                                           ~Catherine Hall

Right: My American Transcendentalism class standing in front of the office of the Brooklyn Eagle, newspaper where Walt Whitman was a reporter. Pictured left to right: Sarah Alouf, Catherine Hall, Linda Tate, Anna Hughes, Deidre Schaefer, Patricia Dwyer, Dan Marrs, Lizzie Lowe (photo by Karen Karbiener). 


 

"It is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself. Talk of a divinity in man!"

"To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?"

"If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad?"

                                      ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

February 12, 2002
In response to Walden


Sketch from my journal dated February 11, 2002


 

I saw this man yesterday, and I know he has a story. I think I may find it in Walden. He is a victim of progress—a man who has dedicated himself to a life that no longer fits our high-tech, faster-moving modes of living:

He comes from a railroad family: both his father and grandfather, when not fighting wars, worked on the railroad. His father was proud of him when at the age of 16 he left school to work by his dad's side. He married his high school sweetheart after building them a small house on his father's land. His young wife helped his mom with the younger siblings, the chickens and the garden. A year later, their first child was born—a strong son.  They had two girls in the next 3 years, but it was his son that he raised to be independent and hard-working. The railroad paid good money, and he bought his wife her own car when she was 22 in 1962. 

His first disappointment came when his son shunned the railroad to go to college.  What can a man learn about life in college? His son became a computer salesman for IBM in 1978. Now, he works for AOL in northern Virginia.

Today, by the depressed railroad, he realizes he has been his own slave-driver.  He realizes that his son, too, has been his own slave-driver. The only difference is that he has been left behind in a way of life that no longer exists. He fears his son, too, will be left behind in 20 years.

He thinks about what this land looked like and sounded like before the railroad. The man who occupied the house overseeing the tracks died years ago. He knows the man's grandchildren—one grandson stills lives in that house. Perhaps one day he'll ask if the old man ever told stories about his childhood on the land. But today he has to collect his own memories of his work on the railroad. Tonight, he and his wife of 45 years are going to his retirement dinner.  What will he do tomorrow?


 

“Of the great educators of antiquity, I esteem Pythagoras the most eminent and successful; everything of his doctrine and discipline comes commended by its elegance and humanity, and justifies the name he bore of the golden-souled Samian, and founder of Greek culture. He seems to have stood in providential nearness to human sensibility, as if his were a maternal relation as well, and he owned the minds whom he nurtured and educated. 

The great principle with which he started, that of being a seeker rather than a possessor of truth, seemed ever to urge him forward with a diligence and activity unprecedented in the history of the past, and perhaps unequalled since."

                                                                                                                             ~Amos Bronson Alcott


January 29, 2002

The moon was full for my birthday last night—how delightful. I spent quite a bit of time admiring its luminous beauty from my porch through the trees. The limbs made a triangle frame for the moon. I thought about Pythagorus and realized he didn't study triangles in a sterile classroom with dull, flat, black-and-white textbook drawings—he found his theory in Nature. Yet that is what we expect schoolchildren to do now—no wonder I can't remember that theorem.  After that experience last night, what a surprise to find in my research today a quote about Alcott's opinion of Pythagorus—“elegant and eminent." Alcott claims him as his favorite classic philosopher because he was a "seeker" rather than a "possessor of truth."  We contradict Pythagorus's own understanding of life by teaching his theory out of context to dumbed-down schoolchildren.   


 

"Since for no two consecutive days is the shoreline precisely the same, it remains an elusive and undefinable boundary."

                                                        ~Rachel Carson, Edge of the Sea


January 23, 2002

This applies to so much of what I've read—things that I have incorporated into my own life. This idea that life as merely a boundary whose only constant is that it is ever-changing—everything keeps coming back to this. The ebb and flow of life is what makes each day worth living—knowing that today will be different than yesterday—that today's experience will build on yesterday’s—that we are forever molding, stacking or even tearing down structures in our minds to create meaning—synthesizing from the "elusive and undefinable" of our daily experiences.

(Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

 


 

"Successful education has the power to make the world strange again. Without any stake in the places where we live, we walk through days in which there are trees but no tree in particular, we drive along roads that could be anywhere, never registering the mountains to the east and lake to the west that determined, in fact, exactly where that route would run."

                                                     ~John Elder, "Teaching at the Edge"


January 22, 2002

As a future educator, I know I will struggle in a public school system

that does not acknowledge the necessity of "elusive and indefinable" knowledge.  I already fret about standardized tests and strict goal-driven curriculum. How can I simultaneously teach Transcendentalism and test knowledge of it?  Isn't that contradictory?


(Photo courtesy of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)



 

"I startled a weasel who startled me, and we exchanged a long glance.

The weasel was stunned into stillness as he was emerging from beneath an enormous shaggy wild rose bush four feet away. I was stunned into stillness twisted backward on the tree trunk. Our eyes locked, and someone threw away the key.

What does a weasel think about? He won't say. His journal is tracks in clay, a spray of feathers, mouse blood and bone: uncollected, unconnected, loose-leaf, and blown."

                                                       ~Annie Dillard, "Living Like Weasels"


January 23, 2002

The boundary theme isn't just external—it is apparent that Dillard


(Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)


 

crosses in and out of consciousness, too. I think we all do. One moment, she is writing a description—vivid and appealing—the next moment, she is waxing philosophical or reminiscing her childhood. She writes to the ebb and flow of life.  She, like Elder, realizes that it is meeting the unexpected that keeps life real—giving into the ebb and flow. She illustrates this with her experience with the weasel. The baseness of this experience—the grotesque beauty of the weasel's very existence—only serves to remind her of her own role as a human being. We—with our conscious calling—feel a need for permanence. We don't pass knowledge instinctly like the weasel—loose-leaf and blown. Instead, we must synthesize and articulate.



 

April 3, 2002
At Gussie's ranch

I got out of my car and headed toward the chair on the other side of the drive. Why would Gussie have a chair in her driveway? I didn't have to wonder for long. She met me by the chair and pointed at the ground. In a divot in the gravel laid four brown and tan speckled eggs—like chocolate-covered espresso beans, only larger, about 1-1/2 inches each. Close by, I heard their momma announcing her irritation at our presence. I spotted her prancing and ruffling her tail feathers just a few feet away. She was chestnut brown, almost roan in the sunlight with a  white collar. Gussie said she thought she was a ring-necked pheasant. As we moved away, she reclaimed her position on the ground nest. While we were drinking coffee and discussing Gus's new horse, a knock came on the door. As Gus realized this uninvited guest had driven up the side of the drive where the nest laid, she promptly told him that he need not measure her grass and

Pheasant


(Photo © FreeFoto.com)


 

 that he needed to drive out the other side of the driveway. As he pulled out, we checked the nest, and the entire clutch was intact. A second pheasant, also female, had shown up, too. She was performing some sort of ritual that involved ruffling her tail feathers and rolling her chest in the ground, all the while squawking a protest song!  A hippie pheasant—who would have thought. 

April 27, 2002

Turns out, the pheasants are probably grouses according to Sibley. The Birder's Handbook further describes the ruffed grouse: "Eggs [are] buff, lightly spotted with browns, [about] 1.5".  Female aggressively defends young or performs distraction display . . . roosts . . . occasionally in small unisex groups." 


  Catherine Hall is an English Education major at Shepherd College.

"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 College, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in Spring 2002 by Dr. Patricia Dwyer and Dr. Linda Tate. For more information on the course and the web project, visit "About This Site." © 2003 Linda Tate.