Tuesday, March 19, 2002
Outside Sleepy Holly Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts
We’ve just returned to the van from our drizzly climb up to Author’s Ridge.
Alcotts, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne—what a time and what a place that must
Who calls to me the most? Where would my writer’s garret be?
I think I would be most like Louisa May, not just because she was a woman, but
also because she was more temperate, more balanced, more taking of the amazing
influences and then synthesizing them. Not the sage, aloof Waldo. Not the cranky
misanthrope Henry. Not the dark and brooding Nate. Not even the apple-eating,
Louisa May brought it back down to earth, made their Concord spirit life-sized,
voices singing and laughing in the lanes and houses here.
Monday, January 23, 2006
After our first “Transcendentalist” walk of the semester
The contrast between four years ago, when
I taught this course with Patricia, and this winter, teaching it on my own, is
profound. I walked to my old house—remembered sitting there in one of the wood
chairs Jennifer gave me, looking up at the sky, feeling my feet rooted to the
damp, dank earth, marveling that I had just bought that property. And I imagined
being there, on that piece of land for years and years to come.
But now, tonight, in 2006, the last year
has occurred—in all its joyous changes—and I don’t “own” that house and that
piece of land anymore (whatever that means: to “own” the land). Jim has come
into my life, and everything—everything—is in flux, everything is up for grabs,
everything is possible. The world is new again, and I am beginning to feel I am
having an original relation to the universe—at least, it’s an original relation
After looking at my old yard—empty now
without Jennifer’s table and chairs, unkempt with the shrubs scraggly and
overgrown—I decided to walk on to Patricia’s house. I told her that I’d be
thinking of her tonight—can’t help it. Four years ago, we were settling into our
homes, claiming our lives—we thought we’d be here for years and years and years.
But now comes new love and new life and new work—and these houses no longer
ours, our lives moved forward elsewhere.
Are we still here in any way? I’m always
disconcerted when current students don’t know past students (how can it be that
no one knows Sarah Alouf or Anna Deeny or Julie Banks?). And that makes me
wonder: will there come a day when Patricia’s vision is no longer felt here,
when my energy is no longer part of the fabric of this town, this school?
As I walked back, coming down Back Alley,
approaching my old house, I looked at the dark façade—never any sign of
life there anymore. No lights, one car, nothing in the yard to indicate that
people love and care for this place. And I begin to think that maybe home is not
the place but the love, the people. So much love spilled out of that
house all the time I was there.
My new home very much carries all of the
love with me—the spirited Miss Abbie and the impromptu visits from Catie (when
she’s here) and Kathy and Chris, sometimes others. And now of course, the new
home is graced with the presence of Jim.
As I think about making a home with Jim, I
realize that the house itself—the physical structure—is not the “home” we are
making. We are already making home together even though we live in two places.
Yes, we dream of a fireplace and a big living room for his music and a
screened-in porch for my writing and reading and a fenced-in yard for Miss Abbie
and hidie-holes for Tillie Tat—but the physical space is so much more
insignificant than the home we make together with our beloved critters. We’ve
both been dreaming about houses lately, about moving, about packing up old
So in some ways, with the turn of the
spiral (spoken about in such depth with the Postcolonial class in this very
room), I’m right back at many of the same questions I was posing four years ago.
What is home? What does it mean to be settled, to be part of a loving community,
to experience right livelihood as part of that home and community? I know I’ll
be asking these very same questions again and again and again, just from another
ring of the spiral.
February 13, 2006
“I left the woods for as good a reason as
I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and
could not spare any more time for that one.”—Henry David Thoreau
We just returned from a truly wintry
walk—Shepherdstown the day after a snowstorm! Ah…I have walked this town so
many times in the snow.
The quote from the “Conclusion” of
Walden was a good one for me tonight and one I’ve been thinking about a lot
the last few weeks. I walked the very familiar streets of Shepherdstown—started
with a walk through Sonya’s garden behind Knutti, the place where the tennis
courts used to be, where Kathy and Tina played. I could say there are lots of
ghosts in Shepherdstown—but they aren’t bad ghosts at all. They’re
memories, fond memories, of happy faces and good friends and close times, a life
coming into full bloom. Shepherdstown is where I began to experience living
deliberately—where I really started to become myself.
I walked past the Blue Moon (I started to
say the Town Run!), past Patrinka’s house and the mill, past Scooter’s house as
far as Rachael and John’s house (the Bardi party!), then turned around and came
back up Mill Street to German Street, saw the train station in the distance,
walked past Jenn’s first apartment and Anna’s old building and the Yellow Brick
Bank, past the Lost Dog and the Meck and Sky’s the Limit, marveled at the snowy
branches of the tree in front of the library (where earlier today I went in and
told Hali my news), but amazingly enough I did not think much about my old home
tucked there around the corner.
As I came back inside the warmth of Knutti,
I was thinking about the young woman of 31 who moved here 15 years ago.
How little I knew of myself! Despite my degrees and my adventures, my travels to
Alaska and my journeys across the U.S., despite my far-flung friendships and my
close ties to home, I didn’t yet know myself.
I came to Shepherdstown to make my way in
the world—to set off on my own without the structure of school or the security
of family. Partly, I suppose, I found what I sought: I got close to making my
goal of owning my own house by age 40 (I was 41), and I’ve gathered friends, a
doggie, a community, made a lovely life teaching. But there was so much more to
my life in Shepherdstown than I ever could have anticipated. I let myself become
a writer (a real writer!). I plunged into a voyage of self-discovery I never
imagined possible (in its deep sorrow and its thriving growth). I struggled with
depression on a scale I didn’t know existed and wrestled with a sometimes
debilitating chronic illness. I was hurt more deeply than I realized it was
possible to hurt. I grew to love my students and my work with them, and they
brought me joy beyond measure, again and again, always when I most needed it. I
have managed, as Thoreau said, to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of
life” and, I say it with Jim, “to cut a broad swath and shave close.”
I have done this—lived deep, sucked out
the marrow of life, shaved close—but now life calls me forth again—to more. I
did not know there was all this more to want. I have spared enough time for this
life in Shepherdstown—15 wonderful years here—and now it is time to live
another life. I imagine what the next life will bring—building a new program at
DU, making a home with Jim, finding ways to live and thrive despite our health
struggles, loving and growing and deepening, sucking out more marrow and shaving
ever closer. But I’m certain there will be so much more in this new life than I
can anticipate now.
Will there come a time when I walk the
streets of a new neighborhood in Colorado, see the yellow lights in the winter
windows as I did tonight (ah, Scooter and Kelly’s cozily lit home!)? Will there
come a time when that place is truly home, when I’ll walk into our home on a
cold wintry evening, anticipating as my daily reality the love that will be our
March 14, 2006
Last full day of our trip
I love the image of Louisa May writing in her
garret—eating apples? I told Jim last night about being in her room, and he
asked me if I spied any apples
He listens so attentively to me in all ways and makes connections so rapidly
that he’s often ahead of me in my own life, for I hadn’t even thought to look
for apples in that room J.
I might have been able to do what Henry
[Thoreau] did—at least part of the time—but Louisa’s room/garret is the one that
calls to me. Perhaps it is because there is love and community nearby—right in
the house and then in the houses surrounding. Henry wasn’t a hermit, but he
could live off there with all that quiet. He was definitely an introvert who
liked a fair amount of conversation and company. I’m an extrovert who likes a
fair amount of solitude—and I suspect Louisa was the same. But when I am in the
thick of a writing project, I—like Louisa—get into the “vortex,” as she called
it, the “zone,” as I call it.
I found a beautiful card of Orchard House
yesterday that says a lot of what I feel about Jim—and I might put it in a
little frame for somewhere in our house. It was written by Anna Bronson Alcott
on her wedding day, May 23, 1860:
I’ve felt for the first time in my life
the joyful consciousness that I am truly loved by a truly good man, one that
with all my heart I can love and honor—one who loves me for myself alone, and
with an unselfish, patient, gentle affection such as I never thought to waken in
a human heart.
I often think, when it is time to “write in my
journal” for Transcendentalism course purposes, that I’m not being thoughtful
enough, get too quickly drawn back to my own life. But of course, the
Transcendentalists—from Emerson on down—wanted us to look at our own lives, to
claim our own lives more fully. As Whitman said, “Not I, not anyone else can
travel that road for you—you must travel it for yourself.” Levi read from
“Self-Reliance” yesterday—and it was so good to be reminded of that essay: “What
I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.”
I was also thinking that Bronson and Abba
May Alcott were thinking a lot about love—about the importance of
nurturing each other and letting each other grow and blossom as intended. He was
a bit nutty (bless his little heart), and he did put his family at risk at
times—but he did have a good heart and did value each person’s development. Alan
and I talked a lot Sunday about life and love, what life is for, what love is
for, and the further I go with Jim, the more I am validated and strengthened in
my belief that our purpose here is to “love one another.” We are to nurture,
nourish, support, care for, love one another—not just our mates, though
if we are lucky this is the highest, most sustained expression of that love—but
everyone: our family, our closest friends, our acquaintances and community
members, our students and colleagues, the people we encounter everyday, even, as
Tom Fox showed, our enemies. “Love was the first motion,” wrote the Quaker
journaler John Woolman, and from that first motion one lives a life of meaning
and vibrancy and honor and integrity. I don’t always accomplish this—but I try,
at least a lot of the time. Love, for me, is the way I connect to the oversoul,
the way I experience and express the spark of the divine within.
March 14, 2006
Library, Thoreau Institute, Walden Woods
I’m sitting here writing while listening
to Jeff Kramer talk with the students. This isn’t how we should live—this is how
we should think about living. We should live and think deliberately.
Yes! We went this morning to the site of
the original cabin: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life, and not discover when I came to die
that I had not lived. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,
to live Spartan-like and put to rout all that was not life, I wanted to cut a
broad swath and shave close….”
Such a beautiful room. Such a beautiful
place. Such an inspiration. And so great to see all of the students writing and
reading and listening to Jeff, everyone engaged—people having hiked and
explored. What a great day! How great to be part of passing the torch.
What a day we have had! What a day! It was
drizzly, wet, rainy, damp, gray, misty this morning—fog on the water—the walk to
the original site was invigorating, brisk, great. By the time we got back
to the bus, the sun was starting to peek out, and by the time we got back from
lunch in Concord, the sun was shining brilliantly. It is blue, blue, blue skies
now—and we heard birds on the walk and saw pussy willows budding out and a
chipmunk scurrying out and the ice went out Saturday, Steve said. So we are
right here as the seasons are changing. Last night, a booming thunderstorm came
through the area. Ah…heralding the new spring.