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Pages from Linda's Journal


Wednesday, January 23, 2002

I walked to my house and sat in the yard for ten minutes—though that was hard for me to do, impatient girl that I am. I was thinking about my house, my yard, my beloved community, of Shepherdstown, of my invigorating and soul-satisfying work at the college (just one block away), of my place on the planet.

It's a good place, my place. I've temporarily lost it a bit—feeling overwhelmed by my clutter and dirt, daunted by all the work to be done on the house, very cognizant of the reshaping the yard needs, swamped by the many demands on my time—work, work, work—and all that I want to do is read, write, walk, play with Abbie, have dinner with friends.

When I got to my yard tonight, I sat in one of my chairs and immediately looked up—“my patch of sky." There was a half moon, peeping in and out of a charcoal gray swirl of clouds. Wildness right above me—wet, springing earth under my feet. Four days after four or so inches of snow, it feels like spring. Everything has melted, and I was perfectly warm in my rain slicker. The ground gave under my feet, the plush of just wet, just drenched earth—not the muddy, slick, "overfluent" earth (to use Anne Bradstreet's word), but the soft, sensual, loamy, dark and rich earth, a cradling earth, fertile, lush, and packed with seeds ready to burst.


Above: Linda Tate (photo by Patricia Dwyer)


 

And then as I sat on the loamy earth and felt the swirling sky, I looked at the buildings and trees and yards and streets around me. My yard, my house, my town, my community. Such a place to call home—I LOVE MY HOME! I love all the things my home is—my physical space, my place here, my belonging. If I had to draw a picture of "my immediate universe with a few selected points of significance" (as Hannah Hinchman did), I would have a great time. I'm not much of a drawer—or even a very good cartographer—but it is so wonderful to think of myself rooted here, woven so tightly into the fabric of this part of the world. Sitting in my yard, looking around, I thought, "My God! I will be looking at this space, this place for many years to come." That doesn't feel the least bit confining or limiting. On the contrary, it gives me a great sense of belonging, not only to the community and to the town but—more importantly—to myself.

Watching the clouds move across the sky, seeing the moon come out for a few seconds here and there, I was reminded that my internal stormy weather is only that. The fixed heart, the steady soul is the sacred, quiet place in me—the indomitable Linda who thrives in the midst of wild chaos and cloud. The moon—steady, constant, there, giving light (reflecting light), shining even if unseen, there. So too my self, my "me."

I have a sense of home tonight, a sense of belonging here, to Shepherdstown, to Shepherd College, sitting with my students and with my dear friend Patricia, writing, writing, writing, to the world, to myself. And in so many ways, my journal is my home. When I can have pen and paper, I can find myself again and come home.


 

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Another Transcendentalist walk. Again, I went to my yard—but what a different night: clear and crisp, stars shining bright in the sky, Orion’s Belt hanging right there, as if the sky had its thumb in its belt, saying, "Yep! I’m here!"

So much good stuff tonight—Thoreau, Walden, "Ktaadn," "Walking." I am struck with the image of excavating down to the core rock foundation, digging away from state, church, family, poetry, philosophy, getting down to the bedrock. I love that marvelous passage in The Maine Woods about Thoreau climbing Ktaadn. He talks of the earth being bare rock. It reminds me so much of camping at Riggs Glacier (in Glacier Bay, Alaska), out in the wee hours in the eerie dusk, the land so newly born from the ice and rock. Thoreau says, "This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night. . . . It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet Earth." The wonderful, wonderful ending moves me every time: "Contact! Contact! Who are we? Where are we?"

But is it only in nature that we have the contact, that we get to the bedrock? Now that my life is not full of wilderness expeditions, is that opportunity for "contact" gone? I was struck all evening—all week—by how much of Thoreau’s commentary relates to the work I am doing with my house—and on a parallel plane with my psyche, soul, spirit. Cleaning out the closets—taking everything out—getting down to the bare rock of the floor, ceiling, wall, working with my house and getting to know it in a core way I’ve not known before. And then carefully, slowly, consciously choosing what goes back in, jettisoning the rest.

And as I sat in my yard tonight, I thought of how I’ll take the ground itself back to its foundations this year—getting rid of the "polite" (but ugly) shrubs, mulching and spading and tending and making the whole ground ready to bring forth new life in future years.

I can see that there’s a danger in becoming enslaved to your house, but there is also a way in which—if you are conscious and awake—the loving care of your home and your piece of earth and your very own soul—the home inside—there is a way in which this is an expression of the real. It’s a way to make contact.


 

Sunday, March 17, 2002
St. Patrick’s Day in Boston!
Sitting at Starbuck’s with Lizzie and Patricia

Here we are in Boston. Wow! Beacon Hill is great! I was thinking this morning, in our beautiful guest house on Beacon Hill, that it’s so hard to believe this is the "starving time" place, the world where Anne Bradstreet and Anne Hutchinson and Hester Prynne and Abigail Williams walked, breathed, lived (well, Hester didn’t really live here, but in many ways she lived here—LIVES here—even more than the others). Such a thriving, busy, boisterous, and wealthy place. The Puritans would be shocked, I think, by what’s evolved. Was present-day Beacon Hill what they had in mind when they began to build their city upon a hill?


 

Sunday, March 17, 2002
Eliot House, Beacon Hill

The service at King’s Chapel this morning was far different from any other Unitarian service I’ve ever attended. Very high church—liturgy, Book of Common Prayer, ritual, recitation, the whole nine yards.

The church is very beautiful. They still have the family pew boxes, and the pulpit is one of the most interesting I’ve ever seen. Earl (Rev. Earl Holt, senior minister) said it’s the oldest continuously operating pulpit in the United States. More than 30,000 sermons have been preached there.

I think the service gave us a good sense of what Emerson would have been reacting against—very high church, very prescribed liturgy (still), big emphasis on sin and appealing to God through Christ. I read later in the day that Emerson referred to Unitarianism at the time as "corpse-cold." I can see why.


 

Tuesday, March 19, 2002
Sitting in the replica of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond

Here we sit, gathered together in "Thoreau’s cabin." Steve Carlin (director of the Walden Pond State Reservation) has just taken us on a walk to the original site of the cabin. It’s snowy here, extremely beautiful, and I am definitely, finally, getting my winter fix. It makes me want to read Thoreau’s essay, "A Winter Walk," again. I love the sense of going out into the woods, the thick snow muffling the world’s sounds, excerpt for one lone bird calling (who?), and the pond, quiet, still, gray/white winter glass, not frozen, just a wet slate ready for writing a new story. "The Pond in Winter"—the pond in winter!—and spring about to come. How perfect!

We saw a couple of men fishing in different parts of the pond, we saw them standing in gaiters, reflected in the mirror of glassy water below, "two fishes with one hook." We walked quietly on Thoreau’s path, the Native American path, the path walked by so many other pilgrims. We saw the rock cairn started by Alcott in 1872 as a tribute to Thoreau.

And now we sit in the replica of his cabin. I sit in the corner chair by the wood stove, Sarah sits in the chair by the three-legged table, Deidre sits in the chair at the desk. Dan’s leaning over the desk, his journal anchored on the desk’s surface, Cat, Anna, Lizzie, Patricia sit gathered on the bed. All of us reaching in, calling to the voice of God within, inviting Thoreau to be here with us, gathered up together in the Oversoul, the spirit, the web of life that is all of us as one.

I’m glad—deeply satisfied—that we were here on a day in late winter. The drizzle, the damp, the bone and chill of it, the quiet hush all through makes warm the heart of Transcendentalism.


 

Tuesday, March 19, 2002
The Old Manse, Concord, Massachusetts

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall with Nathaniel and Sophia.

Those etchings in the glass panes were so dear and sweet . . .

. . . Una loving the glass chandeliers on the trees during the winter storm, though she was only ten months old

. . . Nathaniel and Sophia marking their love in his study.


 

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 have been.

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, head-in-the-clouds Bronson.

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 for me!

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 belongings.

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 home?


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 J. 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.” Yes!

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.


  Linda Tate is a professor of English at Shepherd University.

"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.