Henry David Thoreau

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Summer Challenge: Selkirk Shores State Park

Published August 8, 2014 by Susan Woodward

When I began to tell people about how much I was looking forward to getting away in a little cabin in the woods all by myself, a lot of people kept asking about whether or not I would be lonely all alone. Or they expressed concerns for my safety.

I really am okay with being on my own. It’s how I recharge my batteries.

Selkirk Shores State Park 3And so today I plugged into Selkirk Shores.

“Yet I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and tender, the most innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural object, even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man. There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature and has his senses still” (Thoreau, “Solitude”, Walden).

In spite of the weather reports claiming that we were going to be in for thunderstorms, the sky was filled with puffy clouds, and the sun beamed down on the waters of Lake Ontario. I hiked along the ridge high above the lake and listened to the waves rolling up against the shore.

While Thoreau’s energy seems to come to him from the Earth…as in the woods and the stillness of the pond…mine comes from moving water. His close relationship with the land allowed him to recognize where he was even in pitch dark.

“It is darker in the woods, even in common nights, than most suppose. I frequently had to look up at the opening between the trees above the path in order to learn my route, and, where there was no cart-path, to feel with my feet the faint track which I had worn, or steer my the known relation of particular trees which I felt with my hands, passing between two pines for instance, not more than eighteen inches apart, in the midst of the woods, invariably, in the darkest night” (Thoreau, “The Village”, Walden).

That is how in tune he was with the Earth, and he found that he was most revived there. Even his rejuvenation in Walden Pond is from much stiller water than what rejuvenates me. I like to seek out creeks,waterfalls, and large lake shores that give the illusion of being at the ocean. Having been brought up among the vast Great Lakes, it is easy to imagine that one is at the ocean, albeit without the salt. The sound of moving water sings to my soul a song more pleasant than any created by a musical instrument. Thoreau’s most treasured songs came to him from the winds in the trees and from the birds and animals in his woods.

I love those songs, too, but it is water that not only soothes, but energizes me.

Selkirk Shores State Park 4

Water Wars

I sat down to watch what seemed to me to be the front lines of an epic battle between the Water Warriors of the Creek and those of the Lake. Where the creek emptied into the lake, the rolling waves seemed to come in to push the creek water back from its invasion. The effect created quite a swirling of forces, battling to claim their place. The clashing of the two stirred up the sand and mud from the bottom, giving the waters an almost reddish hue like the blood spilled on a battlefield. The lake, of course, had the upper hand with its sheer size of reinforcements, and the winds blowing in off it brought in the stronger militia; however, the creek held its own against the mighty lake in the ongoing struggle.

I must admit, it was fun to watch.

I tore myself away from the water and turned toward the inland trails. Once I finally found the beginning of the trails, I was pleased to find that they were adequately marked so that I would not get lost. Then again, I had a Great Lake on one side, smaller Salmon Lake on another, a creek on the third, and then a road on the fourth. I really wasn’t in any danger of getting lost, but I liked the certainty of a marked trail. Sorry, Thoreau!

Selkirk Shores State Park 6 Selkirk Shores State Park 1 Kissing Trees A slice of love

Once again, I was grateful for Deep Woods Off! I do not know how Thoreau managed with the bugs…he’s a stronger person than I am!

All bugs aside, it was a gorgeous walk. And despite the campground seeming to be almost full to capacity, very few ventured onto the trails. I only ran into one couple (several times) as they jogged the trails. Other than that, it was as if I was the only person for miles and miles. Squirrels skittered along the branches overhead, causing a slight shower of acorns at one point. Smiling, I brought home one of those raindrops to remind me of how happy I felt to simply be present at that moment.

A new trail was being cut by the parks department, and a logger must have come across a heart-shaped tree trunk because he left a slice of that trunk propped up against another tree. Seeing it made my own heart swell, as if it was a message from the Woodland Gods that I am loved.   🙂  I even came across two trees that appeared to be kissing!

This is the link that outlines my hike. I did a lot of stopping and starting the app as I paused to take pictures, rest, or simply sit and admire the scenery. However, it is useful to me to record which trails I have hiked.

I hiked with MapMyWalk! Distance: 3.95mi, time: 01:31:30, pace: 23:09min/mi, speed: 2.59mi/h.
http://mapmywalk.com/workout/674403985

The rains did come that day, but not until I was pulling my car alongside my cabin once again. Not the thunder and lightning that had been expected, but a gentle steady rain that also sang to my soul. I spent the evening with a quiet meal and a lovely Harry Dresden novel (I did bring something other than Walden with me…). I’d refreshed myself with the scents of peppermint and lavender in my shower, and luxuriated in the tingle it left on my skin as I read.

It was lovely.

 

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Summer Challenge: Derby Hill Bird Observatory

Published August 4, 2014 by Susan Woodward

I really was hoping to see a large variety of birds and hear a splendid chorus today, but it was the thrum of bugsong to the insectual tune of “Lunch is Now Being Served on the Main Path” that made for a rather short walk. It seems that Deep Woods Off is a delicacy at Derby Hill, and every flying insect was happy to find me on the menu.

“I was as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito making its invisible and unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet that ever sang of fame” (Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”, Walden).

So, H.D., do you mean that you were affected in a way that the sound of a mosquito is something you cannot ignore, like the blaring sound of a trumpet or bugle at Reveille? Or did it affect you with its melodious hum like a jazz tune? If it’s option number one, then I get you! If it’s the latter, then I would like to introduce you to “Lunch is Now Being Served on the Main Path” and see if you will still be singing the same tune.

These pesky creatures managed to get behind my sun glasses and into my eyes!

Needless to say, I did not stay long at Derby Hill. As pretty as it was, there was hardly a bird in sight, and those who were flying nearby took off when they heard me fighting with the bugs. But at least I managed to get a few pictures before running away!

Derby Hill 1

The paths through the fields and forest were actually quite charming even though those that came to greet me were significantly less so!

Derby Hill 2

I am sure the birds love this sumac…and the picture does not do justice to the beauty of the flowering stems.

Derby Hill 3

Along with the bugs that most likely house themselves in what is left of this tree, Nature does remind me that with life, there must also be death. I accept and respect that…but then I got the hell out of there in an effort to preserve the life I have!

I hiked with MapMyWalk! Distance: 0.81mi, time: 24:29, pace: 30:14min/mi, speed: 1.98mi/h.
http://mapmywalk.com/workout/675660723

As a result of my bug experience, I decided that, at least for this afternoon, I would do my exploring in my car for a bit.

Amish School House

In my travels back to the cabin, I came across an Amish school house. As I looked at what seems to be a one room structure, I wondered how my students would fare in such a place. They already think that spending 55 minutes with me in room E210 is akin to Dante’s sojourn through Hell…can you imagine if they had to spend a whole day with me in one room? They’d go nuts. I have a lot of respect for the teachers of old who taught all subjects to all grade levels all in a single room. I cannot imagine how they did it. And so my respect and utter awe goes out to whoever is in charge of this school. I couldn’t do it!

Fernwood Feed Mill

Quite honestly, I wanted to pop in to see if Ike Godsey was in! For those of you too young to know who Ike Godsey or his wife Corabeth are, then click the pic for a link. Although this feed mill may not be a general store like Ike’s, it certainly did have the nostalgic aura of one. Like my admiration for those one-room schoolhouse teachers, I also admire the pride that came with a Mom-and-Pop business. Sadly, today’s economy does not allow small businessmen to survive, let alone thrive. The quaintness and charm of places visited on television or in literature…like Godsey’s store on Walton Mountain or the Olsen’s Mercantile in Walnut Creek…is not as readily available as it once was. The mercantile was not only a place of business, but a place of social gathering as well. Thoreau, too, enjoyed his visits to the “civilized” realm away from the pond.

“Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homeopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs” (Thoreau, “The Village”, Walden).

This goes to show that even though Thoreau chose to sequester himself in the woods, he was by no means a hermit. He knew the difference between loneliness and solitude. Over the past couple of years I have come to know and cherish that difference. I guess that is why the words of both Thoreau and Emerson have a profound effect upon me. I hope that I shall be able to convey that to my students as we read from the Transcendentalists.

*Sigh* I know that there are still country general stores out there, but they are few and far between. Their numbers have been greatly reduced by an economy that does little to sustain them.

On the flip side, though, I do have to admit that I love Wegman’s. Hypocritical?  Mehhhh… My apologies to the Godseys and the Olsens.

Hydro Plant

Behind the Feed Mill is the Fernwood, NY Hydro Plant. That’s what the stone sign says! When I’d gone canoeing earlier in the weekend, I’d been warned not to go too far down the pond to the dam. Barbara, the cabin proprietor, had been talking about beavers building dams in the creek. She also talked about how the town was doing something with a dam, so I assumed that her warning pertained to running into a beaver dam. Of course, I did go in that direction out of curiosity and a photo op, but seeing no place where beavers had built anything at all, I’d turned around disappointed. It seems that if I had continued on, though, I would have been treated to Fernwood’s version of white water rafting. I don’t know how well the canoe would have taken it! After having experienced white water rafting in Colorado’s stretch of the Rocky Mountains (and being terrified at being thrown into the middle of the raft when going over a waterfall), I do not think the Fernwood Falls experience would have added to the serenity of my Walden Project. I am glad I turned around, but it does make for a pretty picture from the other side.

And that concluded my sojourn for day three. Once more to the invigorating scent of a shower infusion of peppermint and lavender, and an evening with Harry Dresden. Even in the woods, I still love my murder mysteries!

Summer Challenge: My Walden Experiment

Published August 3, 2014 by Susan Woodward

How perfect is it that I am able to combine my Summer Challenge with preparation for the upcoming school year?

When I return to work after this summer respite, I will be teaching juniors for the first time in my district. After looking at the curriculum possibilities, I have decided that I will begin the year with the Transcendentalists. What better time to read Emerson’s “Self Reliance” and Thoreau’s Walden? Thoreau, in particular, was fond of writing his essays as personal narrative. It is ironic that both Emerson and Thoreau fall into the list of Common Core works when the ELA author of the Common Core State Standards, David Coleman gave a presentation at the New York State Education Department in 2011 titled, “Bringing the Common Core to Life” in which he said:

Do people know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today? Texting someone said; I don’t think that’s for credit though yet. But I would say that as someone said it is personal writing. It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.

I beg to differ.

The single most important piece that students will write is the college essay. It’s not a persuasive argument, and it’s not a literary analysis. It is a personal narrative about why the student wishes to pursue his/her higher education at a particular institute and what life experiences have brought him/her to the decision to apply. No matter how many arguments or analysis essays students produce, with no real practice in writing about themselves and what they really think/feel, the college essay will be an incredible source of stress for them. So in order to prepare them to write about themselves, we will look at essayists who did write about their thoughts and feelings. And what better place to start than with Emerson and Thoreau?

Because I will be asking students to write about their own experiences, I made an effort to model that behavior with my own Walden Experiment. To begin, I went so far as to rent a small cabin in the woods (yes, all by myself) and hiked about the area as much as possible. I recorded my excursions on MapMyWalk, a phone app that records your progress, and I took plenty of pictures, both of which I shared with my friends on FaceBook to whet their appetites for when I would write my blog entries.

You know…Thoreau would have LOVED modern technology. Oh, he may complain about man’s infringement upon Nature with his trains and fences, but as one who desired to share his Walden Pond experiences, I am certain that he would have blogged, tweeted, MappedHisWalk, and shared with the social networking cyberworld. As he said about his decision to live in a small cabin in the woods, “I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as Chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake the neighbors up” (Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”, Walden).

This is Thoreau’s cabin:

Thoreau CabinAnd here is the cabin I rented for five days:Feeder Creek Cabin Framed

It may not have been as rustic a Thoreau’s little place that he built (yeah…it had air conditioning and DishTV, which I avoided using…well the TV anyway), but it WAS in the woods and on a pond. It was also extremely economical, of which Thoreau would approve. Personally, I highly approved of the modern conveniences rolled into my experiences in Nature. I was especially grateful for the WiFi that was available! No hating about electronic devices! Thoreau would have approved of the ability to get the word to the masses.

Speaking of Chanticleer, I have been lied to my whole life about a rooster crowing at sunrise. Feeder Creek’s Chanticleer crowed ALL day and even into the evening! He, too, wanted to make his voice heard at every opportunity. So, like the rooster, I crowed on FaceBook and MapMyWalk every day.

And I kid you not, there were even bean plants growing in the garden right behind the cabin. As a place to partake in a bit of what Thoreau wrote about, I could not have found a better place without going to Massachusetts. And what was even better was that it was only about a two and a half hour drive from home. Because of it being in Upstate New York, I also was able to double dip the experience to include it as part of my Summer Challenge. I love how things work out perfectly.

Feeder Creek Cabin Interior

Feeder Creek Cabin Sitting Area

cabin kitchenette

Bean Fields

Even with all the lovely modern conveniences that made me feel comfortable, I still partook of the outdoors in Throeauvian fashion. The first place I explored immediately after unpacking was Grindstone Mill Pond. The owners of Feeder Creek Lodge and Cabin, Bill and Barbara VanWormer, offered me use of a canoe to aid in my explorations.

“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows” (Thoreau, “The Ponds”, Walden).

And so I hopped into the canoe…after first tipping it and myself with my first attempt to get going. Truth be told, I was afraid that there might be spiders in the canoe, and so I was tipping it into the pond to wash them out. Yes, that is the story I am going with! Thank goodness I had the foresight to put my cell phone in a plastic bag in my pouch…it serves as my camera. Once I finally got going, a huge spider DID make its way across the rim of the canoe, and I swear he was begging to join his friends for a swim. I was only too happy to oblige him. Thank goodness the remainder of the ride was arachnid-free! And was was glad to have sprayed myself with 85 SPF sun screed and Deep Woods Off. It really did make for a much more enjoyable afternoon on the pond.

Pond 3

Pond 5

 

View From a CanoeRather Monet-esque if I do say so myself…

pond 2

Canoe Ride on the Pond

And so, as the afternoon wore on and I returned to my cabin, I spent the remainder of the evening outdoors in my lounge chair enjoying the words of Henry David Thoreau and contemplating how I might experience the joy of Nature that he felt for myself.

And I am grateful the Deep Woods Off helped to make that experience more joyful! I do not know how Thoreau managed the bugs!

 

Summer Challenge: Build Your Own Damn House!

Published July 13, 2014 by Susan Woodward

At the beginning of summer, Rev. Kaaren told us a story about toast. And coffee. And coconuts. And she challenged us to “build your own damn house!”

toast-3The story of Giulietta Carrelli, a woman who found comfort in cinnamon toast, energy/speed/communication in coffee, and survival in coconuts can be found if you click on the picture. It is the story involving a restaurant that offers only those items. And if you get the whole shebang, that order is called “Build Your Own Damn House.” Please do read the article to get the full impact of Giulietta’s story.

I remember my mom making us cinnamon toast when I was a kid. I had forgotten all about the treat until Kaaren brought the memory to the forefront with this tale. I remembered how Mom would butter the hot toast and while it was still warm, sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the melted butter, and how it would almost caramelize just before taking the tiniest bites so as to savor its flavor and make the toast last. I can’t believe I’d forgotten how I had made that for my own children, but then stopped for some reason. Memories of cinnamon toast brought back sensations of satisfaction and comfort from my childhood, and I wanted to live them again. Many times I forget about the simple things that made me feel so good when I was younger. The busyness of adult life has a tendency to not leave much room for childhood simplicities.

While thinking about (and making) cinnamon toast for myself at home, I thought about other simple things that my Mom made when I was a kid and that I’d thought of as “comfort food”: shells and butter with garlic salt, tuna and egg salad sandwiches (yes, mixed), cucumbers and sour cream, jello with milk poured over it… these are memories that go beyond filling a stomach with inexpensive ingredients. I can taste and smell every one of them, and I vowed that I was going to allow these simple pleasures back into my life, these forgotten memories.

I can see how Giulietta Carrelli got the idea of offering cinnamon toast as a way of awakening simple, comfort-laden memories, and why so many people flock to her establishment to get a dose of this for themselves.

Included on the menu is a good cup of coffee. It warms the insides as well as offering an energetic kick. While the toast brings on nostalgia, the coffee gives energy to act on those activities that nurture me. The toast reminds me of the comfort of simple foods, and the coffee fuels me to partake in simple activities to rejuvenate my spirit. To Carrelli, coffee also symbolizes communication. How often when we decide to meet up with someone, it tends to be over coffee? When guests come to our home, isn’t it true that we most often offer coffee as a beverage? It make sense to see coffee as a symbol of communication.

Coconut is also on her menu as a symbol of survival. Since I started doing walking/running races, I have heard the praises of coconut water for hydration (along with the mighty chia). I even heard stories of how soldiers injured in the South Pacific during WWII had been kept alive through IV’s connected to green coconuts when IV fluid packs were not available. While coconut does not stir nostalgic memories in me, I certainly can relate to survival. Looking back, I see many times in my life when things were terribly difficult and how I managed to survive them. These remind me of how strong I have become over the years, and how the life I enjoy today is because of the struggles of yesterday. That alone makes me feel a sense of gratitude to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures that make life worth living…what I survived for.

Those things together…comfort, speed, communication, and survival…are all I need to build my own damn house, my own spiritual temple within.

How perfectly wonderful for a summer challenge, especially after ending a rather stress-filled school year. After being told that I would be teaching two new preps next year (English 10 and 11), I had been fretting about spending the entire rejuvenation time writing lesson plans. However, when gathering ideas for English 11, I went to the Transcendentalists to open the school year. I selected Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance” to kick things off, followed by excerpts from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.  Beginning my summer reading with these pieces fit perfectly into the challenge offered by Rev. Kaaren…how to build my own damn house.

The first step was to actually make some cinnamon toast! I savored the taste and took the tiny bites like I’d done when I was little. I sipped a hot cup of good coffee in the process (my personal favorite is Ethiopian Harrar). To be truthful, I had to pause while writing this to go make some cinnamon toast and coffee.  🙂 But the first time I made the treat earlier this week, I munched on it while reading Walden to prepare some lesson plans. During my reading, I began to feel a bit restless to partake in the simple act of walking in Nature. After finishing my breakfast, I got out my hiking boots, grabbed a container of coconut water (I stocked up as part of the toast/coffee/coconut symbols), and shoved Thoreau’s book into my back pocket as I headed out to Durand Eastman Park.

Durand LakeThe link below is to my Map My Walk ap that I use on my phone to keep track of my excursions.

I hiked with MapMyWalk! Distance: 2.78mi, time: 01:01:48, pace: 22:13min/mi, speed: 2.70mi/h.
http://mapmywalk.com/workout/642687573

The hike around Durand Lakes’ sister, Eastman Lake, reminded me of the visit to Walden Pond I’d made with my daughter, Robin, years ago. Those memories, like the cinnamon toast in my belly, reminded me of times filled with the simplicity of being in Nature. I smiled as I remembered the frog she caught on our walk around Walden Pond, and how she laughingly kissed it in the hope of it turning into her prince. Those memories were made even more special on this particular hike because I had just witnessed the birth of Robin and her husband Sean’s daughter earlier in the week.

Durand Park Hippogriff Pond Uprooted Tree

After finishing my hike, I got my folding chair out of the trunk and found an appropriate spot along Durand Lake to read:

Walden

And so my challenge begins. I even booked a cabin in the woods for four nights in August! And, like Thoreau, I bartered for the price. I will be in a tiny, one room cabin, and in exchange for the fourth night, I shall do some copy-editing for the owner’s online advertisement!

I look forward to spending the summer finding more ways to Build MY Own Damn House!

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