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Bringing Walden Home: Building My Heart’s Home in Nature

Published August 31, 2014 by Susan Woodward

Cone Flowers 1In keeping with my Walden Experiment this summer, I took pictures of the beauty of Nature everywhere I went. These next few were in a friend’s garden, and we spent a good portion of the afternoon making pickles (something I had not done in over 15 years).

Garden 1Bees were flitting from flower to flower, and I tried to zoom in on them.

Garden 2

Garden 3

Garden 4Flowers are beautiful gifts of the Earth, and I just love the array of colors.

Walden Pond Park LancasterSo as I am heading to the Lancaster Arts and Music Festival, I happen to come along this sign, so of course, I had to stop in for a peek. It was on Walden Avenue, but seeing the sign made me want to check it out.

Walden Pond Park, LancasterIt was mostly wide open sports fields, but there was a pond. I looked for hiking trails and came up empty, so I continued on my way to the Arts and Music Festival.

PetuniasThese petunias and the following Rose of Sharon were all taken during the Lancaster Arts Festival.

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon 2

Rose of Sharon 1

Rose of Sharon Awakening

I also took some water pictures while in Lancaster. It was a blistering hot day (for this summer in Western New York, anyway), and I found some cool relief by going down to the creek.

Creek in Lancaster 1 Creek in Lancaster 3 Creek in Lancasterv2

I have mentioned before that the song of moving water soothes my soul, and as a slightly cool breeze alleviated the ferocity of the sun, and creek melodiously serenaded me while I rested.

The movement of the water fascinated me, and I watched it move from what seemed to be a still pool through a narrow opening. As the water moved into the opening, I noticed the patterns in the current as it moved over the rocks. One rock just beyond the opening acted like a dividing surface, akin to a fork in a road. The water split in its path, creating a criss-cross pattern on the surface. My camera does not do justice to the movement of the water, but as I watched, it reminded me of the various paths we face in life, and how our forward movement is dictated by the choices we make along our path.

No matter which way the water moved around the rock, each “leg” of the current did its own little swirling dance before reconvening in the next pool beyond. Although unseen, the current still rides under the water, still moving it forward. And that is what I see in my life. I go off on my own path, then reconnect with others, all the while feeling the effects of my choices within me.

The summer draws to a close, and I begin to plan my new school year, hoping to take with me the tranquility of Nature as my soul attempted to Build It’s Own Damn House of Tranquility.

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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!

 

Following My Bliss: Nature’s Bouquet

Published July 28, 2013 by Susan Woodward

Since my name, Susan, means “lily” in Hebrew, I tend to take pictures of lilies whenever I see them in gardens.  These are from my Nature Meditation at First Unitarian Church.  I simply wanted them to have their own page because they were so beautiful!

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And those were just the lilies!  Here are some other gorgeous blooms:

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Ahhhh…Nature’s Bliss!

“Your Gardening Angel”

Published October 16, 2011 by Susan Woodward

Blooming cosmos and snapping dragons

In a patch of sweet serenity;

Passion flowers and

Passionate hearts

Beautify the face of Mother Earth.

Summer rains bring

Occasional wet wings

And a tipped halo or two,

But the angels toil tenderly

To the music of

Water falling

Rhythmically

Against the rocks.

Lilies bob as fish and frogs play

Hide and seek

With the dragon fly;

Brown spider tirelessly tends her web

Among the terra cotta;

The hum of a Kubota in the distance

Lulls the senses.

Ahh… dreaming away again in Martha Stewartville.

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