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A Guided Saunter

mturer's picture

           In order to walk through Bryn Mawr like Thoreau, I began at the center. I felt that as locating the center was an objective of mine, I could not let a predetermined destination interfere with the way nature wanted to take me. Nature was guiding me. Nothing else should be guiding me. Following Thoreau, I wanted to be guided unconsciously by “nature’s subtle magnetism” rather than by an end point. A walk should have no purpose or destination, so I set out on my sauntering walk to see where the walk took me.

            Before my walk could begin, however, I had to locate the center. Was the center the literal center that would appear if the campus was laid out on a very large piece of graph paper? I don’t think so. If so, where would the boundaries, or the edges of the graph, be? Bryn Mawr is more than its physical presence; it is more than stone buildings. Bryn Mawr is an idea, and Bryn Mawr is nature. The tall trees that I wake up to every morning outside of my window are part of it. Flowers and gardens are part of it, the rain that turns them into mud is part of it, and so is the mud itself. Categorizing nature by its location interferes with nature’s “compass.” Nature tells me where to go, but I do not tell nature where to go. The center of campus, then, is the center of the idea. This idea is different to everyone, but what I define in my mind as the essence of Bryn Mawr-ness is where, for me, the feeling of Bryn Mawr just started to form before it burst into something a million times its size. I began at my center in Pembroke East on the first floor, where I moved onto campus for the very first time.

            From there, I exited through the back door where there is no concrete path, but a path of rocks and mud. I then realized that a “path” of mud is really not a path at all. The grass is absent from that area because, every day, possibly a hundred different people walked through the exact same part of nature and nature reacted. It is not really a path at all, it is nature guiding us and telling us to trust it to lead us where we want to go.  Next to the mud is an odd tree with blue-gray needles. I have climbed this tree many times before, and when I looked at the tree again, the tree made me think of memories that I have associated with it. This, according to Thoreau, was not the right way to walk. My mind was not on my walk with me, it was all the way back six months ago when I had a phone conversation in the tree at night or when four of my friends all climbed it together. This was wrong. Why would I take a walk if I was only going to think of other things? I can think of other things any time. I would not be able to be on the same walk I was on ever again after it ended.

            Letting nature take me where I should go, I walked to English House, around the back, and back across Merion green, crossing senior row. Here I felt most at peace with my surroundings. I did not have any outside thoughts or interruptions. I noticed someone had carved their name into a tree a very long time ago, probably, because the tree had fought back and nearly swallowed the text. Nature is nature and we are humans, we exist side by side and we cannot claim nature to be our own. It will always fight back. Next I was taken to Rhoads pond, and then all the way to the field next to Brecon. The field has restrictions around it. Once there, there is nowhere to continue on and nature must have me double back. The field, I thought, was one of the boundaries of this campus. The boundaries seem to only exist where a walk will not take me. Roads are boundaries, fences are boundaries, and yards of private homes are boundaries. In these places, I can no longer listen to nature’s guidance. I cannot be taken past these boundaries without my conscious demanding to take over from my unconscious. It tells me I “cannot” go there, for whatever reason. Bryn Mawr is free to be explored. Because of this, Bryn Mawr includes a lot of woods and a lot of nature. Until the woods become a road or a fence or a backyard, the woods are Bryn Mawr. A lot more than I thought is Bryn Mawr.



Anne Dalke's picture

Seeking the essence of Bryn Mawr-ness

Your essay touches on many of the keynotes we'll be playing and re-playing throughout the semester. A central one is the "nature of nature": you say, for example, that "nature guides us," and yet later you say that "the tree had fought back...nature will always fight back." Are those two ideas congruent? In what way can nature serve us as a guide in our lives, and in what ways might it be inadequate?

What do you mean by nature, anyway? that will certainly be a key question for us in this class!...In his book, Ecology without Nature, Timothy Morton argues that "the very idea of 'nature' which so many hold dear will have to wither away in an 'ecological' state of human society," that "the idea of nature is getting in the way of properly ecological forms of culture." The "idea of nature," Morton complains, "sets people's hearts beating and stops the thinking process," but "nature is all about things that are not identical to us ...what precisely counts as human, what counts as nature"....?

So (with his prods in mind), when you say, "Bryn Mawr is an idea, and Bryn Mawr is nature"--what does that mean? Can you spell that out for me a little more? When, searching in a Thoreauvian manner for "the essence of Bryn Mawr-ness," you discover that "a lot more than you thought is Bryn Mawr"...what exactly did you discover? What in your walk exceeded your preformed ideas? And are these material or mental things?

I think my favorite line here is "My mind was not on my walk with me." A lovely evocation of the doubleness that you and so many of your classmates experienced, in this exercise...