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My (Science-Fictionized) Thoreauvian Walk

r.graham.barrett's picture

Looking back at my first web paper, the account of my Thoreauvian walk around Bryn Mawr, I wrote the piece in a pastoral from. Specifically, I wrote the essay as a non-fictional, 1st person account of specifically what I saw and what I was thinking at the time of the walk. Although the style I wrote in accurately retells what had happened, I could have easily changed the style so as to be not as dependent on reality as it had been. Instead of writing in the genre I did, I could have used the experiences of the walk to serve as the inspiration for a fictional story set in a science fiction setting just as Le Guin had done in her story. Doing so would allow me to use my imagination to create new visuals for the reader to experience, similar to what I had experienced on my Thoreauvian walk.


As I was about to begin my Thoreauvian walk around the Bryn Mawr campus, I considered briefly examining a map of the campus so I could get a better sense of where my walk might take me. But as I considered whether or not to do so, I thought back to how Thoreau described the Saunterers of the Middle Ages. Thoreau describes the Saunterers as wanderers whose intentions were to reach the Holy Land but were not bound to the final goal of reaching the Holy Land and rove and idly take their time in doing so. Unlike, the Saunterers I was not trying to get to one particular destination but like them I was perfectly content with wandering, soaking in the campus landscape and taking my time in doing so. Examining a map, I concluded, would conflict with the point of this walk because doing so would give a set idea of what I could expect on this walk of campus, rather than letting my own sauntering and exploration give me a sense of what the Bryn Mawr campus had to offer me. As a Haverford student, with the exceptions of the dining halls, and the locations of various classes and events I attended, I wasn’t as familiar with the campus as a Bryn Mawr student or faculty member who knew exactly what the campus had to offer. But because I had little knowledge of the campus, I had what Thoreau described as “useful ignorance”, in the sense that because I had no extensive knowledge of the majority of the campus and thus everything that I came across would seem new and fresh. Since everything was new to me, be it a hill I had to climb or a tree that I had to pass by on the walk, my enjoyment of the walk would be greatly enhanced.

            Science Fiction Re-Write

As the dust storm kicked up by the departing shuttle finally began to disperse and settle, the visual systems of the explorer’s helmet finally managed to display the alien surroundings in greater detail. For all intents and purposes, the surface of moon B.M. 101 looked exactly like that of neighboring H. 370: the same color spectrum, the same relative abundance of healthy plant life, and the same picturesque beauty. Unlike H.370 though, which had been studied and explored extensively, B.M. 101’s surface was unexplored (not counting a few brief excursions and orbital scans), hence why the explorer was now here. As the explorer’s home world was currently reeling from the consequences of generations of environmental irresponsibility and degradation, the purpose of the trip to this new world was to assess if the moon could serve as a refugee for the rest of his kind. It was up to individuals such as the explorer to, as decree by their superiors, to “wander the nearby celestial bodies, with the idle intention of one day finding one on which civilization may flourish once again”. Reviewing that mission parameter for the hundredth time in his head, all the while wondering if this rock was to be the “Holy Land” he and his kind had long looked for, the explorer went about the landing site preparing his equipment and his suit’s systems. Once he was done, the explorer started to boot up the suit’s GPS link to a recon satellite in orbit, so as to map out the surrounding terrain. But just as the link almost finished establishing, the explorer paused and then un-expectantly shut down the link and placed it back in his pack. Had the explorer had a companion accompanying him on the mission, such an action would have generated some raised eyebrows and maybe a cry of alarm. Here he was on an alien world and he just chose to not take the precaution of getting some aerial reconnaissance of the unknown environment and terrain that encircled him. In his mind the explorer couldn’t really provide a logical or scientific explanation for his decision, just a personal one. To the explorer B.M. 101 provided him a onetime chance to fully explore an alien world by himself, and experience the undisturbed environment, the sights, and the sounds all firsthand. It was after all his profession’s intended purpose to study wondrous worlds such as this one personally, and having said world relayed to him through a second-hand analysis and exploration generated by a machine would have nullified the wonder and the anticipation he was supposed to feel. Steadying his nerves, the explorer set out across B.M. 101’s surface, fully intending to make the earning of his paycheck an adventure.



Srucara's picture

An Excellent Science Fiction Piece

I really enjoyed reading your science fiction piece. I especially like "It was up to individuals such as the explorer to, as decree by their superiors, to “wander the nearby celestial bodies, with the idle intention of one day finding one on which civilization may flourish once again”." I find that both of your original and science fiction pieces detail an adventure of some form but the science fiction piece was much more exciting and adventurous and even more pleasurable to read in comparison to your non-fiction piece. I am an avid non-fiction reader and rarely read fiction let alone science-fiction, and I really enjoyed your science fiction peice. I think you did a great job of embodying Le Guin's - and your own - creative inspiration through science fiction.

mturer's picture

In both cases you are

In both cases you are exploring what is foreign territory to you, but as a Bryn Mawr student who is quite used to this campus, your Science Fiction version let me be able to share in your sense of new discoveries. I think it's interesting that by changing your setting to something fictional, you made it easier for a group of people to empathize with your experience in the non-fiction.