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Wandering & wondering

et502's picture

For this walk, I felt restricted in my wanderings. I was uncomfortably aware of the need to reflect rather than simply being in the moment. And when I think, was I "present," in my own proceedings? I have to admit that, no, I was mostly divided. I saw, I felt, I heard, and all the time I wanted to translate this into words. But that act of translation, of recording, seems to ruin the experience, no? Or maybe it just leads to other experiences.

I started from the library, my carrel (3.36, a seat by the window, looking into the trees by Rhoads). I carried my backpack, I removed my sandals. I rode the elevator down. I walked out from Lusty Cup and turned right. I thought of putting my feet in the fountain at Taft garden, but instead, I kept walking through. I was pleased at how well I fit through the small arch on the opposing side, and I wondered whether it had been designed for an average woman's height, or if it was coincidentally only a few inches over my head. I sat on the steps for a moment and wondered if they are made of wissahickon schist (I have these words stuck in my head; I like many-syllabled names that I can say over and over again).
I followed the path between Goodhart and Rhoads (I can never remember if it's north or south. It's probably south). The porch behind Rhoads is warm and bright - the slate felt smooth and solid under my feet. I wanted to sit on the new furniture.
I went to inspect the fence around the pond for any new points of access. I thought, perhaps there has been some storm damage since last year, or perhaps the fence was intentionally opened. I walked all the way up towards the tennis courts. There's a boat that used to be untethered, but since my junior year, has been locked to the fence (I wonder whether someone discovered we'd taken it out and floated around the pond, using a long stick for a paddle, exploring the edges).
I kept walking up the pathway, instead of climbing over the fence. There used to be a house by the tennis courts, but it was torn down last year, I think. I remember sitting on the front stoop of the house while it rained, all the plants around the place dripping, and the puddles not quite reaching my feet. I thought, every place on this campus has some sort of memory for me - so much emotion in every location.

I wonder if there is more meaning in tangents of my thoughts than there is in the conscious/intended/written ideas.

"... 'To be born woman is to know-
Although they do not talk of it at school-
That we must labour to be beautiful.'

I said, 'It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring." - W. B. Yeats.

I walked towards Cambrian row and thought about the landscaping - just last year, I remember this space being gutted to put in the new field. The side of the hill was scraped away. I went to a planning meeting once, and I remember hearing that the landscaping on this campus has been done in such a way as to reflect the original landscape at the time of the college's founding. Or something like that, anyway. Use of the native flora. I thought about this while I walked past the hillside below Cambrian row. There is a pleasant sort of wildness, evergreen bushes, roses, grasses, all thrown together, carefully artless. It reminded me of how someone might stage their living room, casually setting books on the coffee table that will reveal their good taste to house guests, without overtly saying to them "I HAVE GOOD TASTE." What is the campus saying to us, residents? To visitors?
I'm still caught up in this idea of casualness, of creating "nature." The art of being artless - or appearing artless and without any intention. After bulldozing the natural landscape (which has already been bulldozed, no doubt, many times - to make way for farms, for buildings, for roads or rock fences), the way we try to revive it is to produce a restrained disarray, an asymmetrical ordering.

I've been thinking about Yeat's poem, Adam's Curse. Just those few lines - about our labor to be beautiful, the construction of beauty. More specifically, I'm thinking about the post-Garden of Eden collapse, of how, in Genesis, all of Creation becomes wild, is infected with sin. It's uncontrolled, it's imperfect and strange. And the human relationship with nature is uncertain; there is a divide. Thrown out of the Garden, we must work the land in order to produce anything beautiful. We must re-define beauty for ourselves - we must re-create whatever we think beauty should be.
I wonder where gender figures into this. I know there must be a connection, but I haven't made it yet.

I kept a journal this summer. I glued a picture of a peregrine falcon on the cover: to peregrinate means to wander. I think of myself as a wanderer sometimes, coming and going between where I sleep and where I eat, where I live most of the year, where my family lives, where I was born. 



Anne Dalke's picture


I appreciate your description of the sense of division with which you open this essay, finding yourself unable both to experience the walk and document that experience for this wondering if the piece upcoming by the physicist David Bohm, who offers us a new "mode" of language (which he calls the "rheomode") will help you here; the "rhemode," he says, does not make a sharp distinction between "acts of perception and experimentation" and the "activity of communicating verbally about what we have observed and done...."

In that vein, I like very much a couple of the formal decisions you made in constructing this essay; presenting it in a collage-like form of "tangents" and short pieces that don't necessarily lead smoothly from one to the other helps to emphasize the "presentness" of your experience, as do the very concrete particulars you include--with your backpack, without your sandals, ducking under a low arch...Also striking to me (as to Nan) is your evocation of memory: the absence of the little house reminds you of sitting on the stoop there, now no longer you think that reporting on that experience takes you "away" from the present, or "digs down" into its historical memory, makes the experience of now more fully present?

You also raise some other REALLY great questions: "What is the campus saying to us?" strikes me in particular. I've been asking you all how you want to/can represent the campus in words and pictures, but your observation reminds me that the campus is already "representing itself": it is a material realization of an ideal (and, like all representations, incomplete!). I like, too, all the oxymorons you assemble to describe that representation: "carefully artless," "a restrained disarray," "an asymmetrical ordering"....

And then there's that grand gesture, via Yeats, towards the end, towards a Biblical being "thrown out of the Garden," into an uncertain, labor-ing relation w/ nature. MUCH more to discuss there, for sure!

Nan's picture

It is true.  On our walks,

It is true. 

On our walks, even there, we work so hard.  I love your idea that there might be "more meaning in the tangents of (your) thoughts than in the conscious/intended/written ideas." Perhaps there sometimes our unconscious is closer to the surface, paradoxically sometimes when there is less effort or "labor" then our  imaginative forays may become temporarily more accessible....

 I also really like your description of you on the front stoop of the house in the rain, a house that now only exists in memory. And it is important how you connect emotion to location.

It made me think of a recent time when I went back to a Connecticut house in the woods where I had lived  for less than 2 years, from when I was two to nearly four years old.  The house was boarded up and abandoned.  I climbed in through the boards and walked through the rooms. It was an extraordinary flashback -- first everything looked so small; since I had last viewed even the stone steps from only a few feet off the ground!