Sunday, July 19, 2015

Approaching Walden

Every summer, I like to learn about something totally new, another string to my bow....lately, I've been on an Americanist kick. Last summer, it was Emily Dickinson, where one of my co-NEH fellows testified that the best learning experience she'd ever had was at Approaching Walden, held at the Thoreau Institute.

I had the opportunity to go to Concord to immerse myself last week as part of that program. It was a little amazing how easily the aura of Thoreau was debunked by learning about his actual time in the woods near that titular pond. I realized so much of what we think we know about Thoreau was a consciously cultivated persona he crafted to be provocative rather than reflecting the actuality of his experience.

The biggest surprise was not the time spent hiking and observing in nature, but, and I think it was partly because of the makeup of the group of the two dozen excellent teachers, most from Massachusetts but others from all over, I came out of the week on a real social justice mission. It didn't hurt that we had a terrific lecture from visiting scholar Ali Taghdgarreh about translating Walden into Farsi, which got all us thinking a little more broadly about our own access to information.

I always enjoy New England, and in addition to Walden Pond, Concord is home to the Ralph Waldo Emerson House, the Old Manse, the North Bridge, and Orchard House, and close to Brook Farm.

I got to visit some of my friends coming and going. On the heels of a busy ALA, it had been a while since I've been so continuously social. As Thoreau wrote, "I have an immense appetite for solitude, like an infant for sleep. and if I don't get enough this year, I shall cry all the next." But it was worth breaking that summer quiet for the thinking and learning this last week.

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