In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is grey November, a Thursday afternoon, and to my great fortune I’m sitting on dry leaves by a meadow, watching a stream gurgle by with extreme laziness. We call it “the river,” the Kander river from whom our town gets its name, but it is simply a brook, muddy and indolent and good-humored.
Around me, scattered across a strip of adjacent land that BFA recently purchased, are my students. Some are sitting, like me, on the leafy grass and rocks. Others lean against trees, looking up into the golden ends of autumn, and a few choose to wander, keeping their feet and minds moving as they examine all corners of the field. I’ve sent them out here armed only with coats to ward off the insipid non-chill of a mild November day and two slips of paper, one bearing a quote from Emerson’s “Nature” and the other a passage of Scripture concerning God’s creation. Those, and the instruction to “Be in nature. Just to be.”
We’ve been studying the transcendentalism this week, with Emerson and Thoreau, that bizarre amalgam of philosophy, religion and art that has produced nature-loving, interior-gazing Americans for the last 150 years. My lesson for today sounded more than a bit silly when I wrote it down a week ago. Thursday: Transcendentalist Walk. And the students, they felt the oddity of it this morning, when I first brought them outside, giving strange directions as we walked to the creek.
“You’re seeking solitude! Don’t talk to one another. Avoid each other! Try not to see any buildings!”
For a while they drifted aimlessly, blown like the leaves from the trees, resting in one place for only a second before moving on, seeking better inspiration. But once they stopped, really stopped, they put down roots. This class of students is dressed in the muted colors of autumn, the maroon of dying leaves and the grey of cloudy skies, and after a few minutes their unmoving figures blend into the surroundings. They are still, my students, for one quiet minute at rest.
We’re tired these days, students and teachers, stretched by projects and commitments, worn out by late nights, long rehearsals and tournaments. It sounded whimsical last week to spend part of a class “being transcendental” outside; today it feels almost necessary. We all need to slow down a little. Or quite a lot.
After a while, I gather them back again, as gently as I can pulling them up from the solitary rest they’ve found for a while. Back inside the classroom, I play Sigur Ros while they write about their time outside. I don’t know what I expect to hear. I never get the impression that our kids–or any kids, really–love the outdoors as much as I did when I was their age. I’ve accepted that I wasn’t the norm, even then, but still I wish I could share it, this solace I find in the uncomplicated routines of the natural world.
At the end of class, we share our reflections. Students speak of rest, forgetting for just a short time the stresses of past, present and future that weigh heavily on teenagers. They confess to never having spent time outside, and wonder why. They marvel at the originality of their Creator, the artist of autumn. They wish they could have spent longer.
And I remember, again, the deep loveliness in which we’re invited to take part. I’m thankful to share it with these people I love, and glad that, if only for a moment, we found in the forest quiet and rest.