Apr 052009
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

Immediately following spring break, I had my classes create their own version of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden or Life in The Woods.”

If you don’t know the piece, it is an account of Thoreau’s adventure of self-sufficiency into the woods of Concord, Mass. Truth be told, he sojourned back into town on a daily basis and went for meals at his friends’ and family’s homes, but as a native of Massachusetts, I still like to honor his spirit of sustainability and self-sufficiency.

I told my students that the page is their canvas for imagining their own Walden. They could go for as long as they want and carry as much as they want into their own “woods.” The assignment was mostly an exercise to find out what is important to each student’s individual value system.

My must-haves included my laptop and a flush toilet — both not sustainable in Thoreau’s Walden. My Walden is a little bit different.

Two weeks ago over spring break, I ventured into the Minnesota woods with my very best friends, Shannon and Jason, and their children Theo, 5, and their very own Henry, 1.

Okay, perhaps “ventured” is a strong word. Trekking by foot is not my strong suit. My ankles have been failing me for the past 15 years, so walking, hiking or running fall into my category of despair.

Wanting to spend time with my friends, though, it was worth the possible pain. So, that morning I ibuprofened up, put on my hiking boots that I have had since I was in college and donned way too much winter gear for a walk around Long Lake on a day that neared 70 degrees.

If it were summer, and if the famed mosquitoes in the deep woods did not carry me away, the lake would be flanked by well-groomed walking trails. This time of the year, though, the trails are unevenly iced traps for the reluctant.

During the hike we all walked with different contingents of our party and all took at hand at pushing Henry in his stroller.

Shannon and Jason took turns trying to convince Theo to move forward. I took turns convincing my ankles that “they could do it.”

The woods were serene. I heard and saw birds but saw no insects or creatures bigger then Henry. The dead leaves hung to the mighty oaks, but many more had fallen and had done their best job of staining the once white snow that fell many months ago.

On the glorious walk out of the woods, Henry ended up on Jason’s shoulders, Theo had usurped the stroller and Ben and I continued to play a word association game to make the hike seem shorter.

Thanks to the help of Mother Nature’s creations, I had the easy job of choosing the words that Ben could respond to. I started with all types of things natural, ideas such as weather, and sensations that one gets walking out in the woods.

I knew the day had been a success when, as I was heading out, I realized that no one fell on those slippery slopes and that my ankles were not screaming at me. As we took the last turn before we reached the trailhead, the sun graced its presence on the ice below and lit up the path like a cache of diamonds.

Although I thought I took nothing into the woods with me that would allow me to survive more than a few hours, I realized that I had taken with me the means for surviving a lifetime: the best friends ever.

This is perhaps why Thoreau eventually moved back from the woods and back among the most precious resource of all: friends.

Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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