Search Results for: thoreau

Abstract: An Application of Thoreau to Summers at Camp

Starting at about this time each year for the past ten years, as winter drags on interminably, I dream about summer camp.  I spent every August of my early adolescence living in the woods of rural South-West New Hampshire at Camp Takodah. My work on the staff prompted thinking about why it is that this place and these experiences matter so much to me.  After some deliberation, I can be sure that it is about more than s’mores and capture the flag. What camp has fostered in me is a respect for nature, an understanding of myself, and a love for the connection I feel between the two. The way Henry David Thoreau and other transcendentalist writers conceived of this relationship with nature and the educational opportunities such a relationship offers serve as a lens through which to study that growth.

I will delve into an application of Thoreau’s philosophy on nature and education to a modern summer camp for children through an in depth reading of Walden, Walking and other texts, the study of primary documentation and criticism, and time spent on Walden Pond in Concord, MA . With the lens of this transcendentalist thought, I will then take on the task of daily journaling and observation at Camp Takodah. Through research and personal experience, I hope to draw conclusions about the impact of one’s relationship with the environment when it is possible to step back from the pressures of modern society. What is it that draws people away from society, and what can be gained by living in the woods? Also, what is the educational and developmental significance for children who spend time reconnecting with nature for two, four, six, or eight weeks each summer?

This work is exciting to me because I have always been a passionate advocate for stepping back from social pressures to reconnect with one’s self and one’s environment. Through this work, I would like to stress the importance of a return to nature and respect for our natural world. Summer camp has always been a passion of mine, because I believe it shapes children’s world views in terms of mental, physical and emotional health and maturity. Time to live in nature, bond with their peers and get in touch with their own physicality is incredibly productive for their current and future growth. My hope for this project is that it brings new light to old philosophy; I want this project to show, in a modern context, that we still have things to learn from the transcendentalist and from nature itself. It is time we all take a moment to simplify our lives on a grander scale, and I believe summer camp illustrates a beautiful modern example of how healthy that simplicity can be.

My goal is to combine secondary and primary source research in Concord, MA, and daily journaling at Camp Takodah to create a final product that is both informative and expressive. In this way, it will be possible to explore both what Thoreau’s actions meant in his day, and why those actions and ideas are still, if not more so, relevant today. By delving into my relationship with nature I will, through the lens of Thoreau, explore more deeply the impact it has on my intellectual growth and the growth of the children I work with.

Reading Thoreau to Pollan

Narrowing down my literary sources to a manageable number was surprisingly challenging, considering my initial worries about finding enough material for this project! I ultimately decided to focus not on food literature in general, which is a vast genre spanning everything from restaurant reviews to chefs’ memoirs to advertising on food packaging to cookbooks, but on back-to-the-land narratives. I realized that this was an identifiable category of literature that may never before have been taken as a whole; furthermore, this style has had a strong presence throughout American history. It was fascinating to draw connections between writings by such great American thinkers on farming and nature as Jefferson and Thoreau, and modern authors like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver.

I also chose to focus on works by back-to-the-landers – people who choose to remove themselves from the industrial food system and live “slow” and self-sufficiently – because their writings allowed me to explore interconnection between the land and food. More than any other dietary ideology, slow food preserves and advertises its close connection with the earth. This immediate rapport between land and food, to the point that writers often speak of food inheriting the land’s characteristics (a phenomenon known as terroir) suggests that our relationship to the world around us deeply informs our relationship to slow food. In fact, this is the very premise of the back-to-the-lander; in order to fully experience slow food, they insist on the necessity of growing it themselves, communing with the dirt from which they draw sustenance (rather than purchasing local and organic foods from one of many other sources, such as farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture programs). Thus, I found myself beginning my paper not at the dinner table where slow food is consumed, but in the garden where it is produced. Recognizing the connection between nature and agriculture was key for me in understanding how thinkers such as Thoreau, who disapproved of farming’s drive to subdue the wilderness, could have influenced slow food.

Starting with the garden also allowed me to suggest larger themes of the dichotomy between nature and culture, and where farming and particularly local/organic farming fits into that binary. That overarching conflict was at times difficult to grasp, but I was able to turn to modern philosophers whom I had read in classes, and who did not directly write about food but were nonetheless influential in my thinking about it. Claude Lévi-Strauss and Roland Barthes were both unexpectedly useful in defining and discussing such abstract terms as “nature” and “culture,” terms on which my paper relies but are notoriously difficult to pin down. As I develop and revise this paper, I hope to share more surprising themes that develop!

Abstract – Creative Nonfiction Inspired by the San Juan Islands

Inspired by Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and the nature-oriented but human-focused nature of her writing, I intend to pursue a similar writing style and process in an effort to create a work that aspires to her level of reflection, while at the same time developing my personal creative nonfiction writing style. At the beginning of my project, I will travel to the San Juan Islands, an archipelago in the greater Puget Sound area of Washington State. I will stay on Orcas Island, the largest of the islands, for a little over two weeks. Through observations of the wildlife and landscape there, I hope to give voice in written form to some of the many themes and revelations embodied by the natural world. The remainder of my project’s research component will probably take place at my home and will involve reading other nature-focused nonfiction and fiction works such as Walden by Henry David Thoreau, The Moon by Whale Light by Diane Ackerman, and Woodswoman by Anne LaBastille.

Annie Dillard’s work, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in particular, is perhaps most renowned for the more philosophical themes it contains, rather than for its environmental observations, which are striking and vivid but which serve primarily to supplement and create setting for the discussions of religion, life, and purpose. By never allowing her descriptions of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountain ecosystem to overshadow her deeper meaning, Dillard prevents Pilgrim from lapsing into mere repetitive iterations of nature’s wonder, poetic but trite, vivid but doomed to be forgotten. I have long nursed a fascination with the delicate balance she strikes between description and reflection, personal thought and outward observation, and my goal for this research project is to achieve a similar balance in my own writing. After returning from Washington, then, I plan to continue using the insight and inspiration gathered during my time in the islands to write a series of creative nonfiction essays combining natural observations with reflections on more metaphysical elements such as religion and ideology.

Time-wise, the writing portion of my project is the largest component, as I will be writing during my stay in Washington State as well as once I return home. However, the two weeks spent in Washington are no less crucial, as they will provide most of the raw material for my final product, as well as allow me to begin writing in the actual physical setting I have chosen to discuss.