“Walking” Poly Mountain


The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible, with all the glory and splendor that it lavishes on cities, and perchance, as it has never set before…where there is but a solitary marsh hawk to have his wings gilded by it


¦ and there is some little black-veined brook in the midst ¦ We walked in so pure and bright a light,


gilding the ¦ grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright–


I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of elysium,


and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman, driving us home at evening.

April 16 7:15 pm


Sun dropping toward mist on the horizon.  Temperature dropping as the sleeping bag warms. Bits of remaining light in the needlegrass awns. An hour and a half since I departed from the class down in the oak grove and its words still echo”the words of Thoreau’s essay  “Walking” and his chapter, “Sounds,” along with our improvisations upon them.

The longing for the wild and the new, the demand for fresh and expansive experience, the unfamiliar, the virgin. The westward march and its ultimate demise with humanity’s dark dominion”the “End of Nature” in anthropogenic climate disruption. The sound of silence in the snap of sumac twigs too heavy to support their own growth.

Sounds now of the invisible traffic on Cuesta Pass and my stomach growling. A meadow lark.  A cow’s moo. A haunting ullulation across the valley. What is that familiar call”like a loon’s, but no loons here. Perhaps not a bird?  I struggle to find the memory, fail,  surrender to another diminution of capacity.  Shifting my gear to support my shoulder recalls previous sleepouts and the line “My pillow is my boot,” which I put on Tuesday’s reading quiz.  And the preceding stanza:

The silence of the valley
Breaks with a coyote’s sound
That’s followed by responses
From all the hills around.

Hello! it’s coyotes.

The sun dips under the cloud bank behind Hollister Peak.


I told students I hadnt planned on camping tonight, but rereading “Walking” seduced me again with its invitation to saunter, to wander a creek or scramble up a mountain with no plan or destination, to sleep where I felt tired. The sensation of freedom at 6:00 p.m. Thursday, the end of my week’s classes compounded with such a walk enabled “a fair return to my senses.”

Ironically, so does the camera and computer. The viewfinder provides concentration, the monitor focus, the harddrive memory. The pictures of sunset I just took recall those I took six years ago from a spot close by after another April class on Thoreau and just last week placed in a slideshow to accompany the first movement of Beethoven’s pastoral symphony.

Would William or Henry David or Ralph Waldo allow for technology to be the agent of this return to the senses? Not if Nature is the Wild or the “not-human.”  But also, yes,

the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and … all that we behold
From this green earth;… all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,–both what they half create,
And what perceive

Thoreau exults, “Man and his affairs¦I am pleased to see how little  space they occupy in the landscape.”  But as Dylan observed as we sat in the deep  grass above campus, yes if you look north, but not if you look south, at the city and the freeway extending to L.A.

Now against the background of  darkened peaks and glowing sky emerges a panoply of orange lights: the state prison.


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