Thoreau Had His Walden

Back to Work on the Large Painting

Back to Work on the Large Painting

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse

I have not made it a secret that I was a bored student throughout my public school days. It wasn’t until college that I woke up intellectually. As a day dreamer, I was drawn to a poster in one of my classrooms, and now cannot recall what grade in school it was–I believe it was high school. This poster featured a color photo of an attractive woman with the patterns of leaves shadowed all over the side of her face, obviously standing beneath a large tree. Her expression was pensive and this quote was on the poster. I wrote it in my school notebook so many times that I internalized it, believing throughout those young years (and ever since) that I was the one described on the poster. I didn’t even read Hermann Hesse until I was past thirty, but am delighted to learn that this quote originated with him.

In my adult years, I have appreciated every story of a creative individual who found sanctuary and explored independent thought: Thoreau at Walden, Emerson on his European odyssey, Descartes in a stove chamber in Ulm, Germany, Kant in his chair every morning, Hawthorne in an upstairs bedroom. I challenge my Philosophy students every semester: Where is your Walden Pond? Where is your Cartesian Stove? Anthony Storr has written that remarkable book Solitude, challenging his readers to take their quiet, alone time seriously.

This summer started well, with my invitation to reside on an island in the Gulf for about a week, followed by a summer vacation (my first one as a teacher in many, many years) with no summer school classes to teach. The days in my studio, my study, my writing corner, have been a healing balm, and I am most fortunate to have been handed this quality time and space for creative exploration. Today I have returned to a large painting of the island where I stayed in June. I’ve been working the clouds all afternoon, staining, soaking, scrubbing and brushing as many textures and neutral shadow colors as possible, trying to make them look like the cumulonimbus formations that took my breath away when I was at the Laguna Madre.

In the Journals of Henry David Thoreau, I have finally reached the days when he took up residence at Walden Pond. The following entry is from his third day, July 6, 1845:

I wish to meet the facts of life–the vital facts, which are the phenomena or actuality the gods meant to show us–face to face, and so I came down here. 

That matches well with my sentiments during that brief span I resided on the Laguna Madre. There was time for reflection, time to gaze at nature face-to-face, time to think over the things in life that really matter. And now, as I bend over this painting, I remember those sensations, that special space, that special time, and truly believe that the experience has brought genuine change and improvement to my life. If nothing else, it has reinforced my conviction that I need a Walden Pond in my life.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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