Monday, November 07, 2016

Hiking through history

If pressed, I could come up with a valid pedagogical reason for my class field trip yesterday, but mostly I just wanted to take my Honors students on a hike up the side of a hill on a beautiful fall afternoon.

The absence of cell-phone coverage at Mountwood Park was an asset--no Pokemons in those woods!--so they had no excuse not to listen when I asked them things: What's different about this tree? (The only tree blooming in November--witch hazel, source of pioneer medicines.) Why are we seeing a stone wall in the middle of dense woods? (Because this hasn't always been woods. Second-growth forest covering a former cow pasture.) Why are these ruins located at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere? Why would anyone build a mansion way up here? (Because this hasn't always been the middle of nowhere; the ruins are evidence of the great wealth that flowed into the area during the first oil and gas boom in the late nineteenth century.)

My students recently finished reading Cold Mountain, in which Inman walks through autumn mountains much taller than this little foothill, moving silently to avoid capture by the Home Guard. As we hiked briskly over paths covered with dry leaves, we sounded like a herd of bison thundering past. "If we're Inman," I said, "We're dead."

But the cool fall air and strenuous uphill hike made us feel fully alive and invigorated, and that's as good a reason as any for a field trip. Maybe along the way we learned a little something about how to read layers of meaning on a landscape, but mostly we just enjoyed a nice autumn hike in the woods.  

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