The eight inches of snow on campus inspired me to revisit Thoreau’s “The Pond in Winter.” Walden Pond, not your average cow bathtub, measures over a hundred feet deep, inspiring Thoreau to write, “What if all ponds were shallow? Would it not react on the minds of men? I am thankful that this pond was made deep and pure for a symbol. While men believe in the infinite, some ponds will be thought to be bottomless.” Our landscapes actively shape our view of both the tangible and intangible worlds, to be sure.
For me, some further words by Thoreau linked our own quite shallow, quite frozen settling ponds on campus to the holiday: “Ice is an interesting subject for contemplation. They told me that they had some in the icehouses at Fresh Pond five years old which was as good as ever. Why is it that a bucket of water soon becomes putrid, but frozen remains sweet forever? It is commonly said that this is the difference between the affections and the intellect.” So much for Thoreau’s love life.
Valentine’s Day sometimes feels driven by consumerism—the expectation of chocolate, roses, and stuffed animals bear down upon us. We make sure to declare our love to romantic interests, or rebel and watch heist movies with our friends at home instead. The corporate intellect has calculated a holiday that invokes mixed emotions in many of us.
Ironically, another aspect of this same intellect has systematically found a way to destroy that which I love deeply—the mixed mesophytic forests across eastern Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Mountain-top removal allows for an efficient way to extract the coal that powers my heater, lights, and appliances at home, but has also eradicated uninterrupted habitats for diverse species, poisoned the water supply for thousands of families, buried the headwaters of hundreds of streams, and threatened the deep love and connection I feel hiking and climbing through these Appalachian ridges. Stories of the coal-cleaning chemical spill near Charleston, WV, the coal ash spill into North Carolina’s Dan River, and the recent coal slurry spill just a few days ago in West Virginia (blackening six miles of Kanawha Creek) fill the news.
For Valentine’s Day, as a celebration of the important relationships in your life, identify what you truly love, and I suspect it will be a passion that extends beyond manufactured sweets and hothouse flowers. Some thoughtful students on campus are surprising our community with handmade valentines, and I hope to do the same. But I’ll also be writing my senators and representatives about my love of mountains.
Dean of Academics, English Teacher, & Wilderness Staff