I've been doing my best lately to become American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson's "transparent eyeball," to observe and to savor the elements of nature that surround me and to attempt to become one with them . . .
To shrug off the unnecessary and to lead a simple, natural life.
My most recent mini-success came one morning last week, as I drove to school in the rain.
The drops pattered steadily onto my windshield as the wipers beat furiously against their insult. My tires sang against the road.
I felt at peace in the dark new day.
Emerson's fellow Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau would claim that the raindrops - being natural - were making music and the wipers and tires, being man-made, created noise. But to me, the sounds were soothing and all of a piece.
I've been immersed in thoughts about Emerson and Thoreau as I teach my English classes about environmental writing through the ages. Our earliest example comes from the Chinese "Tao Te Ching" in the 6th century B.C. I also have used Native American, Judeo-Christian and West African creation myths.
Nothing has changed much throughout centuries of writing: Most of the works I have used make Man responsible for stewardship of the earth. I think the King James Bible is the only writing I've found that gives Man "dominion" and not a caretaking role. (Religion professors, call me!)
As I have allowed my classroom lessons to invade my personal life, I've realized that it's all too easy to forget the beauty around me - especially, in this crazy world, the wonders of simplicity.
And it has dawned on me how strange it is that only when we're ill or handicapped that are we forced by our conditions to simplify, simplify, simplify - Thoreau's prescription for a good life.
We, the impaired, sleep more hours, force fluids, tote about only what we absolutely need. I can fit my whole world into a backpack now, the better to walk on crutches.
Would that I could be more like that every day of my life.
But I know that when my mobility returns, so, too, will the burden of "necessities" that I lug about. (I console myself in this by remembering that even Thoreau was somewhat hypocritical, leaving his little cabin in the woods periodically to pick up things in Concord.)
I suppose it's ironic, too, that I do my best communing in the front seat of my North Sea Green Jetta, an economical vehicle but still a contributor to the destruction of dwindling natural resources.
The car is the only place I'm ever alone with Nature - the only place I'm unaccompanied, by my own design, by someone else's TV or radio or voice. (I can't even be sick in the doctor's office without suffering Sanjay Gupta's constant drone.)
The color of my car is a concession to the beauty of the natural world, at least.
I am lucky, I know, to be teaching in Gilbert - to arrive each morning after a reflective 25 minutes in a small, relatively quiet place (at least till the ringing of the first-block bell).
One of my students told me that Gilbert used to be known as "Utopia."
I'm not sure whether that's true, but I certainly find everyday pleasure in teaching amidst grass, trees and plants that are products of the school's horticulture program.
At least until I drive home to my air-conditioned, suburban-sprawl, three-cars-in-the-driveway house.