A teacher takes the road less traveled, and likes the results

On the third day of spring, I walked to school. Ordinarily this would not be an essay subject, but I'm an educator in rural Connecticut, and with the exception of some of my urban colleagues, I suspect most teachers drive to school.

The impetus for my walk was threefold. First, I wanted to trim down and feel better about myself.

The second reason was that a colleague has been after me to read "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson, a humorous account of his experience on the Appalachian Trail. This inspired me to travel through our local woods.

Finally, being a high school English educator, I'm busy. I made the decision to walk the 2-1/4 miles to school, hoping that it would give me the reflective time I needed to put my demands in a more orderly perspective.

The morning of my walk, I rose at 4 a.m., researched some out-of-print books on the Internet, looked over lesson plans, and complained for 10 minutes to my wife about my job pressures.

Curiously, two days earlier, I had pointed out the merits of taking a break to a student who was upset during class and blurted out some inappropriate comments. After a warning, I asked her to walk to the office and settle down. Upon her return the following day, she avoided eye contact, answering in monosyllables. The next day she was on-task and pleasantly chatty. Sometimes students just need a "time out."

I left home at 6 a.m. in 22-degree weather. My wife and I live on a dirt road that ends on an overgrown path through woods of maple, pine, birch, and oak. Four-wheelers, dirt bikes, and horses and their riders are its most frequent users.

As I walked on the leafy ground, I delighted in the crisp air. I encountered several items of note. There were two patches of coyote scat, dark gray in the early morning light, and various birds: a plaintive mourning dove, two mallards in a marsh, and the hollow rat-a-tat-tat of the red-headed woodpecker. As I rounded a curve on the trail, I noticed a white-tailed deer bob off into the woods, some 40 yards away. Later, nearing the school, a single Canadian goose grazed the treetops as it descended, head tucked below its wings, Concorde-like, onto a large pond.

After a quarter of an hour, the path ended on an unimproved road, and I turned east. I walked in the middle of the road, confident in my ability to hear an approaching car. In that early hour, none came. As I passed the few houses, rather than hearing dogs bark at me, I was greeted with the warming smell of wood smoke puffing out of chimneys.

The road was hilly, and I developed a healthy sweat. Reaching the top of a long slope, I saw the the bell tower of the building in which I teach (built in 1873) in the gray-pink distance. I stood there for a moment and took in a view that has remained largely unchanged for 125 years, and thought how fortunate I was to be living in this area, as well as experiencing this historical reflection. I realized that I, too, needed this "time out."

On the last leg of my trip, I thought about the poems we had been discussing in class. It was only then that I better understood Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" - the simple beauty of the emerging green of spring, and e.e. cummings's "mud luscious" trail that I had traversed. Thirty-eight minutes of walking had completely turned my attitude around. My decision not to drive - to take Robert Frost's "road less traveled" - had made the difference for me that morning, as it has every morning since. Now as I walk to work I'm reminded of another Frost line, "Whose woods these are I think I know."

They're mine.

*Jeffrey J. Susla teaches English at Woodstock Academy in Connecticut.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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