Friday, June 19, 2009


I’m back to walking now that my broken toe is mostly better. Unfortunately, I lost my groove for walking and blogging back in the spring, because I took on more course work than I could balance with my now full time temp work and family obligations. As my goal in walking is to find whimsy, imagination, and magic in the landscape, my current challenge is the MSU campus; I work here as an office temp, so I get deployed to different parts of the campus, depending on the assignment. Something you can really appreciate here are the trees, because the whole campus is an arboretum. Even in areas that are mostly buildings and parking lots, there are still some interesting trees, and many of them are labeled with little signs that provide their names and a bit of their natural history.

I particularly enjoy looking at very old trees with interesting shapes, including those with multiple trunks separating near to the ground, because those are the sorts of trees that young people can climb and play around in. No doubt, successive generations of students have interacted with those trees, and some must have memories of relationships with special trees. It would be interesting to interview MSU alumni about their memories of trees—as well as how they have imaginatively engaged other distinctive landscape features and architectural features of the campus. I know that when my Dad went here, he was in the forestry department, and the students would knock the juniper berries off the bushes and use them to brew gin in the huge creosote cookers in the basement of the department. I shall have to ask him if he has any other memories of trees.

One person whose memories of MSU would be worth recording is the poet Theodore Roethke, though, unfortunately, he is dead. He briefly taught here, (in 1935), shocking students and staff with his eccentric wild-man behavior, which included climbing out of the classroom window and creeping along the ledges while making faces into the windows. (This was for a writing class.) One night, Roethke went for a walk in the woods near campus, hoping to experience a mystical oneness with the trees, and came back in a disheveled and delirious state, which got him fired. Because Roethke used a great deal of botanical imagery in his writing, I have to wonder if he had some favorite trees on campus, as they may still be here. Indeed, it would be interesting to know which window ledges of which building Roethke had been climbing around on. (You can read more about this at Bill Peschel’s blog,; the article is “Theodore Roethke’s Walk in the Woods.”)

Another mystical encounter that took place in this general area involved Carlos Castaneda. I don’t recall where I read this, but Castaneda said that he was strolling the streets of East Lansing with a companion—or maybe it was someone who wrote that he had been walking with Castaneda—and anyway, they were surprised to see a strange creature which morphed into a fallen tree limb—or maybe it was vice versa. Again, no way of knowing where, exactly, in East Lansing this uncanny event took place, but it’s something to muse upon while out walking here.

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