Habits of MindHumanities

Time is But a Stream or, Flowers for Lisa

By June 16, 2015 2 Comments

Today while walking along a windy Wyoming road, I thought about Emerson and Thoreau. I have always liked what they have to say about nature, solitude, society and the self, and I have taught “Self-Reliance” and Walden for years even though my students have invariably begged for fewer pages of both.

I don’t keep up with Ralph Waldo and Henry David just for kicks. To me, they are master teachers of the hard-won lesson, rhetorical, spiritual, or otherwise.  Their sentences may seem to go on for miles, but once you get used to the waters of their prose, you quickly become saturated in their wisdom.

For example, Emerson said of solitude, “when it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” Being alone was quite a different thing in his mind from being lonely, and today, on a walk by myself in the wind and sunshine, I couldn’t have agreed more.

After looking for some time at the big, open sky, I looked down, and saw brave, brightly colored wildflowers defiantly growing in the dry soil. My breath caught as I realized that these were exactly what I wanted to bring to my sister’s grave on Sunday. Lisa died seven years shy of her 50th birthday, which our family will mark this weekend on June 21.

Thoreau’s words began to weave through my thoughts — two lines I and my students have never understood, and have struggled with for years: “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in; I drink at it, but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.”

Today, I think it means that we live in and out of time, a sparkling stream that we dip our feet in and out of as we go along.

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Jessica is a doctoral candidate, education consultant, writer and editor. She is the founder of bookclique, a collaborative of English teachers and students working to promote book culture, and a co-founder of Well-Schooled, the site for educator storytelling, dedicated to sharing first-person educator stories. All Rights Reserved - What I Learned Today in School.


  • Allen says:

    Beautiful and heartbreaking. You always manage to say what circulates around in my brain but I can’t get out because of the monstrous waves of saddness that come crashing in. Thank you.

    love, love and love


  • Lindsey says:

    Oh, this made me gasp. Because I feel privileged to know your family, to have known Lisa, to be privy to your thoughts. Time’s river, sparkling, evasive, confusing … right? xox