My Own Walden
I never forgot the Sangre de Christo Mountains, nor its wild horse country. Professor Woodruff had asked me to join his dig and I assented. As an assistant in his office, I handled papers, scientific articles and other details of anthropological nature. Although I was majoring in sociology, the part time job with Professor Woodruff worked well into my class schedule.
The students and faculty in the anthropology department were not these up tight, starry-eyed fanatics that many of us soc, psych or political science people were. On our campus you could just about tell who was studying what. The anthropology people were so low profile, you almost didn't even notice them.
I had been on this campus three years and had never seen any of them walking by on their way to class, lunch or the library. Perhaps they had walked by, but my eyes focused on the purple haired diva who was majoring in drama, or the Russian princess who, dressed as a flamenco dancer, tried to study both ancient history and the finer points of flamenco and castanets.
Professor Woodruff was what they called "a doll." He, of course, wore the brownish tweed coat with leather elbow patches. He had the requisite pipe, the bowl of polished maple or some other burled wood. He had wonderful hair, sandy; gently waving around his slim, slightly tan face and head. When I sat in his office, I felt safe from all the knowledge and radical opportunities around the campus.
Yes, we were in the middle of a great period of social unrest. Strong, well dressed and shod young men and brilliant, uniquely dressed coeds, would approach people on campus, asking them to join groups that were to transform society. After all, we were the hope of this country, the world. We were the cutting edge; we would jolt society out of its lethargy.
That's where Professor Woodruff and his anthropology department came to my rescue. It was an oasis. Everything was cool here, it was civil, it was calm, it was...it just was. There were no axes to grind, for the subject matter, the old bones and relics, they were there under the ground, waiting. If no one dug them up, what was the harm?
If Professor Woodruff and his team just happened to luck out, that would be great, too. He might even get a commendation from Scientific American or be feted at an event in Washington. The Smithsonian might feature him, not to mention National Geographic. Why, if the bones were old enough, or the creature Jurassic Park enough, they might even make a movie out of it.
These things were of no concern to Professor Woodruff. When you think about it, if you looked face to face with a reconstructed cro magnon man, the rush of today would seem a bit laughable. Am I right? Professor Woodruff gingerly went about arranging his lectures, coordinating classes and directing students in their researches. His offices were so orderly and "feng shue" that even without his wise presence, things just fell into a nice order and the students had no problem finding the file from the stone age as opposed to the relic folder from the bronze.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, I never thought my semester in the anthropology office meant much, except for some spending money, helping to buy my blazer and class ring, and a few beers at the Lion's Pub. I also picked up some nice Paris knock-off clothes at a downtown department store. As a matter of fact, the Russian princess had her dressmaker copy my copy of a beige casual suit with gold anchor buttons. But that's another story again.
Fact is, life took me to the radical positions that I was somewhat hesitant to embrace while in school. I rallied for integration, social justice, and women's rights, not to mention burning the proverbial bra. I did Woodstock; I made shampoo out of mangoes and chanted the old Indian chants. I visited the sweat lodge and did encounter groups. I read Castaneda and was right there with Jack Kerouac. I matched verses with the beat poets and hung around "The Village," wearing black tights, bleached jeans, bleached ponytail and Capezio slippers. I smoked Macanudo cigars and crashed the Gaslight Café. I drank drambouie at the Village Barn and spoke of Godot and Long Day's Journey.
Fast forward to old age. None of my protests or poses had much effect, not in the big picture. This, after looking back at a life that was influenced more than I cared to realize by those four years on the campus of Ivy U. Maybe a little African-American child in the backwoods of North Florida learned a little from the perspective or craft lessons I taught back in the sixties. Maybe, and this was a collective effect, just maybe the shampoos today are not quite as "plastic." Just maybe my neuroses were made more gentle by some encounter group. I don't know for sure what difference my striving made.
I know this. My retirement is a wonderful experience. I returned to the area where Professor Woodruff and his team went, in the unforgettable Sangre del Christo Mountains. If I can live without a bra, I certainly can live without the Lexus, the Rolex, and the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon. I threw away my Daytimer, my iPod and my iMac. The crevice/cave that I call my home is an abandoned rock dwelling of hundreds of years ago. I have a shallow well that provides fresh water. I cook cactus and fry it with eggs laid by various desert creatures. My clothes are leather, made by yours truly. My shoes, a kind of moccasin I make with the hide taken from behind the neck of the coyote and I tie dried entrails which I pull into strings, and wrap the leather about my feet.
I had no idea that my four years at Ivy U. were just a diversion, a sideshow to the real education. Thanks Professor Woodruff, thanks for my major in anthropology, or whatever it is that you taught me. You played it so low key, I didn't even know what I was learning, particularly your clever lesson, which you never articulated, of saving the best for last.