“Walden Pond” shook me up big time—hook, line and sinker—in the summer of 1964. Henry David Thoreau’s book inspired respect for nature and in my heart, the birth of conservation idealism. Thoreau stayed in the house at Walden Pond for two years, from July 1845 to September 1847. He wrote about his splendid isolation.
I was 16 years old, had a driver’s license, and was feeling that adolescent surge of invincibility, dreaming quixotic solutions to a rather crazy world, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the previous fall.
Making a house call with my country-doctor dad to High Germany, I hatched a plan to buy the recently closed one-room schoolhouse, drop out of school at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, and live a pioneer life in our wonderful Appalachian Mountains. The sale price was $100, which was doable if I raided the piggy bank. I checked out the spring by the side of the school building. The summer flow remained strong. In the midst of the one room, there was a large Burnside stove. If I got started, I could cut several cords of wood. Food would come from hunting and fishing, which would be no problem, the way I figured it.
To this day the isolated High Germany School still stands several miles up a rock base road above Hemlock’s Mt. Olive Church, which for most folks is the end of the road. Gone is the Garlow Store / post office. Still standing but closed is the Zickafoose School. Noel Tenney, renowned local historian, gray haired as I am, remembers that he had the footnote on history distinction to be the last teacher there when he was still wet behind the ears.
Nostalgia swells up inside me from time to time. I need to get in a four-wheel-drive vehicle and head for the hills. I return to our family farm called “The Wilderness,” which is in that same expansive forest drained by the upper reaches of the Middle Fork River. Before I proposed marriage to Araceli, my beloved, I took her hiking and camping, climbing the tallest mountains I could find just to be sure she had the Spirit of the Woods. She did, and thus we enjoyed 45 years and nine months of blessed marriage before she crossed over to eternal life.
The dream of dropping out of a broken society comes from my Walden Pond / High Germany one-room school experience. Obviously I made another turn in the forested back roads, because I stayed in school for a total of 23 years, including training and practiced modern medicine, which is very technologically driven. However, I kept a personal declaration of independence. I practice holistic medicine, which is somewhat of a social experiment. And I married a lady who sailed her own voyage of spiritual discovery, crossing the vast Pacific Ocean to find peace in almost Heaven, West Virginia. We savored the life that left us very self-reliant.
My Doctor Dad intuitively knew what my dream of living in the High Germany School was all about. He spent seven years helping create the Appalachian Trail and nine years in the Army Air Corps fighting World War II. He convinced me to stay in school so I might have options when I suffered the inevitable woodsman injury. If I needed to use my head more than my brawn, then I would be prepared. He shared my dream, allowing us to have the joy of practicing medicine together for nine years before his retirement at 75 years of age. My wife bought the dream, too. And we passed it on to our children, who thank us for being grounded. Lesson learned—handle the quixotic dreams of 16-year-olds carefully. And listen to old timers who idealize their education in one-room schools.