. John Tallmadge | Exploring Nature, Culture, and the Human Journey
Life is our dictionary.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Walden Workshops and Seminars on Nature and Human Values

Stalking the Spirit of Place: Nature, Wilderness, and the Literary Imagination

Recently offered at: Union Institute (7-day seminar/retreat)

Convenors: John Tallmadge, Ph.D., and Fred Taylor, Ph.D.

Location: Wilderness Field Station, Ely MN.

"Every continent," wrote D.H. Lawrence, "has its own great spirit of place. Every people is polarized in some particular locality, which is home, the homeland. Different places on the face of the earth have different vital effluence, different vibration, different chemical exhalation, different polarity with different stars: call it what you like. But the spirit of place is a great reality." This seminar will investigate the experience of place from the viewpoint of the writer, the naturalist, and the spiritual seeker. We will gather at a remote field station near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota, a setting ideally suited for studies in natural history and wilderness travel as well as for indoor presentations and class work. Our learning activities will consist of lectures, workshops, and round-table discussions in large or small groups as well as meditations, nature walks, and excursions by canoe.

From the literary viewpoint, we will look at the relationship between experiencing a place and writing about it. How do writers from various cultures and time periods respond imaginatively to nature and how does the act of writing deepen or transform that experience? Besides reading and discussing important literary works from both EuroAmerican and Native American traditions, we will also engage in journal and writing exercises that will deepen our sensitivities to language and our own creative process.

From the viewpoint of natural history, we will explore the ecology, geology, and climate of the Boundary Waters. We will be taking excursions through various environments -- including riparian forest, old growth forest, bog, clear-cut, and rock ledge -- to learn the important plants and animals as they relate to one another. We will pay particular attention to "unseen" components of the ecosystem, such as the forest fire cycle, to learn how a knowledge of natural history deepens the sense of place.

From the viewpoint of the spiritual seeker, we will look at the relationship between nature and one's own personal journey of growth. How do intense encounters with the land transform or expand our consciousness, help us overcome our fears, and enhance our ability to love? Here we will couple readings with meditations and sharing of our own journeys. We will explore the spiritual meanings of the encounter with nature and place in today's North America from a variety of viewpoints marked by culture, gender, geography, and the individual personality. Canoeing will serve as our primary vehicle for studying the effects of wilderness travel.

The convenors will plan and lead a series of "keynote" activities, including formal presentations and field trips. Because we hope to draw on the talent and wisdom of participants, we will also send out a letter with a questionnaire and study tips about six weeks before the seminar begins.






  • Halpern, Daniel and Don Frank, eds., The Nature Reader. New York NY, Ecco Press, 1998; selections, including the following:
      – Basso, Keith, "Stalking with Stories: Names, Places, and Moral Narratives Among the Western Apaches."
      – Nelson, Richard, "The Gifts."
      – Silko, Leslie Marmon. "Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination."
  • Hogan, Linda. Solar Storms. New York NY: Scribner's, 1997.
  • McPhee, John. The Survival of the Bark Canoe. New York NY: Noonday Press, 1989.
  • Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. New York NY: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Tallmadge, John. Meeting the Tree of Life: A Teacher's Path. Salt Lake City UT: University of Utah Press, 1997.
    Taylor, Fred. "Roots Coming Up, Roots Going Down" (xerox)
  • Thoreau, Henry David. "Allegash and East Branch." The Maine Woods. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980, chapter three.
  • Vizenor, Gerald, ed. Touchwood: A Collection of Ojibway Prose. Minneapolis MN: New Rivers Press, 1994 (selections)
  • Williams, Terry Tempest. Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. New York NY: Vintage, 1992.