“What is happiness, anyhow?  Is this one of its hours, or the like of it?—so impalpable—a mere breath, an evanescent tinge?” (817).

This week I have been totally absorbed with Whitman in New Jersey because of my Cultural Museum Project.  I have traveled to the Whitman-Stafford house in Laurel Springs, NJ ( 305 Maple Ave), to Laurel Lake, and to two different sections of Timber Creek, one in Deptford (Timber Creek Park) and another in Westville, around where the creek empties into the Delaware River.

Before I began “Looking for Whitman” around South Jersey, I read the portions of Specimen Days that discuss his time in Camden when he visited the Staffords often (in present-day Laurel Springs) and spent his summers in and around the Stafford Farm, Laurel Lake, and Timber Creek.  As I went to these places I thought about Whitman’s descriptions. 

I thought that there would be little chance that there was anything left of what Whitman once saw.  I was pleasantly surprised.  I don’t know if it was the place itself or the knowledge that Whitman had once stood where I was standing that brought Whitman’s descriptions alive.  Despite the neighborhoods, busy roads, and other “distractors” that have developed between Whitman and me, there was something still serene, peaceful, and transcendent about the places.

The Whitman-Stafford House would blend right in with the rest of the neighbordhood if it weren’t for the historical-site signs.  The building is closed till November for cleaning and renovations – so I couldn’t go in, but the big tree in the yard with the changing leaves

Laurel Lake is something I have driven by countless times – and never stopped to see it, never really saw it except for the blur from my periperheal  vision as I drove by.  When I finally found a road that went far enough down (I thought, for a moment I was going to have to trespass on someone’s property to actually see the lake!) to see the whole lake, I was again pleasantly surprised.  It was a beautiful, sunny autumn day and the bird were sunbathing by the lake.  Whitman’s descriptions certainly suited the moment. 

When I went to Timber Creek Park in Deptford, I was underwhelmed.  The hiking trails were beautiful, but the views of the Creek weren’t.  I’d imagine if I continued my walk I would have gotten better views, but that must wait till another day.  :)

Still Whitman’s descriptions of the trees and the general affect nature had on him can be felt at Timber Creek Park.  After a 5 minute walk through the beginning of the trail, you hardly remember you’re in Deptford near major roads.  It is a nice, quiet refuge from the rest of the world.  I this, I found Whitman.

In Westville, after almost jumping a fence (a loud, barking dog stopped me), I finally freaked out a woman enough for her to let me go into her backyard to snap some close-ups of Big Timber Creek.  When I mentioned I was doing a project, she looked at my quizzically.  When I mentioned Whitman – I think she figured I was talking about the bridge. 

There are few people in the area who know that Whitman once frolicked naked in Timber Creek or that he spent his summers in Laurel Springs.  

 I think Whitman still is in these places – but I think that is because those of us who study him bring him there with us.

When I finished my frantic travels around these areas, I returned to Specimen Days.  And so I return to the complete quotation with which I began this entry:

“A clear, crispy day—dry and breezy air, full of oxygen.  Out of the sane, silent, beauteous miracles that envelope and fuse me—trees, water, grass, sunlight, and early frost-the one I am looking at most to-day is the sky…What is happiness, anyhow?  Is this one of its hours, or the like of it?—so impalpable—a mere breath, an evanescent tinge?” (817).

Here Whitman looks at a beautiful day – not unlike Tuesday, when after a week of rain, the sun finally shone and the weather was a cool, comfortable 60 degrees – and wonders just what happiness is. 

This is from “The Sky-Days and Nights-Happiness,” dated October 20th.   Over 130 years later, I, too, was at Timber Creek on October 20th.  This discovery was a little bit of impalpable happiness! :)

Timber Creek from Westville, NJ - t.wood 10/20/09Timber Creek from Westville, NJ – t.wood 10/20/09