Yesterday I took my first-year Thinking & Writing students along the Ashuelot River to draw: it was too lovely a day to sit inside a windowless classroom. As my students sketched a grassy field, river, and surrounding hillsides–the same circle of hills that Henry David Thoreau loved when he passed through Keene on his way to Canada–I sketched two of my students standing on the bridge over the Ashuelot, their heads down as their hands worked steadily.

As a teacher, I’m always looking for a teachable moment, and I want to create a memory I hope will resonate in a young person’s consciousness for the length of their days: Nature Matters. When, after sketching, we turned to talk about Thoreau, excerpts of whose 1851 journal we’re reading incrementally with each day of ours corresponding with a day of his, one student observed that Thoreau in his journal jumps from topic to topic because he was always making connections.

It’s exactly this kind of connection–this sort of a-ha moment–that I’m aiming for in this class. I want my students to make connections between what they see and what they read, to notice (as Thoreau does) the changes from last year to this as well as the remarkable continuity between Thoreau’s September and our own.

On September 12, Thoreau wrote about a flock of pigeons–in 1851, they would have been native passenger pigeons–that perched so motionlessly, they looked like painted decoys. Passenger pigeons were colorful, so I understand why Thoreau thought them painterly, and they are now extinct, the sort of bait station Thoreau described being one of the factors contributing to the birds’ eventual demise.

Thoreau’s September was full of birds that are now extinct, but I know from experience the morning mist of which he writes with an almost rhapsodic reverence, dubbing September “the season of fogs.” Do any of my first-year students wake up early enough–perhaps on blurry-eyed walks to 8 am classes–to see the morning fog that connects our September to Thoreau’s? Without cars, my first-year students have no way to go to Goose Pond on a chilly, mist-enshrouded morning, so the season of fogs is one they have to read about, trusting either Thoreau’s testimony or my own.

Being older than my students, I know how slippery memory is: I know how quickly today becomes yesterday, last month, last year. This time next year, my students will be in other classes, reading other books for other professors; will they remember lessons about rats and refuges or a sunny September afternoon spent sketching in the open air rather than discussing books in a windowless classroom?

Whether or not they remember–whether or not they spark to and resonate with the kind of connections I’m trying to make with them–I know I’ll remember our sunny afternoon along the Ashuelot, having sketched the scene by hand and by heart.