… about my graduate course at St. John’s College here in Santa Fe.
Sitting long hours in the classroom arouses in me the restlessness that was the bane, or perhaps the blessing of my childhood: when will I be let out? Eventually the discussion catches my attention, but first there is the longing for the open road that I first encountered, in fiction, in Kenneth Grahame’s delicious The Wind in the Willows.
My favorite character, the beloved hero of my childhood fantasies, was—and is—Mr. Toad, the unrepentant rebel whose escapades in his motor car scandalize his animal friends.
Mole and Rat encounter their irrepressible friend during a peaceful walk: “…far behind them they heard a faint warning hum, like the drone of a distant bee. Glancing back, they saw a small cloud of dust advancing on them at incredible speed, while from out of the dust a faint “Poop-poop” wailed like an uneasy animal in pain…with a blast of wind and a whirl of sound that made them jump for the nearest ditch, it was on them! “Poop-poop” rang with a brazen shout in their ears, they had a moment’s glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass and rich morocco, and the magnificent motor car, immense, breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot (Mr. Toad) tense and clutching the wheel, possessed all the earth and air for a fraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and enwrapped them utterly, and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee once more.”
Appalled, Mole, Rat and their friend Badger decide to take Toad into custody: “We’ll teach him to be a sensible Toad!”
“You knew it must come to this, sooner or later,” the Badger warned severely. “You’ve disregarded all the warnings we’ve given you, you’ve gone on squandering the money your father left you, and you’re getting us animals a bad name in the district by your furious driving and your smashes and your rows with the police. Independence is all very well, but we animals never allow our friends to make fools of themselves beyond a certain limit, and that limit you’ve reached.”
The animals imprison Toad in his own house, acting as guards. Asked to repent, Toad says, “a little sullenly, but stoutly, “I’m NOT sorry. And it wasn’t folly at all! It was simply glorious!”—and soon escapes confinement.
What a wonderful role model Mr. Toad was, and is, for me—especially in the dreary confines of a classroom, where I’m tempted to shout in the midst of endless nit-picking about Aristotle’s definitions of luck and chance, “I faithfully promise that the very first motor car I see, poop-poop! Off I go in it!”