How An Unsung Nashville Refuge Allowed One Writer To Find Her Voice

Lessons learned from a few hours of solitude.

Radnor Lake

Courtesy Tennessee State Parks

After studying the works of Henry David Thoreau during my junior year of high school, our final assignment of the semester was to write a 10-page journal entry using a prompt from his most famous work, Walden. The requirements were simple: Meet at the Radnor Lake’s visitors center (around 20 minutes south of downtown Nashville) by eight o’clock in the morning, bring a spiral-bound notebook and pencil, and eat a filling breakfast (in the spirit of the assignment, McDonald’s wasn’t allowed). Hiking shoes were encouraged.

“Walden is a pond not an 85-acre lake,” I thought to myself as my car pool arrived at our destination. Cutting off the ignition, my friend Mark joked that Thoreau lived as a hermit in the middle of nowhere for two years. “Are we really taking life advice from this guy?” he asked. 

Gravel and small branches crunched beneath our shoes as we approached our classmates who were already entering the park. Immediately, I could see why our English department had chosen this sanctuary for us to tap into our inner selves. Ducks waddled from the shoreline to plop into the lake. Birds warbled and swooped, while frogs called and croaked. It was tranquil, beautiful.

Jaded teenagers as we were, my friends and I reluctantly parted ways to give each other space for a few hours of solitude. Seated on a wooden bench next to one of the remote hiking trails, I cracked open my brand-new notebook and began to write. What did I see? What did I hear and feel? Timid at first but becoming bolder with each scribbled word, my brain unlocked and words flowed confidently and freely. For the first time in my life, I was given permission to write whatever I wanted, completely unstructured and unconfined. It was a mess of thoughts about going to college and wondering about my future, but no one cared about my chaotic words on paper. It was liberating, and I have carried this memory with me for over 20 years.  

And now, when we convene for our high school reunion weekends every 10 years, we visit Radnor Lake. I see my classmates—along with deer, owls, hawks, and the usual ducks—and get to relive the moment when I was on the cusp of adulthood and exploring my written voice. Every time I go, I take in the same serenity and unadulterated beauty of the surrounding land and water. Radnor Lake will always center me despite the noise of the outside world, and it’s one of the first places that come to mind when I think of home.

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