Our time together this spring will have its own rhythm composed of the following beats:
Our primary “text” for this course is the landscape itself. Our time together will be oriented around a series of ten “walks,” or excursions to a variety of local venues I’ve included to prompt you to think about your (and others’) relationship with the land. My request of you during these excursions is that you remain attentive, curious, and engaged–that you use your journal to take field notes, to record questions and relevant bits of conversation that emerge along the way. I ask that you engage deeply by posing questions, talking amongst yourselves, connecting your experiences to the readings, and generally striving to make meaning from the interplay of words and encounters.
A core element of this course will be your nature observation spot and the seasonal journal it inspires. I like Mr. Greer’s description of this exercise so well, I give it to you here, in full:
“The Undiscovered Country of the Near-By”
In Ceremonial Time, John Mitchell points out, rightly, I think, that we tend to be oblivious to much of what is around us; in his words, there is much to be discovered near-by. In an attempt to inculcate in you a habit of stronger observation (and subsequent reflection), I am setting as a major part of this course the keeping of a meditative journal.
First, I’d like you to find a natural place that will be for you what a shack on a sand farm in Wisconsin was for Aldo Leopold: a “refuge from too much modernity” (A Sand County Almanac). This natural place should be within easy walking or short biking distance, and it should be protected from human traffic, so that you will be able to find in it the kind of solitude of which Thoreau speaks often and eloquently. This natural place will form a focal point for your journal. I hope that you will visit it at least twice a week, at various hours. I expect that you will become very familiar with it, and it with you (speaking ecologically).
While you are at your “refuge” and, if you like, even when you are not, work on your journal. Make it in part an “almanac” recording and responding to the “slow turn of the seasons” (An Almanac for Moderns, Peattie), but make it also a compendium of any speculations and reflections that you would like to put in it. I want this project to give you a personal record of your journey through the New Hampshire spring of 1991. In addition to your writing, you may include photographs, pressed flowers, paintings, poems, songs, pinned butterflies, or whatever is part of your discoveries in your “refuge.” I’d like it to include at least two sketches and at least two poems. You need not worry about polish in these journals. This is your space to watch closely and to take note of the actual and internal landscape you inhabit.
Your journal will be your primary tool to record, explore, contemplate, and process your experiences in this course. Early in the course, we will discuss some helpful strategies for keeping a good journal, but for now, it’s enough to know that you should have one for this course, that you will be writing in it daily, and that you will rely on it to shape and inform your blog. Each of you will be assigned an observation spot along the Exeter river near the “Green” trail adjacent to Gilman Park. You will return to this spot weekly for the duration of the course, taking detailed notes on what you observe there and using these notes as the rudiments of your blog. Get to know this spot. It’s physical qualities, its details, its tendencies, its smells and inhabitants.
I’m asking each of you to create and maintain a WordPress blog detailing your thinking and learning in the course. We’ll spend some time together talking through the expectations for this assignment, but for now you should know that you are required to submit 4 “long” pieces (750 words) and 5 “short” pieces (min 300 words). You are certainly welcome and encouraged to write more frequently than this if you’d like–even brief short quips, quotes, poems, observation can add significantly to your blog. These pieces are due per your own schedule, though I encourage you to write regularly and often, to space out your entries so that they reflect the arc of your thinking for the term and the range of your experiences therein.
Try to get as many people to see your blog as possible. You should share the link to your blog with your friends and family; you should read and comment on each others’ blogs and generally engage the ideas and writing you find there. My hope is that you feel like you have an audience. Your blog voice should be yours, natural, at ease, a reflection of your intellect, humor, and depth–the culmination of your progress as a writer at Exeter. Those who know you and your writing should recognize you in these pages.
You may certainly include the entire array of alternate media forms in your work–photography, music, video, sketches, poetry etc. Nothing is off limits so long as it remains relevant to the intellectual endeavor of exploring your (or others’) relationship to place. To consider: a blog should have a unity about it–some core cohesiveness that binds your work together in a common exploration or pursuit. We’ll talk about this further in the first weeks of class.
I’m including Mark Long’s rationale for this kind of writing in case you’re interested.
And here are Mark’s instructions for setting up your own WordPress blog (and links to WordPress instructions).
You can organize your blog as you’d like, with pages appearing across the top margin. You might include an “About Me” page, or perhaps a page where you list the questions that emerge for you during the course, perhaps even a collection of your favorite quotes from the course reader (or from your personal readings) as you encounter them. Your main posts should appear in the primary text window of the blog itself. May your blogs be creative, original, YOU.
If you’re struggling with what to write, here are a few ideas to get you started:
Write about past outdoor memories that linger for you
Explore a quotation or passage that you find salient from the reading
Further explore an idea that emerged in discussion
Explore something around campus that connects to the reading or to our conversations
Write about something relevant from your immediate life
Write about a contemporary environmental news item
Compose music and record yourself playing or singing it
Compose a Letter to the Editor in response to something you feel passionately about
Compose a community critique
Compose a community praise
Interview a classmate, faculty or staff member, or someone in the community about something relevant to this course
Include Photographs/video/recordings from your time outdoors in this course or elsewhere
Compose an ecologically-focused analytical essay or close reading of a text
Include temperature recordings and weather reports
Close observations or descriptions of the natural world
Explore an environmental issue connected to Exeter or to your home
Include Photographs, Sketches, Artwork
Anything else you deem interesting and important
Robert Frost Recitations
There are a number of states, colleges, and towns that claim Frost as their own, but New Hampshire has perhaps the “better claim” (Two Roads) than all of them. Frost operated a farm not thirty minutes from Exeter in Derry, NH where he wrote a number of his most iconic poems. And as you’ll see, his work is infused, perhaps as much as any American poet, with the close awareness of the natural world with which this course deals. In homage to our own Robert Frost and to his knowledge of our own New England, I’m asking you to memorize a Frost poem that you’ll recite for our class later in the term. My hope is that as you internalize Frost’s language, you will see it mirrored in the natural details in which we immerse ourselves this spring.
Into My Own
A Dream Pang
The Vantage Point
Dust of Snow
In The Winter Woods Alone
My November Guest
Going for Water
Love and a Question
The Tuft of Flowers
After Apple Picking
Whose Woods These Are
Two Tramps at Mud Time
Tuft of Flowers
A Prayer in Spring
The Oven Bird
The Wood Pile
Grades: Your grade will be calculated as follows:
30%: Harkness Conversation, including conversational engagement during walks and