Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"A Missoula County Almanac" in the making?

University of Montana Environmental Studies graduate student Bethany Taylor is back with a new blog. In fulfillment of her Campus Corps volunteer position and supplementing the CFWEP's work in the Missoula schools with Milltown Dam and Clark Fork curriculum and activities, Bethany is assisting classes in learning about nature and environmental on!

I recently worked with some Missoula area 8th grade students in their Language Arts class. While this may not seem like the traditional venue for environmental science, it was a great chance to remind students that even if you aren’t a genius in Chemistry, there are still ways you can use your talents towards environmental preservation.
Here is a sampling of the students’ work:

The assignment “What do you think Nature and Environmental Writing are?” elicited a variety of responses.

From Elizabeth—“Flowing streams and gentle winds live silently and continue their varied paths as everything grows around them. A new obstacle is simply overcome by going over it or around it. A fallen tree in a creek creates a barrier and the water eventually finds its way around it and continues its way.
We, as humans, cannot go around our problems without paying them a visit later, but like the water we find a way to deal with it.
Similarities can be found with humans and nature and are easily conveyed through environmental writing. Take for example, our Earth, it goes through natural warming and cooling periods, almost as if it were sick. I am well aware that I do the same things. When ill, the body is overheated and sweats. The persperation then cools down and the body shivers, trying to warm itself? Could it be possible the Earth is the same?
I feel little through most environmental writing and can hardly bear to sit through while my eyes skim and re-skim the meaningless words.
However, if the writing was taken to a more creative level instead of the usual extremely seriousness, I’m sure it would be more interesting not only to me, but to many others.
Environmental writing is usually very opinionated and hardly even shows the other side of the story. It speaks the truth of things and tells you many things that you have no previous knowledge of.
I hardly find that this kind of writing affects me but I’m aware that my surroundings do. As winter approaches, a bear prepares itself for hibernation by filling up its fat supply. I prepare for winter by getting out my warm coat.
However, if there wasn’t a cold winter here I would prepare differently. Our environment affects how we dress, what we eat, and more.
Our animal friends face a much more harsh change than we do. Some travel long distances, others grow more hair and eat less.
There are many similarities between nature and our own life if only we look closer. Environmental writing looks very deeply into these and many more subjects, and I believe we could learn much from it.”

From Lauren—“I think that nature writing is any sort of writing that shows any connection to nature. Whether you are making comparisons between humans and nature, animals and nature, or nature and nature. So, you might read nature writing and not even know it because it doesn’t have to be direct. There is a large range of nature writing, and it doesn’t all have to be boring. Yes, it is possible for nature writing to be interesting and even enjoyable to read. But many people and teens wonder, ‘ok, so someone took the time to write a nature journal. What’s it to me?’ Let me explain the importance of nature writing.
First, it makes you more aware of your climate. Whether it’s your neighborhood or the world, nature writing gives you an insight to the issues of the natural world around us. What we need to change, what we need to stop, and what we need to fix. This kind of writing brings a level of awareness to us. It is possible to watch a movie or look up a website about global warming (or global climate change); a book better describes the situation to the reader. Or so that’s what my opinion is.
Next nature writing allows you to have more insight into other ecosystems. Although we all live in different locations and climates, the competition between humans and nature is ever going, just more prominent in some places. I think that it is comforting, subconsciously, to read about other people’s problems, just to be reassured that you aren’t the only one. Even if your issue isn’t nature related. It also makes me feel closer to the people who’s home you are reading about. That, despite the foreign ethnic backgrounds, you are both humans and both defy nature to live every day.
Finally, it is an experience nothing else can bring. Reading about something that is so different yet so similar to the ecosystem that you live in is something for everyone to experience because only when we make the connections will we be connected.
So, even though people might wave off nature writing, read it. It will be an experience unlike any other.”

From Braeden—“To me, nature writing it someone writing about their thoughts with nature. Like someone saying ‘I saw a cow’ isn’t nature writing, but someone saying ‘The great tree is a symbol of all that is harmony in the environments’ is nature writing. But to me, nature writing is a very dry subject. From the few chapters we read from “The Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold who dies in 1948 and was inducted into the Conservation Hall of Fame in 1965. I didn’t even know that they had a National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame. I mean, I’ve heard of sports Hall of Fame, but I’ve never heard of a National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame. So this whole National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame topic is pretty new to me. I don’t know how many people are in National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame but it can’t be that many. Anyway, back to nature writing. I still believe it will always be a dry subject to me. Maybe if there is a book about nature that is really interesting and has a plot then maybe it would change my mind and I might vote to induct the author to the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame. But until that happens, I will always think it is a dry subject. It doesn’t have a plot which I can’t stand in a book. It doesn’t have any action, or adventure, or comedy, which, again, I can’t stand a book not to have. I never complained about “The Westing Game” or the other book we read. But nature writing is pretty awful. I really wish we would switch to a book with more of a plot instead of reading “Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold, who was inducted into the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame in 1969.
Still Nature Writing is a very dry subject, I don’t know how people can fill up whole books with ‘the rabbit was running across the field being chased by a dog. All of nature is going like clockwork right now.’ How someone could fill up 250 pages like that is beyond me. How someone could fill up a whole book with ‘nature is all in harmony, how beautiful.’ How someone could get published with a book without a plot and is so very dry frustrates me. I now have a new least favorite type of book: the plotless ones. This type of book infuriates me. This is what I think of your nature writing.
So now you know, next time let’s read a book with a plot or some action or adventure. Or we can read a book with comedy. Or maybe a book like “The Red Kayak” or maybe another book like “The Westing Game.” Instead of learning about National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame. So there, that’s what I think of your “Nature Writing.” Take that society.”

Their next assignment was to write about a place that they would cry if it were destroyed, and what they would do about it.

From Malia—“There are many places in the world that I would cry if they got ruined. The most important place is though is my house. It is the most important place to be because it is where I have lived my whole life. Also, I have so many memories and I have all my possessions in it I would be so sad if my house burned down in a fire.
My house right now is the only place I have ever lived in. if I had to live in a new house, none of the rest of my life would be the same. I love my house so much, I would hate to have it burned down, because I have so many memories.
My memories in my house have been so abundant. Everyday at school, I have a new story to tell my friends. Some stories about my brother, my pets, my room. There is never an alike day in my life. Every day when I go home and relax, I just think about how much I love my house. I can still remember when I was five and my neighbor and I would play. We would go run outside, play on swingsets, do cartwheels, and play tag. There is so much in store for you when you have a house to live in that you love, and have your past in.
My whole life is in my house. I have my most valuable possessions, such as my iPod, phone, computers. But also I have more valuable things. I have a tree where my dog was buried. Also, there is my birth certificate, things from my younger childhood, and so much more that I don’t know how I could ever let those things go.
Everyday is a new day with new moments and memories. Every memory stacks up through the days, years, decades. If you appreciate your home, and life, you will be a great person. I love my life and everything that is important in it. I would cry if I lost my house.”

Malia wasn’t the only student who wrote about her house being the most important, which got into an interesting discussion about how the root of ecology is oikos, the Greek word for house, and what that means in terms of ecology and seeing the world as connected.

The final assignment was to write poems about where the students feel that they are from:

From Aaron—
“I am from a tennis court where I learned the game
I am from the black top where champions live
I am from Spokane where friendships lie
I am from Bozeman where sportsmanship lives
I am from Wimbledon where upsets roar
I am from the diamond where dreams remain
I am from the backyard and driveway basketball
I am from Great Falls where the biggest match becomes the funnest”

From Stacia—
“I am from the woods outside of my grandparent’s back door
I am from listening to the little birds and watching the squirrels when I was little
I am from little secret picnics that my grandma made me when I was young
I am from always being surrounded by protective mountains.
I am from playing on the swingset for hours in the hot summer sun.
I am from building teepees out of sticks and blankets
I am from making mud slides on the side of a hill
I am from climbing the oak tree and eating rhubarb out of the garden.
I am from just loving to be outdoors.”

From Braeden, (the same one who finds nature writing dry and plotless)—
“I am from standing on cold rocks in a creek
and running through meadows, sneezing with hay fever
from sprinting and tripping
and sliding and slipping
I am from running after what I thought was an ice cream truck
and then crying because I didn’t get any ice cream
from eating a large popcorn and puking at the movie theater
and thinking “shut up” was a bad word.
I am from watching “Dumbo” six times a day.
I am from Montana, and I always will be.”

They were a bright, cooperative, well-spoken and well-written class; my thanks to them and to their teacher for giving me the opportunity to work with them.

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