It’s a Wrap

Writing in an Endangered World is a course title and a description of practice, of reading, thinking, discussion, and writing motivated by self-awareness, interest, engagement, honesty, generosity, and collaboration.

This course blog makes visible our practice. The sidebar includes student work organized by author or activity under Themes, the weekly essays syndicated from the student’s blogs to this Writing in an Endangered World blog under Discussion, and direct links to the student course blogs under Blog Contributors.

How did we do? The Writing Portfolios and the projects below offer one answer. In addition, rather than writing learning outcomes for the students in advance, the students worked together at the conclusion of fifteen weeks to articulate what they have learned: the knowledge and understanding, the skills and competencies, as well as the attitudes and habits of mind that they are taking with them.

Writing Portfolios

Each blog is a portfolio of writing: twelve essays and a preface. The portfolios invited students to take ownership of their presence on the web, express ideas, and integrate their learning and interests; to use open-source platforms, build projects using digital tools, and create content using portfolios, exhibits, galleries, blogs, or wikis; and to engage with the community, construct the web, navigate and critically question digital technologies.

Madison Ballou Miss B “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”―Henry David Thoreau

Chelsea Birchmore Mind Flowers Welcome to My Garden

Ethan Chalmers Eyes of the White Mountains We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.”―Henry David Thoreau

Nick DeCarolis Reconnecting to Nature“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”― John Muir

Ariel Freedman Feeling the Flood Emotions are Wild. Welcome to the Natural World

Meghan Hayman Coming Out of My Shell “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” -GD

Mickayla Johnson The River is Everywhere“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”―John Muir

Anna LeClere Pieces of the World You have big things. You know big things. But you don’t look into each other’s eyes, and you are hungry for quietness.”―Nell (1994)

Roy Martin Life Lessons Within Environmentalism A collection of thoughts, questions and speculations

Alexa Reichardt A Time for Tree Pausing our daily hubbub to sit down, drink tea, and give thanks to our Mother Earth

TJ Snow Snow My thoughts, feelings, and responses to various works and texts

Devon Sacca The Enchanted Forest“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”―John Muir

Lucas Thors The Islander“I thought to live on an island was like living on a boat. Islands intrigue me. You can see the perimeters of your world. It’s a microcosm.”―Jamie Wyeth

Colby Nilsen Wildcat: Overseer of the Mountain “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Writing in the Endangered World Projects

The projects below began with a question: What might you do with what you have learned by reading, thinking, and writing in the course Writing in an Endangered World? Students were encouraged to know what they were doing and then to go about doing it well.

Devon Coffee’s Taking a Walk Through the Forest of Environmental Literature: A Resource for High School Teachers

It takes action to make a change. This is Meghan Hayman’s claim in her project Saving Mother Earth: a blog designed to inform the world about our earth’s environmental crisis and raises money for Greenpeace, a nonprofit environmental organization that helps to give the earth a voice.

Mickayla Johnson  Compassionate Natures: An Animal Emotions Directory is a collection of writings, images, stories, and other resources on the fascinating topic of non-human animal emotion

Anna LeClere and Chelsea Birchmore Food for Thought features interviews on people’s relationship to food

Alexa Reichardt Final Project: Solitude: the ways of the woods, positive change, resilience

Ethan Chalmers EcoConscious Climbing blog explores climbing and environmental ethics, specifically the impact of climbing on the rock and on the experiences of future climbers.

Ariel Freedman has composed an Illustrated Children’s Book

Roy Martin’s Nature In A Quarter Hour Podcast on the field of environmentalism and it’s literary contributions

Madison Ballou Nature and Children: Interviews

Nick DeCarolis The Milky Way Sports Club

Devon Sacca Final Project: An Anthology of Environmental Poetry

TJ Snow Snow Final Project: Environmentalism and Film

Lucas Thors Final Project: One Planet Campus: ecological and environmental awareness on campus

Colby Nilsen Final Project: The Adventures of Wildcat: A Place Showcase

So, what have you learned?

What we have come to call student learning outcomes, at least as I understand them, invite teachers and academic programs to articulate for students the expected knowledge, skills, attitudes, competencies, and habits of mind that they will be expected to learn in a course.

To be quite honest, this kind of language does not acknowledge the unique ways that a group of students make sense of the literary and cultural materials I teach. That is, I am far more interested in your own assessment of what you have learned in the course. On the one hand, your prefaces and essays offer one version of what you have learned—in every case, these essays chronicle your thinking about (and with) the books and essays and poems we read this semester. Another version of what you have learned is the list below that attempts to capture the knowledge and understanding, the skills and competencies, as well as the attitudes and habits of mind that you recorded during our final class session.

Knowing and Understanding

I learned about (and learned from) new authors that I had never known about before

I learned to appreciate the many forms of environmental writing: including poems, essays, novels, and memoirs

I understand the origins and history of the environmental movement in the United Sates and the social movements of environmentalism around the world

I learned that the natural world has much to teach us and that we can learn how to be open to how it teaches us

I learned about the responsibility we have to both ourselves and to the more-than-human world

I understand the wild as the ultimate and most powerful force in our lives and in the world around us

I understand environmental issues as social issues

I understand that we are the environment, we are of it and we are in it

I understand that the idea of nature is socially constructed

I learned about the problems that lie within our current understanding of nature as a social construct (and what we falsely recognize as our inherent separation from natural processes)

I understand that the “human privilege” (anthropocentrism) that we have bestowed upon ourselves is the root of the environmental crisis

I understand environmental responsibility as having good manners in a human and more-than-human world, as etiquette, as Gary Snyder describes it in the essay “The Etiquette of Freedom”

Skills and Competencies

I read by listening to what the text says and make meaning through listening and thinking and writing

I read with an awareness of the inter-relatability of the context and the content of a text

I write from the words of the writer and editor Ed Hogan: “Know what you are doing and do it well”

I write as a process of self evaluation, self-identification, and self recognition

I write to find a place in the world and to articulate thought

I write for general audiences by cultivating a point of view and a distinctive voice or presence

I write not to forget about an essay or throw it away but to write in a place (a blog) where it is never over, so I was never motivated to never want to stop perfecting it

Attitudes and Habits of Mind

The environment is everywhere and I am in it

Not to be afraid of what we don’t know and what we do not want to hear

We are not separate from the world but are a part of it and we need to start acting as if this is true

Greater awareness of self and greater awareness of the more-than-human world

Greater awareness of the unknown and comfort with the unknown

Greater awareness of what is going on in our society that harms the more-then-human world and that we have to come together to figure out solutions

Instinctual urge to save the body that nurtures and sustains our life

Knowledge is power and what we do with that power is what will make a difference

The truth is difficult and it is hard to recognize that the problems are because of the way we live our lives. We have made the world the way it is and that is a hard truth to swallow

To become comfortable in the larger questions of life

Preface

As a New Hampshire resident who grew up for the vast majority of his upbringing within a moderately-sized suburb in the southern seacoast region of the state, I must confess that my outlook concerning nature has always been one of a certain lazy indifference, at least by New Hampshire standards. What with the abundance of wilderness found within my state as well as many others in New England, I’m well-aware of the appreciation which is expected to be fostered of the natural beauty that’s native to New Hampshire if I’m to consider myself an individual who as many say ‘knows or appreciates his roots’ to any degree. That being said, as a child who didn’t particularly excel in athletics or outdoor activities, I wouldn’t call the younger versions of myself an avid nature enthusiast by any means. In fact, to the contrary I’d have rather spent my free time inside, sitting contemplatively at the piano or reading a book by the fireplace. However, as a very young child I can remember something very specific, a notion which I can remember as if it were yesterday, which directly parallels the means by which I’ve learned to understand the natural world we all inhabit today.

I can remember always looking particularly fondly upon overcast days, especially when it rained. Like many children, I was very vocal of my inward thoughts, regardless of the consequences which they might bring forth, and so I was at first, utterly incredulous at the idea of others widespread distaste for the very type of weather I enjoyed, upon expounding my own favorability towards it. I’ve maintained this affinity for gray skies as I’ve matured, and although it’s taken me a while, I believe the reason why I prefer this kind of weather is directly related to the way in which I’ve learned to consider the natural world.

As a child, we’re almost immediately inundated with the pre-planned routine of society (although granted, mostly through our parents agency more directly than our own) and as such, become very attuned to when things don’t go as planned, even if we remain within the same environment with which we’re usually accustomed to. I recall one particular morning in kindergarten, having just arrived in the classroom, only this time I’d noticed that something was different. Not off, not unsettling; something quite positive actually, and evidently apparent enough for my young mind to register, additionally. I can remember noticing the particular hue of the lighting in the classroom, although at the time I was far from being able to place my finger one the exact difference I’d become aware of. It took several years before I realized that this was the first time I’d been at school while it was raining. And I can recall eventually working out this preference for rain as well as dark, looming clouds outside the window as opposed to the brightness of the sun and the electric blue of the cloudless sky as being rooted in those specific qualities which only young children are privy to; with their naturally exploratory minds and their untarnished, fresh view of this vibrant experience we call life. I’d noticed that somehow, on some subconscious level, I’d been unknowingly comparing how the light emitted from inside the classroom had felt to me when compared to a bright sky, versus a dark one. And what I’d gathered, again without realizing it, is that by itself, when left with no comparison, there’s nothing inherently wrong with bright skies. However, when one’s introduced to the possibility of their alternative; the fluorescent devices which cast themselves within the classroom are painted in an entirely different light (no pun intended). Put simply; by contrast, the darkness from the outside makes the inside seem brighter than on days when the man-made lights of the school building had to compete with the unequivocal luminescence of the sun. I’m not at all focusing on the difference of my opinion in regards to most others where the consideration of rainy days is concerned; I’m instead pointing to the contrast which one is forced to take into consideration and consequentially, look upon as positively or negatively as one desires, depending upon their own individual perspective. It’s this very idea of contrast with regards to what one observes which initially taught me that optimism as well as pessimism are both choices which one can bring to any event in their life. It’s this very same idea which with which I’ve learned to understand the relationship between humanity and the more than human world, as well.

The means by which I’ve always gone about considering the environment has been fundamentally improved upon by the topics, viewpoints, and ideas discussed, dissected & digested within the course titled ‘Writing in an Endangered World’ taught by prof. Mark Long.

Every text discussed within this class at the very least helped to further widen what I understood as my general categorization of just exactly what ‘environmentalism’ as a movement was, who it was primarily composed of, as well as how I understood myself and my species in the context of this world which was, at its core, so much more than just human. The idea of contrast which I’ve mentioned above is directly related to this recognition of humanity within nature’s context. Just as I was unable to grasp my initial affinity for gray skies before they revealed themselves as a point of reference for me; I was equally unable to grasp humanity’s place among the more than human world; without first being able to recognize the world we inhabit as exactly that: more than human.

Regardless of whether your perspective is as far away as mine initially was or to any degree closer; this characterization of the world as more than human is imperative, should one desire to ascertain all of that which this collection of essays has to offer.

 

The World As Undeniably More Than Human

Initially considering the more than human world, I thought about it as though it needed a second sort of characterization. As though ‘more than human’ weren’t enough words so as to allow the idea to make a whole amount of sense to me. However, upon further contemplation, I’ve found that the more than human world is a perfectly fine means of describing the concept. I’ve discovered, through thinking with the authors we’ve observed thus far, that the description had only unsettled me to begin with due to a certain inherent uncomfortability of mine with the idea of further minimalizing the human species in reference to other things or concepts I’d previously been unaware of.

Whether this is due to a certain amount of inherent egotism found within humanity or just a personal failure to humble myself on behalf of the world around me, I’m still not sure and, in all honesty, I wonder about the degree to which the real answer is probably a mixture of the two.

Becoming acquainted with the thoughts of others who’re not only credible in this area of discussion but who also illustrate approaches to thinking which vastly differ from my own have allowed for a widening of my perspective, in ways. The fact being that environmentalism as a movement wasn’t something I’d ever considered myself to be even relatively well-versed in the particular details of, the somewhat stubborn reluctancy I’d taken up when attempting to make meaning out of the ‘more than human’ world as a categorization seems more than a bit unwarranted to me now. Through understanding the phrase via the lenses of multiple disciplines which all seem to be focusing their gaze upon the same ominous picture with regards to it’s (the more than human world’s) future, the idea’s gained credibility as a verifiably rational notion to me.

The world is so much more than that which pertains to humanity. We like to focus our view through a lens of self-centeredness as though this lens itself were an inherent prerequisite to living a productive and fulfilled life; however I believe that quality of inherence to be more or less, for the purpose of pacifying our species’ collective ego. Now of course there are other factors to be taken into account, such as the specific cultural values and personal biases which any individual might bring with themselves when attempting to confront an idea or concept which does little to fit itself comfortably within the perceiver’s comprehension, however these unavoidable subjectivities can’t be helped to a certain degree, and so while relevant in the scope of a fully realized explanation, don’t lend themselves to the same level of magnification with regards to exactly why it is that they might be marring what would otherwise be an objective view of our species’ widespread inability to recognize the world as so much more than just human.

In conclusion, I believe there to be a multi-faceted definition as to why humanity grapples so tenaciously with it’s own inconsequence in relation to the more than human world, in particular, an unrelenting inability to reconcile the objective with the subjective. Upon learning how to separate the objectively observed reality within which we all inhabit from each of our own subjective outlooks which we bring with us to any problem or thought, a certain clarity is gained and the ability to be able to make the distinction from that which empirically exists and truthfully effects us all vs. any delineations from that which we create due to our own subjective world views and perspectives becomes more palatable. It’s this quintessential distinction which I believe to be imperative in the further recognition of the accuracy of the characterization of the world as ‘more than human’ by our species as a whole.

 

 

Relative To Humanity

The natural world’s near-ineffable indifference to the human species is something which, while useful as a piece of practical information, remains as a markedly unsettling notion for the human mind to initially conceive of; much less work with. It’s this sentient apathy of the living essence of the planet which both Snyder as well as Carson have struck upon within each of their works and, in consequence, prompted me to begin mulling over as I digest the precise means by which they each go about articulating their perspectives regarding it. While Carson utilizes her own respective background as a scientist to magnify the natural world to the degree to which the sheer magnitude of quantitative evidence regarding the systems of life which both explicitly and implicitly effect each other on earth renders humanity vastly less extraordinary than previously thought; Snyder meditates upon the happenings of the natural world which preceded humanity in a sort of quiet acknowledgment of our species’s relative lack of consequence in nature, and these sentiments both lend themselves to improving upon as well as further widening my perspective in relation to the natural world’s near un-consideration for human beings.

Not far into her book, Rachel Carson writes, “The new environmental health problems are multiple—created by radiation in all its forms, born of the never ending chemicals in which pesticides are a part, chemicals now pervading the world in which we live, acting upon us directly and indirectly, separately and collectively.” While at the surface this might seem less than indicative of the natural world’s apathy towards humans, however if one chooses to focus upon the fragment towards the end of the quote, this almost innate notion of omnipresence with regards to both the earth as well as all life which it inhabits is clearly present. While Rachel Carson may be talking specifically about those chemicals and pesticides which humanity has made use of and, as a result, been working with so as to bastardize the creation of organic life within nature; these manufactured chemical products which act directly upon the natural world are an imperative example of how one singular step in the wrong direction could spell disaster for humanity’s continued existence on earth; and it’s this exact larger-scale perspective which should always be taken into account by humans with regards to our place on earth.

Gary Snyder’s poem ‘What Happened Here Before’ from his collection, titled Turtle Island serves to illustrates a similar awareness of the utter vastness of the varying amounts of natural processes which occur regardless of humanity among the natural world. Snyder utilizes vivid imagery as well as metaphor and a strong amount of alliteration so as to go about communicating this point of relative indifference by nature in respect to humanity as a whole. Upon opening, the first lines read,

“First a sea: soft sands, muds, & marls/—loading, compressing, heating, crumpling, crushing, crystallizing, infiltrating/ several times lifted and submerged./”

Again, it’s the ends of these lines which speak the loudest to this point; the specific imagery of the phrase ‘several times lifted and submerged’ works to make me think about the processes which occur underneath the earth’s surface; at the floor of the ocean or when a volcanic eruption of some sort occurs. It’s these consistent larger-than-life activities of the earth which serve to first remind us that we do not control everything, and almost more importantly, that those processes which we do control, while somewhat consequential for both us as well as the earth, aren’t always the end-all-be-all, magical keys-to-the-universe which we so arrogantly like to assume upon a new scientific discovery or breakthrough of our own. Along with the litany of other verbs beforehand, ‘…compressing, heating, crumpling, crushing, crystallizing, infiltrating/’ both of these images call to mind a certain hierarchy, an order among the world; of which we should take care to remember: we were never at the top.

Later in the poem, a slightly more subtle yet equally as effective device makes itself known; a temporally-based metaphor which both through its description as well as through its consequence, allows for a more wholly-realized idea of how this poem works to improve one’s understanding of humanity’s relative irrelevance in the grand scheme of the natural landscape on earth. The line reads,

“Warm quiet centuries of rain/ make dark red tropic soils/ wear down two miles of surface,/”

What I previously meant by ‘its description’ refers to the ‘warm quiet centuries of rain’ which undeniably details the elongated period of time with which this rain is occurring, automatically forcing the reader’s perspective to widen; and what was intended by my phrase ‘its consequence’ is in reference to the later lines ‘make dark red tropic soils/ wear down two miles of surface/’ that inarguably illustrate the process of erosion over such a large period of time, that the surface is actually degraded by two whole miles from where it’s previous elevation lay. These lines serve to illustrate the sheer magnitude of all that which occurs on earth, completely regardless of humanity’s involvement with it.

How Snyder and Carson have struck upon these notions of largeness in comparison to humanity’s relative smallness, while potentially somewhat unsettling depending upon one’s previous perspective, have nonetheless allowed for me as a thinker; a certain amount of ease of tension, a sort of peace of mind. Because, while it’s important for humanity to have certain goals and purposes while alive, it’s also important for us to bear in mind; any pressure which we feel to be this great, hulking, top-of-the-food-chain apex predator of a species that can never hope to shy away from its role of necessity among nature as the only species to possess consciousness, is a somewhat self-inflicted endeavor. Because, while we do have defining characteristics which separate us from other animals, there are still things about us which are inarguably animalistic, as well as things which we do not maintain any dominion over whatsoever. Important things. Things which have always reminded us that our own self-proclaimed largeness can always be rescaled. It’s these things which I believe to be nature’s balancing act; earth’s discrepancy in biodiversity for our hubris with usage of pesticides; a century of rain for our ego; two miles of surface worn down for our mind.

The natural world has always worked in this sort of uncanny symbiosis, this back-and-forth, this principle of equivalent exchange. As an inherent part of nature, we should take care to remember that while we’d like to imagine ourselves as the ones meant to solve this problem, this conundrum, this seemingly impossible equation of purpose; there seems to be a great deal which is attempting to tell us: we’re merely another factor within it. And that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

A Collision of Perspectives

I’ve mentioned in previous essays the idea that people are stuck in their own lives until something brings them out of it. Rachel Carson calls it “ignoring all else.” She says that humans tend to ignore everything in front of them until it’s an immediate concern. TC Boyle’s 1995 edition of the book the Tortilla Curtain shows an example of this when the book starts out with the main character, Delaney, hitting an unexpected Candido with his car. The best part of this book is how the story starts with such an exaggerated life changing event because, in reality, that’s when our own stories start – when we realize something life changing. We wouldn’t be telling it unless it made us change in some way or view something completely different. Delaney is a character stuck in his own world, when suddenly a new world collides with him.

I like this idea of collision. It brings with it the idea of snapping out of where you once were and being thrown into something new. That’s what we need as a society sometimes to understand that there are other perspectives in the world. It’s what we need to understand the beyond human world.

Humanizing The Earth

The monkey wrench gang as a work illustrates several personal parallels which both deepen as well as elaborate upon the inherently human nature of the world in relation to how it’s treated by it’s inhabitants. I don’t necessarily mean that the earth is by our definition sentient, of course; simply that on a much larger scale, much like the way a human will respond negatively when it’s mistreated; so does and so will the planet. Not only will it respond, it’ll accomplish this in ways directly contradictory to the means by which humanity is used to recognizing any sort of retaliatory behavior: simply by introducing the absence of it’s own abundance. What I mean when I say ‘ways directly contradictory to the means by which humanity is used to recognizing any sort of retaliatory behavior’ I’m referring to most other living things’ usual response of hostility & aggression at the prospect of being seriously threatened.

A specific and yet subtle tool is used throughout Abbey’s work which I believe parallels this same nature of a more withdrawn response as a result of constant battering by an opposing force. As a novel, this work bursts with an abundance of dialogue; so that one as a reader becomes heavily embedded in each character’s specific idiosyncrasies as well as their own internal thoughts and feelings the same way one might be able to hone in on these amidst an actual face-to-face interaction. Now, while these might sound like one’s average, run-of-the-mill qualities of a work which merits publishing, if one takes care to notice the syntactical structure of almost any instance where 2 or more characters land themselves in a voracious back-and-forth, litanies which separate themselves from what one would otherwise characterize as adequately descriptive language for a novel become increasingly apparent.

Your plans? What do you mean your plans, you ignorant, pig-headed, self-centered schmuck.”

And in response, “I’m not sure I trust him.”

Again, almost immediately following, “A pair of weirdos. Eccentrics. Misfits. Anachronisms. Screwballs!”

“Now now, they’re good boys.”

It’s both these repetitive vocal litanies as well as the consistently terse, punctuated responses which meet them that directly parallel the planet’s reaction to widespread destruction among its natural resources and other forms of fruition. Just as these sentences batter and bash and berate the other conversationalist with what almost comes across as a kind of verbal assault, only to be met with a minimalistic, almost-disappointingly-lacking response; so do earth’s inhabitants, and earth’s only retort as a result is a morbidly scarce version of itself. This parallel serves to illuminate Abbey’s work’s overall focus on humanity’s strange & faulty relationship with the more than human world.

It’s this seemingly human reaction of the planet to negate it’s own life-giving and ever-reproducing nature as a result of rampant abuse by those species which primarily inhabit it that both unites as well as juxtaposes the separate personal tales of the members of the monkey wrench gang. Just as the earth reacts in a ‘human like’ way to how it’s treated, so do the members of the monkey wrench gang as the happenings of the novel take their course. This near-anthropomorphization of the earth as a human-like being (or at least one with certain human-like tendencies) takes care to highlight the undeniably human qualities of the members of the group as they interact with one another. Consequentially this leads to a more nuanced understanding of both these individuals as islands unto themselves as well as their roles and relations to one another among the group, which additionally deepens the experience of the novel, as it centers upon this group and it’s happenings within.