Dear Class

We covered good ground today as we approach the close of the first week of September. And I believe we are ready to dive into Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. The book is a literary and cultural achievement and it is one of those books that ya just gotta read.

What follows are a few post-class notes. I was going to write an email but then realized I might have more to say that would be useful to put up here on the class blog.

Reading for Week Three 

Get started! The schedule page under Tuesday September 12 lays out the reading: the first 184 pages of Silent Spring and the secondary materials below that will help you understand the cultural and literary context and the extraordinary public reception and controversy.

Read Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. We will discuss Chapters 1-11. 1-184. Discussion Partners: Madison and Chelsea

Read Mark Stoll’s virtual exhibition, Silent Spring, A Book that Changed the World, for an overview of the global reception and impact of Silent Spring as well as the book’s legacy in popular culture, music, literature, and the arts.

Read Frank Graham’s assessment of public responses to Carson’s science writing, as well as the more general problem of new scientific evidence, Fifty Years After Silent Spring, Assault on Science Continues.

Think about Carson’s writing and the popular movement of environmentalism in the United States. Look at the cultural materials on the Media Archive of this course blog and consider environmentalism as a social movement, as well as the social and cultural formations of environmental concern: writing, advertisements, television, music, film

Discussion Partners

Each day of class when we are discussing a book this semester we will be rewarded with the insights of two discussion partners. The responsibility of the discussion partners is simple: send Mark your notes on the reading by noon on the day of class. Your notes, page references for passages, a draft of the essay you are working on, a list of questions—the form is what you want it to be. Every discussion partner should, however, provide me with at least five page references. I will then post what you send on the Ephemera page and we will use what you come up with as a place to start or to enrich our discussion in class. Also, I will expect you to be a bit more active in class and will look to you to help carry the discussion. I am happy to meet with you before class or talk by email if that will help you to prepare for the responsibility.

Next week: Madison and Chelsea are up for Tuesday and Ethan and Devon are up for Thursday.

Blog Work

The blogs are coming along nicely. Each blog is indicating a living and breathing human being, a unique standpoint from which to take up the literary and cultural materials we are studying. The only housekeeping we have is making sure we use the categories consistently. For Week 1 the category is “First Thoughts.” For Week 2 (due Sunday September 10) the category is “Second Thoughts.” Delete all the other categories from your post and your blog. You can as many tags to a post as you would like!

Writing Workshop

Our discussion in class was centered on a sentence I find quite useful. It is from the writer and editor Ed Hogan: “Know what you are doing and do it well.”

Know what you are doing. This injunction for writers (for anyone creating something, really) is more elusive than it might at first appear. In class we looked at some writing and precisely how the writing was doing what it does. English majors are familiar with this kind of looking—but all writers need to cultivate this perspective. What did we see? We saw writing that makes connections (to personal experience, other classes, to other texts and contexts. We saw writing focused around a question. We also saw writing less aware of what it is trying to do, or doing a few or many things.

Let me suggest that you go back to your first essay in this class, your blog post titled “First Thoughts,” and ask yourself, “What is this piece of writing doing?” If you find it is evident, go ahead and then ask, is it doing this thing well? Examples might include:

  • Describing a text
  • Coming to terms with a question
  • Making connections (for a reader, between an idea and a personal experience, another text and/or context, etc.)
  • Linking a text to a context or event
  • Forwarding or recirculating selected passages from a text for others (your readers) to consider

And so on. Now, if you find that your First Thoughts post is not really aware of what it is doing; then please take some time to revise what you have written. This process will help you prepare for your essay this week. (nota bene. Most writers, and surely for me, find it difficult to see clearly what something is doing. We are always looking through a glass darkly as an author. So consider sharing your writing with a reader (friend, partner, whoever) and ask them to tell you what she or he things the writing is doing. This exercise can be exasperating, but it most always leads to a productive revision.)

Now, for your essay this week: please categorize it as “Second Thoughts.” I recommend that you have a look at the essay I wrote before class as one example of an essay that is doing something and attempting to do some of the things that work well when writing a digital text. When you sit down to draft your essay, think about a mode of expression that is inclusive (people who don’t know about the topic you are writing about or the context); consider taking the reader through hyperlinks to relevant or related materials; link to video or audio resources.

When I look at the essay Slow Violence, and I ask what it is doing, I guess I would say that it is thinking about how we might move from a prevailing discourse and vocabulary about nature (violence) and then recognizing that human reasoning is fallible which creates the challenge of gathering support for addressing environmental crisis (in this case anthropogenic climate change).

Do it well: throughout the semester we will be talking about ways of doing things with texts. I like what the writer and teacher Joseph Harris says about what English majors are usually doing when they sit down to write about texts: “to make interesting use of the texts you read in the essays you write.”

This is sensible advice. But we will have to do some talking about that word “interesting.”

One of the things I might add here about the post I wrote this morning called Slow Violence (a title with an implicit reference to Rob Nixon’s seminal 2013 book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor) is that its attempt to do this thing well (connect the crisis to the way we think) is based on moving from one place to another. As I said in class, I am starting to reread Rachel Carson. I read Kolbert’s commentary in this week’s New Yorker. I got wind that Rebecca Solnit had written something interesting (as usual) in The Guardian. I thought about Rob’s book. I then made a connection somehow to reading about recent research on the challenges of reasoning and all of a sudden these connections began to take shape.

What is that shape? My essay, an attempt, begins with a specific passage from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, moves through a series of related texts engaged with the same scientific and moral questions, comes back to more passages from Silent Spring to anchor the essay, and then ends up somewhere quite different from where the essay started. That different place  has to do with thought and action, human fallibility, collective knowledge, and so on. One of the ways I am trying to write, I might add, is by thinking with (as opposed to about) the authors and ideas I am discovering in connecting their texts.

I am looking forward to reading your Second Thoughts on Monday. Have fun. I’ll see you next week.

The River is Everywhere

Although environmentalism seems to be a broad topic with many areas of interest, there is a common theme expressed by not only environmental literature authors, but also by authors of other generas, musicians, etc., and this is the idea of interconnectedness across the universe. This includes living and nonliving things, plants, animals, and humans alike.  I will begin with two quotes by John Muir that were shared in class—“And what creature of all that the lord has taken pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit—the cosmos?” And, “The universe would be incomplete without man, but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature.” These quotes especially caught my attention, since Muir is expressing (quite beautifully) a belief which I personally identify with. The idea that every living creature has worth, is important to the functioning of our environment, and deserves respect is one that I feel very strongly about. One of my favorite quotes in which this is also expressed is in Herman Hesse’s 1922 novel, Siddhartha—“The river is everywhere.” I even have this tattooed on me… This quote is essentially stating that everything is connected. Not only are we, as humans, connected to each other  (we all live on the same Earth, we all descended from one common ancestor thousands of years ago, we are all made of the same things, we breathe the same air, the list goes on) we are connected to the other living and nonliving things we share this planet with– our “brothers” as Gary Snyder puts it. Singer and songwriter, Andrew McMahon has a lyric based on Hesse’s quote, “Everything’s a piece of everyone.” It is for this reason that I feel as though all living beings are valuable, none more than the other, but equally.

A related concept is mentioned by Ramachandra Guha in his 1999 novel, “Part One: Environmentalism’s First Wave,” in Environmentalism: A Global History—the rights of plants, trees, animals, and land. I think that this connects perfectly with the quotes of John Muir previously mentioned, as well as the quote from Siddhartha and Andrew McMahon’s lyric. Aside from the fact that living beings are connected through a variety of ways, the mere fact that they exist, I believe, allows them rights—to be respected and treated kindly. As John Muir said, why would any creature exist if they were not significant? All creatures are inherently meaningful, big or small, human or not.

There are creatures much smaller than us…Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash
And there are creatures much larger than us…Photo by Malte Wingen on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This brings me to the ideas expressed by Rachel Carson in the first few chapters of Silent Spring. She speaks of the millions of years during which earth “developed and evolved and diversified life to reach a state of adjustment and balance with its surroundings.” The earth developed and evolved and diversified, creating the thousands of species of plants and animals that exist today because nature is a delicate, living entity—all of these creatures exist for a reason, and that is so the earth can function properly—so it can create clean air, water, and food for all of its inhabitants. Rachel Carson then goes on to say how man has rapidly altered the natural conditions of the earth much faster than the “deliberate pace of nature”—the pace that allowed/allows for evolution, and therefore for balance. Evolution is nature’s way of perfecting things, after all. But it must work over many generations in order for it to “perfect” anything. (I must mention that evolution does not have any sort of “end goal” — it is simply occuring by the mechanism of natural selection, which is based on inherited traits within a species. However, it is quite amazing, when observed from an outside-of-biology-perspective– every species has evolved or is currently evolving to fit their “niche”, or their role, in an ecosystem.)

We, as a race, are damaging the most beautifully balanced system—one that provides us with all we need to survive, and then some. The keyword here is one— there are no other Earths. From here, the ideas of Gary Snyder in Turtle Island become relevant. “This living flowing land is all there is, forever…We are it– it sings through us” (41). We are  the land– we are our Earth. And we, therefore, are all we have. What is the use in looking to live on another planet, or to live “in outer space?” We do live in outer space! We have been “given” this amazing gift–to be a part of the most beautifully, intricately designed thing we’ll ever know of. Yet, we are destroying it, all while looking for a way out.

This is why I personally feel so strongly about environmentalism as a social movement—the idea that humans are the superior race is the reason why, I believe, our environment is being destroyed. But ironically, this idea is simultaneously destroying humans.  If all living beings were treated with respect, our weather wouldn’t be so extreme, our air wouldn’t be polluted, and our oceans wouldn’t be filled with plastic. Gary Snyder, Rachel Carson, and John Muir all expressed this idea many years ago and in a variety of ways. Gary Snyder expresses his anger for the lack of respect given to nature; Rachel Carson explains the ways in which we are destroying our planet, all while not knowing the consequences of this; and John Muir writes about the completeness of the cosmos and all things belonging in it. These all seem to be very different ideas under the umbrella of environmentalism, but they do all seem to come back to the central theme that through the Earth, everything is connected…The River is Everywhere.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Writing in an Endangered World and my connection to nature

Prior to entering the course Writing in an Endangered World, with professor Mark Long, my college writing experience was quite limited. My involvement in courses that revolve their focus on writing and literature was limited to only one writing class required by all students of my college.  My own academic roots lay within the sciences, and more specifically the study of the natural environment. Within this newly created blog and a fresh start in a new writing class; I will share my own scientific knowledge as well as interpreting newly found environmental literature. I look forward to gaining a better understanding of what writing in an endangered world really is throughout the semester; as well as sharing my own experiences and thoughts about environmental literature and what they mean to me.

I have only just begun to create and edit my first blog here as you read it now. My familiarity with blogs and content creating before today is close to nothing. Other than fulfilling class requirements and using this blog for academic purposes, I wish to utilize this blog as my own voice to the outside world as an environmentalist and outdoor recreation enthusiast.  My hopes for Writing in an Endangered World, and this new blog; is to become a better writer, become a more profound thinker in an environmental sense, and create a voice for myself within this blog that shares my thoughts with you, the world.

Before I begin to share information, opinions, and facts about our “Endangered World” it is important for you the reader to learn about myself, the creator and writer of this blog.

Hello reader, my name is Nicholas DeCarolis, 21 years old and a junior at Keene State College in New Hampshire. For the past 2 years I have studied Environmental Studies, my major that I shall complete several semesters from now. As you already know my experience in the college writing world has been quite limited and throughout the semester I hope my skill in writing will grow. My foundation as an environmentalist begun at a very young age. I grew up in a relatively small town in southern New Hampshire called Pelham. As I grew up my hobbies and interests lied with outdoor recreation. The sports and activities that I have done in my last 21 years have shaped the person that I am today. These sports and activities include football, skateboarding, skiing, fishing, hiking, cliff jumping/ swimming and many more. My greatest passion in this world is skiing; I have skied since before i can remember, and it is what I look forward to the most no matter what season it is. I crave winter and cold snowy storms. I must thank both my parents and two older brothers for always pushing me to progress my involvement and skill in all the sports and outdoor activities I have done throughout my life. Without them showing me first when I was younger the beauty and thrill the world has to offer, I may have grown up ignorant to planet Earth’s magnificence. All of these sports and activities have helped shape the person I am today by surrounding myself with a circle of great friends with similar hobbies, and outlooks on the natural world. I chose Environmental studies as my major; because through these sports and activities I have realized how diverse and exquisite this planet really is; and with this major My knowledge and appreciation will only grow greater.

I am truly excited to see what this course and semester has to teach me, and what I can take from them and give back to the world from my own point of view.  My goal with this blog is to both educate and give you, the world, a sense of pride for the planet that you live on, and hopefully drive more people to reconnect with the incredible planet that 7.5 billion of us call home.

Nick DeCarolis, Solitude Utah                          (February 2017)

Slow Violence

In the second chapter of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson contrasts the hundred of millions of years process that produced life on the earth as we know it, “the deliberate pace of nature,” with a perspective measured in human generations, “the impetuous and heedless pace of man.” She argues that time is an essential ingredient for living organisms and systems to change, evolve, and diversify. “For time is the essential ingredient; but in the modern world there is no time.”

Photo by Laura Lefurgey-Smith on Unsplash

A controlling metaphor in Silent Spring that describes modern human activity is violence, what Carson calls “man’s war against nature.” So it should come as no surprise that Rebecca Solnit echoes Carson in her recent column in The Guardian, Call Climate change What it is: Violence .

Surely we recognize this prevailing attitude toward the more-than-human world in the Americas. As the French writer Tzvetan Todorov, writes in his 1982 book The Conquest of America: the colonial enterprise is driven by imposing rather than proposing. As Barry Lopez explains in his 1990 Tanner Lectures, later published as the Rediscovery of North America, “Instead of an encounter with ‘the other’ in which we prose certain ideas, proposals based on assumptions of equality, respectfully tendered, our encounters were distinguished by a stern, relentless imposition of ideas—religious, economic, and social ideas we deemed superior of not unimpeachable.”

The question of how to address this prevailing attitude, as Lopez suggests, is to imagine an alternative. But while this collective project is underway, we come face-to-face with what Carson recognized in Silent Spring: that the prevailing questions we face in environmental crisis are at once scientific and moral. “The question,” writes Carson, “is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.”

Photo by Zbysiu Rodak on Unsplash

In a brief commentary in the September 2017 issue of the New Yorker magazine, Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1999, plots a more recent example: the unsettling disjunction between anthropogenic climate change and the scientifically misinformed–as well as morally indifferent–political response in her Harvey and the Storms to Come.

Elizabeth Kolbert is an environment journalist who recieved the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for her nonfiction book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, a book that is required reading for citizens of the world. Her many essays and books about what we know about living in an endangered world is productively taken in alongside the new film by Al Gore An inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017), a follow up to his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Reading Carson today is to recognize more fully her acute awareness of how difficult it is to mobilize change in the face of convincing evidence of the destructive consequences of current patterns of human activity. “How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species,” she asks, “by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

How indeed? we might ask. As South Asian floods have created one of the worst regional humanitarian crises in years, including Mumbai, in India, with a population of close to twenty million people; and as Irma—one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic, with sustained winds of over 185 miles an hour—ravages the Caribbean and takes aim at the United States less than a week after hurricane Harvey dumped over fifty inches of rain in parts of Texas—where do we find ourselves?

One thing we all might want to know is what recent research tells us about human reasoning and the challenge of gathering support for addressing climate change. Kolbert’s essay in a January 2017 issue of the New Yorker, Why Facts don’t Change Our Minds: New discoveries about the human mind show the limits of reason .

Photo credit Ryan Johnson on Unsplash

And, in addition to the three books mentioned in Kolbert’s piece, Kathryn Shultz’s 2011 book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error is a fascinating and well-researched read that offers all of us lessons to live by. For an introduction to  Schultz’s thinking, check out the Ted Talk by Schultz On Being Wrong that explains her case for embracing the fallible knowledge we have about ourselves and the world.

The Beginnings of a Lifestyle

How often are we challenged to change our viewpoints and better ourselves for the future outcome of the planet, our communities, and our own personal well being? Honestly, not often enough. Every day is a new day to become a more positive individual to help better the greater good. And we as socially conscious individuals should pay especially close attention to our role in this change. How can we make the biggest possible impact as these small, almost entirely unimportant little specks in the big scheme of it all?
I believe that if all of us tiny little unimportant specks were to consciously make the effort to change at least half of our activities to be more eco-centric and less carbon reducing, we would make a substantial difference in the world. It’s all about being the change we expect to see. If everyone who said they don’t recycle because “not enough is done it’s just going to sit in a pile, my personal impact means nothing” decided to recycle, a real difference would be made.
It’s sad and unfair to the environment to not think of the broader horizon. Granted, it’s not always easy for people to think of the things beyond their immediate world. However, it’s generally imperative to the survival of humans as a species- and the world as we know it, for us to think Green. This can be done in many ways: across city expanses, prairies, and even deserts. It’s all about the bigger picture, the vast expanses, and how we as small little ants on a giant lawn can work together to make the grass a little greener.
It’s time that we, the generation to create all sorts of internet media surrounding positive quotes and thoughts, finally use those thoughts and quotes to stop being so miserable and make an impact. So often we are blinded by our day to day rhetoric and fail to make ourselves aware of the way the world around us is functioning. We are all apart of nature, whether our daily lives remind us of that or not. It isn’t the easiest life: we only have a select number of hours a day to live and experience. As members of this planet, we need to try to peel our eyes a little further to pay attention to how we can make a positive impact. It’s honestly the least we can do as active members of this planet.
Humans make such a negative impact consistently in the conditions of the Earth. There are so many more species than humans, and yet they are constantly doing things that change the very condition of the exterior of our planet. There are larger, much less invasive species that make way less of a negative influence in the world we live. Why are humans, the supposed “most advanced” primate on the planet, the least concerned with its well being? We all live here, why not all love here as well?
Personally, I really love to appreciate nature in small and large ways as often as I can. That means when I walk down the street, pausing to appreciate whatever flower or wild weed is growing along the sidewalk is absolutely important. Every day. That means that as I ascend a mountainside, paying extra close attention to the kinds of mosses growing, if any at all. Every time. That means paying less attention to where the sidewalk is leading me, but more attention to the colors of the leaves on the early Fall Maple. Every tree. I will forever love the way the world looks a little more vibrant after having been in a really down mental space, and then you open your eyes a little wider to see how simply beautiful it really is outside around you.
Who needs to be cooped up in their head all day, when there is a vast expanse of world beyond our little tiny heads, and it has so much to offer and teach us. It’s our moral duty as small specks on the surface to take all it has to teach us and use it to benefit the lovely provider (our beautiful Mother Earth).
For a large part of my life, I was an individual who found little appreciation in nature. I spent most of my days inside, behind closed curtains in the dark, hiding from the sunlight and everyone who walked in it. Until I reached my later years in high school, I was a homebody entirely. Whether it was reading Walden Pond, going hiking often for myself, or just my growing awareness for the nature around me… I’ll never really be able to pinpoint the exact moment that changed my mindset.
All I know for sure is that now my eyes are windows to the wild world. With a simple deep breath and a slow blink, I almost feel the world brighten and become more vibrant right in front of me. I think it’s really all about being aware. Those trees and skies have always existed, long before me. So why are they all of a sudden so constantly vibrant? Perspective. It’s all in the perspective.

Speaking of perspective:
It’s almost impossible to wake up one day and see things from an entirely new perspective. These things take time, and take a bit of time, if I’m being honest. It’s all in trusting oneself and knowing that, if like the flowers that push up through leftover Springtime snow, you will get through this. We are all creatures of nature, even if we’re surrounded by a synthetic concrete jungle: we are still of nature.
I know it’s hard to make that connection, we’re not of nature, we are constantly logged in and tuned out to the world around us. How can we be nature? Well, you drink water daily, your skin warms under the sun and it nuturtures a warmth in your stomach and makes your body happy all over. You fall asleep and wake up to the brisk morning air, and you breathe in the clean, fresh scent of the outside air. And it is in those instances of minute interaction that we are of the most nature without realizing it. And that is something that has kept me positive in my struggle with perspective of nature.

Thoughts on a Natural World

The “Human Experience” is certainly challenging to comprehend and explain to one another. The consciousness and perception of life by man is not often been recognized for how incredible it really is. The meaning of the life has always been debated. Part of understanding this larger than life idea is examining the world that extends beyond humans. The natural world holds the answers and holds more secrets than man, can comprehend. The picture I brought to class helped show me the areas of my life that are not associated with humans. The picture displays five young men, including myself. This is not directly through the content. The picture creates contrast, as all of the different friends represent a different aspect of my life. This helps me separate the different parts of my life that link to the natural world, and what link to the human world. There were four friends pictured in a shot from my high school graduation. Each of the friends has a vastly different appearance, which helps me explain their relevance. The first, my friend Aaron, is dressed in a suit and tie, the typical attire he wore for his job at a luxury hotel in our hometown. We lost Aaron to suicide in 2015, months after the photo was taken. His role in the photo illustrates the realness of death and its continual presence in our life even though it is the “end” of life itself. Although I truly miss my friend, I’ve come to understand what his death means and what death means to the human experience. It is the conclusion to the human experience as we know it, and I feel it should be highlighted, as we, people, give it meaning. I believe in a way this separates death from the human world, the being in question ceases to continue their life and become one with the natural world again. The next person in the picture is my friend Cam. He writes and produces his own music, and follows many who are part of the growing Electronic Music genre. Cam and I have mutually introduced each other to various groups and styles of music. We discussed in class the presence of music-like sound in the natural world, equally present in both the human and natural world. If not for this presence in my life, I would have no contextual basis to acknowledge this. The other two pictured on my right side, my friends Dan and Thomas. It is with these two that I spent much of my youth. We would spend our days riding bikes or roaming the woods and exploring our hometown for all of the hidden beauty. I can easily say that I came to admire the natural world in the time I spent with them. I’ve found that I can best identify my relationship with our world by examining the almost opposite side of my life, and what it means. When I think about the time I spent with my friends, I can often remember my surroundings and how simple and beautiful they were. True beauty can be recognized by recollection, and this picture is the core of this process.

Our Dying Environment

Planet Earth does not get the respect it deserves. It is evident, especially in the U.S.A. For example, the preservation of our beautiful world is subpar to the profit to be gained from the likes of oil and deforestation. Cutting down trees to print money? Its madness. I feel as if we live in a society today that sees progress in regards to something like a television sitcom family; Illusionary. The regression of this place we call home  has been an ongoing occurrence since the industrial revolution. There, started a theme of wanting to have more things, yet put the place where we live on a back burner and hold it in regards to general disrespect. The result: Ice caps are melting, weather is becoming more extreme, species are becoming rapidly extinct, and the planet’s average temperature is rising. Yet, to be fair, only since around Al Gore ran for president and the internet blew up, not much information was spread in regards to what is really happening on Earth. Environmental writing is crucial, we need to be knowledgeable about what is going on in our world and conscientious of the effects that result from a lack of care.  I believe it is our generations responsibility to say “No, this is not okay.” and put all natural things back into equilibrium. I am proud of the direction some are pushing towards in regards to keeping our environment healthy and diminishing toxic emissions, but there will always be a counteracting force, such as special interest groups who put money before anything else. What a shame to think we can take and take from a planet that has done nothing but give; Not only give nutrients in order to survive, but has also provided us with beauty among the diversity in creatures and all life forms alike. We are not disassociated from this earth, (even though we may act like it sometimes) we are a part of it. We are just humans and are not immune to its wrath if we push neglect too far. It is our responsibility to save and preserve Earth, its the least we can do for her. 

Nature and Literature

I grew up in Northwood, New Hampshire.  And, like most people from New Hampshire, my town was small, rural, and completely unheard of by most out of staters.  Most people from this state can relate to life in the ‘sticks’.  (My high school, Coe Brown Northwood Academy, was literally referred to as “Cow Barn” by our rivals).  Many of the folks I graduated with would have said that they could not wait to get out of our woodsy town and state and live somewhere that had a grocery story closer than thirty five minutes away.  However, it was a fantastic place to grow up.  My parent’s house was built in the late 1700’s and is surrounded by plenty of yard and woods, perfect for young adventurers–which my brothers and I most certainly were.  Many of the connections I had with nature at a young age, and have today, come from that house.  

Where to begin?  My father is definitely the one who pushed us into connecting with nature and realizing how important and inviting the outdoor world can be.  I remember walking in the woods with my family when I was very young and him quizzing us on what name belonged to which tree.  In our yard grows just about every kind of fruit that can survive New England winters.  We have peach, pear, apple, plum, and cherry trees.  There are two large raspberry bushes–one red and one yellow–and the border of our yard consists of tangled blackberry bushes.  We have garden and a compost pile, a clothesline, a chicken coop, and solar panels.  My dad would always tell us that most things that don’t have to be wasted, are.  He used to and still uses everything that grows in our yard.  Every year in the Fall we collect all the apples from the ground and press them to cider, the pears too.  The peaches we eat, along with the vegetables from the garden, and the eggs from the chickens.  All the berries get turned into jam.  My father is a jamming fanatic.  Growing up, in the summertime my house always smelled like boiling raspberries–which is one of my all time favorite smells.  One of my favorite things about growing up how and where I did, is that we got to see nature being used everyday.  We saw raw materials that grew right outside our door, transformed into something delicious.  When my brother and I were very young we would stay outside for hours, seeing how long we could live off of the fruits and veggies from the yard.  The game always ended out of boredom rather than hunger, and with my father telling us to stop eating all the tomatoes.  

Although my dad is definitely the person who really loves the outdoors, my mother was also a huge influence growing up.  This class is very appealing to me because of the blend of literature and nature.  And, like my mother before me, I am an English major.  While my father taught us to value the outdoor world, my mother showed us the world of literature.  She specifically loves the theatre and I sat through more plays than any child should, not that I didn’t love them.  In class I keep thinking about a trip to New York City that I went on with my her last spring.  We went to Central Park and it was the first time I had ever been there.  We went to the Shakespeare Garden and as a nature loving English major, it was one of the coolest places I’ve ever been.  As you walk through the garden, there are plaques among the flowers which read nature related quotes from Shakespeare’s works.  It was such a beautiful, artistic balance of literature and nature.  I think that literature and nature have many similar qualities.  I, myself, get the same salubrious experience from reading a good book as I do from experiencing a truly beautiful moment in nature.  I think it is easy to lose yourself in either one.  

 

Dynamic Environmentalism

Environmentalism is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: “advocacy of the preservation, restoration, or improvement of the natural environment; especiallythe movement to control pollution”

Environmentalism is a social movement, a lifestyle, an area of study, and much more. The overarching meaning of the word though is universal across all of its many forms and variations– the idea that the environment, and all of the living and nonliving things in it, must be protected and preserved from human activity. How then, do we, as humans, connect to the environment, the “more than human world”, in a way that makes environmentalism possible?

There are many different ways in which people feel connected to the more-than-human-world.The most prevalent connection I have to the natural world is through wildlife and animals in general—wildlife biology is my passion and its what I want to pursue after college. However, others have a variety of ways in which they feel connected to the natural world, many of which are very different from wildlife and biology.

Photo by Corentin Marzin on Unsplash

It is interesting to hear what kinds of outdoor activities others take part in, what places they travel to, and what causes they identify with, all of which define their relationships with the more-than-human-world. This variety of passions and interests makes me think about how, on a larger scale, the rest of the world views the environment, and therefore how they view environmental protection and environmentalism in general. Some people view the environment as something that provides us with clean air, water, and food, and will continue to do so, no matter what. These people view the environment as something that is there for our convenience as humans. While others view the environment as a dynamic, living entity, which is extremely sensitive to our actions. And even more so, many people view us–humans– as a part of this living, breathing, environment. Obviously, as a biology major, I fall into the last category—I feel as though the environment is a very delicate, yet powerful thing, and each and every one of our actions has an impact on it—either good or bad. The other views of the environment mentioned however, may still cause a person to be a proponent of environmentalism.

One may also think about how others thoughts on the environment—whether positive or negative— are spread. This is where environmental writing comes into play. Traditionally, I would think of environmental writing as books and journal or magazine articles—professionally published pieces of writing. However, it seems that with the amount of communication done online today, environmental writing can be in the form of blog posts (like this) or even other social media posts (like Facebook or Twitter). This means that, compared to one hundred years ago, the environment and environmentalism (along with other topics of concern) can be discussed much more often and broadly.

 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

 

With that being said, I do believe that environmental writing in the form of books and journals, and even social media posts (when backed up with facts) can have an enormous impact on environmentalism as a social movement. And because of this diversity in communication, I believe that “environmentalism” is a rapidly changing social movement. For some, being an “environmentalist” is a lifestyle—they dedicate their entire lives to respecting the earth in every way possible, perhaps by living “off the grid”. For others, it’s simply a belief that the earth should be respected and protected—these are people like environmental studies professors and students, but can also people of other backgrounds and professions as well. This brings me back to the idea mentioned earlier, of how people connect themselves with the more-than-human world in a variety of ways. For one person it could be recycling, and for another it could be never buying a plastic bottle again.

Ramachandra Guha mentions the forms that “environmentalism” can take– it can be local, national, global, or even cultural. It seems, however, that in order for the environmentalism movement to make an impact on the way we, as humans, live, it must be present in all of these forms, and perhaps more. Take environmentalism on the local level– this could be, for example, Keene State College’s Eco Reps’ initiative to “ban the bottle.” This is a movement to ban the use of non-reusable plastic bottles on campus. Were this to become a reality, it may then spread, perhaps regionally at first, and then maybe even nationally (there are campuses across the country that have successfully “banned the bottle” already!) On the other hand, environmentalism in the form of culture could be the way in which Pueblo Indians lived, as described through poetry in Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island. Living in a way that respects the natural world is not a social movement to the Pueblo Indians like environmentalism is to us as Americans today– but it is a culture that we, as people living in the “modern world” can learn from and borrow ideas from in order to live more sustainably.

So, as can be seen through these two examples, the idea of the many “forms” of environmentalism mentioned by Guha has much merit and perhaps should be utilized more often in order to spread the ideas and goals of the environmental movement. As was mentioned earlier, the environment is viewed in a variety of ways, depending on the individual. It would be smart therefore, to communicate environmentalism in many forms– in campaigns, poetry, marches, scientific writing, art, etc.– in order to ensure this movement is not only reaching as many people as possible, but also resonating with as many people as possible.

Environmentalism is a dynamic concept in the year 2017, and I’m excited to explore the events and pieces of writing that made it what it is today throughout this course.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

Writing in an Endangered World: The Task we are Charged with

In a world where humanity and technology are seeping through the cracks of the natural landscape, writing about nature and what it means to be part of the essence that is ingrained deeply within our existence becomes infinitely more important. This change seems to be inevitable; passive yet constantly progressing. Like the dunes of a beach being slowly eroded by the lapping waves of an infinite ocean, the natural world is constantly in tension with the human world. We are unavoidably connected to nature through our own being. The only reason we as humans exist on earth is a result of a number of incredible natural circumstances working together in perfect harmony.

We write about nature because we are part of nature. To separate ourselves from nature is to separate ourselves from the wild spirit that lies within us. Naturalists like John Muir, Gifford Pinchot and Aldoe Leapold all believed that preserving the worlds forests and ecological world was direly important.  John Muir saw nature as a temple in which one would find solace and rest ones mind, body and soul.  He said in his 1912 book The Yosemite, that “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” When Yosemite and its National Parks were being threatened by a huge dam, Muir rallied to save this incredible landscape. He believed that taking away the parks would be taking away a piece of the human spirit. The brutish and impure shadow of civilization and industry would crush the light and purity of nature and the forests. These opposing forces, just like the waves eating at the sandy shore, will inevitably be in constant tension.

Just like in the time of Gifford Pinchot and his Forest Service, increased desires to find fuel of all types is increasing. Crude oil is obviously something that has dominated our economy and devastated our home. But other forms of more dependable energies are also destructive, just as in Yosemite. John Muir and Gifford Pinchot had differing viewpoints on nature. Pinchot was a conservationist, while Muir was a preservationist. These two terms are often seen as synonymous with each other when in actuality are quite different, Conservation is using the resources that nature has to provide, but using them wisely. Preservation, which Muir advocated for, is the desire to leave nature in its perfection–untouched.

As writers in a teetering world, we are charged with reflecting on our feelings about our tenuous existence on earth.

 

 

literature and environmentalism at keene state college

Subscribe to this Blog

Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox: