Society vs. Nature

My car lifts me lightly off my seat as I turn the wheels off of the smooth pavement and onto a dirt road. I roll down my window, letting the wind rush in and stir my hair until I disappear behind a curtain of forest. Behind the curtain, a chorus of crickets sing, only quieting when the soft crackle of rocks beneath my tires comes closer. After passing a vacant pond, the road narrows, and I begin climbing up a steep incline. Winding up the hill in a sort of zigzag formation, I am now deep in a tunnel of green. Tree branches lean over and shake hands above my head. Streams flow past me on either side, beer cans embedded in the soft mud. Moving up the hill with ease, I stop for a moment to let a family of turkeys cross the road, and watch as they settle into a field of ferns beneath a canopy of tall maples. I start driving again, moving up the final stretch of road that’s bordered by sap lines and rock walls, and then I see it in the distance:  a log house, nestled in the woods of Vermont.

I grew up on Wildlife Road — a sanctuary — where the closest sign of commercial life is 20 minutes away. I grew up in the woods, with dirt between my toes, burdock on my clothes, and flowers in my hair. I remember running through the woods at my brothers’ heels, collecting all the wildflowers my small arms could handle. I remember snowshoeing alongside deer tracks with my mom, a thermos of hot chocolate in my hands.

I often wonder who I would be if I had been brought up anywhere but here. How would I have turned out if my childhood memories were composed of concrete and suburbia? If I wasn’t immersed in nature my whole adolescence, would I be as in love with nature as I am today?

In class this past week, Professor Long mentioned the term biophilia, coined by E.O Wilson, it means that humans have an inherent need to connect to the natural world along with other forms of life as well. This struck me as profound and reminded me of our assignment to bring in an artifact that represented our connection to the more than human world. This assignment got me thinking. All of us have something that ties us to nature, but what about the people who deny the existence of climate change and reject the need to protect and conserve ecosystems around the world? Do these people have a happy place where the sun hits their face just right? Do they have a childhood memory of hiking with the biggest smile planted across their face? Do they remember a time when they were just as in touch with nature as E.O. Wilson claimed all humans to be? I’m sure they do, so how can they be so close-minded when it comes to the conservation of our planet?

If we agree with Wilson’s assertion of biophilia, then it seems unlikely that any human could be indifferent to the destruction of nature and all it has to offer, and yet there are powerful people in this world who openly say climate change is nothing more than a myth, and pollution does not, in fact, have a negative effect on our environment at all. Something has shifted within society. People seem to care less and less about the effect we are having on the world and more about material things that satisfy them in the moment. Take, for example, plastic bags. Sure they are convenient in the moment but in the long run, plastic isn’t biodegradable and it is made up of nothing more than nasty chemicals which take a toll on wildlife and their habitats. As Professor Long pointed out in class, humans used to live as a part of nature, but now, we live apart from it. There are still nature lovers and protectors out there of course, but now there is just so much to distract us from the fact that we, the human race, are killing what we were meant to live in harmony with.

In elementary school, we would go for a lot of hikes around the Upper Valley, and I remember one particular teacher who used to say to us, “Experience nature, don’t let nature experience you”. This has stuck with me ever since I first heard it, and to this day, I think it is one of the most useful pieces of advice I have ever received. I won’t be the first person to say it, but humans are destructive as hell, and sadly, it seems to only get worse as time goes on. My road –naturally beautiful, and named rightly so– is not even safe from the destruction. When my parents bought the land our house now rests on, they had to clear cut trees, in other words, they had to disrupt beauty to live among it. To a certain extent I think this is okay because if we never made a spot for ourselves in the natural world, it would eat us alive, but what I do have an issue with is people destroying nature simply because it serves their own selfish interests. For example, on my road, and on basically any road I have ever traveled on, there is trash. Cans, cigarette butts, plastic, and broken glass litter nature for no good reason other than because someone was too lazy to throw their trash away in the proper place. This is the kind of thing that biophilia doesn’t explain. If the relationship between humans and nature is so innate then why is it that we seem to only be able to exist in opposition? I almost feel like the definition of biophilia should be something more like: humans have the inherent desire to affiliate with other forms of life, unfortunately hurting the natural world in the process.

People’s connection to nature is powerful, but I can’t help but also think about how we unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally, harm it. Cars pump toxic gasses into the atmosphere. Eating meat creates harmful greenhouse gasses, and causes deforestation at major rates. People run their water as if we have an infinite supply when there are people in Flint, Michigan who already don’t have safe drinking water. Plastic and oil infest the ocean, killing marine life, and destroying underwater habitats such as coral reefs. It’s overwhelming just to write about, and I didn’t even list a fraction of the problems environments and animals face today.

On one hand, people have a strong desire to experience and be a part of nature, but on the other, people abuse and take advantage of all that the natural world gives to us. It’s much like a vicious cycle that is constantly being fed until it eventually will just spin out of control. So lately I’ve been finding myself wondering, can humans and mother Earth truly live in harmony together, or is it inevitable that we exist at odds with one another until the end of time?

The More Then Human World

When it comes to nature every human being must consider the greater force known as mother nature. With more than human abilities mother nature is able to effect the human world in endless ways. Nature has the ability to drastically change a life and even someone’s current mood. Depending on where a person decides to call home, the environment demands a certain way of living. For example, someone living on a farm will live a very different lifestyle then someone living in a city, all because of the lay of the land. Different types of landscapes can affect the human body and mind in many different ways. Personally I feel a lot happier when I am able to be exposed to an environment like an ocean or forest as apposed to being in the middle of a busy city. This is because nature has a spirit of its own, something humans can recognize if they choose. Some people might feel at peace meditating on a rock by a slow moving river, this is all because of natures spirit. Natures spirit gives life to everything it touches. The birds making nests in the trees, the lion’s taking care of their cubs and even the little pigs on a farm. There is a balance that is mother natures job to upkeep. Her touch is playful, shines bright and gives life that becomes part of the circle of life. Unfortunately humans are working at a faster rate to destroy her beautiful planet then she is able to work to save it. From pouring toxins into the air and deforesting her trees, someday humans will have no choice but to accept that we are the reasons her beautiful planet is dying. Humans need to come together to keep the balance that mother nature has worked so hard to create and protect the circle of life from becoming unbalanced. The sooner humans can realize that we are living in a more than human world, the sooner we can take the next step in taking care of mother nature and our entire planet.

Thoreau’s Environmentalism and Its Influence on Modern Environmental Literature

As a senior majoring in English Literature, I have studied many different genres of literature ranging from Medieval period works to Modernist examples of the literary canon. While I have been introduced to such a wide variety of literature during my undergraduate career, I have not had the opportunity to become acquainted with environmental literature. As a student in the English 390 Writing in an Endangered World course at Keene State College, I look forward to incorporating the study of environmental literature into my existing academic interests.

Last semester, I had to privilege of taking a seminar on Henry David Thoreau with the Thoreauvian scholar Dr. Richard Lebeaux. The material I studied in this seminar helped to prepare me for the readings in Writing in and Endangered World. Born in 1817, Thoreau’s writing and philosophy was at the forefront of the Transcendentalist movement that took place in the nineteenth century United States. The founder of the Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson, sponsored Thoreau’s famous trip to Walden Pond to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (Thoreau, Walden).

Thoreau lived for two years on Walden Pond in isolation to interact with the natural world. In his cabin on Walden Pond, Thoreau developed his own philosophy pertaining to conservation and environmentalism. In his first chapter of Walden, Thoreau discussed the “economics” of living in the wilderness such as growing food and maintaining a shelter. In his “Economy” chapter of Walden, Thoreau outlines his concept of “vital heat” as a “great necessity” for survival in nature (Walden; Thoreau, 12). Thoreau uses “vital heat” to describe the conscious, metabolic process to sustain life in nature. He relates “vital heat” to ancient philosophers who find intellectual and practical solutions to societal constrictions (Walden; Thoreau, 13). In “Economy”, Thoreau refrains from advising an immediate leap from the material to the Transcendental or minimalist approach. Through his discussion of “vital heat”, Thoreau instead outlines the ever dynamically evolving necessities of a natural existence through the philosophical “shift” to constantly be in advance of the current era. Consequently, Thoreau emphasizes a consistently evolving human nature to maintain an authentic, independent relationship with the natural environment. Despite the various difficulties of living in the natural environment, Thoreau concludes that connecting to nature is a necessary part of developing an individual identity and self-reliance.

Thoreau’s concept of self-reliance in the natural environment is continued in a later chapter of Walden entitled “Solitude”. While visitors at his cabin on Walden Pond would occasionally leave “cards, either a bunch of flowers, or a wreath of evergreen…”, Thoreau was still content to limit his contact with the outside world to devote his time to studying the environment (Walden; Thoreau, 90). Regarding his decision to be alone and self-sufficient, Thoreau writes “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating” (Walden; Thoreau, 94). Thoreau further argues that gainful “employment” or study is more productive when executed in solitude. Thoreau also criticizes the “cheap” yet fleeting relationships offered by society that cause others to lose respect for one another (Walden; Thoreau, 95). The secluded author then takes a Transcendental approach declaring his unity with the earth while living in solitude. Thoreau elaborates “the indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature…such health and cheer theyafford forever…Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?” (Walden; Thoreau, 96). In “Solitude”, Thoreau continues to expand his mutualist Transcendental philosophy that he first outlined in “Economy”.

Thoreau’s Cabin on Walden Pond

Also after leaving Walden Pond, Thoreau published Cape Cod in 1865 as a narrative for his wanderings along the Massachusetts coast. His visits to Cape Cod were an especially different opportunity for Thoreau to discover the power of the ocean since he had mostly remained inland for his natural observations. Similar to Thoreau’s different view of nature after visiting Mt. Ktaadn, Thoreau also realizes the immense power of nature regardless of mankind’s control over it. The wrecking of the ship St. John from Ireland that was carrying immigrants to the United States had a profound effect on Thoreau’s perspective on the ocean since he allots most of the content in the first chapter of Cape Cod to the “The Shipwreck.” Thoreau conveys the chaotic retrieval of the casualties from the waves writing, “the bodies which had been recovered, twenty-seven or eight in all, had been collected there. Some were rapidly nailing down the lids, others were lifting the lids…I witnessed no signs of grief, but there was a sober despatch of business which was affecting” (Cape Cod; Thoreau, 7). The entire chapter “The Shipwreck” is a documentation of Thoreau’s progressing realization that mankind holds no influence over the laws of nature. Thoreau is later caught up in a rather passionate revelation regarding the tragic, yet unpredictable effect nature can have on humanity, “all their plans and hopes burst like a bubble! Infants by the score dashed on the rocks by the enraged Atlantic Ocean!” (Cape Cod; Thoreau, 15). This exclamation in “The Shipwreck” is one of the few instances that Thoreau refers to the natural environment as “enraged” or as another negative connotation. Seeking solace following his newfound consciousness of nature’s potential ruthless power, Thoreau adopts a Transcendental solution declaring man’s “Spirit” to be unswayed by nature’s winds and that a “man’s purpose cannot be split on any Grampus or material rock, but itself will split rock till it succeeds” (Cape Cod; Thoreau, 15). Thoreau’s Transcendental philosophy provides some solace to him in his newfound discovery of the natural environment’s arbitrary influence over man. 

Thoreau’s opinion that interacting with nature is vital to establish individuality helped to set the foundation for environmental literature. Through his travels and experiences in the natural environment, Thoreau developed a keen intellectual and philosophical relationship with nature. He learns to acknowledge the serene yet sometimes violent aspect of nature. In his writings, he emphasizes the importance of preserving the environment while respecting nature’s uncontrollable capabilities as illustrated in Thoreau’s reaction to the wreck of the St. John in Cape Cod. Thoreau’s ever constant respect and desire to learn from the natural environment through self-discovery is still a valuable philosophy in the twenty-first century.

Thoreau’s impact on Transcendentalism can be observed in Modern environmental writing. The influence of Thoreau is particularly evident in the works of American poet and environmentalist, Gary Snyder. Beat poet and writer, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, referred to Snyder as the “Thoreau of the Beat generation”. Snyder’s anti-cosmopolitan belief that all human beings should act as inhabitants of a natural world rather than as members of a community mirrors the nineteenth century teachings of Thoreau. In this course, Writing in an Endangered World, I look forward to connecting more examples of Modern environmental writing to the works I studied in the Henry David Thoreau seminar.

What is More than Human?

On the first day of Writing in an Endangered World I was very curious to see what objects people would be bringing in. I myself was unsure if what I had would even be considered a more-than-human world thing. Thinking about the question itself, what is a more than human world object? How could one possibly define a picture to be more than human. We are humans, every person walking down apian and entering into your classes are physical human beings. But what about animals? Reptiles, mammals, insects, and so many more, are these things considered to be the more than human?

In our world we own domesticated animals and in the minds of many these animals are considered to be the same as humans. Of course my dog is a real person, he may not answer me but he sits there staring at you like he knows exactly what you are saying. For those who have pets at home I can rightfully assume that they are the same as you. You would do anything to save your loving furry friends and they would do anything to save you. I couldn’t imagine coming home and not having something there to greet me, whether that is a dog, a cat, a bird etc. These other living things are something that we all love and we all cherish.

I feel as though the more than human world is something greater than we can even imagine. For example: the picture I used in class for my introduction was me sitting in a little boat reaching my hand out right before the whale set his head onto the side of the boat for us to pet it, just like a dog except it weighs 40-tons instead of 80 pounds. That is something that I would consider to be more than human.  It isn’t possible to invite this creature into your home to stay for their life span and never would one think that petting it like your domestic cat would be a possibility either. The world itself is more than human because of experiences and creatures that surround us at any given moment. The plants, the insects that live below the surface that we as humans have never even seen before, and the dinosaurs that have been around for millions of years before we came onto earth. All of these things are more than human.

Earth is constantly changing. Therefore, the environment is also changing. Each second something new is happening and one more thing is considered to be more than human. Human lives clash with the more than human life forms anytime one does anything. Getting up off of your couch and going to get something to eat is changing the more than human world. Everything we have and use comes from something else in this world that isn’t a human. The screen you are reading this on comes from the most intense amount of technology that we as humans created but not without the help of the more than human earth that we live on. Next time you’re just sitting around, think about the insane amount of more than human things that are occurring right next to you, outside your window, and miles away in your home town and just take a second to realize that we as humans are the smallest thing since we live in a world surrounded by more than human objects and life forms.

Culture, Shockingly Wonderful

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

When I am questioned, what nature is, my response is simple. Nature is my days off that I spend hiking Mount Monadnock, paddle boarding on Granit Lake, or snowboarding at Okemo. Nature is my dog’s happiness as she rolls in the mud and jumps in the rivers on hot summer days. Nature is my childhood and the many nights playing kick the can with my neighbors. Nature is the four incredibly prevalent New England Seasons, and the different moods and feeling each brings with it. Nature is the inspiration for my art as I paint the evening sunset onto my fresh-out-of-the-kiln pots. Nature is at the center of passion to travel and see the world.

When I think of the non-human world I think of things that humans have affected. The different cultures around the world that are influenced by the people in them, their climate, their land location, and the history mankind has spent there. Traveling and witnessing these different places has been something I have valued since I was little. Having young parents allowed me the opportunity to do exciting things that someone in their twenties would hope to do. My first great adventure was when I was six-years-old. My mother, father and I traveled to Wollongong, Australia for eight months.

Eight Months.

Being so young I was very susceptible to the change in culture. I picked up the Aussie accent pretty quickly and adapted to my life as a year one student. My parents were attending the local university and the three of us were living in an apartment on campus. Believe it or not, at the age of six, my best friends were twenty-year-old college kids.

These kids were cool. They would invite me up to watch cartoons with them and would sneak me cookies. The would let me join into their frisbee games and would leave a spot for me on their blankets while they studied and I colored. My parents loved having so many “babysitters” around to help out so they could focus on school. Well, my mother did anyway, my father, on the other hand, decided school work was not as important as “life-skills.” When we arrived back to the states my mom came back with double the college credits, whereas my father came back with 3. He chose nature over his degree. He chose surfing and the ocean over sitting in a class that he could have been doing back in the states.

At that age, and even now, that was something I always admired about him. Sitting on the beach after school and watching him surf was one of the coolest things. Occasionally when my mother had a full day of class, so my father was in charge of bringing to and from school, he would call me out and we would spend the whole day by the ocean. We would walk to the small market and get orange pop and cheesy bread for lunch, but other than that would be out there all day long.

It was always a joke in our family that learning “life-skills” was more important than school. I truly believe that the experiences he had, and that I got to participate in, were more rewarding than sitting and learning about math. Being outdoors and in nature was a large part of my childhood, but it is the memories on the beach in Wollongong that I think of immediately. The culture that surrounded me was exciting. That excitement triggered a need for more.

Three Weeks.

When presented with the opportunity to travel to a different country, one where they don’t speak English, one where I would be independent of my friends and family. I immediately said yes. I got my whole family together and presented the idea and everyone was on board. I was headed to Spain with an exchange program for three weeks when I was sixteen.

Spain was so different from anywhere I had ever been. I was staying with a boy named Xavi and his family. Of course, I remember the food we ate, the shops I went to and spent a little too much money, and the people I met. But, the memories that stick out most to me are again, the ones that strayed away from the “human world.” Our free time when we were at school was spent on the playground. This place felt like a chain-linked dessert. All the kids, all ages would gather in this enclosed dirt field to let loose from their day. Some would be kicking a ball around and fluttering up a tornado as they ran in the dryness. Some casually looked for shelter in the shade with their group. For me, I just sat and took it all in. The sun felt differently, and the dirt smelt different. People engulfed me to listen to me talk and ask me questions about America. Again, an overwhelming sense of excitement surrounded me.

I thought I would never find another beach that compared to the one I spent many days at in Australia, but one weekend Xavi brought me up to Costa Brava, and it was like something straight out of a magazine. The water was as blue as the paintings I’ve seen from the Caribbean. It was a private beach so we were the only ones there. You have to hike down to get there and it was so untouched by man. It was the most beautiful play I have ever been.

I was lucky enough to travel back to this beach and see my Spanish “family” just five years later, but that story is just too long and crazy to be combined with anything else. It stands alone as the best trip of my life, second to my two months spent in a Prius driving across country. Again, a story for another time.

So, when asked what my non-human experience is, I think about my travels and the cultures I have seen and learned about. I think about how I am constantly trying to compare what I am so accustomed to in The States, with all of the different, incredible places there are out there. This comparison has proved that leaving familiarity is where you will find extraordinary.

Onward to Week 2

We accomplished a lot in class on Thursday; but I also want to make sure you know exactly what is expected of you before we gather on Tuesday next week. Please read the following and get to work in the areas below.

Make your Blog Your Own In managing your blog you are exploring the implications of how you represent yourself in a public space—empowering you to move beyond the passive consumption and toward more active production of content in the digital commons

Send me your course blog URL by Friday September 1

Work on your course blog before we meet on Tuesday.

First, have a look at Devon Coffey’s blog to see what he has done:

  • He has chosen a theme with a large header/landing page and slider
  • He has a “kick ass” title. The branching out metaphor is connected to the image. This is what I mean by a blog having integrity (the parts fit into the whole)
  • An inviting and interesting “tagline” that is a quotation from a writer (John Muir) who is part of the tradition of writers we are studying
  • A blog with a sidebar (currently on the right margin) with the current widgets: Search, Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Archives, Categories, Meta

Your to do list begins with going to your dashboard and setting up a course site that will be inviting and engaging for your readers:

  • Play with themes and find one that you like
  • Work on your title and tagline
  • Organize widgets in the sidebar and/or delete inactive widgets
  • Consider pages to organize information

The checklist below will develop your skills (such as adding images and links) and establish habits, or protocols, (such as including categories and tags when you publish a post. Do what you are able before next week—some of you will move further along in the checklist than others. But make a note to consider and complete all of the tasks below, at a minimum, before the end of week 3 in the course. My assessment of your work in the course will be in part based on the timely and thoughtful engagement with these activities:

  • (Re)consider your theme You are welcome to experiment with different themes. Word Press has hundreds of free themes for you to try. Don’t worry: you can try one out and if it does not work you can always switch back to your original or default theme
  • Clean up your theme delete default pages, links that are not relevant, widgets in sidebars or footers that you are not using; organize the sidebar or footer to make the site easier to navigate, making sure there is a list of “Recent Posts” so that a reader has a table of contents; try a “sticky post” that will welcome readers to your site and will be “above the fold” for visitors of your site;
  • Edit your “About” page: Readers want to know who is writing and you are in control of what a reader will know. Remember that you want to be taken seriously and so what you say (or do not say) will shape a perception of you
  • Add an Image to your About page Consider justifying image left or right and wrapping text using image editor. If you choose not to use an image of yourself, choose an appropriate image that you would like your readers to associate with you
  • Learn to use images in your postsUse your own. You can use Google Search to poke around on the web and find images that free to use. Use embedded links to relevant materials and resources, as well as media, in your posts. Use your own images. Visit Unsplash, a community sharing site with over 200,000 free do-whatever-you-want high-resolution photos. Or use the Penn Libraries Public domain Images portal for access to other image archives.
  • Add or Modify your Blog Header You don’t need a splashy header. And what you can do with a header is in some cases determined by the theme you have chosen. Still, headers are attractive and can serve to reinforce or echo the blog theme.
  • Add a Links or Blogroll Widget (if you do not already have one) Delete default WP links that do not seem relevant or necessary. Consider context, perhaps adding the College home page (Title of the link should be the name of the College). Link to course web page. As your projects develop later in the course you will likely want to add to the list of links.
  • Consider moving the content of your blog out into other social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) that you use. You can easily add a twitter widget to your blog, for example.

License your Content As authors creating and publishing content on the web, you need to think about copyright and the commons, digital communities, collaboration and sharing. Here is what you need to do:

  • Go to the course page and have a look at the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License icon
  • Visit Creative Commons and watch the three-minute Creative Commons Remix on Vimeo. Read About Our Licenses and What They Do. You will learn how the licenses for your work are designed to address legal, human, and software considerations
  • Choose a license. I recommend and use the least restrictive license. The 4.0 Licenseallows others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon our work, even commercially, as long as users credit us for the original creation. You retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make non-commercial uses of your work. Once you have chosen a license, add a Text Widget to your Blog. Copy and paste the code into the text window. Update to save changes.

We will be talking about working in the open as the course as the semester unfolds.

Looking for answers to questions? Go to the Word Press Codex .

 Writing

General guidelines for writing are on the Writing Projects page on the Writing in an Endangered World Web Site. The length of your post will be around 1000 words.

There are so many things to write about as you enter into the study of a subject like environmental literature. Look at the An Introduction to Environmental Literature. Read and perhaps begin writing about the questions in the course description. Write about why environmental literature might matter. Look at the kinks on the course site and search a term or terms that intrigue you and educate your reader. There are many other questions. How do I understand myself and my relationship to the more-than-human world—to natural and built environments, to places like cities, forests, ponds, oceans, animals, gardens, wilderness areas, parks? What is environmental writing? What is environmentalism? How might we think about environmental writing in relationship to the social movement of environmentalism? What can we learn by studying environmental concern in the twentieth century through forms of journalism, advertising, music, popular culture?

Before you publish:

  • Have you edited and formatted your text?
  • Do you have a concise and thoughtful title?
  • Have you considered an image or images in your post?
  • Have you considered linking to other digital sites or resources?
  • In the editing screen, add the category “First Thoughts” and then add tags to the post. Include at least three tags with each post. The tags will be names, key terms, places, etc.

Publish your first blog post (and delete the default “Hello World” post). Once you publish, you will likely want to go back and make changes. I encourage you to curate your blog posts as the course unfolds.

Reading

Read Ramachandra Guha, “Part One: Environmentalism’s First Wave,” in Environmentalism: A Global History, 1-62. As you read, note the mention of the writers Guha mentions, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, Alexander von Humboldt, Dietrich Brandis, George Perkins Marsh, Miguel Angel de Quevedo

 

A World Beyond Humans

Writing in an Endangered World

Coming into this class, I’ll admit that I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t read any books about the environment before, so I didn’t know what this class was going to be about. I didn’t know how interested in the environment I was, but I thought it was a good class to take because I’d never taken an environmental class before. After the first couple of classes, it turns out there actually are a lot of resources about the environment. I even remembered a song on my own that’s specifically called “Dirt.” 

Looking back into other parts of my life, there are other songs that actually motivate me to do something in the world or just go outside that I didn’t realize until this week.  My favorite songs are ones that describe nature scenes. For example, “The Best Day” by Taylor Swift reminds me of being a kid around Halloween time.  Swift mentions the “pumpkin patch,” “the sky is gold,” and having a “big coat on.” It reminds me how important the environment was to me as a kid and how I paid attention to every little detail outside when I was younger. It makes me wonder why I don’t do that as much now. 

Bubbly” by Colbie Caillat reminds me of the calming and simplicity of nature. I love seeing the scenery in this music video. She mentions “rain is falling on my window pane, but we are hiding in a safer place.” The music video displays nature through summer days and summer nights, and it just makes me want to go outside and be free in nature. 

Overall the song that I think of most is “Waiting On the World to Change” by John Mayer. It just makes me think of the world and how much could potentially be bettered. It’s interesting that he mentions everyone’s waiting on the world to change instead of doing something about it. It feels like this is what most people do when it comes to big issues surrounding the environment. 

I’ll post a separate section on my blog for songs/resources I find that remind me to think about nature and the environment, but I feel like it’s important to include here because music/movies are ultimately what’s going to shape our thoughts on the environment, whether we know it or not. 

My Philosophy:

If someone were to ask me if I’m always conscious of the natural environment, my honest answer would be no. I don’t always pay attention to the world around me. Sometimes I’m so busy that I don’t even notice the fresh air I’m breathing until I step through a cloud of cigarette smoke being blown in my direction. I would like to say that the environment is always on my mind, but in reality, the only time I’m able to think about it is when I have the time to – like when I recycle, or when I go on a walk. 

When I was a kid, the environment was so important to me. My eye was always on sticks and stones, and collecting the best ones. I would put them all in a bucket with mud and make “dirt soup.” It was fun to stir it up and pretend I was stirring a cauldron. Then I would dump it out and pretend I was making a cake. My sister and I made an out door clubhouse of rocks and pretended to live there. Then we’d crush acorns as food and walk barefoot on all the rocks because it made us feel tough. We basically spent all day outside to the point that being indoors with real walls and walking on carpet after spending all day on sharp rocks felt strange. There’s a different feeling you have when you’re outside in the sun, observing the trees. It almost feels like you are a tree, and going back inside is a whole different world.

As I got older, I stopped interacting with the environment as much. My schoolwork was indoors, so I figured I didn’t have time to go outside. It’s like the trees, the clouds, and the sun all disappeared, but I know it’s still there. I know it’s important, I know it’s dying, but I just don’t spend enough time doing anything about it – which gets me wondering, why do we ignore something that’s literally keeping us all alive? 

Maybe some people don’t want to be labeled as “activists” or “environmentalists.” Maybe other people really don’t care what happens to the environment. Maybe some people are just “waiting on the world to change.” I personally think that taking care of the environment is something everyone should do automatically. Recycle, pick up trash when it falls on the ground, hang out with a tree every now and then. It’s the little things that count.

Unfortunately, some people don’t care as much about the world because most environment/science classes have historically been taught indoors, and  that’s something that should be done outdoors or at least through experience. Take them to see dolphins, take them to a farm, have them plant some trees or garden, or even go apple picking! Most people don’t learn until they actually experience it, and not everyone has had the opportunity to experience that world beyond humans.

When I think of the environment, I usually think about the trees, pollution, or recycling, but animals are a part of that world too. People tend to forget that. Throwing trash on the ground also affects those cute little animals we all love. Take care of the ground, take care of the animals. We’re all connected in one way or another, and we all have to take care of each other.

Classes like this one remind me to be conscious of the environment around us, and that’s a good thing.

Who We Are

We are it
It sings through us-

-Gary Snyder, “By Frazier Creek Falls”

On the first day of the semester we introduced ourselves with the help of an object or artifact that might suggest our place in the world, and that might express our experience of, and concern for, the more-than-human-world.

A Devon-eye-view of a favorite trail in Keene. In an essay called “Country Life,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes about the contemplative activity of walking. “Few men know how to take a walk. The qualifications of a professor are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence, and nothing too much.”
Meghan with Grey Whales in Baja California Sur. Check out the Loreto National Marine Park at http://www.loreto.com/loreto-national-park/
Anna Leclere travels every year with her family to Acadia Park in Maine
Nick alive and well, Solitude, Utah
Kate Cunningham with her family in her home landscape near Cold Spring, New York, in the Hudson Valley
Vermont native Chelsea Birchmore’s sand dollar from a favorite beach
Ariel and friends managing the natural world while enjoying community service in Keene
Mykayla traveled to North Carolina to experience large, charismatic megafauna, including this lion
Ethan Chalmers lives in Conway, New Hampshire. This image is of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288.2 ft.  As Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal, “I see the stanzas rise around me, verse upon verse, far and near, like the mountains from Agiocochook.” The Abenaki-Penobscot name Agiocochook, “home of the great spirit, is also known as Kodaak wadso, or “summit of the highest mountain”
Devon traveled to California with her family and spent some time with the coastal redwoods
Colby’s wooden skateboard
Mark shared a chunk of 7600 year-old rhyolite lava from the Long Valley Caldera in California

 

 

 

Getting Started

Welcome to Environmental Studies 363 and English 390! I am writing to welcome you to the course, and to provide you with some information about our work together this semester.

This cross-listed course is designed for students in the sciences and in the humanities. The course offers the time and space to read some of the most beautiful, provocative, and culturally significant environmental writing from the 1950s to the present. The literary and cultural history of environmental thinking is a history that makes visible many of the most pressing personal, social, cultural, and moral questions facing humankind in the present moment.

The books for the course are available at the Keene State College Bookstore, although they can also be purchased at a local bookstore, or new or used at an online book vendor. Please order or purchase your books before the second week of class. If you are having any problems accessing your library for the course, please let me know and we can work together to make sure that you have the books for the class. Supplementary reading and materials are available in digital format and are embedded in this course site.

In addition to getting the books for our class you will be setting up a digital domain for your work in this class-and beyond. During our first week we will be setting up your domains and then you will be installing the application Word Press to set up a process blog for the course.

  1. On Tuesday during our first class session you will request an account using this Google Form
  2. You will then receive an email by Wednesday at noon with a link to create a domain on KSCopen
  3. On Thursday, in class, you will create your domain and create a blog for the class. Before we meet, I encourage you to look through the materials on the KSC Open site.  It would be helpful, too, for you to look over the KSC Open Terminology page

For now, please read the other two posts: Welcome to KSC Open and The Web Log as Genre. The other activity worth doing before we meet is browsing each of the pages in the top menu of this course blog, including the syllabus. And, if you want to begin building your awareness of the movement of environmentalism, go ahead and poke around on the links to resources and web sites in the sidebar.

Please bring your laptop or tablet to class. If you do not have a portable machine, let me know and I will work with you to make alternative arrangements so that you can participate in the in-class writing workshops and activities. And send along any questions.

I’m looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday!

Welcome to KSC Open

Writing in an Endangered World is a course in literary and cultural studies that is designed to improve your writing, as well as to empower you with the critical and rhetorical skills to communicate effectively with audiences beyond the classroom—whether you are majoring in sciences, the social sciences, or the humanities.

Developing these skills and habits of mind will make a difference in both the personal and professional dimensions of your life. However, because digital-mediated forms of communication have become ubiquitous in our lives, digital fluency and literacies are imperative. As educated citizens, we need to engage with the personal, social, cultural, and political complexities of the web, as well as navigate, and critically resist, digital technologies.

For more than twenty years my students have worked with digital tools as well as considered the relationship between literacy and technology-whether in academic and professional practice, through building intellectual networks, sharing intellectual work, constructing e-portfolios, or developing online profiles; or in critical thinking about technology, by reflecting on digital platforms, considering the ways that digital technologies constitute identities and social relations, and understanding how digital media both create and reproduce social institutions and structures.

For the past year I have worked to create a learning opportunity for my students that students and faculty at other institutions have been developing—including The University of Mary Washington, Emory University, Middlebury College, Davidson College, and the University of Oklahoma. The opportunity is to participate in a own Domain of One’s Own project, KSC Open.

KSC Open is a collaboration with a talented information technologist (Jenny Darrow), and a visionary colleague in Biology (Dr. Cangialosi), that allows you to register a personal domain name and to begin working in a free, hosted web space. KSC Open is designed to empower you to use the web as a platform for creative expression, critical thinking, and integrative learning— inviting you to connect your learning in unique ways based on your experiences and interests.

KSC Open is at the same time a deliberate pedagogical project, a project based on values that reflect a critical philosophy of education, and a conviction that the  digital platforms (and spaces) we use for teaching and learning can be more: as one of the creators of Domain of One’s Own, Martha Burtis, puts it succinctly: “More critical. More relational. More flexible. More beautiful.”

Working in your digital domain will enrich your learning. It will at the same time empower you to shape a critical perspective on how current web architecture works-specifically, how it extracts users data through persistent surveillance, data mining, tracking, and monetization. As Professor of English at Macomb Community College, Keith Gilyard, notes in his essay Pedagogy and the Logic of Platforms, participation on the web raises difficult questions about access and equity. For  “web based surveillance, personalization, and monetization works perfectly well for particular constituencies, but it doesn’t work quite as well for persons of color, lower-income students, and people who have been walled off from information or opportunities because of the ways they are categorized according to opaque algorithms.”

These cultural and economic questions are questions that have become imperative for everyone in institutions of higher education-indeed, for anyone. As Gilyard writes,

The fact that the web functions the way it does is illustrative of the tremendously powerful economic forces that structure it. Technology platforms (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) and education technologies (e.g., the learning management system) exist to capture and monetize data. Using higher education to “save the web” means leveraging the classroom to make visible the effects of surveillance capitalism. It means more clearly defining and empowering the notion of consent. Most of all, it means envisioning, with students, new ways to exist online.

These forces are one of the reasons we need to be thoughtful about the uses of educational management systems. They are also the reason why I am making visible the risks and rewards of participating in the digital spaces we too often simply accept.

I will add, finally, that the Domain project got its start at a peer institution, a public liberal arts college not unlike our own, The University of Mary Washington. If you are curious about the emergence of the Domain of One’s Own project, read Part One and Part Two of a Brief History by Jess Reingold and Jesse Stommel.

Welcome to KSC Open! Setting up and managing a domain will enliven your reading and thinking and writing in this course, as well as engage you with the literary and cultural questions inherent in digital participation and exchange.

literature and environmentalism at keene state college

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