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Thinking and Writing is an introduction to college-level reading, thinking, and writing. As a student in this course you can expect to spend a good deal of your semester wrestling with the thoughts and words of others, building your own point of view, and learning to make use of feedback to improve your writing.

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“Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild,” Henry David Thoreau (Pune, India, March 2008)

This Thinking and Writing course is organized around the concept of wildness. The term wildness encompasses most everything in the physical universe—from the teeming microorganisms in our bodies to the unfolding realm of the cosmos. It is the real world, the world to which we belong. The phrase “search for wildness” describes the act of seeking awareness of this world–of seeking an understanding of the expression of the wild in nature and in culture.


Community space and garden, Brooklyn, New York, summer 2012

The search for wildness takes many forms: it takes shape in individual questions about the meaning and purpose of human life; it gives rise to collective stories, myths, and purpose; it is organized in the cultural activities of natural history, spirituality, science and mathematics; it is pursued through historical and comparative studies of nature and/or culture; and it generates utopian and post-apocalyptic fictions about the ways human technologies are transforming the world.

The poet Gary Snyder defines the search for wildness as a practice: a deliberate sustained and conscious effort to become more aware of yourself and the world. Who am I? What am I doing here? What is going on?

Photo Mark C. Long, near Juneau, Alaska, Summer 2006

Above Juneau, Alaska, summer 2006

From the pursuit of a more “authentic” life by Chris McCandless to scientists building our understanding of the human biome, the search for wildness is the conversation of our time.

Fireweed and glacier melt, near Haines, Alaska, summer 2006, photo Mark C. Long

Fireweed and glacier melt, near Haines, Alaska, summer 2006

I am confident that this course will challenge you in new ways. My work will be supporting you as you meet these challenges. I am looking forward to working with you.

Arcs of Coherence

How do I build coherence and connections beyond the length of a sentence? What is the difference (is there a difference?) between revising and editing?

Here is a final paragraph (319 Words). Let’s call this version 1

Connecting to the natural world from a young age has proven through strong correlation to have positive impacts on an individuals self understanding, commitment to social justice, self reliance, environmental concern, moral development, a greater sense of community, agreeableness and openness, and one’s sense of compassion and altruism. The connection to nature helps you develop into an active member of society. Being an active member of society does not only give you the ability to benefit yourself and ones around you, but globally can make the world a better place. The connection to nature on a larger scale can help the world become a better place in many ways, if more people developed this connection you would see more environmental care, which on a small scale could just be less litter, but this also means more environmental activists, and a greater ability to conserve land. With more people connecting to nature you would have a more accepting society, with better morals and activism in their area. This will result in a lowered division of classes, and more acceptance and help to the needy. This would happen through the virtue of compassion and self understanding instilled on a larger scale through the connection to nature. What the connection to nature essentially does is summed up well by Henry Thoreau when he states “to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts”(Thoreau). The connection to nature gives you a more developed ability to make a difference in the world around us, which is, the highest of arts. Making a difference is something everyone can take upon themselves no matter how small, which will gradually lead to a global change. The ability to take this upon oneself is a virtue that everyone has the ability to develop, and the connection to nature is the tool that can bring it out upon anyone willing, up to the global scale.

Here is a revised version of the final paragraph. This version is broken out into four segments (160 Words). This is version 2.

Connecting to the natural world from a young age has a positive correlation with self understanding, self reliance, moral development, and environmental concern.

Spending time in nature also contributes to the social good: such as becoming an active member of society; committing to social justice; building greater sense of community, sustaining agreeableness, openness, compassion, and altruism.

These positive correlations, on a larger scale, can help the world become a better place. When more people have access to positive experiences in nature there is a greater probability of a more accepting society.

As Henry David Thoreau suggested as early as the nineteenth century, nature can motivate us to improve not only ourselves but also the world around us. For Thoreau, “to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts” (). He understood that making a difference is one of the greatest arts we can contribute to the world, a virtue that everyone has the capacity to develop.

Here is an edited version of the final paragraph (167 words). This is version 3.

Connecting to the natural world from a young age has a positive correlation with self-understanding, self-reliance, moral development, and environmental concern. Spending time in nature also contributes to the social good: such as becoming an active member of society; committing to social justice; building greater sense of community; and sustaining agreeableness, openness, compassion, and altruism. These positive correlations, on a larger scale, can help the world become a better place. When more people have access to positive experiences in nature there is a greater probability of building and sustaining a more accepting society. As the nineteenth-century writer Henry David Thoreau suggests, nature can motivate us to improve not only ourselves but also the world around us. Thoreau says in Walden, “to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts” (90). He understood what every generation needs to learn: that making a difference is one of the greatest arts we can contribute to the world, a virtue that everyone has the capacity to develop.

*Below is the source of the quotation: Henry David Thoreau. “How I lived, What I lived For.” Walden. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971.

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done” (90).

How do I end my paper?

1. Consider a conclusion that

  • leaves the reader with a memorable restatement or an explanation of why the argument matters
  • places the claim or purpose in a larger context

2.  Here are a few ways to conclude:

  • Summary (but more than restatement): take on the “so what?” question
  • Revisit claim (that is, do more than restate, as your reader is now more informed about the paper’s subject)
  • Relate to your reader (“Now it is up to you,” With this information, consider. . .”)
  • Use one of your sources, whether primary or secondary, or even turn to a new source, to capture the main point or nail down its significance
  • Say something new: point to broader implications, further lines of research or inquiry, unanswered questions, actions to take based on information provided in the essay

3. Some Examples

The purpose of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writing is not to convince a reader of anything. If there is one lesson to be learned from studying Emerson it is to never be definite about anything. Complacency in thought leads to limitations. Conformity attempts to suppress the individual. Emerson himself is never settled in his reasoning:

The deeper he went and the more he tried to grapple with fundamental conceptions, the vaguer and more elusive they became in his hands. Did he know what he meant by Spirit or “Over-Soul”? Could he say what he understood by the terms, so constantly on his lips, Nature, Law, God, Benefit, or Beauty? He could not, and the consciousness of the incapacity was so lively within him that he never attempted to give articulation to his own philosophy. His finer instinct kept him from doing that violence to his inspiration. (633)

With respect to social reform, Emerson knows that his greatest contribution is never to be settled in his own beliefs, and never to aspire to be settled. He will not tell his audience what to think. Telling people what they want to hear is never his purpose. The true action of Emerson’s life lies in his ability to provoke individual thought and action in others. One can only act off of one’s own convictions, and Emerson’s convictions are found in his beliefs that language grabs hold of interest, and inspires a person to think.


Longfellow’s attention to the aspects of fatherhood, and the roles that the father plays in society and in the home, are important in the changing culture of the family in nineteenth-century America. Longfellow was not afraid to show the development of the paternal figure during his time—even including in his poems flawed fathers and fathers managing households. In the nineteenth century, writers gave little attention to fathers or fatherhood, and there was a relative decline in the significance of fatherhood as well (Griswold 13). Longfellow’s contribution was to break out of these barriers and offer his readers poems that speak to fathers and the paternal roles that were being disregarded by so many.


From the beginning of his career to this most recent work, John McPhee defines nature as a place where people are. His portraits and place-based profiles of people consistently challenge the reader to think in regional terms; and his regional perspective offers readers an indispensable repository of human attitudes toward the natural world. In his more recent books about geology, he invites readers to think about the natural world in unfamiliar ways. For Bailey, McPhee’s later work is most importantly “about nature seen as completely as we can see it.” The consequences of McPhee’s project as a nature writer, from this point of view, are significant. For McPhee’s essential lesson as a nature writer is that our understanding of the natural world is something we must continue to shape as we broaden and deepen our inherently limited human perspectives.


A.R. Ammons insisted that the earth is not damaged and does not need to be saved. “If we would get off, it would recover itself beautifully in 25,000 years,” he explained in his interview with Schneider. He concluded that there is therefore really no reason to be concerned about the planet, “It can recover, but what we’ve done to it may cause us to eliminate ourselves.” His point is not that we should abandon responsible conduct as members of an ecological community. Rather he underscores that we know very little about the climate and the possibilities of the earth as a total complex. “It would be foolish of us to say definitively. We might even be doing some good and not know it. We may be stalling off the next ice age by raising the temperature a half a degree. Who knows? We don’t know.” For Ammons it is impossible to think nostalgically about the natural world. “I don’t think you can go back at all. I think that the only way to go is forward.”

When Ammons died from complications of cancer on February 25, 2001, he left behind a body of work that speaks to the distinctive role of poetry in a culture of entertainment, and information. Ammons believed that poetic discourse was a source for clarifying the possibilities of human life. As he explained to William Walsh, the poem “is a verbal construct that we encounter, learn from, make value judgments with, and go to sort out possibilities in relation to our own lives in order to try to learn how to live.” Ammons’s poetics accepts our desire for a more intimate and responsive relationship with the world in a more encompassing, if less certain, definition of what it might mean to live in the world on which our own existence depends.

Moving from One Place to Another

Every piece of writing has a beginning, middle and end. But how does your writing move from one place to another? Following the steps below will help you 1) “see” the structure of your essay, 2) determine whether or not your thinking is actually going somewhere (“developing”) and 3) build in steps that move your argument (and your reader) to a different place from where you started. If step three proves difficult, then you may want to return to the all-important questions: Where am I going? Where do I want to take the reader?

Write a one-sentence summary of each paragraph in your essay.


  1. Introduction to concept of deviance and the use of deviance to understand acts of nonconformity.
  1. Discussion of the idea that deviance is part of human development and achievement
  1. The importance of looking at deviance from a neutral rather than a biased point of view.

Break your one-sentence summary outline into parts or sections.


  1. Introduction to subject of paper and inquiry, outline of key questions and debates, importance and consequences of observing deviance differently (paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
  1. Examples of scholarly thinking that links deviance and creativity, examples of creative persons who have also spent time “behind bars” (paragraphs on Socrates, Galileo, Thoreau, King, Mandela)
  1. Deviance and the scapegoat figure, Columbine, Eric Harris and Dylan Kliebold and the music of Marilyn Manson.
  1. Write a transition from each part of the paper to the next.


“So while we see that Manson belongs to the Church of Satan, we must also note his Episcopalian membership as well, which is something very few of us take the time to discover” (Lowry 54).

“After laying the foundation of seemingly negative deviant contexts, we can turn the tables in hopes to better understand the other half, the positive effects of deviation.”

Examples taken from sample essay “Positive Deviance: Unmasking a Common Phenomenon,” Think, Write, Learn: A User’s Guide to Sustained Writing Projects, Phyllis Benay, Kirsti Sandy and Collie Fulford, eds., Littleton, MA: Tapestry, 2008. 92-100.

Writing With Sources

You have two weeks until the first version of your essay is due. Next week is dedicated to continuing your research and to practicing how to integrate source material into your emerging essay.

We will have our writing assistants visit the class and lead you in a writing workshop on using source material in your essay. Follow the link and read the chapter The Art of Quoting from Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkstein’s book They Say / I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing (2006) before we meet next week. This brief chapter will serve as an introduction to the writing workshop and to the intensive work we will be doing with your source material for the rest of the course.

Looking ahead to what you need to do:

Week 7: Research Installment #2 is due on Thursday/Friday
Week 8 First Version of Essay is due on Thursday/Friday
Week 9 Spring Break
Week 10 Conferences: you have two conferences this week: you will be meeting with me to discuss your essay. And you will be meeting with our writing assistants Emily or Sarah to discuss your essay.

Please follow the schedule if you need more detail or contact me if you have any questions. Much of the work you are doing at this stage of the course requires you to work independently. If this is proving challenging to you, please be in touch so that we can help you develop strategies to keep moving.

Topics and Questions

Writing Projects Update: Most of you are struggling. Many of you are stuck. These difficulties are expected.

There are ways to begin moving through the challenges you are facing. First and foremost be clear that this course requires thinking and writing. And that is exactly what you are being asked to do.

Below you will find 1) a reminder about the area of inquiry in which all of your projects are developing: the search for wildness. While we spent most of the first weeks of the class exploring this term and concept, it is important that you have wrestled with this concept and come to terms with the presence of this search in our lives. I also include below 2) a framework for moving from a topic to a question. As you continue your process of seeking information you will be refining your area of interest. Remember that your area of interest is precisely that: what you are interested in. Without a genuine interest and motivation you are going to have a very, very difficult time with the work you are doing in this class.

Searching for Wildness: The search is to demystify the world as it is.

Enacting a deliberate and sustained effort to understand the changing flow of phenomena both within our selves and in the world around us.

The acceptance of the place where we are: what we know, and what we can know, is never certain and always provisional, no matter how persuaded we and others might be by common understanding of certain phenomena.

This course web site has numerous explanations of wildness and resources for you to consult. Here is another, from a now familiar writer, Gary Snyder, from the “Preface” to his collection of poems No Nature:

No Nature. Human societies each have their own nutty fads, mass delusions, and enabling mythologies. Daily life still gets done. Wild nature is probably equally goofy, with a stunning variety of creatures somehow getting by in all these landscapes. Nature also means the physical universe, including the urban, industrial, and toxic. But we do not easily know nature, or even know ourselves. Whatever it actually is, it will not fulfill our conceptions or assumptions. It will dodge our expectations and theoretical models. There is no singular set ‘nature’ either as ‘the natural world’ or ‘the nature of things.’ The greatest respect we can pay to nature is not to trap it, but to acknowledge that it eludes us and that our own nature is fluid, open, and conditional. (v)

We have also talked about E.O. Wilson’s concept of “biophilia” and here are two provocative comments from his most recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence (2014):

“We are self-made, independent, alone, fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world” (26)

We exist as a result of millions of years of biological evolution: “For the real human story, history must comprise both the biological and the cultural” (28).

We have also talked about, with the help of others, the intellectual history of oppositions between nature and culture, nature and nurture, primitive and civilized, raw and cooked, and so on. You can continue thinking about wildness as well. Please, take advantage of the resources I have compiled for you on the course web site. You may also want to become familiar with the recent writing by professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Marc Bekoff, on “rewilding.” His application of a practice in wildlife conservation to human life is potentially very useful for some of your projects. Need to talk? Set up an appointment with me.

  1. Moving From a Topic to a Question

In class we will use the first two steps in an Argument Template (adapted from Booth, Columb, and Williams, The Craft of Research). Name your topic and then see if you can articulate the question you are hoping to answer.

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about _____

I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about human intuition (or direct or unmediated experience/consciousness of the world) and its relationship to belief

Question: I want to understand

I want to find out why people continue to believe in creation stories to explain the origin of and their place in the world

Below are two examples of projects that are on the move. In each of these cases the project is explicitly aligned with the larger questions about wildness and has moved from a general area of interest to a more specific question the student has defined and is trying to answer.

Area of Interest: “Industrial Tourism”

from Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968), Chapter 5: “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Park”:

“Industrial tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.”

“Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and rugged earth, split a couple of big toenails, draw blood!  Why not?  Jesus Christ… roll that window down!  You can’t see the desert if you can’t smell it….  Turn that motor off.  Get out of that piece of iron and stretch your varicose veins, take off your brassiere and get some hot sun on your old wrinkled dugs!”

“Why is the Park Service generally so anxious to accommodate…the indolent millions born on wheels and suckled on gasoline, who expect and demand paved highways to lead them in comfort, ease and safety into every nook and corner of the national parks?”

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about what Edward Abbey calls “Industrial Tourism”

Question: I want to find out how tourism has diminished the deeper (and more transformative?) experience offered by places we designate as wild areas or wilderness

Sources: Books: Daniel C. Knudsen, Landscape, Tourism and Meaning; Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind; Essay: Walker Percy, “The Loss of Creature”

Area of Interest: Loss of Wildness

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about the problem of losing wildness in our lives

Question: I want to find out why young people appear to be unaware of the consequences of losing touch with themselves and the world around them

Sources: Books: Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild; John Krakauer, Into the Wild (Christopher McCandless); Film: Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man (Timothy Treadwell); Poem/Performance: Buddy Wakefield, “My Town”; Article: Standardized Testing; Report: Study of media use by 8-18 year old children in US.

Thank you bringing all of your materials to our next class. Our writing workshop will be dedicated to moving you toward other resources and information that will be useful for you.

Go Forth!

Meeting with each of you this week in conference to talk about your writing projects is an exciting time for me. You have read a book that has helped you think about nature and culture, you have taken part in class discussions of wildness, and you have considered questions that you might pursue during the next ten weeks.

I now need you to pull out your planners and look ahead to the schedule for the next few weeks. Below you will find an outline of the work you need to complete before spring break. Please go through the steps carefully and let me know if you have any questions.

1. Overview
Our individual conferences this week are dedicated to clarifying a question (or questions) to help you begin your research. Then, at our first class meeting next week, you will submit (in class, hard copy!) your first research installment. This document gives me a window into the work you have been doing. The first research installment will also help you prepare for the workshop with our research and technology fellow at our second meeting next week. This workshop will lead to the second research installment and the first version of the essay that you will complete before spring break.

Here is what the schedule looks like:

Week 6 Research Installment #1
Week 7 Research Installment #2
Week 8 Due: Version 1 of Essay
Week 9 Spring Break

The first version of the essay should be the best piece of writing you are able to produce. The first version of your essay will reflect your effort and accomplishment in the first half of the course and therefore I will factor the quality of your first version into the final course grade. The essay will also be read by many people. So do your very best to present a document worth reading so that you don’t end up wasting anyone’s time.

2. Research Installment #1
This progress report has a specific format that I detail on the writing page. You fill find there a link to a PDF file with instructions about the annotated works cited page (or bibliography) and the reflective letter

As I have said in class, we learn by doing. Hence it is important to me that you begin this process by searching for information on your own. Use the search strategies that have worked for you in the past. Pay attention to the decisions you are making about where to look, how you are using sources to find other sources, and where you are reaching dead ends or information that feels to be less reliable.

Remember that you should

  • search web and print materials; but please make every effort to include a range of resources
  • plan to spend at least five hours in the library researching and preparing your notes for the document; and set aside additional time to write the document
  • make sure that your Research Installment is presented exactly right with complete works cited entries using MLA style (see the examples on the instructions). If your document is not presented according to the specifications I will ask you to revise it. (See grading page).

3. Resources Page
After you have done some poking around on your own please spend some of your time this week familiarizing yourself with the Resources page on the course web site. At this point in the course, more specifically, you will find the “Integrative Thinking & Writing Research Guide” to be a useful portal for teaching yourself how to do effective and efficient searches:

  • The “Search for Background Info & Key Words” is helpful for poking and prying with a purpose.
  • The “Get More out of Google” post will help as you begin looking around using key terms (learn about and use Google Scholar)
  • The pages and video tutorials on how to search the library paper holdings (books, journals), how to search electronic databases and resources (EBSCO, E-Library), and how to asses the source (currency, reliability, authority, purpose)

We will be using these materials in our writing workshops in the coming weeks. And the Research and Technology Fellow who visits our class will be helping you harness the research tools and strategies we make available for you. But these workshops will be far more productive if you are already familiar with some of this material.

If you have any questions about the direction of your research, please let me know. I am happy to answer e-mails or to meet with you at any time I am able. Also, remember that the Mason Library staff is able to help you at any stage of the process as you seek and assess resources for your work in this course.

Get Out There

Consider the film showings, talks, and citizen science trainings below: Learn more about the natural history of the Monadnock region; spend time with people who celebrate the joy, wonder, and gratitude that comes from active engagement with the living world; enjoy the wildness around us by getting out there!

The series of events is made possible by the Harris Center for Conservation Education and the KSC School of Sciences. For more information on these and other upcoming Harris Center events, visit their online Calendar of Events.  Or write or call the Harris Center Science Director by e-mail (Brett Amy Thelen) or by phone at (603) 358-2065

Magic of the Snowy Owl Film Showing
Thursday, January 29, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Putnam Theater

This hour-long documentary provides an intimate look at the Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), a bird that made headlines last winter when it appeared in record-high numbers throughout New England. Though these visitors from the North stand out for their physical beauty, it’s their ability to survive that reveals their true magic. Following the film, Eric Masterson – one of the Harris Center’s resident bird experts, and author of Birdwatching in New Hampshire – will be on hand for an informal Q&A session. Co-sponsored by the Harris Center for Conservation Education, the Monadnock Conservancy, and the KSC Film Society.

Watching the Weather: A Citizen Science Training
Tuesday, February 3, from 7 to 9 p.m. in Science Center 175

Join meteorologists Chris Kimble and John Cannon of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to learn how to become a volunteer weather watcher! Chris and John will introduce the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), and explain how to take measurements of precipitation and snow. They will also provide SKYWARN Storm Spotter training, which includes detailed discussions of thunderstorms, tornadoes, and other hazardous weather, and of how volunteer storm spotters can provide crucial information to the National Weather Service. Co-sponsored by the Harris Center for Conservation Education, NOAA, and the KSC School of Sciences.

Wood Turtle Ecology & Conservation
Thursday, February 26, from 7 to 8 p.m. in Science Center 175

Wood turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) occur in cold streams in forested areas throughout the Northeast ‒ including the Monadnock Region ‒ but they’re especially vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation, mowing, and poaching. As a result, they’re considered “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Join ecologists Liz Willey (Antioch University New England) and Mike Jones (University of Massachusetts-Amherst) for an introduction to the wood turtle, and to the regional efforts underway to preserve this seldom-seen resident of New Hampshire. Co-sponsored by the Harris Center for Conservation Education and the KSC School of Sciences.

Salamander Crossing Brigade volunteer training
Thursday, March 26, from 7 to 9 p.m. in Science Center 129

As the earth thaws and spring rains drench New Hampshire, thousands of salamanders, frogs, and toads make their way to vernal pools to breed. Many are killed when their journeys take them across busy roads. Each spring, the Harris Center’s citizen science program trains volunteers to serve on Salamander Crossing Brigades at amphibian road crossings throughout the Monadnock Region. These heroic volunteers count migrating amphibians and safely usher the animals across roads during one or more “Big Nights.” If you’d like to join the fun, attend this training on Thursday, March 26, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Putnam Science Center (Room 129) or a repeat training at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 28. (No need to attend both.) Co-sponsored by the Harris Center for Conservation Education and the Keene State College School of Sciences.

Vernal Pool Project volunteer training
Thursday, April 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. in Science Center Room 102, and Saturday, April 18, from 10 a.m. to noon in the field

Vernal pools are small, temporary woodland ponds that serve both as critical breeding sites for a suite of amphibian species, and as important feeding grounds and shelter for many reptiles, birds, and mammals. In efforts to protect this vital (yet often overlooked) wildlife habitat, the Harris Center’s citizen science program is once again training volunteers to identify and document vernal pools, with special focus on lands where information is needed for conservation planning. We’ll cover the building blocks of vernal pool ecology in an indoor training session on Thursday, April 16 from 7 to 9 pm in the Putnam Science Center (Room 102), then venture outside for hands-on instruction at a vernal pool complex in Keene on Saturday, April 18, from 10 a.m. to noon. Registration is required. For more information or to register, contact Brett Amy Thelen. Co-sponsored by the Harris Center for Conservation Education, the Monadnock Conservancy, and the Keene State College School of Sciences.

Symphony of the Soil Film Showing
Thursday, April 23, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Putnam Theater

Filmed on four continents and featuring impassioned scientists, farmers, and foodies, this award-winning film artfully examines the complex, dynamic nature of soil. Join us for an Earth Week presentation from Thursday, April 23, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Putnam Theater. Following the film, Dr. Rachel Thiet – soil ecologist and professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at Antioch University New England – will be on hand for an informal Q&A session. You can see a preview of the film here. Co-sponsored by the Harris Center for Conservation Education, the Monadnock Conservancy, and the KSC Film Society.

Vernal Pool Stroll at the Horatio Colony Nature Preserve
Friday, April 24 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Horatio Colony Nature Preserve

Every spring, small depressions in the northern forest floor come alive, filling with rain, melted snow, and, eventually, salamander and frog eggs. By summer’s end, many of these vernal pools will have dried out, revealing little trace of the life they contained in April. Join one of the Harris Center’s resident amphibian enthusiasts for a moderately strenuous, 1.2-mile roundtrip hike to a hilltop vernal pool on the preserve’s land in Keene, where we’ll explore the exquisite, ephemeral world of spring-breeding amphibians. Meet at the Horatio Colony Preserve parking lot on Daniels Hill Road at 1 p.m. on Friday, April 24. Back by 3 p.m. Co-sponsored by the Harris Center for Conservation Education and the Horatio Colony Nature Preserve.

Thinking about Wildness

One can begin to think about wildness with the words of Gary Snyder from The Practice of the Wild:

The word wild is like a gray fox trotting off through the forest, ducking behind bushes, going in and out of sight. Up close, first glance, it is “wild”-then farther into the woods next glance it’s “wyld” and it recedes via Old Norse villr and Old Teutonic wilthijaz into a faint pre-Teutonic ghweltijos which means, still, wild and maybe wooded (wald) and lurks back there with possible connections to will, to Latin silva (forest, sauvage), and to the Indo-European root ghwer, base of Latin ferus )feral, fierce), which swings us around to Thoreau’s “awful ferity” shared by virtuous people and lovers. The Oxford English Dictionary has it this way:

Of animals-not tame, undomesticated, unruly.
Of plants-not cultivated.
Of land-uninhabited, uncultivated.
Of foodcrops-produced or yielded without cultivation.
Of societies-uncivilized, rude, resisting constituted government.
Of individuals-unrestrained, insubordinate, licentious, dissolute, loose. “Wild and wanton widowes”-1614.
Of behavior-violent, destructive, cruel, unruly.
Of behavior-artless, free, spontaneous. “Warble his native wood-notes wild”-John Milton.

Wild is largely defined in our dictionaries by what-from a human standpoint-it is not. It cannot be seen by this approach for what it is. Turn it the other way:

Of animals-free agents, each with its own endowments, living within natural systems.
Of plants-self-propagating, self-maintaining, flourishing in accord with innate qualities.
Of land-a place where the original and potential vegetation and fauna are intact and in full interaction and the landforms are entirely the result of nonhuman forces. Pristine.
Of Food crops-food supplies made available and sustainable by the natural excess and exuberance of wild plants in their growth and in the production of qualities of fruit or seeds.
Of societies-societies whose order has grown from within and is maintained by the force of consensus and custom rather than explicit legislation. Primary cultures, which consider themselves the original and eternal inhabitants of their territory. Societies which resist economic and political domination by civilization. Societies whose economic system is in a close and sustainable relation to the local ecosystem.
Of Individuals-following local custom, style, and etiquette without concern for the standards of the metropolis or nearest trading post. Unintimidated, self-reliant, independent. “Proud and free.”
Of behavior-fiercely resisting any oppression, confinement, or exploration. Far-out, outrageous, “bad,” admirable.
Of behavior-artless, free, spontaneous, unconditioned. expressive, physical, openly sexual, ecstatic.


Language is wild

The conventional way to think about language is cultural. However, the commonplace distinction between the cultural and the biological may be less helpful in understanding how language works. Here is a question and a response about the proposition that language is wild from an interview with Gary Snyder published in the Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER: You’ve written that language is wild, and it’s interesting that, in your essays and in some of the poems, you track down words as though you’re hunting or gathering. But do you believe that language is more a part of nature than a part of culture?

SNYDER: Well, to put it quite simply, I think language is, to a great extent, biological. And this is not a radical point of view. In fact, it is in many ways an angle of thought that has come back into serious consideration in the world of scientific linguistics right now. So, if it’s biological, if it’s part of our biological nature to be able to learn language, to master complex syntax effortlessly by the age of four, then it’s part of nature, just as our digestion is part of nature, our limbs are part of nature. So, yes, in that sense it is. Now, of course, language takes an enormous amount of cultural shaping, too, at some point. But the structures of it have the quality of wild systems. Wild systems are highly complex, cannot be intellectually mastered—that is to say they’re too complex to master simply in intellectual or mathematical terms—and they are self-managing and self-organizing. Language is a self-organizing phenomenon. Descriptive linguistics come after the fact, an effort to describe what has already happened. So if you define the wild as self-managing, self-organizing, and self-propagating, all natural human languages are wild systems. The imagination, we can say, for similar reasons, is wild. But I would also make the argument that there is a prelinguistic level of thought. Not always, but a lot of the time. And for some people more than other people. I think there are people who think more linguistically, and some who think more visually, or perhaps kinesthetically, in some cases.

 You can read the whole interview at the Paris Review.


Final Course Projects

The primary pedagogical objective of the searching for wildness project is to challenge college students to improve their reading, thinking and writing. The project titles and descriptions below reflect the challenges of reading a real book and of sustaining an intellectual project for an academic term. As with most college classes, students earned grades ranging from A to F; and as with most groups of students, final grades correlate with the ability (or willingness) to commit to intellectual work.

In the end, though, having worked closely with each of these students in and outside of class, I can say with some confidence that all of the students considered the idea, in the worlds of Jane Jacobs from The Nature of Economies, thathuman beings exist wholly within nature as a legitimate part of natural order in every respect.”

The ideas that our lives are inseparable from what we call nature cuts against commonplace thinking about ourselves, and the world. About midway through the fall semester of 2013, one of my students included in his essay words from the author and playwright Eve Ensler that speaks to the hope I bring to this work with my first-year students: that they will “find a way back home, into their bodies, to connect with the earth, to connect with each other, to connect with the poor, to connect with the broken, to connect with the needy, to connect with people calling out all around us, to connect with the beauty, poetry, the wildness.”

Searching for Wildness Writing Projects: Fall Semester 2013

 John Cagno, “An Optical Journey: Perception and the Power of the Mind” (Oliver Sacks, The Mind’s Eye)
We all assume that we see the world in its true state, objects are objects, people are people, etc. Although, this is not entirely true; for what we see is a mere image of the actual world. The realization of this concept may prove to alter one’s view of their reality. The mind and eye are infinitely complex mechanisms with immense capabilities; concepts of perception are explored by Bertrand Russell and William James, and supported with the use of images and Oliver Sacks’ The Mind’s Eye. One must open both their mind and eye to truly see.

Alex Clark, The Meaning of Independence in Today’s World (Henry David Thoreau: Walden)
People today are becoming more and more dependent on those around them, and this is not healthy. This essay provides examples on how it is not beneficial for anybody and how we can avoid becoming dependent. It also explores different areas of self-reliance, including sovereignty, moral and societal responsibilities, and transcendentalism. Although some may believe that independence simply means moving out of the house for the first time, it goes much farther. There is much more of an extensive description of self-reliance, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Between Emerson and Thoreau and their writings on self-reliance, the very foundation of our knowledge of autonomy is explained.

Allison Middleton, “Hydro-Quebec: People’s Lives and Energy Demands (Linda Hogan: Solar Storms)
Although Hydro-Quebec does provide good services to a lot of people the company isn’t all good.  I give reasons why people should do more research into the costs of hydroelectric power.  The biggest cost is Hydro-Quebec taking the Cree and Inuit peoples land and destroying their culture into order to create dams for North America’s high-energy demands.  My paper weighs the cost and benefits of hydroelectric power and leaves the reader with the decision on whether they should or should not buy hydroelectric power.  The big question you’re left with is do the benefits of the hydroelectric power outweigh the cost of human life?

Why Nature Makes Us Happy: Physical, Mental and Human Needs Fulfilled (Willa Cather, O Pioneers!)
In this paper I argue why nature is good for us and why it makes us happy. Most people think that nature is good for us physically because it helps ease pain associated with many diseases and provides the body with vitamins. People also think that nature is good for us mentally because it relieves stress, and puts people in calmer moods. However, I believe that nature is good for us for another less obvious reason.  Nature fulfills a deeper need found within all people.  This need causes people to want to connect with nature in any way possible.

Abby Milonas, “Humanity’s Rush to the End of the World And What We Can Do to Stop It” (Paul Erilich, The Population Bomb)
My paper focuses on the population crisis. It takes a look at how the issue has been discussed in the past, the core contributing factors, what has and is being done to help, and a few potential solutions. Some of the topics I discuss are food production, pesticides, climate change, energy use, and the influence of religion. Increased industrialization leads to larger cities, denser populations, and thus, greater need for food. At the same time, however, it leads to greater pollution and takes up land that would otherwise be used for food production. All of these issues are connected to each other in some way, and though not all are reversible, it is vital for our society to find ways to amend them.

Kristina Cottone, “Do You Remember? Researching and Understanding Our Brain” (Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud)
My paper is on the importance of our minds, brains, and how it creates these unforgettable memories of our past. These are called memories and these make us capable to hold on to certain parts of our life that had already occurred, but unfortunately we can’t hold onto everything that happened to us in the past. Sometimes we remember things that we wish never happened, and things that makes us happy and memorable. Also, in my paper I mentioned how parents can have an effect on their child’s memory based on their parenting style. It’s all about the science of the brain and how we still have so much to learn and discover it. Unraveling this science bout our small but important organ is astonishing and very interesting.

Cory Crater, The Mind is its Own Place: The Authors’ Ever-changing Chase for Self-Knowledge (Henry David Thoreau: Walden)
I use Henry David Thoreau, Aldous Huxley, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Elizabeth Gilbert and Paulo Coehlo to explore self-knowledge. I emphasize the similarities and differences between the writers while referencing articles, philosophers, religious texts and other authors to provide supporting material for my claims. In my conclusion, I prove that all these authors’ methods of achieving self-realization are in some ways adaptations of past philosophers ideas and even religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. I also emphasize that the evolving methods by which these authors pursue enlightenment is due to either a change in circumstance – such as war, common theology, environmental changes – or the fact that no two people are the same and the mind is its own place.

Mallory Pearce, “The Mechanical Farm: Do we know Where we are going?”
(Rachel Carson, Silent Spring)
This paper includes all the positives and negatives to the use of pesticides. We need to understand what is happening because of the use of pesticides to argue if the usage is right or wrong. The question at hand it whether we understand the consequences to the usage of pesticides compared to the benefits they provide us with and if they are worth the synergistic effects they cause to our environment and the mutations and diseases they cause to living organisms, humans included. Can we ever go back to the way things were before chemicals entered the farm? Can we sustain our population if we were to return to the days prior to industrialization of the farm?  With all the damage we have done, the adverse effects were never and will not ever be worth it.

Rebecca Costello, “The Secrets Behind Fast Food: Marketing, Production, and Price” (Erich Schlosser, Fast Food Nation)
In this paper I want to provide so much information about fast food and its’ industries to my audience attention. Yes fast food is delicious and so convenient, however there are so many harsh consequences that result form eating it. We as Americans need to realize how fast food is destroying our health and bodies, creating unneeded problems such as obesity. After reading this paper I hope that my audience can reevaluate what they all consume and put into their bodies, we have so many natural resources that give us the satisfaction that fast food does but is 10 times healthier.

Kylie Coffey, “Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself” (John Krakauer, Into Thin Air)
My argument is that stepping out of your comfort zone is a good thing. I believe this is true because when you step out of your comfort zone you experience things that you probably would never have the chance to experience if you stayed in your comfort zone. Another great thing that comes from stepping out of your comfort zone is you can meet new people. When you do activities that you don’t normally do you are introduced to a different group of individuals, and you can meet a wider variety of life styles.

Hannah Soucy, “To Be Determined: Our Past, Our Present, and Our Future” (John Krakauer, Into the Wild)
Whether one is dedicated to the realm of religion or science, mankind will inevitably become irrelevant. From a scientific perspective, once humans perish there will be no physical record of our existence. Spiritually, mankind is an instrument to reaching a higher life form with a plethora of beliefs using the expendable human body to reach enlightenment. However, the human race is also the leading evidence and advocates to both theories. Our species fabricated Earth’s history, present, and future. This essay also explores the importance of a structured society while we strive to find an individual and global purpose in life.

Rob Wishart, “The Ten thousand Hour Theory: The training and factors included in becoming a professional athlete” (David Epstein, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance)
My argument is based upon not completely disproving the proposal Dr. Ericsson had for the ten thousand hour theory, but instead showing the flaws and loop holes in it.  My paper’s goal is to inspire the thinking behind not only the ten thousand hour theory but inspire insight into athletic research and the training and factors involved in becoming a professional athlete.   However, due to peoples demographics, genetics and time available to train for 10,000 hours, Dr. Ericsson’s paper does not always match up to everybody’s expectations which draw holes in his theory.

Technology: The Screen into a Different Experience (Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder)
My paper will be about how technology has pulled kids away from nature. Today’s generation of children are so consumed with technology that they are no longer taking the time to experience the world in ways that previous generations did. This is causing harmful effects in the school and social aspects of children’s lives. Contributing to this newly developed disconnect with nature are parents’ influence on what their child does. It is extremely important that a child strives to form a strong bond with nature so they can truly have real world experiences, rather than only experience what is behind a glass screen.

Amanda Kunkel, “Consumption of Fast Food Among Americans: Why Fast Food is Popular and How Americans Can Stay Away From It” (Erich Schlosser, Fast Food Nation)
Why do Americans continue to consume fast food and why do Americans continue to eat these types of foods after knowing of all of their damaging effects and how can they put an end to their consumption? In my essay, I discuss the reasons why Americans may be attracted to fast food. I include the marketing aspect of fast food as well as many other reasons. Towards the end of my essay, I discuss ways Americans can avoid fast food and explain that fast food is a large part of American society, but has the potential to be avoided. They continue to consume fast food, however I am aiming to inform readers on reasons why they should not be consuming this type of food. Fast food is a staple in American society, yet we should be more open to understanding it’s detrimental effects.

Joe Cortese, “The Blues Massive Extinction Of Its Biggest Inhabitant: Whale Wars (Silvia Earle, The World is Blue)
The ocean is a vast blue that can only care for itself to an extent when dealing with outside variables such as humans. People everyday are destroying our wildlife and it needs to stop now before it’s too late. The food chain is being destroyed and it starts with the killing of the massive slow moving innocent whales. Whales cannot out run technology or humans and it’s only a matter of time until there extinction. Acting upon this now is key to saving the vast blue and its wildlife or we can wait around and see what happens in the future.

Frank Bacarella, “The Human Body is an Extremely Wild Place” (Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer)
My paper is about the human body how fascinating it is and just how wild it can be. We live in a society that is only getting smarter with further technology and education, though just because we are a developing society does that mean that our bodies will ever become a neutral place. Were we know every single disease, infection, and illness that we could ever face In our world and not just know about them but how to cure them how to prevent them to where we would never have to worry about those things in our lives ever again. I will go into what we have learned about our bodies what horrible things we can catch or obtain, and also go over if we can ever find a way to prevent them. Will we ever be able to prevent everything bad that happens to our bodies with all the gross stuff we put into our bodies and all the viruses in the air?  That is going to be my main question I will try to answer in my paper.

Katelyn Terry, “Winning is Everything: How the Culture of Sports Has Come to Corrupt Us” (Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen)
Many improvements have been made in the culture of sports. These include, more opportunities to compete in sports, including a greater availability of youth sports, and a rule that allows women to compete in the highest level of sports.  This culture of sports has many positive attributes, and yet people are still losing track of their love for these sports.  We are no longer playing sports for the fun of it like we used to. Ulterior motives hit us and we begin to compete for these motives, whether they are fame, fortune, or power.  This paper develops the ideas on the culture of sports to find out why we have gone from doing something that we love doing for fun, to participating in the corrupted culture of sports.