Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category

Christmas Gifts and Glad Tidings at the Solstice

December 18, 2010

Oak King Winter SolsticeMy neighbor Amelia doesn’t make a big deal out of Christmas.  “Every day’s Christmas to me,” she says.  “I give and I get every day of the year.”

I call that attitude a marvel, now.  In fact, I’ve decided to adopt it myself.  So in the spirit of Amelia, I thought I’d chalk up just a handful of this year’s gifts.

Hummingbirds. Dozens of Anna’s hummingbirds landed in my willow tree this week.  They’ve been hanging around the garden, sipping nectar from the hummingbird sage, thinking their hummingbird thoughts.  It’s either early or late for migration, and they’re not saying why they’ve come.  But they like to sit in the tree and preen and stare at me through the window.  The glint in those little black eyes is even better than a visit from the magi.

My students aren’t hummingbirds, but they do bring me news from the foreign land of youth.  I’m especially enamored of my Literature and the Environment students this week, who just finished exams and turned in such extraordinary final projects I can hardly speak.  Which is what happens when you turn learners loose on topics they care about and ask them to teach someone else what they know.  They taught sauerkraut classes; hosted local food teaching dinners; created blogs about sustainable fashion, recycled art, music and nature, and community gardens.  They made sculptures, did public art installations, convened classes in their dorms, taught faculty about green roofs…. And they related it all to the works we had read.  Whew!  They’re a wonder.

The Biosphere. The sparkle of our technologies and the comfort of our lives make it easy to forget where we live.  Yet everything we buy, eat, wear, use and breathe comes from the earth.  We live inside its systems.  It’s our habitat.  Its health is ultimately ours.  May we honor the gift by doing all we can to restore it—and us—to wholeness.  If you want to join me, here’s a good place to begin, figuring out your environmental footprint.

Holly berries and leaves in snowSlowness. Slowness gives us time for neighbors and contemplation, asks us to ponder the wisdom of our choices before we leap.  It gives us reading and ideas and life close to home, a retreat from frenzy and waste.  At our tables, slowness means finding our food and food traditions close to home.  On this blog, it’s meant slow books and slow reading and digging in the garden.  Everywhere, it means knowing the place we live in the deepest sense, from its ecology to its human stories.  At Christmas, slowness means entering the darkness of winter with a quiet heart, seeking wisdom, celebrating the light.  So I’ll put a shiny bow on that one for sure.  Especially since this year, a full moon will shine on the winter solstice.

You. It’s been a great year on the blog, thanks to you.  Some of you arrived by way of the Slow Reading bit in the Guardian, some of you happened by out of chance, some of you were sent by friends, some of you came by because you’re my sisters or daughters or friends, some via Twitter or that Zuckerberg thing.  Some of you, for reasons unknown, arrived by way of a mad, global interest in spider monkeys.  Brave new world.

So, as the year draws to a close, I remain perched on the ambivalent edge of the tech revolution, knowing that embracing it means jumping into a sea of noise, and that without it, I would never have found all of you.  And that has been a gift.

Good Christmas, glad solstice wherever you are.  And peace.

Thoreau Just Last Wednesday

September 25, 2010

So in the great reality show that is contemporary life, comes this concatenation of events:

I.

I’m on the bus eavesreading over someone’s shoulder.  “Justin Bieber Caught Canoodling in L.A.”  I think, “Canoodling”?  I think, “That’s a headline??”  I think, “Poor kid, forced to live in public.”

II.

I am just getting started pondering the decline and fall of empires, of newspapers, of public discourse, of privacy, when the bus whooshes to a stop and on hops a teenage girl with her pleasant-seeming friend.  The first girl is laughing and talking at top volume, though not with her pleasant-seeming friend, but with an imaginary one.  Or so it seems.   For the next fifteen minutes, I listen, for example, to the following:

Real Girl: So did he call her a bitch?  Or did you?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ****  *************  *****  **********

Real Girl: You did?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ******   *************  ***  ******************  **

Real Girl: Who started it?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ***   ****    **  *****   **   ******

Real Girl: Yeah, I miss my iPod, too.

Blue Tooth Fairy: ****  ***** ** * ******    **

Real Girl: You did?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ***

Real Girl: OMG !  !  !  (*Raucous laughing*)

Literally, she said the letters,­ “O.  M.  G.”

While I’m overhearing and thinking about declines and falls, canoodling teen idols with weird hair (and why or why not I should know this), living or not living in public, coerced and voluntary eavesdropping, teenagers—both widely known and not—in the age of reality media, feeling glad that I feel my next blog post coming on—which launches a whole new cascade of thinking about writing and meaning and why or why not there is any irony here—the girl’s real friend gazes out the window, watching the city roll by, utterly alone.

III.

I hop off the bus at the university where I teach, glad for the hush of fog at 8 a.m., and stroll across the damp grass to drop some books off at the library.  I stroll by the “New Arrivals” shelf and browse titles.  I spy a book by James Hawes, WHY YOU SHOULD READ KAFKA BEFORE YOU WASTE YOUR LIFE.

IV.

I sit in my office, check and answer email, check for new status updates, check on tweets, click some links, ponder culpability for declines and falls and participation in same.  Ponder futility.  Ponder monkey-mind.  Ponder Thoreau.  (more…)

An Ode To My Students

April 16, 2010

My class “Literature and the Environment” is not for the student looking to sit back and chill.   It’s a class for champions.  And this semester, I got them.  This little ode is for them.

We started in late January.  It rained.  We read essays by Barry Lopez, bell hooks, Luther Standing Bear, Edward Abbey and Jonathan Safran Foer.  We read Wendell Berry on the Unsettling of America and pondered the ravenous drive for conquest that runs like a river of blood through our history.  What is nature, we asked?  Where is it?  In what ways am I in it, of it?  In the dance between nature and culture, must it be a zero sum game?  And most importantly, what is our paradigm?  What is the paradigm of western culture that has brought us so blithely to our current perilous brink?  Can we change it?

Can reading literature change it?  I want them to believe it can, because it has the power to change the way we think and see.  These students have been willing to entertain that possibility.  They’ve been willing to look into their own ideas and conceptions.  They’ve even been willing to change.

In February (still raining), Thoreau led us through the woods to rapture of his morning bath and the Homeric trumpet of a mosquito, while Michael Pollan brought us back out into the garden and reason.  Rather than roping “nature” off into wilderness preserves while we despoil every other corner of the planet, why not treat the whole thing like a garden?  Let us get what we need while nature gets what it needs to survive.  That way, when we have a woodchuck problem, we don’t have to firebomb the woodchuck burrow, we just need to build a fence. (more…)