Click here for a printable version (you must have Adobe Acrobat)
GOALS OF THE COURSE
American nature writing has developed into an exciting and unique genre of literature. In this course we will explore this rich legacy of the interplay between language and landscape. Environmental literature scholar John Talmadge writes, “Just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so great social changes begin with individual choices. The literature of the American wilderness contains not merely facts and poetry but wisdom that has helped many people form their relations to the wild and the human worlds.” Through close contextual readings, we too will begin our journey exploring the artistic qualities of literature and the ways selected nature writing conveys a particular ecological consciousness and wisdom.
We will examine also what I call the “literature of place,” which often deals with nature, but which is organized around landscape, geography, and culture as well as nature. Scott Russell Sanders, in Staying Put has noted that “We can lie to ourselves about many things; but if we lie about our relationship to the land, the land will suffer, and soon we and all other creatures that share the land will suffer” (168). He explains how story – literature – is a part of learning and telling truth about “land.”
As we walk our own ground, on foot or in mind, we need to be able to recite stories about hills and trees and animals, stories that root us in this place and that keep it alive. The sounds we make, the patterns we draw, the plots we trace may be as native to the land as deer trails or bird songs. The more fully we belong to our place, the more likely that our place will survive without damage. We cannot create myth from scratch, but we can recover or fashion stories that will help us to see where we are, how others have lived here, how we ourselves should live.
The line between the literature of nature and that of place is blurred. Some of what we read qualifies fully for both types, while other selections are more one than the other. Every place, of course, has nature, but not every writer focuses more on the nature than other qualities.
In order to gain an overview of such writing and the role it played and plays in the American perception of nature and place, reading is the foundation of this course. Selections from the work of many writers will be read and discussed. Full-length literary works by John Daniel, Rachel Carson, Kathleen Dean Moore, James Galvin, and Craig Childs, among others, will be read.
Critical to any successful and rewarding journey is preparation. An integral element in this literary journey is coming to class having closely and actively read the selections and being prepared to contribute your insights, ideas, and questions to the discussions. We should not have to say that you should always bring the scheduled text to class so that you can refer to it in discussion, but we will. The text is always an essential resource for discussion, and without it you will be lost.
Discussion is the principal inquiry method used in this class. Several lectures will be scattered through the quarter, but most days we will gather, open our books, and discuss the environmental and literary concerns of the writers. Discussion leaders will be assigned once the roster is finalized and it will be the leader’s responsibility to guide our journey through particular selections. A good metaphor to conceptualize how discussions are supported is that class members are the bricks and the discussion leader is the mortar that binds them together. The bricks provide the support and substance of the group, but the mortar allows the group to hold its shape and completes the structure.
Writing is required in this course. Assignments include an essay, of approximately 10 pages, that will be an attempt by you to be a writer addressing themes of nature and place. The paper will be revised on the basis of review of the instructor and his helpers. Other writing will include short reflective essays on assigned reading.
This is a writing proficiency course which satisfies a graduation requirement for you. One requirement of such a course is that you be required to revise your writing. This will be done with the “major” writing assignment (as opposed to the reflective essays, which are brief and informal). Thus you will turn this paper in twice. When you submit the revision, the original submission should accompany it. This will allow us to see how you have tackled the critiques and suggestions we have made. The revision should be significantly improved over the first submission. This does not mean the first submission is a rough draft. It should be the best you can do. Our task is to then help you make it better even than you thought you could do. Our goal is to make writers out of all of you. If you turn in a rough and incomplete paper in the first round your grade will be reduced at the instructor’s discretion.
Another part of the course will be panel presentations. Teams will be assigned a book to read, analyze, and report on to the class. A separate handout on this assignment will be provided.
Finally, essay exams will be administered.
The following books should be purchased in the bookstore:
John Daniel, Winter Creek. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2002.
Rachel Carson, Under the Sea-Wind, New York: Penguin, 2007 (Original edition by Simon and Schuster, 1941).
Kathleen Dean Moore, Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.
Craig Childs, The Secret Knowledge of Water. Boston: Little Brown, 2000.
James Galvin, The Meadow. New York: Henry Holt, 1992.
Frank Bergon, ed. The Wilderness Reader Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1994.
The grades will be broken down on a percentage basis as follows:
Reflective essays (3) 30%
Nature/Place paper 30%
Panel Presentation 10%
Criteria for performance on each of the assignments will be discussed in class.
John’s office is Arntzen 202. Office hours are usually Tuesday and Thursday 12-2. A sign-up sheet on the bulletin board just outside the office will reserve you an appointment, so please sign up. If your schedule does not work with posted office hours, see me to make an appointment at some other time. Graduate assistant office hours will be announced when they are known.
Attendance at all class sessions is mandatory! Discussion groups cannot work if people are not there. Excused absences are, of course, granted when circumstances require them. Please inform me if you must be absent. If you simply do not show up, there will be consequences.
COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to inevitable change)
Week #1 Introduction: The Nature of the Business and Our Approach
Tuesday, January 8
Get acquainted. Review the course and approach to the subject we will be taking. Explore why we should study this literature
Lecture #1: What Is Literature and What Does It Have to Do with the Environment Anyway?
Lecture #2: Why Should We Read this?
Thursday, January 10
Writing exercise #1.
A reading about place. Selections from Gary Snyder, Tim McNulty, Jack Kerouac and others about the North Cascades.
Week #2 “History of this Literature”
Tuesday, January 15
Lecture #3: The History of the Literature about Nature and Place in America, Part 1: From the Beginning to the Closing of the Frontier.
Read: in Bergon, selections by Bartram, Audubon, and Thoreau
Discussion of reading - whole group
Thursday, January 17
Writing exercises #2
Practice interpreting literature
Week #3 More History of this Literature
Tuesday, January 22
Writing exercise #3
Lecture #4: The History of the Literature about Nature and Place in
America, Part 2: the 20th Century to Rachel Carson and the
Emergence of Environmentalism
Read: in Bergon, selections by Burroughs, Muir, and Austin
Discussion of reading – whole group
Thursday, January 24
Lecture #5: The History of the Literature about Nature and Place in
America, Part 3: From Carson to TT Williams
Read: In Bergon, selections by Leopold, Teale, Stegner,
Discussion of assigned reading – whole group
Reflective essay #1 due!
Week #4 Becoming a “Nature Writer”
Tuesday, January 29
Writing exercise #4
Read: Read John Daniel, Winter Creek (the whole thing!)
Discuss Daniel – whole group
Thursday, January 31
Film: “The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson”
Read: Rachel Carson, Under the Sea-Wind, Book 1
Discussion of Carson, Book 1, in break-out groups
Week #5 Literature and Environmental Perception
Tuesday, February 5
Writing exercise #5: Mid-term exam in class
Read: Rachel Carson, Under the Sea-Wind, Books 2 and 3
Discussion of Carson, Books 2 & 3, in break-out groups.
Whole group wrap-up of Carson
Reflective Essay #2 due!
Thursday, February 7
Lecture #6: The Power of the Pen as an Agent for Change in
Panel #1: Terry Tempest Williams, Red
Week #6 “Place” in this Literature
Tuesday, February 12
Writing exercise #6
Lecture #7: The Power of the Pen as an Agent of Sense of Place
Read: Moore, Riverwalking, 1-3
Discussion of Riverwalking, 1-3, in break-out groups.
Thursday, February 14
Read: Moore, Riverwalking, 4, 5
Discussion of Riverwalking, 4, 5 in break-out groups.
Whole group wrap-up of Moore.
Panel #2, Rick Bass, The Lost Grizzlies
Nature Essay due!
Week #7 The Tension Between Wild and Non-wild in
this Literature (and Society)
Tuesday, February 19
Writing exercise #7
Lecture #8: The Wild Literature of Nature and Place
Read Childs, The secret Knowledge of Water, Part 1
Discussion of Childs, in break-out groups.
Thursday, February 21
Panel #3: Hahn, Spirited Waters
A visit with the author.
Week #8 More Tension
Tues, February 26
Writing exercise #8
Read: Childs, Part 2
Discuss assigned reading in break-out groups
Reflective essay #3 due!
Thursday, February 28
Read: Childs, Part 3
Discuss assigned reading in break-out groups.
Whole group wrap-up of The Secret Knowledge of Water.
Panel #4: Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire
Week #9 Fiction and Poetry’s Contribution to this Literature
Tuesday March 4
Writing exercise #9
Read: Galvin, The Meadow, Part 1
Discuss assigned reading in break-out groups
Nature essay revision due!
Thursday , March 6
Read: Galvin, Part 2
Discuss assigned readings in break-out groups
Whole group wrap-up of The Meadow
Panel #5: Kantner, Ordinary Wolves
Week #10 Fiction and Poetry
Tuesday, March 11
The Poetry of Nature (with a bit on the nature of poetry)
Thursday, March 13
Tying it all together!
Discussion of themes and lessons.
Final Exam due!