Endings are beginnings. It is an ecological insight–one that poets, like others, have been meditating for some time. So where are we at the end of our exploration of American environmental writing? To go back to our beginning: what does it mean to be green (or: organic, ecocritical, environmental, natural) in our reading and writing? You are exploring that in your projects.
Consider this poem by Denise Levertov, “The Almost-Island.”
Or this: a poem that–it seems to me–echoes back and forward through thoughts we have been encountering. In any case, it takes me back to my first post in this class–thinking about literature from the field-guide view, which led me to thoughts of a world that will someday live without us. It is W.S. Merwin, former U.S. Poet Laureate, and like Wendell Berry, considered one of America’s important voices in literary environmentalism.
BY W. S. MERWINEvery year without knowing it I have passed the dayWhen the last fires will wave to meAnd the silence will set outTireless travelerLike the beam of a lightless starThen I will no longerFind myself in life as in a strange garmentSurprised at the earthAnd the love of one womanAnd the shamelessness of menAs today writing after three days of rainHearing the wren sing and the falling ceaseAnd bowing not knowing to what
Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness — to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander. We are cheered when we observe the vulture feeding on the carrion which disgusts and disheartens us, and deriving health and strength from the repast. There was a dead horse in the hollow by the path to my house, which compelled me sometimes to go out of my way, especially in the night when the air was heavy, but the assurance it gave me of the strong appetite and inviolable health of Nature was my compensation for this. I love to see that Nature is so rife with life that myriads can be afforded to be sacrificed and suffered to prey on one another; that tender organizations can be so serenely squashed out of existence like pulp — tadpoles which herons gobble up, and tortoises and toads run over in the road; and that sometimes it has rained flesh and blood! With the liability to accident, we must see how little account is to be made of it. The impression made on a wise man is that of universal innocence. Poison is not poisonous after all, nor are any wounds fatal. Compassion is a very untenable ground. It must be expeditious. Its pleadings will not bear to be stereotyped.
As you begin to compost and develop your final project, your exploration in ecocriticism, you can look back to the heuristic I introduced when reading Dillard: particle-wave-field, a way to think ecologically about rhetoric (and rhetorically about ecology). Use this to generate and organize some initial ideas, and to move between simple and complex.
You can also think about audience, where and for whom you might publish your work beyond this class. Remember how we began long ago, with Thoreau at the beginning of Walden, thinking about his audience.
You all will be publishing the final project on your blog–and then linking it to the Class Magazine I will set up on my blog. So, that is your most immediate audience. Here is a look at the Magazine from years past.
Other venues and models to consider:
A Photographic essay, such as Fraking Rachel Carson.
or inspiration from this site that published a collection of 21st-century American landscape photography.
A hybrid web text/exhibit/science experiment: Natural History of the Engima (think Thoreau’s echoing of Goethe’s natural philosophy of the leaf).
Video projects. There are the full-length documentaries, of course–a burgeoning venue for exploring environmental topics: Grizzly Man; Food, Inc; King Corn; The Cove…
But as a beginning, think of a smaller video project to begin exploring a topic or perspective.
Orion 2014 Issue marking 50 years of the Wilderness Act
which refers to Berry’s “Preserving Wildness” and all the way back to the beginnings of the course, Thoreau’s “in wildness is the preservation of the world,” from “Walking.”
Horton’s “What is Natural, What is Right” is from his book Bay Country. Could we consider the Chesapeake as a wilderness area? Would that help preserve it?
For more by Carolyn Finney, author of Black Faces, White Spaces, see/hear this essay (and audio performance piece) on her urban land ethic, “Ode to New York: A Performance Piece.”