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Earth’s Eyes. Volume 6. Fall 2018

December 7, 2018

Explorations in Ecocriticism and Environmental Writing at Washington College

To publish your final project in this Class Magazine, first publish it on your blog then copy that address into the comment box for this page. Include your first name and title of the project in the comment.

Final Thoughts: surprised by the earth

December 4, 2018

Endings are beginnings. It is an ecological insight–one that poets, like others, have been meditating for some time; certainly something Silko understood in ending her story where she began, with “sunrise.” 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?

Your best answer will come in your final project.

On your way to that, we can consider this poem by Denise Levertov, “The Almost-Island.”

Or this recent news item about the growing interest in “green burial,” thinking outside the coffin.

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.

For the Anniversary of My Death


Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what
Or, finally, there is that great passage from Walden’s “Spring,” the ending of the book that tells us we are, each year, each day by nature, always at the beginning:
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.

Final Project: from compost pile to publication

December 1, 2018

As you begin to compost and develop your final project, an exploration into environmental writing, your own small Walden, you can look back to the heuristic I introduced for the Dillard project, the 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. Other creative structures you might remember and put to use for exploring and shaping ideas: Wendell Berry’s examples of what makes for a good solution (“Solving for Pattern”); Buell’s 4 categories for what makes a literary work environmental; Thoreau’s various projects in Walden; our rubric for writing (clarity, complexity, etc.).

In proposing your project, you will identify a mentor: a guide for how you might work your way into an environmental issue or problem, what you might learn from them as writers and as environmental critics. Remember all that we have read. And related: keywords.

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. Some specific projects from former students:

Caroline Harvey, “The Bodies of Shipyard Landing”: combines her own Dillard-esque exploration of a neighborhoo, with reading and reflection on Dillard and some critical perspective from Buell.

Mike Hudson’s “In the Forest with a Living Ghost,” a nature essay detailing his encounters with owls–and an example to demonstrate that you need not discuss course material (such as Dillard or Buell in the essay you create–the preface is the place for that).

Other venues and models to consider:

Literary House: Warner Prize

Washington College Review (and other campus publications)

Orion Magazine: submission guidelines

Environmental Humanities

Edge Effects


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.