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Towards Day 4 (Mon, Sept. 17): Finding our "Key"words

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
* weather prediction: 74 degrees, partly cloudy, 10% chance of precipitation--so we'll meet again in the adirondack chairs in front of English House (Wednesday's prediction ditto, though a little cooler, so: ditto)

* I have put up a link to wundergound @ the top of the home page (so you can plan ahead; this adds a whole new dimension/complication to teaching/learning--an object lesson in how we shut the environment "out" of/in our studies)

* introductions--have we finally settled on who's here? (I'm tired of shopping!)
how are you doing on learning one another's names? (go around and introduce one another, in both directions)

* go around again: tell us what site you'll be visiting throughout the semester;
don't repeat your posting/explanation, but relate it to the one is it like/different?
as we do so, let's put these on the campus map

Anne: the friendship bench in Morris Woods, because it's handy, yet feels far away from EH; because I have had some very meaningful conversations there, and want to try to keep myself company instead; and because the William James' quote about friendship, from Varieties of Religious Experience is right there)
rachelr: bench @ end of Senior Row
Srucara: Taft Garden
graham: bench near HC Nature Trail
krysg: West Philly (where?)
eetong: area around Arnecliffe Art Studio
ekthorp: bank of Rhoads pond
hira: under cherry tree by Rhoads pond
Max: in a Weeping Hemlock next to Rockefeller
Nan: under a weeping beech in Swarthmore (?)
Smacholdt: wildflower conservation area by the admissions building
Sarah Shaw: garden beside Perry House
froggies315: sit spot close to EHAUS @ HC

can we describe the pattern/s in our selections?
(what are we omitting to attend to in our "environment"?)

* By 5 p.m. on Thurs, begin recording your weekly observations of your "site"; do this once a week for the next 10 weeks, ending on Dec. 6th.  For inspiration, you might want to visit Writing Nature. Digital Storytelling course. Swarthmore College. Fall 2010, and/or Joan Maloof's "Teaching the Trees: How to Be a Female Nature Writer" (from Women Writing Nature, 2007, in our password protected file).

There is an option (under the body of the post) to "type in your own topic"; you might want to do that,
because (along w/ appearing in our course forum) that will generate a separate page of your site observations...

Aside from the weeks when papers are due, I had figured on your spending 3 hours/week in class, 6 hours/outside: 1 outside, 1 writing about being outside, 1 writing in response to one another, and 3 can of course play w/ those time frames...this is an experiment!

II. I had also asked you to each "represent" this place pictorially-->
what strikes us about this range of representations?
each one has a foreground, a background,
and a terra incognita: what are we highlighting, collectively, about Bryn Mawr? HC? Swat?
West Philly? the Delaware Valley? and what are we leaving out/not attending to?
(again, in this discussion, not rehearsing your post, but placing it
in relation to what others are foregrounding...)

eetong's query
about how the campus represents itself--
her Thoreauvian walk asks "What is the campus saying to us?"--
might also be helpful here...

III. moving from the pictorial to the verbal...and adding to our *own* experiences
some of the work
that others have done in "ecological imaginings..." beginning w/ (on Wed.) an (amazing?!)
field called "eco-linguistics," a new paradigm of linguistic research which emerged in the 1990s,
to take into account of the ecological context and consequences of language,
how it influences the life-sustaining relationships of humans with each other,
with other organisms and with the natural environment (some of the most exciting
material I uncovered this summer; we'll spend a few classes on it, beginning w/)
a dense 20-pp. essay by David Bohm, "The rheomode --an experiment with language and thought"

Bohm was one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century;
he also contributed to studies in philosophy of mind and neuropsychology,
& is noted, among other things, for his work on "implicate and explicate order":
"things, such as particles, objects, and indeed subjects" exist as "semi-autonomous
quasi-local features" of an underlying activity, independent only up to a certain level
of approximation" [any physicists in this space....? anyone who's taken college-level physics?]

I've selected the second chapter of his 1996 book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order,
which you can read on-line, through Canaday Library; the link to the essay on the home page
leads directly to the Bryn Mawr network; to access the text from Haverford, enter the title
into Tripod, and follow the instructions to "Connect...from Haverford"].

Bohm imagines a new "mode" of language, built up from verbs (which he calls the "rheo,"
or "flowing" mode), that does not fragment/separate parts of the world from one another.

I think it's amazing! I think you might think it's hard! So make what sense of it you can,
and come w/ 3 questions you want to ask of Bohm, of me, of the class.

Also! bring a copy of your Thoreauvian paper (on your computer if you want)
so that we can experiment w/ re-writing some passages in the rheomode...)

N.B: if you didn't select the "notification" option on Serendip, you might
not realize that I did comment on your Thoreauvian walk this weekend...
check it out, please feel free to write back to me...I often asked questions, about
something I didn't understand/wanted to know more answer, or
ask something back again....the conversation can go on...

several of you--Sarah, smacholdt, graham--noticed that the boundaries of Bryn Mawr are not clearly marked...
graham noticed the boundaries w/in the campus (marked paths); Sarah discovered the labyrinth....

several of you played w/ creative forms: rachel's poem, eetong's montage, Srucara's photo-essay...
great beginning to a class on how best to represent the world!
a number of you also ended w/ "summary" thoughts...
seems like an account of a walk of this sort might end rather w/ an "opening"....?!

also: most of you (everyone but rachelr, Sarah Shaw, Srucara)
did not "flag" that first essay as a 'web paper/event': you should--
it'll help keep your portfolio in order as it self-assembles throughout the semester...
froggies315, you need register for the group "EcoLit313"/tag us as the audience for your postings
(other Serendip-management questions?)

IV. start our study of eco-linguistics with some new keywords!
amazing to see the range (went way beyond the words I'd flagged....)
how adequate was the dictionary? which dictionaries were most useful?
what did you learn by selecting, etymologizing, reading-and-commenting on others'?
how useful was this exercise? how important is the evolution of words in our current understandings?
how might you re-write your papers, using them?
what keywords, used as a lens to sharpen your vision, might
change the focus of what you said on your Thoreauvian walk?

what other words do we need to define? (suggestion: nature)

let's break into pairs to discuss this: talk w/ your partner about revising your piece
using some new keywords (or by looking up some you used w/out knowing the history, range....)

rachelr: vacilando, coexistence, footprint (hira, Nan)
Srucara: health, life, Gaia (hira)
Nan: country, city, community (ekthorp: medieval nation; hira; Srucara: Kabar)
SarahS: foliage, invasive (rachel: offensive, attacking; krys: encroaching uncontrollably), wanderlust
ekthorp: campus, native (cf. Sarah: invasive), lost
eetong: venture, miracle, see
graham: sustainable, interaction, resilience
hira: anthropocentric, interdependence, adaptation
Max: green, blue, ecological
froggies305: know, play, pattern

The opening paragraphs from your Thoreauvian walks….
(how might the keywords open up/refine/re-orient them...?)
A. Where weathered rock and flowing water meet
When hot, moist air retreats at summer’s end;
Above, the vivid boughs do speak of fall
While underfoot the earth prepares for sleep.
The sparrow hops upon the iron rail
While under trees cicadas speak their death.

B. I began my journey by walking across Senior Row, and stepping up and over the Moon Bench. Through the course of my walk, I became aware of the difference between Inner and Outer borders. To me, the moon bench is a gateway; it marks the end of the inner campus and the beginning of the outer edges. By going over it, instead of around, I felt as if I had transitioned from walking to sauntering. While I may not have had a set route or destination, I had a purpose.  The entire point of the walk was that I didn’t know where I was going, because I had never been there before. I had never explored the physical boundaries of Bryn Mawr, and had absolutely no idea what I would find, or even where they were. But had I known, I would have no reason to go there. The entire point of exploration is to see what is to be discovered, regardless of whom else has seen it before. I could now call myself a saunterer in the Thoreauvian sense- I had a purpose, a mental destination. My trek transformed from one of complete aimlessness to one with a point. Had I known where I was going, that point would be mute.  

C. For this walk, I felt restricted in my wanderings. I was uncomfortably aware of the need to reflect rather than simply being in the moment. And when I think, was I "present," in my own proceedings? I have to admit that, no, I was mostly divided. I saw, I felt, I heard, and all the time I wanted to translate this into words. But that act of translation, of recording, seems to ruin the experience, no? Or maybe it just leads to other experiences.

D. In order to walk through Bryn Mawr like Thoreau, I began at the center. I felt that as locating the center was an objective of mine, I could not let a predetermined destination interfere with the way nature wanted to take me. Nature was guiding me. Nothing else should be guiding me. Following Thoreau, I wanted to be guided unconsciously by “nature’s subtle magnetism” rather than by an end point. A walk should have no purpose or destination, so I set out on my sauntering walk to see where the walk took me.

E. I’ve never been very good at wandering or walking without any sort of plan.  Hence the reason a planned to circle the campus out edges and then explore its inner parts.  Of course, like with any sort of plan, it inevitably changed. I began my walk after brunch, around noontime, heading down Erdman Driveway.  In this part of campus, the boundaries were very clear, usually marked by sidewalks or beautifully trimmed bushes.  After deciding that these boundaries were easily identified, I turned my attention toward my surroundings, marveling at the clear sky with perfect clouds and reading license plates.  Eventually my gaze fell upon this little white house right beside the Admissions parking lot.  Here began my true saunter and my plan began to fade away.  I was able to identify the building as the site of Human Resources and continued through the parking lot to take a look at the next never-before-seen sight.  After learning that the gate to Admissions was adorned with lanterns given to the college by the Alumnae Association to celebrate past, present and future Mawrters, I turned the corner onto Yarrow Street and was met with a yet another gateway that presented me with a little bit of a conundrum.

F. As I was about to begin my Thoreauvian walk around the Bryn Mawr campus, I considered briefly examining a map of the campus so I could get a better sense of where my walk might take me. But as I considered whether or not to do so, I thought back to how Thoreau described the Saunterers of the Middle Ages. Thoreau describes the Saunterers as wanderers whose intentions were to reach the Holy Land but were not bound to the final goal of reaching the Holy Land and rove and idly take their time in doing so. Unlike, the Saunterers I was not trying to get to one particular destination but like them I was perfectly content with wandering, soaking in the campus landscape and taking my time in doing so. Examining a map, I concluded, would conflict with the point of this walk because doing so would give a set idea of what I could expect on this walk of campus, rather than letting my own sauntering and exploration give me a sense of what the Bryn Mawr campus had to offer me. As a Haverford student, with the exceptions of the dining halls, and the locations of various classes and events I attended, I wasn’t as familiar with the campus as a Bryn Mawr student or faculty member who knew exactly what the campus had to offer.  But because I had little knowledge of the campus, I had what Thoreau described as “useful ignorance”, in the sense that because I had no extensive knowledge of the majority of the campus and thus everything that I came across would seem new and fresh. Since everything was new to me, be it a hill I had to climb or a tree that I had to pass by on the walk, my enjoyment of the walk would be greatly enhanced.

H. Nature is a world onto itself, but like anything it is impossible to observe impartially. It always needs a lens through which to be seen, and on this clear September morning, that lens was me. I wish that I could say that I walked out of my dorm and was immediately struck by the beauty of the natural landscape; by the morning dew, and the robins with nest twigs, or the damp moss and the squishy mud. I did notice those things. Just not initially. I first had to learn to look for them. My first thoughts were along the lines of, “okay I’m outside walking. NOW what?” Then, as I strolled through Bryn Mawr’s campus, something interesting began to happen. I didn’t think so much about the natural world, nestled up against the old, man-made buildings, but I thought about my experiences in the place. I remembered deep conversations held in the grass outside of an archway, and sunny afternoons spent on a blanket getting sunburned. My experience of walking was more about my memories staged throughout the campus, rather than looking at the campus itself. However, the more I walked, the easier it got to simply be present in the moment and observe what was around me rather than jumping back into past experiences. I began to take note of the foliage and the stiff air and the chunks of quartz scattered on the ground.

I. It does not seem like there is a point in my day in which I go on a “proper” Thoreauvian walk; in fact, it does not seem that many places around me offer the possibility of walking without guided action.  It was thus hard to imagine a free-roaming meander, a saunter, a true meditative exploration on the outskirts of University City. After all, every step you took has you along another path that someone has created specifically to lead you to McDondalds or Chipotle or the UPenn Library; down Locust Walk, where it is almost permissible to saunter, bikes zoom past you while sorority girls and frat boys drunkenly bop shoulders and shrill like windchimes. Between destinations your head needs to be up and perceptive; they key in this sentence is the assurance that one must always have a destination while walking; an aimless amble could put you in danger and lead you into the wrong type of situation.   

J. Late Spring, 1970 /Late Summer, 2012
What makes a place feel like a center of the campus?  Is it a physical center or an emotional or psychological center?  Is it a place where something happened?  Something good? Or a place that holds a disturbing memory of some kind? How, or where, can we approach our mind’s psychic centers and edges through the confines of physical space?

K. Life itself is a journey and during a sunny afternoon, I journeyed into life by exploring my surroundings on a leisure walk around the Bryn Mawr College campus. By journeying into life, I discovered and rediscovered the present moment. Along the way, I found great teachers, explored deeper the little things I once overlooked, questioned what I encountered, and discovered some amazing things. In order to collect and represent my journey, I took the peices I treasured most and compiled them into short essays beginning with a photograh and a bolded title. These little peices of my journey serve as individual musings and a collective signification - a signification which I hope will serve to reflect the beauty, complexity, and inherent distinctness of the world and within each of us.

V. Come back together: share some insights?

Are there words in here/words we are using that we need to understand better/use more carefully? Consider, for instance--taking off from "nature is a world unto itself"--Timothy Morton's argument, in Ecology Without Nature, that "the very idea of 'nature' which so many hold dear will have to wither away in an 'ecological' state of human society...the idea of nature is getting in the way of properly ecological forms of culture....the idea of nature...set people's hearts beating and stop the thinkng process....nature is all about: things that are not identical to us or our preformed concepts.... what precisely counts as human, what counts as nature...."?