Monday, January 11, 2016

One Thing I Love That's Important

        You can write a slice for the Two Writing Teachers community today.  It's always good to read what everyone shares.  Thank you Stacey, Tara, Anna, Betsy, Dana, Kathleen, Beth, and Deb. 


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           Instead of bookmarking, I often use the "reading list" feature on Safari, and these past few days I've been reading an article or two to catch up what I thought, sometimes weeks ago, I was interested in reading. I've recently read an article from Orion Magazine by a man who has taught writing to prisoners in Arizona for forty years. You can find it here. In it, he has brought several points of importance to all of us, including our students. Yes, I think I will always think of teaching and students no matter how many years out of the classroom. One part he shared included words of Charles Dickens, from a book titled American Notes, and including some of the time he visited American prisons. In that time, prisoners were kept isolated from every contact with humans, even the guards. Dickens wrote: “It is my fixed opinion that those who have undergone this punishment must pass into society again mortally unhealthy and diseased.” The author notes that Dickens suggests there is a connection between humans and a natural environment, and deprivation of that is permanently damaging. The author moves on to today's current prison architecture which, he has found throughout his work, that there is no place for prisoners to experience even a blade of grass or a tree. They only might notice a pigeon flying by through the small slits/windows in their cells. I do not propose that I know very much about a prison's impact on the inmates after reading only one article. However, I do know the positive impact on learning that being outside while playing, exploring, and observing has/had on my students, has on my grandchildren, and has on me. 
           Those of you who are on Facebook (I keep forgetting about Instagram) know that I post lots of pictures from being outside, morning and afternoon walks, even noticing something wonderful from a car window. And often I want to "show" someone, or return home to capture it in writing or sketching. I remember many times taking my class outside to write, or to sketch something. I asked them what surprised, what looks like something else, how does the light change as it moves over the campus? When I did, they seemed both happy, focused and relaxed. So I wonder, how much time do you all spend outside, yourself or with your students if you teach? I know a few who post beautiful pictures from walks you take. Do you believe it matters?  It may be just as good an exercise on a treadmill. 


           When I'm tired, I find that it refreshes me to be outside. I walk around the block, find some small task to do, even on snowy ground. Today, as I was driving Ingrid home from her short visit after school, we drive down one street whose trees are so large, they hang over the street, towards each other. This time, at a stoplight, we could see that the trees looked like people, reaching, leaning toward each other. It was a time of delight, and of wonder, imagining the trees talking, maybe having a good laugh together. We were not exactly being "outside", but we were connecting with nature.
          In the article spoken of above, the author speaks of a "psychic death" from years of sensory deprivation. He asks his incarcerated students, “How long has it been since you have seen or smelled a flower?” And he writes: "Unless they are too far advanced in the process called “psychic death,” they can usually remember not only what kind of flower it was and where it was they saw it but what it smelled like." And further, he shares: "Perhaps this explains the many references to clouds in the work of these inmates. It has been years since some old-timers saw a tree, and they may never see one again."
           I read lots of nature journals, and love the way each writer glories in their surroundings, am envious sometimes of the time they have in certain places. But I know that it's important that I walk in the out of doors, feeling the sun, or looking at clouds, noticing the varied bark on the trees, the shadows on the walks. I return home feeling good. I hope you do, too!
rabbit tracks spied out walking this week
           

34 comments:

  1. When my kids were little, we spent so much time outdoors. I think it made a huge difference in their lives and their personalities. I have never thought about how the lack of that may affect inmates. You mentioned reading nature journals; would you mind sharing some of the titles you read?

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    1. My all time favorite is The Outermost House by Henry Beston, but his other writing is wonderful too. Here are three others that I've re-read, Leigh Anne: The Desert Smells Like Rain - Gary Nabhan
      Winter: Notes From Montana - Rick Bass
      The Earth Speaks - an anthology of readings - Steve Van Matre & Bill Weller
      I've had my students read them too, and do their own nature writing. There are many ideas online that helps that. I agree that being/playing outside is so important for children, wish so many didn't stay indoors watching tv or playing video games. Thanks!

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  2. When the weather gets too cold and I can't get outside, I get almost a craving to be out and taking my morning walk. I can't imagine how hard it must be to be isolated from humans as well as nature. I went to a concert at Eastern State Penitentiary once and was so horrified by the whole idea behind this type of jail. Everyone lived in isolation from each other, from the guards and had only one slight window in the ceiling for light. The only reading material provided was a bible. The whole idea was to be penitent. This type of jail was actually at the time one of the more humane facilities.

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    1. In the article, the 'teacher' says that there are many references to clouds in the inmates' writing, the only thing they 'see' outside. I have subbed a long time ago in one school system where the school was totally without windows. They said it was too distracting. Hard to believe that someone things kids shouldn't even look outside! Thanks, Bernadette.

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  3. I marvel at the way nature continues to change right before my eyes. I can't imagine not being a part of it.

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    1. I know, it feels punishment enough to be locked up, but I'm also hearing that some schools are taking recess away to have more time for test prep. Makes me sad! Thanks, Elsie.

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  4. Love your post. It reminds me that everyone has a story to tell. One book that I found really inspiring is Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write
    by Marybeth Christie Redmond and Sarah W. Bartlett
    In fact, I even got Sarah to be a featured speaker at the conference I am chairing in October.

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    1. Oh, the title sounds good. And good for you for taking the next step to have her speak. I will look for it!

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  5. Not sure if you're listening to Serial Season 2, but it is the story of Beaux Bergdahl who was imprisoned by the Taliban for 5 years and was released in a prisoner exchange. His descriptions of the landscape are striking, before he was captured after his 2nd escape attempt during his first year in captivity. I wonder if the descriptions are even more poignant because he was afterward to spend 4 years indoors without an opportunity to be outside even once. I won't discredit his natural ability to tell stories, however, as a major contributor to his retellings. Thanks for reminding us of the value of a connection with the natural world--especially in the context of being deprived of it in really extreme cases. What is our human response to this form of punishment?

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    1. Thanks for telling about Beaux Bergdahl. I will look for it. In the extreme, it is terrible, but even for ourselves and children, to be indoors for so long is not good either. I'm glad you shared.

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  6. I agree about the wholistic health benefits of being outside. But not today. It's -7 F.

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    1. I know, and when I wrote this I actually thought of you, Jane. Looking out the window & feeling warm inside is quite enough, right?

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  7. Linda - thanks for your writing - I also need to be in my garden or outside each day - even at our -25 this week. I often find myself reading and moving from window to window to follow the sun around the house. I can image not being able to go outside with trees and plants. I have read H is for Hawk or The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Both interesting books that connect people and nature in interesting ways.

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    1. At my new house I miss the early sunrise because of 3 story apartments across the street, & of all the things I miss, that seems to not go away! I know what you mean about following the sun, & opening the shades, etc. I want to read H Is For Hawk, still haven't, but I will. Thanks, Joanne! Enjoy your time in nature from the window I guess! It's warming a bit here, supposed to be near 50 tomorrow!

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  8. I always love seeing your outdoor images on Facebook, Linda! One day I will make it a habit to capturing the natural world around me like you do.

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    1. I think there must be some beauty there in Pennsylvania, Stacey! Happy that you enjoy the pictures! Rabbits and squirrels everywhere!

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  9. This afternoon as the sun started to set, it sent a light across the bayou that created perfect reflections. This little jaunt outside was enough to brighten my day. I want to be more "present" with the outdoors. For us, it's difficult when it's 90 degrees.

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    1. It's lovely to hear you talk about the bayou, Margaret. I hope you're taking lots of pictures!

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  10. I love the days when I can take my kids outside to read or write (or, heavens, just play!). I notice that on those days, all of are the better for it. I love your photographs, Linda - always such a delight to see Denver skies, trees, and delights through your perspective.

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    1. It is great to be out, & you know I agree. Thanks, Tara.

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  11. You capture the essence of observation. As writers we must make time to connect to the world surrounding us. As I read your post Linda, it took me back to reading 'Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, a book that had a profound effect on the way I look at the natural world. Each day after a time in my study, I consciously walk and look and notice the outside world. All the sense come into play. Images are collected in my head and on my phone/camera. The closing lines of your post sum up the importance of your critical connection to the outdoor wonders.

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    1. Yes, Annie Dillard's writing is an inspiration, another one who teaches us to look. I always have enjoyed what you've shared, too, Alan. Thanks for sharing what you do & how important it is.

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  12. I always enjoy seeing pictures of your daily walks, Linda. Please keep sharing!

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    1. Thank you, Jennifer. I love the noticing when I'm out, & am glad you enjoy the pictures.

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  13. Thank you for sharing this powerful article. I love nature, too (I totally relate to your words, "When I'm tired, I find that it refreshes me to be outside." - Yes! That's me!). However, I don't think I've ever thought about what this must be like for the incarcerated, to be removed from nature. Chilling, absolutely chilling, to think about the long-term effects of this deprivation.

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    1. Thanks, Maureen. I know how much you take your students outside, too, to play and experience all that they can. I agree. I didn't know that there were no natural things anywhere in the prison experience.

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  14. I have always found nature to be super healing and relaxing, and it's one of my goals to get out in nature more when I notice myself feeling stressed. I've done that a lot over the past year, and it has really helped! Such an interesting perspective in this post, Linda!

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    1. Someone that time outdoors, even shoveling snow, is invigorating. I'm glad you get out, and now with that new baby too. Thanks, Jennifer.

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  15. Nature affords me with an amazing array of observations to feed my soul and mind. Lately, I have been inside trying to organize the house after the holiday so I feel cooped up. Time to revisit nature's wonderings.

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    1. I know that you love being out because of all the beautiful words and pictures you post. Yep-time to go outside!

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  16. Being confined and without access to nature would be torture to me. Like you, I'm often inspired by things I notice when I'm walking. Sometimes, just being outside unlocks my brain. Keep sharing those gorgeous photos, Linda!

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    1. Thanks, Catherine, I guess we all agree that it's a very good thing. Now if we could just get everyone out more!

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  17. I think it is extremely important to consider the impact and importance of getting our students and ourselves outside.We are too cooped up with screens and then inside a classroom. It's a mindset to find the outside as a place to explore and invent. Thank you for this and the rabbit-tracked snow. Something I can only enjoy with pictures!

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    1. Well you see that I agree, Julieanne. There is so much to see and learn outside! And so much joy to experience in play.

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Having a conversation is a good thing!