Write Out: Place-Based Making

Where were you last Sunday?  Did you know that the National Writing Project initiated its “open summer online adventure, … [a] collaborative project…with multiple entryways for you to engage with historical and natural spaces….As with any open project, where your interest takes you is where you should go.”

The idea is to use open spaces to connect the very interior life a writer lives with the great space that exists all around us.  Granted, the idea is to explore nature and history, those designated environments spared the march of progress, of development, those areas set aside for preservation and to use these as inspiration.  And these spaces are worth our attention, however…

Emma Marris, a conservationist, talks about our definition of nature and asserts, “Nature is everywhere—we just need to learn to see it.”  She broadens the definition: “Nature is anywhere that life thrives.”  While acknowledging those “Edenic representations” that cause us to draw  reverential breath, citing Yellowstone, and the Great Barrier Reef among others, she makes the case that National Parks are carefully managed, concluding, “It takes a lot of work to make these places look untouched.”  She goes on to say that we humans “love these places a little too hard.

In addition, she argues that kids don’t want that “look-but-don’t-touch” experience.  While adults may happily hike along trails for five hours, a kid wants to “find a spot, hunker down, tinker with it, just work with it.”  So what are we doing to our children when we define nature as wild and untouched when humans have influenced every place on the planet?  Furthermore she points out that so many places of touted beauty are far away and too expensive to access easily.  This relegates appreciation to the elite—a definite problem.

She concludes saying that to guarantee that our children, and this means all of them, urban as well as rural, develop a sense of connection to and meaningful relationship with nature, “we cannot define nature as that which is untouched.  We have to let children touch nature—Because that which is untouched is unloved.”

Her ideas both humble and hearten.  When she argues that, if you want a wild space, all you have to do is stop mowing the lawn, she summons laughter from the audience.  When she cites the elevated train line in urban Philadelphia where a full-fledged wild meadow has established itself “floating above the city” and a vacant lot in Chattanooga where plant species and insect life abound, her point is clear.  Nature is everywhere if we choose to see it.  When we heard Marris talk on TED radio, my husband said, “Nature is like the sun; even if we can’t see it, that doesn’t mean it’s gone away.”

I am reminded of the poem by Marcie Hans:


by a million
wings of fire-
the rocket tore a tunnel
through the sky-
and everybody cheered.
only by a thought from God-
the seedling
urged its way
through thicknesses of black-
and as it pierced
the heavy ceiling of the soil-
and lauched itself
up into outer space –
–Marcie Hans
I am one of the lucky ones; the Pacific Ocean is my front yard and Oregon’s Yaquina Head bounds my view to the north.  I no longer have a young child to plunk down in the backyard with a trowel and time to explore, but that, I’m convinced, is at the heart of fostering stewardship.  My adult child creates oases of nature in New Orleans, spends weekends laying sod and visiting the lovely city park.  He pays attention and has developed what Marris calls “a meaningful relationship with the landscape.”
During the Write Out, I urge everyone to go outside.  Find any place where varieties of life thrive.  Touch and be touched—and maybe…write about it.

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