Friday, January 11, 2013

This is your intro to me, even if you think I already know you...

Go here (scroll down.)  Try one of those student stories, about the same length, about yourself, and, most importantly, with the same tone.

Think about the tone. It's personal material but even so the tone is dry, a little removed, unemotional. To see the emotion you have to read between the lines and use your imagination, stretch a little, work with the writer.

And despite being personal, it's also public. Nothing embarrassing, nothing 'omigod-no-no-no' about these three samples. Again, the reader is entitled to read between the lines and take a lightly-mentioned fact for a run around the block, but there's nothing in-your-face.

Your writing over the semester will range widely in tone, style, content, and imagination invested. This is a very straightforward and basic exercise, just something to limber up your fingers on the keyboard before the real work begins.

Post it on your blog, and then we're off to the races, 262ers.

Nature Descriptive essay # 1. Nature! You gotta love it!

One of the problems I'm having with this first assignment is with the word 'nature'--and, uh, also with the word 'descriptive.'

Here is nature descriptive done all wrong because the word 'descriptive' is being abused:

As I rode around the field on my tractor pulling a bushhog, I saw acres of grass--green, smelling fresh, full of weeds and last year's dead grass. I saw trampled-down nests where does and fauns have been bedding down at night. I saw St. John's wort, buttercups, indian paint brush, bedstraw, and dozens of other kinds of flowers...."

Actually, that didn't turn out quite as badly as I thought it was going to. I could make it worse by piling up heaps of adjectives. But if it continues this way--I saw this, I saw that--it's going to get old pretty fast.

What it's missing is a narrator's presence, human interest. You don't care about a faun's nest. You might care more if I told you about the time I nearly ran over a faun who was convinced that her hiding place could not be found by a tractor. You don't care about bedstraw, but you might care if I told you about my fight to the death with the stuff (and how it's winning.)

In other words, simple description isn't enough. We need the writer too, as the samples below will demonstrate.

And then comes the question about 'nature.' How can writing about a tractor be writing about nature? Well, that's a question, isn't it? But it's up to the writer to define and limit or expand the term.

Is it nature writing to write about a falcon in Acadia National Park? Sounds likely. But what about a falcon in Central Park in NYC whose diet consists of city pigeons? Is that nature? Is it nature writing to write about a domesticated animal--a dog or cat? Is it nature writing to write about gardens instead of wild woods?

Some comments on the three samples:

Here are three samples. They are not just undifferentiated heaps of adjectives and "feelings" and descriptions of scenes as perfect as the scene on a postcard. Postcards are nice, but not exactly part of the real world. These three samples are real world pieces.

As promised, all three samples give us nature but also give us the writer. The mind of the author weaves through all these descriptions; each of them is about both things in the natural world and things in the writer's world. Unless one is a gifted poet (and remember this class is all about nonfiction prose) and can sing songs as pretty but as non-individual as a bird, I don't quite see how one can write about nature without including the writer's world. If you do see a way that works for you and for me too, I will be the first to break out the champagne and confetti and celebrate, but, for what it's worth, my best guess is that you've got to put yourself into the material as you read in the samples.

Notice also how discursive all three pieces are. They get their power from being willing to explore and go off in different directions and then eventually looping back. That's demanding of the writer but pays off pretty quickly as it helps the writer develop the writing and find out what he really wants to write about; it's an approach that to me makes much more sense that keeping to a strict outline or worrying about "thinking" ahead of time. How can you know what you think until you start to write!?!

For example, when I started the #2 piece, I thought it was going to be all about tearing down one stone wall and using the stones to build another. I got there eventually but the piece wound up going in different directions first.

Sample nature descriptive essay #1


In the last days of August, after a rainy July, we’re working hard to get in the hay crop. Every summer, I help the dairy farmer next door by raking the mown and tedded hay into windrows. There it finishes making and is scooped up by the baler, which mysteriously spits it out as rectangular bales. Today is bright and clear, and the hay hisses as it rolls into the neat windrows behind my rake.

The tractor is almost as old as I am. It’s a 1946 Allis Chalmers, which putts along steadily, pushing exhaust back at me from the rusted pipe above the engine. But I don’t inhale the fumes, since I’m usually looking back over my shoulder to line up the rake-edge with the swath of hay.

I see the fox as I round the corner by the old barn. She trots along between the second and third windrows, ignoring me and the tractor.

I’m close enough to see that she is dingy brown, not the bright red color of spring, and her rat tail is no bush. But she fox-trots effortlessly on scrawny legs as she turns and moves back up the windrow. The she calmly sits down like a dog and watches me. Even when I stop the tractor, she is not alarmed.

At first I think I will watch until she moves, but she does not have hay to rake before the baler arrives, and easily outwaits me. As I put the tractor back in gear, I see her lying on her back and writhing, just like my dog after she jumps on the bed.

This hay field is right across the road from my house. After looking from my porch windows into the hay field for 23 years, I find it odd to look back at the house from this angle. I realize that the vixen is used to this view. She has watched me for years, I think. Watched me hang out wash, start off down the road for a run, and pick petunias from the old water tub. Most of all, she has watched my bantam chickens and, no doubt, helped herself to dinner.

My thoughts move along with the tractor as I rake the lower end of the field by the woods. This fox could not be so old. She has not watched me for 23 years. It’s her mother and grandmother and great-grandmother who have watched. But why am I thinking in matrilineal terms? Maybe because I can easily back trace the patterns in my own life: my mother passing on to me her own mother’s ways, grandmother learning from her grandmother, Nana, who raised her.

I heard in an anthropology class that the Inuit think every seal they catch is the same seal. I’ve often puzzled over this. There must be a translation problem. But when I see a chipmunk outside, or hear a song sparrow, I don’t really see the individual animal.

In 23 years, how many song sparrows, sitting on a hop vine singing their familiar notes, have I watched? How many different chipmunks have my dogs chased onto the stone wall? They all really do look the same to me. Each species is one. Each individual animal is in a stream of DNA flowing through time. Am I any different?

My thoughts have taken me all the way around the field, and there she is, trotting up and down the windrows again. I’m surprised. This isn’t merely a quick encounter leading to discursive musings. I’m curious now about what this fox is doing today
Is she catching mice disturbed by the rake? Seems likely, but I don’t see her doing it. In fact, she starts accompanying me along the front of the field, just one windrow away. She doesn’t look over at me, but we round the corner together. I lose sight of her as I go down the slope towards the woods.

Oddly, I feel honored, although I know this is ridiculous. Maybe with the smell and noise of the tractor, she does not even realize a human being is here. But wait. Foxes are smart—foxy, even. Stories describe the fox as a trickster.

This girl knows I’m here, and she is trotting the windrow again. And she stays for an hour, usually near the barn but sometimes going all the way around the field with me. Across the road, my horses doze in the barn, away from the day’s flies. My phlox is in bloom in the front yard, brilliant white and thick this year. I’ve planted a succession of flowers, starting with the snowdrops in April, then daffodils, tulips and lilacs blooming in turn.

The fox and I look across the road at the white cape house. She owns and knows this section of field and woods better than I do, with my yard of planted flowers, my car taking me to work, my trips to Europe.

When I finish the last tucking in of hay and turn off the tractor in the middle of the field, the silence is stunning after the past hour of bouncing and putting. The fox moves to the edge of the road and her color blends with the goldenrod in the ditch. I walk toward the goldenrod.

Feeling very foolish, but too punchy from heat and thirst to care, I call, “Vixen?” No movement in the ditch. As I step closer, I see her trotting down the road. She slips into the north pasture. Or should I say her hunting ground?

The next day, my collie runs across the north pasture barking. I’m just in time to see the bright face and pointed ears of a half-grown fox kit disappear behind the stone wall.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Jean R. Goldfine

Sample nature descriptive # 2

I own 40 acres in Swanville Maine, half woods, half fields. The land is on a plateau known as Marden Hill—it’s always breezy here, wind usually from the north or west, which keeps down the mosquitoes in the summer and leaves huge snowdrifts across the road in the winter, drifts so persistent that the plow has to come three or four times after a storm. That plow salts so heavily trying to keep ahead of the drifts that it’s killed three old maple trees by the road and has nearly done for three more.

My 40 acres have a slight northward tilt. It’s nothing you’d notice driving past in a car, but my neighbor’s fields to the south of mine, across a stone wall and treeline, tilt just as slightly south and lose their snow two full weeks earlier than mine do. Back when this land was farmed and when farming was a serious business, two weeks more frost on the ground—and that slight northward tilt slowing all crops—probably made the difference between a hardscrabble farm and a prosperous one. The neighbor had two weeks more grass. He was two weeks earlier with the hay and with the peas for the Boston market and with the harvest of corn. Even his animals were warmer in the winter, sheltered from the north wind by that slight east-west ridge that marks the tilt.

I moved here in the spring of 1973. Most of what is ever going to be done to this land had already been done 100 years earlier: 40 acres of first growth woods all cut down, some of the trees gone into the making of my house a century and a half ago; years and years of springtime rocks and boulders, thousands of them, dragged out of the fields and pastures over to the property lines and piled into the long heaps called stone walls; storm drains laid across one pasture; two wells dug and lined with stones; foundations dug and cellar walls lined with more stones; apple trees planted in an orchard and around the edges of the fields; rhubarb, asparagus, grapes, and hops tucked in here and there.

The changes I’ve made are not impressive. In several pastures, I’ve reclaimed rocked-out land that had been lost to alders and red maples. I’ve kept the woods out of the pastures and cut back the popple and cherry growing by the stone walls. I’ve dug a farm pond, home to a few shiners, some frogs, and the occasional heron and migratory duck. Once we had a beaver and another time a big turtle. Our poodle Timmie takes a dip when it’s hot. I’ve planted a few trees, more asparagus, blueberry bushes, and built a small barn and a covered ring for the horses. Put a porch on the house and laid in a new chimney at the insistence of my insurance company. Not really much compared to what the first generation or two on Marden Hill was faced with doing.

There is one stone wall here that was not just a stone dump. It runs east-west behind the house and separates the orchard from the south pasture. Its builder took some care with it, saving out flat stones from the springtime gathering of rocks, digging a foundation for some larger stones, and then fitting the flats into a neat jigsaw pattern, vertical-sided and flat topped. Unfortunately, this wall I was entrusted with is collapsing.

At the east end a huge old ash tree sent its roots under the foundation. That let frost got under there and heave the whole wall. At the other end, a bulldozer took down part of it to allow dumptrucks through for the building of the horse ring, and without that west-end anchor or buttress,the wall began wobbling and weaving, stones toppling right and left, flat top growing wavy.

The old-timers used draft animals, limbers, and tripods with block and tackle to move those stones around and lift them into position. I’ve got a tractor, a crowbar, a few heavy boards to help slide stones around. I’ve even got a pair of work gloves to keep my fingers from being crushed, but what I don’t have is that old-time motivation. Under my care, most of the wall will probably collapse.

I feel ashamed, but not ashamed enough to do much about it, though a few years ago I did move the stones of the 12 foot section that the ash tree was heaving across the gateway to create a right angle wall, something new. Unfortunately, that new wall, not nearly as well-laid and well-made as the old one, has become a rubbing station for one of the horses who has sweet itch, an allergic reaction to insects.

Showing far more patience in its destruction than I ever did in its construction, he rubs his head, shoulders, and fanny against those glacial stones which the old farmers hauled out of the fields and built into the handsome wall I partially dismantled and rebuilt. Nearly daily the horse shifts a keystone, knocks out a wedge stone, edges off a capstone.

All my hard work being undone bit by bit by a dumb horse! Some days I’d like to brain the silly beast with one of those stones he’s such a champion at dislodging. Most days though--as I register my own burstitis, arthritis, lumbago, sciatica, weakening muscles, previously broken fingers—I resign myself to the collapsing wall and turn my attention to something more immediate and easier to cope with: Colorado potato beetles, cleaning last year’s creosote out of my new chimney, driving in a fence post and giving the electric wire a nice fat snap so that the silly itchy horse and his two pasture mates will stay here on Marden Hill where they belong: in the pastures cleared by farmers nearly two centuries ago.

Copyright (c) 2010 by jag

Nature Descriptive: Five Weeks in Monroe

May 3, 2010

Home for the day by mid afternoon. I planted two blueberry bushes that I bought from Reny’s. I haven’t felt quite right today—a bit lightheaded so I lay down for a bit. An hour later I decided to go walking in spite of the heat, the wind and how I felt. I followed the loop by the river. I heard a group of crows raucously calling to each other. They must have been near the farmer’s field across the river. The wind brought me whiffs of manure and the throttle of a tractor. Under the oaks the wind threw some acorns at me, and I wondered about the wisdom of this walk in the woods. I decided not to dawdle too much today.

The water is already down to its summer level. No more opportunity to run the river. I have thought about it a number of years, but have yet to actually do it. During the heat of summer I will tube from the falls to my rock, the beaver’s rock, the turtle’s rock. You have to walk periodically, but it is still a fun way to get cool.

As I rounded the last bend in the river before heading east into the woods, I got a clear view of very dark and ominous clouds. I realized I better hustle even more. I did check to see if the lady slippers were beginning to show, they weren’t, and I checked a little boggy area. By the time I got to the field, drops of rain were sprinkling down. I made it to my yard just as the wind increased with a loud roar, and I heard a tree fall. Just as I ducked onto the porch the rain let go with a fury. Such incredible timing. I sat on the porch and watched the wind and rain. After the ten minute squall, the sun is now clearing and the temperature has dropped from 82 to 75.

I have to eat an early supper and head off to a Conservation Commission meeting. I spend time inside, talking with others about how to help conserve and maintain trails on some town properties. It is the least I can do for the privilege of having woods to roam.

May 8, 2010

A rainy day. I’ve actually stayed in a good part of the day; I am feeling tired and lazy. Yesterday, I had someone cutting down many of the dead standing oaks around my property. I strategically left some that could be used for woodpecker habitat, but I now have a good start on the winter’s supply of wood. When I got home yesterday, Dave, the wood cutter was still hauling the firewood that was felled along and across the driveway. I donned outdoor work clothes and helped to bring it in. While working, I could hear the oven bird, with its song of “teacher, teacher, teacher” and the hermit thrush off in the distance. Hauling wood wasn’t in my evening plan, but it was a good end to my day, but something that needed to be done.

This morning I was up very early. It was drizzling, but not enough to force me in. I split some of the wood, and moved compost, which also got delivered this week. I will have wood splitting on the chore agenda for quite a bit. I planted some raspberries that I ordered too.

The leaves on the trees have emerged and grown overnight. It always seems to happen like that. One day they are small, the next, especially after a rain, they are full grown. I guess when the seasons are short; nature has to work more quickly. Already it is harder to see the birds that are coming through. One evening during the week a white throated sparrow landed on the railing of my steps. From inside, I was able to get about three feet away. The reflection on the glass must have been just right, because he didn’t react to me. It was exciting to see the bird so close. There was a little patch of yellow just forward from its eye, and a little patch of white outlined in black on its throat. I even managed to get some good pictures of it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

It appears that anything posted from now on is superfluous to my college career. However, I had enjoyed the nature writing, so will continue until life takes a turn and the urge to write dies out.

It’s Mother’s Day. I talked to both of my children earlier in the day. They’ll be up next weekend! As my gift to me, went for two walks. It is very chilly today. Three layers and gloves, and I still felt chilled. I took the loop along the river; I try to make it a daily ritual, or at least three times a week. The leaves have popped out quite a bit, since last time I went around. The fiddleheads that I picked last Sunday are now waist high, and I could not find any that were small enough to eat. It was windy which was nice; between the wind and the cold, the black flies were not around. I checked out the vernal pool on the property line. My neighbor and I share the pool and we both watch to see how life is progressing. I saw no egg masses, nor tadpoles, but I did scare a frog. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it. The Rhodora is beginning to bloom in the wet places. I spotted some Canadian Dogwood in bloom also.

After I got home, I hopped in the car and drove over to Northern Pond. It is some property that the town of Monroe put under an easement, and is open to the public. Being on the Conservation Commission and on the Board of the Land Trust that holds the easement, I am there for work quite a bit. I don’t get there enough for just the fun of it. I don’t think I have ever been there alone either. Well, I did have some purpose; I took the camera to take pictures for the land trust. Since it rained yesterday, the leaves were damp and my footsteps muted. If not for the wind I may have noticed more birds, I certainly would have been able to sneak up on them. I did see a warbler, and that is the closest I can get to naming it. I wish I knew birds better! The painted trillium was in bloom, and there were many scattered along the path. It felt like I was on a scavenger hunt, and just when I thought I wouldn’t see anymore another one was there in front of me. I wondered if the person before me happened to notice them, or were they too busy walking their dog. Up on top of the Hemlock ridge, I took a break and marveled at the stillness under the trees. The slope was too steep to log, so large hemlocks were left standing. It is a peaceful spot and a place where I am reminded that I am small. Then down the hill through the beeches. They are leaving out and an incredible emerald green right now. I think if the word verdant, when I see spring greens. To be green, to think, live and breath green. It is so alive and explosive, not like the lazy heavy greens of summer, when you want to sleep and dream green.

May 12, 2010

An exhausting three days, but sometimes I wonder what else is new. Work can be draining no matter what. There are ten to twenty children always hovering and needing. I love it, but I do get tired.

Monday amidst the chaos and din of children’s voices, singing, fighting, yelling, laughing, we watched a female cardinal build a nest two feet from the window. She methodically brought twigs to a sheltered area in a bush by the window. Every time she arrived with a new twig, she nestled into the concave center of the twigs, placed the new twig and turned a full circle adjusting and rearranging. By the end of the day it looked like she had a completed nest. Many of the children sat and watched for brief periods of time. Then we of course created a teachable moment and brought out some books that we have on birds and their nests. I did not see the cardinal on Tuesday or today. I inspected the nest while outside. She has twigs, and some leaves and a bit of plastic; all rather solidly molded together. I do not know if she decided to abandon that nest, or if she is taking a few days reprieve before she is ready to lay her eggs. The male continues to sing in the trees nearby, though.

I haven’t been around the river since the weekend. I had dinner with the neighbors and we talked about the fish they caught in the pool that adjoins our property, and I told them about the small patch of fiddleheads I found on their bank. (They bought the house last fall, and come up when they can while working another year or two before they retire).

Monday, May 17, 2010

The first arrival to a party that I had on Saturday was a snapping turtle. I happened to look out into the driveway to see a small dark shape moving toward the house. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a turtle. I think it was moving from a drying up wet area, and looking for a new place to be. I went out and moved it into a vernal pool on the other side of the house. I begrudged the fact that the tadpoles would soon become the turtles lunch and dinner. By rescuing the turtle, I have caused the demise of many amphibians, but we are all part of a circle. In order for one creature to live another must die, and there is a balance of sorts in the chaos of the ecosystem. Will this one act cause a greater imbalance, probably not? But many of the other things I do may. If there were just my action s to consider, there may not be an imbalance, but compound my human actions by all the other humans doing the same things (consuming resources, creating waste, creating a monoculture in our lawns… and the list goes on and on.) Even this journal I keep…

Tonight, Monday, I hear the white throated sparrow and oven bird out the window. I have been preparing myself for a public meeting with a CMP representative and towns people. CMP is upgrading their power lines to meet the demands of the North Eastern Grid. I do not know that any of us have a real say in the matter at this point, but…we shall see.

As the sun descends toward the western horizon, the shade is getting deep. The oaks are still unfurling their leaves, but the poplar and maples are fully developed. The verdant color of spring is darkening. And I hear the new call of the Green Frog in the nearby pool.

Thursday, May 27, 2010
I haven’t even had the computer on for days. It has been nice after needing to use it everyday for the last semester; I feel liberated.

The heat of a few days ago reminded most of us of August and seemed quite abnormal. One of those hot evenings, I decided I better water the garden, the peas are stunted and the seedlings were looking droopy. As I readjusted the sprinkler, a humming bird quickly took up pursuit of some fresh water. He stayed within the arch of the spray and appeared to be drinking the drops. Tonight, I again watered some seedlings, and the little hummer came by for another drink. I don’t put out a bird bath since I live next to the river, but I guess for the hummingbird fresh drops of cool water were a treat. I wonder if he goes out in the rain to catch drops?

With the garden needing planting and tending, my focus has been on the small circle of my yard. I tend to notice the bird songs, but my head is bent over the ground and my field of view has shrunk. I keep finding worms. Three years ago I had none here, so I am doing something right. I have added compost, wood chips and many bales of hay or straw, along with leaves each fall. The slug population has diminished. I think the chickens helped that while they foraged for two years; I wonder what will happen without them now.

There is a pair of chickadees nesting in a rotten birch stump (which is about four feet high) by the garden. They nested there last year too. Luckily for them it is near the asparagus patch and I have don’t go in that area very often. It is fun to watch then flit in and out. Right now they are in most of the time. The cardinal at the day care where I work abandoned her nest with one beautiful spotted egg. It is mottled grays and browns, and blends in almost perfectly with the grasses and leaves that the female built the nest with. We think they have made a new nest outside of the play yard, where the children don’t make so much noise.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Thank goodness for the rain. What I had in the garden was looking quite parched when I returned home from a stint in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I watered when I got home, but the rain was a blessing.

I took a trip to my sister’s for the long weekend. Last year at this time she took me to a Heron Rookery, where we saw probably twenty nests; there were at least twice that in actuality. This was the first time I saw a rookery. I did not realize that herons nest in the tops of the trees. They seem too big and ungainly to be able to land and rest on thin branches, but they do and with grace at that. This year we visited a sheep fair, and helped around the gardens. I got to see the robin’s nest that a robin built on their porch railing, unfortunately she came home from work one day last week to find the robin gone, one broken egg and two missing eggs. The robin has not returned.

I made a brief check on the swimming hole in the early evening. The beaver was taking a probably well deserved break. It was floating in the water with its forelegs outspread, and its tail and hind legs stretched out behind it. For the first time ever, I saw it just floating. When it heard me, it moved off upstream. I think I had found its den in the bank on one of my jaunts in the late spring.

Supper is beckoning…

June 7, 2010

I just got back from a walk in the woods. It is nice to have the sun back, but I admit we were in dire need of rain. The river is back up to the level it should be at, and my sump pump is happily humming away. I’m not sure it liked the hiatus, even though I did, at least for it. The lady slippers are going by, there were far fewer blooming this year. In the field the milkweed is beginning to bud. I pick a few for tonight’s supper. They do have oxalic acid, but if you rinse them a few times and change the water while cooking, you should be ok. I like them, but I don’t know too many people that are willing to try them, and those that did, didn’t really like them (like my children).

I spent Saturday afternoon in the garden. I finally have the lettuce and other greens, the beans, corn and s1uash seeds planted. I took advantage of the rainy forecast and got in all the seedlings that I had bought. I then mulched and put up a fence for the stunted peas. I hope they aspire to some height now that they have something to cling to.

I have to say that I will probably be caught lying many times if I keep this blog up for long. Right now my favorite shrub is in bloom. It is sheep’s laurel; the northern stunted (Maine) version of the mountain laurel I grew up with in Connecticut. The lie will be the fact that I will often say my favorite flower is in bloom. Just wait until full summer! I guess I forget the beauty and the thrill of the flower until I see it again. I am like that with food too. I can never use my favorite food for password protection for pin numbers, because depending on what is in season my tastes change. I am a fickle person, I guess.
Ah well there are worse things to be in life.

June 9, 2010

I was driving in to work today and came upon a road-kill. A turkey vulture was sitting atop it and tearing off pieces as I approached in my car. The vulture was not immediately intimidated by the size of my matrix and lifted its wings up and out to “scare" me off. It thought better of it a few seconds later and flew into a nearby tree, to watch me pass. Then as I turned onto route 141 where I can see the workings of a growing gravel pit, I noticed a flock of vultures circling over the torn and scarred earth. How symbolic to have vultures, harbingers of death and destruction hovering over the dying earth.

I remember my first experience with vultures. I was about 12 years old and we were visiting relatives in Pennsylvania. Our older cousin, Jonathan, took us for a hike, through farmers fields, past cow pastures and up onto a nearby mountain. In one of the fields there were a dead animal and a flock of vultures raucously feasting. At that point, they seemed as tall as me. Jonathan led us very close to the birds, which were not the least intimidated by us. They hissed and lifted their wings to increase their visual size. I was thoroughly frightened, but I was not about to show it to my cousin and my sister and brother. I skirted the scene as far from them as I dared without looking like a chicken; but I couldn’t help imagining the vultures plucking my eyes out.

On a more pleasant note: I checked out the swimming hole in the evening yesterday. The beaver was sitting on the sandbar near the opposite bank. I watched it for a few minutes as it ate, then moved to the bank and returned to the sandbar with a twig of alder. As I watched it was oblivious, then I heard a giant smack in the pool below me, the lookout beaver spotted me and let out a warning smack on the water before diving under. The other beaver quickly swam up stream and around the bend. My beaver now has a friend. I hung around for a while, but neither one returned.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Rebecca C.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Fall 2013 syllabus ENG 262

CATALOG DESCRIPTION: ENG 262 Advanced Creative Non-Fiction Writing
A writing-intensive course building on skills, techniques, and approaches developed in ENG 162. Students will study structure, development, style, and voice in creative non-fiction. They will also read short examples of various types of short non-fiction and then write their own weekly 400-750 word samples, present them to the class, and discuss their work with the instructor. Prerequisite ENG 162. (A writing sample and instructor permission can substitute for ENG 162.) 3 classroom hours/week. 3 credits. Offered alternate semesters.

1. “Demonstrate understanding of artistic work (writing) or craftsmanship…that reflects an understanding of the level of skill, effort, and thought that went into the piece being evaluated.”
• Students will do this by reading works of art (writing), discussing the art and craft of the various writers, and finally by creating their own works of words.
2. “Demonstrate the ability to evaluate a problem and develop a solution or a clear explanation of the problem….”
• Students will do this by seeing all their writing as a series of decisions about ways to solve problems in expressing themselves.
3. “Synthesize new ideas from existing facts.”
• Students will do this by using the facts derived from observation, research, memory to create original writing.
4. “…[E]ffectively state opinions”
• Students will do this by writing effective essays based on their opinions.
5. “Use…writing to convey ideas.”
• Students will do this by using their ideas to inform their writing.
6. “Demonstrate the ability to comprehend, evaluate, and interpret what they have read, seen, and heard.”
• Students will do this by writing essays, which will incorporate ideas presented in class lecture and in class readings.

A: all assignments, or all but one, have been handed in and rewritten if I asked for a rewrite
B: all but two assignments have been handed in and rewritten if I asked for a rewrite
F: more than two assignments not done, not rewritten, incomplete
Papers are not individually graded. All accepted papers are worth full credit (6.33%) . Unaccepted papers are worth no credit.

How papers are evaluated for acceptability: I’ll be looking for
• Personal voice
• Consistent tone
• Imaginative approach to deciding on and developing topics
• Coherence
• Structure that is unobtrusive but real
• Writing geared to an audience
If a paper is not accepted, I’ll discuss its problems with the student, and the paper can be rewritten as often as the student wishes before the semester deadline for rewrites.

•CHANGES: Nothing in here is carved in stone. Changes happen—that’s the only thing I know in advance won’t change.

WHO I AM: I'm John Goldfine, your EMCC writing instructor.

PHONE: I'm available for conversation on writing at 1 800 286 9357 x 4648 (work) and 338-3080 (home) (not after 9 pm or before 6 am, please.) If you don't reach me and want to leave a message, that's fine, but, unless you tell me it's an emergency, please DON'T leave your phone number and ask me to call you back--phone tag is a waste of everyone's time, and I won't return calls that aren't emergencies. EMAIL me instead, okay?

EMAIL: School email:
Home email address is . Don't use a subject line because that might send your email to my junk mail folder, which I only read when I need muscle enlargements, a million dollars from a Nigerian bank, cut-rate V*agra, or cheap inkjet cartridges. That would be never.

E-mail me anytime. I will respond to email within 24 hours unless my computer is fried by lighting or another icestorm knocks out my power for two weeks....

OFFICE HOURS: I will be in or near my office (Room 155 Maine Hall) MWF, office hours on the door, unless my car breaks down or I have a meeting with my boss--that sort of thing. I’ll be glad to meet with you other times if needed.

The school’s policies outlined in the school catalog—policies on affirmative action, disabilities, sexual harassment, and grievance procedures—apply to this course.

If you have a documented disability, talk to the ADA coordinator, Elizabeth Worden, right away so we can plan reasonable accommodations.

The school’s EO/ADA policies are included at the end of this syllabus.

If you simply dislike something I say in the course of my teaching, conferencing, or lecturing but if what I've said does not seem like any sort of harassment, then you ought to discuss it with me first before going to Authority.

No textbook. Students will have instructor-written or online samples or both for each assigned essay.
Online: where will appear week-by-week assignments, lecture material, syllabus, links, and sample essays you can download onto memory stick or home computer. That’s your text. Free.

I don't take attendance.

Any missed, incomplete, or unsatisfactory work can be made up without penalty at any time before the last weekend before the last day of school. But:

I'm interested in getting a steady supply of your writing to comment on and to teach you from. If the supply isn't steady, that's a problem. Truth is, bottom line: I can't teach you anything at all if you're not writing. If you fall behind one to two weeks, I will probably give you an official snail mail warning, and if you are not all caught up within a week after the date on the snail mail form, I may drop you from the course without further notice. If you catch up after a warning but then drop behind again, I probably will not send a further written notice but might just drop you.

I expect only new writing from you, stuff you are working on for ENG 262, nothing recycled from other courses, and, naturally, nothing borrowed, nothing blue.


Week 1. definitions and approaches: nature descriptive essay
Week 2. coherence: action/observation descriptive essay;
Week 3. tone: travel essay
Week 4. voice: childhood memoir
Week 5. audience: adult memoir
Week 6. imagination: autobiographical (not memoir) essay
Week 7. structure: profile of a person
Week 8. authorial presence: problem/situation/question/explanation piece
Week 9. fiction and fact: speculative piece
Week 10. enlisting the reader: editorial or opinion piece
Week 11. authority: expertise essay
Week 12. appreciation: book introduction
Week 13. appreciation/depreciation: book/movie/tv/concert/music/etc review
Week 14. organizing: mini-research essay
Week 15. starting over, sorting out: revision of an earlier piece


Eastern Maine Community College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age in its programs and activities. Inquiries about the College’s compliance with, and policies that prohibit discrimination on, these bases may be directed to: Affirmative Action Officer, President’s Office, Rangeley Hall, 354 Hogan Road, Bangor, Maine 04401, telephone number 974-4633, voice/TDD 974-4658, fax number 974-4888,,;

United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 33 Arch Street, Suite 900, Boston, MA 02110, telephone 617-289-0111, TTY/TDD 617-289-0063, fax 617-289-0150, e-mail internet;

Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC), 51 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0051, telephone 207-624-6050, TTY/TTD 207-624-6064, fax 207-624-6063, internet
shtml: and/or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 475 Govern-ment Center, Boston, MA 02203, telephone 617-565-3200 or 1-800-669-4000, TTY 617-565-3204 or 1-800-669-6820, fax 617-565-3196, internet

The College also does not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference or marital, parental, or veteran’s status. Inquiries about the College’s policies that prohibit discrimination on these bases may be directed to the Affirmative Action Officer or MHRC identified above.

Eastern Maine Community College is an equal opportunity institution and complies with the requirements of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 (34 CFR Part 106), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (34 CFR Part 104), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and its implementing regulations. Discrimination on the basis of race; color; national origin; gender; sexual orientation, marital, parental or military status or disability in the recruitment and admission of its students, in the administration of its educational policies and programs, and in the recruitment and employment of its instructional and non-instruction personnel is prohibited. Sexual harassment of either employees or students is a violation of state and federal laws. It is the policy of Eastern Maine Community College that no member of the College community may sexually harass another. Inquiries concerning Title IX, Title VI and ADA may be made to Affirmative Action Officer, at Eastern Maine Community College, 354 Hogan Road, Bangor, Maine 04401, (207) 974-4633; inquiries regarding Disability Services may be made to the Section 504 Coordinator at the same address, (207) 974-4658 (voice/TDD). Questions, concerns, complaints and/or grievances about discrimination in any areas of the college should be directed to Eastern Maine Community College’s Affirmative Action Officer; or to the Maine Human Rights Commission, State House Station 51, Augusta, Maine, 04333-0051, (207) 624-6050 or the Office of Civil Rights, J.W. McCormack, POCH, Room 707, Boston, Massachusetts, 02109, 1-617-223-9662.