An Ecosystem of Writing Ideas
by Jack Collom
For ten years I've taught a graduate writing course called "Eco-Lit" (Ecology Literature) at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Eco-Lit is offered by Naropa's Writing & Poetics Department, but welcomes students in other departments and local citizens at large.
In Eco-Lit I strive to be expansive, to suggest far more than we can thoroughly cover. We use a 400-page coursebook as well as many supplements (especially now that nature writing is gathering steam and becoming more than isolated "cries in the wilderness"). Such a hefty load may confuse students at first, but eventually makes sense to them - sometimes long past the end of the course. We read and discuss (as literature, as representations of nature) poems and essays by recognized luminaries of the field, the writings of Thoreau and after - John Muir, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Leslie Marmon Silko, Gary Snyder, Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez, Gretel Ehrlich, Susan Griffin, Loren Eiseley, Annie Dillard, Robinson Jeffers, et al. We also go back in time - to Boethius, Thomas Nashe, Gilbert White - and around the world - to Issa, Coyote and Jataka Tales, Orpingalik the Eskimo songmaker, //kabbo the Bushman, and others. Beyond these "nature people," we read fine poets of all subjects in the belief that a good poem, in being intensely relational within itself, is an ecosystem whatever it's nominally about. Writers of scope inevitably include - are included in - nature. We seek that sense, too, in comic strips, diaries, songs, lists, letters, slang, politics, slogans, definitions, fables, rebuses, jokes, and science jargon. And we touch on perhaps the greatest nature book, Moby-Dick.
Looking at a wide variety of forms allows us to keep up with, even help to lead, the profound and rapid changes going on in humanity's knowledge of and attitudes toward nature. In my view, the word nature is peculiarly misunderstood by most of us. It's seen as something pretty one might sniff in passing, or as something disastrous such as a flood - in any case, as something secondary to the world and culture of Homo sapiens. It's something, in fact, that we're busy replacing with pavement, hydroponics, genetic engineering, zoos, animation, tree farms, and virtual waterways. It's something too dumb for irony.
In truth, nature is everything. It gains breadth from its subsidiary, limited meanings: beauty, wildness, source-of-life, and all their specifics. It gains poignancy through its contradictions. It's the big matrix; we're a few dots not only in it but of it. The "of" is what we forget. "Of" is identity of processes. Recognizing "of" is the springboard of love, without which there's only destruction, of ourselves and others. Jackson Pollock's remark, "I am nature," still has the ring of an outrageous cry - although it's just an overdue recognition. The word ecology means literally "knowledge of the house." In the sense that our house is now the entire world, the study of ecology has come to be a comprehensive study of the relational - the spreading interdependence of all things.
I encourage my Eco-Lit students to bring in their own favorite writers, variant viewpoints, and new facts. I continually hear about new, dynamic writing ideas from them. The more the merrier; I'd rather we struggle with bewilderment than oversimplify the possible links between writing and nature. In addition to our varied classwork, we go on a couple of fieldtrips each semester. These can simply be nature walks with writing, in the mountains or plains. Typically and inevitably, however, they take place in settings that include people-generated stuff; in this and other ways we learn that no separation between nature and humanity is possible. At the end of the semester we assemble a class anthology, for which each student contributes a certain number of pages. Many (but not all) of the included pieces reflect the class assignments. What follows is a sampling from those anthologies (keep in mind that these are writing students, mostly new to "nature writing"). It's also a walk through the many forms of writing I have my students experiment with.
* * *
The prime act that must precede writing - or talking - about nature is observation. Since pure perception cannot remain unaltered by language and our human psychology, the class discusses this question of phenomenology and we write with it in mind. We strive to approach, with our very limited senses, a fairly accurate take on a "leaf of grass."
Direct Observation Poem
Rhubarb red like a starched erect sinew sticking out of
the dirt: the Stem
Ending in triangular formations sharp drooping like
floppy garrisons: the leaves
Margarine yellow starting to melt on a skillet pan
intricate like doily patterns: the Head
One tarnished copper green leaf the tip of it starting to
change into rhubarb red like rusting plate mail
The most important part of a wrinkled dried-out sun-scorched
leaf like a wet walnut brown sock left twisted upon
itself after being wrung out
This burnt potatochip leaf is barely connected to the
Another basic of nature writing is the sense of place. I urge students to write about place in any or all of several ways: by cataloguing what's there; by focusing on one or more of the senses; by narrating themselves into the pictures; by writing acrostic poems about the place; or by making a small portion of a place stand for the whole (synecdoche). Poet and writer Merrill Gilfillan put it this way:
Look closely. Make notes on all the particulars you can in-place - sketch shapes, colors, sounds, aromas - and when you think you've done that, give it five minutes more; the summoning and staking of details leads, of course, to details-in-configuration, in context, i.e., to relations, root of all esthetics (and ethics). The same goes for a barrier reef or a freightyard or Gary, Indiana.
Ultimately, the poet finds his or her own way to depict the here and there:
a place called here (excerpt)
The days are stacked against what we think they are.
stacked against what we know we are while wet flakes flower on the hoods of red volvos and drape aspen branches like lace. We know we were in love but the snow came too late. flouncing in on the tail of red robes layered against dusk. at the mercy of turnings, squinting to catch a stack of metered time rolling off slope of moon or the bridge of a nose that reminds you who you were. your own sweating breasts against a killing dream¾
the earth stacked in favor a bird's wings, ladder or plates grunting their way from hell to blue. In streams of water whistles like air, dispersed falling, who we think we are. fallen¾
I am in my
body wrapped in skin
skin clothed in cotton
in a room with florescent light
and a slightly stuffy air
in a building with classrooms
offices and library books
on a patch of ground with other buildings
making a school
surrounded by streets
stoplights and cards
in the middle of Boulder
full of random or purposeful human activity
dependent on electricity and gas
connected by telephones and computers
under the mountains
where goldseekers from the east
thought it looked like a good place to winter
one hundred thirty-one years ago
and never left
end of plains beginning of mountains
end of Arapahoe when the Americans came
only the statue of Niwot left
squatting by the creek west of 9th St.
staring at downtown Boulder
with its restaurants and banks
the creek by which he sits
comes down a canyon
drops 3000 feet in fifteen miles
is fed by other creeks
going back to lakes and glacier
if you keep walking up
you can see a good deal of it all at once
to the east, Boulder, Denver, brown cloud
pollution now makes its own horizon
a dingy line in the sky
and there are always airplanes
flying over all of it
and there are always satellites
orbiting above them
always a moon
always a sun
they always return
and the earth
The journal is an I-remember of the present: it always encourages us to notice our surroundings and our five or six senses. Here's one that displays a rocky compaction:
Grand Teton (excerpts)
0300 - Dark and cold. Wind blowing from the west. Very little sleep. Shared the cave at 10,500 feet with pikas. Up, already dressed. Headlamp on. Find Wesley and Bob. Quick breakfast - oatmeal and coffee. No one talking. Grunts.
0415 - Start down through boulders and talus. Wesley leading. Down about 1000 feet then up to the Lower Saddle. Headlamps catch pikas. Occasional bird noises¾.
0600 - On the saddle between the Middle and Grand Teton - glow to the east. Pre-dawn. Still cold. North through long boulderfield. Smells of human shit. Exum Guides must still be dragging pack-trains of tourists up the ridge. Purchase an experience. No one around. Breathing hard. Look west into Idaho. Almost light now. To the east Signal Mountain, Jackson Lake, the Snake River, Alpine Lakes¾.
0915 - On the summit - very small place. Only other people there two crazy Brits-one chain-smoking. Sun beginning to warm, but not much. Take a few pictures. Look north to Cascade Canyon and all around. Still very clear.
The Portrait, or Sketch, is also one of our staples. It's a natural with animals. As always, details rather than generalizations make the reality:
Mulling and clucking under its breath
like the tanned and stained
homeless man downtown.
Huge and black and white
gloriously white, like rabbits' fur.
Breast feathers pristine
without benefit of a rasping,
rough cat tongue.
It mewed and whispered,
rolled its small obsidian eyes,
tail flashing blue pearls upon liftoff.
The branch vibrating
the last huff of a wingbeat
pushed the air away.
Inspired by Charles Simic's poem "Stone," in which the poet whisks our imaginations inside a plain rock and finds magic there, "Going-Inside" poems aim for the active empathy with "the other" so basic to an ecological sense:
Tripping in Cell
Stuck in sticky cell jam
my hands clasp the walls and
Martha Graham did a dance like this
using an elastic bag as
elastic plasma membrane containing
slurpy elastic blob blopping cytosol.
I bounce against altochondria
climb twisted DNA into a Jungian mansion
up is down into
can't breathe for the dust
I'm no ape! no¾
am I a whale or an ape or a
whale of an ape!
amoeba pear viking¾.can't decipher this
genetic code caught between a chicken and its egg.
Whatever¾..I'm stuck in this lethargic liquid
bang my head on a nucleus
feels like I've got a rock in my shoe.
Concrete poetry emphasizes the visual (sometimes sound) aspects of letters and words: Writing has always had a pictorial component (we can still see it in present-day Chinese), just as language has always had a musical component. In the Middle Ages, poems were constructed in the shapes of crosses or angel's wings, and so forth. Here are two contemporary works from my Eco-Lit classes:
I encourage experimental approaches (following Mother Nature's lead). My Eco-Lit students have often, I think, invented new forms, or at least new formal modes:
With Their Voices They Are Calling You
Whales ivory walrus
coral phylum coelenterata cult
brain star fire
black fin fan tube sponge basket porifera
seals black sea cream
tea leaves in teal stream
millions of minnows in silver
royal ribbon morays
lemon lilac lily
emerald sapphire jade
interleafing coral cables in diamond lattice
angels in striped pajamas
French butterfly queens
rosequartz candy in yellow cellophane wrapper
Tahiti starfish seaworms lions
squirrel fish wild wedding veil
noble brandy gold
yolks -- sun and moon -- flounder globes
seams sugar sand
porpoise saxophones patterns around
noise shark tabernacles
inset -- vestibule for
snapper grouper jacks
little feather sister
sea urchins with pedicellariae
hermit crabs and scallops
Rays - round butterfly bat true
"The words have no meaning,
but the song means,
Take it, I give it to you."
is the color of
and it is
as Santa Fe
of the human
Yet another basic of nature writing is the question mode. Nothing else stirs information about or turns it over like a question:
Is Nature Moral? (excerpt)
How can I think well enough to answer that question when the beauty of the sunlight on the pine needles keeps catching me? When there are blue jays eating berries from the vine on the side of my house? When some new magpies just moved in to the tree next door? When I'm kept up at night by the shuffling and scuffling and growling and chattering and lip-smacking of all ages of raccoons outside my bedroom window? When the singing of coyotes awakens me at three? When the stars are so bright I linger for too long beneath them? When there's a pulling in my chest at the way the wind and sun are making everything look at this moment?
Wallace Stevens's great poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" gives us the perfect form for looking into multiple truths:
seven ways of looking at a cloud
1 i, a disappointed child
when told that clouds weren't solid
2 clouds gathering into massive anvil fist
muttering over the silent desert
splitting rain onto cracked red ground
3 the rain-giving clouds are distinctive
with their countless pouchy buttocks
mooning the earth below
4 Lenny the lenticular was a
mean machine, leaning out across the sky
a speeding ellipse against the blue
5 cumulette puffs of white dropped like wads of cookie dough
their cloudbottoms dark and flat against an unseen nonstick pan
6 a cloud is the ultimate philanthropist
poor in his youth, he becomes generous
with age and girth
sharing his water-horde at last
7 in ancient days a man was turned into a cloud
forever banned from the earth
but at night his form loosened into mist
and he touched the face of his love as she slumbered
One of the most colorful formats is the recipe. Recipes show how elements can be combined to create new elements. They have a distinct vocabulary that is familiar to everyone. Recipe poems encourage wild imaginative leaps - but no food allowed!
Boulder Valley Surprise
boil igneous rock for millions of years
let stand until cool
when inland seas subside
uplift red sandstone, crimp edges
grind soil with glaciers
decorate with trees, evergreen and deciduous
then add large mammals, fish and birds
transfer humans with stone weapons
across the Bering Strait
convert large mammals
to food clothing and shelter
now add other humans from the east
sprinkle liberally with iron and gunpowder
in a large well-wooded valley
sift for gold dust
construct wooden buildings, then add brick
steam railroads, a shot of whiskey
then, with a large spatula
smooth out even layers of concrete
on any possible surface
sauté in carbon monoxide
bake with electromagnetic waves until saturated
in a large sealed container
cook plutonium until doomsday
garnish with shopping malls, tanning salons
takeout chicken, video arcades and massage parlors
set blender on purée
bring to a boil
run from the kitchen
The acrostic poem has been practiced for thousands of years: basically, a word is set vertically, and lines of a poem "spill out" of the letters. Acrostics serve any topic with great structural readiness, since the "spine word" resonates through the poem. Here's one with the whole alphabet, for that inclusive effect:
All together now, longer lives are special, longer lives are
Better. Because one gets to learn a lot,
Cuz one has the opportunity to learn from mistakes,
Dumb mistakes, dumb stupid mistakes like
Environmental disasters, like
Flooding lowlands for recreation, like
Giant dams that hold back water, like
Habitat destroyed in name of progress, like
Incan ruins unearthed and shattered, like
Jays being shot because they're too loud.
Kill, kill, why not kill? this globe this planet this
Land that bustles on its own much noisier than the
Moon. Oh, opal light, eclipse and mountain -
Now is the time to strike back, reform the earth,
Our knowledge unleashed for centuries without
Prior thought, without consideration of the side effects, without
Questioning the start of what once begun will take lifetimes to
Reverse. There is a
Sweet trickle of clear water, there is a tiny stream
Trapped beneath the underbrush, singing beneath the
Unborn ferns, where all the fiddleheads pop up like
Violins and accompany the stream.
Where has it all gone and why are these places now named "treasures"
eXactly where a small valley was, not far from where
Yellow poppies battle with winds, their skinny stems the strings of
Zithers still playing for us, still playing for us, can you hear them?
"Everybody has a water story," exulted poet Sheryl Noethe. Here is an example of the form from Eco-Lit:
3 A.M. Longs Peak Trailhead: I strap two liters of water to my pack.
2 P.M. Fredericksted: Hot, very hot. I roll off the raft and into the cooling Caribbean Sea, and bob like a cork
11 A.M. San Juan River, Utah: A wave catches me. I'm pulled under and am embraced by the current.
10 P.M. New York: We took long hot shower together, saving water in the 60s drought.
8 A.M. Lyons: A dead battery on cold winter morning I was late, late for school, late for work - the battery needed water.
4 P.M. Taj Mahal: Two naked children's bodies lie lifeless by the Ganges, their innocence swept away by the lapping holy waters.
11 P.M. Tip of Long Island: With our toes in the icy waters, we sent our spirits to Kohotec to become One with the Universe.
1 P.M. Hesperus: Very pregnant with my own, I break the water sack of a cria (baby llama) and help him emerge, feeling my own child move within me.
5 A.M. Hesperus: The warm soothing bathwater eases the labor pains as I wait for the midwife to arrive.
2 A.M. Lyons: "Maaaaaaaam ¾ Maaaaaaaam, I want some water."
5 P.M. Mediterranean: The sea is calm, eerily calm, not a ripple, just the slightest telling whisper from the north.
9 A.M. Top Longs Peak: The first liter of water was drunk on the way up - now with the second we toast our success.
6 A.M. Outside New Delhi: "Water is running." I slipped from my tent wrapped in a lungi with my towel, soap, and cup in hand to perform our morning ablutions with the women in the irrigation ditch.
8 P.M. Lyons: What it was specifically I don't remember, except perhaps that impish look, but we started to laugh and giggle, the three of us together laughing, laughing so hard that the tears rolled down our cheeks. We embraced with contagious giggles, my girls and I.
6 P.M. Bedminster: Old Tom and I sat on the river bank fishing and drinking beer and talking of life. He was 72 and I was 7 ½.
3 P.M. Fredericksted: It hadn't rained for weeks, the cisterns were empty. A crack of thunder the skies opened and we ran about dancing and shouting and tried to drink the sky.
7 A.M. Wherever: I splash the marvelously cold water on my face - Good Morning!
9 P.M. Far Hills: The rains just didn't stop, the water rose and rose, it was brown and muddy, it took the old cow, the footbridge, and the willow, then it stopped and slowly receded.
12 P.M. Kabul: The fact that he said it was the water gave me little consolation as I lay there bathed in sweat, folded in agony and praying for relief or death.
4 A.M. Mediterranean: The waves buffeted the Eostra about, the skipper yelled orders, the jib was in shreds: Poseidon had definitely lost his cool.
1 A.M. Amsterdam: The subtle movement of the houseboat lulled me into a deep sensuous sleep and dreams of Eros.
7 A.M. Blair's Lake: We scattered his ashes as he had wished - void of emotion.
10 A.M. High Time Farm: Dressed in a long white gown, my tiny bald head sprinkled with water, I received my name.
12 A.M. 12th Street: It was some movie, she said goodbye and I let go like a tropical storm, the tears flowing for every goodbye I ever said or that was said to me.
As I noted earlier, this is only a sampling of the writing forms my Eco-Lit students try. We also do field notes, list poems, imitations, chant poems, definitions, haiku, haibun, lunes, letters, phrase-based acrostics, speeches, sonnets, plays, sestinas, and prose narratives. [You can find detailed descriptions of these in Poetry Everywhere (Teachers & Writers Collaborative), a book I wrote with Sheryl Noethe.]
We also experiment with different types of collaborations. Writing collaborations can be as myriad in form as writing itself. Collaboration by its essence (multiple causation) exemplifies the spirit that moves ecology. It's also a lot of fun, and can help escort a reluctant group into the joys of writing. And it helps free up student minds to a wider range of connections.
My students write essays throughout the course. Some are critical responses to readings. One is to research a local (Colorado-wide) eco-situation and write about it. The final paper is an essay on Eco-Lit - what's happened, what's happening, what will or should happen. One student, for example, traced ecology themes in music and song.
Some might argue that we should master one or two forms (styles, genres), but I believe that generally in creative writing, as in learning different languages, the more variety you undertake, the more mastery you achieve. When language exemplifies its subject, the impact is considerably strengthened and diversified. Obvious examples would be a poem about the sea having line-lengths that resemble waves or a poem about emotional upset moving zigzag on the page. When poetry discusses nature as if from a great height then nature seems both bounded and lowered. Sometimes, nature is only allowed to be a blank screen on which we project our emotions. But the realization that we are part of nature is growing. Our human culture - truly amazing though it is - may be less complex than the legs of a spider, or than our own cellular existence. What better way to use our indeed unprecedented cultural gifts than to build bridges back to our larger selves?
I think both older styles of nature writing and the currently accepted ones are fine; I have no desire to replace them, only to add to them. Language works as a field, a geometry, in which anything can take place, and the definition of nature should be something like "that within which we bob and swim." Were someone to argue that depth is more important than breadth, I'd say that depth consists of variation even more than breadth does.
* * *
I have also taught poetry to elementary, junior high, and high school students. For over twenty-five years, I have borrowed, stolen, been given, adapted, and made up well over sixty writing exercises for school children. All of them, I believe, are good for teaching nature writing. And, in their variety, they resemble an ecosystem. Here are a few of my favorite ones for the younger students (but not exclusively), with notes on how they physically relate to nature:
ANATOMY POEMS - personifications of body parts (the bones strike up a conversation with the heart, for example).
BUMPERSTICKERS - inventing these (e.g., REMEMBER WATER?) is fun and helps wean us from a sanctimonious reverence for nature.
"CAPTURED TALK" (students pull language from all around them: signs, books, overheard chat, TV, etc.) - a gleaning, like berry-picking; the rhythm and comedy of language tend to stand out in such collections.
CHANT POEMS - emphasis on rhythm and repetition, both of which operate abundantly in nature.
COLLAGE - grafting, hybridization.
COLLABORATIVE POEMS - exemplify the mulitiple truths and relational emphases that energize all of nature.
COMPOST-BASED POEMS (after Walt Whitman's "This Compost") - rot, and how life is fed by it.
CONCRETE POETRY - language forming aural or visual patterns, even recapitulating natural shapes.
CREATIVE REWRITES - personifications (or other adaptations) derived from science texts, resulting in such creations as talking winds or volcanoes.
"HOW-I-WRITE" PIECES - process-oriented, breaking habits down into physical details, bringing out the connections between writing and the most homely particulars in your life.
"I REMEMBERS" - list poems composed of lines each beginning "I remember¾" can release hundreds of intricate memories, making nature immediate.
LIST POEMS - an expansive way to talk about anything.
METAPHORS - I see exercises in metaphor as objective correlatives of the relational.
NO-WARMUP DELIVERIES - not only spontaneous but unguided, as sudden events in nature seem.
ON POETRY - "a slow of flash of light that comes to you piece by piece" (by a sixth grader).
ORIGINS (after Jacques Prévert's poems, "Pages from a Notebook") - playful little reverse creation myths ("The music teacher turns back to music," wrote one first grader).
OUTDOORS POEMS - being outdoors and writing a circle or path of observations.
PANTOUMS (Southeast Asian form with a weave of repeated lines) - like the cycles of nature.
PICTURE-INSPIRED WRITINGS - for example, one student wrote from a closeup of a cabbage leaf, describing it as a faraway galaxy.
POLITICAL POEMS - compassionate noise.
PROCESS POEMS - letting language be subject to mathematical processes, as nature is.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS - "Where do all the noises go?" The poem is a response (but not closure) to the question posed.
SPANISH/ENGLISH POEMS - students can write poems in which the two languages are mixed, as in a garden.
TALKING TO ANIMALS - "Tyger, tyger, burning bright" and other possible conversations.
THINGS TO DO IN¾ -- another way to project the mind outward (into the Brain of the Bumblebee, the Bottom of the Sea - or one's own kitchen).
USED-TO-BE-BUT-NOW¾POEMS - (I used to be¾, but now¾) playing with and against cause and effect.
WALL-OF-WORDS - distributed objects, announced words, and readings-aloud during writing time all help emphasize scene as source, so that nature writing not only discusses, but also models, nature's processes.
* * *
I've saved my favorite nature writing idea for last.
The first time I asked some of my elementary students to respond directly to the idea of Nature, using creative writing, was one Earth Day years ago. First I spoke of list poems: lists, or catalogues, have been a common element of both poetry and practical life for millennia. They are packed with information and encourage students to use surprise, to play with odd or wide-ranging juxtapositions. List poems tend to be rhythmic and full of energy.
I suggested that we make list poems from the idea "Things to Save." To give the word save the right context, I said a little about the looming ecological problems facing the world, but I didn't want to preach to the students. I also let the students know that they didn't have to feel restricted to "nature items" for their things to save; they should feel free to include personal things and favorite things - little sisters, books, or the teddy bear with a missing arm and its eye pulled out on a rusty spring. In this way, we could indicate that nature and civilization are interconnected.
The usual precautions about what helps make good poetry were appropriate at this point, so I told them that details are better than generalities. (Don't simply save "trees, animals, and water," save the lopsided old sycamore by Salt Creek where the grey-cheeked thrushes sing.) It takes imagination not only to create fantasies, but just to see what's in front of you, to go beyond a "bird' or a "bush." I also tried to show the students that it's both fun and necessary to create variety in their "things to save" writings, variety not only in the items listed but also in the kinds of items ("wild horses, acorns, smiles"). I asked them also to vary syntax in their pieces - not to get into the rut of "Save the blank / save the blink / save the blonk."
Here is a selection of these "Things to Save" pieces by younger students:
I'd like to save the sweet chocolaty chewy candy bars
that melt in your mouth, the warm cozy pillow that you
can't wait to sleep on, I'd like to save green meadows
that you run barefoot across running and running until
you collapse on the wet soft grass, the hot days when
you try to eat ice cream but it melts and plops on your
foot, I'd like to save the amusement parks where you go
on a twisty ride and throw up all over yourself but that's
just what you thought would happen, I'd like to save the
little green bug my big brother viciously killed six
months ago, I'd like to save the world all green and blue
and beautiful, I'd like to save the little things that
--Juli Koski, fifth grade
clouds, white shadows in the sky, cotton candy white as the lining of
silk, soil black as coal, koala gray as rain clouds, trees tall as
the sky, polar bears white as ever, dolphins swimming in the sea.
--Jessica Flodine, fifth grade
The darkness of shadow-like wolves
darting across the night like
black bullets, and the moon
shimmering like a sphere of glowing mass.
Let us save lush grass, green as green
can be, but, best of all,
imagination glowing with joy aha,
images it is composed of, it is this
that is making the earth grow
with flavor and destination.
--Fletcher Williams, fifth grade
Save the Earth
Save the red fox, the white-tailed deer, the blue whale, the bald eagle, the black bear, the spotted owl, and animals not discovered yet¾
Save the black and white lily bug
Save the striped toad
Save the bunga-bird
Save the Galápagos hare
Save the green ten-legged spider
Save the rock troll
Save the hairy lizard
Save the Antarctic elephant
Save the Asian fire squirrel
Save the yellow-tailed monkey
Save the snow otter
Save the white-eyed dog
--Marco Barreo, junior high
I would like to save the colors on Earth
White as the snow
Blue as the sky
Yellow as the sun, daffodil and bees
White as snow, whiteout and gems
Red as blood, flowers and your heart also hair
Orange as the fruit, gold earrings I see around
Green grass and shrubs
The Black at night, in your eyes and in your hair
The Purple flowers and Purple polka-dot pencil you see
The Blue tears and Blue book covers
Gray we see in dreams.
--Shannon Foley, fifth grade
And finally - proving that this exercise can work at all levels - here is a poem by one of my Eco-Lit students:
Save the pearly everlasting dried broken at the roadside.
The sound of Arenal at night. Lava
and parakeets in flocks, and storms.
Save hills and high cliffs, save
animal teeth, save
fur and claws and tendons and bones.
Save stars but change the constellations if you want.
Save baobab trees,
llamas, rusty old meat grinders,
the organ grinder's monkey. Save
old shoes and hair.
Save caterpillars, nasturtiums,
sea horses, flies.
Save stone walls for walking,
and drift wood on beaches.
Save things that live in the Indian Ocean.
And things that swim in the South China Seas.
Save music and humming and whistling through teeth.
Save people on streets, but don't save the streets.
Then sumacs, and fescue and fenugreek seeds,
and ladybugs, aphids, paper-birch, leaves.
Carnivores. Herbivores. Omnivores. Fields. Save
seed shadows. Leaf litter. And marshes. Save
Sea shrimp and squid ink and
octopus feet, and
hurricanes. And 80-knot winds. And
sailboats thrown onto high cliff roads.
And slugs and snails and scallops and scarabs.
Kestrels and nightshades. Vipers and honey.
Save blue things. Save bower birds.
Devil's club, mulch.
Save sea otters, ospreys and
things the color of stone.
Reprinted from The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing, edited by Christian McEwan and Mark Statman, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, New York, 2000.
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