Two books

An excellent read: On Trails: An Exploration, by Robert Moor.

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The cover caught my eye as I was browsing at the library and I was taken with the Boston Globe’s blurb: “Part natural history, part scientific inquiry, but most of all, a deeply thoughtful human meditation on how we walk through life, Moor’s book is enchanting.”

I have long been interested in wilderness writing, and in the changing concept of wilderness itself. This book investigates the trails we’ve made through that wilderness, the reasons for trails, and the nature of trails made by animals as well as humans.

Philosophical paths and trails of conversation and thought make up much of the book; through them, Moor shows that paths make us as much as we make them.

He tells us about the designer of the Appalachian Trail, Benton MacKaye, who realized that “the key to solving societal problems [is] to change systems, not human nature. As MacKaye became an increasingly prominent voice in the conservation movement, he seldom wrote about greed or excess. He chose instead to focus on environments–how they can weaken us, or how they can be altered to strengthen us” (231).

The closing section, on wisdom, is worth spending some time with.  Moore writes, “It is no coincidence that many of the transcultural markers of human wisdom (patience, equanimity, foresight, compassion, impulse control, an ability to reside in uncertainty) are exactly those qualities which children notably lack. Wisdom is a rarified form of intelligence born of experience, the result of carefully testing your beliefs against reality. You make an attempt at solving a problem, and sometimes you stumble upon success; other times you make mistakes, and then you correct them. Over time you learn, you adapt, you grow. In other words, wisdom is a form of judgment that evolves.”

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I followed Moor’s book with Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints, recommended by a student, and found it an absolutely delightful read. It’s the first YA magical realism novel I’ve ever picked up, and I found it complex, lyrical, and thought-provoking.

 

Mother’s Day, Books, and My Students on Poetry

What a glorious day today!
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This little bunch of bluebells was sitting on our doorstep a few days ago 🙂

I’ve had a little more time to read lately; I finished Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. It’s the kind of exquisite book I feel curmudgeonly about pointing out any flaws in–and yet, I found it a bit repetitive in parts or at least predictable. Still, certain sections of Perry’s prose are breathtaking–the first paragraph, for instance:

One o’clock on a dreary day and the time ball dropped at the Greenwich Observatory. There was ice on the prime meridian, and ice on the rigging of the broad-beamed barges down on the busy Thames. Skippers marked the time and tide, and set their oxblood sails against the northeast wind; a freight of iron was bound for Whitechapel foundry, where bells tolled fifty against the anvil as if time were running out. Time was being served behind the walls of Newgate jail, and wasted by philosophers in cafes on the Strand; it was lost by those who wished the past were present, and loathed by those who wished the present past. Oranges and lemons rang the chimes of St. Clement’s, and Westminster’s division bell was dumb.

I’ve also been reading Michael Robbins’ Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music, in which he says, “You don’t decide to go deep into words. Something takes you there.”

That reminds me of some of the things my AP students wrote last week in response to my question: What makes a good poem?

“A good poem makes your hair stand up. It is entirely up to the individual.”

“A poem that leads to serious assessment or thought about something.”

“One that emotionally involves any and all readers and leaves you thinking.”

“A good poem is able to illustrate a relatable and complex feeling in a unique and powerful way.”

“A good poem can be almost immediately recognized as true.”

“A good poem is one that is simple, easy to read but has sophistication and deeper meaning; I don’t want to dissect it like a puzzle but rather more contemplate it.”

“A good poem is any poem that changes your outlook on its subject in any significant way.”

“A good poem conveys emotion, any emotion.”

“A good poem makes you imagine the poem in real life.”

“A good poem always needs to make me feel something new or something I haven’t felt in a while.”

“It should make one consider and re-evaluate one’s own life as it makes one feel.”

“A good poem has music and rhythms coursing beneath its surface, regardless of whether or not it rhymes. It conveys its images in surprising, interesting ways, and the poet shows a mastery and command of language.”

“A good poem makes you compare it to what you know about the world.”

“A good poem casts a striking image in one’s mind and intelligently conveys its message.”

“A good poem has a thoughtful structure that compliments the topic itself.”

“A good poem is able to describe and create feelings that people have always known, but never been able to explain.”

What an insightful, emotionally intelligent group of students I have! Typing out their handwritten answers is part homage, part hallelujah, and the beginning of this year’s bittersweet goodbye.

Earth Day, Books, and a Poem

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We walked the Bloedel Reserve this afternoon with its gracious vistas and green in a thousand different shades.

I’ve been a bit preoccupied for the past month with a couple of things (National Boards, my health) and it’s taken me over a month to finish a single book.

However, this book is well worth reading: How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It, by Arthur Herman. With a rambunctious, overstepping title like that I opened it a bit skeptically but soon found it to be must-read material for anyone with more than a passing interest in Scotland. I bought it for S, who won’t have time to read it until summer (when she’ll be working two jobs, so maybe not much free time even then).

Before that, I read Graeme Macrae Burnet’s brilliant book His Bloody Project, which is a reader’s holy grail for me: a noir of high literary merit (the novel was a finalist for the 2016 Booker prize), set in Scotland. 

I also listened to the audiobook of Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. I am fascinated by the references to David Hume, who may have been familiar with Buddhism.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/08/07/what-meditation-can-do-for-us-and-what-it-cant Adam Gopnik’s take on the book is fantastic.

 
And finally, the BBC Sound Effects  Library has just released thousands of sound files, and perusing their titles is a delight. Here’s my found poem:

                          I

1 man constant walking up sharp incline of loose stone

1 man climbing and slipping

1 man 1 woman approach and stop

2 people clambering over loose debris

1 man 1 woman depart

10 bells ringing, Lichfield Cathedral.

                          II

12 month baby boy, scream & blowing three raspberries

12 month old baby boy, saying “Dada” (three times)

12-bore Shotgun, load, shot & cartridge ejected

12 bells ringing, Worcester Cathedral.

                        III

1 lorry passing slowly

200-year old village pump filling bucket

6 bells poorly rung in English village church.

 

 

Early April

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Eggs and greens for K’s 20th birthday celebration! They made a delicious frittata. S collected the eggs from chickens she’s taking care of over spring break; the greens and herbs are from our garden.

Easter books this year for B and A:IMG-1329

For K:

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For S:

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And for A:

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The camellias on the table are courtesy of this great beauty:

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The Best Things I’ve Read This Week

1. Last night I entered night owl territory, flying through David Grann’s riveting New Yorker piece on Antarctic journeyer Henry Worsley.

The story of Worsley is likely far more interesting if one has more than a passing familiarity with Ernest Shackleton–I recommend the documentary below, an excellent one that I’ve used to teach my freshmen storytelling techniques as they create their own documentaries.

2. Martha Nussbaum’s lengthy, wide-ranging interview here. Arguably the most important working philosopher today, Nussbaum’s archness here, with her regular precision and humanity, are at once inspiring and delightful. The Emotion Researcher site is having troubles this morning–The Atlantic’s article on her is also good.

3. Deep Work by Cal Newport posits a radical (to me) idea: that our brains don’t need light or shallow activity to recover from deep, focused work, they simply need a change, a switch to a different type of deep, focused activity. I have been guilty of glutting on Twitter at times over the past year, trying to make sense of things far and near, and I have been dogged by an unnerving sense that I’m shifting something fundamental in my brain. My students were often on my mind throughout this book; Deep Work seems to confirm my growing sense that my students likely are having more trouble with diving into deep work (such as timed writes) because of their regular smartphone use.

4. Speaking of timed essays, I read some good stuff this weekend from my smart scribblers:

• Children fear what they do not know, while adults fear what children should know.

• In this poem, the speaker pinpoints fear as the child’s biggest attribute to be stamped down by adults. For no one has more fear than an adult who has seen the horrors of reality.

• Collins indirectly poses the question, are such horrific events inevitable? Or can we change our fate if we change our actions and the way we educate our children?

Early December

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A at his 14th birthday party. I was in anthropologist mode, listening to a complicated trivia game he made up for his partygoers to play.

The mornings lately start like this:

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And get to this:

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The Danish String Quartet is my current favorite group–they’re coming to Seattle in February!

The latest book I’ve read: Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben is a short, fun, what-if scenario about seceding from the Union. It references Trump and Tillerson but shies away from any really hard-hitting commentary.

Last, incidental student poetry from the back board:

  1. Seattle-area students getting their grumbles in:

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2. Seniors already chomping at the bit:

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3. But very much still kiddos:

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Spring blues

S’s been gone for three days on a sailing regatta with the BHS team. We’re missing her, including Tasha, who’s never quite herself when S’s gone.

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This was the regatta that the BHS sailing team hosted last month here in Eagle Harbor. It was a rare bright day, so I watched for a while from Pritchard Park.

It’s been a cold, rainy spring, the wettest on record. It’s been a challenging time for many reasons, full of wakefulness in the wee hours of the morning. Latest book finished this way: Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot.

G and P are off to Boston for awhile; we went to a surprise party for them on the 7:05 crossing this morning. When the boat’s almost empty, ferry parties are perfect in some ways–no one has to host, and there’s a clearly-defined end when external forces prompt you to say goodbye to the departing ones.