Bridging the gap between awareness and apathy: A skeptic changes attitude about nature and writing
Mission Impossible, should I choose to accept: Select and commit to a physical setting that you will go to regularly and give detailed descriptions of in blog.
It sounded simple enough in the beginning. After much contemplation about inspiration and travel distance, however, I realized this would require more discipline than I was comfortable with. Furthermore, having lived in Pittsburgh for just three months, I still wasn't yet familiar with the city to have a sense of a "perfect place." This prompted me to do some research on the city parks. Alas! There are so many! Highland Park revealed itself as a potential candidate, but after a couple drive-a-rounds in January, it failed to inspire me.
Then someone told me about Washington's Landing, a little marina off of 31st street where I could access a walking trail near the river. I was on my way there for the first time on the Friday before this was due when I received an unexpected and upsetting phone call. The conversation soured my mood to the point where I was totally unable to focus on the original purpose for driving there and devoted six pages of my journal reflecting on it. No more Washington's Landing for me. Too far to drive. By Sunday, I still hadn't made up my mind. I happen to be on campus then, and noticed the pond for the first time, stopped and christened it "my perfect place" out of desperation.
I had been seeking out a specific natural setting regularly when living in Des Moines, not for the purpose of describing it, but as a means to escape and pour out angst regarding another area life. But something startling began to unfold. Sitting on the bare ground, writing in the present tense about my observations of this pond also helped ground me in the present moment, something I've always wrestled with. Rather than seeking out a natural setting to scribble complaints and discontent about circumstances beyond my control, this activity helped me put myself aside and open up to whatever the present had to teach me.
Mission Impossible, should I choose to accept: The readings and a 290 page text called Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams.
Although postings on this text were wide ranging and controversial, it has influenced me the most. Her concern about the Great Salt Lake was the undertow that drew me in. TTW's relationship with her family and the illness touched me deeply because I had a similar experience with another family member. She has become a role model and guide for me.
Lisa Couturier's work on urban nature also excited me and helped me understand how to seek out nature in an urban setting. The Native American's approach to nature writing was also deeply moving. Their land and sense of place is so deeply ingrained within their culture that it flows "naturally" into their writing. They don't need to give it a name and genre. It's humbling and inspiring.
Barbara Kingsolver's essays were thought provoking as well, and I think it's noteworthy to mention that I'm a quarter of the way through Animal Vegetable Garden as one of the required readings to prepare for a field trip to Spain in a few weeks. I wish I could share my reactions to this work in this class because I'm discovering many connections. (It suddenly occurs to me that every writer I admire from this class is female.)
Final Mission Impossible, should I choose to accept: The Final Project . . . navigate my way through the crazy maze of highways.
I began fretting about this weeks before it was due. Ideally, I wanted to focus on oceans or beaches, but those don't exist in Pittsburgh. I thought about sense of place and water and the readings on urban nature turned me on to the idea of writing about what the City of Bridges is most famous for: the rivers. A Pittsburgh native and friend helped orient me to the newly renovated south side near the Hot Metal Bridge. A classmate and I explored part of this river trail together and then I took a wrong turn on our back and we took the scenic route home. The two week process of losing and finding my around the riverfront walking trails were critical in helping me feel a little more connected to the City of Bridges. After losing my way around downtown several times -- with and without the GPS -- this small town two-highway girl in me was zipping around the North Shore to the South Shore freeways like I'd lived here all my life. Well . . . sort of.
The City of Bridges has bridged the gap between apathy and awareness to nature and my surroundings. It has shown me the rivers. It has instilled me with more confidence. It has revealed a part of my writerly self that would not have surfaced if I had not intentionally changed my environment. And it's only just begun. These bridges have more plans for me.