Only a few weeks ago, I met a group of Arlington Regional Master Naturalists to talk about journals inspired by nature. To prepare I headed to Barcroft Park, the site of our March field trip. The trail, covered with snow, wound past a seep bordered by tall trees. Quiet prevailed.
Our leader Jan had pointed me to the work of John Muir Laws, biologist, artist and journal mentor. Laws advises beginners to include numbers, words and pictures in journal entries. Near the path, I found a branch with dry leaves. It was just the right place and just enough of a specimen to start my notes. I recorded time and temperature. I described features like color, shape and location, and I finished a quick sketch.
Jan stressed that journals can be exclusively written work, too. That brought to mind autumn meetings with a group of poets and visual artists at Fort C.F. Smith Park. The year? Possibly 2004. My friend John Clarke shared a poem at each session. I thought of John, as I heard rumbles of automobiles and leaf blowers and beyond that, the calls of crows and the trills of other birds, perhaps sparrows, in the trees above. Further up the path, I reached the playground of a school deserted through the winter — a pandemic silence, broken only by brief tapping by a woodpecker.
Taking in the sunshine, I decided that the best journal was one that you enjoy working on!
Start with an idea and a piece of paper, and you have the beginning of a book. Fold the paper in half. Then draw or write or create secret code or mark with musical symbols. It’s your idea, so express it in your own unique way.
Colored paper adds pizzazz! Don’t forget that paper has two sides. Be sure to remember the name of the author and illustrator.
Stories can be told in many ways, and the tale might change each time. Young children often like to make audio recordings of stories. Adults who want to help might also write down the words.
You’ll find a million ways to embellish and add to your books. Check back and we’ll look at a few of them here.
If you were an animal in the rain forest, would you be a butterfly? A toucan? An iguana? A jaguar?
In art club after school, Carlin Springs students painted a wild setting for the spring play. They discovered inspiring scenes of forest canopies in books from the Arlington County Library, including Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest by Moira Rose Donohue, The Amazon by Tom Jackson and What’s Up in the Amazon Rain Forest by Ginjer L. Clarke.
Students wrote the script and acted as animals alarmed by changes in their habitat. Katie McCreary and Ashley Hammond of the Educational Theatre Company led the writers and directed the performance — all in the spirit of learning through the arts!
Do poets wander alone “scribbling in notebooks, peering across moors, feeding ducks…?” In “Mary Oliver and the Naturesque,” Alice Gregory suggests that Oliver writes and invites us to ramble with her. As the poet says, “the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting.”
So … yesterday I wandered. After watching reports of far away blizzards, I followed sidewalks dusted with snow. It was my first time out taking photos, because last October I chipped a bone in my foot. Since I am just beginning to paint again, I’m posting this sketch.
Gregory’s article appeared in Poetry magazine on February 16, 2011.
We have a bumper crop of pumpkins this year but absolutely no sunflowers. I guess the squirrels ate the seeds.
My friend, author Jackie Jules, grew sunflowers on her deck. Her seedlings vanished once, then twice. But did Jackie give up? No. In fact, I bet that she sang as she watered her plants– songs of maidens and magic seeds. Her flowers bloomed in the brightest gold.
More than a thousand miles away, I dreamed of blossoms and howling guards that chased away the squirrels. In the morning I’d walk the dog and sneak past a neighbor’s house for a glimpse of her sunflowers.
Then one day Madelyn Rosenberg came to my rescue. She was typing away. I imagine her looking like a brunette Katherine Hepburn — author/ journalist. She took a break to bring sunflowers to everyone at our writers group. Madelyn, how did you know? I just had to paint them.
————— Even if plants can’t hear storytellers, what do we know of how plants respond to sound? A study of caterpillar crunching! From the California Academy of Sciences.
In my family we learned to accept responsibility early in life. I was the sous chef, and I fixed the turkey. Okay, I might be padding my resume. I assisted the chef.
I was an enthusiastic carnivore as a child, but now I really love vegetables. My daughter tends our backyard garden, and this week she’s built a hoop structure with pipes and sheets of plastic. It will protect the parsley, thyme, kale and other greens through the winter. I’m thankful to have children who like to grow things that I like to eat!
As we plan holiday menus, I’m reading The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook, written by chef and farmer, Chris Fischer, in collaboration with chef and writer, Catherine Young. You might have seen the recipes and review in The New York Times food blog. The book tells the story of a family farm on Martha’s Vineyard, complete with descriptions of mouthwatering meals and recipes for ingredients straight from the seashore, pasture and garden.
Last year I wrote about recipes and books to share with children over the holidays. You’ll find several books by Virginia authors in that discussion. Many writers released new titles this year. I hope to write more about them in a future post.
I love the holidays, the friends, the lights, the music. I can barely sing a note, but that hasn’t stopped me. And then there’s the food…
Betty Crocker’s step by step cookbook for kids taught me to make Long John Silver Sandwiches, Canned Peas Deluxe — just think of the gastronomic flair — and Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes. Of course, I had lots of on the job experience with my mom, my grandmothers, a very talented dad and generous aunts. I loved the illustrations in Betty Crocker’s 1957 edition. On the cover, the young fellow is tasting, while the girls whip up the batter by hand. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that boys do all the campfire cooking and girls do most of the serving and dishwashing. Thank heaven for all you feminists out there, because my husband knows how to wash dishes!
Now I’m inspired by authors, who write about food and celebrations with friends and families. Here are just a few:
French toast by the author of Dream Boy and How to Behave at a Tea Party, Madelyn Rosenberg
Recipes for griddle cakes, turkey soup, blueberry pie and more by the author of Emily and Carlo, Marty Rhodes Figley
A review of The Bakeshop Ghost by Jacqueline Ogburn in Books Together by Anamaria AndersonWhat a Way to Start a New Year! A Rosh Hashanah Story and The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle by Jacqueline Jules
This Gingerbread Man has adventures all year round. Look for him in books by Laura Murray.
update December 9, 2014: For those of you who are curious, the well-known illustrator, Gloria Kamen, created the drawings for Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls.
It’s 5:55 am and I’ve checked temperatures on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web site. It’s -26 degrees Fahrenheit in International Falls, Minnesota. My town feels like the tropics at a balmy 7 degrees. NOAA cautions us to protect our noses and other extremities from the cold! My favorite post tells how snowflakes form.
Google says its 39 degrees F in Reykjavik, Iceland. In my email I read that poet Joanne Growney has written about measuring winter and about a recent trip to Iceland in her blog Intersections – Poetry with Mathematics. I start to dream of hot springs and the steamy blue waters I’ve seen in photos of Icelandic mineral baths. Time to wrap up in a quilt, brew a cup of hot tea and then get ready for work.
The Anthology of Children’s Literature, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1935, includes several stanzas of this poem plus a short biography of Lear. He was born in 1812, one of twenty-one children. He began his career as an illustrator of nature studies and was known for his colored drawings of birds. While living in the home of the Earl of Derby, he entertained the children with silly rhymes and drawings. Those high spirited activities lead to the publication of his first Book of Nonsense.
As a landscape painter, Lear divided his time between Britain and the Mediterranean. The article in the anthologysays that he taught drawing to Queen Victoria, but using a quick internet search, I’ve been unable to confirm the fact. Please let me know, if you find a source that gives an account of teaching the queen!
Lear is famous for his limericks, and you can find more information about his life and writing at the web site for the Poetry Foundation. One of my favorite poems is this verse about the Quangle Wangle. In March my first grade students will learn about animals and their homes. I hope to have them draw their own version of the tree with the Quangle Wangle and his houseguests!
The Quangle Wangle’s Hat
by Edward Lear
On the top of the Crumpetty Tree
The Quangle Wangle sat,
But his face you could not see,
On account of his Beaver Hat.
For his Hat was a hundred and two feet wide,
With ribbons and bibbons on every side
And bells, and buttons, and loops, and lace,
So that nobody every could see the face
Of the Quangle Wangle Quee.
The Quangle Wangle said
To himself on the Crumpetty Tree, —
“Jam; and jelly; and bread;
“Are the best of food for me!
“But the longer I live on this Crumpetty Tree
“The plainer than ever it seems to me
“That very few people come this way
“And that life on the whole is far from gay!”
Said the Quangle Wangle Quee.
But there came to the Crumpetty Tree,
Mr. and Mrs. Canary;
And they said, — “Did every you see
“Any spot so charmingly airy?
“May we build a nest on your lovely Hat?
“Mr. Quangle Wangle, grant us that!
“O please let us come and build a nest
“Of whatever material suits you best,
“Mr. Quangle Wangle Quee!”
And besides, to the Crumpetty Tree
Came the Stork, the Duck, and the Owl;
The Snail, and the Bumble-Bee,
The Frog, and the Fimble Fowl;
(The Fimble Fowl, with a corkscrew leg;)
And all of them said, — “We humbly beg,
“We may build out homes on your lovely Hat, —
“Mr. Quangle Wangle, grant us that!
“Mr. Quangle Wangle Quee!”
And the Golden Grouse came there,
And the Pobble who has no toes, —
And the small Olympian bear, —
And the Dong with a luminous nose.
And the Blue Baboon, who played the Flute, —
And the Orient Calf from the Land of Tute, —
And the Attery Squash, and the Bisky Bat, —
All came and built on the lovely Hat
Of the Quangle Wangle Quee.
And the Quangle Wangle said
To himself on the Crumpetty Tree, —
“When all these creatures move
“What a wonderful noise there’ll be!”
And at night by the light of the Mulberry moon
They danced to the Flute of the Blue Baboon,
On the broad green leaves of the Crumpetty Tree,
And all were as happy as happy could be,
With the Quangle Wangle Quee.
Note added February 27, 2012: I amended the biographical info to say that I was unable to confirm that Lear taught drawing lessons to Queen Victoria. Also, I have seen his first book called both Nonsense Book and Book of Nonsense.
Note added February 26, 2012:
The Anthology of Children’s Literature, which, since my childhood, has been one of my favorite books of stories and poems, was edited by Edna Johnson, Carrie E. Scott and Evelyn R. Sickels and illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. It was published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. The copyright for the first edition was 1935, and my edition was copyright 1948.
I have a new routine for feeling good: eat lots of vegetables, exercise and write! What’s writing got to do with it? I might say “taking time for reflection” and perhaps “finding a way to speak up and recognize one’s own voice.” What do you think?
Last Tuesday I met with five women to explore expressive writing. Together we read a poem. Then our pens took the lead, and we wrote whatever came to mind.
After fifteen minutes Nancy Morgan, our guide and the Director of the Arts and Humanities Program at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, asked if we’d like to share our feelings about our writing. Reading aloud was purely voluntary. The content of the conversation was, as always, confidential. Let me say simply that people talked, laughed, sighed and commiserated — not in any particular order!
Each Tuesday a different group gathers, but Nancy is there every week with a new idea. Sometimes she brings a poem, sometimes a painting. The themes include nature, family, identity and life with all its bumps and lucky breaks. Sessions are free of competition and critique. Nancy greets everyone with encouragement and assurance that writing can help people find relief from stress and the emotional effects of illness.
Writing is recognized as beneficial to care in the cancer center, not in a small part as a result of a recent study conducted by Nancy and her colleagues Kristi Graves, Elizabeth Poggi and Bruce Cheson. Their findings indicated that “cancer patients are receptive to expressive writing” and that “a single brief exercise is related to patient’s reports of improved quality of life” (The Oncologist, 2008, 13; 192-196.) In addition to her other administrative duties at the Arts and Humanities Program, Nancy leads workshops, plans readings and edits Lombardi Voices, an anthology of writing by people with cancer and caregivers. This summer she’s also taken time to train writer/researcher Michelle Berberet and me in therapeutic writing techniques. As prompts for writing, Michelle explored the evocative power of scent and gave writers a beautiful card and a sprig of lavender. I began with a silly image and asked fellow writers “What tickles your funny bone?”
Since my sessions with Nancy, I’ve tried to write — well, let me say more often — because I’d be lying if I said every day. I also attended a weekend workshop with editor Deborah Brodie. She recommends exploratory writing with a focus on ways to make creative connections and develop story ideas.
If you’d like to try expressive writing, find a pen and paper and begin with any thought that comes to you. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or perfect punctuation. Start, write and see how it feels! Need help with an idea? It can come from anywhere. I’ve included an image, “Autumn Forest,” in this post. After these scorching sunny days, what are you thinking about?
(author’s note: I made an update in paragraphs 1 and 5 on August 1, 2010.)