Observing Ecological Rhetoric

From November 13, 2018, Field Notes at Lost Corner Preserve.

A light wind on my face reminds me that it is chilly though the sun is shining through the tree canopy onto Katie’s journal. She sits side saddle on the edge of the footbridge, head down writing in her journal. She gazes in front of her, then turns the page and begins a sketch, erasing lines, starting again, quickly pulling and pushing her pencil, taking a second to move her hair behind her ear.

With his hood shading his face, Spencer sits on a log at the stream, resting his journal on his lap, watching the water pass by.

The sunlight on Nina’s face highlights her features and I can see her pencil moving. I hear a bird sing “wa – p – wa – p – wa” and watch it fly above the limbs over Nina’s head.

Limbs of dried leaves, gold and brown, hide Eric sitting on a rock, knees bent to form a makeshift desk with his journal resting on his thighs. I cannot see where he is looking but I can see his pencil drawing circles.

Are these students cold? I’m cold, standing here on the path watching them. My fingers are stiffening, holding the top of my journal and resting it on my forearm; my letters are nearly illegible because I cannot keep the pages steady. I wish I were ambidextrous so I could warm up my left hand while writing. The wind is blowing harder, yet the students are not moving. I am watching them in their work, in their observing while helicopter seed pods land on my page.

Katie shifts her position and dangles her feet over the edge of the footbridge. Her journal rests on her thighs.

Before I spent this time watching my students as they practiced observation, note-taking, and sketching, I would have told you the joy I found in teaching came when I was learning and working with others as they learned. I believed my passion came from puzzling through complex concepts and listening to students tease out their own understanding of challenging texts.  The satisfaction inherent in the analysis, synthesis, and interpretation (all the work that happens in my brain) I believed was the only food my soul needed. And I once thought I preferred to do this thinking and learning inside, comfortably protected from the weather.

Yet, this past November and December while teaching Ecological Rhetoric, an interdisciplinary, inquiry-based learning course, I found a new joy in looking carefully at what is around me, in staying outside of my analytical brain when observing nature and my students while being uncomfortable in a cold drizzle. The exhilaration that once lit fireworks in my brain, celebrating interpretation can also spark small firefly lights when I am noticing and smelling and listening and feeling and tasting.