Book Review: World of Wonders (In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks and Other Astonishments)

If beautiful words were shimmers of light, this book would be luminescent. Maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole on my part for Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s book, World of Wonders (In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments), but some of these chapters just sing with poetry and such insight, as Nezhukumatathil explores her own life with connections to the Natural World, that I could barely put the book down.

(Perhaps this is also because I had recently finished with the Write Out Project or because the political landscape required some respite into something more lovely than my news feeds.)

Nezhukumatathil’s explorations into such plants and creatures as Dragon Fruit, Comb Jellies, Narwhals, Dancing Frogs, Whale Sharks, Cara Cara Oranges, and more — all situated in ways that make connections to her life as young Indian-American girl of immigrant parents, and then as academic, as wife, and then as mother — are so effective at times, it often takes the reader’s breath away.

Not every piece in this collection is a home run — some feel a bit like a stretch as she works to make connections — but when the writing works, well, wow. Her writing flows so beautifully off the page, and you can tell she is also a poet of insight.

There’s an underlying theme of acceptance running through each of the pieces of the strange in the world, of bringing that curiosity into our daily lives through inquiry and forgiveness, of understanding our places as people in the world that is larger and more diverse than we may ever truly know.

Nezhukumatathil opens and ends with stories of fireflies, and in her last chapter, she notes how many of her students that she works with not only hadn’t seen fireflies, but didn’t believe her that they even existed. And they live in places where a walk to the edge of the neighborhood would have revealed more magic than the video games and movies they were spending their time watching.

Nezhukumatathil is careful not to judge these children of the modern age (and maybe, us, too), but she is effective in sensing the things we are losing when we lose touch with the Natural World. And in reminding us to go outside and look for the magic.

Peace (seeking it at night),
Kevin

After WriteOut: Four Videos from the Springfield Armory

I co-facilitated a virtual Writing Marathon for teachers and park rangers in our partnership between Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site for the National Day on Writing last month.

Some folks, and some students, are still using the space to write. One element that I loved was that a handful of park rangers from the Springfield Armory took the video camera outside, to give some insights into the historic grounds in order to introduce some writing prompts. We learn about WOWs, and the iron fence barrier, the old buildings at the property, and the objects designed at the site.

Here are four of the videos that inspired writing:

 

This project was connected to Write Out, too, where many park rangers from around the country helped facilitate writing prompts through video introductions. See more.

Peace (thinking of connections),
Kevin

Write Out Ranger Writing Prompts (the full collection)

Write Out 2020 officially ended yesterday but the resources and videos and writing prompts developed for this year will remain at the Write Out website, so if you were just swamped or knew you might come back some other day, no worries.

I really enjoyed the 13 different writing prompts introduced by National Park rangers from around the country. My students used some of these on the mornings they were at home, doing independent learning, and the responses were lovely to read as they engaged with the questions. Now, they are finishing up writing postcards to various rangers, and I will be packaging them up and mailing them off in the next week or so.

The slideshow gathers together all of the prompts. You can also always access each individual prompt at the Write Out website, or use the link to this show as you need.

Peace (sharing inspiration),
Kevin

WriteOut Walk in the Woods

Fall Hike 2020

The other day, my wife and I took our puppy for a hike in the woods in our neighborhood, and it was just a beautiful Autumn day. We would do this on any day, but with Write Out underway, I made sure to grab some photos from the walk.

Fall Hike 2020Fall Hike 2020Fall Hike 2020

We noticed that some trees had some tags on them, as the local nature group teaches hikers about the woods.

Fall Hike 2020

Peace (outside, in),
Kevin

A Few #WriteOut Poems

poem“poem” by spo0nman is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’ve been writing small poems regularly with the Write Out community, sometimes using the daily prompts by National Park Rangers to consider a theme.

Here are a few of my poems from the past week:

We’re all caretakers
of these mountains,
we are, of buildings
and rivers, of near and
of far, of dams and bridges
and lakes and volcanoes,
of even the scars of what
we’ve done with these lands;

We caretakers, we are not
always gentle with our gifts,
nor always appreciative
of their splendor, this Earth
accepts our flaws, for now,
these battered spaces of quiet
beauty


 

Such tender
paths on this
tender map

the seasons
always seem to
linger when we
need them most

we pocket the leaf
that maps the tree
that maps the wood
that maps the love

what once was seed
now becomes journey


 

Black Iron Fence

Tridents
and spears on the
black iron fence

One mile
one quarter,
the perimeter of the
black iron fence

Ten thousand,
seven hundred
distinctly-made pieces,
the skeleton bones of the
black iron fence

Cannon iron;
collected, gathered,
blacksmith-ed, forged,
held, and hammered into the
black iron fence


 

Sometimes
this river releases
small secrets, broken
shards of pottery
and glass, worn
smooth, cloudy
by the constant embrace
of eddies and currents,
leaving us with more
questions than answers
as to who it was who
came before us
and where they have
gone, since

Peace (in poems of place),
Kevin

WMWP Virtual Writing Marathon for #WriteOut and National Day on Writing

SPAR Marathon SiteWe’re excited to be hosting a Writing Marathon for the National Day on Writing and for WriteOut with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site. Last year, we gathered and wrote inside the Armory museum itself; this year, we’re using a Padlet digital wall to offer a series of self-guided writing prompts, with videos from SPAR park rangers, historical documents and more.

If you are interested, you can still register at any time, and we will get you into the mix. This is all self-paced and choose-your-own-writing prompts. Be inspired to write!

Here are some of the prompts we have posted at our site:

  • Ranger Pearl and teacher Harriet Kulig ask you to explore the role of women at the Armory and in the workforce during wartimes. Many women in the Pioneer Valley were recruited as WOWs (Women Ordinance Workers).

  • Park Volunteer Carl gives insight into the recognizable fence around the Armory, and it has an interesting historical story. Consider the role of fences — who do they keep out and what do they keep in?

  • Workers at the Armory came from many different countries, as the war efforts sparked an influx of immigration of workers to the Pioneer Valley. Listen to the historical stories of some of the Armory workers, and get inspired to write them a letter, from the present to the past.

  • Ranger Alex gives an insight into the grounds and landscape and buildings of the Armory site, and asks us to imagine the site from the viewpoint of trees, structures and more.

  • Ranger Dani explains how museums like the Armory cherish and protect historical objects, as a way to remember and share stories of the past, through thoughtful curation. What artifact might you leave behind? What object would help tell the story of us, today?

  • A few summers ago, Springfield middle school students at our WMWP/SPAR summer camp curated videos about the museum floor for the public. Take a look at the YouTube Playlist of their work and respond in writing to either the students or to the museum displays.

  • Ranger Scott gives us a historical look at the Commandant’s House, a celebrated building where the leaders of the Armory often met to plan and party. Scott asks us to consider what happens when Nature takes over buildings, as part of a prompt he did for students in Write Out this year.

  • And more …

Writing Marathon Flier 2020

You can also access more ideas:

Peace (in words, gathered),
Kevin

 

Further Ways to Use #WriteOut in the Classroom (Postcards)

Postcards from the Parks activity

Last week, I shared out how my students were exploring National Parks as part of our Write Out adventure. I even shared my adapted HyperDoc for others to use (I hope you found it useful).

This week, I am having my students continue the adventure with a Postcards from the Park project, that first uses creative writing and park explorations as students write a series of “postcards” while on an imaginary journey across five different National Parks. Then, they will be writing a real postcard to a real park ranger (one who has been sharing prompts with us) that we will mail off.

This link will make you a copy (if you have a Google account) of this week’s HyperDoc activities – You may need to adapt or add a slideshow template component (here’s a link to that template for making a copy, if it helps). Also be sure to look at the Write Out Postcard page for downloadable PDFs of postcards.

We’re also writing every day with the Park Ranger-led writing prompts, as I pull the daily prompts into Google Classroom to kick off my students’ days for our independent learning from home (we are working in a hybrid model, so this is perfect!).

Peace (further explorations),
Kevin

Writeout Poems: Nature Reclaims Words

Yesterday, my friend, Ranger Scott Gausen, was the featured park ranger for the daily prompt for Write Out, and he posed the question of what happens to our buildings when Nature reclaims the urban landscape. (See all of this week’s ranger-led writing prompts — more are coming for next week, too)

My students had a lot of fun with the prompt, exploring the possibilities of a changed world, and I went forward myself with three poems written during some free-writing time yesterday in school.

Nature Reclaims Words

1.
Time,
forever, lapses;
each frame, a finger
on the camera,
society collapses
with such hubris,
worn like suits of steel,
as Nature waits, patient,
then wanders in,
revealed

2.
Who’s buried wish
is this,
with roots tangled
below ground,
the place where
ideas get lost
and only sometimes
become found?

3.
I was never one
of the Wild;
someone tamed me
as a child,
fed and bathed me –
maybe you were, too? –
but like this land,
Wild, we grew

Peace (flourishes),
Kevin

How I Am Using #Writeout With Students (Week One)

Write Out Hyperdoc

This year, as part of the Write Out project, which is a partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service, I am fully integrating the concept of connecting writing to place into my online learning platform for my students who are not in the school but are at home, doing independent work. I’m tapping into the concept of a HyperDoc as a way to provide instructions and a flow to activities.

So far, so good.

First, I created a series of park explorations in a HyperDoc that has them looking at maps, videos, images and text about all sorts of National Parks. Then, they are choosing a National Park, and creating a presentation about that park, which will get shared with the entire sixth grade. (feel free to get a copy for yourself) This HyperDoc is a remix of another that I found in the HyperDoc community, which I greatly appreciated. Thanks to @kellyihilton and @SARAHLANDIS!

Second, I invited Springfield Armory Park Ranger Scott Gausen to a Zoom meeting, and nearly 20 students showed up yesterday morning to hear him chat about the National Park Service, and his work both at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site but also the Oregon Caves park. It was great. Scott and I have worked together for a few years as part of a local partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory.

Third, each day, I am pulling the Write Out prompts by National Park Rangers into our Google Classroom space, and students are writing responses each day to the prompts, either as creative writing or as informational writing. Some of their writing has been amazing. (see all the park ranger prompts for week one here in a slideshow format)

Next week, we’re going to be doing a Write Out postcard project, but I’ll share that out another day. Oh, and the National Day on Writing is coming next week, too, on October 20. And I haven’t even started to use the many storytelling videos for Write Out, but I will.

Peace (in parks),
Kevin

WriteOut: SmallPoems Inspired by Roots and Trees

Tree Poem for WriteOut

Yesterday, for Write Out, the theme for the daily writing prompt was about understanding how trees communicate. Park Ranger Mackenzie from the Sequoia National Park introduced the daily prompt (see the Write Out page where all prompts will go live each of the two weeks of the event)

My students wrote about it in their Google Classroom spaces and during our free-writing time in class, I composed a few small poems about trees, roots, leaves and more.

Three Poems; Falling

First Branch

Percussive
drops drain
these trees —
Arbor leaves sing
like cymbals

Dripping Autumn rains
find rhythms all their own

Second Branch

Every leaf
might contain
a map –
each vein and vessel
an artery line
to somewhere close –
traversing root to trunk
to branch to stem –
pure electrical pulse:
invisible
communicated
connected

Third Branch

If canopy
was ground
and ground
was sky
I’d
T
U
M
B
L
E
from your branch
and wonder why

Peace (even if you can’t see it),
Kevin