Sunday, April 17, 2011

Place/Prompt Blog 8

Blog #8
I don’t think my relationship to my place has changed at all. The only difference I’ve encountered is that I know what my backyard looks like now, and I can imagine different sections of it without having to double check. But it’s still foreign. I didn’t achieve that level of intimacy I was looking for in the beginning of the semester. I couldn’t feel the same sense of security I get in my room. But I’ve learned how much more difficult it is to go out into nature than it was just a year ago. Before, I could walk out my front door, and I would have to physically leave my driveway in order to leave the expanse of nature. Even then, with the small town of Prospect located in the middle of the countryside, most of the lawns opened into fields no matter how close or distant the houses were from each other—the backyards all connected into the fields. Now, I step out my front door and the only nature I experience is the sky, the weather, and the front yard.
Yesterday, I opened my window and crawled onto the slanted roof, leaving my temporary screen wedged between the window and the frame so I could easily open the window again from the outside. I waited until the wind had died down enough so I wouldn’t feel that I was about to fly off. The grass still had spots of brown and dingy green, but it was still fresher than it was because of the rain we’ve gotten over the past few days. As I surveyed the lawns, I was reminded of how green the grass is in Ireland. Western PA looks like Ireland after it rains, because the daily rains are the main reason Ireland is so green.
Standing on the roof seems appropriate for me now. I certainly don’t consider myself above nature, but detached from the nature in New Castle. Standing on the roof, I’m still in nature, still part of it, but separated. The barking of the same hidden big dog still reaches me the same as if I stood on the grass. The same birds flit by, singing. When I turn around, Ember is staring at me from inside.
“Mom? Mom! What are you doing out there! Why are you out there! You’re outside! I don’t like you outside! I can’t get to you! I want to be outside, can I be outside, you’re where the birds are, Mom, Mom!” she seems to say in just a look, her wide eyes, her desperate meow as she paws without claws at the glass.
And I find it interesting that the nature outside doesn’t compel me to visit it nearly as much as my bundle of nature inside.
Behind her sits my computer desk, atop of which is printouts of PDFs and the nature anthology we read for class. Some of what I’ve read for this course I encountered in my previous Literature of the Environment class from SRU. But in that class, we concentrated on the reverence of nature. In this class, we shifted back and forth between reverence, irony, annoyance, subtle pleas, and personal experiences. The range in this class has been much broader and served to reinforce my appreciation for it. Some of the assignments were a bit dull or dry, but others were highly entertaining or profound. I think that if ever I choose to approach nature writing in my own works, I’ll probably include some bits of research or information, in order to not make the piece just about me. I think that’s the point of nature writing: not just to say, “Look at what I think, look at what I’ve experienced,” but to inform as well in such a way that, sometimes, the readers may not be aware that they’re learning anything at all.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Place Blog 7

The moment I stepped outside, I walked through a curtain of warmth. That curtain I haven’t felt in two seasons, in six months. It was 77 degrees with a warm wind that smelled of flowers. All the trees had budded seemingly overnight. I like to think that I’m observant, that I’d notice the gradual changes to the color of grass, the size of buds, the green shoots of new flowers, but somehow nature always one-ups me in the end. I’m waiting for spring to arrive and buds to appear one day, and the next day it’s near 80 degrees and the buds on the trees area already spreading and blooming and readying for leaves. It was wonderful to dress in a t-shirt, gray cotton pants, and tennis shoes. Aside from storms, warm, clear days like this are my favorite weather. The only thing to make it better would be a night storm, but apparently that’s not supposed to arrive until tomorrow.
To get to the backyard, I crossed the front lawn to discover it littered with hundreds of cigarette butts. They won’t degrade. Another pet peeve added against one of the male housemates. My neighbors had strung small wind chimes along their overhang that bordered my land bridge. They tinkled in the constant breeze that, this time, did not prelude another blizzard and instead proclaimed that we should go fly a kite.
Walking back there in the bright afternoon when everything was turning fresh and clean made me see all the sections of the house that were peeling in off-white strips from under eaves or windowsills. Yet just like spring, it showcases slow decay with bright youth, because just above the peeling eaves, out of view, sat a singing robin atop the sunroom’s slanted roof. If I had walked onto the roof from my room instead of across the long, tangled grass, I might have seen him.
The neighbor girl was out as well cleaning her bicycle with her younger brother, and across the alley, two men laid new wood and reshingled their own slanted roof. I know I’m situated in the middle of a dense neighborhood, and people are as drawn to spring as I am. But I couldn’t help but feel a bit violated or observed. Like reverse, unwanted voyeurism. I felt exposed, like my own scrutiny of my place was being scrutinized, like walking into class to find that the seat I’ve always sat in was occupied. To make matters worse, that seat was covered in sharpie and gum and chipped away by a pocket knife that engraved initials and space guns. All that took the form of various little I-don’t-know-what’s, a pink-rimmed sock, a thick emerald sock, an black upside down knee or shoulder pad, broken green crayons, chipped edges of Styrofoam, felt, a white garden tab that would have displayed the species of a vegetable or flower, those black egg cartons that were once filled with new flowers to pot.  Did the wind drift the junk into the yard? Had an ashtray upturned and caused dozens of crumpled cigarette butts to fall on the grass?
The ground was just as uneven as before, but the tall grass accentuated the mounds. I walked to the bricked off rectangle of uncultivated and pebbley soil where the garden is to be and tried to find evidence of any wild flowers, but there was none.  With each step, little white gnats rose and spread. I walked into the junk-filled garage for the first time and called for the house’s missing cat, Mastadon. He didn’t answer, but I noticed that the large rolling door was half open. Who knows who’s been going in and out, if they’ve taken anything (not that there was much to take), if they’ve walked up the side staircase to the upper floor and watched me undress.
I walked back out and stood listening. A large dog harroofed from a few houses down. Motorcycles grumbled from every direction. The men across the alleyway echoed hammering. Spring is so loud compared to winter. In winter, people only drive if they have to, they avoid going outside, birds are quiet or gone, and animals sleep. Today, the loud neighbors are outside, dogs are left out longer to bark at people or strange noises, and shadows glide across the lawn as birds flit by. I appreciate the warmth and getting overheated just by standing in full sunlight without a jacket. I’ve missed that. But I haven’t missed the noise.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pompt Blog 7

I used to be terrified of storms. They’re not really part of the landscape, but they cause it to shift, they rumble in from the horizon, and the sky is as much a part of my environment as the land. Even heat lightning sent me on edge. When I was young, I would hide underneath a quilted baby blanket, hug the raggedy blanket that I carried everywhere, and curl up beneath a window or atop a recliner. Then I would stay there, cringing at the booms and shrinking from the lightning, listening carefully to detect when the storm drifted away. The day I sat cowering beneath the kitchen window, my grandmother taught me how to anticipate thunder by counting.
“When you see lightning, start counting. Whatever number you get to, that’s how far away the storm is. If the thunder hits before you start counting, that means the storm is right above us.”
I remember thinking that counting was crazy. It didn’t help me anticipate a storm, just tell how far away it was. But fine, I was a dutiful granddaughter.
FLASH, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, BOOOM!
Three miles away and getting closer. Oh no!
Knowing how close the storm was actually enhanced my fear. The closer it got, the stronger it got. What if the house was hit by lightning? What if the house burned down? What if a tree fell on the room, or flew through the window? What if the wind knocked the house down? What if we lost electricity? What if it brought a tornado! Not a tornado!

Living in western Pennsylvania my entire life, I shouldn’t fear tornados. It’s an irrational fear because I’ve never encountered one, just seen its damage on the Weather Channel. For some reason, when I was about five or six years old, I would sit in my finished basement and watch the Weather Channel for hours at night when nothing else was on TV.
I kept this fear of storms through middle school. Then one day, after some sort of after school activity. like a PTA meeting I sang at or a poetry group I was part of, Mom and I stood underneath an awning in front of the school and watched a storm. I gripped her tight around her waist as we watched it rage, my hand clenching her shirt behind her back. It must’ve lasted only fifteen minutes, but in that time I realized how absurd it all was. Really, the pale yellow or white lightning bolts were beautiful against the dark blue clouds. And nothing was happening to us; we were safe.
From that point on, my fear slowly abated. No longer would my heart pound with the thunder. No longer would I dive underneath my covers. I left my quilted blanket where it was. My raggedy blanket went untwisted.
By high school, I began to love storms. Around that same time, I was introduced to Wicca and energy. I started watching the pattern of birds before and after storms. I started to stare at the horizon as a storm rolled in and the clouds shifted darker or lighter. I stood still as the precursor wind brushed my hair from my face and wrapped around me as it changed directions, not knowing which way to go. I started opening myself to the storm, taking the tumultuous, powerful energy into me like taking that first inhale of sweet, fresh wind in the spring. I would grin as strobe lightning took a hundred pictures of my spinning ceiling fan. I’d laugh as the thunder spit and growled overhead like a giant pissed off panther.
It’s interesting to note that my love for storms grew as my family life deteriorated. My life inverted. I embraced the outer chaos while I strove to deny the household’s. I would lie in bed and imagine flying through the storm. Nobody bothered me when it was storming. While my parents hunkered down, I lived. I was free. I could control the energy roiling around me, control whether it affected me. I would bring it around me, bring it into me, and breathe. They could take away my walks, take away my music, but they couldn’t take away my storms.
To this day, when a storm arrives, it’s like a lost lover coming home. I look forward to spring and summer storms. I consider December storms and thundersnow to be Nature’s gift to me. If it storms after a bad day, it’s Nature consoling me, making me smile. If it storms after a really bad event that left me crying, it’s Nature’s way of providing a soothing embrace. The rain hushes, the wind wraps, the lightning is Nature’s anger on my behalf, and the thunder is Nature’s voice as it tells me that Karma will do its work in time and I needn’t worry.
Every so often, I try to physically personify storms. If they were a character, what would they manifest as? Or, would the character of storms be like the character of place, and I don’t need to change a thing? I’ve always given them an autonomous consciousness, would I need to give them anything else? If they were a human, would they be male or female? I haven’t decided. Both work just as well. If a character associated him or herself with storms, what gender would they be? Would it have to matter? Certainly I would incorporate scientific research into the character, make the personalities match, make them have tumultuous emotions before they explode in passion. Make them change colors, make their eyes flash, give them a stronger electromagnetic field, make them able to conjure other forces or other characters around them. For nature writing, I could make a creative nonfiction piece about my childhood and the growing mental and emotional abuse I received, research storms to explain how they work, and then explain how I would draw them around me.
One day I may incorporate storms as a sentient being into my stories. But right now, I’m comfortable enough just exploring them in my own time, in my own way. When the day comes that I make them a character, then that’s when it was supposed to happen.