Friday, July 31, 2009

Review of Waiting for Coyote's Call

Informed by the work of Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and other naturalists, Jerry Wilson in Waiting for Coyote’s Call: An Eco-Memoir From the Missouri River Bluff describes his acquisition of acreage where, since the early 1980’s, he has created a home for himself and his family. Wilson devotes the initial chapters to his decision to buy land and build a home. These chapters offer memories of Wilson’s childhood in rural Oklahoma and contain anecdotes of Wilson’s interactions with the rural people who often offer assistance to Wilson and his wife in their construction of a geo-solar home. Portions of the middle chapters contain the history of the region and the history of both the native people and the settlers who have lived on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. Wilson mixes this history with his detailed study of meteor showers and the habits of those nocturnal creatures like raccoons and deer. These chapters also contain Wilson’s knowledge of trees and his vivid observations of birds along with the extremes of weather, including an entire chapter devoted to snow. Least satisfying are those final chapters when Wilson looks beyond the bluff where he has made a home to issues regarding the growth of corporate farming methods because it seems as if those issues belong in a subsequent book. Personally, I find the book to be an enjoyable read because of Wilson’s attention to detail and the clarity of his prose. Wilson reveals what he has “watch[ed], listen[ed], and learn[ed]” about a place during the past twenty-eight years and shows his own effort to manage the land where he has replanted native grasses and where he has seen a return of those native species that had not frequented that portion of South Dakota since the days of settlement. He ultimately makes the reader approach the outdoors with wonder and enthusiasm, regardless of where one lives. On a personal note, I originally got my review copy as a PDF file from which I printed out fifty pages at a time. I have since purchased a cloth copy of the book.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Evening Shadows on a Cottonwood

When I was at the river on Saturday, I managed to capture the shadows climbing up the trunks of these trees over the course of an hour. I find the afternoon and evening shadows especially fascinating and believe that every day can be different because of how the sun casts shadows.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Purple Coneflowers & Bees

Something I have been meaning to do is take pictures of the purple coneflowers growing in the front garden. My wife and I don't plant many flowers. Our problem is that the deer come into the yard and eat the blossoms. Last year we had a lot of luck in growing a mandeville flower and thought that the deer didn't like the flavor of the blooms; this year we bought two mandevilles, neither of which has kept its blooms very long because the deer eat them. One flower we have discovered that the deer don't eat is the purple coneflower, which is native to Kansas and related to the daisy. Linda Hasselstrom in her books stresses the virtue of growing only native plants, partly because the native plants are able to withstand the hot dry summers of the Great Plains. I suppose I need to consult the extension agent in my county to find out what other flowers will strive in this climate and won't become dinner for the large deer population.

Initially, I took about 350 pictures, using both memory cards in my camera. I'm the kind of photographer who believes in taking a lot of pictures and then culling through them to select the best ones after they have been downloaded to the computer. My camera allows rapid shooting so that I can get several shots in less than a minute. I chose these pictures of the bees because they reveal the amount of detail that can be captured with micro filters.

Clicking on each picture will enlarge it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the Road: The Original Scroll

More than a year ago, I bought a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: The Original Scroll. This version is the one that existed before he made the editing changes demanded by his publisher, including altering the original names of his characters. The scroll of Kerouac’s novel contains no paragraph breaks. I initially thought that reading the equivalent of a freshman essay would be difficult, but this stylistic and organizational strategy employed by Kerouac was only a distraction initially. I actually prefer the scroll to the edited version of the novel. It’s more gritty and honest and more in keeping with an extended jazz solo. I found myself bookmarking a number of passages as I was reading. Because of copyright restrictions, I’m not at liberty to include all of the passages that struck me as noteworthy. I’m limiting myself to these two examples:

“My whole wretched life swam before my weary eyes, and I realized no matter what you do it’s bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad. All I wanted was to drown my soul in my wife’s soul and reach her through the tangle of shrouds which is flesh in bed. At the end of the American road is a man and a woman making love in a hotel room. That’s all I wanted” (278).

“They didn't know that a bomb had come that could crack all our bridges and banks and reduce them to jumbles like the avalanche heap, and we would be as poor as them someday and stretching out our hands in the samesame way." (398).

After On the Road and The Dharma Bums were published, Kerouac was often consulted by the media when he was a private person, took no credit for what transpired in America during the 1950’s and 1960’s, and wanted the opportunity to write books for an appreciative and open-minded audience. I think it’s best to approach On the Road as a novel in reaction to the aftermath of the Second World War. Instead of embracing the militarism and jingoism present after the war, Kerouac wanted to escape into a life of sensation—jazz, women, marijuana, alcohol, and friendship, all of which is a reminder that one is a survivor and alive. The life itself may not be pleasant, but it still needs to be experienced on one's own terms.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bemoaning the Adjunct Life

After eight weeks, my summer classes have now come to an end. Whereas a full-time professor may only teach one or two sections in the summer as a means of earning additional money, while still having his/her salary spread out over twelve months, I am only paid when I teach as a part-time instructor. As a result, I taught four sections this summer, approximately seventy-six students. Some semesters the students tend to drift away after the first couple of assignments, perhaps because they find the assignments too structured or too intimidating. This semester more of the students remained in the class. I have also experienced more students desirous of higher grades than what they earned; it’s as if they took a class at a community college as a last ditch effort to maintain a scholarship. My classes are no different than when I used to teach at a four-year university. I make about forty percent of my online classes relatively easy if the students complete the quizzes, participate in the peer reviews, and remain active in the discussion forums; the other sixty percent is earned in writing the essays. For some reason, the students flub up the easy points. My own writing classes were not as well structured when I was an undergraduate. Sometimes the teacher had the class write immediately upon entering the class, without having introduced a topic or assisted the class in brainstorming ideas. These essays were then graded mostly for grammar. Twenty-seven years ago, the teaching of composition had not yet been improved through the research of scholars like Peter Elbow.

Teaching online and grading stacks of essays week after week has ruined my sleeping schedule this semester. After a pattern of not going to bed until after sunrise, I’m not even sure that I can get to sleep before 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. It is something that I need to work on over the next two weeks or so. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the outdoors and plan on spending some time on Saturday walking along the river. I haven’t totally secluded myself away during these past eight weeks; the last three weeks, however, have been devoted exclusively to either reading essays or typing up my grading comments. It hasn’t helped that I began noticing some floaters in my left eye after watching the fireworks for Independence Day. I know that the two events are entirely coincidental; linking the two things would be a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. I’ve had to adjust the lighting when I read now because, otherwise, I would become more conscious of the black shapes moving back and forth. According to my research, these floaters will eventually fall before my line of sight, but I don’t know how long it will take. Not having health insurance, like so many Americans, I cannot visit an optometrist to have my eyes examined unless I can come up with the money.

Two weeks are available to rest and recuperate. I only wish that the money earned during the summer would last longer. The adjunct life requires a substantial amount of money in savings because so much time transpires between paychecks. Maybe I can find a way to conjure up just enough money to survive until mid-September. Adding a little extra money to pay off student loans, for instance, would be an unexpected bonus.