One Small Square
October 15, 2013
Do squirrels remember where they bury their nuts? This seemed like an interesting question to contemplate as naturalists, and we speculated about how squirrels might retrace their steps to survive. We read what scientists have determined so far and what questions still remain in The Where, The Why, and the How. Then, approaching the subject as writers, we wrote our ideas of what squirrels might be telling themselves as they either cache or relocate their winter stores. A few writers created comics in response. Others wrote internal monologues with edgy, nervous, hurried voices. Some squirrels noted useful landmarks. Others remarked upon useful scents.
After this warm-up, we headed outside, inspired by the book One Small Square: Woods, by Donald Silver, to mark off squares in the grass and leaf litter behind the Cope House. Each person took a ruler, yarn, and popsicle sticks and selected an area to examine closely. The only direction was to take notes that could be used in a poem. I shared two examples of concrete poems, one about water contamination, shaped like a drop of water coming from a tap and the other poem about an earthquake with words arranged in a fractured way. Participants could try the concrete form if they wished.
Observations and responses were rich and varied. Some chose their square and instantly wanted to move things around, dig a bit of the dirt, turn things over. Others methodically examined visually across the square, making notes and/or sketches of interesting items. Others observed mentally and created their poems from their mental notes and the metaphors these notes evoked. One person wrote her poem in the shape of a square, starting at the edge and working inward, a challenging exercise as she approached the very center and needed just the right word to fit. Another person captured a tree in her square and wrote her poem as branches of a tree.
One young person noticed that there were some twigs around her square with acorns and leaves still attached, but the leaves did not look like typical oak leaves. When we consulted a field guide during snack, we learned that we were sitting under a willow oak.
I wonder how many acorns are buried under that tree?