Words Enough to Capture
November 5 and 12, 2013
Make a list of 30 words you don’t think you can write without (the most fundamental words of any communication: the, and, of, etc.). Now write a response to this question, without using those words: What is the origin of the moon?
A participant in our workshop created this prompt and posed it to us. We chuckled and grimaced as we tried to direct our ideas around the words we had eliminated. I heard sighs of relief as writers realized they had not thought to exclude a particularly useful word. The responses that resulted were inventive and poetic.
We checked out more of the trees on the list of 20 Trees to See at Awbury, this time focusing on the trees located in the Cope House garden area. We became immediately familiar with their differences and locations through a few rounds of Tree ID Tag.
We began last week with the simple query: list ten things about where you are sitting that you had not noticed before you sat down. We were sitting in the front room of the Cope House. Observations included: marble around the fireplace that resembles wood, small pumpkins and a large white pumpkin, and the absence of covers on the outlets in the baseboard.
We then moved to a master of subtle observation, Henry David Thoreau, and I read excerpts from his unfinished last manuscript, Wild Fruits. Thoreau made notes over several years about all of the native plants around him, and I shared some of his notes about acorns. He had recorded the dates when acorns of certain species of oaks fell, how many acorns he found with worms in them, and other details. I had been prompted to read Thoreau's observations after noticing changes in an acorn that I recently acquired, and I shared the acorn and its story with the group. Our naturalists also have the benefit of beautiful examples of a few species of oaks (and their acorns) right out the back door in the Cope House garden area.
I gave each participant an index card with a noun on it. Each person needed to write nonstop for five minutes , recording whatever words that noun inspired. After we shared what we came up with, I shared excerpts from the journal of Meriwether Lewis, as anthologized in Nature Writing: the Tradition in English. He described his discovery of a waterfall and his frustration over his inadequacy to capture its grandeur adequately with mere words. He also recounted his narrow escape from a bear. The nouns on the index cards came from these journal entries, and it was interesting to compare the current and historical ways in which the words were used.