Fresh Perspectives: Reading Landscape as Text

Alzar School | 13.02.15

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

 And Eternity in an hour.

– William Blake

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Our first unit in English class at the Alzar School focuses on “querencia”: Barry Lopez’ central idea in his text “Rediscovery of North America.” “Querencia” is defined in many ways – from the place where a bull goes to recover to a place of comfort – all emphasizing the importance of cultivating a sense of place to combat escalating environmental atrocities.

As students read a series of place-based authors, like Annie Dillard and Henry David Thoreau, they also pick a location in our “100 acre woods” campus along the North Fork of the Payette river as their own querencia location. They visit this place a number of times with various assignments. These assignments are meant to connect students’ experience with their readings of American nature authors, as well as encourage them to start to build a sense of place in this new home: Alzar School.

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One assignment [featured below] called upon students to seek a new perspective by homing in on one square close-up in their spot, and then writing about only what worlds exist within that square. Just as Thoreau personifies a battle between ants near Walden Pond, students shrink themselves down and crawl around in moss jungles, and flee from shadows. They develop mood and tone in their writing as they divorce themselves from the “I” mentality – and learn to see from a new perspective.

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The following is one student’s Querencia Journal entry, personifying splitting ice bergs into a love-scalded letter of desperation.

The Crack.

This is the splitting place. Diverging paths, splintering hearts: a new destiny awaits. We have existed together since the beginning of love; what is to come? You, my blissful half, forever bright and fresh. Me, your counterpart, raw and weakening, is lost without you. Our bond is molecular. Late at night I’d dream of our impenetrable connections, how could I have been so deceived? What element has torn me from your warm embrace? I cannot face this blue world without you at my side. Beyond you is a vastly unfamiliar darkness of which deserts me in sheer terror. I am frozen in terror now. You are drifting only further from me. Microscopic arms undress their atomic shells and outstretch frantically to have you again, to feel you, to know you once more, but to no avail. The sky cries. Trees moan and the wind howls. It is a cold world.

Here is another sample from a student – identifying a log trapped in ice as a “Submariner”:

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The Submariner

An arm, a part of a vessel, sticking up through the frozen river like a spaceship breaking through the atmosphere. what can be seen is only the nose of a much larger amphibious craft, mostly submerged as if ready to quickly withdraw to the water. It waits and watches in the frozen ice with an unclear intent.

Perhaps our submariner is waiting and listening for a bottom feeding foe on which it will descend upon from its icy plateau, disguising its true strength above the surface. It waits with its most valued weapons, three long claws with which to entrap prey, out of sight, so even if it is spotted, it will not appear to possess its full skillset. But that assumes that the ship is the predator and not the prey. Perhaps it is the one being hunted, trying desperately to escape its icy prison. Did it gamble and lose like an animal running towards the most direct escape, only to find that it was herded into a trap? Or perhaps the vessel intended to be caught, the captain secretly wanting to defect to his enemies’ side like Commander Ramius of the Red October. Was the Dallas moving to intercept right at that moment?

Whether seeking an opponent or being sought out by one, the submariner waited, partially surfaced. The crew must remain vigilant. They may be waiting for their icy trap to thaw lest they meet an untimely demise from another vessel, pulling them from their station. Yes, certainly the submariner must continue to wait.