The islands are the trailing threads of India’s fabric, the ragged fringe of her sari, the ãchol that follows her, half wetted by the sea. (Ghosh 6)
The sari, an integral part of Indian culture, features prominently in Amitav Ghosh’s story of the Sundarbans, The Hungry Tide. In the quote above, Ghosh uses traditional Indian garments as a metaphor to talk about the shape and geography of the tide country, but the role of such textiles and of clothing in general plays many other substantial roles throughout the course of the story. As humans, we tend to take clothing for granted and forget the space it takes up in our life. Clothing is one of the major factors that distinguish humans from animals, and in many cases we use it to protect ourselves against the elements, against nature. In a book that holds so much commentary and insight about the debate of humans vs. nature (humanism/environmentalism), Ghosh gives many examples of the importance of clothing for human connection, communication, and survival.
I’ve so enjoyed working with the fifth grade class in Camden this semester, and yet I’ve found our limited connection to be very frustrating. Due to the various time and logistical constraints, as well as the fact that there are so many of us teaching together and we haven’t been working this class continuously, I have not been able to carry out my dream lesson plans. Therefore I decided to design a lesson plan for a week-long unit in their class. In this imaginary scenario, I am the teacher, and have been for the whole year. They will be coming out of a long couple of units on slavery and the civil rights movement, and my hope is that this week and the unit after it will bridge a connection between the two. (I’ll use a book called Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.) It will likely be around the end of September, or perhaps in the end of April/beginning of May. These are times when it tends to be fairly warm and nice out but the weather is not reliable so we may end up having some interesting conversations about how ‘bad’ weather plays into our concept of nature/environment.
In writing this and planning out what quotes I want to reference, I'm remembering that my book's pages are different than those of everyone else in this class, which continues for me the questions we began asking last class about language and translation. There is no way for any of you with your copies to find the exact page I refer to without me giving the chapter and you searching through the whole thing. There is an added level of inconvenience and disconnect beyond what would already exist by nature of me being one person understanding and expressing a quote one way and you being another person with a potentially different understanding.
Moving beyond that, I want to raise the importance of the poet Rilke, or "the Poet" as Nirmal most commonly refers to him in his journal. Much of The Hungry Tide is framed around Nirmal's descriptions of the Tide Country and the specific struggle over the island Morichjhapi, and he seems to root his understanding of the Sundarbans in Rilke's poetry: "...nothing escapes the maw of the tides; everything is ground to fine silt, becomes something new. It was as if the whole tide country was speaking in the voice of the Poet: 'life is lived in transformation'" (from end of chapter: Transformation). Also, quoting Rilke:
"God holds the only patent! He is the Engineer Supreme! And He has given up His seeds into the public domain!...Our seeds contain our beliefs. That's why we urge you to continue to save them and propagate them and pass them on to others to do the same, in accordance with God's plan. In this way we chose to praise our Lord and to fulfill His design - of which mankind is just one small part." (Ozeki 302)
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Our class has sort of latched on to this idea of ‘porosity’. It’s become a catchphrase, an exclamation, and a stand-in for many other words on when talking about complex and/or connected things. So I’m calling us out. We’re using porosity in the same way that we’ve resisted using words like ‘nature’ and ‘environment’, in the same way that it is problematic to use words like ‘gentrification’ and ‘radical’ (and still I and many others continue to use them, perhaps out of comfort and habit, perhaps for lack of a better word). The idea of porosity has brought us a long way, given us new and interesting ways to look at common concepts, AND/BUT there might be areas where it’s holding us back from defining what we really mean. I’m still not sure I completely know what the word means. It could be that I’m the only one, but I don’t think so.
Is that a necessary dichotomy? Reading Steve Chase's Changing the Nature of Environmental Studies made me think a lot about my relationship with and confusion around social change and activism. I have this constant fight within myself about whether I'm being too radical or not radical enough - and then I worry that I'm being too wishy-washy, not fully committing to working with one faction or another and therefore feeling totally useless. I read Steve Chase's account of the Environmental Justice Workgroup's successful "collaborative and educational approach" to their fight to raise awareness and discourse about environmental justice at their school, and I experienced conflicting responses. On one hand, I was impressed and felt regretful that I haven't done more work like that at Bryn Mawr. And then immediately after that, I'm like, "no, my work isn't about helping a bunch of privileged white people see the truth about racism and oppression! I wanna smash the patriarchy! I want to destroy capitalism! I'm radical!" I don't deny that the change that Chase and his group accomplished was important and helpful, it just doesn't feel as necessary or exciting to me. And it's not just because of the hippie anarchist that lives in me and craves adrenalyn rush-style direct action and in-your-face lockdown blockades. I approach this from a "rational", academic standpoint as well.
"Are we really still in Pennsylvania?" I kept asking. "This place has been here for the past four years?" I found it hard to believe. Wissahickon holds the kind of beauty that in my mind is reserved for mountains of Colorado or West Virginia. Or, at the very least, rural-rural PA. But not Philly. Not Germantown. Not 20 minutes away from the place I've been living for the past four years of my life. For me, Bryn Mawr has never been a place to be connected to nature, to escape from the developed world. I suppose I've tried a couple times - sitting quietly at the labyrinth and lookin at the sunset, pretending the grass around me wasn't perfectly groomed and ignoring Rhoads and the vast athetic fields stretched out before me. The back porch of Batten offers a beautiful view into the woods, but just beyond that is a big road and it's hard to block out the noises of cars zooming past. The stars are somewhat visible at night, but not to a large degree, what with all the light pollution from the city and suburbs. I've resigned myself to a life without much connection to nature whenever I'm at school.
I used to think a lot about how I would adapt certain books for the screen, so thinking about how I would make a movie based on All Over Creation by Ozeki is pretty fun. I'm pretty sure Yumi would narrate the movie, mostly for herself and her story but sometimes telling the perspectives of others when they needed introduction. I feel strongly that most of the words she narrates should be direct quotes from the text. Similarly, it would be really important to me that certain conversations be entirely preserved, like Geeks descriptions of GMO's to Frankie.
Obviously, since the book is so long, quite a few things would have to be shortened and/or taken out, and the idea of that sounds stressful. Yumi's past could be shown much more quickly and succinctly, and much of the Seed's time in San Fransisco would probably have to be cut. The part I see most clearly is the image of farms in Idaho, of the irrigation birds and the vast, expansive fields. Of country roads and dingy farm houses. I would be excited to represent a (probably romanticized) vision of rural Idaho. I think this could be a really great movie, the type of movie that people really like nowadays.
Somebody came up and said, "You talk about your home as if it were part of your own body." And they were right, this landscape is a living, breathing part of me. I consider it something to protect, like I would my own body. That's an idea that's been passed down from generation to generation. - Judy Bonds (found here)
Much of our ecology and ‘Ecoliteracy’ 360 began with conversations and questions about home, community, and belonging, and that makes sense, doesn’t it? I certainly thought so, until I came across Timothy Morton and his Ecological Thought, at which point I didn’t know what to think; his argument simultaneously illuminated complexities and made them more confusing. Morton argues that "Fixation on place impedes a truly ecological view" (Morton 26), a claim that I find problematic based on personal experience people I know. Morton says that in order to improve the various crises faced by our world and the human species, it is necessary for us humans to stop thinking of ourselves as apart from Nature-with-a-capital-N. What we need, he says, is ‘the ecological thought’, which he defines in many ways: "a virus that infects all other areas of thinking…It has to do with love, loss, despair…compassion…depression and psychosis…capitalism and what might exist after capitalism…race, class, and gender…society…coexistence.” (Morton 2) He goes on to even broader and more abstract descriptions of the ecological thought:
I absolutely LOVED the time we spent with the fifth graders on Friday. It was so refreshing to be around young people, and at the same time it felt very productive, like we were doing good work together, creating ties between two very different groups of people. Though they were sort of supposed to be "teaching" us the planting process, the kids I was working with hadn't really remembered the steps, and since I have experience with planting seeds (and also since I was the adult figure and so gravitated to the leadership position naturally due to ageism), I ended up teaching them and it felt like a prelude to the lesson later in the afternoon. It was really interesting to reflect on the fact that, had I not learned the small details of gardening from my mother - poke a tiny hole with your finger, cover gently with a small amount of dirt and don't press down or pack it in) - I would not have felt nearly as confident in the instructions I gave.
I felt far less confident, however, when we got to the math lesson, despite our extensive preparation. There was really no way I could have prepared for four students at completely different levels of understanding, interest, and attention spans, for the chaos of managing all those at once and remaining calm and coherent, for students who don't just grasp what you're trying to explain after a short amount of explanation.
adults really get in the way: an analysis of education via unsupervised adventure (in The Phantom Tollbooth)
He noticed somehow that the sky was a lovely shade of blue and that one cloud had the shape of a sailing ship. The tips of the trees held pale, young buds and the leaves were a rich deep green. Outside the window, there was so much to see, and hear, and touch -- walks to take, hills to climb, caterpillars to watch as they strolled through the garden. There were voices to hear and conversations to listen to in wonder, the special smell of each day...His thoughts darted eagerly about as everything looked new -- and worth trying. (Juster 255-256)
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is a classic piece of children’s literature, published in 1961. A timeless and revered tale, it is not only enjoyable and educational, it also advocates the importance of appreciating and being aware of the world - the environment - around you. For this reason, and because of its educational nature and narrative, it is a fantastic environmental education tool for young people. Gauged at around a 5th-6th grade reading level (by Scholastic, etc) and recommended for ages 8-12, this chapter book is full of challenging words and word play that must elude most children who read it (many of the expressions went right over my head when I read it in 4th or 5th grade), making it equally enjoyable for adults.