Mud Season

I’ve just walked down to the path by the river and through the woods near my house, which I haven’t walked since before the winter hit. It’s sunny today, and another snow storm is coming tomorrow. This is what late winter is famous for in New England – the drastic flip-flops back and forth between warm sun, more snowfall, more sun. But I love that about New England. I love that we have no control over nature’s actions, that we must work with what we’ve got. I love how, in late winter, we can’t tell yet what the outcome will be. Everything feels in-between.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

In New England, we call this time of year mud season (right around sugaring season!). I love mud season for all it represents–an uncovering, a messy digging, mucking through confusion and uncertainty. I love uncertainty because I love writing, and writing is about mucking through questions. It’s about walking the same old familiar path until you come to a clearing you don’t recognize, even though you’ve been there before. You suddenly feel lost, though you are standing still. You wonder how you got here. You wonder if you will ever find your way back.
Maybe it’s mud season that’s made me notice my students’ questions more lately–both the questions they ask over email, and the questions they include in their essays. Often over email, they will ask me direct questions that seek one clear, direct answer. But one correct answer is not typically what I send back. When the question relates to how they should approach a writing assignment, I can’t give them one correct answer because there is not one correct answer. I am looking for their own curiosities, their own questions, their own uncertainties. As a culture, we’re so uncomfortable with uncertainty that it has filtered into the way we teach writing–we’ve come to see essays as a space for demonstrating expert knowledge, instead of a place to write through one’s questions in order to discover truth.
Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

When I walk in the woods in New England in late winter, I think about the essays of Thoreau, and Emerson, and Diderot, and Rousseau. Their essays straddle autobiography, educational philosophy, and reflections on nature. They are firm in their opinions and beliefs, and express them strongly, but through writing and walking, and walking through writing, and writing through walking, they often found themselves on the next page believing the opposite of what they’d said before–expressing some new opinion they never imagined they would express.
Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

This is what I hope my writing classes can be for students–a late winter walk in New England, through snow and mud and sun, crunching through dried leaves and brittle twigs beside a frozen, yet melting, river. That in-between space. And so, it is this landscape that I try to conjure when my students ask me questions. Instead of telling them the one right way to write their essay, I try to conjure up the landscape that will help them come to find and see it on their own. Often, I don’t hear back from students after I have sent them my response. I wonder how they’re doing. Then, a few days letter, I receive their essay in my inbox. I open it and begin reading. In the essay, I see them walking, perhaps hesitantly at first, then more steadily, as their feet press into the leaves on the ground. A paragraph begins, and I see them standing in a familiar clearing, speaking to me. After a while, I see that we are somewhere new, somewhere I haven’t been before.

JUNE is National Rivers Month in the United States!

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When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.
– Leonardo Da Vinci

June is National Rivers Month! Who knew? I sure didn’t, but I’m glad I found out! It is giving me the opportunity to think about the beautiful river near me. I drive over the bridge that spans this great river whenever I go to the Oak Meadow office. It is such a beautiful river in all seasons! In the spring the waters often flow over the banks and rush along at a good speed for some fun canoeing! In the summer it smoothly glides one downstream and kids can be seen jumping into the water from long ropes attached to trees. They’re enjoying the cool relief from the summer’s heat. The fall is a glorious sight with the colors of the leaves reflected in imagesthe water. Winter brings ice and dangling icicles along the banks. The river is home to salmon, mussels, frogs, geese, ducks, eagles, and a whole lot more flora and fauna! It provides fresh water to farms and animals all along its long course. What river is it? It’s the Connecticut River!
I was thinking that it’s one of the longest rivers on the east coast. I wasn’t sure, so I investigated. Instead of going to my bookshelf, I went to the internet and found that, according to the Connecticut River Watershed Council, it is a watershed that covers “11,000 square miles and includes portions of four states: NH, VT, MA & CT.” I’ve heard the word “watershed” but I didn’t know exactly what it meant so I investigated that, too! I even found out that I can join a Connecticut River clean up day in June.
So I’m happy I found out that June is National Rivers Month here in the U.S.! It inspired me to find out new things about the river I love so much.
Interested in river facts? Try this site for lots of good information!

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