"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Saturday, November 12, 2011

State of Mind: 150 (again) and MN State Volleyball Championships.

The good news is that in the wee hours of Thursday night, when all seemed darkest (and perhaps influenced by the necessity of Benadryl to my allergies), I woke up in the middle of the night with the solution to my Eng. 150 problem for next semester. Hallelujah. It was enough that instead of just turning over and thinking I'd remember it in the morning, I got up out of bed, leaving behind the lovely electric blanket, and found my notebook in the living room. I jotted down what was in my head, because the subconscious was clearly at work here and I was clearly not awake, and then stumbled back to bed.

The idea was this: to more fully embrace place-conscious inquiry tenets, I reformed my class to function better at the 100-level. We're going to start with reading fiction, Jonis Agee's novel The River Wife, which starts with the 1811 New Madrid Earthquakes. It is no coincidence that I'm using this book as we pass the 200-year anniversary of those earthquakes. It's sometimes easier to see how place affects character and plot if we're looking at fiction, rather than our own lives. The goal here is to explore the natural disasters that have formed This Place, what's under our feet that we might not know about. We'll go to Morrill Hall and see how those bones and such can illuminate our ideas.

Then we'll shift into modern disasters: the 1888 Children's Blizzard (reading David Laskin and Ted Kooser) and then into the Dust Bowl (reading Timothy Egan). This writing project will be an oral history type of project in which the students will investigate how local disasters of recent memory (and it does not have to be those two) formed the identities of those who live in that place, in that community. Where I come from, the 1991 Halloween Blizzard is still indicative of my hometown (which I'll get to in a moment), because the town was empty to go watch the Tigers play in the football playoffs in the Twin Cities. That event says a lot about who Nevis is as a community.

The third project will investigate modern, human-caused disasters, because another tenet of place-conscious education is to move beyond the personal and immediate and into the larger world and the larger community. This week, Obama put the kibosh (basically, we hope) on the Keystone XL pipeline. The environmental catastrophe that would have resulted from this pipeline is incalculable. On this same day, a report surfaced that the chemical used to frack in Pennsylvania was showing up in the aquifer. So, we'll read Erik Reece's The Lost Mountain, about mountaintop removal for coal mining. We'll talk about the wetlands of the Mississippi being destroyed (and, maybe, get some face time with my favorite musician, Tab Benoit?--we'll see...). And we'll approach the topic--whichever one the students choose to write about--from a position of conservation or prevention.

I feel better about this.

I also believe it's no accident that after way-t00-long of trying to set up a Skype date with my friend N. (whose older sister J. was my good friend in high school and I'm J's daughter's godmother; and said daughter turned ten yesterday) the Skype finally happened. And not only did I get to talk to N. and her 2-yr-old E., who was rocking the little blonde pigtails, who should pop into the frame, but N.'s dad, Mr. Smith, my high school history teacher, one of my favorite people in the world. We talked a little about teaching, a little about Nevis volleyball--because, get this, NEVIS IS PLAYING FOR THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP IN VOLLEYBALL TODAY!! IN LESS THAN AN HOUR!!!--and see previous comment about the 1991 football, because I'm guessing most of Nevis is in Minneapolis today. Being in Nebraska makes watching MN high school volleyball difficult (even if the Huskers weren't playing Penn State today--another interesting example of community and disaster)--but the good news is that it's going to be streamed live on various websites, both radio and video. I'm sure I don't know any of the kids playing, but that doesn't matter.

It all comes full circle. Communities don't just exist in thin air. They are created and they must be fostered. All members of the community must contribute. Places influence who we are--even if we specifically reject that influence, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. But it's valuable to look back to see how we got to where we are--as well as look forward to see where we're going.

Stay tuned for the results of the volleyball game!

(We lost the game 3-0, but I'm so proud of them!)

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