Saturday, May 27, 2017

Nature writing at Oak Hammock Marsh

So I taught a nature writing workshop today at Oak Hammock Marsh.

I don't always like teaching creative writing. It requires a lot of preparation time that is stolen from my writing time and, of course, the workshops themselves can be stressful.

But today's class was wonderful. The participants were pleased to be there and happy to try anything. They'd all been writing long enough that they weren't shy about sharing their first drafts or commenting on other people's drafts.

It helped, I supposed, that I was teaching a subject that I love. And that we were looking out on the marsh, with all the birds calling, with the wind blowing through last year's cattails. Children tromping on the boardwalk, a red canoe full of people setting off, birders with their big cameras and upscale camo.

We ended the workshop by peering at a large tree on the edge of the parking lot. I mistakenly identified it as a balsam poplar but later learned it was a cottonwood; luckily, the exercize wasn't dependent on a correct ID.

We started near the base of the tree, wrote for a few minutes, then took two steps back, wrote, stepped back, wrote...

It was the simplest of exercizes but it had such a strong effect. At first, all we could see was the gnarled bark and the wire fencing wound around the trunk. As we stepped backwards, we contemplated the tree's waxen leaves, how there was a clump of small black caterpillars on a cluster of leaves. Finally, we noticed the beautiful oval shape of the tree, how it was set between the marsh and the parking lot.

As we walked back towards the interpretive centre, we saw two black Clydesdales with a sleigh behind them. Children were climbing up the ramp into the sleigh, which soon set out, making a loop around the marsh.

Having said my goodbyes, I got on the next sleigh ride, listening to the driver give a history of Oak Hammock and, when that was done, walked a slightly longer loop than the one we'd just ridden along.

It was 4 pm by the time I left, gritty with sun and birdsong, and I had the great good fortune to go straight to a friend's garden, where he traded me lovage and mint for poems, as part of my Poetry Barter Project.

What a day! (I napped for four hours when I got home...)

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