Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hemingway Field Trip Time!

I have had a blast traveling the country and gathering plants for the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden, but in the back of my mind I have always hoped to bring my students to the places where these authors found their inspiration. This week, with the help of Michigan Hemingway Society President Chris Struble and critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Dr. George Colburn, my sophomores, juniors, and seniors got to visit Ernest Hemingway country in northern Michigan - the home of the Nick Adams stories.

Photo courtesy of Maggie L.

We do have mint in the Literary Garden, and when we read some of the Nick Adams stories, we did go outside and pick, smell, and taste the mint as we read the first paragraph of "Summer People:"

"HALFWAY DOWN THE GRAVEL ROAD FROM Hortons Bay, the town, to the lake there was a spring. The water came up in a tile sunk beside the road, lipping over the cracked edge of the tile and flowing away through the close growing mint into the swamp. In the dark Nick put his arm down into the spring but could not hold it there because of the cold. He felt the featherings of the sand spouting up from the spring cones at the bottom against his fingers. Nick thought, I wish I could put all of myself in there. I bet that would fix me. He pulled his arm out and sat down at the edge of the road. It was a hot night."


We talked about the symbolism of that spring and its baptismal qualities, and what a WWI veteran like Nick might be attempting to wash away. We talked about mint and why it's used in gum, how it's billed as a "refreshing" flavor, and how that added to Nick's desire to purge himself of the horrors of war, of his early trauma, of his lustful thoughts, and so forth. And yes, having the mint in the garden provides a tangible and visible experience for my students that most literature classes just don't have. But when I bussed them up to Hemingway country for the day, everything changed.
Photo courtesy of Alison A.

Photo courtesy of Rachel D.

Photo courtesy of Rachel D.

The students plunged their own hands in the water, picked the mint at its source, tried to catch frogs hanging out at the lip of the "cracked tile," and connected to Hemingway's words in a way that no video or link or digital text could ever capture. They reported that the water was shockingly cold and that they could now better understand why Nick would want to put his whole body in there to somehow purify himself from all he had been through in his young life. It made sense to them.


There's something so visceral, so tangible, about wading in the waters of Horton Bay and Walloon Lake where Hemingway and his friends went swimming. (Photo courtesy of Alison A.)


Photo courtesy of Maggie L.

Photos courtesy of Alison A.


Hemingway didn't say this, but Henry David Thoreau did, back in 1841: "What I begin by reading, I must finish by acting." It is my sincere hope that I can continue to offer these kinds of opportunities to my students to make literature jump off the page and into their hands - literally. 

Who knows what kind of inspiration my students will find from one of these literary trips? Who knows how they will choose to act, what they will choose to become, as a result of this intoxicating mix of great literature and the nature that inspires it? I know I will keep reading and acting to find the opportunities for my students...and I will let them take it from there.
Photo courtesy of Haley P.

We are extraordinarily grateful to Chris Struble of the Michigan Hemingway Society and to Dr. George Colburn for all that they did to make this trip a reality. You can check out Dr. Colburn's new documentary on Young Hemingway here!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

"Busy, Busy, Busy."



What a month! I’ve just returned from my third conference in five weeks, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to talk about the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden in so many venues to so many people. Whether it has been fellow educators, environmentalists, Hemingway or Vonnegut scholars and fans, gardeners, librarians, students, veterans, or the general public, I am always amazed at the positive feedback, ideas, and offers of help we receive after people hear what we have going on in the garden. 

It's fall, so my students and I prepared the garden for the winter by cutting down the annuals, creating a compost bin, and seeding the marigolds for next year.



In October, Dr. Melissa Talhelm and I presented at the NorthAmerican Association for Environmental Education in Madison, Wisconsin. This exposed our work on an international level; after our presentation, I had an educator from Mexico City approach me for my contact information as she is interested in creating a literary garden at her school. Green Teacher Magazine, based in Toronto, Ontario, would like for us to contribute an article to their publication. 

Dr. Talhelm warms up the early arrivals by cracking a few jokes.

Dr. Morgan Hope Phillips, a leader in environmental education in the U.K., blogged about the Literary Garden after attending our session, calling it “one of the most exciting and uplifting stories I heard at the NAAEE conference." 

WOW. Just, WOW! We've gone INTERNATIONAL!



This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of heading back to see my friends (and our Literary Garden sponsor!) at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library to celebrate VonnegutFest 2016.

First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KURT VONNEGUT!



Jason Moon
I attended the Veterans Reclaim Armistice Day session on Thursday night and connected with the very talented and passionate Jason Moon, an award-winning musician, community activist, and Iraq War veteran who works tirelessly to help returning veterans heal through the creative arts. His nonprofit group, Warrior Songs, works with veterans to help them navigate the many, many transitional issues they face upon their return to civilian life. His group also works with civilians to better educate them on veterans’ issues. 

My discussions with Jason and veteran Barry Scanlan will provide me with some important talking points as I begin teaching Slaughterhouse-Five with my students next week.









I was also able to brainstorm some exciting ideas with the president of the Indiana Trails Fund, Richard Vonnegut, and I am looking forward to working with him in the very near future!

Marc Leeds

I also had the pleasure of meeting the delightful Marc Leeds the week his new book, The Vonnegut Encyclopedia, came out. Publishers Weekly called it a “must-have,” and if you are a Vonnegut fan, you do indeed HAVE to check it out!






My presentation on the Literary Garden went very well, and I was super excited to have some of my West Bloomfield students there! Josh and Rachel Downing “just happened” to be visiting their mom, Deb Lambert, this past weekend, and Deb is the Director of Collection Management at the Indianapolis Public Library, and she kindly invited some of her fellow librarian friends to attend…which meant that a) I called on Josh and Rachel like they were in class (sorry guys!) and b) Librarians ROCK!

Rachel, me, Josh, and Deb - Michael is photobombing in the background!
I’d like to give a HUGE shout out to Michael Perry of the Indianapolis Public Library for generously donating a new domain name to the garden: literarygarden.org. Thanks, Michael, for your kindness and generosity (and for finding the cord I needed on the television to hook up my computer – I was starting to panic!) 

Team Vonnegut was, as always, incredibly wonderful to me. Thank you, Julia, Meredith and Andy, Max, and Chris for making sure I had everything I needed and then asking again if I needed anything else. So happy to be a member of your karass.

Also, I dig the gift shop.
And I was able to sneak in one more cool literary visit while I was in Indy…



The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, headed by Dr. Jon Eller, is housed at Indiana University (IUPUI's School of Liberal Arts).  



YOU GUYS. YOU HAVE TO GET IN THE CAR AND GO TO INDY. Do you realize that you can see Kurt Vonnegut’s writing desk AND Ray Bradbury’s writing desk within miles of one another? That you can peruse Bradbury’s own LIBRARY OF BOOKS? 


Or peer into THE JAR? (It’s a short story in The October Country, and it was also a 1964 episode for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. It was easily one of my favorite items in the room.)

THE JAR!!!!!


In one hand I am holding Ray’s own first edition of Fahrenheit 451; in the other, I have one of the few surviving asbestos cover copies that still survives (number 188 out of only 200 copies printed, each numbered and signed by Ray himself). Dr. Eller explained that out of the ones that survive, many are scorched because people would bring them out at cocktail parties and try to light them on fire to prove they could not be burned. Ray’s copy is, of course, pristine.

I want to thank Dr. Eller and his team for making the time to meet with me on a VERY busy day. And yes, I have my Bradbury homework assignments! I promise I will have them done by the time we meet again in July!

Oh, and no big deal, but I also got to see a National Book Award this weekend. 
And a National Medal of the Arts.



And an Emmy. 



And a PULITZER PRIZE.


You could say I’m fired up to start the week tomorrow! I am betting my excitement is INFECTIOUS!




Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Michigan Hemingway Society Conference 2016: A Student's Perspective


The Michigan Hemingway Society Conference 2016: A Student Perspective
by Lily Rosenberg, 2016 Bill and Donna Coté Scholarship Award Winner

I had the amazing opportunity of traveling to Petoskey, Michigan for this year's Michigan Hemingway Society conference! It was an amazing experience, and one I will never forget!

I will first start out by explaining how I got the opportunity to participate. Mrs. McQuillan gave the opportunity to all of her former Honors American Literature students who are currently juniors or seniors to write an essay about how Pure Michigan relates to Hemingway. I took the opportunity and surprisingly won the MHS Coté Scholarship.

While I was in Petoskey, I learned a lot more about Hemingway and the town itself. I got the opportunity to talk to many of the people at the conference and have some really great conversations about the Literary Garden and Hemingway. I was also able to help Mrs. McQuillan with the presentation she gave on the Literary Garden. I was honored to be a part of it. Mrs. McQuillan told the society all about how the Literary Garden has influenced the school and the community. I even did a little bit of impromptu speaking about my experiences with the garden!
All throughout the weekend people were coming up to Mrs. McQuillan and telling her how amazing they thought the garden was and how they wished they had thought of it themselves.


On the first day (Friday) I met the president of the society, Chris Struble, who was very accommodating. The opening ceremony included Chris introducing many special guests and Mrs. McQuillan’s Literary Garden presentation. Then Mrs. McQuillan participated in a roundtable. From just that night I was able to learn so much about Ernest Hemingway. I was also able to connect Hemingway with other works I read in Honors American Literature, such as The Great Gatsby and the Transcendentalists.



Saturday morning we had breakfast at Jesperson’s which is thought to have been one of Hemingway’s favorite hangout spots in Petoskey. There was also a special appearance from Teddy Roosevelt! I had the pleasure of having breakfast with Mrs. McQuillan, Teddy Roosevelt and Dianna Stampfler, a certified tourism ambassador and a fellow first time guest to the conference.


Later that day we attended a tour of the town and all of the spots that are associated with Hemingway. Our tour guide, Chris, took us down into the underground tunnels of the city and told us some of the ghost stories. (They sometimes even reminded me of stories by Poe!) 





Next we witnessed a speech by young Ernest Hemingway himself! He told us all about his life growing up and visiting Petoskey and the surrounding area. 




Throughout the weekend I learned a lot about how Hemingway’s works relate to nature. Mrs. McQuillan and Chris Struble brought up a very interesting point about how in “The Big Two-Hearted River,” silence speaks louder than words. For instance, Nick Adams has come home from the war and he is able to just simply put up a tent without having to worry about being bombed.


I truly hope that other students will be able to have this opportunity in the future. I learned a lot, not only about Hemingway, but also about literature and just being in public situations with new people. You do not need to be in love with literature or Hemingway to benefit from this type of experience. I was able to talk to many teachers, professors, and even a journalist which helped me gain life experience and social skills for the real world. I encourage students who will have this opportunity to take it.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How I Spent My Summer Vacation Part II

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part II

In August, I visited four important American authors to gather plants for the garden. Here’s the update on how those plants are faring!

Mark Twain: In Hartford, Connecticut, we visited the Mark Twain House and Museum to try and cultivate the wisteria for the third time. Master gardener Meg Lambert reports that while she is ever hopeful, the wisteria cuttings are struggling. We do have a Mark Twain Liberty burr oak tree generously donated by retired teacher Michael Brown, so Twain is represented. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the wisteria survives!



Harriet Beecher Stowe: I am so pleased to report that Beth Burgess of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford, Connecticut (right next door to Mark Twain’s house!) generously donated two plants to our garden: a clematis vine and Harrison’s yellow roses. Both plants have survived and taken root in the Literary Garden.  

Walt Whitman: I could not contain my excitement when we visited Walt Whitman’s House in Camden, New Jersey. I stood in his bedroom and saw his shoes! His cane! I could not get enough information about one of my favorite poets, and curator Leo Blake kindly obliged. Late in September, the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association director, Cynthia Shor, along with volunteer gardener Leslie Lockhart, sent a lilac cutting and lilac seeds from the lilac bush at the Huntington Station, New York home. The tiny cutting seems to be thriving in a pot in the Literary Garden. We will be bringing it inside for the winter to give it the best chance for survival.

Ernest Hemingway: In Petoskey, Michigan, I had the special good fortune to spend a full day exploring Hemingway’s haunts with the president of the Michigan Hemingway Society, Chris Struble. Not only did I get to plunge my own hands into the cold waters of the spring Hemingway describes at the beginning of “Summer People,” but I also got to see, smell, and taste the mint Chris had sent to us at its source. I was ALL IN that day – when Chris said we could still check out the pilings left of the dock Hemingway had stood on with his friends, I – frustrated that I could not see – walked into the lake with my clothes on and peered into the water until I could see them for myself. Chris, more than startled, ended up following me in, his battered copy of the Nick Adams stories in his hand, reading in the middle of the lake where Hemingway and his friends had summered nearly a century ago. It was, without question, one of the most memorable Literary Garden adventures I have had! And yes, the mint has EXPLODED in our garden! The students and staff love it!














The Michigan Hemingway Society Conference is this weekend in Petoskey, Michigan, and I know Chris has been working hard to put together a terrific program. More on that soon!