As some of you already know, this coming winter I will teach my signature class, Writing Natural History, for the final time. That class involves taking students to Baja for a ten-day immersive field experience, something I’ve done every spring break for the past decade.
While it’s bittersweet to pass that program along to make way for my Irish adventures in 2017, I must confess to being energized by the process of inventing a new class. I’ve proposed teaching a graduate seminar I’m calling “Writing for the Birds” at Queen’s University Belfast, and now I’m conjuring up an undergraduate version to teach when I return to SCU.
The central project for this class would be to choose a bird species—no need for the bird to be threatened or endangered, although I would encourage my students to consider environmental issues in making their choices—and then become thoroughly conversant in the bird’s natural history before attempting to publish an article about the bird.
The class would of course include a field component: weekend treks to nearby wildlife reserves to engage in gratuitous birding. It’s no longer enough for my students to be tree huggers; now they must learn the names of the feathery things up in the branches.
I just read Flights of Imagination: Extraordinary Writing about Birds, which I’m thinking of adopting as a textbook. It’s a lovely anthology, with pieces I’d like to assign by Kenn Kaufman, David Gessner, Jennifer Ackerman, Ellen Meloy, Richard Mabey, Sandra Steingraber and Barbara Kingsolver.
If you know of an alternate anthology I should consider, please make a recommendation. I’m looking for something birdy with an environmental subtext. I'll also need a new poetry collection or anothology to go with th class. Ideas?
Journal of Natural Hist. Ed.
Natural History Institute
Center for Humans & Nature