Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Hair-raising True Stories about the Natural World
Yesterday I asked my students to come up with some stories about the natural world, situations that challenged their assumptions about man and nature. They came up with all kinds of amazing stories. One of them talked about having to fed off a horde of crazy raccoons when he was in elementary school. Another told me that his surf break was temporarily rendered off-limits when wildlife officials tried to 'bury' a dead whale at sea, attracting the attention of enormous white sharks. Another was shocked by the murderous behavior of his feral cat. One student was shocked when he moved to New York and saw that the shy, retiring squirrels of his countryside home were nothing at all like the vicious aggressive squirrels we have here in the city. It's all part of a class section in which the students will be reading essays about man's uneasy relationship with nature. We started things off with a screening of "Grizzly Man,'' Werner Herzog's strange and hair-raising documentary about Timothy Treadwell, the grizzly enthusiast who was, eventually, eaten by one of his ungrateful (and hungry) beneficiaries. The class mostly thought he was well-intentioned but a total kook. We're going to put these experiences in context by reading Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Bill McKibben and others. I'm hoping to develop this (eventually) into a semester-long course. Another instructor in the writing program helped me out immensely by suggesting an essay about William Cronon, which challenges the American view of "man'' and "nature'' being separate realms. He claims that city parks and city trees are just as 'natural' as their counterparts in the forest.