Ways of Being: 1-Day Nature Writing Class
Date: Saturday, April 22 *In Person at the Presidio in SF
Time: 10 am - 3 pm (with a one-hour lunch break)
Instructor: Leslie Carol Roberts
Genre: Creative Nonfiction, Nature Writing
There is a long-standing tradition in all human history of the walker who heads out into the unknown – seekers, they return with stories and images of things afar. All the great so-called “nature writers” have weighed in on this either through personal journeys or reflecting on others’ journeys. Henry David Thoreau wrote at length and repeatedly about walking in various contexts. In his case, he was also putting a philosophical pin down about speed, time, and direction. Thoreau was deeply disturbed by the railroad, its noise, speed, and interruption of ecological sounds, as well as what it erased of human experience. There is an analogy in these times with the world wide web – and the creeping development of the “smartphone” as an ever-creeping cyborgian shift in human life.
Northern California plays an important role in ecological thought: From Ursula K. Leguin, to Jenny Odell, to Obi Kauffman, to Gary Snyder, to Camille Dungy – and on and on. We live in an inspiring ecosystem and this course is designed to build craft in reportage, observation, field notes, and personal storytelling.
The goal of this class is to create a walking/writing community where we use our notebooks, hands, legs, and eyes – without a phone in sight (except for photography and species identification – hey, they are not all bad!) to fall in love with the lands on which we walk. How might we readjust our gaze to the hyper-local to develop a keener understanding of the more-than-humans we live with each day? We will each identify species of interest - birds, plants - as well atmospheric effects – clouds, wind – as well as geological and marine aspects. We will write with our senses. What do we sense and feel – and how do our observations invite us to cast our minds back out the past or experiences not of this moment?
Over the course of our time together, we will engage in a series of writing prompts in the first half of the class, then we will think about which of these resonates – and aim to write a longer view based on this idea. These will be true “essays” – from the French, to try – little attempts. We will be writing in a shorter format, in our notebooks, and we will end the day by reading parts of what we came up with.
The class will take place in the Presidio, where there is ample parking. Detailed instructions will be shared several days before the class meets. There is also a walking component. We will walk down hill and then along flat ground to the edge of the Bay. It’s not a hike – but we will be on trails so wear comfortable shoes and dress for varied weather, i.e., layers.
Leslie Carol Roberts is a founder of the ECOPOESIS Project, which creates collaborative work and thought in response to climate change, countering the dark ecology views that are both unhelpful and often inaccurate. Through globalworkshops and lectures, ECOPOESIS brings together humans from across disciplines. During the pandemic, HOW WE HEAR NOW was created to capture, through audio files, the sound of ecologies globally. The collaborative sound collage debuted in San Francisco, July 2021.
Leslie was a Fulbright Fellow at Gateway Antarctica New Zealand and has chaired programs in design and writing at California College of the Arts, where she remains a professor focusing on writing. She has written two books on ecologies, The Entire Earth and Sky: Views on Antarctica, based on living in Antarctica for four months; and Here Is Where We Walk: Episodes from a Life in the Forest, based on 15 years of living in the Presidio; a chapter in Performing Ice (2020), and interviews and essays for The Believer, the Sydney Morning Herald, Forbes, The Bellingham Review, among many others. She is a member of SCAR-HASS, the United Nations Antarctic humanities and social sciences study group and gave an invited talk at their 2021 conference in Kobe, Japan.