Four Trees

  1. The Pecan Tree

I was four when my family and I lived in New Bern, North Carolina. I do not remember every detail of the house; I recall little flashes of images, like the red carpet in the bedroom, the claw-footed tub, the smell of paint thinner that hung constantly in the air while my parents struggled to remodel what proved to be a house in serious disrepair. One of the most prominent images, however, is the large pecan tree in the far corner of the yard. I remember it as the largest tree of my acquaintance, but perhaps that was only because I was quite small myself. My dad hung a swing from one of the lower branches, and, in my mind, it took about a thousand feet of rope to reach. While he worked in the garage, he would strap me in to the swing with his leather work belt and push me so high that I could see the missing shingles in the garage roof. In the fall, when the tree dropped its fruit over our backyard, I would gather a whole mess of them in the hem of my shirt, line them in neat rows on our stone garden bench, and smash them to bits with my dad’s rubber mallet. Continue reading

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A square meter

The Forest Unseen is a chronicle of author David George Haskell’s attempt to understand the world by focusing on a relatively microscopic piece of it. He comes to know his small forest intimately and in detail, and allows us to come to understand it with him through his writing.

This way of being and understanding works well for Haskell’s project because the piece of the world he has chosen is of a manageable size, and yet it is able to represent, literally or symbolically, nearly every action and relationship we can observe in the world at large. By sectioning off a piece of the world and attempting to understand it in all of its times and seasons, Haskell is able to come to a better understanding of the world as a whole. Continue reading

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Pieces of Place

In his book The Forest Unseen, David Haskell takes readers on a meditative journey through science, ecology, and philosophy as he dedicates a year of his life to studying a small circle of forest floor in Tennessee.

We talked briefly in our class meeting about the address given by Michael Blackwell at this year’s HRC Exchange and how it reminded us of Haskell’s book. When talking with us, Blackwell encouraged each of us, if we hadn’t already, to find a tree with which to share moments of our lives. That is, to find a tree, to observe it in different light, at different times of day, in different seasons, in different moods and moments, and then to observe how our connection with this tree grew as its presence continued to intersect with our lives and how our understanding of ourselves grew naturally with this connection. Continue reading

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An Independent Model

The Collegiate Way of Living is a collection of essays by Mark Ryan, a former dean of Jonathan Edwards College at Yale University. The collection depicts for its readers the history and culture of Yale’s residential colleges, which are given as a model for other universities to follow.

While the history of Yale’s residential colleges is rich and provides an interesting and intelligent argument for the merits of such institutions, I do not believe it is appropriate to use its structure as a mold for the formation of similar colleges at other universities. Continue reading

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Final Reflection

Pre-Course Meeting #3

Goals for the program:

  • Meet students and teachers from outside my field and learn as much as I can from them
  • Explore what my goals are for a career and determine the more global context into which they fit
  • Have good conversations
  • Explore

Wish list:

  • Take an overnight train
  • To know enough about Europe that I can hold an intelligent conversation about the major cities
  • See Berlin
  •  Study different cultures’ perceptions of science (especially agriculture) and how they shape policy
  • Visit a castle
  • See places I’ve read about Continue reading
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A Visitor in Bern

It is raining. We haven’t made it more than a block from the hotel before the map in my hands begins to melt into a pile of mush. We trudge up to the third floor of the public library, leaving small puddles of water on every stair. Continue reading

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Thoughts on Ghana: Wildlife Conservation

One of the problems with contemporary efforts at wildlife conservation is the imposition of seemingly arbitrary rules and strictures on people whose livelihood is tied closely to the animals in need of protection. The rules are either ignored, in which case the conservation efforts are not successful, or the rules are enforced, in which case the people involved sometimes cannot make enough money to support themselves. Continue reading

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Below is an excerpt from the travel essay I wrote for Paul Heilker. It was written as a series of “postcards” from trains and their destinations and was intended to demonstrate how the physical act of travelling can induce a kind of mental travel as well. Continue reading

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Memento Mori

At this time of the semester it is incredibly easy to feel pulled in a hundred different directions.

I didn’t want to come to Naples. I spent Friday night listing over again every assignment I have due in the next two weeks and planning courses for next semester in order to avoid packing. It had just begun to look like spring in Riva. Thursday was the first warm day in a long stretch of time and we spent all afternoon in the garden sketching or taking pictures and listening to the guitar. A group went across the street to play volleyball barefoot in the field next to the elementary school. I realized how few days we had left in the villa and how much I didn’t want to leave. Continue reading

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An Irrevocable Condition

Once again, the topic of home has come up in class, this time in one of our conversations on Giovanni’s Room. We spent a good amount of time discussing the character David’s motivations, most of which are tied up in his notions of masculinity and the American ideal.

For class, we were asked to analyze a quotation of our choice and explain how our interpretation of it affect our reading of the novel.

Continue reading

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