Researchers, such as ecologist Suzanne Simard, have published work demonstrating the ways that trees “talk” to each other through networks of roots and fungi under the ground. How might writing outside allow us to tap into our experiences with trees around us? Through stories shared by a Ranger and a Forestry expert, writers are encouraged to go outside, spend time with the trees around us, and explore what teachers communicate to us and to each other.
This resource is available to support place-based writing outside anytime of year and comes with related resources and age-level recommendations. Originally developed for Write Out (writeout.nwp.org).
“The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective. Exactly how they do this, we don’t yet know. But what we see is the power of unity. What happens to one happens to us all. We can starve together or feast together.” ―Robin Wall Kimmerer
Ecologists and researchers have published work demonstrating the ways that trees “talk” to each other through networks of roots and fungi under the ground.
How might writing outside allow us to tap into our experiences with trees around us? In these two videos, we are prompted by two experts to go outside, spend time with the trees around us, and explore – through writing – what they communicate to us and to each other.
As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way … to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your free writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.
Spark from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park—We know that some trees can “talk” to each other through their root systems. What kind of messages might trees send to each other?
Content focus: Masting process of oak trees, exploring how tree communicate Age-level recommendations: All ages, good for younger writers Time: Video length = 3:45; Writing time as needed
Park Ranger McKenzie of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park describes the ways that oak trees in the park go through a process of masting, ie. the synchronous production of large crops of seeds, every few years. Ranger Makenzie prompts us to write by asking: We know that some trees can “talk” to each other through their root systems. What kind of messages might trees send to each other?
Spark from Dr. Easley of Hip-Hop Forestry—Write near a tree. Come back inside; note how you feel. Add that to your writing.
Content focus: Forests and the stories they tell; diversity, equity and inclusion Age-level recommendations: Older writers engaging with complex topics Time: Video length = 2:29; Writing time as needed
Dr. Thomas RaShad Easley—forester, hip-hop artist, and Assistant Dean for Community & Inclusion at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies—describes his Hip Hop Forestry philosophy (video used with permission) and prompts writers to engage in the following process:
Go outside and compose/write near a tree
Come back inside; note how your body feels coming from the outside to the inside
Add that to your composition/writing
When ready, read your writing out loud to another person.
Share Your Writing
Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:
Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout
Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park: Huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees exemplify the diversity of landscapes, life, and beauty here. Explore these pages to learn about the plants and animals here and the threats they face. Our ancient giant sequoias may seem invincible, but they, too are vulnerable.
Write Out: Write Out is a free two-week celebration of writing, making, and sharing inspired by the great outdoors, and was created through a partnership of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. It is a public invitation to get out and create that is supported with a series of online activities, made especially for educators, students, and families, to explore national parks and other public spaces. The goal is to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing using the common hashtag #writeout.
How does writing outside change the way you view nature? As George Washington Carver grew up his paintings and sketches of natural life prompted him to first study art, then horticulture and finally agriculture which he would teach to his students at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In this resource you will be encouraged to look at nature creatively, like Dr. George Washington Carver did, and use it as your writer’s toolbox.
Rita Dove writes of finding a spot of nature in which to float into her reverie. When you pay attention to it, you’ll find nature is everywhere. It’s in the flowers and blades of grass popping up in the cracks of the sidewalk. It’s in the birds that nest in the doorways of stores. In this resource you’ll be prompted to go outside and look for these moments of nature, notice where they intersect with the human-made world. What stories might you find there?
Nature is always in movement, and what grows can act like a spot on a map that can tell us where to go to find and harvest our food. The Lenape, the First Peoples of The Brandywine Valley, lived and fished on Delaware’s coastline in the summer, but as winter arrived, they moved into the valley where the land was higher and the river was full of fish even in the colder weather. Have you or your ancestors ever moved from one place to the next? In this resource, you will be asked to go outside and think about the movement of both people and nature.
Marcello Giovanelli, a Reader in Literary Linguistics at Aston University, has looked at the power of poetry to help a wide range of people in the UK, few of them poets, make sense of the pandemic. He wonders, is there a space for COVID poetry to play an important role in education as the pandemic wanes?
Writing and editing Wikipedia entries is an excellent task for older writers who are pursuing specialized knowledge. In this piece, the authors describe a rationale and process for their college-aged writers to participate in Women's History Month by adding to and editing entries on women. The focus here is women's history and experience, but any topic where teachers want to invite writers to contribute to a public knowledge base is fair game.