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If there’s a nostalgic, sentimental feeling for the “unspoiled landscape”, what do we feel for the landscape in which natural growth overtakes manmade buildings? A sort of triumph of our pastoral longings or a sort of sorrow for the failure of the product of human will and power? 2. You lose yourself in the wilderness. You lose yourself rapturously in the wilderness. You are comforted by the sight/knowledge of civilization. You are irritated by it. 3. It smells like chemicals at the laundromat. Comforting, home-like scents, of Sunday afternoons when mom got the household ready for the upcoming week. As the weekend faded with the sun, the amber, gold and fuschia seeping into the light. The trees losing their detail, becoming silhouettes, cutouts in a puppet show scenery. You wanted to run out into the river as it reflected the last aching cerulean of the still lit sky, blueing faster from the east, burning down everything to the west and leaving it all at once. Leaving you with your heart, your tiny illiterate heart beating like a hawk’s wings, its feet caught in a vine. Leaving you under a pale blue sky to the west, a deep fade towards the east, the shore. Stars peeking out. The glare of amber street lamps, fluorescent car lamps, bluish, greenish, blinding. The tires rushing past on the pavement, disappearing as they passed into the night, towards the shore.. 4. The black vulture is a very common bird in these parts. They fly in slow circles over the landfill, over office parks, subdivisions, anywhere there aren’t tons of people yet. I’ve seen them gathered around retention ponds next to office buildings. I run into groups of them hunched in trees overlooking new homes. I see them soaring in wide, cyclonic columns in the distance, those ones over the landfill. The vulture, it is commonly thought, hovers over sickly animals, waiting for them to die. The vulture isn’t known as a killer, not like hawks, eagles, falcons. The vulture eats dead things. To be fair, other birds of prey eat carrion as well, and I’m sure an eagle would rather have someone or something else do the hard part. Most animals know they have to conserve energy because food is unpredictable. So, while the vulture seems to have gotten the reputation for waiting anxiously while other beasts die, and swooping in just in time to feast on fresh flesh, the presence of vultures in abundance shouldn’t be confused with, or seen as evidence of a quantity of dying beasts. It would certainly be to a mistake to think that the vultures are hovering over this CITY, waiting for it to die. Vultures don’t know what county lines are, anyhow they don’t eat cities. Vultures don’t feed on place or sentimental memory. They eat animals. Also, it’s likely that this many vultures have always been around and I’ve just never noticed them the way I am now. Also, even if I saw them before, I wasn’t so sure the city was dying (I mean, at least as I’ve always known it), so I’m sensitive to indications that what I fear is coming true. 5. I drove from the abandoned Burger King on Beach Blvd to the Southpoint office park by taking University Blvd to I-95 South. I took the wrong turn off the interstate and ended up on the return ramp, pointing back the way I’d come. Fortunately that ramp had another exit and led into the heart of the office park, my destination, via a road I’d never taken before. I drove through the park along its landscaped, tree-lined, curving main road. It seemed that four or five of the little office suites I passed were empty and for lease--but my perception of this place had been as a thriving epicenter of Jacksonville-caliber back office economic activity. Perhaps even as the city plasters up downtown with new palm trees and stuccoed storefronts painted peach and pale yellow it is secretly losing its grip. The slow seep of business to cheaper locales…maybe we’re finally too expensive.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample I parked at a business called Dream Come True. No other description was visible on the sign, no clue to the weekday function of the place. I started walking around the building and began to notice the empty lots here too. Just behind Dream Come True a large yard of dead grass spread out, ending at a wall of pine trees. Off to the left another lot, all overgrown with brown grasses, lay waiting for a tenant. I left Dream Come True and walked out into the depths of Southpoint. Immediately across the road and one block to the left (east I think) was a lot covered with dead, brown shrubs eight or ten feet tall. The shrubs had once been leafy so they were now bushy and furrylooking. The whole lot was a tawny cloud of crunchy plant. I walked in as far as I could without using my tripod as a machete. Going any deeper would have meant getting dried leaves and seed pods in my mouth, eyes, and probably camera lens. Above the tops of the dead bushes I saw the grey roof of another office building and beyond, another wall of pine trees. I don’t know what it was. I walked from one empty lot to the next, shooting pictures, checking my ankles for ticks. I walked to the edge of a parking lot that was separated from the one behind it by a small creek or ditch. Then I walked to where it seemed I could cross the creek to head back towards my car. As I walked down the slope of the bank, and as I walked up the other side I felt my legs shaking under me. I suddenly noticed that my arms were weak and I felt wobbly. I walked on towards my car and didn’t feel better. I stopped on a sun drenched patch of St. Augustine grass, took one more picture, the last of my roll, my last roll. “I….ah. I, I need to…need to get out of here.” I muttered out loud. I got to my car, sat down in the driver’s seat after putting my camera in the back, locked the doors and rested my forehead on the steering wheel. I sat there breathing as if physically exhausted. I imagined trying to explain to someone what was happening. What’s wrong? Oh, nothing really. A creek, dead grass. An empty office park on a Sunday afternoon. An empty office park that seems on its last legs of usefulness. 6. Building the Future Building the Past 7. Out of chaos, out of the givens of the land, the city builds itself without comprehensive plans for its becoming. Real Estate boom. HOUSES! Build fast and loose, NICE homes to sell sell sell. But the mantlepiece is balsa wood and carved foam. The mantle. The hearth, symbol of the protecting, warming quality of a home. This is a flimsy simulation. But all the same we include the expensive oven and range. The all-powerful dishwasher. Colorful natural stone floors and backsplashes. The details on the exterior, molding around windows and doors, these are stuccoed foam, but the sod is carefully tended. Plants as edging carefully selected. So these roots of the house’s image from the street are secure. All the ancient live oaks have been eliminated from the vicinity but a pond has been dug. The vultures perch ominously upon the ridgepole of the roof. But I know they just live here, it doesn’t mean anything. Perched, wings outspread, atop the pristine geometry of our peach-painted Florida home.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample 8. That same day I had discovered a church out in the pine scrub and palmetto fields southeast of the city that had constructed an elaborate, not a copy exactly but an attempt at an ancient middle eastern town. It was called Bethlehem Village, but that makes it sound too coherent. There were nine structures built in the low woods, connected by a clear, winding dirt road. The structures faced the path in such a way, and were, as structures, incomplete in such a way as to be apparently intended for use as scenery in a passion play or Christmas pageant that the audience would walk through. There was a “gate” into Bethlehem. Some “shops” or a marketplace. There was a house or stable, a “rich man’s house” or possibly a temple, there was a group of disembodied columns, a mysterious doorless building, a mound suitable for sermons-from-mounts in this flat land, and of course, a trio of crosses at last. Stained to look aged, these stucco structures sat in the landscape waiting to be used by Christians who, bored with the text and the traditional expressions of their gospels, had decided to make things a little more interesting, interactive, reality TV, or something. In fact I found it easy to scoff and laugh at this phenomenon, but I found it impossible to decide why it had really been built. What was the purpose, really? What would make some group of Episcopalians decide to do this with their resources? To build an elaborate setting in which parishioners could be immersed in the Christian stories in a physical, tangible way, if an anachronistic, simulacral and almost childishly imagined way. Childish in the sense that one must somehow make an idea physical in order to understand its significance. Jesus lived in Bethlehem and I can experience what that was like and so be more like Christ. 9. Construction: new homes, Bethlehem. Deconstruction: abandoned chain stores, Southpoint. Turning over new earth. 10. The sleeping land, sprinkled with human debris, sleeping because it’s escaped unnoticed, slipped past the rush of building for fast profit. How does that land feel? Is it smirking to itself at its cleverness? Is it nervous, pessimistic, waiting for the first prospector? Is it exhaling calmly, aware of its current respite, its past strain, its coming stresses, laying as a great fertile beast between the hunts (hunting, being hunted) I am human and my heart, those ungoverned, irreasonable parts of my being respond to the land, their home. My psyche strives to explain the love, felt as strongly as that I feel for other selves, and so I call the land live. I lend it my qualities. I love it as myself. Somehow it seems the earth, if it has a mind at all, must have found a peace with this struggle that I have yet to discover. After all, it lies stretched out before me. It seems relaxed, or at least mostly acquiescent. Yet it’s always sending up tendrils, they explode in multitudes of leaves and curling branches. It sends up infinite hands to the sun; their palms open, empty and beseeching. 11. “We are powerful, we build for the centuries, our monuments rival those of other heroic ages. We are insignificant, our hold on this landscape is tenuous, nature and time erode our greatest creations as if they were dust.” -Frank Gohlke 12. It's lonely in the woods beside the road. But here in the vast world I’ve found evidence of somebody. They were here, where I find myself, on the fringes of the city, where paths do lead, but roads do not. When were they here? Who was that? Why did you leave your tires behind! Your jeep! So it’s odd and sad that the Burger King has been abandoned, but look at the vines coming in to take it back! Leave
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample it for a decade you’ll never know it was there. A sweet, irrevocable force of plant life will whelm and overwhelm what man has crafted out of the harder materials of the earth, steel and stone. 13. Over the summer it was too hot during the day to do much of anything outside, so I woke early in the morning before the sun rose and drove out into Jacksonville. An overgrown lot is right across from a paper mill and a powerplant. A basketball hoop, rusty, looms up over the tall dewy weeds. When I was a kid the school bus drove past the lumber yard where pine logs were stacked in a giant ring, at the center of which stood a crane with a claw to lift the logs and place them into the machinery that would grind them into paper. The mill was converted into a recycling plant a while ago, so now instead of logs you see stacks of bundled cardboard awaiting processing. It used to give off an infamous, rancid, fermented stench that you could smell miles away. This is not about Jacksonville. It isn’t about a place you recognize as any particular place. It is about MY place. The place I am from. It is digging down into the roots of the where-you’re-from. Find out your mother’s story. Find out your father’s feelings about moving there. Ask. Wander. Drive. Sneak. So many times I would go out into the city. I’d drive out to some part or another, park, collect my equipment and start walking. I’d walk out into the landscape, always a known unknown, I knew the place, from driving through or from somebody’s mention of it. All the parts of your hometown have some celebrity. You know their names. You have the mental map of their territories. But if you stop on the thoroughfare that always takes you from home to school, work to home, home to church or to the grocery store, if you slow down your pace to walking and ask the landscape why it looks that way. If you do this a new world is uncovered. Beautiful or ugly, but new. Reborn. Like a good Southern Baptist believer. And yet, you must understand this: somebody already knows this place, and this one, at the snail’s pace of walking. Someone lives there beside the thoroughfare, or in the neighborhood behind your grocery store. Someone has been here, beside the retention pond near the church, and look, he’s left an artifact, a tire or a bottle of motor oil, evidence of his mobility (and mobility is everything, isn’t it?). So what? You share this land. He and his needs plus you and your needs create it everyday: food, worship, money. Your paths through. Your wheels on the streets, it unfolds around you new each morning. New under each day’s light, as you are new each morning and yet are the same as well. This place where you live. This place you call home. 14. Who is responsible though? These shops arise like weeds in spring, to you. All you know is that they rise up from denuded sand. Trees, which you prefer, are cleared off and World Market grows, Linens-N-Things is planted. After a while you come to love World Market, with its inexpensive and interesting trinkets from other countries, and so you don’t even miss the trees. Then you can’t recall them. This, now, is your landscape and it is good. But while the medians are still unplanted and the walls still unpainted you have time to wonder, on your commute, why and how it all gets constructed. And who, who does this? 15. They’re questions you never need to answer. You drive on, and it never much matters what you pass. The landscape. Made of stores and roads and trees and water mostly. Known by way of roads, routes, patterns of movement from necessary point A to necessary point B. And. I…
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Take you on detours. Behind things. Between what you know as places. Inside places you’d get caught trespassing or to places you’d just never feel like going. 16. Let’s go to church. Vultures, abandoned restaurants, home building, my home warm and sunny. To church in the wilderness. The car; get in. The thing in the distance.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Making it Home She reached the fourth floor and felt a twinge of warmth toward the tiles on the floor at the top of the stairs. She glanced at the mail boxes by the door, the heavy door. The smell of the hallway was dusty and dry, but lived-in somehow. The wood of the steps was familiar and the feeling of my feet on them, and the banister she held, leaning outward at landings, holding the banister and slightly leaning outwards as she turned her way up the stairs. The young man biked alongside her all the way home, and she spoke to him. He asked if she came from the city, and she said, what city, and he didn't understand so he asked again and she said it again, what city? He asked what she was doing and she replied, I'm just goin home man. He asked if she were out with friends partying, she said no we were just talking, a group of girls? nah. “Oh. You look like a school girl, you studyin'?” he asked. “I just graduated.” “What did you study in school?” “Philosophy.” “Oh you know what I studied, sociology. All the different sociological ideas, the feminist perspective, the Marxist perspective...” “Yeah? Where'd you go?” She said, looking at him, slowing down. “Well I came over here from Trinidad to go to school but I never quite finished. I'm a soccer player. But what are you doing to occupy yourself now that you're out of school? You chillin'?” “No I work, I have to work, I don't have much money.” “What are you doin' on this side? There aren't many white people.” “I don't need white people,” She said, smiling. “Well you know, so what are ya hobbies?” “Photography.” “Oh yeah, so what's your favorite background, the environment or flowers or buildins?” “Mostly trees.” “Oh trees. Well you should promote yourself to do weddins and stuff like dat.” “I know, I'm not quite there yet.” “Well you just, how old are you?” “Twenty-one.” “Oh you're young.” They approached her house. He said, "Well the name's Tony, but you don't have to tell me yours. I didn't expect you to talk to me or be friendly." "I'm not friendly. If I thought I was in danger I would have stopped talking to you." "What's your name?" "Hannah" "Well have a good night, I know you won't talk to me again."
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample She laughed, "If you say, hey, it's tony, I'll say hi." "Goodnight, Hannah." "Goodnight." She walked in quickly, uncertain with her back turned in the few moments the door was unlocked and open. The door closed and she started up the steps. But there at the top of the stairs she felt her eyes fill, and hot simple tears were making their way out. She thought for a second of Esther and the rest of the girls she lived here with. She thought of the place she come from, that she used to call home, so different from this place. “Home. I came back at three in the morning and was followed by a friendly kid. I ascended the steps of my building to my bedroom and when I got there I discovered it was home. How did this happen?” “Home is where I am, now; where I make it home. It isn't a particular city, or a particular room. It must be something woven around me in each place. It is the space of my personal dealings with circumstances that take place elsewhere, in the outside. It is the cocoon that protects me from everything else, and it is the place of processing it all.”
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Brother Bird On the path that leads in a winding way on up the slope of the land, toward the height, and the clearing, I found the body of a bird and stopped. It had been killed, not much consumed though. Its neck was at an uncomfortable angle to its spine, and its back was bloody. I'm not sure exactly what bird it was, but it was brown and white spotted. I mean, brown with white spots all over. It was a medium size, about like a football. I thought of it as a grouse. It made me wonder who had done this. It might have been the cat, or a wild coyote. It might have even been a hawk or falcon. I turned the body over, and grasped its feet to carry it. I don't know why. They can't really be cleaner than the other parts of the body, but they're solid instead of downy, and there wasn't any visible blood on them. This made the limp neck flop around as I walked. I carried the bird along the path to the height and sat with it on my favorite boulder, which the sun warms all day. There in the clearing at the top of our land. There with my body and the body of a large dead bird, and my thoughts. Of the body, it's blood. Of struggle before death. Of my limbs, and my core. In these clothes, how do I look? Are eyes seeing me here? My hair and face. My shoes and pants. My coat. The shape of my contemplative mouth, or rather, of my mouth as my mind contemplates. Here is the boulder. Below is the autumn grass, burned pale brown almost entirely, but green (alive) grass blades are still here too. Beyond us, the bird and I, the clearing spreads back to the forest. Before that, a few clusters of trees in this clearing. A stone wall. A wall of pines rising up behind it. There are no livestock grazing this meadow. The soft mountains look down upon it from the distance, perhaps. Although it's likely they never notice this clearing, because it isn't very large, and maybe they can hardly see it. The bird's body is cold, even on the warm boulder. If it were alive it would never spend its time this way, with me, at rest, in contemplation. It would hide from me as I walked by on the path, unless it were very close. Then it would explode into sound and motion as I passed, in frantic escape. From me. I stroke the empty head of the bird. Eyes closed, mouth ajar. Admire its feathers, the build of its hollow bones. Red blood, I have too. Fears, I have too, brother bird. I can fly with you, you know. When you erupt into flight from my path my heart races too. In fact we fly together for a while. The wings beating the air of these woods. Wings you can't see, but I feel them moving. So you can sit with me for just a while, brother bird, your wings and heart at rest. And come with me, as I move while sitting still. Follow the path in my mind, feel the movements of the language you have in sympathy with mine, as I feel my wings when yours flutter. Can you move this way? Can you build shapes out of desire, that I trace with my breath and the images I conjure? Come with me, won't you? Just a few feet off the path. Then I'll lay you among beech leaves and polypores, to rest.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample A Kiss So soon around your wrist it curls and tight around the small of your back sweet tree limb tumble hollow mallow. Pause at the top, the stretch apex. Muscles firm flexed against her weight. A kiss is touch breath intention forgetting. Dive from plan sight ratio-nal world into the cellular, scent transmit touch combine to carry both minds into oblivion, really. The mind in kiss is just buzz. Buzz together. Here the soul spirit life sprite boils. I cannot speak my throat is full of joy, for all I see calls out to me calls to my heart cries out its name, to be rehearsed, exclaimed, shared, echoed My body's heart and voice, a mirror. A mirror the world-around peers into, and, the circuit closed there in, ignites. Circuit falling closed within my mind and breath, first there, then farther out from there, then rippling out. A reaction-chain of recognition and empathy energy. Closed loops, looping tying round. Your waist, a hand. My intention bounces back from the image, the photograph. My body feels, through its eyes and mind, the embrace. Offers a gibberish prayer for it. Offers up or out in rippled grace, a word of joy. Praise ecstasy! And it echoes back. The mind splashes down into the shared ecstasy of the photograph. The mind weight sends its presence out into the substrate Universe, sends the shape of the splashing-down motion out in ripples. Ripples touch other objects and refract back toward the mind, returning with the energy of the motion of splashing-down-into, feeding again the heart beating depth of the mind.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample The Calf The calf the color of toast, caramel, his eyes the black pools that Jersey eyes are, sticks out the tip of his dark grey tongue as you approach. You do not come with a bottle this evening, as you have the past several weeks. His attention belongs to you, nonetheless, the big jersey eyes, the expectant triangle of tongue. the taste of milk of these evenings. It is not you, but the milk he imagines. All the same, I think I understand, and I laugh at the recognition of the hunger, the gladness.
Heaven Heaven (that is, what we look for with our living minds and hope to find just beyond the tough thin membrane that holds us here) is taste itself, is like any moment you taste with all your being. your mouth is then a small wound in the body that opens the tough thin membrane just one molecule and conducts from that side to this the soul's desired beloved that is remembering its unity with all.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Promise It is not yet February. Tonight my window is open again, and the soft breath of the city whirrs in on cool breezes. I can hear it, far off machines, or roads perhaps, or rails, breezes pushing sounds my way. And I can smell it. And this is where you are my dear, For spring here peeks around the corner now, around the pines and powerlines. Spring has sent messengers, of soft grass, and of sweet scent, (pines, after a warm day under the sun) and of animal voices, cheering the return of light, of sap. The still-dormant grasses wait for the rains that will certainly arrive soon here and bring with them the hot breath of summer, the suffocating press of our summers. Through my window tonight this promise hums.
Driving Past the Mill at Dusk A moment of awareness dawning over the view. The Light was nearly gone from the sky as she passed the mill. Deep, greyed-out indigo. The tangy amber lights hit the western side of the crane, looming ten or so stories above the road, the premise. Beyond the massive, delicately webbed structure of the crane a full moon hung in the deepening blue sky. Tuesday, the full moon. Her gaze a radius turning around the crane as she drove slowly past. It is impossible to do it, she thought, but if only the road curved here, or if it might just oblige me this once, and swing around as I pass, so I could keep my eyes on this scene. Watch the shifting colors of the light. Instead she glanced, dashes of vision, the moon; the road (orange cones along the right); the stacked logs, their textured bark catching that amber light; the road, nobody coming good; the crane, the armature, the lace steel beams all bolts, that orange light; road, swerve back to center; how is the light so dense, so colorful, against a purple sky? And trees, pines, to finish off the view. Eyes back to the road at last.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample
String of Pearls 1. Sometimes the experience of (all I do not know) is gratitude for the color of light the shape of what it touches and the chance to witness such a confluence experience this experiences like this they all run together like a string of pearls each made in the belly of a similar organism response to similar stimuli yet still quite unique each one to itself 2. This morning was drenched in springtime, apple blossom filtered sunlight, warming all, glowing through leaves newly furled, through the windows, into the rooms of our home, into the reaches of my heart, calling to my surface memories of such poignant light, such dumbstruck moments when I ceased to be anything apart from love for that beauty. A chime struck, resonating love for that pure beauty, solid as a jewel or precious gem, but ephemeral and changing even as I noticed it. And these moments all inhabit the same pathway in my brain. In a way I really am a chime, and I ring the same each time the light hits just such an angle. I am a prism, made to refract this glorious, angled sun. So I am what I love without thought. I am the shape of those repeated pathways of loving, whose only meanings are their form and their qualities. Who carry no answer to "why?"
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Turkeys Black lobes, on delicate legs a family, or a herd, or a pack of them gather to peck in the neighbor's meadow now that his cows are gone from it (to beef or to barn I'm not sure). A dozen, or a baker's dozen, or more of them. One day I saw them in the woods. A friend and I were walking down from the high meadow after visiting a massive, ancient maple the mothertree of all the thousand saplings at her base. We lost the trail and cut a new path down the hill, and off in the distance, at the edge of what I could see, the tribe on its agile legs rushed through Black and bobbing fast in and out between the trunks of pine and birch. Our breath caught at the thrill of those swiftly running birds. One morning the dog found them, one soft summer morning. On the path between the low meadow and the pond. She rushed down the path in a tumble, and the quiet green hollow under the line of great maples exploded with the drumlike beating of thick wings! with the cluck and gobble of giant, excited poultry. The impossibly heavy bodies bounded upward into trees. The entire tribe aflutter, aflap, A few glided down farther off, slow and heavy on those thick wings. And the gentle pace of descent, the grace of the curve it traced, gave a moment to reflect; to relish the dog's shock, my own, and our wide-eyed panting joy. Some people hunt them. Some say their flesh tastes like pondwater. We treasure their striped feathers, follow their flocking, and give chase. Some beast within us rejoices at the sight of its dark friends who are agents of the forest and the meadow.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample They're still here, in the stillness of the winter I'm still getting used to. Today we found their tracks. The tribe had wandered across the frozen pond, and its cover of snow. Their feet are large, and they drag their long middle toes as they step. A cat had followed their trail, we read the simple storybook of their footprints: We walk along the edge of the pond. We are looking for the food that is still here in the snow. We are looking for the food. We walk together. And of the cat’s: I know you were here. I walk in your footsteps, great ones. I smell your warm bodies, your feathers. The great pedestrian birds remind me of jollity. The land is in this funny frozen rest. Of winter I'm still getting used to. But these birds still walk the trails, still bounce along on their delicate legs. And toss their massive dark bodies into flight, improbable as it seems. Here on the snow I find a phoenix shape. On either side of the line of three-pointed tracks, the pin feathers have brushed the snow. Like flexing claws in a desperate grasp. And the tail has left a sweeping mark as well. I can see the dark shape of the bird lurching as the wings go forward and down. I can see her pounding the air to gain loft. And I can see her gliding down again, gentle on those solid wings.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Hyperzygotic Do not carve in stone. Carve in the growing tree. Carve in the greenest wood. It will grow, and later, it will harden some. When the wind blows it will sway. When the rain pours it will sag. When lightning strikes it will burn. And then around it, where the fruits have fallen, it will grow again. It will grow, but the fruits will always be different. The shape, the form, is infinite. The taste is new each season. The taste is new each year. I speak of our love. This. Do not carve my words in stone, carve in the growing tree. Carve them into greenest wood. The tree will grow, and in the winter it will harden some. as winds blow, it will sway as rains fall, the boughs will droop and when lighting strikes the tree will burn. To the ground return the words. And where the fruits have fallen In growing times, it will come again. Each seed's fruit a different flavor.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample These Leaves 1. You summon the power. Waves swell up, and you're surprised. You turn away. 2. High above, oaks on the edge of the hill are losing their leaves in a breeze. Into the grey sky they flutter. Birds flocking down. They spin slowly toward me, the fine sound of wind in the nearly bare branches, the shapes silhouetted against the sky. As they near me I reach out, but their twirling path eludes my hand. 3. The leaves coming down from the oaks that day, I couldn’t catch any. I tried, because you get to make a wish if you catch one, but they twirled as they fell, and my hands weren’t keen enough to trap one. I thought, as I walked through the brief woods near the town, that if I were to catch one it would represent you, and I would hold onto it, because that is what I wanted to do. But it was impossible to catch one without diving, flailing, grasping. That wasn’t the point either, that kind of wild effort. I think I misunderstood then. The leaves were the feelings, and we can never grasp them, never trap them. Of course, leaves aren’t always feelings. Sometimes they are lovers, I know. And sometimes they are other things we wish we could trap, contain, and relish. This day they were carried by the wind and they were feelings. High above me the oaks were unleashing these last great leaves into a cloudy sky, with a soft hiss. Already all sticks, the hillside trunks had only these few left to float. They released them, black against the sky of roiled clouds, and they spun slowly down over my head and around me, dodging my hands, which flung out in effort to catch at first, then stopped. One leaf fell just at my feet. I bent to pick it up. I admired its thickness and form, but I didn’t keep it. I hadn’t caught it, after all. 4. I don't want to say the things you know; don't want to praise my own uniqueness. I want to say the things you'll never guess— the ways we are the same. 5. Pull me apart, deep rhythm. Shred my will and make me dance. 6. My hands fly open, my steps falter. The leaves drop at my feet.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Litanies Against Sleep Litanies against sleep are repeated in silence are iterated in silence in darkness behind closed eyes are repeated to the rhythm of heartbeat and breath Images, memories, thoughts Some the shape of what we call worry All stoke the smoldering fire of panic which can burn me for hours Is there some ground to this tirade, a reason? Litanies against sleep are chanted in the dark in the electric dark glow behind closed eyes become the constrained rhythm of anxious shallow breathing Intricate threats from others the shape, map the form you must figure it out, or die before you can think of rest. There is an answer in these tedious hours, an answer. Litanies against sleep all the tasks yet to be completed clamor softly, ceaselessly in imagined sound as your eyes, wide open in the dark look inward for the source, the switch Litanies against sleep the answers to questions asked only in mind of why she looked at you that way, why her answer was one word why? Pick apart the loose weave of memory to find it. Unravel the threads of your daytimes Sorting through this material It promises a source, but the thread never ends, instead it tangles. Litanies against sleep are repeated in silence are iterated in silence in darkness for hours burning the fire of panic and burning out with the hint of dawn.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample The Breeze 1. We left the restaurant’s patio, the atmosphere smelling of garlic, sounds in the thick air of twirring insects that seemed to be made of crystal, vibrating in the night against other crystal. The breeze moved across the water, across our faces, skin; moving the garlic, the crystal insects, and pushing the water gently into smooth, long ripples. Looking into the river from the dock was like looking out into the universe from a satellite. The expanse calm, black, infinite and silent; catching and tossing back little shards of light, as the breeze kneaded its surface with broad, patient hands. The breeze is cool and it comes from the east, from the water. It tells us that it has been pressing this water for miles, and finally it has arrived. But you do not know why the breeze has brought us this water. And I do not understand where it has been. I wonder where it is going. I do not know where it is going. I do not know if I will leave you sitting here right now and follow it forever, or if the precious gems that are the insects singing, and the chips of light in this river, are treasure enough 2. This is after it all is gone, And I am the only one left. The trees and grasses are still green and living, with the exception of a few dry, frightening places that remind me of what has happened and why I am all alone. These places have branches that are twisted like the old trees on the beach at home, that were blown over into the sand and bleached for years by salt and sun, and now shine silver-white in the daytime, glow like metal under the moon. There is someone here, and I know this because the wind is still blowing. My hair whips around my head, the leaves dance on the branches. And also because the rain still falls. It soaks me and the soil, the branches, the rest.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample The sun and earth are still tumbling about each other like kittens, and so there is still day and still night, one following the other the way it has always been. Things did not freeze over. There was no cloud of dust to cover the bowl of sky, the last thing the dinosaurs saw. And there is this presence, some force still keeping things in order while I am its only audience. So of course I know I cannot be alone. I do not see this person in physical form, of course, but I see the leaves dance on their branches and I feel the sunlight and I can count the stars under the moon. I am the only one to see these things, I know that much. And I know that they do not happen by chance. No. I am the audience for this actor. Is it you? Are you some part of the wind I feel and the water that rains down? Are the people I knew when they were still here, now some section of everything that is still here? When I go will I become the wind, and dance in branches and push surface water around? It must be.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Morning Coffee Two cups: on the counter, waiting. Coffeepot bubble, puff, gurgle, and done. Two cups: filled with the dark steamy brew. The hollow sound of the carafe as I slide it back into the socket where it nestles snug between burner and basket. Two cups: one made of glass, one white one for my love, and one for me. The opacity of cream billowing through, the swirl blending dark with light as the spoon stirs maple syrup in. I hand the glass one to my love and resume the morning's perch upon the couch. Today we smile over the fragrant potion another sweet element linking morning to morning, day to day-like each meal, like feeding the beasts, like turning the lamp off to begin our drift into sleep. Simple rituals, a chain of moments coiling, spiral through changing weather and wind through the rolling seasons. So there are two cups on good days, when our love and our chores seem light as milkweed silk; and there are two cups on bad days, when our souls are afraid, and all seems as fragile, and tense, as a lace of glass. Oh, sip with me the warming, bitter drink. Sip with me the sweet and rich. Each morning of this life, warm your hands beside me upon the glass of your cup. Each morning arrive here, begin again, and see what the day will bring.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Labyrinths Kids we are, tuned to the frequency of what-must-be-done. Fighting for it, to see it to hold it to taste it for ourselves and lose ourselves within it. Lose our selfs in this flow, feed our souls forward into it. Love is not enough, food is not enough, light is not, life is not enough without the invisible glimmering thread leading. Pulling, can you follow? Are your fleshes strong enough to follow it and are your minds strong enough to stay on the path forever? I walked the labyrinth with my mother. Different from mazes, she said, labyrinths have no tricks, no traps. Following her, I walked past pine stumps melting slowly under mosses, pine bark lines laid out, with oak leaves drifted over them, cat brier weeds taking over some parts, rocks laid carefully side by side, bricks built, tree roots. As we walked around and around, each quadrant of the pattern was a different style. The path led all the way in to the center, where grew a tree, a tall oak. People had left things there, a driver's license, a necklace, coins. I had nothing to leave, no trinkets, so I knelt at the knees of the oak and scratched into the loam a few words, just sketches of hope and trepidation. Then my mother told me that a labyrinth has only one way in, one way out. To leave I had to walk the labyrinth again, all the way. It pulled at me, the thought of walking all the way back around and around and around and out. I could see the exit gate, I could just step over a line or two to get there. Of course that was the best choice. But not the lesson. Patience, I told myself. The path goes all the way. The point is not to escape not to move on quickly to the next thing. Is there any way to escape? The only path is the one you must walk, all the way, with your own feet. It is here on the earth that you must stand.
Tank Eating Goldenrod Many of the leaves have dried, the flowers are gone and the noxious pollen. Dried seeds and their dusty-looking parachutes of fluff remain in the flower spikes. Tank, one of our two young goats, is eating the few green leaves that remain along the stalk. Even these are dry, and I can hear a faint crunching as her sweet fuzzy muzzle takes them in. She noses a few more stalks then looks away, tail waggles. She passes near me and I stroke her side to feel how her fur is growing in for the winter. It's deeper now than a month ago. Both fluffy and coarse. Most of the dandelions are gone. It's late October. But near the goldenrod beside the driveway one blossom has opened and one very focused bee (her transparent wings glint gold when she tilts them toward the low sun) paws through the petals for the pollen, the nectar. I know how to do this, I think. I know how this is. Needle-in-a-haystack seeking. When I separate seeds from dried pods, sifting and sorting. And I have put my mammal face into a flower. I have tasted nectar, albeit with my warmblooded vertebrate body. Smelled the scent, and coated my nose in sticky, staining lily pollen. Felt the wet silk of petals. Held a passel of thoughts in mind, pushing gently away the meaningless, seeking softly for the point.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Footprint In 2006 I met a group of artists who were examining the footprint of the proposed Atlantic Yards project, a highly contested development that would plop the New Jersey Nets stadium into the middle of downtown Brooklyn, covering over the massive ditch that held the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road. At issue was the city's use of eminent domain to seize properties and allow the development to move forward. In various ways, we documented and explored the few people still living in the footprint, and the space itself. I was taking photographs. ---Atlantic Yards is a challenging location for me. It's a new home, this side of Brooklyn. A place I've only called home for the past few years, which have also been the first years of my adult life. So there's no deep and unintelligible perception of the meaning of this place, as there is with my hometown, where I'm used to shooting. The politics of its pending change are the singular impetus for my wandering up and down Pacific Street. And this is still New York city—a landscape and a built environment that dwarfs us. We feel it, always craning our necks up to see the sky better, but it's cut off in jagged chunks between rectangular prism buildings. For someone who wants to take pictures of a landscape, a view, this place can be disappointing and frustrating in its repetitiveness. Every corner seems to be four cubic forms that meet across a busy intersection I can't stand in the middle of, at least not long enough to get the shot I really want, one bisected by the sidewalk's angle, straight up the pointed edge of one cube. Interesting pictures come, or at least interesting views, from those places in this landscape that are different. And Atlantic Yards is different. As I've been wandering I find myself sticking to Pacific Street, right up alongside the rails, or, more precisely, the huge pit that contains the rails. It is still a minimizing landscape, one that makes me feel how slow walking is, how short my legs are, but for once at least the sky is easy to see. Huge swathes of sky wrap around the Hanson Place tower and Atlantic Center Mall. The ditch that contains the rails is immense, a city block or more wide, and at the deepest end a few stories down. This is not what I would call a thriving area. The most impressive thing is the emptiness. Hardly anywhere in New York City echoes. It's a metropolis of bustle, density, and action. But here are empty buildings, the tenants already evicted by landlords eager to sell to the developers of the Atlantic Yards project. The remaining signs of life emphasize the waiting quietness of the rest of the street. A few loud and rambunctious children play near Vanderbilt Avenue, and one large apartment building still contains life. Further down towards Flatbush there are some businesses and some more residences, including one building with a single name, "GOLDSTEIN, D", still decorating its slate of disused doorbells. That's the stronghold of the activist Daniel Goldstein, who is almost single-handedly fighting the development. Contributing to the gigantism surrounding me—enhancing my feeling of being tiny—are the summertime plants that have sprung up to almost my five and a half foot height along the unattended and untrampled curbs. Native New Yorker weeds growing up lushly and emphatically in the right season. Their leaves are green and supple, their flowers are white or lavender. I recognize a few, the queen anne's lace and thistles. The wall that once blocked the view of the rails from the sidewalk has long since cracked and buckled into reinforced concrete shards that have been artlessly grafitti'd in just a few colors, like budget printing. A chain link fence rises up above the shards, still impeding my photographs like it seems New York City is determined to do, but at least I can see what's on the other side. This place is almost a ruin, almost relaxing in it's decay. A man even curled up to sleep on the wide concrete wall as I watched the sun set...but this is just neglect, not the elegant decay of a true ruin. This is an urban wasteland nobody ever had anything good to do with. No grand, elaborate ideas have graced Pacific Street, like those that created Central and Prospect Parks, or Grand Central Station. And this is really the issue, in the end. The one person with an idea of what to put in this negative space and the confidence to fight to realize it (why not call him an artist, isn't that what we do?) is Bruce Ratner, speculator extraordinaire. A very rich American male who likes to build things to make his money. Who must think of himself
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample as some sort of demigod...and who has really really awful taste. Something should be done with this wasted land. But one look across from where I stand on Pacific Street shows an unappealing option. Atlantic Center Mall was developed by Ratner, is this what we have to expect? Neon lights slapped across the uniform mass of a big-box building proclaim the presence of familiar shops from my suburban childhood—in this most urban of cities. It's not that Target is offensive or anything. When it has what I'm looking for I definitely appreciate it, but this sort of development is disappointing in its predictability, is uninspiring, and it constrains diversity with high rents only massive corporations can afford. The landscape of most of suburban America is infested with shops like these, where the citizen-consumers are kept safe and entertained with cheap "things" that are supposed to make them happy—and sort of do. Isn't this city unique, or is that just my own projection? I came here, to the Metropolis, to transcend everything I could about that other landscape; the conservatism, the corporate commerce, the homogeneity. Maybe this part of Brooklyn is the sprawly addendum to NYC. This neighborhood isn't wealthy or famous. It's a convergence of thoroughfares—the perfect place for a massive shopping mall development. These forces at work, the developer, the compliant government, these are what shape America's environment. Perhaps this project's opposition is all that makes it special. People trying to speak, trying to get the powerful ones to hear them. The bizarre strip of neglected land however, the long ditch in the middle of everything, serving as a sort of mental gutter to the action of the main streets, in my experience this too is common to much of America. Expensive commerce abuts complete neglect. No coherent or holistic awareness to flows or resources guides construction or permitting. Capitalism, speculation, and private real estate developers like Ratner perpetuate clunky awkward growth. I’m sure my attitude seems equivocal, unsympathetic to the human community that has lost its home. But I’m responding to the environment as a newcomer, as well as attempting to understand the “other side”, the viewpoint of the developers (great ecological force that they are). To that end, these pictures are a tool to aid my wandering and observation, as I contemplate this place. I'm documenting this marked space, a neighborhood that stands like trees marked to be cut down. Daniel Goldstein's name still clings ominously to the doorbell panel. And those plants are growing hard, thriving and ignorant of what's to come. Part of me says this fate is unavoidable, this development, the ousting of the renters, the corporate capitalism. And part of me says, fine! It's filling in a literal hole in the urban fabric, on what grounds can we object? The traffic issues and bad taste notwithstanding, development of some kind to fill in this gap would create opportunity for community to thrive. It might be expensive rental space, it might be bland, ugly, corporate, and it will definitely be different than before, but right now it's a ditch that nobody can use except the LIRR trains. But part of me loves this hole, loves the chaos it makes explicit. It says so much, this hole, this gash, and the fight over it. It speaks of power, and the struggle for power. It speaks of that force-destryoer entropy, that threatens all the money-making schemes of those who fail to recognize its strength. The kind of development that proceeds with the brute force of capital to change the fabric of a neighborhood, without an understanding of native energies, flows, needs, and desires will always call down upon itself a kind of waste that looks like this. It will all end up in a ditch of it's own forgetting, the shadow space space it ought to have attempted to fill with intention. ---The fight wages on. A few years have passed since I began working with the other artists of the Footprints project. The development remains stalled. The hole remains open.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Mapping Yesterday I biked out into what I thought was unknown territory, down Court Street past what I'd seen before and knew as known. I had come off the Brooklyn Bridge and it wasn't time to go home yet. The evening was thick with spring. Clouds were dangling heavily, grey and deep, threatening rain but never more than sprinkling it. Light was still up, but thick somehow, and almost greenish in a milky way down by the horizon. Trees everywhere were newly lush, neon, and past the point of springtime regrowth that you can remember what they looked like in the winter, as sticks. Looking at them, seeing them pass in my peripheral vision as I rolled on into the cool misty evening down Court Street I felt a deep sense of relaxation, and a kind of peaceful gratitude, for their regrowth. When they're back in leaf you don't have to worry anymore, not that I actively felt worried during the winter. It's funny to notice a feeling that should have begun as its opposite, but that you never apprehended in time to compare it to how you feel now. I was breathing in air that was comfortable chilly, laced with the scent of new leaves and pollen, amongst all the typical street smells of a busy street. That smell would soon fade. In the middle of summer the trees give shade but nothing more, the sidewalk bakes, and the winter's worth of things spilled on it, rotting invisibly, take over where the pleasant springtime smells leave off. I relished the feeling of being in a new place, out beyond where I had biked or walked before, and my mind had shifted gears into that mode we use when smelling out a newplace. Everything seemed exotic and poignant for it. New coffee shops and bread stores. People who had to take some train I didn't know to this place, were walking routes I didn't know to their homes. Bakery, Salumeria, it seemed Italians lived here, so I told myself a story of old mafioso gentlemen retiring to this green part of Brooklyn, where nobody would bother them anymore. And their grandkids could eat bread and sausage and tomatoes, and run around with sticks and baseballs. Now a wealthier set of young people lived here, and I saw them too, walking past the restaurant on the corner, in little sweaters and skirts or jeans, to their wonderful homes, and only they knew the way there. I would have to guess, or follow them to know. But then I passed a restaurant called Frankie's and instantly I knew where I was. I'd been here several times, it wasn't new at all. My friend Gabe lived nearby, above the restaurant no less, and the highway I was approaching was the one near the Smith-9th Streets subway stop. My world collapsed in size. As I kept riding it continued to do so. I ended up winding up and down streets in the neighborhood, and found the Gowanus Canal at the end of an alley, where huge semi-trucks were parked and growling. Once years ago I'd walked down along the Canal taking pictures for my first photography class. But this was some other view, much closer to the outlet into the harbor than we had come on that day years ago. A strange houseboat was parked there. A large brick building with vines across its side was visible in the distance, and directly across the canal a newish looking brick warehouse. Looking at the houseboat, the broken brick building with the vines, I had a disorienting feeling of recognizing something that had been altered, or it could be a false memory, one that offered a thin and thinning resemblance to itself. Looking at the new warehouse, I remembered a photograph I had taken at the end of another, similar alley near the Canal. My favorite part had been the colors of the rusting metal roof of the warehouses. Something about the current view felt the same, but that striking roof was not there. It must have been another alley someplace along
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample the canal. Wouldn't I have remembered the route here? It couldn't be the same place because something else would have had to jog those memories. They were important. That was a very important day. It felt like waking up within a dream. Often in dreams I’ll begin to suspect irrational occurrences, almost to the point of realizing I'm dreaming, but some trusting nature tempts me to accept them as reality in the end (even though they are not). As if I just didn't know reality like this was possible yet, but I ought to trust it. I'll figure it out eventually, I reason. Don't question too hard or you'll ruin the experience for yourself. Then, biking on, down Carroll Street, I turned my head briefly to the right, and saw a yard where a fleet of Mister Softee ice cream trucks were parked, with the vine-covered building rising up behind it, and an old Italian restaurant across the street. I inhaled quickly. Another picture from that same day years ago is of that yard and trucks and the building. When I took those pictures I remember feeling that this place, Carroll Street, was very far away from anyplace I knew, and how would I ever find my way back? (only by accident, apparently) Those old warehouses with the tin roofs must have been torn down since that day, but it was the same alley next to the canal that I had almost remembered when staring at the houseboat (like an amnesiac waking up). A church bell started toning that it was seven PM in the damp spring air under heavy trees between the brownstones on Carroll Street, and the embracing tree-scent was cloying. I remembered that day years ago walking with Matt in Brooklyn to take pictures at the end of summer. On that day I was smelling out a new place. A day and route and place that I had accidentally repeated, centering it now in the context of the present, in a Brooklyn no longer new, but now thoroughly mapped. Mapped because I live there, commute across it each morning and evening, buy groceries and live an entire life. This whole city was once a place I'd never seen, but had become a homeland.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample We are Christmas Think of the carols you know, and think about what they speak of. Walking in a winter wonderland Frosty the snowman Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow Dashing through the snow, A white christmas Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose Where are all the songs of Florida's winter? The warmth and wetness. The trees that wait until spring to shed leaves. The long-awaited, and too-brief relief from summer's heat. There are shortened days, but not very short; and frost does come, but is somehow always unexpected. Winter is when the citrus ripens, precariously, and the growers go to great lengths to save the fruit from the ever-unexpected frost. One time it snowed. It was 1989 I was a child who had memorized the carols of New England's winter long ago And I saw snow. White covered the ground of the backyard, at last! My backyard. Snow had always been the major elusive element of Christmas. Sometimes it would come, but people called it “flurries” dismissively—so I learned not to expect much from this word for snow. If you were lucky, you could catch one of the fat, wet flakes on your tongue, like in Charlie Brown. And when flurries came they said, “It's going to snow, but it won't STICK.”--so I learned that sticking was what real snow should do. And I waited. Many mornings that winter I would peek between the slats of the blinds covering our bedroom window, and on all but one I saw the grey sand of our coastal island's earth, and the thin covering of green grass. The green oak leaves, green azalea leaves. No snow. No white, magical, glittering cover. My eyes hungered for it.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Then one morning, they saw it, white. No grey soil or green grass. I remember calling out to my still-sleeping sister (who normally I was afraid to awaken) “Hannah, it snowed and it stuck.” It was a matter of fact announcement, and very brave given her customary grumpiness in the morning. I had to relay the urgent information before hurrying to get dressed. Oh, the city was in a tangle that day! Bridges had to be closed, in a city full of bridges. Cars and drivers were perplexed by the conditions. Two inches will do this in a town without one plow or snow tire. Our hot, faithful sun made quick work of the snowfall, and since the ground was unfrozen (has never frozen) it all sank away into the hungry sand. Here and gone again in the space of a weekend. I can still see the glimmer of meltwater running along the driveway in the glaring sun. Our culture speaks and sings and shows images of seasonality—the beautiful, extreme seasonality of New England—and all experience is judged according to that measure. Springtime flowerings, harvest at the end of the summer's endless days, leaf fall in autumn after the flame-burst of foliage color. Snow in winter, which is long, cold, and dark. Sledding, snowmen, snowball fights—these are what children are taught to relish in winter, even if they live in Florida. In shops false maple leaves in bright goldenrod and crayon-orange are used as decorations. Floridians carve pumpkins for Halloween. Pumpkins, the hardy winter squashes perfect for months of storage and sustenance, this in a climate fit for watermelons. In shops fake snow is used as decoration, and paper snowflakes adorn racks of bagged candies, themselves with shiny snowflakes printed on their wrappers. In Florida Santa Claus still wears his trademark furs (although I have seen him wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and surfing, but the fur hat remains), he still hires arctic reindeer to haul his sled—a vehicle useless on green grass. I moved away for college, to New York. The first year, and even many years later, I experienced the iconic seasonality of the northern lands as a poignant emotional journey. The first autumn my heart fluttered as the days shortened, I marveled at how views open up as leaves begin to dry and shrink, then gradually fall away. And the leaves do fall, golden in the height of crisp autumn. It is cold, and snow comes in the winter—just like in the movies, I remember saying to myself the first year. The days of snow and winter were so short that first year it made a lump form in my throat as the light seeped irrevocably away starting in late afternoon.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample Now I sing the songs with impunity. Yes, it is a winter wonderland, and the crystalline snow sparkles on sunny days. Yes, let it snow, I'll sit inside with my love, in our warm, warm nest. Yes, Christmas is white. Rarely, but sometimes Thanksgiving is too. The traditions of the winter holidays aren't superficial in this climate—stringing lights, singing songs, and bringing conifers indoors to celebrate the lasting power of their greenness. But I wonder, where are the songs of Florida's winter, or New Mexico's? Where are the songs for Mississippi's winter, or the islands off the coast of the Carolinas? Here in New England is the Christmas everyone else sings about, and the catchy, simple songs have created the experience of Christmas out of their minute story-forms. Back home the spanish moss hangs grey and tangled in graceful garlands from the live oaks. The warm breath of summer is never more than a few weeks away. But the same songs are playing on the radio and especially in the shopping malls, songs about snow and winter, songs for the archetype of the season.
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample
Losing seasons. Climate change daydream. Tonight I am staying with Sophia’s parents instead of commuting to Burlington after work. They live in Woodstock, Vermont, a small town near Dartmouth College. I walked into town to get a can of diced tomatoes so Vassie could finish making dinner. The walk is down a steep hill, a twisting narrow road, past a dozen or so New England homes, and onto Main Street to the grocery store. Today it was drizzling and threatening rain. The air was cool but thick with moisture, making me sweat as I returned up the steep road. Spring is underway here, is engaged in what now seems an inexorable expansion of green. All contours are off, all shapes are up for sudden change as leaves and flowers burst open. Nothing stays the same for even a day, as those leaves fade from gold to green, the flowers drop their petals, the grass grows longer and thicker. Spring is powerful here. The glory and promise of the spring and summer in Vermont seem to match the length and darkness of the winter. I don’t know for sure yet. Last summer was my first in Vermont, and last winter was my first. This spring is also my first (after this my experiences will be overlaid with seasonal memory, which will build in layers like leaf mold in a deciduous forest). I know that this winter was hard for me. The darkness, especially after the glut of light taken in while vegetable farming in the summer, was hard. Harder than that was my experience of the broken economy of our era, and my struggle to find a job. The hardest thing to endure was a desire to get my life started, strangled by lack of opportunity, and a real uncertainty as to what would come my way. So I greet this spring with deep gratitude, perhaps an extraordinary sort, and perhaps a sigh of relief that future springtimes won’t inspire in me. This spring my life is secure (I found a job, at last, and it’s truly wonderful), and the warmth, the returning light, the green, well that is all just icing on this glorious cake! This evening, as I walked in the fragrant dusk, smelling new grass and decaying leaves, and wet stones, I thought about spring. I thought about the power of seasons, and what they mean to a community like this. Spring matters because it is beautiful, of course, but also because of winter. This land (normally) freezes hard in the winter, and the people here struggle together to make it through. They shovel the heavy snows off their driveways and sidewalks. They pay men with plows to clear the roads. They salt the pavement so it can be walked and jogged on, and padded by dogs’ paws. People check on one another if power goes out. They care for the homebound. They manage to make it to church. They make soup and light woodstoves and sleep more. They have fun in the strangeness of snow, as well, snowshoeing, skiing and sledding. Winter is important, and it occurred to me that this is part of what we stand to lose in the coming decades of global warming. I don’t think any scientist is ready to say what outcomes we’ll experience from the excesses of the industrial age. Maybe my speculation about milder winters is unfounded. That doesn’t matter for the sake of the speculation. This is my imagination, not a peer-reviewed exercise. What happens to a community like Vermont if the experience of seasonality changes significantly?
Jennifer McCharen – Writing Sample The ever-returning cycle of seasons is a dynamo. It’s turning from darkness and cold back to light and warmth gives power to the beings that call this place their home. The human beings tell stories to one another about this turning. They have traditions, they have habits and a calendar associated with events in the natural world, like maple sugaring. This, I thought, is one thing that could be taken from us if our climate changes. Our traditions of seasonality could lose their meaning, or at least lose their reliability. What traditions are these? What could be lost exactly? Then I realized that this loss of tradition and story has actually been going on far longer than the past two decades of awareness about anthropogenic global warming. The industrial age itself started the process of eroding our need for tangible relationships with the natural world, in which we exercised our capacity for observation, our memory, and our ability to tap others’ memories by story telling. So I don’t know, but I would like to find out. What is left of ecological culture in America?