Final Thoughts

When I first heard about this course I was sitting in a dark internet cafe in Bolivia full of grime and people shouting things I couldn’t understand. I was just… Read More

When I first heard about this course I was sitting in a dark internet cafe in Bolivia full of grime and people shouting things I couldn’t understand. I was just beginning to realize that my life back home was waiting for me to make some decisions on what classes to take and even if I was going to go back to school in the first place, so I paid a few coins and logged onto Facebook, (little did i know I left my account logged in and returned to some vulgar and hilarious statuses in spanish on my account.)  Katie had messaged me and sent me this poster to the course the day before the final deadline. When I read through the poster, squinting by the blinding light of the screen, I was in awe that this class actually existed. I immediately got my teacher recommendation in and signed up for the course… well I thought, I guess I am going back to school after this. Experiencing the depths of the landscapes in Bolivia and Peru without my phone or computer or even a camera, I thought it would be interesting to come back here and analyze the Blue Ridge mountains through a lense and try to gather up the skills to be a functional technology literate human in this society. I came into this course being an alien to technology and building websites and though I think I have a lot more to work on and understand I am so happy with how our website turned out and that I am opened up to these technology mediums for expression.

I honestly feel so connected our professors, Ken and Joe. Even though we met through a screen, throughout my college experience thus far you two are the only professors that have evoked my truth and essence. I miss those first classes where all we did was talk about literature and ideas on nature and our relationship to it, if I could get paid to do that that’s all i would do with my life. I do regret that once we started building our website and lost the structure of the class, I may have lost some of my initial passion and creative writing. I wish that I had spent more time alone in the hills of Craggy just writing with no expectations. The fact that what I was writing needed to be submitted and graded on our website choked the flow of my writing for some of the course and didn’t allow everything I felt I could experience and write about to arise.

I also want to continue this project because though Craggy is a beautiful breathtaking landscape, I don’t think it’s real and applies to the rest of the world. Hardly anyone these days gets to visit such a unique landscape away from human civilization. I wanted to develop a new nature writing voice that applies to where we are living right now. A voice that isn’t as romantic and distant, isn’t as nostalgic and full of desire. I think I began to do this, and I had no idea a voice like this could exist before taking this course so I’m definitely on my way to redefining my used up nature voice. We just couldn’t resist being able to have an excuse to go to Craggy all the time. So if I did this course again, I would pick an abandoned house in the middle of a city or a rooftop.

So what I’m most proud of as a result of this course, is the new platform I have to express my voice… It has gotten old reading good ol’ Thoreau and Emerson when a new truth is seeping out in this century. I just want to do whatever will allow me to be with the trees, I wish there was a major in being a Lorax. I have a intimate writers mind that wants to transform all pain into art that people can be touched by, and understand the world better through experience and connection. I’ve been told that doesn’t get you by in this world. So what I’m taking from this course is a new way to express my truth, and to create a way for me to be a  “nature writing scientist”.

As Whitman says:


“When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,


Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


Self Reflective Essay

Coming into this class, I already had a background of science writing with the NeuWrite/Edu program at Geneseo and my own interest for weaving geology into my writing. I thought I had a tangential grasp at what nature writing was because of that. I mean, what’s more natural and close to the earth than the … Continue reading Self Reflective Essay

Coming into this class, I already had a background of science writing with the NeuWrite/Edu program at Geneseo and my own interest for weaving geology into my writing. I thought I had a tangential grasp at what nature writing was because of that. I mean, what’s more natural and close to the earth than the study and the telling of geologic stories? Over the course of this semester, the articles we read (from “Generation Anthropocene” to “Thirteen ways of seeing nature in LA”) helped me understand some of the aesthetics and theory behind nature writing that I hadn’t known, which is to say the articles helped me understand the difference between science writing and nature writing. They’re similar, of course. They’re probably two sides of the same coin, but the approach for nature writing is very different. It often seems to be more about the human experience with nature rather than the nature itself, and that by digesting a person’s interaction with nature we can learn more about it and our place within it.
I think, if I were to redo this project, that might be my focus, and I might have picked a different area that was within walking distance of campus. What I found difficult about the Greenway was making time to go and visit there to work on nature writing there, and that was partially due to the long winter we had in NY (maybe this course would work better in a fall semester?) and partially because I was taking five other classes this semester. I also found the depth of time that the Greenway spanned interesting, but overwhelming, and, while I’m okay with working with deep time, I wish we had dealt with it in a way that wasn’t chronological.
We did end up going semi-chronological, because that’s what made sense for the website. I think, personally, I found the website the limiting agent in the way we used it, because we were stuck between wanting to do something totally out of the box (navigation by way of map and the H5P plug-in), but we also felt like we needed to follow traditional website forms by way of navigational tabs. If I were doing this project again, I might ditch those tabs completely, and more clearly make the site pages feel like trail/historical markers.
All of this said, I am very proud of the website we put together. I’m proud that I learned to use all of these digital tools. I also really like the writing I did for the 2nd industrial revolution, and I love the cascade used in the environment tab a lot as well.
This was a really wonderful course. I wish that I had taken fewer classes alongside it, so that I could have really thrown myself into research and field trips, but even so it was great. This classed taught me so much about nature writing and digital humanities. My classmates and professors were all wonderful, and I can’t say enough good things about it other than I hope that Storied Landscapes and the work the COPLAC is doing continues into the future.


Before this class I never would have actively thought about the process of nature writing, especially in terms of using digital tools. In the past, any nature writing I had… Read More

Before this class I never would have actively thought about the process of nature writing, especially in terms of using digital tools. In the past, any nature writing I had done was for class assignments. While this was indeed a class, but this course made me think deeply about it and how we interact with the spaces around us.

In class we discussed how nature writing can occur in places such as bustling cities. The idea originally blew my mind. I had some difficulty seeing a place such as the Hoosac Tunnel as a place where nature writing can occur. But here I was, stepping forward suggesting it as a possible project of focus. And I wasn’t ready for this space to make the impact that it did.

Before this class, having any of my work visible to the rest of class would make me anxious, but in Storied Landscapes I knew my work would be on full display for not only my classmates, but anyone else who stumbles across it. This course gave me the confidence that I lacked in my writing, and my nature writing, and encouraged my creativity behind it. 

Focusing on the Hoosac Tunnel has been an adventure. At first, I was confused about the course. I didn’t know what to expect or what I would be doing, or if I could even do it. Thinking about designing a website made me nervous because it was not something that I was familiar with.

Getting information on the Hoosac Tunnel proved to be difficult in the beginning. We do not have an archivist on campus so we had to go to the public library. Unfortunately, that means that we were not allowed to search through the material on our own. The process: ask, and hope there is something. So we asked. And we were handed a single book on the Hoosac Tunnel. We thought that maybe this was all that we would have to work with. It was hard to care about the project when there was nothing to work with. And our other option for a location that we could visit, was equally as difficult in regards to the information that was in the vault. It was hard, and it was frustrating.

Frustrated, we went back and asked the reference librarian if there was anything at all in the vault (the archive). This time, we had a different response. We were told there was “too much”– “too much” to pull. Since we were not allowed in the vault to sift through all of the material, we were directed to an online database that holds all of the information. We had a new problem: we suddenly had too much information. What was it that we were supposed to do with all of this information?

Unfortunately, by the time we were directed to the website, and by the time we were finding things we could do, we were excited with all the options we suddenly had before us. But what we didn’t have: was time. With this set back we were not able to do everything that we really hoped we would do for this project. We had so many brilliant, if I do say so myself, ideas that we simply no longer had the time to do. Our time cut sort by snowstorms and rain on the only days the two of us were able to get down to the space.

I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the Storied Landscapes class this semester and can proudly say that through this class and some amazing teamwork, Erica and I have been able to create our Hoosac Tunnel site regardless of these roadblocks and plan to continue working on it past this semester. I am still very happy with the way the site has turned out by the end of this course and I’m excited to see it grow in the future. Having Professor Cooper and Professor Wiebe as the course leaders has been a blessing. They both were supportive and ready to help anyone in the class. Without Leah’s help I’m not sure I would have been able to even get this blog up and running.

This class has helped me developed skills that I didn’t realize I needed until I learned them and suddenly, so many doors have opened because of the skills I have under my belt. If I weren’t graduating I would have loved to take another COPLAC course.

Final Reflection

When first signing up for this course, I was not really sure what to expect. I guess at first when I was thinking of nature writing, I was thinking about… Read More

When first signing up for this course, I was not really sure what to expect. I guess at first when I was thinking of nature writing, I was thinking about Thoreau, John Muir and other conventional nature writers of the past. I have always enjoyed writers like these ones and have taken solace in reading about their encounters with this pristine image of nature involving lakes, flowers, mountains and the sky. These images resonated with me and inspired a lot of my own journaling and meditations about the outdoors, especially as I have traveled to our state and national parks. In my visits to these places though, there has always been something unsettling to me about how some of these places, at times, seem to act more like a business than a retreat for lovers of peace and beauty, so it has been increasingly difficult for me to reconcile even these places as places of true nature due to their influx of human activity and economics.

Coming into class with ideas like these, I was intrigued by the title of “21st century Nature Writing” because I wanted the ability to open my eyes to the differing perspectives of how people could view and write about nature in our anthropocentric age. In the first class though, as we discussed these complex topics about how we were supposed to view nature in the 21st century and how we were to reconcile using digital tools to write about nature, it was reassuring how others in the class, living in different environments with different surroundings of “nature” shared the same concerns about these issues as I did. Going through the readings of the course, I think they were really carefully chosen to challenge our typical notions of nature. The varying degrees of nature they exposed us to varied from the rolling prairie lands of Kansas to the inner city of L.A., with narratives sometimes focusing on primarily geological and environmental change, such as Jonathan Byer’s “Memories of Ice,” to very human focused narratives such as Lauret E. Savoy’s “Trace: Memory, History, Race and American Landscape.” The variations in the readings really helped me to open my eyes to a wider view of nature and also inspired me to be creative in the place we chose to focus on and how we went about telling the story of this place.

Before this class began, when I knew that we were to eventually choose a place of nature and do a project on it, I was assuming Lizzie and I would choose a place like Letchworth, because of its grandeur and prestige as a place of nature. However, as we began to do more research, our research librarian, Liz, mentioned something about the Genesee Valley Greenway. I had never before heard about this place, which surprised me because the Greenway connects my home in Rochester and my home in Geneseo. As Lizzie and I did more research we became really intrigued by the Greenway and its past history as a canal bed, railroad tracks and current day nature trail. Along with this historical intrigue, we also wanted to use the Greenway to challenge ourselves when thinking about how nature could manifest itself in more simple places, rather than just in our state parks.  

In creating this website, the archives really helped to give life to this place and inspire a lot of creativity with our writing. I had never taken part in archival research before, and this project gave me the opportunity to realize how cool old maps, journals and newspaper clippings can be. It was so much fun for me to look through these archival materials and use these voices from the past to create a more real narrative for me that would not have been possible if I was just looking through secondary sources. As I would read through journals of an old boat captain reflecting on his adventures as a kid on the old Genesee Valley Canal, the place would come alive to me and I could hear the sounds of the boat and its horn and people hollering at the various locks as I walked along the old canal bed on the present day Greenway. These archives really gave me a profound appreciation for the place and its history, with these archives being a good spur for the imagination to inspire my own writing about the place.

Before this course, I never would have considered myself to be good with technology. I would always get easily frustrated when trying to do things on a computer if they were not functioning properly, and working with WordPress often rekindled these frustrations. However, after creating this website, I am very proud of myself somewhat overcoming these struggles to create a website with a lot of technical tools within it. I am very proud with how JuxtaposeJS and ArcGIS cascade worked out in the website and how they fit in pretty seamlessly with the rest of the work.

Putting together the archival research, digital tools and personal narratives really helped to give me a clear vision of what I wanted the project to be about. It was useful to look at the history and look at the trail as it is today and explore how the trail was shaped by America as it tried to shape its identity. The canal bed remains remind us of the First Industrial Revolution and the bread basket America of the 1800’s, the railroad tracks remind us of the late 1800’s and 1900’s as America desired rapid expansion and technological advances, while today perhaps the Greenway suggests, or at least I would like to think, a focus on environmentalism and a more profound connection to nature.

While this path tells its tale chronologically, it also was useful to look at it as a whole and understand how the past and present combine to inform us of important enduring elements. Exploring the trail and using archival elements to support individual places along the trail, I was able to understand the importance of this place. For instance, in the Natural Resources page, I began to understand how the resources the Earth provides often give a key source of identity to people, fostering a healthy relationship with the Earth. In the Geology and Engineering page, I realized manmade ingenuity and the geology of the Earth – both of which the canal, railroad and greenway represent – can combine at times to create an awe in both man and nature. In the Abandonment page, it was cool to me to look at how past failed ambitions of man sometimes give way to something equally as valuable. In the Economics page, I realized that I still am questioning how easily economics and environmentalism fit together in this age, and in Environmentalism I was able to look at the varying degrees of “nature” along the Greenway and find some sort of reconciliation among the differences to form a more all-encompassing idea of nature in our present day. By looking at the path in this way and organizing our pages based on theme, more so than chronologically, we were able to comment on how the landscape presents a deep history in terms of what it can tell us about its geological past and the marks its history has made on the Earth, but also what it tells us about the people around this landscape and the values of the people at the time that have shaped it in certain ways and altered its evolution over time.

I get very obsessive about getting all the details when I am doing a project, so if I had more time  I would have loved to cover more about the place. The scope of the place is so large, both in terms of length of the Greenway itself, and the amount of archival information available, so with more time (and with better weather) I would have loved to visit the whole Greenway, or at least explore many other parts of it along with explore more of the archival information available in our library. I would have been excited to see the different directions this project could have gone when really getting an even deeper understanding that the scope of this place deserved.

Overall, this course was something different, interesting and challenging and I am so glad to have gotten the opportunity to take part in it this semester. I want to thank Dr. Wiebe and Dr. Cooper for being so great at facilitating stimulating conversation (even when you at first had to deal with a lot of awkward silences) and introducing us to ideas and writing that really challenged us to alter our viewpoints and be creative. I also want to thank all of my classmates because it was so awesome to be a part of such a diverse and intelligent group of people, and I learned so much from listening to your opinions and knowledge you shared.

Final Reflection

Nature writing is something I have loved since I was young. Throughout elementary school, I went on many nature and poetry walks, where I loved being outside and reflecting on… Read More

Nature writing is something I have loved since I was young. Throughout elementary school, I went on many nature and poetry walks, where I loved being outside and reflecting on what I experienced through writing. Since elementary school, nature writing has been something I have only pursued outside of classroom settings; I was very excited to participate in this course so I would once again be able to work on nature writing in class. I was also excited to participate in the fieldwork and research components of the class, and to do so with my dear friend as my project partner.

Reilly and I began our project with the proposal to research Craggy Gardens, a location in the Blue Ridge Mountains that is famous for its annual floral blooms. The mission for our project, which involved identifying and tracing human and ecological narratives within the Craggy Gardens “storied landscape”, is something that I am incredibly interested in. I was also interested in exploring the different metaphors we used in our project proposal. The primary metaphor we developed in our proposal was based on William Least Heat-Moon’s “deep map” as a method of exploring place. In our proposal, we also touched on the idea of human and ecological narratives as having been woven together into a single story, which uses fabric as another metaphor for a storied landscape.

I was very excited to begin researching Craggy Gardens and to explore these different ways of understanding place, but was also a little nervous about how our project would unfold. I was concerned that we might have undertaken a project that would be broad and difficult to develop, and was unsure of whether we would be able to find our own voices while writing about a location that had already been well documented. Snow and wintry weather also kept me from visiting Craggy Gardens for the first few weeks after we had decided on our project site.

In the meantime, I took several trips to UNCA’s archives and another trip to the archives of Asheville’s public library. Researching Craggy Gardens through archival sources was a wonderful way of exploring the landscape that helped me understand not only how the landscape had changed overtime, but also how it had meant many things to different people and shaped many people’s lives. I had not travelled to Craggy Gardens before beginning this project so, when the snow cleared and Reilly and I were able to travel to Craggy Gardens, I had a deeper appreciation for the history of the landscape than I would have had before

Our first visit to Craggy Gardens inspired us to reshape of our website. The hemlock and wildflower layers of the deep map of Craggy Gardens combined into a “vegetation” page. A “landscape” page, which we had considered including in our initial project contract but had not added up until that point, became the fifth layer of the deep map of Craggy Gardens. With the vegetation and landscape layers, we were still able to explore two ecological narratives of Craggy Gardens, but were able to do so more broadly. These pages also worked well as physical layers — sky layered over vegetation layered over landscape. We planned to combine these layers with human narratives, which we explored through archival research in the Blue Ridge Parkway and historical activism pages.

After we finalized the layers of the deep map of Craggy Gardens, we began to fill them in with a combination of information from archival sources, information about ecology and personal writing. I hope to be a biologist in the future, and felt that this quote by Robin Wall Kimmerer really encapsulated how I feel about the connection between science and the natural world:

“We measure, record and analyze in ways that might seem lifeless but to us are the conduits to understanding the inscrutable lives of species not our own. Doing science with awe and humility is a powerful act of reciprocity with the more-than-human world. Science can be a way of forming intimacy and respect with other species. It can be a path to kinship.” (Braiding Sweetgrass)

Science, as a discipline, also has its limitations, as it relies on hard facts and testable data as its primary source of information about the world. While scientific disciplines give us a very thorough ways of studying and learning, they lack many other equally important sources of information, such as traditional knowledge as well as one’s personal, intuitive experiences of the world. I was grateful to be a part of this class because it allowed me to explore other ways of knowing a place, which include history, stories, intuition and personal reflection. Robin Wall Kimmerer has more thoughts on the intersection of science with other disciplines, which she writes about in Gathering Moss:

“In indigenous ways of knowing, we say that a thing cannot be understood until it is known by all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit. The scientific way of knowing relies only on empirical information from the world, gathered by body and interpreted by mind. In order to tell the mosses’ story I need both approaches, objective and subjective. These essays intentionally give voice to both ways of knowing, letting matter and spirit walk companionably side by side. And sometimes even dance.” (Gathering Moss)

Throughout this project, I felt that the intersection of these disciplines — science, archival research and nature writing — complemented each other so beautiful as methods for exploring place. I loved this class because it gave me the opportunity to travel and write in the mountains with my dear friend. I learned a great deal about using digital tools and integrating those tools with nature writing, and about conducting archival research. I am so grateful to Ken, Joe and Leah for making it possible and for all of their help throughout this project!


Through the Storied Landscapes course, I learned a lot more than I thought I would. At the beginning of the course, I was hesitant. I did not know what I would get from the course, either as a grade or for what I would learn. I also was not sure what the final project would …

Continue reading “Reflection”

Through the Storied Landscapes course, I learned a lot more than I thought I would. At the beginning of the course, I was hesitant. I did not know what I would get from the course, either as a grade or for what I would learn. I also was not sure what the final project would be, what it would look like, and overall I was really unsure with everything that would come from the course.

In the beginning, I felt a bit confused and lost. This was definitely a fault of my own, as I didn’t take the time to ask questions or ask for clarification. I felt like everyone knew what was happening in the course and I was the only one that did not know what the course was really about. I feel like this was partly due to the fact that our campus doesn’t have a COPLAC trained person on site, so I felt like I was constantly scrambling to figure things out when others already had.

Part of the problem was trying to explain what exactly COPLAC is, and then trying to explain what the class is about, what exactly we needed as far as archive materials and information. It was really hard to get the information out of the reference librarians, they didn’t realize we wanted everything about the Hoosac Tunnel, and it took us quite a few tries to get all the information we could. It wasn’t like they were withholding information, it was like there was just too much and they just didn’t want to go find it all. It was really difficult to find information or get interested in the project itself when you’re not given all the information for a project until a few weeks before the project is due.

Once we were actually given all the information about the Hoosac Tunnel, it felt like a scramble to get everything together. We definitely did not have enough time to get all we wanted done, and we definitely did not do everything we said we were going to do to the website. One of the main issues with the website is the severe lack of video.

We really wanted to create an immersive experience with videos for each page. These videos would take visitors on something like a tour of each location, and in doing so would help visitors feel more for the location, taking them into the nature and not just the history of the location.

This idea fell flat for multiple reasons.

Firstly, the weather. We are situated in the Northern Berkshires, which creates quite a lot of snow in the winter. Even when the weather forecasts say it’s not going to snow, it does. The weather forecast will say it’s sunny and it’s not snowing, but you look outside to see snowflakes and two inches of snow on the ground! The consistency of the abnormal weather patterns made it difficult to go out and go to the locations.

Another problem we had was space on my computer, and other technological issues. My computer simply did not have enough memory to handle all the videos we had (only two videos we had made) and it was incredibly difficult to try to edit and upload videos while my computer kept getting hotter and hotter, and yelling at me that there was simply no more space on it for more files.

The third problem was time. We simply did not have enough time to create all we wanted to create. I wanted to get more and more information before we actually sat down and recorded something, as I wanted all the information to be correct, have ample sources, and be interesting for the viewer with ample shots of the location. By the time we got all of our information and the weather finally settled down, there was simply no time to do everything I wanted to do. If we had more information from the beginning, maybe I would have been able to accomplish everything I wanted, but maybe not.

If I had been able to do this project again, I think I would have been more aggressive in asking for and finding information. From the beginning it felt like we did not have any information at all, which was really disheartening. By the end, it felt like we had way too much information and no time to add it all.

I also would have bought an external hard drive or something so that I would be able to have more videos added to the site without fear of running out of memory on my computer. That alone was really frustrating and I don’t want to have to do that again. If I do a project like this again I’ll be sure to have some kind of secondary memory source so that I can do all I want to do.

Overall I am really happy with how the website came out. There is so much information that we have discovered through this project, and especially in learning about North Adams, it was really rewarding doing this project. Cassie and I have even discussed continuing with research of this project, and continuing to add to the website because of how interested we are in the topic. We have really started to understand why some people have become obsessed with the Hoosac Tunnel, because there is so much history and so many secrets to discover.

I am really happy I was able to participate in this course because it really allowed me to flesh out skills I already had and add more that I never thought I would have. I’m really happy with how the project came out and I’m really happy that I want to keep looking into the tunnel’s history.