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Melodies fill the air from the steady croaks of the brown frog combined with the cluster of red-winged blackbirds singing as they perch on treetops.
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Go alone to the river or a lake or a cemetery, any place outside that will allow you to encounter the natural world and be alone. Choose a spot carefully, where you feel not only secluded but interested by, and in, your immediate surroundings. Think small. Record in writing only what your five physical senses experience. Write your first publish quickly, without editing, and leave yourself and your subjective viewpoint utterly out of what you write. Here’s how:
Do not use the pronominal “I” (or any variation of point of view, i.e. second or third person). Do not include other people in your descriptions. Be as specific as possible. Implode the moments, on the page, of your attention not simply to the leaf, the root, the stone, but to the precise leaf-hand of the white oak, the loblolly pine beading amber sap, the chunk of milky quartz streaked with mica. Memory should not invade here, nor should desire, nostalgia, philosophy, or subjective interpretation. Again, avoid any reference to the self. (And don’t avoid the “I” problem by using the passive voice, as in “a mockingbird is seen.”) Try to capture not only the image(s), as in a photograph, but capture in the same way all of the sense impressions available in a selected landscape. Particularly notice smells, which humans tend to give low epistemological priority, as opposed to, say, dogs. Do not attempt to impose structure on the paper beyond the use of those units of attention we call sentences and paragraphs. But make sure you use those: write in complete sentences, and use paragraphs. They have a purpose.
The primary purpose of writing this paper is to learn basic techniques of both sensory description and (since you are writing away from your self) writing from a theoretically “objective” point of view. The exercise is also designed to stimulate you to consider the nature of writing, how it, as an act, is related to the world you are observing and attempting to recreate on the page, and how the idea of “objective” writing is problematized by that very act of observation.
The sun beams on a warm winter day as it thaws out the frost that remains on the wilted grass. A small brown spotted frog wakes from its hibernation under a rock near the surface of the large body of water. The grass cushions the frog as it hops slowly towards the large lake whose slight waves push the fallen leaves towards the surface. As the frog prepares itself to sing, its vocal sac expands, stretching its dark brown skin until it turns into a light yellow slowly deflating and releasing its mating call. Melodies fill the air from the steady croaks of the brown frog combined with the cluster of red-winged blackbirds singing as they perch on treetops. A sharp musky smell rises from the thick blanket amber leaves that pile up under an oak tree. A sudden rush of cold air interrupts the gentle sound of rustling leaves as they settle on the forest floor and the splashes of fish inside of the dark rippling lake. The wind moves across the bright blue sky filled with fluffy purple and pink cumulus clouds as the sun begins to set over the horizon. The smell of the moist clay fills the air as the wind dances with the tall thin trees throughout the small deciduous forest, forcefully ripping the withered leaves off of the branches. The leaves spiral away from the trees, surfing on the cold wind on their way to the ground.
In the midst of the forest, near the edge where the water kisses the surface stands firm a large tree whose thick trunk and branches are unwilling to sway for the harsh winter wind. Although the stiff branches freeze in place, the wind still manages to snatch away its leaves. The winds carry away the leaves of the tall gray barked tree into the neighboring lake,
leaving the long branches bare. Leaves varying in color fall into the lake and gather up at the surface forming a large ring around the edge of the round body of water. Bright green moss creeps up and between the deep grooves and rough gray bark surrounding the surface of the giant tree. The tree towers over the forest although it has a short thick trunk, the long branches stretch up towards the clouds and triple the tree in size. Its branches start off thick and defiant towards the bottom and become frail and thin towards the top. Standing upright on the uneven bumpy ground with its thick roots bursting through the moist grass weaving in and out of the earth and finally embedding the tips of its roots deeply into the red soil.
A flock of red-winged blackbirds fly towards the giant tree, landing one by one on the treetop. On every branch was a bird perching on the bare branches, filling the tree with their jet black bodies. Slight peaks of vibrant color shine as they stretch their wings and land on the tree. The birds stand like dark ornaments covering the trees and filling up the spaces where the light shines through the branches. A few red-winged blackbirds struggle to keep up with the large flock, they reach the tree shortly after most of the group has already landed. One of the small birds land on a tiny twig near the bottom of the tree, it’s dark rusty feathers cover the majority of the vibrant red shoulder patch. The bird opens his sharp- pointed bill and joins the choir as they sing their distinctive song. At the highest point of the tree, a bird begins to stretch out its wings and prepares to take flight. The rest of the birds follow behind, one after the other they stretch out their black wings and fly off of the tree. A giant black cloud of birds moves across the sky as they abandon the tree.
A wrinkled browned leaf remains next to two green pea-sized buds on the short shriveled stem where the bird is perched. Dangling firmly on the thinnest tip of the frail twig, the leaf struggles against the strength of the winter wind. The slightly spiked perimeter of the almond- shaped leaf curves inward as if the leaf was caving in or trying to wrap around itself resembling the abandoned shell of the horse conch and the appearance of a
wave that is about to crash at the surface. With the tips of the leaf nearly touching, the inside of the leaf is almost completely hidden away by the rolled exterior of the leaf. As the wind pulls back on the leaf incapable of prying open the hardened edges, it instead tilts the leaf by its stem attempting to remove it from the tiny twig. One thick vein coming from the stem and splits the fragile leaf in half as it runs straight up through the center becoming more and more fine as it reaches the top. The vein starts at the center and begins to branch off its thin black arms in an alternating pattern to every collapsing edge of the leaf. The wall of the cascading leaf is a bright amber that is covered by its rolled exterior. Through the cracks where the edges do not meet, the wonderful color exposes itself, the burnt orange contrasts greatly with the dark crisped edges of its dark exterior and the deep color of its veins.
With a tiny impulse on the immature branch, the small bird flaps its wings and makes his way towards his flock. The slight impulse shakes the tip of the tiny branch where the leaf hangs. Releasing its strong grip on the trembling branch, the brown leaf now falls freely away from the tiny twig, towards the neighboring lake. The leaf glows like fire through the neutral tones of the withering forest as a glimpse of sunlight shines through the leaf. The leaf lands on top of a small sedimentary rock and tumbles into the ring of leaves at the edge of the large body of water.
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