Posts in: Block 6
Kathy stands at the front of our circle of chairs around the board room table. It is the last day of class and despite the laughing, there is a sense of sadness in the room. We all are going to leave for spring break the next day and may never convene in the same room together again. Our assignment for the day was called “the non-a-paper project.” We had to show something we learned in class through any medium but a paper. Basically, we could do whatever we wanted and be as creative as we wanted.
The first person to go was Olivia, she had us do an art project on a fixed v. growth mindset. The idea was to create an art piece on a sheet of paper that reminded us how that we should have a growth mindset, so aim to think of obstacles as places for growth not as the end of our journeys. The picture of her art is below, personally, mine was not pretty enough to be put on the internet.
Next, Dova had us create cardboard arcade games. On the first day of her observations, her 3rd-grade class was presenting on their cardboard arcade games. For us, we split into groups of 3 and had 5 minutes to create a game. Personally, I felt our group had the best game and we ended up playing with it after class also, called “Get Iced.”
For my project, I had each person write a personal fact, peculiar fact, and favorite memory from observations. Each person put their papers in a bowl and we picked one up at a time and pointed at the person we thought had written it. The goal of my project was to show how interpersonal relationships between students and teachers create a better learning environment. From my observations, I realized that teachers who had personal relationships with their students had a less disruptive classroom and the students were more focused. Therefore, I wanted to show our class because we became close to each other, we had a more productive learning environment.
The other projects included learning sign language, doing brain games to test our observational skills, writing one act of kindness we did in the past day, etc. This was a really fun way to end a fun and interactive class. After spending the past week working on a research project and presentation, we were able to be creative and have fun one last time together. Kathy had plenty of jokes that had us cracking up and in tears. She even had herself in tears multiple times, but those jokes will stay between our classmates.
Reflecting on this class, I am so grateful I chose to take the chance to come the first day and see if there was an open spot than not take it. The value of experiential learning was so valuable to combine the discussions and practicum. What gave the class life was our professor Kathy and my other classmates. Without an engaging professor and welcoming class community, learning can be stunted. In the end, I learned classroom culture is created by a professor and is translated by the students. Classroom culture is created not given, and it is a special and powerful skill to create *the* classroom culture like we were lucky to experience.
Nick and Avery working on their game. Olivia and our game, Get Iced. Olivia’s art activity on a fixed v. growth mindset.
Our last day of class observation has come and gone. 30 hours of K-12 class observation under our belts. Looking back on the past week I did not know how the class would end. It had been a rollercoaster of laughing and professionalism and overall block pandemonium. We spent week 3 doing more of the same class schedule. The biggest part of the week was that we had to end our time in our K-12 classrooms. For my fellow classmates, their students gave them notes and big hugs. This block has been so special and nostalgic. Going back to school for 7 hours a day took a toll on our energy, but I know for each of us it was an irreplaceable experience. We each created a bond with our host teachers.
For me, I appreciated being able to be part of the Colorado Springs community and learning about the city I have begun to call my home. The school district we were in is not based on the location of their house but instead where their parents want to send their children. Compared to my hometown, this is different because parents can choose which school is best for their children. One of my projects in class was to lead a discussion on the debate around school choice. School choice is when parents choose where they live to determine what public schools they will send their child to. Furthermore, it is linked deeply with socio-economic privilege because people with more money have more options of where they can afford to send their kids beside the neighborhood public school. This class has linked discussion and reading learning to experiential learning. In more ways than just observing what teachers do, we are learning how schools and school districts work and what that means for children’s learning and education opportunities.
The class was also a reflection based class. We spent many discussions in class talking about our own educational experiences. We talked about what types of schools we went to, how our teachers were, and all the contours of our educational experiences. I valued these discussions because I was able to reflect on the system I spent most of my life in so far. My educational experience shaped who I am and lead me to CC. Discussing our school lives also bonded us more as a class for we were sharing about experiences that shaped who we show up to class as today. When I was sitting in on classes, I spent much of my time observing the children and how they interacted with the classroom structure. I saw myself in many of the children and I began to connect who I was as a child to who I am now. Through the observations, I saw my growth from an introverted and socially anxious child to a confident college student. Making those connections for myself made me see how these children are going to learn so much in elementary school and learn way more when they grow up. I was seeing the importance of a productive education system to educate children and let them grow as people.
We all need space to learn and grow into who we are meant to be. This education class taught me so much about how beneficial experiential learning is and how looking at other K-12 educational experiences can help me understand learn about my own experiences. I was taken full circle and given space to make connections between educational philosophy and my own educational experiences. The block plan has provided me with so many special learning opportunities and this class is in the top 3 incredible ones, behind going on a hike and talking about existential philosophy. I would take this class over and over again if I could.
I began this class the moment I left my room on the first day. I believe the walk to class counts as a part of the experience. On a first Monday, you don’t know what to expect. You are about to plunge into a class that will completely define your life for the next three weeks. It’s a daunting commitment, and at times grueling. My point is that on the block plan, first impressions really do matter. I walked through the grand old doors of Palmer Hall, built in 1904. The basement and the first floor of Palmer are both pulsing hubs of student activity, housing major departments such as Business, Sociology, and Geology. The sandstone walls and stairs of this dignified old building have been worn down through their constant use. As I walk up to the second floor, all human activity seems to disappear. Pushing the door in and stepping onto the creaky hardwood floor, I know I’m about to meet the people who I’ll be deeply related with for the next short period of my life. I’m brought some relief when the face greeting me is the smiling, kindly face of our professor Ted.
I am one of four students in our class. The name of the class (the abridged version) is “Culture under colonialism in Ancient North Africa.” What we are studying is the way in which culture and society changed throughout North Africa — generally concentrating on the Hellenistic period. For those of you who aren’t Classics majors, the Hellenistic period refers to the three hundred years before the turn of the era. The way we explored the topics of the class was by meeting for three hours in the morning, every day.
During the first week of class, and even on the first day, we got into some pretty heavy and uncomfortable topics. It’s difficult to discuss the region of the ancient Mediterranean without also considering what the problematic cultural values were; deeply founded racism, mistreatment of women, blatant exoticization of people groups, and exploitation of the land, to name a few. On the first day, we discussed the definitions of ethnicity and race, and where we found overlaps and exclusive areas between the two. Along with the uncomfortable topics, we also had some uncomfortable sources. In terms of the sources we read for class, many of them are in fact from historians and geographers in antiquity. These ancient scholars lived in ancient times — understandably, they held the same antiquated cultural values of those times. This leads to some interesting phrases and representations of people. But it isn’t simply the ancient scholars who assign problematic labels. It is currently common practice within modern Classics departments to refer to indigenous North Africans as “Berbers.” Through a line of tracing people to their origins, it isn’t hard to figure out that “Berber” means barbarian, which is a deeply racialized implication.
Although talking about issues like this can cause real discomfort, that represents, in many ways, the beauty of CC. In order to truly learn and develop knowledge surrounding any subject, you also have to be willing to accept unpleasant truths about that subject. We grappled with this idea for several days.
“The block is halfway over” says Kathy as she starts Wednesday’s class. I am taken aback, it feels as if the class just started and now we are closer to the end than the beginning. The week was a whirlwind of 4th grade class observations and discussions. Monday and Wednesday were typical days in a CC class. We discussed our readings on what it means to be a teacher and debriefed our observation days. In a class of 8 students, there is no room to hide and not participate in the discussions. Tuesday and Thursday were spent in our K-12 observation classrooms. I am observing different 4th grade classes at a local elementary school. Everyday we have observation forms we fill out to turn into our teacher. They ask us to observe certain things about the class like interactions between kids and their attention or the decorations in the classroom. It focused our attention to not just what is being taught but to how the classroom is working. For me, it helps to understand the dynamics that make teaching difficult or easier. Lately, I have been reflecting on my time in K-12 also and how I contributed to a focused learning environment or annoyed my teachers.
I love this class for multiple reasons, but the main reason is because we are learning through experience. Spending over 12 hours in a classroom studying what a teacher does to control a classroom and how students contribute to a classroom’s culture is so special. I am able to connect our 3 hour discussions to the real world. One of my classmates is observing in a highschool and he is able to work with students as well as observe. Being in a classroom means we are interacting with students in the Colorado Springs community also. Sometimes Colorado College can feel like a bubble but the college creates opportunities and classes where students can be part of the Springs. For me, I spend significant time talking to my host teachers and asking about the dynamics of the school. Culturally and socio-economically, my school’s makeup is so much different than my friend’s school a mile away. I am grateful to be in this class doing such a cool immersive program and also being able to learn more about the city I am going to be living in for 4 years.
Friday was one of the best days of class this block. We went on a field trip to the Manitou Springs middle school to see their farm program there. The program was created by Barack Ben Amots, son of a music teacher at CC. 24 students at the middle school can take the farm class for their language arts class and they spend 3 hours before lunch learning in a classroom then doing work on the farm. They take care of the goats, build structures, or can read or write around the farm. It is a way for kids at the school to learn in an experiential setting and get outside. Talking to the students they said they like the farm because they do not have to be in a classroom all day and they are able to choose how they want to spend their time. They are encouraged to read and write if they do not want to do manual labor that day. The most incredible part for me was that they work on their teamwork and interpersonal skills also. For example, they do baskets where they gather in a group and either say what they are grateful for or what is making them sad that day and the group maintains an open communication about how they are feeling. I wish I had this program when I was in middle school for it would have helped me with friendships and also be more engaged in my learning.
I am grateful to be at CC receiving this experiential education now. Being able to see how the Colorado Springs community works and how reading relates to the real world is a special way that the block plans lets students learn outside of the classroom.
A week in the Classroom
Another first Monday, the students sit around a conference table with the hopes and worries for a new block written in front of them. It is the smallest class I have been in with only 9 students to fill the air space. The professor, Kathy Greene, comes in dressing with intention and greets the students. With a few quick words of humor, she has broken the stale air and everyone’s mouth has opened into smiles. We spent the first hour going over introductions and the assignment work for the class. Thanks to our icebreakers I can now tell you that Diya in the white headband hates peanut butter and Dova with the black nose ring really likes climbing. Some classes at school drone on, even with only 2 hours of sitting, but today suddenly I was aware it was 11 and it was time to leave. Kathy pulled our attention to our class by blending her light-hearted jokes with the finer points of the class. Our next assignment is to create a poster of a significant moment in our educational career. This class is not just a lecture, it is a combination of reading and active work in a k-12 classroom, then swept together under the direction of our 3-hour daily class meetings. The block looks educational, one could say, but a perfect example of the benefits of the block plan. Being able to learn about classroom culture then practice and observe a K-12 classroom experientially. Colorado College is about experiential learning, and Intro to K-12 Classroom Culture is the poster child.
Our class consists of 3 days of 3-hour classes at school and 2 days of sitting in on a K-12 class for a school day. For our Tuesday class, we spent time going over our readings and going on a walk. Kathy is an enticing teacher and also knows how to read a classroom and could tell we were all losing focus. So we walked around campus in the snow and talked to each other outside of the classroom setting. The cool part of having a class of 8 people is that we are able to bond together outside of the classroom setting. For example, Nick and I spent 15 minutes talking about our favorite board games and now our class is going to have board game nights. The block plan allows us to focus on one class and also create friendships with our classmates that reach beyond schoolwork.
Thursday was our first day in the K-12 classrooms. I was placed in a 4th-grade gifted class at Stratton Elementary. Susanna, Dova, and I walked in bright and early at 7:30 am to be greeted by the smiling Principal. We were each introduced to the teachers we would be shadowing for the next three weeks. My teacher’s name is Mr. Hoepfner. I spent the day observing as he walked his kids through improper fractions and The Westing Game. I had forgotten what being in class for 7 hours was like. Yet despite the long day of observing, I am grateful to have the opportunity to be immersed in a real K-12 classroom. The block is special for so many reasons, but this class has shown me how much I can learn from experiential learning. The ability to apply concepts in our readings to observation in a classroom is education that is irreplaceable. I am thankful we still have 2.5 weeks of learning inside and outside of a normal classroom and more adventures with my classmates.
Olivia Coutre and Kathy day 1. First day of school selfie. Our class on a mid-class walk.
On Monday Morning we made the four hour trek to Gothic, Colorado, a small town with a year round population of four just north of Crested Butte. Gothic was a small silver mining town founded in the 1880s, but rebranded itself with the establishment of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in 1928. While the population of Gothic soars to around 180 in the summer, mostly scientists, research assistants, and families, the town is very quiet in the winter. Part of the reason for this is the mandatory 3 mile hike in with your packs and food as the road is not plowed. This winter has been fairly mild and low to average on snowpack, but we still observed several avalanche slides and slide paths on the way. Last year, 100 year slides ran multiple times, taking out 300 year old trees, crossing over the road, and even hitting some cabins at the base of Gothic mountain.
Once at the lab site, we moved our packs into two cabins, Maroon and Crystal. The Crystal cabin was just completed this past year, and we are one of the first modern groups to stay in Gothic for a winter class and in that cabin! The cabins and site are absolutely stunning, with a 360 degree mountain view. We got lucky with a clear, warm hike in, and great night for stargazing and cards.
Tuesday was packed. We started the day off by meeting one of the caretakers and year-rounders. Rachel gave us an introduction to RMBL as well as her ongoing research on bee species in the area. The research occurring here is impressive in its scope ranging from abiotic to biotic factors and their intersection, as well as the length of time research has been occurring here. Much of this is helpful in examining climate change trends and consequences. We were able to create a snowshoe loop with possible places to explore for our own independent research endeavors this week. The loop was important to keep us on track so that we didn’t disturb other ongoing research projects and data collection. While the town seems totally quiet buried in snow, all the life that exists in this rich ecosystem is still alive through the winter, just in altered states. For the health of the site, its important to disturb as little as possible.
After lunch, we finally got the chance to meet with the man, the myth, the legend, billy barr himself. Yes, its lowercase, he just prefers it that way. If you didn’t watch the linked video from my previous blog, billy is another one of the population of four, and possibly what Gothic is most known for besides the lab. Billy has spent the last 46 years collecting and logging snow data. He lives fully off the grid in his cabin with his weather station right next door. Billy didn’t intend to spend the rest of his life in Gothic, nor did he intend for his data collection to lead to anything revolutionary. He simply moved here in a time without wifi or cellphones and figured he would keep a log of these natural functions. So much of our days are dictated by weather in the mountains, so he became interested in tracking it. Billy has tracked information on temperature, snow depth, and density the same way and in the same site. While snotel sites in the area are also now collecting this data, billy’s in the oldest and therefore has the most comparative value. He noted definite trends in the data such as more record breaking temperature highs in the last two decades. Meeting billy was much anticipated, and he did not disappoint with how welcoming, witty, and eager he was to show us his special part of the world. He gave us a tour of the cabin he built himself, powered by solar panels and outfitted with a greenhouse, home movie theater, and impressive tea collection. Linked below is the weather site in which data is reported to, as well as some more photos from the day.
We finished up our work for the day with a little fun in the snow. We bounced between shoveling snow into a mound to start building a quinzhee, or snow shelter. We quickly learned that the freezing over night/ development of a sun crust is integral to the soundness of the structure after it caved in during our premature moves to dig out the center. While working on the snow shelter that we hope to sleep 6-8 in one night, we also did a few snow pits. While they were dug on slopes of 0 degrees, we were still able to notice temperature gradients, different hardness layers in the snow, different snow crystal shapes, and even got a slab to fracture and propagate during an extended column test. The third and most educational activity during this period was a hybrid snowball fight baseball game. Another great day in the field!
Week two began with an overnight field trip to the CC Cabin. After departing from campus, we headed to Mueller State Park in Divide. We finally broke out the snowshoes and trekking poles to do a 2.6 mile loop around the park to observe different species. We also explored the visitor center and presented on the geologic, natural flora and fauna, and human history of the park. We drove in from very nice weather in the springs to some white out conditions and snow squalls, but the weather let up by the time we were out in the field. After lunch, we engaged in some more zen ecology, noting how the sun affected different aspects and seeing new birds such as the grey jay and crows. After the park, we made our way to the CC Cabin where we got unpacked and got settled before cooking a (mostly) vegan meal. We finished off the night with a discussion on how Climate Change is affecting the Pika, some adorable high altitude mammals that occupy harsh high altitude climates.
With field trips, especially in the winter, its important to be flexible. Our original plan for Tuesday was to collect data for a project in Manitou Experimental Forest, however the winds and snow were very heavy and we opted to head back to school to work on some other assignments like a bird identification from the day before. Back in the classroom the following days, we learned some more on snow science like how to dig pits, monitor the temperature gradients in the pit, do hardness and compression tests, and learn how factors such as temperature, sun, aspect, and wind affect the snowpack. We presented on different groups from around the world to learn about human adaptations to winter environments, with myself and my partner researching the Inca. While the Inca of Peru didn’t necessarily have many winter specific behaviors due to their proximity to the equator, they did need many high altitude adaptations due to their location in the Andes. The Inca are known for their impressive terracing and aqueducts which helped support high altitude farming. They were also the creators of Jerky, dried, preserved, and stored in large quantities and possible from the large temperature swings from day to night. We also learned more on animal physiology and evolution, and prepared for our trip to Gothic by watching the second place Film4Climate video about Billy Barr and his impressive collection of snow data. The link is listed below and definitely worth the click!
Hello from the CC van on the way to Gothic! As we embark on our five day field trip to the remote research laboratory located several miles North of Crested Butte, I can’t help but think of the earlier trips we did this block. Our first field trip was a day trip to Bear Creek Nature Center and later Garden of the Gods Park. With a member of the staff, we embarked on a guided loop through three different types of ecosystems in the park.
The first area was riparian, the wetlands adjacent to creeks, streams, and rivers. Because of the amount of moisture here, many plants thrive. The tallest trees are often found lining these areas, and in turn, help to protect watershed health by minimizing erosion. The health of these watersheds is important for a multitude of reasons, but one interesting fact is that Bear Creek was the site in which the last native population of Cutthroat Trout, previously thought to have been extinct, were located! While streams may look frozen over, water is almost always flowing underneath and life continues to exist through the winter. When the top layer of a creek freezes over, it limits the space in which other water can flow through and therefore the flow becomes stronger as its forced through limited space. This increase in energy will usually prevent the whole stream from freezing.
The next area we observed were the shrub lands. Here, we encountered “deer pizza” named as a favorite snack of the local mule deer. The shrub, also known as Mountain Mahogany, was often chewed up and surrounded by the distinct two part pointed hoof prints of these common mammals. The last environment was the meadows, the highest elevation area of the center. Here, we noticed many grasses and Yucca plants, and it was much more open than the previous two locations. We were able to identify many trees and birds, such as junipers, gamble oaks, and chickadees, for our whole block assignment to identify and explain a bit about 20 different species present for Colorado winters. We also did a brief introduction to snow science with Ryan Hammes by using crystal cards and magnifiers to look at snowflake shape and size. The big fat snowflakes that skiers and riders dream about are called “stellar.” We’re all familiar with the fact that each snowflake is unique, but we also learned that each snowflake originally starts out with 6 arms! Stellar snowflakes continue to have 6 distinct arms, while other snow in windy or warm weather may lose some of their arms on their descent. Lastly, we tested the temperature gradient in the snowpack. We will continue our snow science tests in the field in Gothic!
Our next field trip during first week was to the majestic Pikes Peak where we met with Ranger Jeffrey Hovermale. We identified a few other trees during a brief hike around. The main takeaway on our van ascent up the peak was to notice how elevation impacted what species of trees we were seeing. Tree line is often associated with elevation, but it is actually determined by temperature. Tree line is the point of elevation at which trees stop growing, but it is often higher the closer to the equator you get, and can even vary on one slope based on its aspect (the ordinal direction a slope faces). We finished the day out with “zen ecology.” More than enjoying the bluebird day by resting in the snow, we sat in silence and isolation for a period of 20-30 minutes to observe the environment and creatures that we might otherwise scare away or miss while clomping around on snowshoes.
Back in the classroom on Friday, we had a guest visitor from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Ranger Frank McGee. While McGee is also a federal employee like Hovermale, their jobs offered them unique perspectives. Much of McGee’s work is law enforcement, as the black market trade for animals and animal products is surpassed only by the drug trade. Additionally, Colorado Parks and Wildlife does much of their education and monitoring programs of local populations in the winter. They are also responsible for species reintroductions, such as the proposed bill on the ballot for Grey Wolf introduction. Overall a really great week with lots of time in the field and viewpoints from some experts!
Hello from the inaugural Snow Ecology class! My name is Emily Kressley and I will be blogging about the course over the next few years. While we’re a bit into the class by now, we wanted to backtrack a bit and cover what we’ve been doing so far.
Co-taught by Professor Emilie Gray and Director of Outdoor Education Ryan Hammes, the course aims to give an introduction to how organisms survive the winters in the different mountain environments of Colorado. The course also includes a snow science and snow safety portion so that we can travel through these environments on snowshoes without putting ourselves at risk to avalanche danger. During the first week of class, we set up our field journals. Over the course of the entire block, we are compiling 30 species identifications. These IDs come from clues like tracks, sounds, marks on vegetation, or seeing the physical organism. In the case of identifying coniferous trees, we can use a flow chart and ID the species by looking at the bark, the number of needles in each cluster, and the structure of their needles, cones, and branches. We also learned how to set up our packs for various field trips.
Winter’s can be pretty unforgiving and long days in the field learning about different animal, plant, insect, and other organismal adaptations have led us to understand how to properly dress and what equipment we need. Some of this equipment includes more mundane tools like sunscreen and sunglasses due to the high altitude sun and reflection on the snow, but other more exciting developments were the addition of beacon, probes, and shovels to our tool kit. We also have been exposed to many online tools and apps such as Caltopo, an interactive map system, the Merlin Bird ID app, and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).
We wear beacons, or avalanche transceivers, that emit pulsed radio signals. In the event that a member or members of our group were to be buried in an avalanche, the other members of the group would switch their beacons to search mode and follow the flux lines indicated by arrows on the beacon. The lower the number gets on the beacon, the closer you are to the buried member. We practiced in the beacon field at the ORC prior to bringing the equipment out to the mountains. Once the number gets fairly low, you engage in a more fine-tuned search, keeping the orientation of the beacon facing forward and constant, and moving it in a T pattern. This can be a bit tricky, but once the lowest number is located, the point is marked and phase 2 of the search begins. The party begins probing, starting at the point where the lowest number was marked and working out in a concentric circle. It is important to keep the probe, a very long metal rod with a sharp end to push through snow, perpendicular to the slope when you push it down with 2 hands. The snowpack may be several feet deep, but a probe strike on a body should feel distinct from pushing through snow around it. The last portion is to step 1.5 times back the distance down the person is (measured on the probe) and begin digging. Efficiency and speed are key here as the leading causes of death from avalanches are asphyxiation or blunt trauma, yet working smart and safely is better than panicked haste. The rescuers should locate the airway first and start CPR if necessary.
We will be conducting a large portion of our snow science studies while on our week long field trip in Gothic. Come back soon to learn more about our specific days in the field and what we saw!
My final post to this blog is a reflection on road trips, travel, and “American experience.” I haven’t included much about myself in these posts, but I am very interested in travel in tourism. I am hoping to do an Independently Design Major that focuses around studying tourism. I like thinking about which advertisements for certain travel experiences work, and why. What is an “authentic” travel experience, whether in the U.S. west, or abroad? Nabokov’s long descriptions of his travels are filled with advertisements and his snarky commentary on them.
“The would-be enticements of their repetitious names–all those Sunset Motels, U-Beam Cottages, Hillcrest Courts, Pine View Courts, Mountain View Courts, Skyline Courts, Park Plaza Courts, Green Acres, Mac’s Courts. There was sometimes a special line in the write-up, such as ‘Children welcome, pets allowed’ (You are welcome, you are allowed). The baths were mostly tiled showers, with an endless variety of spouting mechanisms… [that turned] instantly beastly hot or blindingly cold upon you, depending on whether your neighbor turned on his cold or his hot to deprive you of a necessary complement in the shower you had so carefully blended. Some motels had instructions pasted above the toilet (on whose tank the towels were unhygienically heaped) asking guests not to throw into its bowl garbage, beer cans, cartons, stillborn babies” (Lolita, 146).
I drove from Colorado Springs to Los Angeles, and back, over spring break, passing through various parts of Arizona, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. As I mentioned in my last post, a lot of these descriptions to a certain point are still accurate descriptions of this part of the country to a degree. There are certain patterns, certain repetitions that seem to stick out if you observe all that you can as you drive. As Nabokov writes, the motels seem to have a certain cheeky monotony, with some failed expectations. (The car I was in broke down on the way, so instead of camping one night, we got a room on the outskirts of Vegas that reminded me of his descriptions. It was called “The Fisher’s Inn”, and there was not one hint at any nautical theme to be seen.) I was drawn in his descriptions to how everything was advertised, how everything seemed to want to draw you in and yet didn’t seem to live up to standard. I’m personally interested in where this advertisement manifests itself with tourism to other countries, so it was helpful, even in fiction, to find some helpful examples. I noticed this on my own trip as well: seemingly infinite and repetitive billboards and advertisements of niche history all intermingled between a wide variety of scenery. Nabokov does a good job of capturing this weird balance:
“Winter in the desert, spring in the foothills, almonds in bloom. Reno, a dreary town in Nevada, with a nightlife said to be ‘cosmopolitan and mature.’ A winery in California, with a church built in the shape of a wine barrel. Death Valley. Scotty’s Castle. Works of Art collected by one Rogers over a period of years. The ugly villas of handsome actresses. R. L. Stevenson’s footprint on an extinct volcano… Somber Yellowstone Park and its colored hot springs, baby geysers, rainbows of bubbling mud–symbols of my passion. A herd of antelopes in a wildlife refuge. Our hundredth cavern, adults one dollar, Lolita fifty cents… The Bearded Woman read our jingle and now she is no longer single” (Lolita, 157-158).
Nature and oddities intertwined. Maybe even in conversation with one another. That’s the last Nabokov selection I’ve chosen to share. I mentioned that I would try and relate my own road trip to his, so I am including parts of something that I wrote after my road trip. I used to be declared in Creative Writing, and I still continue to write. This class ended up stimulating a variety of disciplines! Here is part of what I’m writing, inspired by the trip and Nabokov:
“Needles. An interesting name for a California town with now pines, and no noticeable epidemic. The town isn’t too sharp, and car breaks down after a mechanic jiggles some parts the wrong way. Sigh, goes the car engine, putt-putting one last cough. Sigh, goes the crowd of three in the parking Rite-Aid parking. The Rite-Aid is a sort of grail here. The town is in fact Weedles, informs one of the mechanics. He isn’t working on the car. There are four marijuana dispensaries, and a Rite-Aid as a grocery store. Would Rite-Aid sell hot dogs to grill for dinner? No, but they’ve been trying for years. The hot dogs never arrive. Behind the Rite-Aid was surprising grandeur a plain, a train, and a full-scale mountain chain. This was the triad to find in each Western town, even if it meant looking behind the Rite-Aid or underneath a couple cars. Not your typical back-alley scene. Orange, simple, stunning, blue, bountiful, lush, lurching, white, wonderful. Who cares that the car broke down, with all this to gaze at? Not us, whisper the mountains. In the other direction, two gas stations. One has a freezer of raw hot dogs, that they refuse to sell raw. That’s not food code violation, but we are happy to heat our dogs for you.
A tow to a Needles mechanic. Dogs running around. Woof, says one dog. Remind me of when I cared, reads on mans Rite-Aid T-shirt. No car part. A tow to Vegas. Lights, hills, cascading arrows and dots of yellow. A stop at the itchy Fisher’s Inn, a fishy place–not one ocean, not one boat to be moored. No images of beach cookouts, no hot dogs, no beach dogs. Stiff and itchy beds are the sand you find at the end of the day.
The next day, a bus out of Vegas. No more car. A man in a full clown costume has white makeup around his eyes, crisp and gleaning in the desert bus-stop sun. His clashing green hat reflects all the green to be found in this mad country—the rolling hills, the standoff shrubbery, the one tree amidst the swirls of dust and dirt. He’s smoking a cigarette, pacing his drags carefully. He’s the plain waiting under the desert sky. He’s the idle train, loading up for a trip across America. He’s the frost-tipped mountains pointing to nothing in particular, with an authority that is so bold, and yet so patient. There’s no need to go any quickly, he seems to say. Stay, if you may, just one more day.”
The car-breaking was not enjoyable, but I enjoyed writing bits of the account down, and fragmenting parts of a very odd journey for my own enjoyment. This is my final post, as it is now Block 7. If you’ve been following along on these posts, thank you for reading, and for putting up with my writing and excessive quotation. Be sure to take a road trip with Nabokov in hand as soon as you can.