Environmental Literature

Professor: Stephen A. Norwick
Institution: n/a
Course Number: n/a

I have been teaching this course for twenty years, and it works for me, but it may not work for others. I will give you a few pieces of advice, which you may choose to ignore of course. One, I find that it is best to be historical in the course, and to spend a lot of time talking about the real places discussed in the books. Second, I would avoid collections of short pieces. The great environmental books are long and slow paced for a reason. From Thoreau to Annie Dillard, snippets are not good enough.

ENVIRONMENTAL LITERATURE: 3 units, Tuesday Evening, 7 to 9:40, in room RC10

INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Stephen A. Norwick. I am an environmentalist, not an English teacher. I have been reading these books for the last twenty years. I am personally very interested in the way people feel about Nature. I enjoy literary prose, landscape painting, and poetry. I am especially interested in the relationship between all of the above and practical applications to political problems, environmental interpretation and general education.

Henry David Thoreau’s WALDEN, 1854
Mary Hunter Austin’s LAND OF LITTLE RAIN, 1903
Aldo Leopold’s SAND COUNTY ALMANAC, 1949
Edward Abbey’s DESERT SOLITAIRE, 1968
Annie Dillard’s PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK, 1974

PURPOSE: to read six of the most beautiful, powerful, heartening, humorous, puzzling, and (I hate to use this word, but it is true of these books though it is rarely true of any thing or any other book) inspirational books in the English Language. These books happen to be about the natural environment, and that is probably not an accident. The purpose of these books is to describe and inspire love of the natural world. The purpose of this course is to read these books.

CLASS PROCEDURE: I have prepared a collection of material which you will need for this course which is for sale for several dollars at: COPY CENTRAL, 6650 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park. The packet is sold to you for the cost of reproduction. I do not make a profit. Please buy it and use it. The store may run out of copies at some times so you can call ahead 707/585-2336 to make sure they have copies in stock.

There is a bound collection which contains a bibliography of environmental literature, some class notes about landscape paintings and some essays by yours truly. There is a set of questions for each week’s reading. The schedule which follows lists the dates on which the reading for each set of questions should be completed. You should write a long paragraph to one page (typed double spaced) for one question. You must substantiate your ideas by making reference to specific passages by page and line number. Bring the questions, your answer and your copy of the text to class. The questions are the nicest way I know to force everyone to read the assignment. If you are unable to complete the assignment, please come to class and participate as best you can. Late assignments are acceptable but they can not be given full credit except in unusual cases where the answers are substantially different from any comments made in class.

I will usually give a short lecture at the beginning of each class. I will often show my amateur photographic slides of the actual places described in the texts. I will show slides of landscape paintings and artful landscape photography from the region and the historic period of each of the books which we will read. Most of the time in class will be spend discussing the books.

I hope you will want to take notes about the interesting things which other people say in class (not just the teacher). When someone says something which is especially insightful or interesting, please write it on the back of the answer which you have typed up. You may take notes on any of the answers discussed in class, but I will be especially interested to see your opinion of the opinions of your colleagues ideas about the question which you answered. I will take a look at these notes as I read your answer, and it will help me understand what interests you, and how you are learning from each other. I will collect and read your answers and class notes at the end of each class. There will be no examinations and no term papers in this course.

Some people just want to read freely and rapidly, and they do not want to spend a lot of time answering questions about the books. I understand that completely. If you are not an ENSP major and if you do not want to read the texts closely, you may take this course for CR/NC. I think this is a good idea, and I hope that many of you will do so. Be sure that you do not already have too may courses as CR. If you are unsure, see your academic advisor. Unfortunately, there is a new (stupid) rule on our campus that people may not take courses for CR in their major.

Attendance, 40%
Oral Participation, 20%
Completeness of written answers, 20%
Depth or originality of written answers, 20%

READING ASSIGNMENTS: The following is a schedule of class topics for the whole semester. Please finish the reading before each class, and answer one question very fully. some people want to answer all of the questions, especially if they can get extra credit, but I can only read one question per person per week or I will go nuts. Some questions are easier than others, when in doubt, take the question which is most interesting TO YOU, you will usually find a more interesting answer questions. I give more credit for partial answers to hard questions than for full answers to easy questions.

If you do not do the reading, please come to class anyway. Never skip class because you have not done the work. I WILL be disappointed but DO come. If you will tell me quietly before class that you have not done the reading I will not call on you and save us both some embarrassment.


August 31  An Introduction to Environmental Literature & Art

 7      Thoreau, "Economy" through "Sounds"
14      Thoreau, "Solitude" through "Brute Neighbors"
21      Thoreau, "Housewarming" to end.
28      Muir, Chapter 1 through "The Glacier Meadows"

 5      Muir, "The Douglas Squirrel to the end. You can read "The Forests" 
	next summer.
12      Austin, "Land of Little Rain" complete. It is short and easy to read.
19      Leopold, Sand County Almanac first 98 pages. The rest is 
	philosophical but not "literary".
26      Vidio Week No Class, Please view the videos about John Muir and Mary
	Austin which are in the Media Center in the Library - Steve Norwick 
	out of town -  Keep up in your reading or read ahead.

 2      Abbey, "Introduction" through "Rocks"
 9      Abbey, "Cowboys and Indians" through "The Moon Eyed Horse"
16      Abbey, "Down the River" to end.
23      Dillard, Chapter 1 through "The Present"
30      Dillard, "Spring" through "Stalking"

  7     Dillard, "Nightwatch" to end

No Final Exam, but we are required to meet Monday, Dec. 21, 8 pm for 
potluck dessert and a slide lecture by yours truly.

The hours for this course are listed in the schedule of classes as 7 to 9:40 pm. I have an 8 am class on Wednesday morning so I will stop fairly promptly.

We will take a long break in the middle of class. I will provide tea and coffee and herb teas for the break, but I would like you to bring an old cup for your own use. We can put your name on it and it can be kept in the tea room this semester. On some occasions it would be good to have some sweet food to eat at break to keep all of us wide awake if you are one of those people who indulges in various forms of sugar, the drug of choice of our simian ancestors.

Copyright © 1996. This document may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form, without written permission from its author(s). This document has been edited for electronic publication and does not appear in its original form.