Literature and the Environment

Professor: Brad Monsma
Course Number: ENGL 337




FALL 2009  W 6-8:50

Brad Monsma, Ph.D.

E-MAIL: [email protected]

Office: Bell Tower West 1185

Hrs: T 1:30-3; W 1-2

Tel: (805) 437-8948

“A text is information stored through time.  The stratigraphy of rocks, layers of pollen in a swamp, the outward expanding circles of a tree, can be seen as texts.  The calligraphy of rivers winding back and forth over the land leaving layer upon layer of traces of previous riverbeds is text.”

Gary Snyder,The Practice of the Wild



McKibben, Bill, Ed. American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. New York: Literary

Classics of the United States, 2008.

Additional required texts are included in an electronic course packet available on Blackboard.

RECOMMENDED TEXTS: Orion MagazineHigh Country News (check both on-line)


This course involves the student in many forms of dialogue on issues pertinent to humanity’s relationship with Earth. By reading works by writers from diverse fields and by writing in response, the student will gain a better understanding of our planet and its needs. Emphasis will be placed on writing in modes appropriate to the interdisciplinary field of Environmental Science and Resource Management.


Environmental literature is inherently interdisciplinary, and so is this course. Therefore, it is appropriate that our questions and conversations concern what our authors write about—the flora, fauna, weather, geology, human behavior, the built environment, the built environment, and so on, and most important of all, the relationships between all of these things and more. We will talk not only of the writing, but also of the world represented. We will also wander occasionally toward the representations of visual artists, particularly the landscape art of Andy Goldsworthy.

Much of our reading will be in the genre of creative or literary nonfiction. As the label suggests, literary nonfiction should be read with the same attention to form that you would bring to other literary genres. These essays and books are doing much more than simply conveying facts and arguments, and many of the authors we will read are among the best prose stylists. Therefore, you should also read like a writer—you should learn from these models as you develop your own individual voice in writing.

Scott Russell Sanders writes, “Nothing in my education prepared me to love a piece of the earth.” This course aims to make sure that you cannot say the same of your own schooling.



The themes that organize the course schedule only hint at the richness of the literature we will read; therefore, they should not mark the boundaries of our discussion. Instead, the themes might provide stepping-stones—jumping off points—to intellectual journeys we take individually and together. By the end of the course, you should be comfortable asking questions and searching for answers concerning:

  • relationships between environments and cultures
  • relationships between environments and literary (as well as more broadly artistic) production
  • basic ecological principles
  • environmental history—the idea that environments change over time as do people’s perceptions of them.

This course should also help you develop your reading and interpretive skills, increase your enjoyment and understanding of literature, landscapes, and natural processes, and help you to articulate, question, and refine your opinions, values, and beliefs.

The following is a modification of the learning outcomes listed in the Course Proposal for ENGL 337.  Each student will:

1.       Demonstrate the ability to read and analyze a variety of points of view and presentation on the subjects under study.

2.       Formulate his or her own ideas on at least some parts of the whole “question” and have written substantive, thoughtful essays on those subjects.

3.       Demonstrate writing skills appropriate to work in various disciplines.



1.       Attendance:  You must attend each class period. I expect that you will come to class having completed the assigned reading and having prepared to participate fully in all class activities. You are responsible for all material covered in class. This includes handouts, in-class writing assignments, the content of class discussions, and any changes to the reading schedule.

More than one absence will lower your final grade for the course.  At the start of each class, I will pass around a sign-in sheet for you to initial. Persistent lateness will count as an absence, as will leaving prior to the end of class.

2.       Reading:  You must complete each assignment by the beginning of each class. To do so is to be responsible not only to yourself but also to your classmates and to me. Look for opportunities to demonstrate your preparation with informed questions and comments.

3.        Orienteering:  You will sign up on the reading schedule to write for the CILearn discussion list an account of the connections you see between the most recent reading and that from the rest of syllabus. Essentially, you tell the rest of us where you think we are in relationship to the literary landscape we’ve been moving through together. These waypoints will allow us to review what we’ve learned, consider where we’ve come from, and decide where to go. The whole class is looking to you for direction, so prepare carefully, and post three to four paragraphs. The goal is not to prove you’ve read the assignment or just to summarize the reading, but to make an incisive and creative comment on it and it’s connections to (including differences from) other readings. Usually, the more focused your response, the better.

As part of this project, every class member is required to respond to the original posts of others at least three times throughout the semester. Of course, you may respond as many times as you wish.

4.       Writing: You will complete one researched essay, which includes a draft due for a writing workshop and for my commentary. Treat this draft deadline as seriously as a final copy deadline. You will also complete a narrative of field experience/observation that will become part of the longer essay and a reading report. There may also be occasional in-class writing assignments. Respect due dates. Late papers will be penalized significantly. Assignments will be handed out separately.

5.       Field Experience:  As we follow the example set by our authors, it will be essential that we seek our own experiences in “the field” to ground our own writing. We will talk in class about group and individual outings that will be appropriate to our interests and abilities and useful in developing our essays. I welcome any suggestions.



Researched Paper                35%        Orienteering                          10%

Field Report                          15%        Midterm                                  20%

Thematic Response              10%        Attendance/Participation       10%


Much of the learning for this course will happen in class. Therefore, you have the responsibility to your classmates and yourself to make the classroom environment conducive to learning. Be on time. Do not leave early. Do not leave class to get a soda or run errands. Do not schedule advising appointments during class time. Turn OFF your phone; do not send or receive text messages. If you use a laptop, all your activity must be class related. Suspected violators of this policy may be prohibited from using a laptop or other devices during class.

Respect for the rights of others seeking to learn and for the general goals of academic freedom must be maintained. Differences of viewpoint or concerns should be expressed in terms that show respect even in dissent. Student conduct that disrupts the learning process will not be tolerated. Participate with your full attention and enthusiasm.



If, at any time in the semester, you experience difficulty in meeting the requirements of the course, it is your responsibility to notify me before the problems become insurmountable. If you do this, we might be able to find ways to help you be successful in this course.



All work that students submit as their own work must, in fact, be their own work. For example, if a paper presents ideas of others, it must clearly indicate the source. Word-for-word language taken from other sources – books, papers, web sites, people, etc. – must be placed in quotation marks and the source identified.  Likewise, work on tests and exams must be the student’s own work, not copied or taken from other students’ work, and students must comply with instructions regarding use of books, notes, and other materials.

1. Academic dishonesty includes such things as cheating, inventing false information or citations, plagiarism and helping someone else commit an act of academic dishonesty. It usually involves an attempt by a student to show possession of a level of knowledge or skill that he/she does not possess.

2. Course instructors have the initial responsibility for detecting and dealing with academic dishonesty. Instructors who believe that an act of academic dishonesty has occurred are obligated to discuss the matter with the student(s) involved. Instructors should possess reasonable evidence of academic dishonesty. However, if circumstances prevent consultation with student(s), instructors may take whatever action (subject to student appeal) they deem appropriate.

3. Instructors who are convinced by the evidence that a student is guilty of academic dishonesty shall assign an appropriate academic penalty. If the instructors believe that the academic dishonesty reflects on the student’s academic performance or the academic integrity in a course, the student’s grade should be adversely affected. Suggested guidelines for appropriate actions are: an oral reprimand in cases where there is reasonable doubt that the student knew his/her action constituted academic dishonesty; a failing grade on the particular paper, project or examination where the act of dishonesty was unpremeditated, or where there were significant mitigating circumstances; a failing grade in the course where the dishonesty was premeditated or planned. The instructors will file incident reports with the Vice Presidents for Academic Affairs and for Student Affairs or their designees. These reports shall include a description of the alleged incident of academic dishonesty, any relevant documentation, and any recommendations for action that he/she deems appropriate.

4. The Vice President for Student Affairs shall maintain an Academic Dishonesty File of all cases of academic dishonesty with the appropriate documentation.

5. Student may appeal any actions taken on charges of academic dishonesty to the “Academic Appeals Board.”

6. The Academic Appeals Board shall consist of faculty and at least one student.

7. Individuals may not participate as members of the Academic Appeals Board if they are participants in an appeal.

8. The decision of the Academic Appeals Board will be forwarded to the President of CSU Channel Islands, whose decision is final.



Cal State Channel Islands is committed to equal educational opportunities for qualified students with disabilities in compliance with Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The mission of Disability Accommodation Services is to assist students with disabilities to realize their academic and personal potential. Students with physical, learning, or other disabilities are encouraged to contact the Disability Accommodation Services office at (805) 437-8510 for personal assistance and accommodations.

SCHEDULE    (Information contained in this syllabus, other than that mandated by the University, may be subject to change with advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.)

“Lifting a brush, a burin, a pen, or a stylus is like releasing a bite or lifting a claw.”
Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

“Visual scenes from the four seasons decorate our grammars and critical pretensions, metaphors enrich the natural places we are tricked to advertise and remember.”
Gerald Vizenor, Matsushima: Pine Islands

W    8/26        Gary Snyder, “Riprap” Ereserve
Barry Lopez, “A Literature of Place”
Tom Jay, “Familiar Music” Ereserve

W     9-2        Jennifer Price, “Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in LA” (Parts 1 & 2,
The link to Part two is at the end of Part 1
John Burroughs, “The Art of Seeing Things” AE 146-59
Robert Hass, “The Problem of Describing Trees” Ereserve

“Attempts to control the erosion-flood sequence usually are futile.”

Alan Schoenherr, A Natural History of California

W     9-9        John McPhee, “Los Angeles against the Mountains” in
The Control of Nature Ereserve
Gary Snyder, “Smokey the Bear Sutra” AE 473-7
“Covers the Ground” AE 477-9

“The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts.”

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

“We learn a place and how to visualize spatial relationships, as children, on foot and with imagination. Place and the scale of place must be measured against our bodies and their capabilities.”

Gary Snyder “Blue Mountains Constantly Walking”

W    9/16        Henry David Thoreau, from Walden, AE 9-25
“Walking”  Ereserve. Annotated version available at:


W     9/23        State Budget Furlough

“We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.”

Robinson Jeffers, “Carmel Point”

W    9/30        Robinson Jeffers, “Carmel Point,” “November Surf,”
“Vulture,” “Hurt Hawks,” “Shine, Perishing Republic” Ereserve
Pattiann Rogers, “Geocentric” Ereserve
Gerald Vizenor, “Crows Written on Poplars” Ereserve
Mary Austin, “The Scavengers” AE 134-9


Aldo Leopold, from A Sand County Almanac 


W    10/7         Midterm
Writing Workshop

“Humans have always suspected that certain animals are the masters and keepers of important secrets: metamorphosis, birth, puberty, healing, protection, fertility, and food getting. By dancing the animal, we assimilate these mysteries into adult understanding and recover them as a power of humankind.”

Paul Shepard, Encounters with Nature

W    10/14        John Muir, “A Wind-Storm in the Forest,” AE 89-97
From My First Summer in the Sierra, AE 98-104
Pattiann Rogers, “The Effort to Eliminate Ignorance:
Birdwatching,” “The Hummingbird: A Seduction” Ereserve


Bradley John Monsma, “Bear in Mind: Shadows of the
California Grizzly” Ereserve
Jack Turner, “The Song of the White Pelican” AE 835-48


“There are many things worth telling that are not quite narrative. And eternity itself possesses no beginning, middle or end. Fossils, arrowheads, castle ruins, empty crosses: from the Parthenon to the Bo Tree to a grown man or woman’s old stuffed bear, what moves us about many objects is not what remains but what has vanished. There comes a time, thanks to rivers, when a few beautiful old teeth are all that remain of the two-hundred-foot spires of life we call trees. There comes a river, whose current is time, that does a similar sculpting in the mind.”

David James Duncan, “River Teeth: A Definition”

W    10/21        FILM: Andy Goldsworthy’s Rivers and Tides
David James Duncan, “Molting” Ereserve
Photos by Robert & Shana Parke Harrison:

Essay Due for Pre-Grade Commentary

What I am able to ignore much of the time, but find undeniable here, is that all wildernesses are one: there is a profound joining between this wild stream deep in one of the folds of my native country and the tropical jungles, the tundras of the north, the oceans and the deserts. Alone here, among rocks and the trees, I see that I am alone also among the stars.”

Wendell Berry, “An Entrance to the Woods”

W    10/28        Howard Zahniser, from The Wilderness Act of 1964, AE 392-4
Wallace Stegner, “Coda: Wilderness Letter” Ereserve
William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness” Ereserve
Louis Owens, “Burning the Shelter” Ereserve


W    11/4        Edward Abbey, “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and National Parks” AE
David Quammen,, “The Newmark Warning: Why Our National Parks
Are Resembling Desert Isles” Ereserve
“Planet of Weeds” AE 874-97
Robert Hass, “The State of the Planet” Ereserve


W    11/11       Terry Tempest Williams, from Refuge AE 739-59
Ellen Meloy, “The Flora and Fauna of Las Vegas” AE 793-808
Essay Due


THEMATIC READINGS (Each person will pick one theme, write a 2-3 page focused response to one author, and work with a small group to present collective wisdom about theme to the rest of class. All readings in AE.)

Environmental History: Cooper, Catlin, Marsh, Henderson, Carson, Cronon
Religion: White, Berry, Momaday, DeWitt
Urban Writing: Peattie, Jacobs, Olmsted, MacKaye
Nature as Resource: Shaler, Pinchot, Douglas, Porter, Hardin, McPhee
Science Writing: Eiseley, Thomas, Carson, Wilson, Shaller,
Economy: Pollan, Duruning, Boulding, Nearing, Berry, Durning
Environmental Justice: Dreiser, White, Gibbs, Anthony & Soule, Walker, Chavez, Bullard

W    11/18        Continued Thematic Reading Reports and Discussions
W    11/25        State Budget Furlough
W    12/2          Final Readings. Course Review