About Rivers & Other Subjects
ACTIVITY 1: Writers often go to places to describe them.
Pick a place along a river, or in a watershed, that
you can get to. Go there. Spend some time listening,
looking, just being quiet. Now write out the scene,
paying attention to details. When you return home, revise
this scene into one paragraph. Throw out anything that does
not contribute to the scene. Selection of detail is
the most important job of a writer. What details did
you leave out? What details must you include to create
the scene? Now put the paragraph away, and in a few
days try writing the same scene purely from memory.
ACTIVITY 2: On my journey through Brazil's Amazon jungle
I was deeply impressed and concerned about the changes people
were making to the Amazon watershed's rain forests as they
chopped and burned the trees to grow crops. How do
people use natural resources in your watershed? See
if you can find and interview people doing these activities.
Are there any problems caused by those activities?
Are people active in improving problems caused by
past or current land-use activities? If you talk to
people involved in activities that may be harmful to the
environment, can you see reasons why they might be doing
those activities even if they are harmful?
Start a reading list: what articles and books should you
read to know about your watershed? Start a list of
river people to interview. Ask around to find out
who catches the most fish, the biggest fish. Ask who
the local historians are. Ask whose families have
lived the longest in those parts. Ask if there are
any ghost stories associated with the watershed. Ask
about buried treasure. Ask how things have changed
in recent years. Ask what it was like in the old days.
Ask about any strange events. Ask for other
experts' names, and then ask those people for more names.
Before you know it, you will have plenty of answers
and fresh questions. And a huge growing list of river experts.
If you do this for a number of days, even in one tiny area
of a river, you will soon become an expert yourself.
You'd be surprised how quickly information zooms into your
head and becomes a part of your soul. Also, curiosity
has a life of its own. I didn't like the Hudson River
before I canoed it. It was polluted and big, and dangerous
for small boats. But after studying it--even before
my journey--after researching it (reading Hudson River books
and talking to people up and down the watershed), I began
to love it. Now it's one of my favorite rivers, and
that's because the more you come to know something, or someone,
the more you can appreciate it, him/her.
a Watershed Journal
one character who lives in your watershed, someone who really
interests you. Pick someone whose personality or career
reflects something about the watershed itself. Describe
that person and also describe the place where you first
met him or her. See if you can capture some of this
person's words in conversation. And then try to put
it all together into a portrait that says something about
the watershed, the person, and the times in which we live.
Talk to your grandfather or grandmother. See if you
can get them to tell you an important story. It should
be a story they have told over and over, one they love to
tell. Write it down. Keep it simple, keep it
to the bare bones. In your version of the story, only
tell what needs to be told.
Writing From the Jungle
Try writing a "Jungle e-mail" from the depths
of your own watershed to the outside world. Pretend
that your communication lifeline to the rest of the world
is your e-mail system--do you have any interesting experiences
or information about the rivers that flow past your door
that you'd like to share? Can you make up a story about
an adventure into the backwaters of your watershed?
STEP #1 - Keep a journal on a tape recorder. Make
a small journey somewhere within your watershed. Perhaps
to a river? Or a dam? Or even the stream behind
your house. But this journey might be as simple as
walking down the street after school. Observe details--sounds,
sights, smells. Make notes by speaking into a recording
device. If you don't have a tape recorder, then use
a small notebook. Record a conversation perhaps with someone
you meet along the way. The important thing is to
let yourself record anything and everything. This
will be rough material for a finished piece later.
STEP #2 - Back home, listen to the tape, or review your
notes. Now transcribe (from the Latin, scribere, "to
write") those notes. Write the notes out in full
sentences. Expand these notes using your memory.
Don't edit. Later you will select, shorten, revise.
#3 - Now take all your notes and turn your journal into
a finished piece of writing. Try focusing on one aspect
of your journey/interview and expand the detail of this
portion. The finished piece of writing should be only
one or two pages.
Activity #1 - Write a story quickly, without editing yourself.
Now hand it into a teacher or classmate. Get
that person's comments on how to make the story more effective.
Then rewrite the story paying attention to his or
her comments and to any ideas you yourself have for making
it a more effective story. Now read the two versions
back to back. Read them out loud, the first one first,
the second one second. See any difference? How
many times do you think you could rewrite the same story
and still make it better? When do you think the process
of rewriting might start to make it less effective?
#2 - Take five nonfiction books out of the library.
Compare and contrast each with the other. Try to determine
how the writer approached the writing of each book.
How might each approach have differed from the others?
What adventure would you like to write about? And how would
you go about the long process of research, adventure and
journal-keeping, drafting, revision and publication of that
here to download a powerpoint slide show of
one of Peter's School Visits
it downloads onto your computer, it will be called
From A Presentation."