On Friday, October 16, our group of five – two master students, three bachelor students, and I – set out from the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Oldenburg for a four-day excursion to the ecological field station of the University of Potsdam in Gülpe. This small village is located approximately 70 kilometers northwest of Potsdam, or circa 85 kilometers northwest of Berlin, along the eastern border of the Nature Park and Dark Sky Preserve Westhavelland. Here, we wanted to study, debate, and directly experience darkness in an area that still afforded a phenomenon that is increasingly lost to our brightly illuminated European continent: dark night skies. The plan for this long weekend was to have the afternoons set aside for text discussions and to venture out into the dark after the moon had set. The mornings were free to either recover from our nocturnal activities or to explore the wetlands of our immediate surroundings.
Included in our considerable amount of luggage – the ecological field station requires self-catering – were three seminal texts for our ecocritical studies of darkness: Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder (2005); Paul Bogard’s The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light (2013); and the chapter entitled “Ridge” from Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places (2007). Although the titles of the first two books express a sense of loss and therefore suggest a yearning for an earlier, better, more “natural” life, Louv and Bogard both investigate the Anthropocene with an attitude that combines curiosity, fascination, and pragmatism rather than regression, nostalgia, and moralizing. Read more »
Writers are a special breed. Constantly shifting through their perception of the environment with detailed attention, they store and analyze any piece of information on the endless shelves of their flourishing mind. Everything is of value. The way the grumpy barista was holding the pen as he scribbled their name on their cup of take-away coffee; the momentary silence before a daughter answered her mother, assuring her that she would be home in time for dinner; the way he brushed her cheeks ever so slightly, tracing the outline of her cheekbone with the tip of his thumb as they sat on the park bench next to each other, their eyes drinking in each others’ presence.
Writers are like magicians. They turn to the world for inspiration to create a universe of their own, using a handful of words to later engage their readers. They feed the pages of a satirical play, a lost romance, or a spectacular crime. I’ve always found writers fascinating.
When I came to America as an exchange student in the spring of 2015, I was burning with curiosity but rather shy of expectations. Little did I know that the U.S. would be my literary haven. Read more »
“Make America Great Again.” Again. Despite what the media coverage lead us to fear, the world did not end with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. No candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign was as omnipresent in the public perception as Trump. It has been said that the speech Trump gave on January 20 did not foreshadow a good presidency; it was aggressive, simple, and populist. But is that really something new?
History never crawls or walks. It runs. Sometimes silently as if on the softer sands of time. Sometimes we can hear its footsteps louder as they hit the hot pavement.
As I write this on January 19, 2017, Barack Obama is still the President of the United States. But only just. Great Britain is still a member of the European Union. But only just. And after the painful lessons of the 20th century, nationalism is still a sleeping giant. But only just. The giant is waking.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the vote for Brexit in 2016, Europe and the United States have known over a quarter century of relative peace. No wars, hot or cold. Some exceptions: Sarajevo, Srebrenica, 9/11. But for the most part, some 10,000 mornings, afternoons, and evenings have unfolded in secure calm. But as in the eye of a storm, calm can be deceptive. And temporary. Read more »
Tommy’s parents wave from the porch as our minivan pulls up. His dad smiles, and that’s when I see he’s missing about half of his teeth.
Before retiring a few years back, Gerald had been a mechanic. During high school, he’d apprenticed at his uncle’s garage, then serviced army vehicles while stationed in Germany. When he finally returned home he kept fixing cars. Worked “from can to can’t,” worked Saturdays, feeding himself
into the maw of busted trucks in unairconditioned Alabama, feeding a wife and three kids. Eventually he’d own his own shop, Franklin Automotive. In addition to repairs, he had a line on “totals,” wrecks the insurance company didn’t consider worth fixing. Gerald considered otherwise. He’d buy two or three of the same model at salvage auction and Frankenstein them together. Technically he wasn’t allowed to sell them – “branded title” and all that – but he figured there was no harm in it as long as the customer knew. He loved to negotiate, and that man could sell an icebox to an Eskimo.
Everyone reading this blog has seen monuments to historical events or national heroes. But how many of you have seen a memorial to a mass hanging? Outside the movies or TV, few people today have ever seen a public hanging. That was not true a hundred years ago when criminals’ lives often ended at the end of a noose. The largest public hanging in American history took place on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota. That day, federal troops executed 38 Dakota Sioux Indians for their part in the Minnesota Sioux War that had just ended. By some accounts, up to 4,000 whites jammed the town square or sat atop nearby buildings to watch the mass execution. The crowd cheered loudly when the trapdoors opened and all 38 men hung at the end of the ropes. Why not take a few minutes to find out why this gruesome spectacle happened 134 years ago and how the city of Mankato – often associated with the Little House on the Prairie TV series – has dealt with this legacy? Read more »