Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, State by State - Part I

After winding down from an intense school year in 2015-2016, I took a couple of weeks in June to get some rest, practice yoga, and spend time with family and friends. I set up a watering schedule for the garden via SignUpGenius.com, and that worked beautifully - the students have shown a commitment to the garden that far surpassed my expectations, especially during an arid summer that could have easily destroyed the plants we have worked so hard to acquire.

Em takes a driving selfie
I spent most of my summer traveling, so the easiest way to describe my literary garden adventures is to give a state-by-state breakdown.

Me, Dr. Talhelm, and Vonnegut puppets

In July, I was invited to speak at the Teaching Vonnegut Workshop at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis. Dr. Melissa Talhelm of Southern Connecticut State University was able to join me, and together we discussed the ways that the Literary Garden enhances the content of Vonnegut's works, connects strongly to his family history, and is providing interdisciplinary opportunities with colleagues in art, science, drama, and the iCenter. I met authors Tim O'Brien and Dan Wakefield, both of whom agreed to provide plants for the garden. I also met Dr. Jon Eller of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies; he is working with me to provide a plant from Bradbury's childhood home in Illinois. Finally, Melissa and I even managed to snag a plant from the home where John Green wrote The Fault in Our Stars. Talk about a windfall! Many thanks to Julia Whitehead, Max Goller, and the rest of the folks at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library for their generosity, goodwill, kindness, and inspiration. I'm proud to be a member of their karass.
Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried

Dr. Jon Eller, Center for Ray Bradbury Studies

Typing on Kurt's typewriter...you can follow it on Twitter @kurtstypewriter

Author Dan Wakefield, a dear friend of Vonnegut's
Dr. Talhelm, me, Tim O'Brien, and KVML Founder Julia Whitehead
Trying to strike a pose as cool as Kurt's!

New York:
In Rochester, New York, we were delighted to meet librarian site supervisor Erin Clarke at the newly named Frederick Douglass Library. Justin Murphy of the Democrat & Chronicle writes:

More than 140 years after Frederick Douglass' South Avenue house burned to the ground in an apparent arson, the distinguished Rochesterian has been honored with a new home on the same spot.The former Highland Branch Library at 971 South Ave. was formally renamed the Frederick Douglass Community Library Monday morning at a ceremony led by Mayor Lovely Warren.The plot where the library now stands was mostly farmland in 1852, when Douglass and his family moved there from their home on Alexander Street. Douglass was one of the most prominent abolitionists in the country, so it was fitting that his house was a well known stop on the Underground Railroad.

Erin explained that the site, which connects to a community center and a school, were all part of a parcel of land that Douglass and his family owned. It's difficult to pinpoint the exact spot where his house stood, and a survey of the grounds for a suitable plant proved to be fruitless given the plethora of poison ivy that snaked along the grounds. However, the beautiful old trees that line the lot may need to be looked at by a specialist to determine their age; their size alone convinced me some of them could have dated back to Douglass's time. 

In any case, Erin was a font of information and an enthusiastic supporter of our garden. The library would also like to create a Victorian garden that would feature plants that Douglass and his family would have grown, and they would also like to work with us to connect our students to their younger patrons. It's so exciting to have the potential for these kinds of collaborations around the country.
We are also working with Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester. The cemetery has important links to American literary history, as Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony are both buried there. And, in a nod to Vonnegut, Joe Crone, his fellow soldier who inspired the character of Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, is also interred there. It is only fitting that we work with the cemetery to obtain plants or flowers to place in our literary garden to honor these significant literary and historical figures. 

We headed to Walden Pond, of course! Emily had never seen it! 

We are working with American Heritage Trees to purchase a red maple tree from Walden, as they work with The Walden Woods Project to sustainably propagate historic trees of national importance. I cannot praise both of these fine organizations enough, and if you are looking for a literary tree of your own, I would urge you to contact and support American Heritage Trees and the work they are doing.  

We visited the site of Thoreau's original cabin, which is now marked with a pile of rocks,
a sign bearing some of his most famous words from Walden, and site markers that clearly delineate the size of the cabin. It's clear Thoreau would be a big fan of today's tiny house movement! 
We also stopped in Concord to visit my friend Tom Beardsley at The Old Manse. Last fall, Tom and Susan Adam donated at least a dozen plants from the Old Manse to our Literary Garden. I wanted to stop by and let him know how well the plants were doing.

Tom was delighted by our surprise visit and even more impressed by my picture of the corn. If you scroll below, you'll see the bloody butcher corn in the Literary Garden and the same corn at the Old Manse taken just days apart:
Tom's generous donations - which are tied to three key American Transcendentalists: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau - formed the foundation of the Literary Garden and are absolutely integral to the teaching of the garden in American literature classes. Thank you, Tom, for recognizing the importance of bringing a sense of the authors' landscape to the students of West Bloomfield High School! I know the garden started to make sense for my students this past year when they read Hawthorne's "Buds and Bird-Voices" on Tom's recommendation and were able to see, touch, and smell the very same lilac bush that had inspired Hawthorne himself. 
Here's to you, Tom, and to all of the wonderful partnerships that I have made through my work on the Literary Garden in the last year! 

Please stay tuned for Part II of "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" for more news on Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman, and Ernest Hemingway!