Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hemingway Field Trip Time!

I have had a blast traveling the country and gathering plants for the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden, but in the back of my mind I have always hoped to bring my students to the places where these authors found their inspiration. This week, with the help of Michigan Hemingway Society President Chris Struble and critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Dr. George Colburn, my sophomores, juniors, and seniors got to visit Ernest Hemingway country in northern Michigan - the home of the Nick Adams stories.

Photo courtesy of Maggie L.

We do have mint in the Literary Garden, and when we read some of the Nick Adams stories, we did go outside and pick, smell, and taste the mint as we read the first paragraph of "Summer People:"

"HALFWAY DOWN THE GRAVEL ROAD FROM Hortons Bay, the town, to the lake there was a spring. The water came up in a tile sunk beside the road, lipping over the cracked edge of the tile and flowing away through the close growing mint into the swamp. In the dark Nick put his arm down into the spring but could not hold it there because of the cold. He felt the featherings of the sand spouting up from the spring cones at the bottom against his fingers. Nick thought, I wish I could put all of myself in there. I bet that would fix me. He pulled his arm out and sat down at the edge of the road. It was a hot night."

We talked about the symbolism of that spring and its baptismal qualities, and what a WWI veteran like Nick might be attempting to wash away. We talked about mint and why it's used in gum, how it's billed as a "refreshing" flavor, and how that added to Nick's desire to purge himself of the horrors of war, of his early trauma, of his lustful thoughts, and so forth. And yes, having the mint in the garden provides a tangible and visible experience for my students that most literature classes just don't have. But when I bussed them up to Hemingway country for the day, everything changed.
Photo courtesy of Alison A.

Photo courtesy of Rachel D.

Photo courtesy of Rachel D.

The students plunged their own hands in the water, picked the mint at its source, tried to catch frogs hanging out at the lip of the "cracked tile," and connected to Hemingway's words in a way that no video or link or digital text could ever capture. They reported that the water was shockingly cold and that they could now better understand why Nick would want to put his whole body in there to somehow purify himself from all he had been through in his young life. It made sense to them.

There's something so visceral, so tangible, about wading in the waters of Horton Bay and Walloon Lake where Hemingway and his friends went swimming. (Photo courtesy of Alison A.)

Photo courtesy of Maggie L.

Photos courtesy of Alison A.

Hemingway didn't say this, but Henry David Thoreau did, back in 1841: "What I begin by reading, I must finish by acting." It is my sincere hope that I can continue to offer these kinds of opportunities to my students to make literature jump off the page and into their hands - literally. 

Who knows what kind of inspiration my students will find from one of these literary trips? Who knows how they will choose to act, what they will choose to become, as a result of this intoxicating mix of great literature and the nature that inspires it? I know I will keep reading and acting to find the opportunities for my students...and I will let them take it from there.
Photo courtesy of Haley P.

We are extraordinarily grateful to Chris Struble of the Michigan Hemingway Society and to Dr. George Colburn for all that they did to make this trip a reality. You can check out Dr. Colburn's new documentary on Young Hemingway here!