Close Reading a Landscape and Creating Insta-Mood!
This first unit in English class we have been exploring what it means to have a “sense of place.” We enter the unit through Barry Lopez’ “Rediscovery of North America,” in which he coins the term “querencia:”
a place on the ground where on feels secure, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn. It comes from the verb querer, to desire, but this verb also carries the sense of accepting a challenge (Lopez, 14).
To explore this idea, students chose individual locations on our 101 acre campus which they then visited every other day. They then completed observational narratives themed around place-based authors like Annie Dillard and Henry David Thoreau.
The sample assignment below was centered around creating mood. Students used a picture they had taken of a concentrated 1ft3 area of their querencia location and put an Instagram filter on it which conveyed a mood visually. Students then revised a prior querencia journal, adding poetic devices and charged diction to convey this mood without directly stating it. This is part of the writing practice often termed “show don’t tell.” Read two student samples below and interpret the mood “hashtagged” in the title!
by D. Pansze
Inside my querencia, there is a natural square of sorts, with one side formed by a fallen
down stump, and two others formed by long-dead branches, bleached with sunlight, the last
laying only in my imagination. From my perspective, looking into the far right corner, an anthill
tunnels under the stump, a two inch wide circle concealing an entire civilization content with
lining in the dak. A single strand of spider’s silk hangs over the area, forming a mortal trap for
any insect unlucky enough to stumble into it. However, the only prize the web can show for
now is a dilapidated green leaf, dangling by its stem, a lone renegade hung by mere accident. A
lone ant crawls out of his home, making his way towards an unknown destination, to perhaps
never to return to his colony. Everyday, this ant drags himself from the lure of sleep into the
dangers of the sunlight, just to slave away for a lazy king and queen, while they lounge in their
damp underground paradise. The early morning light slants through the trees and the grass,
throwing frozen shadows but promising scorching heat later in the day. Dead pine needles and
aspen leaves litter the ground, silent and unmoving, slowly rotting back into the earth. The spider
creeps out of it’s hiding place behind the log, ready to sit still and wait for its next meal all day, as
it will the day after today, and the rest of the days before it lies down in its little burrow behind
the log for the last time. Even in a single cubic foot of space, the monotony of a thoughtless life
can be observed as readily as it can be found in the billions of humans spread across the globe.
by H. Grant
As I sit on the half-buried log that represents the central structure of my querencia, I
imagine a cube at my feet, one foot long by one foot wide by one foot tall. What I come to
realize is that another log, a blackened, broken piece of the log upon which I rest, takes up this
whole cube. As I study this piece, the colors begin to harden, to intensify. The yellowish-gold of
the actual wood becomes almost stiff looking, and menacing too. The charred blackness
becomes thick and gooey, like tar. It looks as if my hand would sink into the wood if I were to
touch it. The grain of the wood intensifies as well; the black lines which run lengthwise across
the whole log now become more like crevices. An unsuspecting bug might fall down one of
them and be lost forever, unable to pull itself back out.
My querencia, and in particular this log, used to be a place of comfort and relaxation. Now,
with the ottoman’s transformation, I become wary to even rest my feet, or else be mistaken for
some dictator or evil king. That is what the log has become; menacing, evil, overbearing, and