Three bloggers, one hammock

What better metaphor for the tangled web of interconnections created by this curious phenomenon of blogging than a picture of three bloggers–Jo(e), Rana, and Yours Truly–sharing a single hammock at last week’s ASLE conference in Spartanburg, SC. Apologies for the abundance of hair, lack of identifiable features, and confusion of limbs: both Jo(e) and Rana blog anonymously, and I’m not as comfortable as Jo(e) is about displaying my unclad form online, so semi-clothed and tangled on a hammock is as close to the traditional nude photo as I get. As prior precedent proves, however, I’m not complete averse to displaying an occasional bare belly or my dirty, unshod feet, so here is a flesh-baring shot of three tangled bloggers raising toes to trees.

Toes to trees

Jo(e) and Rana were two of the conference participants who presented along with me at the blogging panel I’d mentioned last week; Chas also presented but didn’t join us in our hammock. The blogosphere is a vast and varied place, and individual bloggers each follow their own protocols when it comes to disclosing personal information online. How much does a blogger which to reveal, and how much does she or he choose to hide?

Whereas Chas and I blog under our real names, both Jo(e) and Rana write pseudonymously; whereas I use first names, initials, or an occasional nom de blog to refer to friends and acquaintances, Jo(e) comes up with witty nicknames like Philadelphia Guy and Artist Friend to protect the innocent. I’ve blogged before about the problematic philosophical questions that arise when you share even a part of yourself online: perhaps it’s easier to untangle semi-clothed bodies in a hammock than it is to sort out the ethics of online self-disclosure.

As for Jo(e)’s account of our in-hammock blogger meet-up, I’m not sure I can identify (with) the High Energy Writer she mentions even though I have been known to talk about sex toys. Sometimes it’s more alluring to disguise a blogger’s real identity rather than showing her or him unmasked. When it comes to bloggish show-and-tell, sometimes you can protect the not-so-innocent by showing them as ghostly blurs or in the shadows. As in the nude photography that Jo(e) is so familiar with, discretion is sometimes as simple as the strategic shielding of significant bits, an eye-level railing going a long way to shroud the identity of three porch-rocking writers.


And when it comes to protecting your friends and sources, sometimes you have to disguise the non-photographers who have been cajoled into recording your not-quite-anonymous mingling. The blogosphere is a tangled web where even a Philadelphia Guy can enjoy his fifteen minutes of faceless fame.

Anonymous paparazzo

    Thanks to Philadelphia Guy for juggling three cameras in order to take the first and third photos in today’s post. Perhaps the title of today’s entry should be “With a Little Help from My Friends.”

Michelangelo's delphic sybil

As I’m packing and getting ready to leave the now-concluded ASLE conference here at Wofford College, I still don’t think I’ve captured the quintessential Spartanburg shot. In lieu of the quintessential, here are some images that are simply quirky: things that caught my eye over the past couple of days.

Above, for instance, is a rug reproduction of Michelangelo’s Delphic sybil: a detail from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Wofford College displays various tapestry-like rug reproductions of art masterpieces in its campus buildings: Michelangelo in the field house, and Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom in the lower level of the campus dining hall. Go figure.

Off-campus, in downtown Spartanburg, there is ample evidence of struggling local industry: closed stores, a half-empty shopping plaza, and ghost signs marking businesses that have literally left the building. Apparently the self-starters in Spartanburg, SC need a little help these days.

Ghost sign

In some cases, the face of urban renewal is faceless. Here, a downtown building has been stripped of its facade, revealing a brick foundation that bears no clues of what (if any) new incarnation is to come.


At least one big-name company still calls Spartanburg home. Although I never encountered a Denny’s restaurant during my admittedly limited rambles around town, I did stumble upon their corporate headquarters downtown.

Denny's plaza

Although only the locals still call Spartanburg “Hub City,” the converging railroads that inspired the nickname still pass through town. In a town where the local business scene is either half-empty or half-full, it’s a good thing local writers are committed to preserving the history and local color that are subsequently endangered. What does the future hold for Spartanburg? I’m afraid only a Delphic sybil is qualified to answer that question.


    Happy Father’s Day to all our Dads. I’m leaving this morning to head back to New Hampshire, then Boston, then Atlanta. It’s a good thing a laptop allows a roaming place-blogger to hang her virtual hat wherever she goes.

pitcher plants

Before you argue that a hollow log planted with pitcher plants doesn’t count as an “action” shot, consider this: these plants are predators, so by simply standing silently, they are staging an epic ambush, albeit on a small scale.

canna flower

On Thursday, I took an ASLE-sponsored field trip to Hatcher Garden here in Spartanburg, SC. A quiet-enough looking place, Hatcher is actually a testament to the transformative power of a little vision and a lot of sweat equity.

canna leaf

When Harold and Josephine Hatcher moved to Spartanburg in 1969–the year I was born–they could have sat back to enjoy a leisurely retirement. Instead, they began gardening in their single acre backyard…then began purchasing half-acre lots of trash-filled, overrun land from their neighbors’ backyards. In the time it took for me to grow from baby to college prof, the Hatchers acquired ten acres of hitherto overlooked land and transformed it into a public garden and wooded preserve.

squirrel tail

The paid and volunteer staff at Hatcher Garden now teach their neighbors how to grow flowers and vegetables, and they also educate urban and suburban children about nature and the environment. Looks can be deceiving. A pitcher plant that looks like it’s hanging out with nothing to do is actually stalking prey, and a hitherto neglected backyard might be a hidden jewel in disguise, simply waiting for a couple of caring, hard-working souls to become active.

walkers by pond

About to bloom

At Wednesday afternoon’s plenary address, ASLE conference attendees were mesmerized by Nalini Nadkarni‘s remarks about the science outreach she does as part of her work with forest canopy ecosystems. As a scientist who studies treetops from the treetops, Nadkarni has brainstormed a handful of innovative ways of bringing ecological insights to people who normally wouldn’t venture into the trees she studies. Whether preaching in places of worship, teaching prisoners how to study moss, or marketing a “TreeTop Barbie” to spread an ecological message to young girls, Nadkarni is energetically committed to spreading her environmental enthusiasm with non-scientists.

The folks who make up ASLE are a tree-loving bunch, so Nadkarni was pretty much preaching to the choir: we didn’t need sermons or Barbie dolls to get us interested in forest canopies. But what I found most interesting about Nadkarni’s various methods of reaching out to non-scientists of all ages and backgrounds was the way she relied upon nonverbal means of engaging her audiences. At one point in her address, Nadkarni shared drawings made by an Innuit man who had never seen much less climbed a giant redwood; Nadkarni also shared her collaborations with composers, rap singers, and modern dancers, all of whom used their creative skills to communicate the ecological vision Nadkarni had turned them onto. Some folks (like those of us belonging to the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment) like to read, write, and talk about environmental ideas; other folks, though, like to make or listen to music, dance, or draw. Nadkarni’s creative, inter-disciplinary, and impressively engaging approach to turning people onto environmental ideas gets them physically involved in the work of conservation. She’s not paying lip service to green ideas: she’s bringing people to their feet and to the trees to get them involved and interested in the work of forest ecology.


As the Lorax was wont to point out, someone like Nadkarni needs to speak for trees, for the trees themselves have no tongues. But merely speaking for trees isn’t enough, either. The Lorax concludes with an emotional appeal: unless listeners to the Lorax’s tale care “a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better; it’s not.” Simply talking about trees isn’t enough, and neither is listening: you have to care about trees “a whole awful lot” to make any sort of difference. On the whole, people (at least regular, non-bookish ones) don’t care much for books, ideas, or words alone: it’s difficult to hug a book or feel the warm embrace of a concept. If part of our mission as environmentalists is to get people to care “a whole awful lot” about trees, forests, and the like, we have to hit people somewhere other than their head. Art, music, dance, and the simple act of climbing a tree all engage people on an emotional, visceral, and/or physical level: you have to get out of your head to climb a tree.

(If you want to hear Nalini Nadkarni’s presentation, you can access it here and here, along with the question-and-answer session here.)

Tightly furled

I mention Nadkarni’s more-than-verbal approach to sharing ecological research with non-scientists because yesterday morning, after breakfast but before the a-ha moment I experienced at the morning plenary session, I was feeling Conference Overload. In my everyday life back in Keene, I have ample opportunities for silent solitude and avoid anything remotely resembling “networking.” It’s not that I don’t play well with others: I can and do interact socially when the moment and mood so moves. But ever since childhood, I’ve had no problem entertaining myself: I can and do play well on my own. So given the choice between, say, a conference meet-and-greet and the chance to explore a new-to-me place with camera in hand, I’ll be sorely tempted to choose the later. I enjoy social interactions, but like Thoreau, I often find I think best when there’s a healthy distance between me and the people I interact and converse with.

In other words, I’m a writer and thinker who thrives on silence and solitude as much as community and conversation…and conferences are designed to encourage the latter more than the former. Conferences are a place where people come together to share ideas, and for some conference-goers, the excitement of this interaction causes a slumber-party-like adrenaline rush where conversations and cameraderie last far into the night. I, for good or ill, am not that kind of conference-goer. I’m the kind of person who needs to simmer ideas in silence awhile before figuring out (in my head or on paper) what I’m trying to say, really.

Just past its prime

Yesterday after breakfast and before the morning plenary session, I was feeling starved for solitude. Having already discovered that my brain isn’t built to absorb an entire day’s worth of presentations, I’d given myself permission to skip several sessions for sanity’s sake: I figured it was wiser to concentrate on absorbing the panels I really wanted to attend rather than trying to guzzle everything on tap. But still, yesterday morning I found myself bridling at the thought of more panels, more presentations, and more people to process. It was as if I’d already hit Information Overload, and the conference had barely begun.

One informal agreement I’d made with myself when I signed up to attend this week’s entire conference was to try to keep my usual breakfast ritual: first eat, then write. Yesterday as I scribbled several pages in my notebook, I found myself wondering why I felt so cranky about being surrounded by intelligent people and their engaging ideas. Have I really become so much of an anti-social hermit, I wondered, that I prefer being holed away with my laptop, writing, than actually interacting with flesh-and-blood humans? Or was there something about my conference experience that was flawed or faulty: was there, in a word, something I could fix to make conference-life in Spartanburg just a bit more Lorianne-friendly?

Gone to seed

In investigating the odd sense of malaise I felt being surrounded by people, I thought of other writers who were similarly solitary. Thoreau, as I already mentioned, cherished solitude, considering three people a crowded house. May Sarton, who lived alone not far from Keene, often complained about loneliness but was honestly relieved whenever she returned to her house after a book-signing or other social event. Both Thoreau and Sarton, I suspect, found themselves fueled by quiet time, their artistic strength coming from a contemplative place, not an active one. As I wrote my post-breakfast pages sitting alone in a cafeteria dotted with clusters of chatting conference-goers, I felt more akin to Thoreau and Sarton than anyone I saw sitting around me. If quiet “downtime” is what I need to re-group and then write, why should I feel guilty about my loner ways?

And yet, I’m not a “loner”; I just occasionally like to be alone. One of the things that occurred to me as I sat writing was the relative lack of structured solitude I’d spent since arriving in Spartanburg: I hadn’t taken any time to intentionally settle into silence. It’s one thing to be silent because the situation demands it; it’s another to make a conscious choice not to speak. Unintentional silence is a shy, lonely person alone at a party hoping someone will introduce themself; intentional silence is an otherwise outgoing person making a conscious decision to unplug, briefly, from the social scene. I don’t consider myself a shy, lonely person, but yesterday I was feeling an acute need to unplug. In the blur of traveling to and then settling into a busy conference, I hadn’t taken any time to de-compress, returning to my senses by consciously returning to the present moment.

A new leaf

And then I remembered the huge, multiple-branched magnolia tree outside the Old Main Building at the center of the Wofford College campus. Part of why I was so personally moved by Nalini Nadkarni’s presentation–and part of why I feel as comfortable alone as I do with other people–has to do with my odd childhood, when my best friend was a tree. The neighborhood where I grew up had few children for me to play with, so I spent a lot of time engaged in quiet, self-entertaining pursuits such as reading. The maple tree that stood in the courtyard between my family’s and our neighbor’s house–the same tree that is inextricably connected with my first memory of death–was my childhood companion and confidante, sheltering my childish thoughts as I lay dreaming below. Is it any surprise that a child who solaced herself with books, solitary games of make-believe, and a single sheltering maple would grow to love trees and books about them? Is it any surprise that a child whose best friend was a tree would acquire a Thoreauvian temperament?

Beneath a magnolia

The Buddha sat beneath a sacred fig, and yesterday I sat beneath a towering magnolia, the leaf-carpeted parlor under its branching boughs providing a quiet place for me to return to my breath. Reading, talking, and writing about trees is fine and good, but sometimes you have to listen to what trees have to say. Trees have no tongues–the Lorax was right about that–but that doesn’t mean trees have nothing to say and share. Trees are short on words but long on wisdom, so you have to quiet your inner chattering self to hear the murmuring message they’d utter, wordless, to your receptive soul.

after mowing

It is the nature of academic conferences that you have lots of “Gee-whiz, let me write that down” insights…but those “a-ha moments” that sit you bolt-upright in your seat are rarer and more precious.

This morning, at the very end of the Q&A portion of Orion Magazine’s plenary panel on “The New, New Environmental Writing” featuring David Gessner, Ginger Strand, and Jordan Fisher Smith, Ginger Strand make a remark that brought into crystal-clear focus what I’ve been trying to do for the past three-plus years on Hoarded Ordinaries. In noting what’s good about the “old” nature writing of a writer like Henry David Thoreau, Strand said it was his “sustained attention” to lived experience: his life, the world around him, his ever-active mind.


It was that phrase “sustained attention” that zinged me like a lightening bolt…and that phrase also resonated with a Keene State colleague who sat next to me during this morning’s plenary panel. If my sometimes-personal blogging about place isn’t about sustained attention, I don’t know what it’s about.

On Saturday morning, I’m participating in a session titled “Grass Roots, Web Logs, and Virtual Moss? An Ecocritical Look at Blogging.” The presentation title I’d proposed is “The Personal Is Ecological: Locating the Self in Place-based Weblogs,” and I’ve been struggling all week with what to say on Saturday. What I want to talk about is the way that many so-called place-bloggers actually focus as much on so-called “personal” matters as they do on so-called “environmental” ones: in my mind, the line between “nature writing” and “personal writing” is hopelessly blurred on blogs such as mine, and I consider that a good thing.

new bloom

What I’ve been struggling with, though, is with finding language to explain why I think it’s a good thing to blend “the personal” with “the environmental.” In my vague grappling toward articulation, I’ve reasoned that habitats consist of particular places combined with communities of interconnected creatures, so blogs that ground a specific person in a particular place are “ecological” in depicting these interconnections. But until Ginger Strand uttered the worlds “sustained attention,” I didn’t have a narrative “hook” to hang my intellectual “hat” upon.


Like several of the participants in today’s Orion Magazine panel (most memorably David Gessner, who addresses this very issue in his book Sick of Nature), I resist the “nature writer” mantle. Yes, I mention birds, trees, and other natural things here…but I show just as many pictures of pick-up trucks, graffiti-covered walls, and other human-made objects. In selecting a masthead image for this newly formated version of Hoarded Ordinaries, in fact, I intentionally chose one with bricks. Yes, there’s some leafy green foliage at the top of my new blog-home, but the leafy-green left is juxtaposed against a brick red right. Here’s the place, ladies and gentlemen, where “nature” meets “culture” and “place” is something “personal.”

tight bud

As David Gessner listed the kinds of things he wishes he could see more of in so-called “nature writing”–references to booze, shit, and machines, written by people who have real-world jobs and aren’t “white guys from Harvard”–I kept thinking of the place-bloggers I read and know: folks with whom I’ve actually drank and shot the shit. The “New, New Environmental Writing”–prose that breaks free of the “gentle strait-jacket of genre” that Gessner decries–is being written and read…it just isn’t necessarily found in the “quiet magazines” that Gessner claims to be so sick of. “We’re here,” I wanted to shout from the back of Wofford College’s Leonard Auditorium, “but we aren’t writing and publishing in the places you’re looking!” Panelist Jordan Fisher Smith pinpointed the precise reason why conventionally published nature writing–the stuff you read in books and quiet magazines–is so homogenous: as a product sold primarily to urban audiences, nature writing is marketed as “epiphanies from pretty places,” and much of what place-bloggers such as Dave and Beth and Fred are offering isn’t always pretty or neatly epiphanic.

I find it hugely ironic that the name of the journal Gessner founded, Ecotone, is the same as the now-defunct place-bloggers wiki were I first found my feet as an online writer. There already is a community of “new, new voices” who are writing and publishing genre-defying nature writing…we just tend to fly under the conventional market radar. Because we deliver our writing straight to our audiences without the middle-men of journals, agents, book publishers, and the like, we can push the usual generic boundaries, offering “nature writing” that is sometimes pretty, sometimes dirty, and always personal. What remains constant, regardless of what we call the writing on our blogs, is the process of how we produce it. Whether I’m blogging a conference in South Carolina or the graffiti-covered factories in my neighborhood back in New Hampshire, what I do when I sit down to write is try to pay Sustained Attention to where I am.

    UPDATE: A two-part podcast of this morning’s plenary panel is posted here and here. Enjoy!


Yesterday while I was seeking the quintessential Spartanburg shot, I saw a grandmotherly woman with a orange-banded hat rolling a orange-shirted toddler in a baby stroller right up to this low-hanging magnolia blossom so the boy could consider it at eye-level. I wasn’t sure which was prettier: a snowy white flower that conveniently bloomed at the level of passing toddlers and photo-bloggers, or a well-dressed grandmother whose hat-band perfected matched her grandson’s cheery shirt.

One drawback of attending a conference with a full schedule of interesting plenary sessions, paper presentations, and plain ol’ socializing is the serious dent it puts in your flower-smelling schedule. Between the conference and my online-teaching obligations, I haven’t had much time to stop and smell the magnolias, much less blog. I trust you can find some nearby posies to ponder while I’m otherwise occupied.

Calvary Baptist Church

Upon hearing that I’d be spending a week in South Carolina, a friend who used to live in Georgia gave me a challenge: shoot a quintessentially “Spartanburg” shot. Having been on my feet here at Wofford College for less than 24 hours, I don’t feel entirely up to that challenge…but that didn’t stop me from taking an early morning walk in search of breakfast and some blog-worthy images.

The photo above gives a sense of the Christian values that surround Wofford, originally established as a Methodist college. On this morning’s brief walk along the main street fringing campus, I quickly realized why Highway 221 is also called “North Church Street.” On this same morning walk I also quickly realized why the Days Inn right across from campus was not recommended by conference organizers: although I’m no hotel snob, I know ugly architecture when I see it.

The world's ugliest Day's Inn?

The Spartanburg county offices aren’t architecturally elegant, but bureaucratic buildings seldom are. I’d say “spare” plus “utilitarian” equals “Spartan Spartansburg.”

County offices

My quest for the quintessential Spartanburg shot notwithstanding, my search for this morning’s breakfast was happily satisfied. Although this vintage Krispy Kreme was closed, there was a new one right across the street that was serving glazed goodness hot off the bakery line.

Home of glazed goodness

Returning to campus under the influence of a Krispy Kreme sugar rush, I delighted in Wofford College’s well-maintained grounds with plenty of shade trees and soothing fountains.

Wofford Arboretum

Shade & fountain

Not so soothing are Vivian Stockman’s mountaintop removal photos, which are currently on display in Wofford’s Sandor Teszler Library. Not knowing the library’s photography policy, I refrained from shooting any of Stockman’s photos…but you can see and learn more about this particular form of environmental atrocity by revisiting Dave’s post on the topic.

In lieu of mountaintop removal, I shot a single picture of the funky stairwell down to the lower level gallery where Stockman’s photos are on display: not exactly quintessential, but definitely quirky.

Angular architecture

If I’d been hired to shoot student recruitment pictures for the Wofford viewbook, I’d certainly offer this tree-shaded shot of the college’s Main Building, complete with lounging students.

For the view book

But if you want a quintessential shot of the Spartan side of Spartanburg, all you need to do is take a quick peek at my Wofford College dorm room, where I’ll be blogging this week’s conference activities.

Appropriately Spartan