Deep within the Fernow Experimental Forest lie dusty trails, flowing streams and chirping birds; breathtaking views, scientists working frantically to discover new facts about nature and if the timing is right, you may find a small group of West Virginia University Creative Writing Program students and their professors camping out under the trees.
In English 318/393, or Writing Appalachian Ecology, students focus on writing creative nonfiction that relates to nature and ecosystems.
The six-week course consists of in-class lectures where students read creative nonfiction and scientific writing. The course is highlighted by two mandatory trips to the Fernow Experimental Forest of the Appalachian Mountains one day trip and one overnight camping trip.
“It’s a wonderful, unique experience,” said Katie Fallon, creative writing professor.
“It gives students the opportunity to slow down and sit under trees and think about the environment.”
The Fernow Experimental Forest is an active long-term research forest near Parsons, W.Va. It is operated by the U.S. Forest Service and serves to provide a better understanding of the soils, wildlife and resources in order to better protect and conserve them. It has been providing research for the last 100 years.
Fallon teaches the course with Bill Peterjohn, associate professor of biology at WVU.
“The National Science Foundation has realized there is a problem in this country of people not understanding science. Scientists put out all of this information and a lot of times only other scientists can understand it. Part of the goal (of this course) is to get creative folks to understand science,” Fallon said.
During the day trip to the forest, students hear from researchers who talk about soil and forestry techniques.
The overnight trip is where the real fun begins. Students experience different aspects of the forest during the overnight trip. Each student is assigned a spot such as a dense lot, a part that’s been damaged by fire, a a post near a stream or near the grave of an Appalachian settler. The students write for an hour before heading on to explore another spot.
After spending the day relaxing and writing in the wonder of the national forest, the students pitch tents, grab their sleeping bags and sit around a fire for the typical camping experience.
Not many other classes offer students the chance to spend the entire day in the beautiful mountains writing among the wildlife of West Virginia.
“It’s awesome. It’s one of the only courses that combines the arts with the sciences, and it’s the only creative writing course where you get to camp,” Fallon said.
English 318 is reserved specifically for English majors, who can count it as a creative writing requirement after taking another 200 level course.
English 393 is open to any student who wants to take the course, without prerequisites.
The class, which has been offered for the last two summers, will be offered in summer 2014.