Having an Herbarium (an Emily Dickinson Inspiration)

Emily Dickinson is my people. I first came across her poetry when I was about 12 or 13, reading the height of ‘80s teen romantic literature, a series called “Sweet Dreams”. Anybody else remember those books? Did you read them with New Kids on the Block muzak coming from your cassette player? Anyhow, I’ve lost my copies of those along with many other books from my youth, which really makes me sad and explains why I don’t lend books anymore.

The Sweet Dreams stories I distinctly remember as the ones that sparked my fascination in Emily Dickinson are called “The Right Combination” and “Love Lines”. I remember the titles and the story lines like I read them yesterday. I would give anything to own traditional copies of these books again… okay, maybe just a hundred pesos each, so if you have them, please consider selling them to me.

This post isn’t about Sweet Dreams, but about Emily Dickinson and how, decades after she grabbed me with lines like “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (fodder for my reclusive, angst-ridden, popularity-loathing teen self), she’s still finding ways to remind me that she’s a kindred soul.

Consistent with my fangirl leanings, I already know a lot about Emily Dickinson. I did my high school senior year research paper on her (my teacher actually groaned at the breadth of the folder I’d turned in), as I did my Comm 2 research paper in my first year of college, with focus on Emily’s love life (the professor was amused and delighted with my enthusiasm, saying that I’d actually already created a mini-thesis and I could just develop and expound on what I had for my actual thesis – yeah, that was three years away and I couldn’t connect the topic with my actual major, which was Spanish).

So, the recent pleasurable fellow feeling I’ve had in relation to Emily stemmed from an article about her herbaria. I knew she studied botany and was an avid gardener, but I failed to home in on that information as something of significance when I was young. I’m very much interested in botany, but have never actively pursued the study, except casually in gardening and reading for the purpose of gardening and homeopathy. I figured it was time to put some system and structure into the interest.

With the feature on her herbaria, I found another way to not-so-subtly re-introduce her to my homeschooler (of course, my daughter is already familiar with some of Emily’s poems, thanks to her obsessed mother). With the poet as inspiration, we started working on our own herbarium.

We basically took a scrapbook, onion paper, and white label stickers (all of which were already in our supplies and miscellaneous drawers), and then we started clipping from our own garden. Let me tell you, our herbarium smells lovely. It’s not limited to our own garden plants, of course. When we see something pretty or interesting in our nature walks, we clip a sample and put it in a baggie to be researched and added to the herbarium later. Don’t worry; in our foraging and wildcrafting jaunts, we’re always careful not to overharvest.

What information do we usually jot down in our herbarium to accompany the cuttings?

  • Common name, location where it was found
  • Scientific name
  • Description
  • Practical function

Doing this reminds me of the 100 Species Challenge I participated in on my other blog, which was kind of like working on an online herbarium, using pictures instead of actual clippings. Virtual or actual, I find creating an herbarium fascinating and really fun. Now, I understand how this interest can leave others cold, but if you like botany and find pursuits like this incredibly satisfying, make your presence known in the comments section. Do the same if you love Emily Dickinson. 🙂

A Pocket Full of Poetry

Emily Dickinson coverHello! Did you know that April is Poetry Month? As a homeschooler and poetry lover, I’m excited to observe it. If a whole month is too much of a commitment for you, you can concentrate your celebration on the 18th which is Poem in Your Pocket Day. As it is, I’ve introduced Emily Dickinson, my favorite poet from girlhood to my daughter. I voraciously read Dickinson in my early teens, thanks to her “I Am Nobody? Who Are You?”, which really resonated with me back then. Here’s a candid confession… High brow literature elitists wouldn’t approve, but I discovered Dickinson via those ubiquitous (back in the ’80s and ’90s anyway) Sweet Dreams teen romance novels. I vividly remember those two influential  books. I still know their titles and their plot. I could probably even detail some of the scenes. Here’s some more candid confession – I’m also trying to locate copies. As expected, my own copies were borrowed by loathsome creatures who didn’t have a nodding acquaintance with the word “return”. So, if you find copies of “The Right Combination” by Jahnna Beecham and “Love Lines” by Frances Hurley Grimes, please send them over this way; I promise to reimburse you. In any case, I haven’t exactly outgrown Dickinson, but my horizons have broadened some. These days, I tend to prefer reading Isabella Gardner; I love her use of language and the imagery she paints with her words.

Hope page
Going back to Poetry Month, I’m saving “I Am Nobody…” for later and starting Marguerite on “Hope (is the thing with feathers)”. Also, instead of regular stories, we’re reading children’s poems at bedtime. Marguerite really enjoys the Dr. Seuss ones. She’s a big one for silliness, that girl. Incidentally, lots of famous bedtime prayers rhyme, so if you want your kids to memorize something, going with a prayer will be much like hitting two birds with one stone. I personally love this one and have taught it to Marguerite –

Father, We Thank Thee

Father, we thank thee for the night,
And for the pleasant morning light;
For rest and food and loving care,
And all that makes the day so fair.

Help us to do the things we should,
To be to others kind and good;
In all we do, in work or play,
To grow more loving every day.

Rebecca Weston – 1890

There are so many ways to celebrate Poetry Month. If you’re a homeschooler who wishes to instill the love of poetry in your kids, a parent whose child won’t be celebrating Poetry Month at his or her school, or somebody who simply enjoys poetry, the following are some suggestions on how you can make the most of this month:

  • If you have a business, offer discounts or a freebie to those carrying poems in their pockets on the 18th.
  • Post short verses on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Handwrite verses on Post-its and stick them all over the house. Or the neighborhood.
  • Distribute bookmarks with your favorite verses.
  • Post a poem on your blog.
  • Text a poem to friends (but not while driving).
  • Revisit your favorite poet from childhood with your kids.
  • Include a poem in your kid’s lunch bag.
  • Organize a poetry reading.
  • Assign poems for copywork.
  • Using chalk, write poems on sidewalks.
  • Watch a movie that involves poetry. Take care to make sure that all content is suitable for kids. Even “Dead Poets Society” is PG. Perhaps “A Child’s Garden of Poetry” if you can find a copy?
  • Write poems for your kids, with your kids… just write. You can even take a single sheet of paper and pass it around (if you have more than one child) or back and forth, putting in a word or two during your turn. Once the paper is filled, you’ll have something akin to Dadaist poetry.

For sure there are more ideas out there. You can check out these Pinterest pages for other possible activities. Happy Poetry Month!

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