I began teaching composition approximately 45 years ago. In all that time, I am not sure that I managed to help many novice writers become more effective writers of expository prose. However, I did read hundreds of essays and write many comments. Over the decades, I found that the same few bits of advice remained constant: narrow and focus the topic, have a clear thesis, give specific examples, and do not overstate.
I am thinking of about expository prose today because I am struggling (again) with my own writing. How will I be able to distill a six week road trip into a narrow and focused thesis-driven post that includes specific examples and which does not overstate? I don’t know–maybe I won’t be able to manage it–but I can comfort myself with a bulleted list. I don’t understand writing, but I do believe words have power.*
- Our Route: Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia
- Birds: I hauled along my new binoculars (see Vision Quest), but I didn’t use them much. The binoculars seem a little heavy around my neck and they annoy me when they bang on my chest when I walk. Still, I think I spotted a few golden eagles this trip, and perhaps a bald eagle. We saw hawks, Steller’s jays, a red-headed woodpecker in Wind Cave National Park, a hairy woodpecker in City of Rocks National Reserve, and more.
- Favorite Set of Facts: “Roosevelt credited his Dakota experiences as the basis of his ground-breaking preservation efforts and the shaping of his own character. As president 1901-09, he translated his love of nature into law. He established the US Forest Service and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 national monuments. He worked with Congress to create five national parks, 150 national forests, and dozens of federal reserves–over 230 million acres of protected land” (From the National Park Service information pamphlet for Theodore Roosevelt National Park).
- Not narrowed, not focused, not in proper order, but here is my thesis: We traveled home the whole six weeks of our journey.
- Home was with my brothers and sisters-in-law. We visited them in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan at the beginning of the journey. Later on, we were lucky to be able to travel in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah with two of these dear ones.
- Home was with our friends in Salt Lake City and near Cromberg, CA.
- Walking through mountains, forests, prairies, and canyons felt like home.
- I am from Michigan: Water has always felt like home to me.
- North Rim and Zion: it was old home week for the soul.
- Kind strangers we met along the way made us feel at home. (Tom just suggested that I need to be more specific. Haha, see one of the bits of advice, above. I am talking about the bellman at North Rim, the tour bus driver in Zion, the server at the Duluth Grill, fellow hikers on the trail, people in line at the Huron Mountain Bakery in Marquette and many others.
- Tom and I were on the road again, but we were at home together.
*NOTE: Because of the ongoing Kavanaugh debacle (my home is about 4.5 miles by foot from the U.S. Congress), I am somewhat sad and angry today. Thinking and writing about beautiful places, family, and friends helps me feel somewhat hopeful.