Learning is Such Sweet Sorrow

There is something about fall and a pair of horses that grabs at my heartstrings. It’s my favorite time of year. Why? Because I get to return to school where I’m a visiting writer helping to turn kids on to the writing process. And, as always whenever I set about teaching something, I learn a lot from students.

This fall we’re starting a new project—a student newsletter. The first edition will be written by third graders who are proud to be reporters. Their classroom teacher bought them all nature journals as our focus is going to be on what they learn and discover about the natural world this fall.

One of the students—I’ll call him Billy, which isn’t his real name—noticed that a tree on the school grounds had been blown over by the wind. That led him to think about trees and their value to the ecosystem. He then looked at the sample newsletters and newspapers I had brought to our workshop, and asked, “Won’t trees have to be cut down to make our newsletter?”

He decided to write about how we can protect trees. A classmate decided to write about his idea to help trees: put up woodpecker houses because woodpeckers pick alien bugs out of the trees that might harm them.

I told Billy I thought that there is an organization that certifies paper that has come from sustainable forestry practices. When I got home, I consulted Google to find out more. There is such an organization—the Forest Stewardship Council. Further research indicates it does good work. Look for the green tree symbol on paper products. Not all environmental organizations give it an A in all parts of the world, however.

We can, of course, buy recycled paper to print our newsletter and recycle it after its read. It might be a good idea to incorporate a recycle reminder on our front page. And some will read it online.

I’ll tell him during the next workshop about bamboo paper products. I researched toilet paper made from bamboo because relatives of mine use it. I discovered bamboo products might be a good thing and might not— not is when growers cut down standing forests to plant bamboo. Another not is when chemicals are used to turn bamboo fiber into cloth. Another not is the greenhouse gases created when products are shipped long distances. My research says bamboo grows fast, doesn’t need herbicides and pesticides and can be planted in places where other crops don’t like to grow such as steep hillsides. But yet another not—when growers use herbicides and pesticides to boost yields.

All of this because some manufacturers are eager to capture the burgeoning green market. But all that advertises itself as green isn’t necessarily green.

The complications and nuances blow me away. Obviously, Billy isn’t going to write all that in his article. He will do his own research and choose what to write. But in doing the research to answer his question wisely, I learned a heck of a lot.

It reminds me why I write: because when you consider what you will bring to the page, you realize how little you know. The writing process is at its core all about learning.

Happy writing!