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11. Shapes in the Landscape
By Gretchen Legler
Genre: Non-fiction
Year: 1997 Category: Student Examples

Writing Assignment:

In this exercise, try a "generating technique" that is a simple list of things. Often this is a very good way to come up with something to write about and it is easy. Anyone can make a list. In this list include shapes that you see in the landscape--shapes that are unique to your particular landscape, or just any old shape--the shapes of trees, of ponds, of rocks, mountain ranges, flowers, shapes in the sky and in the soil. This kind of thing can add a lot of texture and interest to your writing. Below is my list from some places I've visited in Antarctica.


In this list I tried to write about some of the different kinds of shapes in this landscape. I tried to write about the sharp, square, right-angled shapes, and also the smooth shapes that contrasted with them. My list is more narrative. Your list can be a list of single words, or just a few words. The important thing is to include as much as you can in your list.

Writing Sample:

Round bubbles of air trapped in the ice at the pond at Black Island. They are juxtaposed so starkly with the cracks in the ice, cracks that run deep and small, at all angles, crossing and recrossing each other and running out to the edges of the pond. Some of the bubbles look like small, white, perfectly round planets under the green/blue ice. Others look like comets, with long streamers of smaller bubbles behind them, shooting up toward the surface from deep below. Ice cracks and bubblesThe polygons in the cracked sand in the Wright Valley, near Lake Vanda in Antarctica's Dry Valleys. From the air they seem drawn there, perfectly, by someone with a ruler. They are in squares, five-sided shapes, even six-sided odd configurations. They look like dark brown honeycombs. They are caused by freezing and drying soil, which expands and contracts and they spread themselves out here on the valley floor. The cracks between them fill up with snow, so the shapes are dark brown outlined in white. Beside the polygons, with their sharp sides and right angles, run the ephemeral braids of the dry Onyx River, the longest river in Antarctica at about 11 miles. It is a shallow winding river even at its deepest and strongest when Lake Vanda melts at the edges and the water begins to flow. Now, in the dry season, we can see only its dry trace from the air, the curves of it that meet one another, snake away in another direction, swing back, curve across each other, twining and untwining. The tall square icebergs at Cape Roberts, with snow on top of them, some standing straight up, looming huge against the sky; some tilted slightly or cracked, the deep blue inside them shining out. The curves and smooth hummocks of the hills around Marble Point, softened by wind and ice. Between the hills glaciers come sloping down in the same smooth way, as if they had been poured out of a big pitcher of ice and snow. Cracked earth and braided riverThe fissured face of the Canada Glacier that I see from my tent each morning and evening as I come and go at the camp at Lake Hoare in the Dry Valleys. The chief scientist at the camp jokes that those cracks, those deep blue holes, are where the glacier owls and glacier elves live. The deep blue broken cracks contrast with the great smooth, solid bulk of snow and ice that hunkers above them at the top of the glacier. The feathery turns in the snow caused by the wind. The wind turns and shapes the snow as easily as wind does sand in another other dry windy place. Here I see a curled lip, so delicate it seems only a few snowflakes thick, hanging every so lightly at the end of a long arm of snow. It looks to me like the unfurling head of a fern. The horizon in Antarctica, when you are out on the ice, is a series of thin colored lines, stretching forever. Thin and long and gray or white, or black or blue. A series of lines, piled on top of one another. A version of a terrestrial rainbow. In the Dry Valleys the rolling hills of sand, some of which swoop down to the edges of the frozen lakes and make flat beaches, contrast with peaks so craggy and dark you imagine you could cut yourself if you ran you finger along the tops of them.
Top Illustration is a visual representation of shapes in the landscape: ice cracks and bubbles. Lower illustration is "Cracked Earth and Braided River in the Dry Valleys." Copyright 11.24.97

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