Focus on an object in the landscape you are in, or imagine an object in
a landscape you remember. It need not be "manmade." It could also be a
natural object, like a piece of wood, a rock or a pine cone. Try to
describe the object in as much detail as possible, including the
environment it is situated in.
Writing Sample:Ernest Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds is not
unlike the two other Antarctic explorer's huts I've visited. It is
made of the same wood that has weathered years and years of storms and
is now gray and delicately showing the signs having the wood itself
scoured away from its grain. It is a similar simple design, with sharp,
neat corners. Like the other huts there are piles of ancient supplies
left inside and out -- boxes with rusted open cans in them, the cans
spilling out white beans, rice. Shackleton's hut is not unlike the
other huts, but it feels different. People describe Shackleton's hut
as homey, as feeling happy, compared to Scott' huts. Perhaps that is
because Shackleton didn't die in his attempt to reach the pole.
The first hut I visited was Robert Falcon Scott's hut at Discovery
Point, one I can see from my window at McMurdo. Scott built this hut on
his first trip to the Antarctic in 1902. The second was Scott's hut
at Cape Evans, which he built on his last trip to Antarctica in 1911.
The hut at Cape Royds was built by Shackleton and his men in 1908. His
was called the British Antarctic or Nimrod Expedition. On this trek,
Shackleton got to within 97 miles of the South Pole and also pioneered
the use of the motor car in Antarctica.
Shackleton's hut is right next to an Adelie penguin rookery, and on
the day that I visited the sea ice had opened up to a point just below
Cape Royds, so the air was full of the sounds of Adelie penguins
chattering and quaking, the sound of seals mewing and lowing from the
edge of the ice and the trumpeting sounds of Emperor penguins.
Among the items inside the hut that intrigued me most were the cans and
bottles of food, particularly a tall, thin-necked bottle of
gooseberries, still wrapped in golden straw and capped with a wax plug.
The bottle was about 12 inches high and tapered toward the top. The
straw shone with the thin light that came in one of the few windows in
the hut. Where the straw was parted I could see inside the clear
bottle. I could see the deep purple, so purple they were almost black,
gooseberries. They were small and round, suspended in dark purple
syrup. The bottles of gooseberries stood on a table in a nook at the
back of the hut, behind the huge iron woodstove, along with can of
curried rabbit, something called mulligatawny stew made by John Moir
& Son, Ltd., minced collops, calavances and cans of parsnips.
Compared to all the squat cans, the gooseberries seemed so elegant, so
civilized. I tried to imagine what dishes might be made with them, why
they were packed with straw, whether they were sweet, what it might
have been like, in 1908, to open such a bottle and have the pleasure of
eating them, spilling them over porridge or cooking them in a pancake,
all that rich purple pouring out.
Analysis:I spent some time in this piece again setting the
scene for the object I was trying to describe, the bottle of
gooseberries. But mostly I focused on trying to describe the bottle, as
an object, in its environment.