One of my primary concerns as a writer is “how does place make a person human?” I return to this question over and over again, whether I am writing creative nonfiction, short fiction, or poetry. I have been working on a “poetic inventory” of Albuquerque, (including the Sandia Mountains to the Rio Grande and parts of the West Mesa Open Space). It is analogous to a “scientific inventory” of a location’s biodiversity, where field ecologists catalogue all of the flora and fauna present in the area. Unlike a scientific inventory, the works move beyond a strictly literal cataloging, which does not arrive at the essence of a thing. I am also exploring the relationship between “wilderness and civilization” as a part of this project, human impact on designated nature zones/open space and how wilds reemerge within the city. In these poems, lyric essays, and flash fictions, I have invented local folktales, reimagined real histories, and moved beyond regurgitating facts to help create a sense of the animals, the plants, and the place.
To write “Quakies” I began with research. I read everything from the entry on aspens in the Field Guide to the Sandia Mountains to an academic article about arborglyphs, specifically ones drawn on aspen by Basque shepherds in Northern New Mexico. I made notes and developed a list of the facts that I found most interesting and thought provoking, such as how quickly a whole colony could disappear. Then I started to toy with rhyme, rhythm, and the order of information and think about what I was trying to communicate through the aspen.
Writing prompt: Pick something in your ecosystem you’d like to know more about. Research it online, in a library database or with Google Scholar. Read widely—you’ll likely find sources that will surprise you with unexpected connections—and take notes. Using your notes, develop a list of ten-to-twelve facts. As you edit down your list, think about what draws you to these facts, this particular aspect of this plant or animal, and why you would like to share this information with someone. Does the list provide a metaphor? Does it say something about humanity even though it’s a cactus? Then start shaping and writing your work to draw out this theme.
Amaris Feland Ketcham is an honorary Kentucky Colonel and Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico. Her work has previously appeared in Creative Non ction, the Los Angeles Review, Rattle, and the Utne Reader.