Forty years ago, while in Marshall High School senior English class, my teacher, Emma Mae Broetze, required a third long paper. My first paper on "The Dissolution of English Monastic Life" had been well received. At the time I was preparing for the Methodist cloth and Miss Broetze was German, so the topic was easy and interesting. We'd used the outline-index cards method of writing during class time. That paper was followed one of her choosing on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," in which I showed limited light. I recovered favor by penning the poem "Life is a Candle" and turning my Spanish class to good use by trilling my r's in reciting the poetry of Robert Burns, the Scottish Bard.
For the third paper, in time from my wooden and metal desk, I piped up with a title "The Autobiographical Aspects of Sir Walter Scott's Novels." Miss Broetze, being QUITE versant in Scott, replied that she'd never thought of such a topic, and I quivered as she noted she'd take special interest in that.
Well, I went forth, grazing the green grass and ambling the thick forests of Waverly etc among the knights of yore and such. Finally, the written deed was done, and well footnoted. I got only a B- and never really understood why I'd fallen despite her stentorian, public explanations. And I didn't know how to explain my approach successfully. As it turns out, autobiography to me WAS an exploration of one's own natural surroundings, and Scott wonderfully described his natural world (since there was little else in those days). My own biography was composed of places (outside the physical, wooden homeplace) in nature. We lived on the edge of town near the "Piney Woods," the "Shop Pond," the "Hill," the "Lake," the "Yard," the "Park," the "Red Clay Pits," the "Pottery Hay Barn," the "Vines,", the "Black Berry Patch," the "Fig Grove," the "Pear Tree," the "Sycamore Tree," the "Pecan Tree," the "Weeds," the "Creek," the "Horse Pen," and the "Quick Sand Bog." To tell my own biography was to context my personal perambulations and extempore postulations within these natural spots. They defined me. When asked "Where were you," "What were you doing" and "Who were you with" I explained naturally. And it all made sense to my mother Joy and father John without deep inquiry.
But I was not match for Miss Broetze's template of formality. Why couldn't she see? Maybe she was bent on civilizing the young hellians before her. Maybe the paper was poorly done.
Only years later did I being to understand. There was Roy Bedichek and Loren Eiseley with their essays on the particulars of nature and the mysteries of life and the sense of place. WH