Introduction to the Essays by Robert Begiebing

These four essays by faculty indicate both an environmental focus M.F.A. students may pursue and a university commitment to the practice of ecological literacy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized Southern New Hampshire University as one of the top national “Green Power” champions for offsetting 100 percent of its power usage by investing in renewable sources. The School of Liberal Arts, headed by Dean Karen Erickson, houses the environment, ethics and public policy major, several environmental minors, and a natural and social science faculty devoted to greater understanding of planetary environmental issues confronting us.

Each of our M.F.A. faculty authors writes here of a transformative journey toward greater understanding of the world.  In “Digging for Home,” Diane Les Becquets renders an account of her participation in an archaeological expedition to northwestern Colorado to uncover the lives of Fremont culture cliff-dwellers in the 10th and 11th centuries. Seeking solace and renewal from the collapse of her 16-year marriage, Les Becquets discovers, through immersion in the landscape and by discovering the lives of ancient peoples, personal growth toward larger life and soul — a discovery that helps her find herself anew.

Gretchen Legler writes of her peregrinations while on a National Science Foundation fellowship for artists and writers in Antarctica in “Moments of Being.” With Thoreau’s writings as her guide, Legler visits the mesmerizing ice caves of the Erebus glacier, the Dry Valley (the world’s coldest desert) and Lake Froxel Camp, where she adventures forth on a solo hike to Lake Hoare field camp — a pilgrim in a “holy land,” alone yet “at home in the universe.” Her travels take her eventually to the South Pole itself, during the Antarctic summer at minus 75 degrees Fahrenheit, to sprinkle the ashes of a friend’s mother and sister in, perhaps, one of two spots on the planet where one has a sense of being, at once, everywhere.

Richard Adams Carey’sWhere We Eat Fish,” is taken from the book-length narrative of his planetary quest for “the Philosopher Fish” — the ancient and threatened sturgeon in all its species variety. In this essay Carey’s journey is along the mighty Volga River as it flows toward the Caspian Sea, a sojourn to a fishing camp. Steeped in the region’s history and a landscape that nourishes thousands of species of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, Carey discovers Stellate sturgeon, looking “like serpents or dragons” but whose meat is “as sweet as butter.” Yet, here, as in so many places around the globe, wildlife is threatened by hypocritical governments who sustain corrupt systems where “only those with money have a voice.”

My own essay, “Big Sur Days at the Headwaters Retreat,” tells, in journal form, of my trip to a Big Sur artists’ retreat trying to salvage a novel by way of isolated work in an inspirational setting. But the essay focuses on my encounters with that landscape and its creatures, rather than on the stalled book I’m struggling to write. In short, my primary purpose becomes secondary to my daily experience of the immediate natural world.

I hope you enjoy these encounters with Mother Earth. They represent the diversity of faculty voices and experiences, as well as a direction some of our students might wish to pursue themselves.

--Robert J. Begiebing
Director, M.F.A. in Fiction and Nonfiction