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leaf not the tree

March 4, 2009


When I take my camera somewhere new, the first photographs are of “the big picture” to tell me where I am. These are the shots that give me a sense of the scale or scope of the place.

And then I get to my favourite part.

I start noticing details, bits and pieces that catch my eye – angles, colours, textures, light. These are the shots that give me a sense of the flavour and character of the place. I have to change my focus to capture these effectively.

It is much like this in writing for me.

My first year of high school, our English class tested new curriculum materials for the district. The teacher – a stylish young woman, new to teaching – was earnest in her efforts to engage the class.

Mostly, we were bored.

Until she brought out a unit called “Leaf Not The Tree.” The idea was to encourage students to look at details – the leaf, not the tree – and to use these elements to enrich our writing. We looked at slides, listened to sounds out of context, played with poetry forms, and learned to really pay attention.

I believe the district determined the unit a failure. For me, I know it shaped the way I look at the world, the way I appreciate the details, and how grateful I am for the little things.

I call that success.


listening to: Jason Aldean, Amarillo Sky

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