Watching and Receiving: A Few Words from Department Chair, Pam Corpron Parker

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In his poem, “The Tables Turned,” William Wordsworth famously charges his reader, “Up! Up! my Friend, and quit your books:/or surely you’ll grow double.” This may be music to the ears of homework-weary students, but I don’t think Wordsworth intended for us to toss our books in the dumpster and give up reading altogether.  Rather, he invites us to seek a balance between reading about the world and experiencing it first-hand.  He beckons us to “Come forth into the light of things,/Let Nature be your teacher.”  This is good advice as we head into the thick of the semester with midterm papers and exams piling up like fall leaves.

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Several weeks ago on Community Building Day, a group of dozen or more students and faculty from the departments of English, theology, and world languages did just this.  We set aside our classes and books to work in the Westminster Garden. Under the direction of Leonard Oakland, we raked, weeded, pruned, and planted daffodil bulbs together.  (I think that Wordsworth would have given us the thumbs up on our bulb choice, don’t you?)  We got our hands dirty, talked about books and classes, and learned (as Wordsworth’s poem explains) that Nature “has a world of ready wealth,/Our minds and hearts to bless.”

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For me, digging in a homely daffodil bulb is an inherently hopeful activity.  To plant bulbs, or any seed for that matter, we enact a tangible metaphor of faith, particularly the act of faith that is teaching. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”(KJV).  Teachers rarely know what students take away from their lessons, but we have faith in the educational relationship, the works we teach, and the students themselves.

Later that day, we headed back our classes but the garden still glowed in the afternoon sunlight.  We—and the garden—were blessed by our time together in Nature’s classroom. These community events are part of what makes learning and working around Westminster such a pleasure.  Whitworth’s “education of mind and heart” (oddly presaged in Wordsworth’s poem) spills out into the garden and beyond.

If you have been around Westminster Hall, you may have noticed that the garden is particularly exuberant this fall.  Purple asters, black-eyed Susan, Russian Sage, and feather reed grass crowd around the basalt columns and tumble onto the sidewalk.  In part, this is a result of rather pungent doses of compost last spring, but it is also due to the faithful labors of senior (?) English major John Hope, who spent much of his summer working and reading in the Westminster Garden.  Most afternoons, I would find John weeding or watering or reading in the shade of the weeping cherry trees. (As you can see in this accompanying photo, the garden is a good place to grow beards and flowers.)

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Speaking of gardens and poets and beards, we have been celebrating Thom Caraway’s nomination as Spokane’s first poet laureate this week. (For more information, see the Spokes-person Review’s article about Thom on the front page of the “Northwest” section.)  No one deserves this recognition more. Thom has been a tireless poet, teacher, and community advocate at Whitworth and in his beloved West Central neighborhood.  He is thoroughly planted in Spokane, not only because he is a longtime resident, but also through his role as the board president at Project H.O.P.E., a local nonprofit dedicated to improving the West Central neighborhood.  Project H.O.P.E. provides job training for at-risk youth through teaching them to garden, market, and sell vegetables grown on Riverfront Farm, an urban farm expanding to eight empty lots in West Central.

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Thom’s achievement is good news for all of us and a reminder of what it means to walk your talk.  Another beloved Whitworth poet, Laurie Lamon says, “For this honor to come to Thom speaks volumes for the service, teaching, and mentoring he has done, so much of it quietly, and all of it with the heart, mind and soul of a poet who has served first and foremost his community and students.”  Join us in congratulating Thom, or better yet, send him a note.

In the meantime, live in hope and remember Wordsworth’s advice to glory in the days of fall: “Come forth, and bring with you a heart / That watches and receives.