Students Explore Writing in the Wild

Perched on a cliff above her campsite, Kalani Gaviola drafted lines of poetry as the first rays of sun appeared above the rocky landscape.  Lucy Pritchard strummed chords on her guitar as she penned a song to capture her feelings after days in the Mojave desert.  Leaning against a granite boulder in the shade, Denia Aispuro sketched a Joshua Tree while pondering the life of the lizard that crawled at its base. 

Such were the experiences of seventeen adventurous Bearcats who launched a new Field Studies Collaborative (FSC) course during Spring Break, backpacking into a remote area of Joshua Tree National Park to study and practice nature writing. 

Junior Lucy Schulte has felt changed by the writing experience. “This amazing trip pushed me beyond what I thought possible,” said Schulte. “Both physically and in my writing.”

The class plans to publish a collection of selected student work into a ‘zine, and release the journal at a community event on Friday, June 2, at Studios on the Park in downtown Paso Robles. At the event, from 6-8pm, students will read their work, display their art, and sing songs composed on the trip. An exhibition of their writings and art will be on display at Studios on the Park through June 16. 

“We’re looking forward to compiling the writing into a literary journal,” said senior Christine Brennan, TA for the course.  “We’ll all be published writers, and for good reason.”

The seventeen students and six adult chaperones spent four nights using “Leave No Trace” backpacking ethics and immersing themselves in poetry and prose about the experience of the desert. A local nature writer, Caryn Davidson, gave students a ‘plein air’ workshop in poetry and writing tucked into a rocky classroom among the Joshua Trees. 

“As an English teacher, I can’t think of a better way to provide young people with inspirational writing opportunities,” said Marisa Scoggins, one of the accompanying teachers. “Writing about nature connects us with ourselves.” 

Since 2016, students from PRHS have conducted botanical research with the National Park Service’s Botanists.  Desert backpacking, real climate change research, connection with park botanists and volunteers, the beauty of the desert -- all conspired to create a winning program at PRHS. 

“Someone said we can’t protect something we don’t love,” said Geoffrey Land, who founded the Joshua Tree trip. “There are many ways to love nature, and writing about wilderness is one of them.”

Though FSC was created in the PRHS Science Department, the teachers recognized there are many lenses through which to experience field studies.  The new creative writing class is an interdisciplinary collaboration between science, social science, and English teachers.  Scoggins believes the course will attract many PRHS students from the humanities, thereby expanding student exposure to Field Studies classes.  “The phone-free, desert-centered time both in small groups and solo facilitate deep thinking, and the structured, writing workshop approach is producing excellent writing,” said Scoggins.  This year’s writing will be showcased in the students’ upcoming ‘zine.

The course was developed and overseen by PRHS teachers Marisa Scoggins, Joy Raithel, Kevin LeClair, and Geoffrey Land.   It is one of several different opportunities offered under PRHS’s Field Studies Collaborative, including marine intertidal research, oral history, desert ecology, astronomy, and lab research at Cal Poly.  For more information visit the Field Studies Collaborative webpage through Paso Robles High School. 

  • Contributed by Geoffrey Land, PRHS teacher and FSC co-founder