Onward and upward we go until the end of summer! Here, Dr. Elizabeth Engelhardt tells us what she did this summer through this photo essay…
Sometimes I have a summer that looks like this:
Other years my summer can look more like this:
But right in the middle, I got a little of this:
It’s a wild turkey feather that I picked up while walking around the homestead of one of my favorite authors, Wilma Dykeman. Her son and daughter-in-law were giving me a tour of the house, writing retreat, fresh water springs, and mixed forests outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Before Rachel Carson, Dykeman was sounding the alarm about the interrelated damage of poisoned waters, polluted air, and unchecked development in the United States. Immediately after the Brown v. Board decision, she and her husband drove around the US South interviewing anyone who would talk to them, trying to understand the reactions against and ultimately build a case for integration. Sitting in an alcove at the top of a typical mountain home made of stone and wood, the kind that always seems to gather a little moss on the shingles because of the thick shade and damp mornings, Dykeman created some of the best novels ever written about Appalachia. From that window, she looked out on the soft rise up from the road. That same rise today hosts wild turkeys, making their way from creek to creek, and it occasionally sees a professor who is right in the middle of remembering that sometimes we write because we are heartbroken. Sometimes we write because we cannot stand for injustice one minute more. And sometimes we write because a person’s story whispers to us, asks to be told, and brings us exactly what we need if we will just listen.
So I carefully wrapped that turkey feather in tissue, tucked it into my luggage and brought it back to Austin. Over the course of this year, I will begin a collaborative writing project about Dykeman. We will be collaborating as a department on projects, ideas, and themes.
Yet, an American Studies summer in Austin is not complete without a little oddity, a little surrealism, and a little reminder that sometimes all you can do is stop being so serious and instead just strike a pose. That was part of my summer too: