by Chris Bradley
She was my eighth grade English teacher, fresh out of college, from a more populous town in another part of Texas, and, in 1970 wore the shortest skirts I had ever seen. She was tiny, perhaps just under five feet tall and maybe 90 pounds, which made her smaller than any of the students she taught and much smaller than many of the hulking high-school boys she taught as well. She had delicate, attractive features framed by a brunette pixie haircut which suited her perfectly. Her first name was Lynda, and my friends and I soon gave her a new nickname in honor of her petite frame, calling her Lynda Littletree so often that now I can’t remember her actual last name.
I’m sure many of the boys in my class developed crushes on her, but I loved her for a different reason than her appealing appearance: she asked us to regularly write what she called “Look and Listen Papers.” She asked us to pay attention to what was around us and to write short, personal essays or poems using each of our five senses in our descriptions. Terms such as imagery, alliteration, assonance, and personification came to life for me as she encouraged us to use them. I still have some of the writing I did that year, at age fourteen, and phrases appear in them which show her efforts stuck. When I wrote a piece about silence, trying to capture my appreciation for the smallest of things, I used images such as the following:
“Silence is the quiet peace of stillness, the world halting to get its breath.”
And I remember she wrote on that paper that I might enjoy a song called “The Sounds of Silence” by the musicians—as yet unknown to me—called Simon and Garfunkel. In small ways like this, she opened me up to things outside my small town upbringing. And just as important, though I was already writing for my own pleasure, without her assignments and encouragement, I probably would not have taken the moments to really look outside myself and notice what beauty lay around me.
As I became better, through practice, at noticing and recording aspects of the rural land around me, I developed a love for the smallest details of nature and sensed that they revealed, as I called it then, “the elegant stem of life.” I mused that nature might be “designed with infinite care and compassion . . . patterned with love” and I appreciated having “the understanding to enjoy the loveliness of the freshness and simple beauty in the world around us . . .”
I now have, if anything, more questions about that pattern and what the delicate beauty of the universe reveals than I did when I was fourteen, but still I find an ultimate richness in asking the questions.
For quite a few years, I taught English and creative writing to high school students in the Texas hill country. I loved spending time with those bright students as we often shared with one another our mutual love of words and story. Since leaving teaching, I have had time to travel, garden, ride horses, and mountain bike. But I still miss those discussions with students and continue to be thankful for all the lessons which they taught me.
In my current attempts to capture on paper moments of ordinary grace that punctuate our lives, I am still writing, all these years later–thanks in great part to the training of Lynda Littletree–“Look and Listen Papers.”
Is there someone who influenced you to see things in a new way? Have you lost touch with him or her? Write a description of that special person.
Write a “Look and Listen” paper. Use your senses and describe your surroundings.