On Thursday, Feb. 14, students and staff temporarily put aside Valentine’s Day plans to attend the second VOICES reading of this semester’s series, featuringSt. Mary’s own Associate Professor of English, Kate Chandler. The reading, held in Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC), included a variety of humorous and lighthearted environmental pieces featuring such things as mushrooms and feathered friends.
“It seems fitting that we are celebrating Kate Chandler’s writing on Valentine’s Day,” said Karen Anderson, Assistant Professor of English. “For me, her students, her colleagues, and her friends; we love her.”
The event began with four students presenting short readings of some of their favorite Chandler passages.
Following the readings, Professor of English Ben Click introduced Chandler, long time friend and colleague, with an anecdote about the first time they met, twenty years ago in Kent State University while in the doctoral program. Click described Chandler’s writing voice as modest, yet strong and assured. “Make sure you listen for it,” he added.
Chandler is a founding member of the college’s Environmental Studies program and has written and edited “Nature Notes” for the River Gazette, featuring pieces about her experiences with nature.
She began her reading with one such essay, titled “Magical Mystery Mushrooms.” Chandler described these mushrooms in her unique voice, depicting her love of nature and infectious inquisitiveness as she recalled photographing the grayish olive green Russula aeruginea and edible blue Lactarius indigo.
Her “obsessive” documentation led her to discover a particularly intriguing mushroom with a triangular gap in the cap. Chandler humorously recounted finding these mushrooms day after day on the path, until finally discovering the source of the misshapen “fruiting body of fungi,” a turtle.
Her second piece was titled “Weathering Life’s Storms: Lessons from our Feathered Friends.” This essay highlighted Chandler’s encounters with inspirational birds, specifically osprey and Caroline wrens. According to Chandler, these birds were exceptionally good at overcoming adversity, as well as building and rebuilding nests regardless of weather or predators.
“I could learn something from that,” Chandler read.
Her next piece, titled “When I am Brave; Meditations on a Brother’s Drowning,” was a moving essay written in a child’s perspective –an emotional recount of the drowning of Kenny Reynolds, Chandler’s youngest brother, who passed away decades ago at a beloved family swimming hole.
The essay was a reminder that nature can be at once beautiful and violent. Many in the audience claimed feeling touched by the memoir.
Chandler concluded her reading with a piece on discovering downed loblolly pines, describing their incredibly shallow root systems that, in her opinion, should not be able to support these massively tall trees. She recounted walking through a Redwood forest, and noted that these trees too have shallow rooting systems.
Chandler then recalled reading a tree guide that explained how Redwoods remain upright; “Redwoods’ roots literally reach out to others,” she read. “They also intertwine with other trees, and this creates a webbing effect.”
“They teach us a magnificent lesson,” Chandler continued. “These Redwood giants simply could not make it alone. This has me thinking about us as a community at St. Mary’s College of Maryland; are we Redwoods, or are we Loblollys?”