A note from William Rubel
Before talking about this photograph and the story “A Monarch’s Way Through,” I want to once again thank all of you who contributed to our Refugee Project drive. Thanks to your help, we will soon have a hiring announcement of someone who will join our staff to work on the project. If you haven’t read Alicia Xin’s blog post, “Thoughts on Jewish Refugees in Shanghai,” then please do. Alicia makes an explicit connection between past and present refugees.
There is a blog section in every Newsletter. I just want to remind all of you to check out our Stone Soup blogs, and to leave comments. Thank you.
The photo! Besides it being a perfect match for the story about the monarch butterfly facing urban barriers on its way to Mexico (which you will find, below), this is an extraordinary work of art. As you look at this photograph, I want you to imagine yourself framing this image. What are you looking for? Why do you press the button to take the photograph when the scene is framed just so? What are you lining up? As you imagine yourself shooting this image, I think you will find you will find that Nicholas Taplitz, the photographer, is guiding you.
Let’s start by looking at the flat surfaces that sit parallel to the ground, like tabletops. There is the roof of the UPS truck, the top of the sign that says “Car Wash” and has the red arrow, the top of the big sign, etc. Of course, there is also the ground. Then, there are the vertical surfaces that are perpendicular to the ground: I’d say there are the vertical sides you can see, like part of one side of the UPS truck and the side of the big sign in the middle, the sign with the pigeons on top, and then there are verticals you cannot see but that you can imagine.
Nicholas seems to be helping us see this scene as one being composed of rectangular shapes. A scene in which the flat surfaces, or planes, create patterns that we can see and that we cannot see but can imagine. The way the photograph is framed, at first it can be hard to understand the space—then you see, Wow! There is that tiny chair down there on the right, and the UPS truck on the street—and then you realize that this photo is taken from a very high vantage point. You will also begin to notice the colors—the red of the arrow, the faded red of the car wash sign, the bright red of the $49.99. The yellow of the UPS letters, of the first sign by the truck, and of the painted car-stop by the chair. So much to look at!
For this weekend’s main project, I want you to take your phone or camera and look for a scene that you can frame to bring out its geometric structure—rectangles in the case of Nicholas’s photograph, but you might find something with lots of curves, or straight or squiggly lines. The point is that I want you to look beyond the subject of the photograph to something that one might say is more universal, that is larger than your subject. What I mean by this is that Nicholas’s photograph is of a car wash, but it is not really about a car wash. The photograph doesn’t tell you anything about what a car wash is or how one works. The place is just a setting for something bigger that Nicholas is working on. I would put that bigger thing down as “how to see.”
This week’s featured story, “A Monarch’s Way Through,” is a perfect illustration of how fiction is different from an essay. In fiction, you show but do not tell. In other words, you let your scenes, your characters, you story say what you want to say. You tell a good tale; you don’t give a lecture. Where I live, in Santa Cruz, California, there are several trees where monarchs overwinter. The monarch population in California that winters in Mexico, like the monarch in Alexa’s story, is down over 99 percent in the last 30 years. There were millions of these butterflies, and now there are only tens of thousands. Already in decline, in 1998 250,000 butterflies were counted in three Santa Cruz groves where they stop for the winter. Last year there were 4,200 in those same trees. There isn’t one single reason for the decline in the monarch butterfly population, but one big reason is definitely habitat loss. Alexa does a brilliant job of helping us imagine ourselves as a butterfly trying to migrate through an unfriendly terrain created by humans. Nicholas’s car wash photograph perfectly captures one of the big problems for these amazing migrating butterflies—a great deal of what we build completely excludes the natural world. Besides us, only scrappy creatures like pigeons can thrive in it.
I really want you to focus on photography this weekend, but if you have extra time for creative energy, then write a story or poem that will help your readers to feel some of the challenges facing one of your favorite wild things.
As always, send Editor Emma Wood what you create so she can consider it for Stone Soup.
Until next week,
Current Contest: Personal Narrative
The way we approach fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as both readers and writers, is drastically different. For this reason, we’re happy to announce that Stone Soup is partnering with Society of Young Inklings in our very first nonfiction contest and that, in 2020, we will begin to publish all nonfiction under its very own label in the magazine.
What makes this contest extra special is our partnership with Society of Young Inklings (SYI): we are very excited to share that their team of professional writers has designed a mentorship experience for both the youth and the educators who take part in this contest. Check out the details on our website here, including links to SYI’s video series to help in writing a personal narrative.
Contest deadline is December 15th!
Highlights from the past week online
Don’t miss the latest content from our Book Reviewers and Young Bloggers at Stonesoup.com!
Have you ever tried worldbuilding for a story? Marco walks you through the process in “Imaginary Worlds and How to Create Them,” his latest post on the blog.
On Thursday we published a musical piece by Sage Millen. In her description, Sage notes, “If I had to describe this composition to a hearing impaired person, I would probably describe it as a mellow, buttery yellow, soothing and relaxed.” Listen to “Slipping into Sunbeams” on the blog or on our SoundCloud.
Our Fall Fundraiser, 2019: The Refugee Project
We are raising funds to support the production and publication of creative work by children in refugee camps around the world. We have already almost reached our target of $5,000 to support workshops run by and for kids in camps, a special issue of Stone Soup, and associated projects—and we want to keep going! You have already helped us fund workshops in the Za’atari camp and put us in touch with other great organizations we can work with to expand our efforts.
From Stone Soup, November 2019
By Alexa Rivera Rockwood, 12 (Potomac, MD)
Illustrated by Nicholas Taplitz, 13 (Los Angeles, CA)
Silver buildings gleamed in the distance. They rose high into the sky, blocking the view of it. Shorter buildings puffed out too much smoke, making it impossible for birds to fly over the area. Cars honked almost every second of the day, filling the city with sounds of car horns. Around the perimeter of the city was a row of trees too perfect to be anywhere near the new city. The sun looked like it was ready to cough out its sunlight through the smoke in the sky.
A small monarch looked out at the new city, afraid of the new obstacles in her way. She had not seen this city before and didn’t like how it was right in her migration path.
No other monarchs had made it this far yet, and she had been told by a ladybug that the only ones who had tried had gone in groups and come back with broken wings or had lost almost everyone in their group. This information scared the monarch, but she was determined to migrate to Mexico, only led by her instinctive compass and the warmth coming from the south.
The trees surrounding the perimeter of the city look safest at the moment for the monarch, so she makes her way over. From far away, there seem to be no animals perched in the tree. That’s strange, the monarch thinks. A tree like this is perfect for most animals who dwell near the city.
She lands on one of these trees and almost passes out from a strong smell that burns her small trachea. Now she understands clearly why not one creature dares use this tree. It is covered in a pesticide meant to repel only a few select insects. Humans thought they were warding off termites. They had really just made this tree uninhabitable for all creatures. …/MORE
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Stone Soup‘s Advisors: Abby Austin, Mike Axelrod, Annabelle Baird, Jem Burch, Evelyn Chen, Juliet Fraser, Zoe Hall, Montanna Harling, Alicia & Joe Havilland, Lara Katz, Rebecca Kilroy, Christine Leishman, Julie Minnis, Jessica Opolko, Tara Prakash, Denise Prata, Logan Roberts, Emily Tarco, Rebecca Ramos Velasquez, Susan Wilky.