Writing Portfolio: Five Essays on America
















Once during my childhood days, my father presented me with an extensive account of our family’s history. It traced our linear heritage from the early 1990s all the way back to my great-great-great-great grandfather. Upon first receiving this document, I perused it unenthusiastically and tossed it onto my bookcase along with other forgotten literary works.

Recently, while wondering about the experiences my ancestors had in their first encounter on this continent, I made my way to the bookcase, lifted the small document into my hands, and brushed the dust from its cover. Then I read in big black letters “Chisholm” along with the family motto “Feros Ferio, I am fierce with the fierce,” which was emblazoned on the family crest. I opened the history and read the only narrative story contained in the document. The story illustrates the Chisholm’s voyage from Scotland across the Atlantic to North America. It describes the hardships that my family endured during their migration to Nova Scotia.

The family of Valentine Chisholm left Stratinglass in Aberdeen County of Scotland aboard a tiny schooner destined for Halifax, Nova Scotia. A large cargo of supplies and the family’s possessions were loaded onto the schooner. Life at sea was very difficult in those times. The tiny schooner did not offer much room for comfort during the journey. The family lived in a cramped cargo hold and ate what little food survived the long journey. After many months of sickness and disease, the schooner finally docked. However, the family had not landed at their intended destination, but rather landed in Quebec on August 8, 1843. The Chisholm’s were tired and weary from their voyage and considered settling in Quebec.

Valentine’s wife was especially weary after giving birth aboard the schooner during the voyage. The governor of Quebec further enticed the Chisholm’s to settle in Quebec by offering the party 165 acres of land per person on board. The Chisholm family would have acquired a considerable tract of land, since there were at least thirty members aboard the schooner. However, Valentine Chisholm refused the offer, deciding rather to journey to Nova Scotia, where Valentine’s uncle Colin had bought land for the party to establish a homestead.

While in Quebec, the family rested and ate to gain strength for the last leg of the journey. Valentine made acquaintance with an Indian and after learning that the Indian had a vast knowledge of the Canadian wilderness, hired this Indian as a guide. The party walked through the Canadian wilderness enduring dropping temperatures and shortness of supplies. Finally the family reached their destination of James River, Nova Scotia on September 25, 1843. Soon the family cleared the land, built homes and barns, and stocked their farms with cattle. Valentine acquired great wealth raising oats, wheat, and potatoes. The Chisholm family flourished in North America and would continue to do so even to this day.

This story is the earliest account about my family on this side of the Atlantic. I was fascinated by this story because it showed me that the virtues that I possess have been in my family since its earliest beginning. The Chisholm’s that journeyed from Scotland to Nova Scotia were unified, determined, and hardworking. My family endured the terrible voyage and reached their destination. My family endured the harsh voyage, established farms, and acquired wealth. It prides me to think that the earliest of my ancestors were hard working. They were not born into wealth, but acquired it through hard work. I am proud of the fact that the positive attributes of my ancestors have been passed down for generations and will continue to be through me. The family history is no longer a boring historical document but a personal treasure.














A short walk from my home is a small, red, dilapidated general store. I have often made short excursions to this store during the seventeen years of my life. However, I had neglected to notice the miniature wilderness that lies behind the store until recently, when, strolling through the cool, breezy air, the kaleidoscope of color in the trees caught my eye. Upon my awareness of its existence, I began to observe it daily for a course of two weeks. Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach….” I went to the wilderness to observe its preparation for the coming winter and to reflect upon its meaning.

While there, I could not count the number of cars that drove by or the number of people who walked by, but I could count how many stopped to take a glance at this wilderness: zero.  I have observed no human care or concern for this wilderness. Red, orange, and yellow leaves float from the high trees through the air to the soft, green grass below, but no one stops to watch. The wilderness does not complain. It has survived well without human intervention.  The thick, green grass covers the ground. Colors burst from the trees. This wilderness does not show the wear of age or the stress of everyday life.  It is free of human problems. It safeguards its own health and security.  Once, as two squirrels chased each other up and down trees and through piles of leaves, they came across a treasure of acorns. Nature has hidden secrets. We have to take the time to experience it before we find its gift to us.  We have to open our eyes and see the rainbow of leaves,  feel the velvet touch of the soft green moss, smell the cologne that nature produces, and hear the silence broken only by the wind’s quiet rustling of leaves.  As Annie Dillard said, “It’s all a matter of keeping my eyes open.”  Nature is pristine and serene. I believe it is a guide to life. It is God’s way of taking our hands and leading us through life.  Nature is not corrupted by greed or selfishness. It is genuine, constant, and a source of help. Humans ignore nature absentmindedly, rather than drawing upon it for inspiration in life.  

The wilderness parallels the American ideals of independence, freedom, and prosperity. It does not rely on human intervention. Nature runs its own course, not answering to anyone, but itself.  It has a freedom, a freedom to govern itself. There are no schedules in nature; nature passes time as it wishes. The wilderness has the freedom to bring in change.  Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  There is a great mind in nature. Change is always evident there. The workings of nature are profound.  Wilderness has prospered. It is full of natural wealth such as trees, grass, moss, and leaves. It also allows all animals, from the ant that ambles across the ground to the blue jay that flies high above the trees to survive. It is American because it offers independence, freedom, and prosperity to all those that seek it.  Nature is a perfect democracy. Everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the gifts of nature and the ability to partake in its peace and joy.  Nature is a caring mother. Everything from the smallest squirrel to the largest oak tree is cared for.  There is a cycle of life in nature. The life of each organism is dependent on the life of another. Each organism is important; without it, the cycle is broken.  That is America. All Americans are important and have the opportunity and ability to partake in the great, democratic society.

The independence and freedom of the wilderness inspired me. It does not conform to social constructions. It is its own keeper. It decides its own destiny.  The wilderness is a harvest of calm and peace. It may experience tempests, yet its personality is always that of a loyal friend.  It is always a place of peace, a place to remove myself from the chaos of the world and see the simplicity of life. It shows me that life is not centered on school and sports. Life is centered on enjoying God’s gift of life. Nature is a smack in the face. It is a wake up call.

After experiencing nature, we ask: What does it mean to live? And more importantly am I living? Nature is not a heap of leaves among a few trees. There is a misconception that value of nature is piddling. Nature is misunderstood and that is why it is great. As Emerson said, “To be great is to be misunderstood….”  Life is natural. However, society has included unnatural aspects into it.  It is natural to be ourselves, it is natural to think our own thoughts, and it is natural to decide our own destiny. We should not conform to social constructions or to the wants and needs of others. Our life is our life. We decide what happens.  We must not stand around and wait for instructions, instead “Carpe Diem.”  
Observation of nature evokes new spirit of life. Nature has the answers. It is a God given instruction book on how to live life. We must experience. We must live and grow in its splendor of life.  I have left the wilderness with a new view of life. Nature is a puzzle; you do not see its wonders until all the pieces are together.    











School is a place of maturation and a place of growth for adolescents. It is a place to receive an education that will prepare us for the journeys ahead; some students use their time in school to develop their skill as a scribe. Places like the cafeteria are busy with activity on a daily basis. Among this activity is the practice of cheating, or as some prefer "group study" or as others prefer "comparing answers." Daily, two students can be found feverishly copying Latin homework before school begins.

There are no salutations exchanged among these students. The normal hello among the cheaters is "Hey kid, do you have the Latin homework?"

The other student replies "Yea, most of it. But, I don't think its right."

Undeterred, the other student says in reply "It doesn't matter. I just need to write something down."

And so the process begins. Copying is a silent procedure. The silence is only minimally and temporarily broken by "Is anyone coming?" or "d**n, I skipped a line." Unfortunately, over the years as the student's ability to copy has grown, their ability to think has diminished.

Copying is a formidable task. There are many obstacles that must be overtaken such as not losing your place and copying a sentence that continues onto a second page. The student's face often becomes bewildered as he realizes that he skipped a line and now the paragraph lacks any sense, although previously it had made very little. Their intelligence has become so dilapidated that they cannot even copy correctly.

The process is constricted by time. There is barely any conversation between the two students. The silence is broken with "Is anyone coming?" After taking a quick glance around, the other says curtly "Nope." The words are hurriedly scrawled across a piece of notebook paper, totally oblivious to the blue college-ruled lines. A great effort is put forth studying one piece of paper and transferring the words to a second piece of paper. Yet, all the effort is a waste. In two hours, the piece of paper will be illegible, even to the author.

The process ends with "Thanks kid, I owe you one." The debt has grown considerably with two quarters of school gone along with numerous homework assignments.

The process is complete. The two students had expended their effort for the day; this is the extent of schoolwork that will be done. The notebook is shoved into the book bag, not to be looked upon again until third period, when in a sweat, the student will have to translate his work from chicken scratch to English and explain his reasoning for his answers. The students' tendency to cheat is so great that they will attempt to cheat on the teacher's inquires about the homework and wait for a friend to whisper a reply in their ear. The students can now relax, until tomorrow when they can again polish their skills as a human Xerox machine.













Walt Whitman was one of the most distinguished poets in American literature. His work often encouraged the solidarity of humanity and inspired later American Literature.  Whitman’s “ O Captain, My Captain” illustrated his poetic excellence, while relating perfectly the Civil War, one of the most important time periods in American history. This poem captured the diverse emotions and created a new view of the time period using two contradictory tones, vivid description, and metaphors.  

     The Civil War era was a whirlwind of great emotion, which Whitman was able to capture through his divergent tones. In every stanza, Whitman included images of celebration to capture the joy and relief that the country felt at the conclusion of the Civil War.  However, Whitman also demonstrated the diverse emotion encompassing the country with the speaker residing in a state of gloom.  Whitman followed a pattern in each of the three stanzas of “O Captain, My Captain.” In the first four lines, he painted a picture of celebration and festivity, but then in the last four lines he invoked sadness with the repetition of the death of the captain.  Whitman’s use of contradictory tones captured the emotions evident after the Civil War. Americans felt a sense of joy that the union survived its greatest challenge, yet they were saddened by the tremendous loss of life, especially that of Abraham Lincoln.

     Whitman carefully crafted the rhythm of  “O Captain, My Captain” to capture the emotion of the era. By writing in iambs and with rhyme, he prevented the poem from developing a monotone.  However, his poem lacked a regular rhyme scheme, which also prevented a singsong rhythm, which would have diminished the audience’s interest. Whitman did not write in his usual free verse style. By abstaining from free verse, there were no extraneous words, and Whitman was able to tell the story quickly and colorfully. His poem did not mimic common speech as free verse did. As a result, each word in his poem was vivid. Whitman carefully crafted his lines using language that created images in the audience’s minds.  For instance, the repeated line “Fallen cold and dead” was colorful and poignant. It created vivid imagery, but also each of the three words has an aura of gloom that brought sadness to the audience.  Another example of Whitman’s brilliance was the line “Walk the deck my Captain lies.” This line exemplified Whitman’s brilliance. He composed the line with words that evoke images. His lines were written succinctly and he carefully chose his words to paint a picture rather than a narrative of the event. The vivacity of the poem was astounding. Whitman stirred the audience’s imagination through a dramatic presentation of the Civil War.

     The poem “O Captain, My Captain” employed metaphors to vivify the Civil War account. Whitman paralleled the Civil War to a voyage of a ship and compared President Abraham Lincoln to the captain of that ship.  Walt did not merely describe a concrete event, but created an entirely new impression of the war. He did not narrate about the Civil War in a periphrastic way. In line nine,  “The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won…” Whitman summarized the entire Civil War in only twelve words, using a metaphor to tell the story.  He used the voyage of a ship to describe the triumphs and sorrows of the Civil War.  His description of the celebrations that were induced by the ship’s safe voyage offered the audience a glimpse into post-Civil War society in the United States.  Whitman’s poem offered a new view of Lincoln’s presidency. According to Whitman, he was a fearless captain who led his ship through rough waters and eventually gave his life for it.  Whitman’s words paid homage to the man whose leadership shone bright in a time of despair.

     Whitman’s description of the Civil War was unique. The Civil War was infamous for its bloody and deadly battles, but Whitman never mentioned a single one.  Volumes of books and entire historical classes have been devoted to the Civil War, so the audience was well aware of the event Whitman described. Therefore, Whitman was able to project his feelings of the entire Civil War instead of one battle.  Whitman’s thematic purpose was to honor a fallen hero of the Civil War. After reading the poem, the audience saw President Lincoln’s in a new light, as a hero.  Whitman’s carefully chosen words and vivid images portray Lincoln for the man that he was, the protector of the Union.  Walt understood that the audience had a firm grasp of the events of the Civil War.  Therefore, he purposed to describe the Civil War in a new light and he succeeded.

     Walt Whitman’s poem “O Captain, My Captain” typified poetic genius.  He composed a poem that offered a new view of an old subject for the audience, while maintaining their interest and excitement. After reading the poem, the audience found itself in a profound sense of patriotism and was given a rush of adrenaline by Whitman’s words.  His poem made the audience look at a subject in a new light and although he recounted a historical event, he did so through imagery rather than words.  His imagery, tone, and view captured a moment in American history in a unique fashion and therefore,  “O Captain, My Captain” exemplified a well-composed poem.