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The object here again is to describe what takes place. The problem is analogous to that of Exercise XXIV., the difference being that here we deal with natural instead of artificial processes.
Select a subject, if possible, upon which you can write partially at least from first-hand knowledge. Watch the processes of inorganic nature ; examine snow crystals, watch the formation of ice, the erosion of rocks by the waters of a creek, the sedimentary deposits in the creek's bed. Or material may be obtained from simple experiments, such as suspending a string in a solution of sugar, as in the manufacture of rock-candy, or “crystallizing” grasses by dipping them in a solution of salt or alum. Then supplement your own knowledge by recourse to books on chemistry, mineralogy, and geology; for example, Bauerman's Descriptive Mineralogy, Dana's Manual of Geology, Shaler's First Book in Geology, Winchell's Walks and Talks in the Geological Field, Sparks from a Geologist's Hammer, Geological Excursions, and Geological Studies.
The following extract, from a chapter on the Application of the Observational Method in Teaching, in Alexander Winchell's Shall We Teach Geology? will afford many hints for the gathering of material for this kind of composition-writing. Professor Winchell supposes the student to be in “à quarry region, as at Potsdam, N. Y., Portland, Conn., Berea, O., Joliet, Ill."
You notice that the rocks which these workmen are quarrying lie in beds or layers. Each of these is a stratum. The separation between one stratum and another is generally a very narrow fissure or joint. Often, however, you find the joint filled with some other kind of material. This is a seam. Sometimes the seam is of an earthy or clayey character. Sometimes one stratum is so closely joined to another that one can scarcely say there exists either seam or joint. Observe all this for yourself. Generally you find several strata in immediate succession much alike. Do you see them so here? Or do you find a decided contrast of two adjoining strata ? In what does the contrast consist ? Are they of different color ? Of different fineness? Of different degrees of homogeneity, or likeness of substance from side to side? Can
lines running along the broken edges of any of the strata ? What are they due to? What renders them visible and distinguishable ? These are lines of lamination. If we have a sandstone here, perhaps we shall find some laminæ running obliquely across the broken edges of certain strata. This is oblique lamination. Look at some of these blocks which have been quarried ; tell me which was the upper side. How does the upper differ from the lower side? Do these strata lie in a horizontal position? Does the upper surface present any inclination? What angle does it make with a horizontal plane? Is it five degrees? Is it twenty degrees ? This angle is the dip of the stratum. Here is an angle of ninety degrees between this horizontal and this perpendicular line. Half of this is an angle of forty five-degrees ; and half of this is an angle of twenty-two and one-half degrees. Represent such an angle. Represent an angle of eleven degrees. Toward what direction does this stratum dip? It is southwest, perhaps. Then the strike is northwest and southeast. How thick is this stratum ? Measure it with a rule. How thick is the next one? Come to the wall of the quarry and measure its entire height. Sit down and make a sketch of this wall. Distinguish each stratum exactly as it is. Preserve their proportional thicknesses. Describe each stratum separately, beginning at the bottom. Let the strata be designated A, B, C, D, etc. In describing, give kind of rock, color, texture, solidity, purity or impurity, homogeneity or want of it, thickness. State which stratum is best adapted to the uses to which the stone is applied. As bearing on the uses, you may take a fragment home and weigh it in its natural conditionthen weigh it after drying as completely as you have means for. If you have no balance, go to the apothecary, or omit this experiment. Then also with reference to use, you may observe whether the stone wears away much on surfaces exposed to the weather. Does it weather smooth? Does it weather into concave depressions ? Do.fissures appear in it? Does it develop rusty specks or blotches ? If so, these are probably caused by iron in it.
Many subjects will readily occur, any one of which will offer material for a description of considerable length. Keep in mind what is wanted, and keep in mind the injunction to rely on your own observation. Avoid the style and method that have been so prevalent in juvenile compositions of this class, in which the writer begins, “ There are a great many kinds of apples, such as the Snow-apple, the Winesap, the Bellflower, etc.,” and then wanders off in the second sentence to some statement about the uses of apples, and in the third to something entirely different still. Such compositions are mere collections of detached thoughts, without unity or symmetry, alike uninteresting and unprofitable. Remember that what we want now is chiefly description. And if you have chosen to describe an apple, what you want first is not pen and ink and paper but an apple, and, if you cannot break it, a knife to cut it. Then proceed in a methodical way. Note the size, shape, and color; the smoothness, thickness, and toughness of the rind; the firmness, taste, and color of the pulp; the size of the core ; the size and shape of the seeds, etc. Only by proceeding in this regular way can you convey a good idea of the thing described. And besides that it will help you very much in finding material. It will lessen the chances of omission, thus insuring a more exhaustive treatment of the subject. And as you proceed, one thing will suggest another : the color and size of the apple, for instance, will suggest its marketing value, the firmness of the flesh will suggest its keeping qualities, the taste will suggest its uses. An enumeration of varieties will naturally follow the description of a single variety, for then differences can be more clearly indicated. Here, too, method can still be observed : apples fall naturally into summer, autumn, and winter varieties; and it may be well to limit yourself to kinds found in your immediate neighborhood.
Certain botanical terms will be useful here, such as pome, berry, pepo, nut, pod, akene, drupe, cone. Some of these are common enough but are occasionally misapplied through ignorance of their exact meaning. Learn to distinguish between true fruits, such as those mentioned above, and those which are popularly called fruits but are not such in the strict botanical sense, as the strawberry
In the directions given above, why were size, shape, and color mentioned first? Because they are the most obvious and striking features. By them we recognize at once that an apple is an apple and not a plum or a pear or an orange. By them too we are enabled either
to determine its specific variety or to limit it to several closely allied varieties. The principle is simply this : Select the most salient characteristics first; follow in description that order which you are obliged to follow in observation.
Though in nature's order flowers come before fruits, they are placed second here as being more difficult to describe. The first four of the above subjects will serve for scientific description, the last two for more general, sympathetic, and imaginative treatment. For the first you can make good use again of botanical terms, calyx, sepal, corolla, petal, stamen, anther, pistil, etc.
With a microscope and a specimen before you, you could get at the facts without these names, but in writing a description it will be of advantage to use the same names that others use. Even without any knowledge whatever of botany you will be no worse off than the first botanists who had to study the plants and flowers themselves instead of books. We of a later day cannot affect to despise books : they are time-savers, short cuts to knowledge ; they enable us to begin where our ances