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“on false spring and the herring run,” by Genevieve Smith (US)

Issue 4.3          February 2023          

Read the piece here.


Related Reading


Reflection on "on false spring and the herring run" by Community Ambassador Aisha


“I think what stands out the most to me about this piece is the steady tone used to talk about false spring and herring. It’s rather disappointing when you think the seasons have changed, only to discover that it was a false alarm. In my country we have two main seasons, rainy and dry/harmattan season. During the start of the rainy season, my favourite fruit, mangoes, start to come to fruition, but sometimes they start maturing even in the late dry season. I prefer the rainy season to the dry season because of the moisture and good vibes it brings, so it really sucks when I realise that it’s only the mangoes that grew up early, and the season hasn’t changed yet.


I love how the writer considers the river herring as innocent creatures, being hunted for food. I also liked how she wanted to reassure the fish that she wasn’t going to hurt them. I think the writer did her best to construct an accurate description of her surroundings and experiences, and she managed to do that very well.”


Discussion Questions (Or short written responses)

—featuring literary analysis with environmental science & nature writing connections


  1. In Community Ambassador Aisha’s reflection on the poem (above, labeled as “related reading”), Aisha refers to the writer’s tone as “steady” compared to her own reaction to the disappointment of a false change of seasons. In this case, what does “steady” mean, and what additional words could you use to describe the writer’s tone? Support your answer with evidence from the writing itself.*

  2. Point to examples of personification in “on false spring and the herring run,” and explain the purpose of the personification. What role does it play, or what dramatic effect does it create, in portraying the writer’s experience in nature? (As a reminder, personification, sometimes also called anthropomorphism, is the poetic technique of giving human characteristics to inanimate objects).*

  3. The writer describes little purple flowers growing in the grass and refers to them as violets (they could also be crocuses, or perhaps another early-blooming purple flower). She also references trees, pollen, mud, salt, clam beds, herring, the stream, a lake, fish, and frogs. What is the effect of using specific terminology (such as a specific species of flower or fish), and what is the effect of using more general words (such as “trees”)? WtW Community Ambassador Aisha writes in her reflection, “I think the writer did her best to construct an accurate description of her surroundings and experiences, and she managed to do that very well.” Would you like to see more specific language or less specific language in the creation of this setting and the writer’s experience? Explain your reasoning.**


Writing Activity

—raising awareness (and appreciation) through reflection writing


In her reflection on the piece, “on false spring and the herring run,” WtW Community Ambassador Aisha writes of mangoes ripening and the two main seasons near her home in Nigeria. Aisha connects with the writer’s experience of a “false” season and relates that concept to her own experience.


Now, it’s your turn!


Write your own reflection through which readers can learn about—and appreciate—an ecosystem or natural setting that is important to you.** Whether it’s a specific corner of a park within a city or a wooded mountain trail, use well-chosen details, sensory language, and story (a sequence of events, a reason that brings you to this location, dialogue, etc.) to convey the importance of the environment that exists there. Feel free to also share if there are any present threats to that place or its ecosystem and what physical signs you notice that point to these issues. Thinking back to the discussion questions, consider the level of specificity you want to include, the level of scientific detail you want to use, and how you’ll use poetic techniques, such as personification, imagery, or sensory language to create a personal connection for the reader. Just as your own experience in these locations is uniquely yours, this reflection is uniquely yours as well. Celebrate your own voice, style, and writing choices so that this reflection transports readers to your local environment.


Follow-up Reflection/Discussion for the Writing Activity*** 


  • What is the connection between writing about an experience in nature and taking steps to protect that place in nature?

  • What can you do this week to positively impact the setting you wrote about today? What does that setting need from you? What does it need from others? 


Common Core Standards Alignment for this Lesson


*Reading Standards for Literature, Key Ideas and Details, Grades 11-12

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.


**Writing Standards, Production and Distribution of Writing, Grade 8

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

—d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.


***Writing Standards, Range of Writing, Grades 11-12

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacherled) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.


—a. Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.


—c. Pose questions that connect the ideas of several speakers and respond to others’ questions and comments with relevant evidence, observations, and ideas.




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