Arnold Wrangles Stories from Experience as Ranch Hand

By Purnell T. Cropper | March 30, 2010

By Erin DuBois ’11

arcadia-promise-stackedLike the Rolling Stones song says, you don’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need instead.  At least that’s what Elizabeth Arnold ’10 discovered when she ended up at Arcadia after applying to 10 M.F.A. in Creative Writing programs and being waitlisted for one.

“I was devastated,” Arnold says. “I didn’t realize at the time how competitive the programs are and how rare it is to be accepted directly out of undergrad, since they usually take people who are older and more experienced.”

But now on the verge of graduating with her Master’s in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, Arnold looks back and realizes, “Arcadia was exactly what I needed at this point in my life. 

I have grown as a person and a writer.”

Arnold’s writing has flourished at Arcadia, and she recently spoke about her particular passion—nature and wilderness writing—to Jeff Ingram and Tyler Doherty’s Nature Writing class. For Arnold, the outdoors has always been an integral part of who she is, since she grew up on a farm. “It kills me to be inside,” she says. “I feel that I’m most myself when I am outside.”

She shared with the class her creative non-fiction essay “Manifest Destiny,” a piece derived from her summer spent working as a wrangler on a ranch in Wyoming. Discovering the majesty and getting to know the people in that part of the country provided plenty of fodder for her writing. “My summer was filled with stories,” she says.

“Manifest Destiny” is a segmented essay that relates the experience of getting lost from several perspectives, including her own sense of being lost in the “enormity and magnificence” of Jackson Hole. “But in being lost, I really found myself,” Arnold says. She also wrote about a guest at the ranch whose story of being lost in her personal life profoundly impacted Arnold. “I knew I would write about it.”

Now, Arnold is working on an essay about a horse she trained. She hopes to write a collection of essays about her experiences on the Wyoming ranch and another ranch in Tulsa, Okla., where she spent a summer training horses.

Her essays are meditations on how nature, horses and cowboys have affected the way she thinks about the world and views life.  Her writing celebrates the value of seeing the beauty in little things, of discovering the connections between the self and nature. “It’s what life is about for me,” she says.

In writing about her experiences, she deepens them by synthesizing their meaning and, in essence, living them again. Even when she’s in her writing corner in her Philadelphia apartment, she’s back in Jackson Hole when she’s writing about it.

After graduation, Arnold will be back in Jackson Hole, literally, to pursue the next stage of her writing life. “I know I want to teach eventually,” Arnold says, “but I’m not ready to stop having adventures yet.”

While indulging her love of horses, she will attend the low-residency M.F.A. program at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. The program requires her to attend a session at the university once a year and provides the opportunity to work through correspondence with a writer the rest of the year.

Arnold attributes her acceptance into the program to her growth as a writer while at Arcadia.  “The English program is incredible,” Arnold says, calling Dr. Richard Wertime, Director of Graduate Studies in English and Humanities, “a blessing and encouragement.”

She also appreciates the support of fellow students in the writing group she started on campus.  They meet twice a week, and truly care about each other’s writing.

While Arnold may have felt lost upon arrival, it is clear to her now that Arcadia was part of her “manifest destiny.”