Slice of Life: Noise In The Sky

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Our young rescue dog is still baffled by the geese. In the yard or on a walk, when the flock of geese are overhead — noisy as heck, to be sure — Rayna (our dog) pulls to a stop, takes a seat and stares up at the sky. This is her second Autumn with us, so it’s not as if she hasn’t seen the migrating birds, but I suspect it’s the combination of the noise and the formation and the slow-moving flock across the skyline that captures her attention.

Or maybe she thinks they’re a toy to be chased, just out of reach.

The thing is, her stopping and looking makes me stop and look, too, and, in that paying closer attention, I notice the patterns in the flocks, and track the way things are always in motion, as different leaders take the front and different stragglers rush to catch up. I hear their song start, gather volume, and fade. The sound of migrating geese is part of the soundtrack of Fall in New England, but is something I all too often take for granted.

It’s not beautiful music that the birds make but it is the soundtrack of seasonal transition, and if you listen carefully, the collective calls of the geese in each flock does have its own cadence and its own beat, a slow rhythm just off-kilter from the flapping of the wings.

Even as we keep walking, Rayna will often turn her head back to the horizon, to glimpse back to where the geese have gone over the treeline or horizon, as if trying to discover the magic of the skies. It’s the only time I really notice her noticing what’s above her, so attuned is she to the world at her feet, and noticing the world through another’s eyes — even a dog — is refreshing.

My morning’s small poem is inspired by the geese:

Flock (1)

Birds, in flight,
above us

below us,
our boots
trample decay

We hesitate:
a season’s songs,
a long pause;

the flying
echo calls
of voices, chaos;
then calm,

draw a line
from cloud to star;
we gawk, before
it’s gone

Peace (flying),
Kevin

Slice of Life: On The Ropes – Up In The Trees

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I almost didn’t do it. Now I am glad I joined my teenage son and niece on an aerial adventure with a high ropes and zip-lining course this weekend as we had a family weekend of apple picking, viewing an outdoor art gallery and then the ropes course.

Which was challenging as the difficulty levels got increasing more .. difficult.

But we were outside, in the woods, at the start of the WriteOut project, and being up in the trees for a challenge seemed quite appropriate for the Write Out experience. And while my back and shoulders still feel the strain of twisting and turning and balancing and muscling my way through, the sense of accomplishment is strong.

Ropes Course Collage

Peace (outside and on the wires),
Kevin

PS: Write Out 2021 kicked off this weekend and runs for two weeks (through Sunday, October 24). It’s a free, place-based, online activity for teachers, students and the public. Write Out is a partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. More info: https://writeout.nwp.org/

Slice of Life: Jazz In The City

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

“When was the last time you were at a live concert?” I asked my father.

We were in line to an indoor jazz concert as part of our city’s weekend long Jazz Festival. Earlier, we had caught an outdoor show of Cuban/Brazilian Jazz. My father had to think. And he still came up blank. It had been a long time, made longer by the Pandemic.

 

“I don’t remember,” he replied, as we handed our vaccination cards to the attendant, along with our driver’s license, and then my wife, my father and I entered the renovated theater for a night held in honor and remembrance of jazz great Art Blakey. The legendary drummer and band leader died a number of years ago, but this show featured five of his players (plus two young superstars).

We sat down. We had fantastic seats.

“This place feels more crowded than I remember,” my wife remarked, through her mask, which was mandatory for everyone in attendance. I nodded, in agreement, and thought, everything these days feels more crowded. Even in the midst of certified vaccinated people, it still felt a little uneasy to be there, with my knee touching the stranger next to me.

Then the band started up and for two hours, we were transported into the landscape of jazz with exceptional players (they were amazing) and with stories of Blakey’s leadership and nurturing of countless young musicians over the decades.

And somehow, in the pandemic, we got lost in the music, if only for a little while.

Peace (on the stage),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Abolitionist Bike Tour

Abolitionist Bike Tour Sept2021(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My wife and I biked our way through pathways of local history the other day.

Although we know some of the past echoes of the Abolitionist Movement in one of the villages of our small Western Massachusetts city, we learned a whole lot more when we joined in a three-hour biking tour that visited stops where important people either lived (Sojourner Truth, David Ruggles, etc.) or visited (Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, etc.) in the 1800s as the push to end slavery was just taking hold in the north.

This ride was sponsored both by our local rail trail association and the David Ruggles Center, which has tons of information about the “free-thinking association” that sprung up in Florence, Massachusetts, that brought many forward-thinking people to this area for work and to live, and to become ardent activists in the movement. More than a few houses here were also part of the Underground Railroad, and Florence is part of the official Network to Freedom of the National Park Service (which I didn’t know).

As we biked with about 30 people, we stopped at different homes and locations, where a representative of the David Ruggles Center for History & Education brought out pictures and read quotes and gave context to the lives of so many of the people in this particular local history story. Ruggles, for example, was a black man who worked to help freed and escaped slaves. He came to this area to start a Water Cure operation that was quite successful, and then used his many contacts in Boston and New York City to help support the core group of leaders for the Utopian community that sprang up here.

The Northampton Association of Education and Industry was a group way before its time. Women were equal to men in all aspects, and children were both educated in academics and in work, and pay was distributed equally among members. They ran different mills (silk, etc.) and held raucous meetings of debate.

Our bike ride took place on such a beautiful day, and even ending the tour in a cemetery could not dampen the understanding that our small city is more important to history than even we understood before setting out that morning.

There are self-guided and virtual tours available, and the Ruggles Center has recently used grants to complete and publish a comprehensive, primary source-focused curriculum for middle and high school students.

Sometimes, you see your place in a different light, if you take the time to notice.

Peace (pedal forward),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Game of Hide the Water Bottle

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Sometimes, I just watch to see what my students will do in the time between learning. It’s always fascinating. In other years, this is how I first learned about Minecraft, and heard about Visco Girls, and watched students show me the Mannequin Challenge, and was taught in detail about dance moves on Tik Tok, and more.

This year, I’ve been observing a gaggle of my most energetic boys play a game in which they hide each other’s water bottles in the classroom. They play it voluntarily and I have not noticed them bothering anyone else’s water bottles. Here’s how they do it: one boy turns his back or goes into the hallway, and the others scheme inventive places to hide it. The owner returns and tries to find it, and the others give hints, if needed.

At this point, they are running out of new places to hide things in the classroom, but I’ve observed them put it behind books in the bookcase, inside a tube of rolled paper that I have, behind our class mailboxes, below the old mounted television set, buried in a box of colored pencils, stuffed under tables and desks, and more. They get very excited when they find a new hiding spot.

They tell me they have been playing versions of this game for years, which I find rather amusing, and as long as it doesn’t get out of hand and as long they are not bothering anyone else, I am content to keep them engaged in their playful game, and see where the water bottles will go next.

Peace (and play),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Finding a Rhythm

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My wife and I were chatting the other night with a friend of our eldest son. This friend just became an elementary classroom teacher so my wife and I are checking in with him, regularly, and cheerleading him through the start of his career.

We were talking about settling down into a rhythm, and I admitted to him, even after so many years, I am still trying to find that rhythm of my new school year days, three weeks in. There is a flow that I know happens, where lesson planning and curriculum design and daily schedules and student stories and administrative busywork … it all eventually comes together so that there is a rhythm of the days.

I’m getting there, I told him, but I am not there yet. (I think he was relieved that a longtime teacher felt the same way as he was feeling, although I know he is experiencing the craziness of newness more than I am – I still remember those days).

Meanwhile, our Music Special had to take part in the classroom yesterday because of some classroom space shifting in our building for cleaning (mold). Our new music teacher has been teaching drumming and patterns. As I worked in the back of the room or wandered in and out, my students were using drumsticks on their desks to pound out drum patterns she had printed out for them.

Mostly, it sounded chaotic, but every now and then, they found a beat together, and the click click click of the sticks on the tops of desks became one solid sound, and I thought, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about working as one and making music together in the uncertainty of flexible learning in a Pandemic.

So I am ending this slice on the idea that began it – my students and my classroom. Call it circular writing rhythm.

Peace (on the two and four),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Library With No Librarian Is Still a Place of Books

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

When I started teaching at my school, many years ago, a budget crunch meant that our school had no librarian. The library was mostly dark during the school days. It was a travesty I could not understand as a new teacher, as a lover of books, as someone who knows the power of a library and a librarian to spark a love of reading and learning.

Well, we’re back to that situation again.

The community where I teach voted down a budget last year that has meant many cuts at the school, and one of the most dramatic is that we did not replace our librarian, who left for another job, and the library is dark again.  I don’t know if we will even have a paraprofessional or volunteer in there to check out books. It’s unclear right now.  I also don’t know if we lost our budget for buying new books for the library. Gaw. (Another ramification of the budget cuts is a reduction in hours of our amazing school nurses — something else I have trouble wrapping my head around, particularly in a Pandemic).

I don’t cast blame on my principal, who did the best she could with the budget she was given, and she was able to keep Art and Music and Physical Education through creative scheduling, etc. I’m grateful for that.

But to lose the library (not lose, maybe, as I am sure we will come up with a plan to bring students there to get books .. I hope) from our regular school day, as a place of literacy and instruction and fun, is difficult and unsettling, and I am still grappling with that change as our school year begins.

Peace (and books),
Kevin

Slice of Life: And So The Year Begins …

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

 

 

 

On this day
before the
first days
of school,
the dreamers
in us remember
long nights of
wonder and
worry, the
unknown spinning
us forward
into something
unfocused
and still a
bit blurry;
each year begins
with a single
step of pause,
then comes
the hurry

Peace (at the start of it all),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Sometimes, A Tree Falls

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The hurricane on Sunday and into Monday was not as bad as it could have been here, but we still had strong winds and lots of rain.  The river down the street is raging. And, alas, a tree fell from a neighbor’s yard smack dab into our yard, right over our fence line.

Tree FallI know this happens. It’s nature. It’s part of life. It was a storm. It could have been a lot worse.

We’re lucky it didn’t hit the house and we’re lucky that I moved a glass-top table we usually have near that part of the yard for outdoor gatherings. No one was hurt. It’s still frustrating because it was a lovely tree, providing some nice shade on summer days, and now I am calling around, trying to find a tree service who can help remove it.

I guess if we learned one thing last year, it is to go with the flow, adjust as needed, and keep things moving forward. I’ll be on the phone today again, with tree companies, and chatting with my neighbor about her lost tree and my damaged fence.

Peace (rooted),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: Noticing The Moments As Poems

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Summer ain’t over yet but it’s getting there … so I am trying to quiet my mind a bit before the frantic start of a new school year, using my daily morning poetry to notice moments. It’s sort of like some zen incantation, how writing words as poems of moments of stillness gives the head a chance to pause.

Four Moments

Two small finch
balanced on stems,
nibbling seeds,
their hollow bones
in perfect sync
with summer flower,
fluttering, bending,
but holding steady,
swaying in the breeze

The dragonfly
alights to the edge
of the boat,
lands and waits,
as I draw in paddles
to let us float,
its wings a-hover,
a stillness moment
of quiet wonder

They climb the tree
that is a castle
that becomes a cloud
that moves a mountain
that starts a story
that becomes a poem
that looks its way out
on the wider world
where we are only wandering by,
watching

In the aftermath
of the receding,
with the world
painted in brushes
of broken limbs
and damaged parts,
the evening sky
casts us a glow
in pink, amber, blue –
an act of forgiving
while still giving
the storm its due

Peace (sharing it with you),
Kevin