Weekly photo challenge: Escape!

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This is the early morning view from the home of my friend, Paula Krauss, which is on a small cove on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. She and her family have been spending their summers  here for many years, and she graciously invites me up for a bit of heaven every year. In June, she will retire from teaching, and then return to her summer home and the call of the loons. I wish her well as she prepares to turn down this new path.

Weekly photo challenge: Lunchtime

My mom with Nancy and me at a picnic at my grandma's.
My mom with Nancy and me at a picnic at my grandma’s.

 

I was too young to remember this day, but here are some sensory images of being three years old at my grandmother’s house in the country:

The pull and pinch of the clips in my braids.

The metallic taste of Kool-aid in the bright, tin cups.

The smell of Ambush and Aqua Velva.

Peeling off the skins of burnt hot dogs.

The heat of the sun, the sound of the wind.

The clematis that climbed the shed.

The swing with the longest rope in the world.

Looking at the photo’s date, I realize that my mother was just 30 years old, and has given birth to six children, with two more to come.

She Left Because

Huck had headed out to the territory
one too many times.

She left because she told
students to discover their passions.

She left because of rubrics.

She left because Hester Prynne wouldn’t
and Dimmesdale couldn’t.

She left because she started planning
her summer vacation in February—
okay, January. Okaaay, November.

She left because it was time
to find Kunitz’s garden.

She left because Thoreau’s distant drum
kept disrupting her classroom.

She left because she still could.

She left because some days
she wanted to give everyone an A—
and some days an F.

She left because the things she carried
were no longer a storyteller’s truth.

She left teaching because
it was time to go.


Published in English Journal, July 2007

In a few days it will be six years since I left teaching high school English. Sometimes it seems like yesterday, and other times it is a lifetime ago. I am so glad I was a teacher for 12 years of my life, that I had this experience. I still remember the excitement of the last day of school — and the first day of school each year.

What I (think I’ve) realized is that I need to see something finished and completed. I like projects with deadlines and something to show at the end. Teaching was an eternal treadmill for me. Even though I liked the students and their dramas and their energy, they moved on and I didn’t. In the end, I needed to move on, too.

When I meet former students, they all wonder why I quit teaching. Some even think it was because of what they might or might not have done. Believe me, the students were the best part of teaching. It was everything else, and everything else I still wanted to do, that took me away from teaching.

Weekly photo challenge: Hidden

A beautiful and surprising little corner in the Seattle Art Museum

What a Ghost Feels

Once they were dark whispers
that lived under beds and in closets,
so real she could feel sandpaper fingers
touch an arm or a leg left exposed
a worn chenille bedspread.

Today she knows their nightly forays
were more hope-filled than horrifying,
an attempt to warm a handful of bones
next to the inferno of her young life.

And now she floats through school halls
with papers to grade and files to fill
while young eyes gaze right through her
and she tries to hook a bony finger
around a smile to acknowledge she exists.

She longs to release a blood-curdling
scream or snatch up a freshman for lunch
to force her way back into their reality,
to feed on their hopes and dreams and future.

Yes, she knows what a ghost feels,
to wake in the middle of  a cold night
thinking it’s time to rekindle the hearth fire,
only to find her finger bones scuttling
across the covers of a child’s bed.

Published in The English Journal, NCTE, Summer 2006.

Weekly photo challenge: Sky

Looking down on a valley scooped out by big sky near Eastend, Saskatchewan.

This photo was taken near Eastend, a tiny town in Saskatchewan, where (on first glance) you might think absolutely nothing of any importance has happened. Here, it feels as if the sky could pick you right up off the land if it felt like it — if it even noticed you were down there.

As small and as off the beaten track Eastend is, it is famous for a few things. Here, the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex, known as “Scotty,” was discovered in 1991, and even more bones were unearthed in 2001. While here with a group of teachers, we visited the T. Rex Discovery Centre in Eastend, that’s carved into the side of a hill. Visitors can actually tour the excavation site, participate in fossil digs and see the complete skeleton of a prehistoric mammal called a brontothere.

Of course, the real reason we were in Eastend was to visit the home of Wallace Stegner, an amazing writer who founded Stanford’s creative writing program, and who wrote some of my all-time favorite books, including Angle of Repose. Stegner wrote about his life in Eastend in one of his memoirs, called Wolf Willow. It was interesting to visit the places that Stegner talked about in his book and to consider how a writer like Stegner discovered a love of reading and then of writing in spite of such a sparse and hard-scrabble world. Or did he become a writer because of this experience?

Here is a quote from the book that sticks with me:

“The plain spreads southward, an ocean of wind-troubled grass and grain. It has its remembered textures: winter wheat heavily headed, scoured and shadowed as if schools of fish move in it; spring wheat with its young seed-rows as precise as combings in a boy’s wet hair; gray-brown summer fallow with the weeds disked under; and grass, the marvelous curly prairie wool, tight to the earth’s skin, straining the wind as the wheat does, but in its own way, secretly.”

If you’ve read anything by Stegner, please consider responding to this post below. Thanks!

Photo challenge: Morning

Morning mist lifting on the White Mountains in Vermont.

I have not had much experience with mountains, so the few times that I have watched the morning mist rise — in western Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont — have been almost mystical for me.

This photo is from a visit to the White Mountains in Vermont. For a few years I went up to Breadloaf — a revered sanctuary for writers — on the outskirts of Middlebury. There, I spent a handful of long weekends with talented high school writers and teachers from across New England doing what we all liked to do best — write and listen to people read their writing.One of Robert Frost’s homes is located within walking distance, so it is all very writerly — but the kids made it so much more fun. It was amazing to watch them in their element, far from the high school world that often parked them a rung lower than the band kids.

Anyway, I loved Breadloaf and all the stuff that went along with it. I also loved the solitary ride up there, winding north on secondary roads that I knew would eventually get me to where I needed to be.  I loved the little villages and the pockets of pastures and odd little places like this one in the photo. Actually, the home on this place was beautiful and well kept. I believe these run-down creatures were meant to attract photographers like me.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Tiny

Another difficult photo topic this week. So I thought of tiny from a different perspective. Last year when I visited Chicago with a group of friends, we took photos at the top of the Hancock Tower. When I looked at the photos tonight, I was surprised to see our reflections in this photo. Thought it offered an interesting comment on “tiny.”

The poem below is tiny, too. It’s about an evening a few years ago, when I went to a concert in Fargo, ND.  I had never heard of Ralph Stanley, but I went anyway. He sang the song called “O Death,” which is on the soundtrack of the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”

I still remember how haunting the lyrics were as this very old and frail man sang to death, asking for one more year of life. So this is my “tiny” poem dedicated to Ralph Stanley.


Song for the Devil
for Ralph Stanley at the Fargo Theater

Your ancient keen
rattles the rafters
as you wind your way
through a plea to Death
for one more year.

You stand alone
on a stage of yellow wood
with fiddle hands folded,
while one beam of light
traps you in white fire.

We hold our breath
in a shadowed balcony
until Death stomps
downstairs and slams
an exit door behind us.

published in Prairie Winds, Spring 2007