"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wild Life

One of the best things about teaching in the new building is that I have to go outside to get to the old building. It's a trip I make several times a day because the old building still holds essentials: mailboxes, copy machines, ice. The distance between the two buildings is enough that a journey from one to the other brings me up from the depths of the to-do list in my brain. The cool predawn air, or the warmth of a recess sun on my shoulders, or the pull of afternoon light when the kids are gone and I'm about to be - all feel like kindness and answered prayer.

I had just stepped out of the old building on a morning last week, my arms full of copies for the week, my heart tight with that feeling of already being behind. The conversation in my head involved solving several problems that weren't even mine. That competed for space with thinking about what I needed to do to be ready for the new student arriving the next day, the coming goal conference with my principal I was struggling not to be afraid of, and getting ready for next week's outdoor school adventure.

A sound made me stop, literally in my tracks. Geese honking. The first of the season. This little town I teach in is on the edge of a National Wildlife Refuge. Geese are a common sight and sound. Except that in the summer you only see them in pairs or on the water with babies trailing behind. The vee formation is unique to fall and winter here.

I moved from the porch out to the driveway, my eyes skyward, my head empty, my heart pulled wide open. The morning air still held the chill of autumn night, but was painted the rose and dove colors that always promise the sun's arrival. One small vee announced its way across the western sky: We are home!

The only other person at school at that hour was the custodian, and she was working hard indoors somewhere. I had the moment entirely to myself. A gift. A blessing. A miracle. I stood and watched and absorbed, marking the moment and claiming it. Smiling to myself, standing a bit taller, I moved toward the new building. More honking drew my eyes skyward again. I stopped again. Chains of geese were scattered from one end of the sky to the other. Fluid letters that shaped and reshaped themselves into prayers. Avian chanting, a wild kirtan.

Fall has always been my favorite season, and as I age, it becomes even more so. For the obvious metaphor (I'm in the fall of life), but the geese reminded me this week of something else. This time of fading life and light is also a time of birth and new beginnings. Not the lush exuberance of spring birthing, but instead a quieter pull toward a clear light.

We leave today, a Sunday, for outdoor school. We'll come home late Thursday. A week away from home, on the mountain, with two hundred fifth graders and assorted adults. On duty in some capacity the whole time. Sleeping on thin pads in wooden bunks. Eating food chosen for it's economy and kid appeal. Teaching lessons about subjects I have little knowledge of. The kids think I'm as excited as they are for this experience. Part of me is. Part of me feels like a mule dug in and being dragged mercilessly toward a place I do not want to be.

My solution is this: to look for the wild. Up for geese and cloud feathers. Down for spawning salmon and elk sign. Out for that particularly beautiful feral energy of kids discovering. Inward for the spirit that flames like autumn leaves. I carry with me the memory of witnessing the glory of geese arriving home, the reminder of where my own home lies, the knowledge that I only have to open to be there no matter where I am physically.


One of the things teachers do at camp is take turns sharing a poem at the beginning of a meal. Last week I decided to read Mary Oliver's Wild Geese, in part because of the morning this post is about. I want to give the kids a taste of that wildness written by the wildest wisest poet I know. Rereading the poem just now, I realized she feels fall in much the same way I do. There's comfort in that.


DJan said...

I love Mary Oliver. I love your own poetic words, putting on the page what I feel about the season, too. And after you have recovered from that exciting time with the children, you will soon after be wrapped in the embrace of your blogging friends. I am so grateful to be one of them. :-)

Sally Wessely said...

"The morning air still held the chill of autumn night, but was painted the rose and dove colors that always promise the sun's arrival". Your writing takes my breath away. Your insights resonate with my soul. Your wisdom is a guide for others.

I will think off you this week. Soon, we will share our stories in person. I hope we will be able to be able to walk in the woods again. Who knows what new treasures await us.

Barb said...

I've always loved the Wild Geese poem. I'm going to remember this, Deb - "the reminder of where my own home lies, the knowledge that I only have to open to be there no matter where I am physically" I'll think of you and your students this week. I'll hope for respite, learning, and homecoming.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

As always, your writing is beautiful. I seem to recall that last year you were dreading this week away and the weather was awful, but you found joy in it. I hope the weather is better and you still find joy in it!

Funny that you are welcoming geese home. We are watching them leave us for a few months, and seeing lots that stop by during their journeys.

Linda Reeder said...

While the poem is wonderful, it stirs me not nearly so much as your own beautiful words. I can imagine the too much to do feeling of the early morning being momentarily and completely lifted by the flight of geese.
The pressures you write of as a teacher are still very real to me in my emotional memory. Wishing you a wonderful week in the out of doors.


I love Mary Oliver too. Beautiful poem and my favoirite line is the last "...announcing your place in the family of things."
Your writing here is beyond lovely, beyond words. It made my heart soar with the geese to hear the way you put together your lovely sentences to form this beautiful essay. Made me tear up. I can only say thank you and God bless. Hope you find hidden treasures in your outing. Hugs for visiting my blog. I am light about this move. It's how I made my decision by asking myself if it felt heavy or light. It felt light. LIke I'm being lifted into the air.

Linda Myers said...

So grateful there are teachers like you. Those kids are the winners.

kario said...

I love that you go to outdoor school. As hard as it is to be with a giant bunch of kids all heading in different directions for 24 hours a day, I know that your reverence for nature must rub off on them in ways you can never fully know.

Dee said...

Dear Deb, as both DJan and Sally have said, your lyrical writing touches me each time I come to your blog and discover a new posting. To wrap your musings and discoveries in such lyricism is a true gift.

And thank you for sharing Mary Oliver's poem. The last three lines just nailed me to today. Peace.

Sandi said...

I should be in bed, but I accidentally (on purpose) found myself searching out your blog tonight. I love how you remind me to stop and listen, to hold onto the small miracles and to be thankful. Love you lots.

Terri Tiffany said...

Your descriptions of a moment always capture me! It's good to read your post again.

Deborah Barker said...

Ah, Deb, That is beautiful. It is those moments of quiet solitude that refresh our souls. I am struggling to find such moments at the moment with a new puppy and often a full house but your story of the geese hit home. Driving to the shops the other day I spotted a sign by the main road - "Drive with care - Geese in road" Our geese and our swans parade along the main road without care. Just slowing down or stopping for a moment to watch them go by, refreshes the soul I think.