Klee Klee Klee Klee

Standing outside the door with the knuckles of my raised right hand just inches from it, I listened carefully, trying to decide what was happening on the other side.  Hearing what sounded like normal activity, I tapped on the wood.

Normal activity: That idea made me smile.

“Yeah!  Come on in!”

Turning the knob, I entered the room slowly, despite knowing it was safe to do so.  With my eyes starting to adjust to the brighter light inside the room, I closed the door behind me just as the alarm started to blare.

I know it’s not nice to call a lady an “alarm,” and the word “blare” isn’t polite either, but, well, there we were.

The lady, in this case, was a young American kestrel.  Her pale yellow feet, just visible below her nearly-spherical-looking body, clutched her perch, and her head — again, just barely discernible above the fluff — was turned toward me. 

Her appearance was a defensive behavior.  Her tan-streaked chest was puffed out, and her cinnamon and grey wings were held just out from her body.  Her tail, still not fully grown, pointed straight down from her back.  She looked big, in her mind, despite the fact that she weighed just over 100 grams.  

And her vocalization.  Wow.  She was loud.  Hoping to scare me off with her call since her appearance wasn’t doing the trick, she stared at me with her dark eyes as her beak opened and closed rapidly.  I could see her bright red throat under the ultraviolet lights, and I watched as her tongue vibrated with her cry.

“Well, hello,” I said, my voice quiet so I didn’t scare her, assuming she could even hear me.  

“Klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee klee,” she replied.

Satisfied she was okay, I made my way across the room to stand and look at her.  I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks, and her appearance was strikingly different than at that time.  Her adult plumage was coming in, and the amount of juvenile fuzz covering her body had decreased dramatically.  I was in awe.

“I think she’s ready to eat,” I was told.  Settling into a comfortable position out of the way, I watched her training session unfold.  She flew and “hunted” like a champ, her instincts taking her through the next 20 minutes or so.  

Nature is incredible.

A juvenile female American kestrel sitting on a perch in a room.  Her adult plumage is starting to come in, but she still looks very young.
A juvenile female American Kestrel

I’m a volunteer with a conservation education organization in north Alabama. For more information, click here.

The Student Information System

School starts in ten days and  
I have a list of names in a spreadsheet
freshly extracted from the student information system

The S. I. S.  

Fourth graders, all
as that’s what I teach 
Fourth graders.  You’ve heard that old line, right? 

“Oh, you’re a teacher.  What do you teach?”  

“Fourth graders.” Awkward pause.

I’ve looked at that spreadsheet and even queried the SIS
that all-knowing database
but found it to be missing some information

The student in the 11th row 
is he excited about coming to school?  

I wonder about the kiddo in row 4
Science is her favorite subject
but how can I help her love the others?

Does Row Number 6 know that Row Number 8 
is worried about making friends
just like he is?

Row 2 can’t wait to tell me about her summer,
her trip, and all the fun she had, yet

There’s no mention that Row 23 
wishes she could forget the last three months

Row 14, I’ll find out on my own
loves reading while snuggled on the couch 
with his new step-mom

But that’s not in the database  

I have birthdays and addresses 
I guess there’s that

Please Don’t Leave

Interstate 65 in the southern half of Alabama is, for the most part, a beautiful slog.  Pine trees line the roadside for dozens of miles at a time, and you’d better not have less than half a tank of gas if there’s an accident ahead.  Monotony and the resultant distractions probably lead to most of those accidents, but that’s not what I’m writing about. 

As I said, southern Alabama (and northern Alabama, for that matter) is a beautiful place.  The gentle hills of the coastal plain are mostly covered in the pines I mentioned earlier, and the views that the tallest of those hills afford are stunning, in a relatively flat and green way.

Recently, coming home from a conference, I had the opportunity to drive I-65 northbound out of the Montgomery area.  The trip, I’m happy to say, was relatively uneventful as all of my distractions — as well as those of my fellow travelers — were within the limits of safety.  The drive, not complicated with heavy rain or traffic accidents, gave me some time to think, as well as plenty to think about.  

A number of miles north of Montgomery stands a billboard that is regular fodder for local conversation and commentary.  Given the inter-state nature of interstate travel, it’s also known throughout the region and even makes it into national human-interest pieces on occasion.  I am, of course, referring to the “GO TO CHURCH Or the Devil Will Get You!” (sic) sign.

I didn’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about that sign, and I’m not writing about it either. It’s just cool to tell people about it.

There is, however, a new sign sharing the same field, and I did spend some time thinking about it.  Much smaller, though still prominent, the sign states the cliché, “America love it or leave it.”  I’m pretty sure it’s in all caps, but I didn’t get a picture.  In my mind, though, it’s in all caps. 

That saying has been around longer than I can remember (which is back into the 70s), and there was a time when I gave it a positive nod, if not a hearty endorsement.  I used to think differently about a lot of things, to tell you the truth.  Now, though, I see a different America than I did back then, and I see that sign and its words differently as well.  

I used to see only my own little world.  My little town, my little circle of friends and family, and my little frame of reference.  My limited travel and only three channels (plus PBS on the UHF dial) were, I suppose, some of the reasons things used to be little.

Now, though, I see a bigger world and a bigger America.  My little town gave way to living on three different continents and enjoying a variety of experiences.  Traveling over the years (as well as the Internet) has given me a bigger circle of friends and family, and my frame of reference has grown as a result.  I’ve met and known people who are different from me: they look differently, they think differently, and they act differently. They — at least those who are stateside — are America.

America is a big place, literally and metaphorically.  It’s a place of wonder and simplicity; a place of unity and division; a place of celebration and protest.  It’s E pluribus unum: From many, one.  America is a country of diversity and the variety of opinions that come with that reality.  My America, whether one likes it or not, is a place of both differences and similarities.  

And you know what? America, as I see it, is big enough and strong enough to thrive with those realities; they’re an asset, not a liability.

That sign, I suspect, didn’t completely express its author’s full intention.  I could be wrong, but what I think it’s supposed to say is, “MY little vision of America: Love it or leave it.”

I don’t agree with your opinion, sir or ma’am, but I respect your right to have it, and I’m glad you have the opportunity to share it with the world.  

On Permanence

Concrete wall anchors.

All three of those words carry a sense of permanence that — I have to confess — I’m just not looking for right now.  That said, I need to mount something to a wall, and it has to be done today.  

Anchored, it will be.  To a concrete wall.

I’m moving into a new classroom, teaching a new grade level, and working with a new team.  That, for me, is a lot of new, and while I’m looking forward to everything about this school year, it’s still a bit much, given how the summer break has gone so far.  (I’ll start at the current time with that story: All is going well.  The previous five weeks were a bit touch-and-go, though.)

Ah, a new classroom!  So much potential, and so many decisions to be made.  Decisions that include where to mount an interactive panel that’s roughly the size of the barracks room in which I started my adult life.  

Thus the concrete wall anchors.  

Fortunately, I’ve got a putty knife and I’m not afraid to use it.  Maybe things aren’t so permanent after all!

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