Poem: American Kestrel

The month of April is National Poetry Month!  This is the first time I’ve done anything to participate as a poet, and I’ve made a few decisions about how I want to do so.

First, I’m going to work off the theme A Walk in the Woods.  Walking in the woods is something I’ve done quite a bit lately, so this seems like a natural fit (no pun intended). 

Second, I’m going to share original poetry throughout the month if I’m able to do so.  I enjoy writing short forms (haiku, tanka, cinquains, etc) as well as slightly longer (12-20 lines) works, but if I’m not feeling it, I don’t want to force it.  I’ll share finished pieces, as well as drafts I’ll revisit later.  In addition to my stuff, I’ll be sharing other poetry I like.  Some days I might do both.  

Third, I’m going to probably miss a day, and that’s okay.  I thought about missing today, just to get it out of the way, but I wanted to share a short poem I found, so I set that plan aside.

—–

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend time with an American Kestrel.  Held under permit by Rise Raptor Project, an organization with which I volunteer, this bird we call Blue is a feisty little guy who is unfortunately non-flighted.  That doesn’t affect his attitude and personality, though, and I enjoy working with him.

Blue, an American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

This found poem is a cinquain that I took from The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition (pg 326).

kestrel
small and slender
flight is light and buoyant
often hovers in search of prey
falcon

Zoo Trip!

Just a quick word of thanks to the folks at Two Writing Teachers. I appreciate the work you’ve put into hosting this year’s Slice of Life Story Challenge. Thank you!


It’s been a while since we’ve been to the zoo, and yesterday seemed like a good day to go.

This week is spring break for me, and my wife and her fellow tax preparers are enjoying the breathing room of the extended deadline.  We just happen to have two granddaughters, so it’s not like we had to go alone.  The weather was certainly cooperative: sunny and 78 degrees.  Clearly, the stars were aligned for a road trip north to Nashville.

Now that it’s over, though, I’m not sure what to write about.

I could probably write about the morning before the trip.  We didn’t tell the kids ahead of time, so they learned of the plan an hour before we left.  Thinking ourselves clever, we played Raffi’s “Goin’ to the Zoo” for them as our way of sharing the surprise.  Fun fact: subtlety is sometimes lost on six- and seven-year olds.  We had to just tell them.  Craziness ensued.

Passing on the pre-trip action, I could write about the time on the road.  90 minutes in a car with two young kids provided plenty of topics.  The dialog between stuffed animals was cute–and lengthy–so that’s certainly an option.  I could toss in our conversation about the words “extraordinary” and “exuberant,” or I could even describe the need for snacks, because, no, lunch wasn’t eaten before the trip as craziness was ensuing.  

I could write about how “ensuing” is an adjective, and the need to claim literary license in order to use it in the previous sentence.

The zoo itself, of course, provided lots of experiences to share:  

  • The disappointment of seeing the kid in front of us claim the lion on the carousel, despite us being third in line and certain we’d get it.  
  • The realization that, as a seven-year-old, carousels are more exciting as a memory than they are in real life. 
  • How hard it is to hold one’s young hand still as two lorikeets are squabbling over the cup of nectar clenched within one’s fist.
  • Cotton candy vs popcorn?  Nana’s idea of a healthy snack instead?  Circling back to cotton candy vs popcorn?
  • My amusement at seeing the meerkats, almost certainly as a result of watching The Lion King countless times over the last 25 years (you know, bits and pieces I’d catch as my kids were watching it; not that I ever sat down for it).
  • Gift shop!

What about the drive back?  The love Lisa showed for our daughter as she worked to keep the kids awake during the last 10 miles of the trip?

I could write about the two of us finally getting home, absolutely ready to collapse.

Hmmm.  If I’m going to get this post done, I’m going to have to decide.

Or not. 

Cutting the Grass

Ah, springtime.

No, this isn’t another one of my tornado posts.  Let me start over.

Ah, springtime.

The days are getting longer, the flowers are blooming, the rains are falling.  And falling.  Torrentially.  With lightning and wind.  And the constant threat of a tornado.

Darn it, this isn’t a tornado post.

It’s a grass post.

I really do love this time of the year, all things considered.  One of the biggest challenges, though, is the way the rain takes the side of the grass and not me.  It causes it to grow, but the wet conditions make it hard to cut.  We can’t cut it, and it grows.  The more it grows, the harder it is to cut.  

Seriously, it’s the middle of June before we’re able to just go out and cut the whole yard.  To make things worse, my wife and I aren’t yard fanatics.  We don’t use chemicals, so our yard is a combination of grasses and, ahem, naturalized plants. (No such thing as a weed.) We like it, but the combination of plants sometimes make it look as if our yard is even more out of control than it is.

Sigh.

Oh well, June is right around the corner. 

What’s Up There?

Have you ever known something about, well, anything, and then come to the realization that what you know is only a fraction of what there is to know about the subject?

I did the best I could, but that was a convoluted sentence.  If you need to read it again, I understand.  I needed to, and I’m the one who wrote it.

Yesterday I wrote about a wonderful hike on a local trail after a heavy rain that had just ended.  I’ve been on a lot of wonderful hikes, but yesterday’s was a bit different in that it gave me a realization like the one I described to start this post.

One of the things the Chapman Mountain property is known for is its big trees.  It’s been logged in the past, like most of the land in this area, but it’s been close to 100 years since it last happened.  Hence the big trees.

As I was walking, I found myself at the base of a good-sized ash tree.  The bark was covered with moss, and it towered above me toward the blue-grey sky.  I felt compelled to stand there and just look up.

While doing so, I was nearly overwhelmed at the beauty of the scene.  The rain had stopped, but the tree was still dripping.  Big, fat water droplets from nearly 100 feet above my head were falling toward me, and their starting height allowed me to actually follow their movement.  

As could be expected, one of the drops fell–splat!–onto one of the lenses of my glasses.  I laughed out loud to my own amusement, and continued to look up, amazed at the sight.

When I eventually brought my head down and took out a handkerchief to wipe my glasses, I saw that there was “stuff” on the lens.  Stuff that had apparently fallen with the water droplet.

So, back to my opening question.  I know that trees and other plants drop their leaves, those leaves decompose, and the deposited nutrients help the tree grow. Now, though, I’m wondering: what else is dropping besides leaves?  What was in that drop of water besides water?  How did it get to the top of the tree?  Aside from leaves, just how much stuff falls from trees in any given period of time?  Is all of that stuff from the tree, or are there other things up there?  

I don’t know.  I’m not even sure how to find out, but I’m certainly curious; that, I believe, is a good thing.

If it’s been a while since you took a walk in the woods, this is a great time for doing so–get outside!

Ash tree
I wish I could have captured the falling water droplets.

Chapman Mountain

In what is the latest chapter in the annual saga entitled, Alabama Spring, it rained last night.  Hard.  No tornadoes, I’m happy to say, but we still saw well over three inches of rainfall during the last 24 hours.  

I like to joke about the water evaporating from the Gulf of Mexico and falling back down before it even gets a state away.  That’s one of my jokes. I don’t get invited to a lot of parties.

Anyway, it rained.  Which was a bummer, because I was supposed to go on a guided hike this morning. For better or worse (ok, worse), I’m one of those people who tends to lead more guided hikes than participate in them, so I was really looking forward to getting out there and learning from someone else.  

I checked my email and text messages: No cancellation notices.  Since I’m one of the Land Trust’s hike leaders, I have a phone number for the hike coordinator, and I’m not afraid to use it.  A text message later and I knew that the hike was a go!  Or, more accurately, that it hadn’t been cancelled.

Yet.

That actually happened when I got to the parking lot.  Again, that rain was a bummer.  The hike leader said he’d done some looking and the trails were just too wet.  

I understand the need to stay off of wet trails, but as the group broke up I decided I wanted to just poke around a little and check things out.  This was a Land Trust property that I’d never actually hiked.  I’ve been there many times to give presentations in the pavilion, but I’d never hiked the trails.  

Another one of my jokes: People rarely donate flat (read: easily developed) land.  The preserve I was standing on, the Chapman Mountain Preserve, is not flat.  The hills aren’t too bad, but the land is not flat.*

The first bit of the trail wasn’t too bad.  It was wet, but not “slippery” or “leave ugly boot print” wet.  So I went on a bit more.

The next bit of trail wasn’t too bad, either.  So I went on a bit more.

The next bit of trail was actually a creek, but it was a rock-bedded creek only an inch deep.  No mud, no sediment, no foul.  So my wet boots and I went on a bit more. 

I was on that hillside for two hours, and it was absolutely glorious!  I had the place to myself (with the exception of a trail runner who–and I don’t understand this–wasn’t muddy from falling.  I mean, the trails weren’t sloppy, but running?  I was impressed.

The tail end of the rain had actually ended within 20 minutes of my arrival on site.  Water was still dripping from the trees, the ephemeral streams were running strongly, and the sounds of moving water could be heard the whole time I was there.  Springtime in Alabama is beautiful (thank you, Gulf of Mexico), and I walked among budding trees, a variety of wildflowers, and the sounds of birds everywhere.  Bird sound highlight: two amorous great horned owls just out of sight.  

It was simply wonderful, and I left with relatively clean boots and a list of poem topics for the upcoming month.  I’m looking forward to getting back out there soon, but maybe without the humidity from a recent rain.


*I need to say that this land is actually more suitable for development than many of our properties.  The family that made its acquisition possible were committed to seeing the land preserved.  Totally awesome.

One more note: The trails the hike leader planned on really were too wet. I didn’t hike on those, and the trail I did take was only a two hour walk because I like to mosey, take pictures, and stand and listen. Not guided hike material.

Next Year

“Sure, let’s go to my office; there’s something I want to talk to you about as well,” she said without breaking stride.

40 ) Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening. Alabama Course of Study: English Language Arts [L.4.3]

I had just met one of my principals in the hallway of her school (I’m an itinerant STEM coach).  I was going one way and she was going the other, but with my quick spin we were suddenly going the same direction.  

7 ) Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text…   [RL.4.7]

As we approached each other a few seconds ago, I asked to talk to her about next year. I knew my topic of conversation, but didn’t know what she wanted to talk about.  I had my hopes, but wasn’t sure.

36 ) Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate… [SL.4.6]

As we settled into chairs across from one another, we talked about my subject first.  I was happy to share my thoughts about next year’s STEM program, but kept my ideas short because, well, I really wanted to get to her topic.

24.b. Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations. [W.4.3b]

“Well, I’ve made a decision about next year.”  

1 ) Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text. [RL.4.1]

My pulse quickened just a bit and I probably shifted in my chair, despite trying not to.  Here’s an important detail I suppose I should include in this narrative: we were sitting in her office, but we were also sitting in the school at which I hoped to teach next year.  My coaching job was coming to an end, and I wanted to return to this school that I left some four years ago.

11 ) Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text. [RI.4.2]

“I’m going to put you in the fourth grade.  Do you think you can live with that?”

20 ) Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words. [RF.4.3]

I let her words soak in for just a moment as I felt the smile grow on my face.  Yes, I can live with that…I certainly can.  Next year is going to be a great year!

Notebook: Revised

Around this time last year, I posted a version of this poem to my blog. I stumbled upon it recently when I noticed on my website dashboard that someone visited that post.

As I re-read the post and the poem, I realized that my attitude has changed over the last year, and I like writing in my notebook more than I did back then. Look at me, growing and stuff. Anyway, I rewrote the last stanza to reflect my new practice.


Notebook: Revised

A pencil on paper
A mark on the page
It’s like watching live music
Or an actor on stage

It’s not fingers on keys
And there isn’t a screen
It’s real, and it’s physical
Do you see what I mean?

Is it good? Is it better?
This writing by hand?
Does this scribbling unplugged
See my vision expand?

Well, maybe it just might
I have to confess
Perhaps I’ll pen more —  
And keyboard a bit less

Yet Another Weather Day

Yesterday was another rough weather day in Alabama, and it’s only the end of March.  We still have April and the beginning of May to go.

Did you ever see the movie, Napoleon Dynamite

A friend of mine once said of that movie, “Well, that’s two hours of my life I can’t get back,” but I found it amusing.  I’m from the midwest, so it kind of resonated.

This post isn’t about the movie, but that film did give me a quote that I use often.  It’s kind of sing-songy, and I don’t remember the tune, but it goes like this: “I love technology.”

Sometime yesterday afternoon, after the second round of storms (second of three) moved through the state, a friend of mine decided it was time to post to Facebook.  She wrote something along the lines of, “What did people do before the news media was here to sensationalize the weather?  It’s just a thunderstorm, and I love listening to the rain.” 

I can’t be sure of her quote, because she took it down an hour or so after posting it.  My guess is she saw pictures of the flood damage to her town, but I don’t know that for sure.

I’m not sharing that story to put her down, because I do think the media gets a little (okay, sometimes a lot) carried away with their weather coverage. I’m sharing it because it brought to mind how much I love the technology that allows them to do so.  I’m so appreciative that our meteorologists can say, within a few miles, where tragedy is about to strike. I do not doubt that lives are saved by that ability each and every storm.  

Parts of my state are starting to rebuild today.  Tornadoes are a part of life here (as they are in a huge part of the rest of the country), and we will move on.  I’m thankful it wasn’t worse.

The Bear

“Look at that bear!”

—–

Now, when we’re out hiking and a few miles from the car, there are a lot of things my wife can say to get my attention, but, upon reflection, very few of them are as effective as, “Look at that bear!”

Quick aside: why don’t exciting things on the trail happen near the car?

Anyway, she might say, “Hey, Tim, take a look at this,” or “Hey, Tim, look back at me.”  She could even leave off my name, and just say, “Hey,” going so far as to leave off the exclamation point, and I’d still look back.  She would have my attention.

But, no, “Look at that bear!” is what she went with last night.

When I heard her, I immediately spun around, but–kind of in mid-spin–I was already thinking, “Wait, there’s not a bear up here.”  I mean, theoretically there could be, but I’m pretty sure we’d have seen it together, as bears aren’t known for their quiet nature.

Then I thought, “Oh, she means a bare spot on a tree where a buck has rubbed.”  That’s a common occurrence, and we’ve seen them often.

But, no, as my eyes fell upon it, I realized she meant a bear.

Well, sort of.  

It certainly looked like a bear: a very small bear, maybe 18 inches tall, jet black, in a sitting posture, looking away from us.  

Unable to control ourselves, we both moved toward it.  It didn’t move, which wasn’t a surprise, as it quickly became apparent we were looking at a piece of lawn statuary.  

And it wasn’t a bear at all.  It was a dog; it sort of looked like a lab, but it was hard to tell.  The paint was flaking off, the bone in its mouth was broken, and a welcome sign hung nearly out of site between its legs.  There was a piece of cord around its neck, with a large blue chew toy affixed to it.  A small silver cylinder was visible inside the toy, just barely visible.  

It was a geocache.

Props to the person, or, more likely, people who carried that thing nearly two miles up the trail with around 400 feet of elevation gain.  Lisa took a look inside the cylinder and discovered that the cache had just been placed a few months ago.  It’s a good one, definitely worth the walk. 

If you go looking for it, be aware that once you spot it, it will have your attention!

Lisa and the Bear

Learning New Things

For the last four years, I’ve been working as a STEM coach in a few different elementary schools.  It’s been a job I’ve enjoyed, and one of my favorite aspects of the job is the lack of routine.  Over the years I’ve done a lot of things many times, but it’s rarely been two days in a row.  

Quick aside: I’m going back into the classroom next year, and one of the things I’m looking forward to is the routine.  I’ll let you know when I figure out what that’s all about.

Anyway, one of the things I’ve done this year is help some teachers by collecting materials they can use with their ELA curriculum.  The topic I collected material for yesterday was space and astronomy.  Curating a collection of videos and websites took up most of my day.

I like doing that sort of thing because I always learn something new.  Even though I’m gathering material for an elementary-age audience, the material is interesting and in-depth.  Now that I think of it, I’ve always said one the best parts of being a teacher is the learning–I love it!