Arkansas Traveler

My driveway was empty.

There was not a pickup truck.  There was not a ladder leaning against my house.  There was no one on my roof.  Shingles weren’t being replaced, and a leak was not being repaired.

Just 45 minutes earlier I figuratively pushed my last student out the door, emptied the trash, plugged the computers in to charge, and locked up behind myself.  I made it out of the building without getting caught in a conversation, and I drove home without getting caught breaking any traffic laws.  I got out of school in record time. I had to be home.

I wasn’t expecting my driveway to be empty.

Yet, with the exception of my own vehicle, its engine cooling in the afternoon sun, it was. I glanced at my phone and saw a message from my wife: “They can’t come today.”

Given all that’s going on in the world on this first of March, I simply counted my blessings and smiled at my good fortune as the late-afternoon sun brought to mind a lyric from that old song, “Arkansas Traveler.”  

And, when the rain came down on the cabin floor,
The squatter only fiddled all the more.
Why don’t you mend your roof, said the traveler bold
How can I mend my cabin when the rain is wet and cold?
Squatter pick a sunny morning when the air is dry and nice,
Patch up your cabin, that is my advice.
The squatter shook his hoary head, and answered with a stubborn air,
Cabin never leaks a drop when days are bright and fair!

Drafting an Ode

Regarding the writing of poetry: It’s only been the last few years that I’ve started to explore forms of any sort.  Like so many folks, I fell into the camp of “forms are restricting,” while – if I’m honest with myself – they intimidated me more than just a little.

Last week I had the chance to participate in a writing party hosted by Leigh Anne Eck of Time to Write.  The event, in keeping with February as a month of love, was an opportunity to experiment with odes.   

To me, an ode has always been a lengthy affair, and John Keats sort of sets the standard.  That said, we were given a simple template: Involve the senses, and end with a question and an answer.  While that’s certainly not the only way to write an ode, it worked for me during that session.

Ode to the Trail – 1

The trail leads ever onward, or so it’s said
I see it before me, disappearing around the bend
So who am I to disagree?
Woodland path, you invite me to walk in your way
Your muted voice, sounding as the wind
to those who don’t know your words, calls to me
In the distance of a few steps, I am enveloped
Your earthen aroma washing over me 
and your rustling leaves quieting the voices within my head
“Are you complete without me?” I ask
“Yes, and may I ask the same of you,” is your reply
No, and again, no

Draft, February 2022

A Slice of (My Wife’s) Life

My wife, Lisa, is a tax accountant.  She enjoys (?!) working with people, organizing their previous year’s financial doings and putting them all together into a single, fileable package. She’s a numbers person, an organizer, blessed with, as they say, “the gift of administration.”

She’s also, as it turns out, a darn good reading tutor.  

Our oldest granddaughter, for a variety of reasons (the least of which is not the academic upheaval of the last 20 months), needs extra help with her reading.  She’s getting all the help her school is able to provide, but it’s just not been enough.

In stepped her Nana.  

Have you ever heard the joke along the lines of a doctor being called for on an airplane?  The one where the overly-eager spouse offers her help as the “wife of a doctor”?  Lisa has a line she pulls out when social conversation with my peers turns to school related topics: “I’m the wife of a teacher,” she’ll say, in order to humorously establish her bona fides.   

It turns out – and this is no surprise to those who know her – she’s so much more than just the spouse when it comes to teaching.

She’s jumped in with both feet, and our conversations are now sprinkled with words and phrases such as, “morphemes,” “graphophonemic,” and “high-frequency words.”  She’s got a stack of books she’s collected from our shelves, and she’s proven herself more than adept at mining them for the bits of information that are moving her teaching effort forward with success.  Our granddaughter’s reading is improving weekly, if not daily!

Yesterday, surrounded by texts, she felt compelled to write about me and my books, but I think her “slice” is actually more about her.  I’ll let you decide.

—–

Living with Tim, a Slice 

Books, books, books everywhere, a modest home with a  not so modest book collection.  Books can be found on the kitchen table, books can be found neatly arranged on a display shelf in the dining room, books fill the shelves across and below the neat display, there are children’s books on  the living room hearth, two end tables hold the current interests, and an additional bookcase holds interests of the recent past, bookcases in the bedroom, (did I say three?)*, books on the headboard and on the dresser, books in the ‘yoga room’, two bookcases in the extra bedroom and naturally, books in the bathroom. Oh, I forgot, books in the garage!

These books are not organized by author or subject. They are not organized using the BISAC, Dewey Decimal or the Library of Congress system. It’s simply the Gels matter of available space and current interest that allows for a constant flow of the printed matter to circulate amongst the various horizontal surfaces of our home. 

Selecting a book and opening to a random page provides nuggets of intrigue. This morning I came across Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson. My eight year old granddaughter wrote her first story this week in a turquoise journal with a matching glitter pen complete with a pom pom on top. It starts with, “if you woke up one morning and were a bug…” this interest must be supported and encouraged.  I am engrossed by the words on page 97. “First, we talk about the writer’s craft of close observation by reading aloud The Other Way of Listening by Byrd Baylor. This picture book tells a story of learning to observe, to sense things not everyone senses. The book sparks conversation about other ways of listening and seeing the world around us.” The paragraph continues with the mention of two more titles. Books beget books and soon they will be found in our home, first on the coffee table by my chair as I read them, then they will migrate to the end table by the couch as we share the reading experience together, then to the kitchen table as we learn to write about what we’ve observed and finally to the shelves dedicated to the children’s books within their reach. Books beget books. 

That eight year old is needing support as she learns to read.  As I was reading a teachers manual on teaching reading I came across this little gem, as I am not a teacher this is exciting to read. “Correspondences between print and speech. Sound-symbol associations.” I print this out and post it to the front of my composition book.

I can’t help but play with the printed words. 

Sound-symbol associations…hmmm, directly under it I write, 

“The Sound Cymbals Association : D”

I open, In the Company of Children by Joanne Hindley, to a random page to find a list titled How Readers Choose Books. Towards the bottom it states, “They read two or three pages in the middle of the book…”

*Later I observed there are actually five bookshelves in our bedroom.

—–

Proud husband moment, right here!

November Poems of Thanks

November is Here

The rush of summer
is fading behind me now 
and I find myself 
feeling thankful for the dark
slow pace of the winter months

Memories

Pictures on the fridge
bring the past to life again
though I can’t forget
those for whom I’m most thankful
those whose love goes on and on

An Evening Walk

The sky above me
Holds the waxing quarter moon
With Saturn beside
And I walk in the pale light
On this still November eve

A Morning Walk

The conversation
we heard in the rustling leaves
high above our heads
brought us to a hushed silence
as we walked the mountain path

Signs of Life

I came around the corner on the way home from school, and our car was in the driveway.  Our car, not to be confused with our little truck, which I was driving at the time. I knew the truck wouldn’t be in the driveway, as I was in it, but I was surprised to see the car.  I was expecting an empty driveway, which, as I’ve said, wasn’t the case. 

I couldn’t remember, though, where my wife said she was going to be when I got home. Had she said she wouldn’t be home?  I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure.  I’m good like that.

As I got out of the truck, I put my hand on the hood of the car.  It was cool, so she hadn’t gone out and gotten home early.  Hmmm. 

I grabbed my school bag, and climbed the few stairs to the front door.  Opening the screen door, I reached out and found the front door locked, which was strange, since my wife usually unlocks the door when her phone tells her I’m getting close to the house. 

“Hi honey, I’m home!” I called out as I opened the door.

Yes, that’s totally a cliché, which is why we say it.  

The house was quiet, except for Lulu whining to get out of her crate, and still I was clueless about the love of my life’s whereabouts.  

Then I saw a black sequined purse, fashioned in the shape of a cat, sitting on the chair nearest the door.  Looking further, I saw one bookbag, and then another.  A lunchbox, and a jacket on the floor.  And then a second lunchbox.

The granddaughters were here; that wasn’t my sequined cat purse.

Or, were they?  Were they playing “hide from grandpa,” as is their wont when I get home? Or, just as likely, were they outside?

As they weren’t home, I was the only one who laughed at me checking behind the furniture, the shower curtains, and under the beds.  

Finally, I gave in and reached for my phone.  

Learning of their walk around the block, the mystery was solved, and I found myself outside just a moment later, watching two little girls running toward me, their hair streaming behind them.  With an exaggerated “whoof,” I caught their hugs on the run. 

I was home, and my evening had started in one of the best possible ways!

Untitled, and That’s Okay

Look at the birds of the air . . .

I am not able 
– it turns out –
to influence the machinations 
of this world 
through my state of disquietude 
no matter how strong 
that state might be

So I must relearn to breathe 
to release 
to try to control only 
that which is mine to 
have even the illusion 
of control

I need to accept 
the reality of things
as unreal as I might 
find them

I must disconnect and 
find the virtues of a simplicity 
I’ve not known 
since my earliest years

Anything else is futility

Sanctuary is in the straightforward 

– – – – – 

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26, NIV

The Copy Machine Blues

The copy machine.  

There aren’t many pieces of equipment within a school building that can evoke such strong emotional responses from teachers.  

The high that you feel when a) it’s available and b) it works flawlessly are hard to match.  The lows that come with a line, a paper jam, or — and this might be the worst — walking into the copy room to find every access door open and not a living soul in sight?  Well, those lows are hard to match as well.

Today was a mixed bag of feelings.  I volunteered to make copies for another teacher, which made me feel good — yay!  I walked into the copy room to find a “Replace the Waste Toner Container” notification — ugh.  I walked across the school to find the other copy machine looking like it was working — yay!

I put my paper in the tray, dropped my masters in the feeder, and pressed “play,” only to experience highs and lows all at the same time.  It worked, yes, but I’d forgotten how slow that machine worked. 

Yay — Ugh — Yay — Ugh — Yay

I’ve got to be fair: I ended with a yay because it only jammed once.  That’s a win.  A slow win, but a win!

Hurricane Ida

By choice, I’ve not gone back through my blog to see how many times I’ve written about the weather.  I know it’s been more than a few times, and, when I have, it’s rarely been about sunny days.  I’ll just add this post to the list

Today, thanks to Hurricane Ida, it’s a weather day for my district here in north Alabama.  We’re some 400 miles from the Gulf Coast, but the dangers are still real. 

Thus, the weather day.

The decision was made yesterday, well before the first drops of rain fell here in our area.  That’s a tough call to make, but it was a good one, says the teacher who’s sitting with a cup of coffee and a laptop in his living room watching the rain fall outside.  

Good or bad, though, I have to acknowledge the perils of the “durned if you do, durned if you don’t” nature of the decision faced by district leadership.

If the decision to cancel school is made and the weather hazard turns out to be less than expected, you’ve got upset parents.

If the decision to cancel school is made and the weather hazard turns out to be real BUT there’s anything less than widespread damage, you’ve still got upset parents.

If you don’t decide to cancel school and the weather hazard turns out to be less than expected, you were still gambling with student safety.  (That said, the majority of upset people are teachers and students.)

If you don’t decide to cancel school and the weather hazard comes to be, you should have listened to the experts and made a different choice.

Durned if you do, durned if you don’t.  I do appreciate the difficulty of the decision.

As for me?  I’ll watch the rain and hope for the best while grading some papers, writing some lesson plans, and reaching for another cup of coffee.  

It’s My Turn to Write About It

There are so many ways I’ve thought of to start this piece.  

I thought about taking the random fact angle:  Until recently, I’d heard the word “nasopharyngeal,” but didn’t really know what it meant.

 Or the poetry approach.  I decided against it because, despite the fact that it always comes to my mind when I find myself actually-really-truly sidelined with illness.  Unfortunately, though, Dickinson’s guest who stopped for her when she didn’t have time to stop herself hits too close to home for so many, so I’ll just mention it.

I considered the dialog I shared with the nurse on the phone, starting with the sinking feeling I had when the phone actually rang.  They only call for positive cases, or so I was informed by the sign taped to the plexiglass partition in the clinic.

Sub plans.  I could have written about sub plans, but I thought that tack might not resonate with my readers who aren’t teachers. (Okay, I’ve only got a few readers, and my mom’s the only one who’s not a teacher, but still, it’s best to be safe.)

Finally, the ten days at home came to mind as a way to introduce the story.  Ten days of living in my bedroom with my wife holding down the rest of the fort.  It wasn’t a bad time, once I had my nest built, but it’s not something I want to do again.

I’m hesitant (but not hesitant enough, apparently) to add another thought after the “Finally” paragraph, but I could start by mentioning how the emotions around the topic kinda kill the pleasure of even writing about it.  

Yes. I think I’ll go with that.

The Perfect Rain

It really was the perfect rain.

—–

I stood in the living room, feeling a bit disoriented, a bit relieved, a bit exhausted, and a bit excited all at the same time.  The second day of school had ended three or four hours earlier, but I’d left the building just 15 or 20 minutes before the present moment.

It was a long day.

“You know what I’d like to do Saturday morning?” I asked my wife who was sitting in a chair, waiting to see where my just-walked-in-the-door brain was going.

“What’s that?” 

“I’d like to go for a hike.  Get outside.”

“That sounds great.  I’ve been wanting to do that too.”

Lisa and I enjoy hiking and being outside.  For a number of reasons, with my month-plus-long trip to Ohio to be with my family and the beginning of the school year high on the list, it had been over two months since we were on a trail.  It was going to be nice to get back out there.

—–

It was early Saturday morning, just before we were ready to leave, and we both looked at the weather apps on our phones.  I interpreted mine to say dry skies, and she decided hers recommended a rain jacket.  We each grabbed one, coming down on the side of reluctant caution.  Wearing a rain jacket during an Alabama rain shower in August tends to leave the wearer wetter on the inside of the garment than on the outside.  Humidity — ugh.

—–

We’d hiked for 40 minutes or so, and the woods were glorious despite the lack of a breeze and overcast skies.  The temperatures weren’t too high, and the humidity wasn’t bad.  

I turned back toward Lisa and said, “It looks like we’re missing that rain.”  

I was feeling pretty good about that, as my rain jacket was sitting back in the car.  The look on her face, though, let me know I was clearly missing something.  I listened carefully, and heard the tap-tap-tap of raindrops on the leaves overhead.

Bummer.

To her credit, I don’t remember my wife saying a word until I acknowledged the precipitation.  

The rain was light, though, and we’d continued to walk another five minutes or so through the woods before we could actually feel the drops. Even then, we stayed relatively dry. 

And we walked on.

We were at the highest point on the trail and the furthest from the car when the rain picked up just a bit.  Drops bounced off our hats and started to pool on our day packs just before, well, the rain almost stopped.

The woods were even greener with the wetness, the air around us cooled dramatically, and our spirits were buoyed even higher.  We walked on, mindful of the newly-slick rocks, but with smiles on our faces.

It really was the perfect rain.

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