Keeping the teacher energy flowing is crucial

Bird Droppings May 31, 2018
Keeping the teacher energy flowing is crucial

 

For nearly fourteen years I have been involved as a student, instructor, visiting, taking photos and offering my two cents at the Foxfire Approach to Teaching Course. The program has been put on by Piedmont College for graduate students and teachers already in the classroom in Mountain City Georgia at the Foxfire museum. This course is an elective graduate class of Piedmont College’s Education Department. While the course is still offered it is now in the class room at the college.

 

The experience with Foxfire for me has been almost addicting. One Monday afternoon a few years back as I made my way home in the pouring rain from Black Rock mountain I had been invigorated by the discussion and interactions of teachers and teachers to be. Within the course we had talked about the positive aspects and negative pieces as well as we look at the Foxfire Core Practices. I always feel good that the negative are mostly personality conflicts within various small groups and not something within the program. As always I would come away excited about teaching and education as well and couple that with the many new friends made during the day or two I would be involved and the potential networking group of teachers to bounce ideas off it is a great experience.

 

About four years ago as the students finished their final assessment of the program and turned them in, Dr. Hilton Smith handed each a piece of paper. My first thought was they are getting a Foxfire course completion certificate. Later as we were leaving Sara, Hilton’s wife and often co-teacher handed a sheet to me and said I might enjoy the thought.

 

Musings from the Mountain by Kaoru Yamamoto,
The Educational Forum, Vol. 53, No. 3, 1989
“I am told that everyone needs to feel the exhilaration of being the cause of things, of making a difference. No doubt such experience boosts one’s self esteem and confirms personal significance. To grow up healthy, children should certainly taste the nectar of the sense of control, power and accomplishment. However among most grownups engaged in ministering or teaching activities, the caring and guiding take on a far less direct form, given the fact they are interacting with other human beings who have their own minds and live their respective, intimate contexts. Teachers’ function is often likened to that of a catalyst and for many purposes the metaphor seems apt. Nevertheless certain aspects of the analogy need to be kept in mind lest these helpers should become much too self-important and or frustrated. Good catalysts are seldom precious metals or stones that call attention to themselves. Theirs is a not a life of acclaim, even as their presence at the critical time and place is making a difference. They will not be a visible part of the resultant changes they are left behind, unaltered and typically forgotten. It takes a person secure in one’s self to continue to serve in such an unsung capacity. The essence of this unique contribution was beautifully captured by the late Chief Dan George in yet another analogy. ‘The sunlight dies not leaving its marks on the grass. So we too should pass silently’”

 

I now have read through this paragraph many times and each time found a bit more. I was t I have had glancing through several books this morning one is an autobiography of the founder of Foxfire who came into this purely by chance. Over the past several years I have talked to several of his former students and all consider him to be a great teacher, some have said one of the best they have ever had. A thought on my mind for nearly forty years as I have watched enthusiastic young teachers start out and within five or six months they go from creative dynamos to doing as so many others do running worksheets and gong page by page through the text book. The founder of Foxfire was addressing this in his book and offered the following.

 

“As always there is a high ground in the middle. On this knoll gather those teachers who are determined to preserve their spirit and their love for the field. Most of these individuals   myself have a credo that goes something like this: The profession of teaching is exactly that – a profession, not an avocation or a hobby or a marriage of convenience. Because of its goals and its potential; to achieve those goals, I selected it. It did not come knocking on my door. I was searching for a way to be of real service, and I found and choose this field; I believed then as I do now, that this is a profession of honor and true merit, and though I may not remain in it for all of my working days, it will continue to deserve and receive my best.” Elliot Wigginton, Sometimes a shining moment, 1986

 

Keeping the energy flowing and rejuvenating the brain and soul are crucial to being a good if not great teacher. I find my trips to the Foxfire courses and interacting with current and new teachers to be offered me an ongoing window into what possibilities are out there. Thinking back to my seminary days so many years ago and the affiliated churches there was the use of evangelists going church to church to re-inspire the throngs to the church and its mission. Over the years the programs at mass teacher events that are designed to do this is far more often too similar to a tent service alongside the road and fish oil hucksters working from their peddlers wagon for most teachers to believe. In education as John Dewey over and over again points out.

 

“In what I have said I have taken for granted the soundness of the principle that education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based on experience.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

 

I think attending this course in North Georgia revitalized me in so many ways as I ponder scenarios and interactions with other teachers. Being a course and for credit the students (mostly graduate course teachers or soon to be teachers) come from distinctly differing backgrounds and philosophical views of teaching. Almost immediately you can pick the ones out who are simply along for the ride. They do what is necessary because they feel this will never impact their teaching. Then there are a few who see beyond the forced upon us mandated state and federal standards, regulations and testing parameters and can see that there is a fire in the bathroom borrowing from Kathleen Cushman’s book.

 

“Wanted: One teacher. Must be able to listen even when mad; Must have a sense of humor; must not make students feel bad about themselves; must be fair and not treat some students better than others; must know how to make schoolwork interesting; must keep some students from picking on others; must take a break sometimes; must not jump to conclusions; must let students know them; must get to know students; must encourage students when they have a hard time; must tell students if they do a good job or try real hard; must not scream; must not call home unless it is real important; must smile; must help students with their problems if they ask; must not talk about students to other people; if it’s a lady must be good looking.” Eighth and ninth grade students, from the introduction to Kathleen Cushman’s, Fire in the bathroom, by Lisa Delpit

 

Over the years I have done this type of exercise and in several previous Foxfire courses we develop a good teacher/bad teacher listing which often would be very similar to the list above. Maybe this should be a rubric for teachers to follow. I actually sat here this morning developing a rubric based on Lisa Delpit’s introduction. I was thinking what if every teacher followed this list composed by students. The State of Georgia Department of Education could save over three quarters of a million dollars in contract fees to establish a teacher evaluation.
I should not joke about Dr. James Stronge who was awarded the contract to develop an evaluation tool for Georgia Teachers years ago but as I read the paragraph above it hit me we never ask students what they think. It is usually an administrator and only one administrator who will see a teacher in the classroom for twenty minutes and leaves checking off the required boxes in the State mandated checklist. I always like the one; does the teacher have a word wall posted? I recall being told my internet website of vocabulary was not a word wall in our learning focused school. By chance I had computers for each student and each had differing vocabulary needs which and that due to being a resource teacher in special education addressing differing earning styles and needs. Perhaps I ruffled some feathers when I got a note from the founder of Learning Focus Schools that this was a great word wall. Several months later my idea was posted on their website. Needless to say my word wall counted. Dr. Stronge in his book, Evaluating Teachers, uses a quote from an article by K. Peterson, research on school teacher evaluation, NASSP Bulletin, 88, pages 60-79.

 

“Studies of teacher evaluation by principal observation and report have been found to be under representative sampling, biased reporting, disruption caused by class room visit, and limitations of the principal imposed by misleading or truncated reporting systems such as checklists and narrow anecdotal systems.” K. Peterson

 

I find it interesting in this research based educational system we exist in that a proven non-reliable source is being used to evaluate teachers along with test scores that are used in Georgia which are basically tests of what a student knows at that moment not what they have learned, and sadly actually more of a reading score than subject matter. That is leaving out a crucial piece, for example with students that have a State End of Course Test in their class that test counts twenty percent of their final grade and we say try and not teach to the test.
Perhaps in my zeal from having been to and going back to Foxfire classes over the years I am back to my forty plus year suggestion to have an effective tool to evaluate teachers. I watch teachers who are borrowing from so many educators and authors just taking up space and biding time till retirement who get laudatory evaluations every year. I see teachers who are perhaps the best at what they do having difficulty because they disagree with an administrator on how children learn. Each day as my summer progresses I find myself seeking this question of how do we inspire teachers to engage students and most of all how do we inspire students to desire to learn? I have wandered around today but as I do each day please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

 

At what point do we exist

Bird Droppings May 30, 2018
At what point do we exist

 

Yesterday was an ordinary day other than being the first day after a long holiday weekend. Today we will be helping our son and daughter in law out with their munchkins. Later today they will be coming over and swim, swim and swim. I started my day with a half mile of pool walking. Thinking back to Monday the day we celebrate Memorial Day honoring our veterans and military friends and family members that have fallen in service to our country. Over the years thinking back to high school, I did not know very many who had died in the military other than listening to my father and his stories of World War II, to us as children they were stories only. As we got closer to graduation from high school several brothers of friends had been killed in Viet Nam and this special day had significantly more meaning. I was getting ready to head to a tenth high school reunion when a list of those who died was published. Guys I was hoping to sit down with and joke again were dead.
When I graduated from high school and went to college on a student deferment from the draft I was very aware of the draft in that I did not want to get drafted and go to Viet Nam. The news kept us up to date well almost, as often Viet Nam breaking news would be several days or even weeks old when we heard it. I honestly do not think Viet Nam would have lasted in today’s instantaneous news. After my freshmen year and being asked not to return to college since my grades were not that great, I was drafted in the first draft lottery along with many of my fellow class mates who did not go to class perhaps enough times to satisfy professors and somehow in college passing and attendance is important. It was at this point in my life Memorial Day hit me.
I failed my draft physical which allowed me to continue searching for a school that would let me in. I moved to Texas for school a small college in Plano Texas the University of Plano which was at that time the only school that would take me. Across several states and colleges I eventually landed in Macon Georgia. I finally finished my undergraduate education and graduated from Mercer University in 1974. Along the way I lost touch on the most part of my former classmates in high school and without the internet and cell phones I infrequently had word from my hometown on events and people. Over the year’s piece by piece word got to me of the death of this friend or that friend in Viet Nam and when all of the numbers were tallied nearly ten fellows from our graduating class or classes around us died in Viet Nam. Memorial Day became very significant now.
It was at this point in my life that Memorial Day hit home. It was several years till I was able to visit Washington DC and go to the Viet Nam memorial. I walked down so unsure of why and where I was at the time. Yes I was in Washington DC on a High School Band trip with my son but here I was looking at a wall that seemed to stretch endlessly along the pathway. I went to the registry book and found the names I recalled and the locations on the panels and wrote these on my hand with a marker. After several minutes I composed myself and walked along finding names amidst the tens of thousands on the wall.
I watched sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers touching names, dropping flowers, and standing with tears streaming down their cheeks staring at the cold black stone slab winding along a pathway. I often speak of sacred being a spot where many come to honor, pray, ponder or worship and here in Washington DC this was a sacred place. It was nearly a half an hour later my son was calling to me and I found myself sitting on a bench looking down on the wall. Our bus was ready to leave and they could not find me. So does Memorial Day hold meaning as I think back? I do not believe in war and have not for most of my life, this is a personal belief that for me is not about fearing death or dying for a cause but that it is not what is to be.
However I honor those who in their efforts and belief and have given their lives for me so I can believe in what I do and for those who have provided the opportunity for others worldwide. Yesterday was not about political or religious ideology but about people who believed in what they were doing and in that effort died for that belief. As we honor now young men and women who have died in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it is bringing home this idea of Memorial Day to recent graduates of high schools across the nation. I wish one day the concept of war would be out dated but until that time please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

 

Always on my mind and in my heart

Bird Droppings May 29, 2018

Always on my mind and in my heart

 

I was standing outside on this raining last night gazing at the down pour. This morning a chorus of tree frogs and crickets kept me company in the dark. It is coming on summer the ambient temperature is high enough for plenty of chirping and calling this morning. I recall a few days back my mother mentioned seeing my father and she woke up during the night. She asked me about my father does he come to you. I calmly said yes when I sit alone.

 

Thinking back, the summer of 2007 holds many moments of sadness and still flitting around in the sadness many moments of joy. It was in May I received a call at my school come to the front office and I was told to call my wife, I knew immediately something was wrong as she never calls the school for me other than emergency. My father in law had drowned while fishing at his favorite lake in middle Georgia. In June one evening I was driving down to hear my son present his rendition of “Knocking on Heavens door” at a talent show after spending a few moments with my mother and father. Early the next morning my mother called to tell me my father had passed in the night. Both of these fathers were veterans. My wife’s father served in the Air Force for twenty five years retired and went back into Civil Service it seems he was a pretty good mechanic on C-130’s. My father left college to enlist and served during World War II in the South Pacific in the Navy on an LSM delivering Marines and equipment to beach fronts throughout the area.  I wrote on both days a dropping of sorts and would like to share them again today as a memorial to my two fathers. I realize I am late but today seems so fitting as I sit here quietly writing and reading.

 

May 3, 2007

I remember his hands

 

It has been nearly thirty years since I first saw his hands. I recall the day as those ugly big hands reached for mine to shake my hand as his daughter introduced me to him. Those Big ugly hands were creviced and creased from nearly fifty years of working on C-130 airplanes. Nearly fifty years of work etched into those hands with the black of oil and grease clinging to his finger nails so hard to clean off after tearing down and over-hauling engines so pilots could fly safely. Big ugly hands that I remember so clearly became beautiful reaching to hold his first grand son nearly thirty years ago.

 

For nearly thirty years I watched those hands fold in prayer at meals and in church services. I watched as he placed his big hand on his daughters shoulder as we were wed. I watched so many times as he would hold his big hands down for a grandchild to cling to steady them as they learned to walk. I remember his hands.

 

I remember hands that looked so clumsy from being so worn and frayed skillfully cut fine curves on jig saw as he made model cars and planes for his grandchildren. I remember wondering how could those big hands carve such a small propeller for such a tiny plane that would come to sit on my sons shelve now nearly twenty years. I would laugh as his hands cut out flowers and reindeers in mass for friends and family and as his big hands painted away in bright colors each one of those potential gifts. How I remember those hands.

 

I remember hands that could cook fish so good you had to eat a ton. I remember hands that could fix a car or repair a bike. I remember hands reaching for the food bowls at Thanksgiving dinner, filling his plate and then reaching for another roll. I remember those hands holding a bird house up as he nailed it to a post and filled his bird feeders in the back yard. I remember watching those big hands put another log on the fire and poke at the coals. I remember those hands.

 

I remember the day those hands last held a cigarette so many years ago. I remember those big hands putting up pictures of grandchildren in the living room. I remember those hands filling his thermos and getting an extra jacket to head for the races in Cordele Georgia and taking ear muffs for his grandson. I remember those hands holding an ear of corn as we listened to country music down at Mossy Creek so many times. I remember those hands.

 

I often joked of how funny it would seem as those big hands held such a small fishing pole and reel. I remember those hands and the passion for fishing and being on the lake. I remember my son catching his first fish and being hugged by those big hands. I remember those hands videotaping every single event in his grandkids lives. I remember watching as the boat was loaded and truck hooked up. I remember those hands.

 

As long as I have all of these memories he will be here or there and I can sit and tell my children about those big hands. I remember those hands. It is hard to ponder as I do that all I now have is those memories and will not see those big hands reaching, hugging, holding, fishing, praying and shaking my hand again. It was a long drive home as I thought about what to write and say as I remember this man. I do know I remember his hands. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

 

June 28, 2007

A new journey

 

I had dropped off some medicine yesterday afternoon at my parent’s home and spoke with my mother for a few minutes. Two of my nieces were there with my dad standing by his bed as I went in. He lay still not moving my mother said he has been like this now for some time. It was hard leaving and going to my next stop of the day. A feeling of apprehension seemed to carry with me. But there were other stops other pieces to that day’s journey.

 

I drove down to Oxford Georgia last evening to watch the talent show of my youngest son’s choir camp. My wife was tired from a hard day at work and she had to make several calls and wanted to watch a show she had missed previously. I stopped and picked up a water bottle for the journey, I only drink Evian. Fortunately that is about my only idiosyncrasies.

 

As I headed from the county just before dusk a tall dead tree was standing to my left as I drove by. Stark and free from bark nearly white in the waning hour. Atop the tree in the highest possible point sat two red tailed hawks. Watching me as I drove by, I thought having my camera what a picture, this could be one for National Geographic. But as instantly as the image presented itself it was gone in the speed of the car driving along and time I had to reach my destination.

 

I arrived just before they started and have always enjoyed the Emory at Oxford campus of Emory University. The grounds date back to early 1800’s and exotic trees and shrubs abound. I listened to a talented group of young people my son included as he did his rendition of Axel Rose and Bob Dylan singing a duet on the famous tune “Knocking on Heavens Door”. The song stuck with me as I drove away after the program. Bob Dylan wrote the song many years ago featured in the movie Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett in 1973.

 

Mama take this badge from me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s getting dark too dark to see
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door

 

Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door

 

I came home and sat talking and watching TV with my oldest son. They tend to stay up longer than me most nights. I told him how his brother played his duet again. It is sort of hard to explain as he comes out as Axel Rose of Guns and Roses fame and Bob Dylan at the same time. But the words hung with me as I continued my journey in to night, falling asleep. Around two in the morning I had a one dog night and funny it was because he was hungry. There is nothing like a dog chewing dry dog food at two in the morning.

 

I got up with my wife fully intending to get started on graduate school work I needed to be working on and walked around turning out lights finding my chair in the dark I thought my oldest son has work this morning I will awake when he walks by. I had several vivid dreams over the next two hours waking up as my son came by. I emailed a friend that knew my sons and had been a member of the Choir Camp for many years till graduating from high school and heading to college. I for some reason went and picked up my phone all I heard was “he is gone”.

 

I thought I responded and talked a few minutes and called my oldest and wife to let them know my dad had passed away. I walked into my middle son’s room and told him. This was around eight o’clock. I walked out to my quiet spot among some young pecan trees and thought pondered for a few minutes. I enjoy the smell of sage and sweet grass as the wisps of smoke rise in a morning air. Life is a circle I thought looking at some stones I had previously placed on the ground.

 

I told my son I was heading to town to get mail and such and drove off. Around ten thirty my mother called and asked if I got the message she left. I said no I talked to you earlier you said dad had passed away. She informed me she did not talk to me. I told her I would be over shortly and was fine.

 

It is strange how we respond as we consider all events all happenings and see that truly life is a circle a simple circle. No beginning and no end as we journey. We get to participate along the way interconnect and meet people. We gain understanding and wisdom as we travel this circle and for some most I would say the transitional points are painful and yet for others wondrous moments and new journeys. My father had told me numerous times he had done what he needed to do here and was ready. He passed away in his sleep content that he had been a great father, grandfather and great grandfather. There are many who knew him over the years from Scouting, Church, Red Cross, Safety and Loss Control, and his dear friends. Each has stories to tell of pieces of my father’s puzzle.

 

“Knocking on heaven’s door” keeps coming back as I recall my sons singing last night and so many years ago as another son left me a note after sitting all night with a teenager who had been in a car wreck “Life is about the journey not the destination”, a line from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I think to the past few weeks with my father in law passing and a student just last week and today my dad. I mentioned to my wife last evening that wisdom comes with experience and time. There is a new journey a new day I wish my father well on his journey. Peace my father and friend.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

It will be an interesting day

Bird Droppings May 28, 2018

It will be an interesting day

 

I was up earlier than normal and went back to bed after sitting out for a few minutes around midnight or so. It was peaceful sitting in the coolness of an almost summer evening. I thought earlier we were going to have a storm. A cool front came through and temperatures were unseasonably cool but it felt good. To top that off a maybe hurricane currently Tropical Storm is sitting over the Gulf aiming at Florida and Mississippi. Generally we get backwash from summer tropical storms and hurricanes on the Gulf.  I am sitting here writing and listening to a CD by R. Carlos Nakai, Sundance Season. Nakai plays traditional Native American music on a cedar seven note flute and in this particular CD uses also an eagle bone whistle. Similar to the whistles used in Sundance ceremonies now for thousands of years.

 

It has been a few days since my last order of white sage and Dakota sage came in. I took a few moments over the weekend to put in my masons jars for storage. Sage has a peaceful aroma when burning and along with a bit of sweet grass a very relaxing aroma and attitude something about embers smoldering and the fluidity of smoke. Later today I am hopefully reworking my sweet grass patch to a sunnier spot. Honey suckle took over and I may not be able to salvage much.

 

“For some years now, students have not been getting to the root of the aim of Zen, instead taking the verbal teachings of Buddha’s and Zen masters to be the ultimate rule. That is like ignoring a hundred thousand pure clear oceans and only focusing attention on a single bubble.” Ying-an

 

As I watched a few embers slowly dissipate it made me think to this piece I read earlier today while I do some research for a my dissertation. So often we miss the point caught up in a pure clear ocean when the bubble is what we really seek. I sprinkled the ashes on the ground and came in to write and think.

 

“Storms make the oak grow deeper roots.” George Herbert (1593-1632, British metaphysical poet

 

Over the past few days I have read many emails, blogs and thoughts about how life strengthens us through trial and tribulations. I remember an oak tree in Coatesville Pennsylvania growing up immediately outside my apartment bedroom window. Hurricane Hazel was devastating the area and a loud crack and several large branches broke off falling on the parking lot beside our apartment damaging some cars. Very easily the tree could have given up and come down in the storm but it stayed put losing only a branch or two. The flooding lasted for days as I recall but this was when I was four maybe 1953 or so. As I sit pondering a bubble the Zen master says far too often we do not take the time.

 

“Live as you will wish to have lived when you are dying.” Christian Furchtegott Gellert

 

A country song by about this subject went to number one and a subsequent little inspirational book was published that I found and have given away now quite a few copies. It is not about the destination it is the journey.

 

“It is not the greatness of a man’s means that makes him independent, so much as the smallness of his wants.” William Cobbett (1762-1835) British journalist and reformer

 

A few days ago in talking with my mother we talked about how my father before he passed away had no wants at all. He had done everything he ever wanted and just was enjoying each minute of life be it an old Gunsmoke rerun on TV or a John Wayne movie. I was thinking about many of the ascetics over the years who give up everything simply to be. As I was thinking Henry David Thoreau came close wandering about as a learner so he could teach. So many teachers forget we are always learning and need to be in order to be an effective teacher. Sometimes it may be giving up something to gain more.

 

“If you desire many things, many things will seem few.” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American scientist, publisher and diplomat

 

“It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them.” George Eliot

 

These are interesting thoughts, as I sit and ponder the morning and day ahead. So many things are happening in the world and so much happening each day we often miss a piece or two.

 

“The master goes about his business with perfect equanimity. He is happy when he sits, Happy when he talks and eats, happy asleep, happy coming and going. Because he knows his own nature, He does what he has to without feeling ruffled like ordinary people. Smooth and shining like the surface of a vast lake. His sorrows are at an end.” Ashtavakra Gita 18:59-60

 

I was talking with a young man I ran into at a convenience store. He is in his twenties now. I had him in class nearly ten years ago when he turned 16. He is working and doing alright according to him. When I had him in school he was on the verge of getting kicked out of school and then he withdrew and quit school. He went on and received his diploma in an alternative school format but he did finish. He could never be successful in a big group or class. Always his attention would drift and trouble would ensue. Back in the day he was a little spud but he had grown a few inches since I last saw him and put on a few pounds of muscle. What struck me in our conversation was his work. He was working in construction building foundations. This is a kid I would have bet would have been in jail within a year or two and he may have been but now he was building foundations for people’s homes. As I sit and think this for sure is a paradox maybe. I wish him well. As I close so much to be thinking about in the world but as always please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Cultivating the soul and or inner self

Bird Droppings May 25, 2018
Cultivating the soul and or inner self

 

I started my morning today with a swim. I should say a walk in water. Several years back I was directed by my orthopedic doctor to use water therapy for my back. The only place near was difficult to get an appointment. Long story short we put in an above ground twenty four foot pool. I walk in circles around pool and count laps. Today I started the day with a half mile of laps. While walking in the water I had R. Carlos Nakai flute music on sound system. As I walk I see nature around me. A hummingbird checking our feeders. First one I have seen this year. A squirrel running the fence line heading to nut trees. I was thinking as I walked how quiet the people sounds were all I heard was Nakai and nature. No road sounds or Air Conditioners humming. I was able to feel the water hear the wounds and see the green of life.

 

“If people find no room in their lives to pray or to meditate, to reflect deeply on why they have been created and what they must do with their lives, and to listen with all of their being to the guidance of the universe, then these people are like birds who have not yet learned to fly. All the parts of the bird are present, but something is still missing. To be a whole person is to be alive in a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual way.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

 

I started reading this short book several days ago, only absorbing a page or two a day not trying to force my read as I do so often and get through it in a matter of minutes. There is an under lying theme with the tree of life so often depicted in primitive traditions. In Native American thought the tree intertwines spiritually and physically with all. Many times in ceremonies a specific tree would be selected after much thought by a medicine man or woman for the occasion. It would be carefully taken down and then “replanted” at the site of the ritual.

 

Sundance ceremonies a very spiritual undertaking for many tribes, always would center round a tree as the main focal point of the entire ceremony. I could not help but think of the latest James Cameron movie Avatar and the depiction of the tree that is connected to all on the planet. In my own life my early mornings are to sit read and write for me a mediation of sorts. When I can if time allows although that does not sound good I will wander out into the darkness to think and reflect. Listening and watching as around me life unfolds. For many being alone in the dark is not a comfortable event but as I have now for some time embraced the solitude and quiet.

 

“A sign that much work is needed in the area of personal spiritual growth is when a person dislikes being alone, and especially dislikes being alone in silence. Many people use television and or recorded music to fill the silence so do not have to experience themselves as they are.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

 

Years ago I would walk out into the early morning’s darkness all about me wandering a blanket wrapped about me, thinking and reflecting on things at hand. I found as I was searching I found peace in the solitude and quiet of the early hours. As we moved over the years and my ability to walk around became hindered I started to write and read and reflect as I would sit and ponder. I started writing down my ideas and thoughts and sharing with others. I found in each of my mornings notes; an idea was there for someone. Today as we near a full moon and the night is bright with the moons reflection of the sun perhaps speaking of darkness at night is a bit odd but always I have found within darkness there is light when we seek it. So in effect in my solitude I have found community. It has been a few years since a dear friend shared with me and helped me remember a poet and philosopher of life that I had forgotten so many years ago.

 

“Walk easy on the earth each life has its own fragile rhythm, to be aware of it is to understand, to ignore is to abandon oneself to sadness. It is to search vainly for the wholeness that only comes in surrender to what is.” James Kavanaugh, Quiet Water, 1991

 

James Kavanaugh passed away a few years back and his works will continue to inspire and awaken emotions in people for many years ahead. There is a spiritual aspect to his writing as he reflects on his own former priesthood in many of his writings. But he also separates from religion that spiritual context that is within each of us. It is that individuality and uniqueness that gives us the essence of who we are and provides us with a desire to continue existence.

 

“Existing is one thing, but making a purpose for your existence is another.” Kendall Gomez, neighbor, former LHS student, former California University Student, friend, mother, Delta Stewardess, and often philosophy genius

 

Kendall is one of the few who is up when I get up each morning although she was a country away in California when she wrote this. Many the day Kendall would come by my room at school and talk and even visited a few times after she graduated. She moved into our neighborhood several years ago and it was interesting neither of us knew we were neighbors for nearly a year. Granted she is a half mile away from our house if that would still be a neighbor. As I read her post this morning and one of her responses, that her purpose was to come up with riddles for others to solve, it sort of hit me. Perhaps it is “more better” stated that we find our purpose through our existence and may even find ourselves in that effort.

 

“Another sign that warns the traveler that his heart is empty of the gifts of the west is when a person does not feel respect for the elders or for the spiritual activities and struggles of other people.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

 

We live in a world so interconnected to each other and yet so disjunctive as well. So many of our interactions that fail and go by the wayside are due to inadvertent differences of opinions, distrust and differences of beliefs than to any other rationales. I recall sitting down so many years ago with a man who was very much a man of faith. He was devout in his beliefs and staunch in his moral codes and ethics. We sat down in a small restaurant in town to discuss a program I had envisioned working with indigent families and people. As a prop knowing this fellow I had brought a bible along. Several verses were marked dealing with helping others and providing for those in need. I did not indicate to this man another religious connection of any sort and almost immediately as we talked he mentioned that Catholics were not Christian. My hand rested atop a Catholic bible. I found it interesting that within his desire to do good and help people was still this animosity for another person he had no idea of any connection to any church or religious affiliation for me other than a Methodist Church I was previously involved with working with high school students. He knew I attended a Methodist Seminary along the way. So already we in some ways were opposed semantically because he found one denomination was wrong and one was right yet both evolved from the same traditions and history. We started a program Shepherd Staff Ministries and up until I left that program over ten years ago we never disagreed on anything and he is still involved on the board of directors. People were served in our community with food lodging and counseling.
“Poverty is not merely a matter of not having ‘things’. It is an attitude which leads us to renounce some of the advantages which come from the use of things. A man can possess nothing, but attach great importance to the personal satisfaction and enjoyment he wants to get out of things which are common to all.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 1956

 

As I was selecting passages today I was drawn to both Kavanaugh and Merton were Catholic clergy at one time or another in their lives. Kavanaugh had a falling out as he wrote about an outdated church and left the priesthood. Thomas Merton wrote out against war in a time when such things were not often politically correct and died suspiciously in Southeast Asia electrocuted in a bath tub protesting the War in Viet Nam. Merton was a Trappist monk till his death. When you read these two authors there ideas do flow and interconnect with those of the Native American concept of a world interconnected I started with. Merton often wrote about and was well versed in Eastern thought seeing a connection between all that was. Kavanaugh in his poetry wrote of the world almost as if he were a piece in a vast puzzle a part of the whole.

 

“Thus I am certain that somehow life will never end, because the assemblage of my friends and all the beauty of the world I have known, assures me that in some state, I must have a life of love to say what I feared to say on earth. To give what I tried to give and couldn’t and to thank you with all of me, when gratitude never seemed sufficient. I long to release all hurts and manipulations, any selfish expectation when pain and suffering got in the way of love and forgiveness, when age and self-pity interfered, or when my ignorance and arrogance prevented what I longed to reveal and share. When I realized I’d done the best I could with what I had from the past, when it was apparent that for one as good and fine and loving as you are: A lifetime isn’t long enough to love you.” James Kavanaugh, A lifetime isn’t long enough to love you, 1996

 

We of this modern era somehow get lost in all that is. We want to categorize and sanitize and package seemingly undefinable ideas and thoughts. We want to be able to research and develop vaccines to cure and control all that is around us. We lose our connections. I was talking with a fellow teacher yesterday a very good friend who has served for nearly twenty five years active and in the reserves with our military. He has been in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in most areas of conflict in the past twenty years. He has seen death and destruction at the hands and minds of men. We often talk about life in general and while he knows my own believes and perhaps his might differ we often find common ground. I bumped into him on my way to check on a student and we talked. I had an article I had been meaning to bring to him as he teachers history. It is a National Geographic article about a tribe in Africa that is one of the last known hunter gatherer societies left on the earth. What is amazing to anthropologists is that there is no strive, stress, animosity within these people. There are not items of desire or to covet. If you need a bow and arrows you make one. If you need meat you hunt and fruit you gather. As we talked I recalled another friend’s virtual game in history of having students develop society from nothing and how it is not until as humans we begin to own things that strive and turmoil appears.
“We live in a whirl of images and noises, sounds, lights, desires, frustrations, pleasures, sufferings. Our lives are a cacophony; insulated from wind and rain and sun, from heat and cold, we are ensphered in our own catacombs of concrete and plastic. Living in such a world is it any wonder we turn to drugs, to more sensational means of stimulation, to entertainment that renders us catatonic? Insulated from nature, ungrounded, why should we be surprised at our own brutality? Where in such a world is there room for gratitude and for what should we be grateful?” Arthur Versluis, Sacred Earth, the spiritual landscape of Native America

 

I am getting carried away this morning but so often an idea starts and perhaps today I need to draw to a close and continue another day. My dog is barking calling to go out and now back in the moon has set and gone behind the pines and only the stars remain to light the sky. To my right as I walked out our drive way and cars and to the left pines and darkness a seemingly distant world untouched and real. I will use another line from Versluis as he discusses primitive people’s ideas and views.

 

“There is, however a mysterious unity between people and their landscape, between people and the creatures around them. This unity is of a subtle kind not easily explained. But understanding it is essential if we are to enter into a different awareness of our world” Arthur Versluis, Sacred Earth, the spiritual landscape of Native America

 

Another day is near dawning and another day heading to school for finals and to finish up the school year. For all of my students and teacher friends may peace be with you and yours and may we as a nation find some point of reference to draw us together. For ten years now I have ended my morning sojourns with this line, please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

Why not just imagine?

Bird Droppings May 24, 2018
Why not just imagine?

 

Some days I wonder if adults I know have ever imagined even considered imagination. For example have you ever lain on your back watching clouds trying to determine if this one is a dragon or a whale? I was driving home from Georgia Tech with my son and his roommate many moons ago. They were planning on going to the premiere of the new Star Wars movie. As we drove my son mentioned an article he read about video games and creativity. It was probably the exact opposite of what many of us would say, evidently this particular report indicated video games and their realism and such increase brain capacity for imagination. I won’t vouch for that one however. But I do know I do not see creativity and imagination among youngsters perhaps as much as I would like.
So many adults have chosen a rigid world of exactness, self-centeredness and parameters tight around themselves sort of little boxes of comfort and calmness. They are often limiting themselves only to a few inches of space in this vast universe, stodgily staying within the lines and forcing others to do so as well. By dictionary terms creativity is “the ability to create”, that is a simple version of a complex idea.

 

“Some people will only love you as long as you fit in their box. Don’t be afraid to disappoint them” Lecrae Moore

 

“The creative process is the emergence in action of a novel relational product, growing out of the uniqueness of the individual on the one hand, and the materials, events, people, or circumstances of his life on the other.” Carl Rogers

 

A synthesis of things people have and hold on one hand and what the available materials might be on the other.

 

“One sees from this that genius: 1) is a talent to produce that to which no specific rules can be applied, not that to which learned and practiced skills can be applied; therefore, that originality is its primary characteristic. 2) Since there can also be original non-sense, its products are at the same time examples, i.e., that they must be exemplary; in fact, though themselves not products of imitation, they must serve as such for other products, that is, as measures or rules of judgment. 3) It cannot describe or scientifically establish how it brings its product about; rather, as an expression of nature simply provides the measure. Therefore, the creator of such a product does not know himself how the ideas come about, and does not have the ability to come up with these ideas at will or according to a plan, and cannot communicate a set of rules by which one could bring about similar products. (Presumably for this reason one uses the word “genius,” which also means a spirit who accompanies a human at birth, protects and guides him.) 4) Nature prescribes to art rather than science through genius; and this only insofar as art desires to be an art form.” W. Miller, Duke University

 

A long winded definition that actually raises more questions than it defines. Creativity is a most difficult word to clearly define. Years ago my youngest son was being tested for “the gifted class”; his second grade teacher saw glimpses of something a bit more than average children his age. His IQ test bolstered her thoughts and his achievement tests were ok nothing that would knock you down and his grades well in some areas one hundred percent plus in some areas and in others that he was not interested in well he was passing. However in Georgia at that time gifted labeling required a battery of tests and three out of four tests the child should exceed in to be considered gifted. This little kid had two out of four and indicator of grades was a loss so he had to ace creativity test. So on the given day the school psychologist took him aside and tested. The test was given and scored and given again several more times since the first one was obviously flawed and finally by the third time and similar results she decided it was a real score. It seems he was off the charts in creativity and the tester had never scored a second grade student so high.
I immediately pointed to genetics as a factor standing tall and puffing my chest out a bit. It was with that he ended up in gifted class. Since that time I have been impressed with teachers and parents who encourage their children to imagine, to ponder and think beyond the required tasks assigned. After the testing the teacher who tested my son asked if we did anything out of the ordinary. His spontaneous answers were what floored her in testing. Since he was four or so every day as I drove him to school we would make up stories taking turns adding to the plot or even to what we were making up a story about. My father’s grandpa Niper (my great grandfather) stories were embellished and expanded often for days.
Some days the stories would be of imaginary creatures and often it was a contest to stump me with a creature I could not make up a story about and only once was I stumped. I do not recall the request and or what monster he had come up. But my son initiated the process and would offer twists and turns as we built the story. My kids grew up in the middle of 183 acres of farm land and they would often find their way to Paradise a pile of rocks and stones sitting on a slab of granite in amongst several trees. They would build tiny villages and forts with pebbles and small stones and take match box cars along to add to their game. Even today the word Paradise conjures up vivid memories for my kids and imagination and every once in a while I will get asked to retell a Grandpa Niper story especially now that grandbabies are getting to storytelling age. We need to encourage each other teachers and parents not to hinder imagination. We need to stop infringing our limitations and our boxes and parameters on children’s minds and souls. We need to imagine as well and live each moment. So on my official first day of summer break I am sitting at school writing pondering and as always please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and be sure to give thanks always namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird

I am trying to regurgitate a previous days thought

Morning Bird Droppings May 23, 2018
I am trying to regurgitate a previous days thought

 

Four years ago after over a week of watching grand-kids and my youngest son in a level one trauma center he was moved to a rehab facility. Just sort of hit me with all the news how lucky we can be some times. After nearly a week on the South Carolina coast I am able to get back to my writing in the mornings and I am beginning with a crazy sort of title but then again very specific perhaps. I walked out into a mild morning with drizzle and clouds behind the pines, plenty of humidity and whippoorwills calling that almost surrounded me with calls. It has been several days having been away and it is almost a dream like feeling.

 

As I stood listening for a few moments to the calls so soft yet sinking into my soul I began to ponder as I tend to do. Nearly every day I sit down and write and some days it makes it into my daily or almost daily ritual Bird Droppings and others well into my files for later use. It has been a few months back that I received an email from a friend, a fellow teacher who I have never met in real time. I met through the acquaintance of another friend who I have met and who referred me to this other friend. Now I know that is confusing but actually how it happened. Anyhow I received a great series of old farmer quotes in this email from North Georgia and this one in particular caught my attention.

 

“Words that soak into your ears are whispered…not yelled” An old farmer’s advice

 

After sorting emails and getting serious about writing I started with wanting to continue my thought from a previous day. Truth is so often an elusive quarry and somewhere along the line talking with my wife we got into technology and a new topic sort of evolved, the spiritual loss within children as we inundate them with technology and literally occupy every moment with a gadget or thing. Paradoxically I was registering some software this morning and got to one screen where you check which of the following you or your family own. There were thirty objects listed ranging from Blackberries to cable TV. We had twenty six of thirty in our household. Had we not been so against Apple computers excluding iPads and iPhones we might have had all 30. Actually I do like Apple we just do not have one currently and the more I use my iPad and iPhone the more I like Apple.
As I thought of how much we count on and “need” all of these things it hit me how we replace aspects of our humanity with the immediateness of technology. I see anger transmission as a good example. I was reading various blogs on Facebook this morning and saw several venting which on an educational blog yesterday had a middles school principal asking parents of middle school students to shut down their children’s social networking sites in a Midwestern state. Some of this was in light of cyber bullying and several suicides linked to online bullying. I being old can recall back in the old days waiting till you see someone to argue or yell but now instantaneously you blog, email, text message and or cell phone immediately your anger. That is significant change in how we react and deal with life. So often we miss the journey since the destination is immediate.

 

“Life is about the journey not the destination …. We don’t know what tomorrow brings” Steven Tyler, AEROSMITH

 

So many years ago I first read this line and have told the story many times of finding a yellow sticky note (again technology with 3M post-it notes being old as well) on my computer. Every once in a while I get amazed, and as I was driving from point A to point B on a recent day a song was playing in my son’s truck he swapped with me so he had a working AC. It happened to be the Aerosmith CD with this line in it. An old Aerosmith song entitled Amazing from the 1993 album Get a Grip that never went higher than number three on Billboards top ten but it was good enough to have its own Wikipedia site. However for me it is a very powerful couple of lines about life. Over the years I have paraphrased and altered a bit so here is the real line from Steven Tyler’s lyrics. Promoting Aerosmith with Steven Tyler on American Idol and touring this summer I have heard.

 

“Life’s a journey not a destination and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings. You have to learn to crawl, before you learn to walk.” Steven Tyler, AEROSMITH

 

I never realized Steven Tyler was a developmentalist, I always just considered him a rocker. There are steps in each of our lives as I grow older with technology and without I learn each moment is special and unique and intertwined with so many others. I have learned to enjoy and view the journey. I have my technology but I use it to work with me and enhance not to substitute for any piece or part of my existence.

 

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating you.” George Bernard Shaw

 

We each get up in the morning and begin the day usually very similar to the day previous. I was thinking back nearly ten years ago and how my house was quiet, everyone was gone. My wife and middle son were at Georgia Tech for orientation my son started there now almost ten years ago. My youngest was at a music camp for the week, I actually did not know if they were ready for him or not, he took his tuba but his passion has always been the blues harp (harmonica) and still is. He and his cousin went to camp to do some serious jamming his cousin bringing his national steel guitar and my son his harmonicas. My son is always trying to turn some folks on to some old Robert Johnson songs instead of the standard pop music so many teenagers listened to. My son today is in his last semester at Piedmont College in Demorest Georgia in nursing school up in the heart of some awesome bluegrass music we shall see what happens when bluegrass hits blues.
I drive by my mother’s house many afternoons after school often dropping off some digital photos for my mother’s hobby or taking dinner. She has over the years created one of kind greeting cards from photos and artwork for her family members. She uses the image on the front and then writes a unique phrase for that person to go inside. I recall driving around looking for a picture of a spider web for her and in the process took 60 or more other photos one I have used as a screen saver on my laptop for some time now.
My oldest son many years back started a ten gallon mini reef tank that has been through ups and downs and at last time was a twenty gallon tank but now sitting idle. However in basic a mini reef is a salt water aquarium that simulates a coral reef, in miniature. The denizens in his had been primarily colonial polyps and coral which from a few feet away look like lumps of rock in a very brightly lit tank, but up close and the rocks have quarter inch creatures with tentacles waving in the current and are very much alive. I have taken many pictures over the years and one is of a group of anemones that cluster together each only a quarter inch wide covering a piece of coral rock with what looks like hair till you look closely and it is tiny tentacles catching microscopic creatures in the water. Tiny mantis shrimp that have hatched in the tank would be swimming about each less than a sixteenth of an inch What is amazing is how much beauty is contained in a space thirty six inches long and thirteen inches wide and a foot high. I often think of life this way we miss so much when we do not look closely.

 

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

 

Dr. Albert Schweitzer for many today is an unknown having passed away nearly sixty years ago. He was a humble doctor in the jungles of Africa and very well known in his time for his musical talent as well as his medicine. It is difficult to even find his books in print today. Of course if you Google or do an internet search he will pop up and his exploits of saving lives will be found. So many people are not content and struggle looking for what may be right in front of them literally all the time. Having a good outlook and open minded perception are crucial to truly seeing all around you. In today’s world so often this is impeded with the lack of altering of the truth. I did get into yesterday’s topic a bit on that.

 

“How far is far, how high is high? We’ll never know until we try.” California special Olympics song

 

“Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.” Walt Disney

 

How many years ago there was a man walking through orange groves and palmettos in central Florida with a dream that today is one of the most visited places in the world, Disney World. It is all in the journey, it is walking along seeing all there is to see not missing that minute detail or word and with conviction and achieving your goals. No one can see what you see or hear what you hear only a vague proximity and only you will know when your goal is met. In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary stepped to the top of the world on Mt. Everest twenty nine thousand feet plus above sea level and no one else had ever done that. Now Nepal and Mt. Everest is a nearly tourist trap albeit a very expensive one but many have made the summit and many more have died trying as of a recent major event with as many as three hundred people waiting in line to summit.

 

“You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things — to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals.” Sir Edmund Hillary

 

We all can achieve, we all can do great things, we all can overcome obstacles, it is with confidence, constancy, courage and curiosity as Disney said. I might add one thing it is to always be looking and observing it is about trying to understand the depth and passion of our existence. Keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

 

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)

bird