Spinnaker’s Landing

I live on picturesque P.E.I.  This place is a glorious haven, a feast for the senses- particularly at this time of the year.  Summer is peak tourist season here.  Our little Island depends on places such as the one I describe below, found by the water-front in beautiful Summerside, a city located in the western part of our fair isle. I spent some time people watching, sensory-probing yesterday afternoon.  Here’s what I discovered about…

Spinnaker’s Landing

He saunters by with his green flower pot swinging, heavy and full. His keys jangle at his side, a full key ring of silver metal clicking and tinkling like little bells. I watch him walk over to the bed of geraniums and petunias, wind-blown and fading in the summer heat. He over-turns the pot of water so that an arch of water sprays generously on top of parched greenery. Then he turns and heads back from whence he came.

It is a windy day to say the very least. Between a blue clapboard shop and a muted pink one, the corridor acts as a wind tunnel complete with sound effects. A garbage bag ripping about at the far end adds to the dramatic effect, sounding like a miniature replica of a jet engine. Sounds abound everywhere I turn.

A man and his young apprentice work at installing a new walkway to replace the old. As the rotting structure is thrown out, it lands with a loud thud, startling me. Not long afterwards one can hear the intermittent blare of a drill as the new triangular wooden ramp is set into place. There is no hurry or rush to the labour. Everything appears to be very relaxed and easy here. The young helper sits on the porch as he waits for instruction about what next he must do. It appears as if this is a dream summer job- outdoors in the warm, fresh air.  What I wouldn’t give right now for that luxury!

The wind over-powers many of the more subtle sounds to be heard, but if one leans in close, they might hear the soft rustle of two pinwheel wind-catchers, brightly coloured and spinning in the breeze. The easy banter of tourists as they amble the boardwalk, walking in and out of shops as if they have not a care in the world- this is the sound of summer. Wind-chimes tinkle musically while nearby flags flap frantically as if signalling an S.O.S.  Over head, a plane flies by- while in the water, a Coast Guard employee sprays off his boat with a hose in preparations for some kind of journey or another. Waves lap the shore, slapping the side of the boat while a lone walker passes by.

Feet also are heard slapping the walkway.  Sandals which make a ‘suck, suck’ noise are sported on another person’s feet. Feet are such curious things. Feet in shoes, in sandals, in boots, in sneakers. What choices are behind the decision to choose which footwear?

A door closes with a slam even while the open warmth of friends conversing on the deck house patio adds background noise to the sights and sounds. I am drawn to a little squeaking noise in a narrow corridor between two other buildings, a sound resembling the squeak of a bird. Might I find a nest- should I be so fortunate? I follow my ears but am disappointed to find that it is only a door fastened shut with a lock and hook. As the wind thrusts and pulls it in repetitive motion, the lock rubs against its metal casing.  Sounding for all the world like the squeak of a baby bird.

Smells are ready at hand as well. The closer one moves to the far corner, the better to catch the fragrant whiff of frying food. And the air smells like summer- of salt water and humidity.

So much to see, from the grey clapboard structure that is the complex to the individual buildings, the shops and restaurants. To the displays, the signage, the products for sale. Monkey and flower bobble heads are carefully displayed at five dollars per item. The colourful paint on each building draws the eye and catches the attention of shoppers ambling by while the dirty water that flows below the large deck is a detractor if one should decide to take note. A lone pencil and white straw float listlessly along the rocks where water slaps the shore. A single oyster shell sits on the rocks looking rather lonely and forgotten.

Yet in spite of the odd piece of garbage, the walkways and main gathering area are clean and inviting.  It feels relaxed here. It is an easy place to be. And the wind seems to carry that sentiment as it moves me along from place to place, almost overpowering at times.

I accidentally knock an earring off from my ear and it falls to the board below, only to tumble out of my grasp and then through a crack in between two boards. I stick the second one in my pant pocket as I walk toward a group of people chatting on the benches at the center of the theatre. They are asking questions of my partner, initiated by a T-shirt she is wearing. I wait for the conversation to end before I head back to my Master’s of Education class, bidding a farewell to the couple who has struck up the conversation.

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On Boredom and Wonder

It’s a day to be filled with wonder and gratitude.

The water is absolutely crystal clear- so clear I can see the lines along the sandy floor of the ocean bed where little hermit crabs have dragged their hard-shelled home along for the ride. It is one of those blissful summer days and we are spending it, more or less, here at a little piece of P.E.I. paradise called Canoe Cove. My daughter remarks, “I don’t know why they call it Canoe Cove- nobody canoes there.” No, but they do search for bar clams, and skim board, and throw Frisbees and build sand castles and make fairy forts and carve out time for seal sightings. Oh, and swim. The swimming here is glorious. If you catch it at low or high tide- any time at all really, it is worth a swim. The pools of water just perfect for families with young children. Later in the summer, we’ll be back to swim again in warm August waters and then we’ll climb out dripping wet, ready for a rest on shore before combing through low-lying blueberry bushes just for a taste of that juicy summer sweetness on our eager tongues.

One summer, the daisies grew so plentifully, I plaited them into winding crowns and placed them on my daughter’s heads before posing them (safely) along the edge of a cliff so as to take their picture.  They obliged- as long as I promised to have a swim with them as soon as our photo-shoot had ended. We have had family reunions here in this place: birthday parties and rehearsal suppers the night before the wedding day. This place is home to me and my family.

It is a little bit of God’s glorious heaven here on earth.

Later on, we change out of sandy bathing suits and pack up our faded sheet and books and all the other beach trappings we’ve brought with us to whittle away the day. We pack it all in, and then we bid a wistful fond adieu to those we’ve left behind. Two grandparents, an aunt and a family friend. Beaches are the best places to re-connect. And then we drive the winding dirt lane, past the country church with noble steeple reaching high to the sky, so as to cross the bridge over waters lined with bulrushes. We then turn down towards farm country.

As we drive past the first field green with summer grasses, I notice a whole herd of Brown Swiss and Angus moving quickly towards the corner of one fence. It is the fence closest to the road, thus why I noticed this strange convoy. I can’t imagine what the commotion is all about as this is not milking nor feeding time, nor is this the well-worn path to the barn. What I do catch lying there on the ground, something I just happen to notice out of the corner of my eye as we drive quickly by, is a bright, red balloon sitting motionless on the grass at that particular corner of the fence- wayward remnant from a birthday party next door. The cows move toward it in frenzied furore. Their sole focus- the object of their intent driving this processional is the perplexing thing which has landed just inside the perimeter of their territory, an area they know is clearly marked for them. They stand back a distance, but every one of their soft muzzles points expectantly toward that bright colored, mysterious object.

They appear transfixed. With wonder, and awe and curiosity.

If animals can exhibit this beautiful combination of attributes and character, how much more then should we too be in wondrous awe at the beauty and miracle of the life we are living. And yet, twice this past week, I have heard school-aged children speak the ill-fated words: “I’m bored.” I wonder myself, what dis-service are we doing to our children that this little word has even become part of their vocabulary?

There is so much to wonder in, gaze at, fix our attention upon.

Life is too interesting to be boring.

William Ayers had this to say about teaching:

“Teaching is hard work, tougher than learning, because you must find an infinite number of ways to let students learn. And teaching is all that much tougher when you retreat from the spotlight, redirect the focus of attention to the students themselves, now at center stage. You place yourself to the side and become something new: the guide and the mentor, the coach and the conductor. You notice modes of energy everywhere, life and effort in a thousand directions. You need to summon new courage to teach in this place, a keener attentiveness, a more responsive style. One new challenge will be to create an environment for learning and living that is rich enough, deep enough, and wide enough to embrace and challenge the students who actually walk through the door (Ayers, 2003, p. 27-28)

The challenge: to summon the courage to teach in this way and to be ready to rise to the occasion for learning that is deep and soul-changing.

Recently, I took my students on a listening walk. Run down emotionally from constantly asking them all to settle their inside voices and classroom energies to a dull roar, it was a move done initially in desperation.  Rather than sound like a broken record, we took that excitement and passion and channelled it into an exercise in concentration. We walked as a community of learners on a dusty dirt road with the sole purpose of noticing things- both with our eyes and ears. With our hands and feet. We saw so much that we came back and wrote about it as a class, compiling our findings in a classroom book about bugs, and birds and flowers. About a farmer driving his tractor as he ploughed a field in preparation for planting. About cars whizzing by. Things we’d otherwise have missed had we not taken the time to be present in those precious moments of learning and discovery.

I never heard the words, “I’m bored.”

So. Now you know.

This was me last night at supper.
Or rather.

This was me SANE last night at supper (politely asking for a pat of the yellow stuff, since I had been so kind to make the meal): “Could someone pass the butter, please?”

Din of voices. Outright, blatant ignoring of the Mother Lode. General mayhem.
And then.

This was me INSANE last night at supper (I apologize to the good folks in Tuktoyaktok who broke an eardrum): “FAMILY, PASS.ME. THE. BUTTER. P.L.E.A.S.E.”
Our ears are still reverberating.

And to add injury to insult. This was me tonight. At witching hour, ‘er bedtime.

(Speaking voice): “M.A., time to get your books and go upstairs.”

…M.A. delaying.

(strained speaking voice, a little bit louder this time) “M.A., c’mon. I said it’s time to go upstairs and do your homework.

…M.A. running in the opposite direction.

(@85 dB): “M.A. I.SAID.GET.YOUR.BOOKS. N.O.W.”

M.A. scooting up the stairs. As if her life depended on it. Which of course. It did.

So why is it, my dear people of THE WORLD that we as parents must project ourselves SO, in order to be heard?

Why must a raspy, poorly expressed mother take out a family of six, wiping them flat on their backs because she broke the sound barrier, just so she can get a word in?

I am ready to become mute for the cause. I have actually found myself daydreaming of laryngitis, simply because I wouldn’t have to fight it anymore. I could just blatantly go on living my life- because not only would I know they were ignoring me, I would also have verification that they truly couldn’t hear me. Which is more than I can say for right now.

I am not sure which has ruined me more- using my voice everyday to direct the Gard fleet from Command Central or reading Robert Munsch books a la Bob Munsch style- complete with sound effects. All I know for sure is this: I am not able to gain attention by way of my voice as I once might have been able. And I think it just might all be downhill from here.

I found myself last fall in an ENT office in Summerside (as one of my students calls him- visiting “Dr. Compost” – which is really to say “Dr. Campos”). And there I was with a metal contraption the length of a fishing pole strung down my throat (try to look graceful in that position. I dare you). And at the end of that ordeal, the doctor looked at me and said simply. “You need to see a Speech Pathologist. You don’t know how to use your voice correctly.”

While that is obviously true due to the fact that one year later I am still finding myself talking to the wall (which is of course, better than talking to the hand, but I digress…), the prospects of ending up inside an office where I would have to practice speaking for a woman/man at the ripe old age of 39 was just too humiliating a venture for this old duck. Not to mention, I could think of a million and one other ways to spend my husband’s hard-earned dollars.

I smiled at the specialist and told him I would see him in a couple of months, and then I proceeded to spend that entire time ignoring every good bit of advice that he gave me. And then some.
So. I guess it is my own fault. Which is why I am taking to hand signals these days which are far more effective anyway. And I say all this to say THIS:
Some of you wonder why I write. It’s the only way I can get a word in edgewise around here.
‘Nuff said.