My brother’s kids (young goats) are in school for another two weeks. Not us. We are out for a season as Alice Cooper’s classic lyrics emphatically remind, “School’s out for Summer!” For me this is an awkward transition. I don’t count down to the last day of school. I count up to the first day of school. For some teachers, Summer is easy and can’t come soon enough. For others, like me, Summer is a tough sell at first.
The end of a school year is emotional and shifty for me. It means the absence of the assurance of familiar schedules and routines. For a week or two I play a mind game of musical chairs in which the stressed out weak legs of teaching, and the anxious hands and feet of summer compete for a seat in my brain. Sometimes this looks like one chair less than a dozen players. I don’t know if this makes any sense. I think I experience heart palpitations in powerfully missing people, places and feelings I love in ways that can only be experienced at an elementary school. Set this against a dark and empty Opera stage backdrop of… “No more homework, no more books, no more students” and it looks like… a sad formula for sad me. By the last day of school I am feeling lost in this emotional soup. I keep thinking…..I should have learned how to do this by now. Sigh.
The good news is….as I put school to bed for a season, I am also able to sleep a bit better, and wake a bit differently, more refreshed, not in a panic, and mostly without nightmares of testing and interpretations of such….for 3 X 30 or so days, or approximately 1/4 the Earth callendar year, or 1/2 of a public school callendar year (which some unknown power outside our building) sets equal to 180 days. I don’t really care….as long as I am there.
On a brighter note, it is during the Summer break that I emerge to spread and sun my creative wings on a trailside rock, and then with these same adaptations fly to high mountain meadows of bluebells, lupine, and paintbrush. I trade in teaching to invest in me. I trade it for a night or two of decent sleep, and a night or two of indecent sleep on select weekends in a tent on Timpanogos with a rescue team. I take pictures of mountain goats on my old-school smart phone.
Summer sounds simple, right? It’s not simple for me. I am complicated. So I find strategies to keep moving forward, generating and setting into play endorphines. The way I feel in any given moment is most important, because it determines future moments. Positive thoughts and responses are more important than what acts upon me. This all requires mindfulness.
So I attempt to take control of my run away thinking. I both refocus and distract in different ways for my own survival and sanity. For an end of year emotional and academic inventory and weaning, I finish updating and filing my students permanent cummulative folders, and then intentionally boycott looking at the new class list until after the 4th of July.
Instead of pouring myself into school, I turn to Nature and anticipated travel. I exercise excessively. I read and listen to favorite blogs, and indulge in the best of childrens’ literature with my friend Che’. I write. I think, think, think. I drive a lot. I embark on travel adventures. I sun and swim in Arizona. I draw. I chat with produce people at Sprouts and the coffee kind at Starbucks. Wow. All of this sounds exhausting in list form.
Perhaps I am meant to SIMPLIFY my life. I could attempt staying HOME more. Don’t do it well. Some of the activities, when taken in moderation, do help though….even the occasional staying home. Not going to kickboxing, but rather, sleeping in and then taking my Italian son’s advice to “MAKE BREAKFAST!” is a start. Cooking is generally not a desirable yoga stretch for me. So…..making frenchtoast with homemade carmelized pecan sauce….IS A MAJOR BREAK THROUGH……and is good for all our souls, and stomaches, too. Yes. Small price to pay to be with those I love. In this I am realizing…. so much of how I perceive my life requires……changed thinking.
Helpful is…. living in the quiet of rural Summit County, Utah. Helpful is… being caught up in simple things like Sirius radio, in morning prayer, in a hot shower, a hot cup of coffee, or raised up in a heart-felt Sunday Sermon. It is in these moments I think I momentarily achieve peace and simplicity. Some afternoons when I run up the back road with my dog I achieve peace.
Yesterday I walked to places beyond the family farm and listened to and looked for details in God’s handiwork. During this trip I spied small, simple organisms along the path. These small things spoke to me in big ways. Some in lesson form fit to accompany a few amateur phone photos. Some in a childhood song of gratitude that tickled my lips with the hum of a homemade comb kazoo.
LESSON #1: God loves and provides for all of his creatures. We are that we might have joy in living and in enjoying the beauties of the Earth.
“All Things Bright and Beautiful”
by Cecil F. Alexander, pub.1848
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.
Each little flow’r that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.
The purple-headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.
The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.
The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.
He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.
There are more than two sides to things. Perspective is powerful. Perspective is reality. Perspective may be clouded.
My daughter, Angel, and I were reminded of this the other day. We viewed a Salvador Dali/ Lewis Carol exhibit. This was part of a tribute to art in text and to several editions of Alice in Wonderland that have appeared in print over time. This display is at the UMFA at the University of Utah Campus in Salt Lake City, Utah. One of the watercolors featured a mushroom. Here is my clouded version of the same.
The mushroom I captured on my phone camera was soooo tiny, I had to lay back, and twist nearly upside down. The ground was wet and prickly. Here I balanced myself and my technology, massaging the device in and out and around blades of blurry grass until I achieved focus long enough to get the shot. Found it. Lost it. Fffffound it. LOST IT! In time, with patience, the small mold reappeared within my frame of vision. Hm. It was a pretty fun exercise rivaling core V-ups.
This was my favorite shot because the view is a bit fuzzy. This and recent cloudy skies over Want-a-Sheep, Utah has served to remind me that life is not all that clear cut, but rather holds a wide range of values, or shades. Shades like those in Angels new charcoal pencil kit. Grays that are soooo beautiful…..like those that have formed recently in the sky, in shadow and light, among building thunderheads.
Lesson#3: We are stronger than we believe we are. Sometimes the things we view as burdens, are really blessings in disguise.
I decided one way to slow down and to focus on the simple was to film the travel of an ant, or ants to and from their home. Here ants were dragging large fuzzy seeds down into their tunnel home. The seeds were many times larger than any single ant.
Ants, of course, are know for their amazing strength. Ants collaborate with ease. They set to work with purpose and a sense of community. The struggle, but persevere in group effort when individual effort does not prevail. They don’t seem to know the meaning of “can’t.
I wondered why ants would be storing up these fuzzy, feathery seeds, if not for a food source. I thought of another possible outcome of the ant’s labors- new life. That is, a new plant. Inadvertently, the ants were sowing seeds which the spring rain showers would water. From our own struggles and even failures, good things sometimes come…..new thoughts, new ideas, new solutions. At times even new levels of gratitude, trust and appreciation result.
Anything is possible if we allow space for hope to abide in us, and if we slow enough to become teachable. I am finding the key to Simplicity is to feel largely the wonders of Heaven and Earth, while infusing gratitude in one’s heart and mind. This phenomenon is one that must be experienced in order to be understood. Words are not enough.
SO, there you have it! Adventures and lessons abound everywhere……even close to home, down an ant hole, in SIMPLICITY, between our toes, and right under feet and noses, with or without SCHOOL in session! And most certainly without shoes on! I am so excited to see what I learn this summer in an outdoor classroom!