Battleship Grey

Throughout the Green Hope gardens there are inviting places you can see from the house or office windows. There’s an adirondack chair under the spreading branches of an oak tree, a welcoming spot under a friendly cluster of a half dozen plum trees, and a weathered wooden bench overlooking one of the goldfish ponds. In summer this bench by the pond basks in the sunlight with fragrant herbs all round, but even in winter it’s a place to sit and watch the mysteries of ice on a small pond.

The Angels and I have composed these moments in the garden and others like them to give all of us looking out the windows what I call mind journeys. Some days, we just don’t get a moment to sit in the oak’s cooling shade or watch the fish in the pond, but when we look out at these scenes, our mind goes there and we feel refreshed.

One of the reasons we put our “Pelaton,” the free standing screened in sleeping porch, right where it sits just at the bottom of the main vegetable garden and next to the Rose garden is because I wanted to be able to look up from the kitchen sink and take a mind journey to this wonderful place, even when Rhino and I are too busy to leave the sink. Mind journeys are one of the underlying principles at work in the gardens here and one of the great solaces of my busy life, but today I thought about a different kind of mind journey.

When I walk into my husband Jim’s sixth grade classroom, it’s also a mind journey. I am greeted by an abstract painting of a tropical landscape and numerous tropical trees and plants. Their leafy green welcome begins this journey for me, but it’s the maps that Jim has covering his walls with that really get me traveling.

His maps aren’t like those ones on rolls that disappeared up into the top of the blackboard when I was a kid in grammar school. His enormous world maps are always on display. They are laminated and can be drawn on and erased, drawn on and erased. And Jim has drawn all over them again and again. They have all kinds of arrows and squiggles and remarks. Some lines follow rivers. I wonder as I look at these river squiggles, “Was that the route of Lewis and Clark’s expedition?” Some lines block out regions as if to explain geologic or political changes. “They must be talking about the Civil War,” I think. Some marks spill out to float across various oceans. All of the marks suggest exploration. All of them make me curious. The maps look like trip tiks after the trips, all marked up in a way that helps you remember the journey better. This coffee spill happened in Rapid City South Dakota. That sort of thing.

I know that Jim takes his kids on mind journeys when they are working with the maps. And the mind journeys keep going, because I am still journeying when I look at the maps long after the classes are over. I wonder not only about the places on the map but also how all the marks on the maps came to be. What were the conversations going on when all that magic marker got used?

In the far corner is my favorite map area. This is where Jim makes big hand drawn maps dealing with whatever he is reading aloud to his class. He loves read aloud. So far this year he has read The Giver by Lois Lowry as well as Roald Dahl’s two autobiographies Boy and Going Solo. Going Solo takes place in Africa so I bet there was a map of Africa in this corner when his students were listening to that story. Right now he is reading Little Tree by Forrest Carter. He reads this every year and tells his students before he begins that he is going to cry at the end. He always does cry. I think of this as about the best gift you can give sixth graders, getting to see a grown man cry. I imagine his tears must encourage them to stay in their hearts and stay true to their feelings as they journey on from sixth grade into our big, messy and glorious world.

Often Jim reads Bill Bryson’s romp about the Appalachian trail, A Walk in the Woods, though as with many of the books he reads, he has to do a lot of fast editing of swear words with this one. He has a gorgeous long skinny map of the Appalachian Trail to hang when he’s reading this. It primes his kids for a trip he takes them on in the spring. They go to the White Mountains for a intensive learning and camping experience on the Appalachian Trail.

Another perennial favorite is The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz. Sometimes I visit when Jim is reading The Long Walk aloud to his kids. Then the hand drawn map shows Slavomir’s perilous and real life journey of escape from a siberian work camp down along Lake Baikal, through the Gobi desert, and across the Himalayans into India. This is an epic story with an astounding map.

Kids in our present school structure spend a lot of time boxed up in one room. All the mind journeys into other worlds whether they are prompted by beautiful art, a bower of tropical plants, a plethora of maps, read alouds, or watching their teacher cry help to transform what could be a confining and dry experience into an expansive meaningful adventure.

So, I was chagrined when Jim came home last night with news of the 20% rule and other new edicts. Jim’s classroom is twenty feet from an outdoor exit. He has two enormous windows with four five foot casement windows opening onto solid ground level earth. In almost any circumstance short of a nuclear attack, I find it hard to believe his kids could not safely and swiftly exit the building by door or window in less than a minute or two, but new concern about the fire hazard of paper on the walls leaves him having to remove maps and posters so only 20% of his walls are covered with paper. His wooden walls are also to be painted battleship grey this week because the wood is not considered fire retardant enough and the school can only afford battleship grey paint. Hello! Do they want the kids to wear correctional institution uniforms too?

For many years Jim had an enormous sectional couch in his read aloud nook with many soft chairs and cushions so everyone had a comfortable spot. When he returned to school this fall he was told that some organization formed to protect teacher’s safety had mandated that his couch and the cushions had to be removed from his classroom to “protect him from lice.” I am not kidding. Though he felt he could manage a lice infestation without risk to his personal safety, other more official folks felt differently. The couches moved to our son, Ben’s new apartment in the dorm where hoards of high school students now happily hunker down for a visit with their dorm advisor, Ben. And Jim’s read aloud corner is less cozy. Trees and maps but no pillows.

Now this? Will he have to get roll up maps and hide the world away after each social studies class? Will his hand drawn maps have to be taken down each day so no one can take a mind journey to Lake Baikal except during read aloud?

Jim will think of ways to keep his kids connected to a bigger world and their imaginations no matter what, but these new edicts made me mad!

Why don’t all these officials get busy with real problems like global warming. It was 63 degrees on the top of Hogback Mountain in the Green Mountains at midnight this past weekend. I was driving back from seeing Lizzy in a dance concert in Bennngton, Vermont. It was so warm we drove with our windows down. If these officials need things to fuss about, let it be about real problems like climate change, not this other kind of mind numbing micro management of young people’s lives.

I think I need to go to my sink, wash a tea cup with Rhino, and look out the window to take a mind journey to the Pelaton! Here and down at Jim’s school they still haven’t outlawed windows. But then, Jim isn’t home from school yet so I might have spoken too soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.