Sunday, September 23, 2012

Summer is Over and Gone

We were out on the lake the other day with Colin.  One of our last hurrahs before the end of the season.  It was clear.  The air was slightly cool as the sun went down.  Along the edge of the lake we could see that the trees are beginning to change.  The deep greens of summer are beginning to give over to paler, dustier greens.  The early changers like sumac have begun their turn around; so dark reds were seen here and there along with yellow and gold. 

In our garden there are some obvious changes as the hours of sunlight decrease and the sun’s intensity diminishes.  The morning glories, once so bright climbing up the back rail are still giving it their all, but their leaves are curling and many have fallen so, as Sasha and I go out to get the paper each day there are fewer and fewer bright blossoms to greet us.  The Angel’s Trumpet with its big bell shaped flowers, so fragrant you can smell them from the road, has stopped blooming as well.  Its spent blossoms lay withered on the ground, a faint testament to their former glory. 

We have a small garden out back that is only for cutting flowers for the house.  I don’t know the names of them all but there are Gerber daisies and Black-eyed Susans.  All the blossoms are nearly gone now and our inside flowers are changing over to little yellow wild flowers, the last remaining hydrangeas and some tall grasses. 

Overhead there are geese in their familiar formations, honking shamelessly, advertising their relocation to warmer climes.  Some will stay I think, but those loud, strict V shaped formations are not the same as the lackadaisical v-like flying patterns for short distance during the summer.  No, they’re taking off.  Let them go.  They don’t know what they are missing. 

This is my favorite time of year.  This change.  This cusp on the edge of something quite different in the natural world.  Insects and spiders are hurrying to get their jobs done.  Many of my students have brought in cicada shells for us to examine in our science area.  These short-lived adults don’t have much time to advertise, find a mate, and reproduce.  As adults they don’t even have a digestive tract.  No, it’s all about making babies and saying good-bye.  They'll soon be recycled into something else.

In our classroom we have had the breathtaking excitement of observing black swallowtail butterfly eggs hatch into caterpillars so small that you can barely see them.  We have watched them eat and grow and molt when their skin got tight - and eat some more.  We’ve been there to bear witness to them clinging to a twig, tucking into themselves and shedding their final skin to emerge as a beautiful brown or green chrysalis, so camouflaged that you wouldn’t have a chance to spot it on a bush or a branch or a twig unless you knew it was there.  And we'll be there to watch them appear as an adult, ready to go out and mate and lay more eggs.  

I miss my mom this early fall.  Last year she was still around.  At this time last year, she was still healthy, still grieving the loss of her husband just a few months earlier.  But last fall she believed that she had time left.   She was looking forward.  She was still writing to me about the change of color, the trips she planned to take, how beautiful the water of her little lake was with mist lifting off its surface in the morning.  She was still getting out for her usual walks along the water’s edge.  She would not miss observing the natural world if she could help it.  My mom loved the changing seasons.  Perhaps that’s where I came to love it as well. 

And now there are the crickets.  There are crickets all summer long, right?  But during summer they have to compete with the night sounds of chorus frogs, katydids and cicadas.  As the frogs quiet down with the chillier evening temperatures, and as the cicadas and other insects begin to die, the crickets seem to have renewed energy.  As Heidi and I walked last evening in the final rays of evening twilight and on into the night, we heard mourning doves in the distance, and this beautiful mockingbird who would not give it up and go to sleep.  And we heard crickets. 

Our lives have these rhythms.  Some are artificial – like the school timetable, which has governed my existence since I began school in 1963 and has continued on through high school, college and into my professional life as a teacher.  My mom had this rhythm in her life too.  She was a teacher before she retired. 

But there is this other, deeper, more primal rhythm as the earth spins on its axis and makes its yearlong journey around the sun on its crazy tilted axis.  The seasons.

Like so many things, I would have loved to share my feelings about the edge of fall with my mom again this year.  I would have loved to drink a cup of her hot, strong black coffee on her early morning porch, and look out over her lake, and watch as that mist lifted and that water began to sparkle, and those morning birds began to sing their daybreak songs.  I would have loved to share that feeling of being on that cliff just before fall, that sense of being poised and ready to plunge pall mall into the cool, the crisp leaves, the smoke tinged air, of jackets, and Halloween, and color and color and color. 

And I know that missing her is just another part of the cycle, the long rhythm of life, the comings and goings of lovers and family and friends, of times and places.  Of the seasons. 

The crickets sang in the grasses.  They sang of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song.  “Summer is over and gone,” they sang.  “Over and gone, over and gone.  Summer is dying, dying.”
            The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever.  Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into fall – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.
            Everybody heard the song of the crickets.  Avery and Fern Arable heard it as they walked the dusty road. They knew that school would soon begin again.  The young geese heard it and knew that they would never be little goslings again.  Charlotte heard it and knew that she hadn’t much time left.  Mrs. Zuckerman, at work in the kitchen, heard the crickets, and a sadness came over her, too.  “Another summer gone,” she sighed.  Lurvy, at work building a crate for Wilbur, heard the song and knew it was time to dig potatoes. 
”Summer is over and gone,” repeated the crickets.  “How many nights till frost?” sang the crickets.  “Good-bye, summer, good-bye, good-bye!”  From E. B. White's Charlotte's Web  p. 113-114

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

"It's easy to convince people that children need to learn the alphabet and numbers. How do we help people to realize that what matters is how a person's inner life finally puts together the alphabet and numbers of his outer life? What really matters is whether he uses the alphabet for the declaration of war or the description of a sunrise, and his numbers for the final count in Buchenwald or for the specifics of a new bridge" (Fred Rogers)

I’ve written about Fred McFeely Rogers before.   He had a pretty profound impact on my boys and me when they were little ones and I was a young dad.  I would come home from school and those little boys would come running up and hugging on me and loving on me.  And we would wrestle and take our walk through the neighborhood.  We would visit the lake, maybe fish for a little while, have an explore, chase each other around this big old oak tree and then head back to our condo.  On many days we would watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

He came along on ETV when I was too old to understand or appreciate him when I was a kid.  It was one of the baby shows.  He was too soft, wore old fashioned clothes and had lousy looking puppets for the fantasy part of the show.

We were very careful about what our little boys watched on TV.  Since we didn’t have cable, it was mostly ETV for kids.  Kratt’s creatures, Magic school Bus and Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood were the biggies. 

I saw Fred Rogers with new eyes when I was watching with my little ones.  He was real.  He talked right to you.  He went on real field trips and taught you about really cool things like how crayons were made or how the mail system worked.  He was encouraging and didn’t talk down to kids.  In one show he was feeding the fish in his 10-gallon fish tank and discovered a dead one.  He took a net and got it out.  He put it in some water with a tiny bit of extra salt to see if he could revive it.  But it was dead.  He spoke to little ones about the nature of life and how all creatures’ lives come to an end one day.   But for most of us it comes after a long and happy life. 

His fish died and he taught us how to celebrate life. 

There was nothing fancy about his show.  It was simple.  There were lengthy shots where you could tell that he wasn’t reading from a prompter.  He was just being Fred, a good man and a great teacher.  I quote from him in my newsletters to my students’ parents, at teacher workshops, and I use his words for language appreciation in my classroom. 

And he was an awesome songwriter.  He wrote a song or two every day.  And they were so cool.  They were deep and filled with great ideas for young minds.  And older minds too. 

A friend sent me a link to this YOUTUBE video.  It has been seen by millions.  Perhaps you have seen it already.  Give yourself a treat and watch it again. 

Do you ever imagine things?
Are they scary things?

Do you ever imagine things?
Things you’d like to have?

Do you ever see a cats eyes in the dark
and wonder what they were?

Do you ever pretend about things like that before?
(Do you ever pretend about things like that?)

Did you ever grow anything in your garden of your mind?
(In your garden of your mind?)

You can grow ideas in your garden of your mind?

(In your garden of your mind?)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I was born in 1957.  In those days brush haircuts were the fashion for men.  Really short.  There was some variation among the style, super short on the sides (whitewalls), flat on the top, buzzed the same length all over.  But short hair was in. 

There was a contingent of roguish men or beatniks whose hair was long in relation to the standards of the day.  They stood out.  

As a child of the 60’s, hair was super important.  It said who you were, where you stood on social issues, how lenient your parents were.  My brothers and sisters attended Catholic school, where long hair was not allowed.  There wasn’t much thought about freedom of expression with the clothes you wore or how you wore your hair.  It was all quite simple.  For the boys it was long dark dress pants, white shirt and tie.  Hair was supposed to be above the collar of your shirt.  For girls it was a plaid skirt (which had to touch the floor when you knelt – and we did lots of kneeling as we went to Mass every school day as well as Sundays), white blouse and, if you were in first or second grade (no Kindergarten back then in the Catholic school) a beanie held to the crown of the head with bobby pins.  It certainly was a great equalizer.  Rich or poor, or somewhere in the middle – we all looked the same. 

In the mid sixties, many of my friends would have preferred long hair.  The hair length of movie stars and singers was getting much longer.  Who wanted a crew cut when the Fab Four and The Monkeys had those fantastic moptops? 

So it was always a struggle when my mom lined us up and pulled that horrible electric razor to buzz our hair.  It wasn’t new or sharp any longer so, besides the insult and shame of not even going to a real barber, getting haircut from my mom was painful.   I always complained (no, I probably whined) about having my hair shorter than EVERYONE ELSE and looking like a MAMA’S BOY and so OLD FASHIONED.  So my mom, in her wisdom would compromise with a 5 guard instead of a 3 guard – against her better judgment of course. 

When I went to high school, still in Catholic school for two years, the rules governing hair length were a little more moderate.  I always went to the acceptable limits.   But when my family moved in the summer between my sophomore and junior years, all bets were off.  I attended a public school for the first time and there were essentially no dress codes!  At 16, my parents sort of threw up their hands and figured that the length of my hair was not as important any more and I think I went at least three years without a cut.   Looking back on images of myself during those years, I was pretty bizarre.  I’m sure that my parents just gritted their teeth and figured that this wasn’t a battle they wanted to fight any more. 

My head was like a bush.  My hair was so thick that it stuck out in every direction.  I didn’t care.  I was into letting my freak flag fly.  And it sure did.  When I pulled it back into a ponytail after a swim or shower, it didn’t really ever dry.  When I wore a bandana it stuck out crazily wherever it could escape the confines of cloth.  It was clownish really.

But I wore it that way for years.  Finally, I met Heidi Mills and she convinced me that it needed some trimming.  It was way out of control.  The result of her first haircut was a little uneven, but it had to be far better than the crazy clown wig I had been wearing for the previous few years.  And I was madly in love and anything that Heidi would do for me would be fine. 

And I’ve worn my hair roughly the same ever since.  I do go to COST CUTTERS now.  And the part is slightly to the side – instead of straight down the middle.  But for roughly 30 years, my hair has been the same.  A little shaggier - then a little shorter. 

We all go through the changes of fashion.  My parents probably went through some similar things with their parents.  Skirt lengths, necklines, makeup, hair grease, widths of ties.   At some point most parents are old fashioned to their kids and kids are outrageous to their parents.  Part of life I suppose.

Our oldest son, Devin, has great thick hair.  He was self-conscious about it as a kid.  It was wavy and didn’t stay down.  He wet it and wore hats to bed.  And for a while, would never be seen outdoors without a hat. 

Once when he was on an overnight religious retreat with his teenage friends, he called us and asked if he could get a Mohawk.  We said, “No!” without hesitation.   “But thanks for asking.”  There was something a little suspicious about that conversation.  I had the idea that he was asking after the fact.   Our suspicions were confirmed when he came back home with a complete buzz cut.  At least he got rid of the long hair down the middle. 

We put Colin through an awkward stage with his hair.  Heidi insisted on giving him a bowl cut.  He had it for years.  It looked “European”.  As soon as he knew his rights (4th grade or so) he said NO to the bowl thing and opted for very long hair that sort of stuck out all over.  People said a few times that he looked a lot like Justin Bieber.  That was the end of that.  Now he has a handsome, relatively short, neat look.

The thing about fashion is that it is…  so… ridiculous.  What’s in, goes out.  What’s out, comes back.  And who decides?  I guess the short answer is “designers” decide. Whoever they are.  Obviously the idea behind fashion trends is to part consumers with their money.  If my perfectly good jeans aren’t what’s cool, they go to GOODWILL or simply to the trash so I can go out and buy something new. 

Same with hairstyles.  Depending on which famous people wear their hair a certain style, many people will change how they look in a minute to match.  Take Justin Bieber for instance.  (Please.)  If he were to get a crew cut, chances are that it would make a momentary bump in the fashion trend du jour.