Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Panthera Aethra

Make Cycle #5 in the #CLMOOC is Light.  +Kevin Hodgson offered an invitation to participate in an experiment of designing our own constellations and crafting an origin story for them.  I got really into this challenge...and so I wrote too much to post in the comment on the Eastern Star Chart that Kevin created where I and others charted our constellations, so I am posting my origin story here.  This was great fun, a great challenge, and an interesting take on light in writing.  And now...how Panthera Aethra came to be...

A clear cold night closed in as we prepared to brave it.  The car had gotten stuck in a snow drift.  Thankfully, the snow had finally stopped, but we were still stranded.  Bob and I had begun this adventure to rekindle – how ironic that we found ourselves in a snow laden crystal wasteland, quite literally cold as ice.  How would we “spark” in this predicament?

I was the winter weather lightweight.  Where I’m from if we see two snow flakes fall we close schools and businesses, and buy all the milk and bread in the store; we shut it down until the roads are safe again. Where Bob was from a snow day was just another winter day and life continued on as it normally does.  He had checked the forecast and was sure we could make it.  I don’t think that he was wrong.  I just think that sometimes Mother Nature throws us a curve ball and even our most modern scientific analysis cannot predict that.

So there we sat in the bucket seats, covered in the blankets we had in the back of the car for just such an emergency, trying not to notice the waning gas needle indicating the last of the mild warmth the car was still generating, and hoping our staticky 911 call had provided enough information to the operator to dispatch help to us. 

We settled in for whatever would come holding hands under the layers and staring hopefully through the glass sunroof.  We probably should have closed the cover to protect from heat loss, but the night was so beautifully clear now with stars brightly shimmering. 

Perhaps we were seeking their heat.  It was the last  good warm thing in our frozen space that we could fix our attention on – the warm thing we could imagine saving us. We were reminded of a warm summer night 13 years ago when we star-gazed and decided to make our love official.

For distraction we tried desperately to pick out familiar constellations.  But, we were far from home and the diamond laden velvet sky offered no familiarity.  We had to become like the ancestors who had first peered at the heavens trying to find the familiar.

“Look!” Bob said, “there…”

He pointed to the left of our sunroof-framed view.  Maybe it was an eastern view…it was hard to remember direction.

“See that Big Cat in the sky?

I laughed.  That was my nickname for Bob, my Big Cat.

“Yes, I see it.”

“What constellation do you think it is?”

“How should I know??? I can’t even pick out the Big Dipper!”

“That’s an asterism, not a constellation.”

Again I chuckled, that was my Big Cat, my amateur astronomer.  I smiled at him.  “Well, tell me, what constellation is it?”

“It is Panthera Aethra, of course.”

“What?  You are making that up!”

“No, it’s the Sky Panther…see…?”  He pulled me in close so I could try to see from his view, down the sight line of his arm.  “See…there are the star points that are the ear tips…and there’s the chin…the eyes…”

“I see it!”

“Then you know.”

“Know what?”

“You know that we will be alright, the Sky Panther has appeared.”

“Panthera Aethra” I whispered.

I know he made that up, but in that moment I believed…and we were ok. We had the heat of the stars to spark us.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Learning Walk...

I have been in and out of the #CLMOOC this summer.  Less time this year to devote to posting and building community, but I have had the occasional burst of activity.  Tonight I find myself at home alone, which is unusual, so reading up on posts I notice a thread not really directed as a "Make Cycle" but it caught my attention anyway as a "Make".  +Kim Douillard over at Thinking Through My Lens shared a particularly interesting activity, a Learning Walk, that inspired a couple of others, and me.   As I am working on this post, I am thinking how this might be adapted for classroom use...maybe a Learning Walk through a text, or as a Product for a Graduation Project, or maybe just give the idea to the kids and see what new ideas are generated.  I really liked two things about it that I want to preserve - the physicality of it, actually getting out and moving about in the world (which kinda knocks out the walk through a text idea), and the "noticing effect".  A couple of years ago (more like 4 I think...time, well you know, it flies, *sigh*) I had the good fortune to present with the Tar River Writing Project at the NWP 2010 Annual Meeting about Thinking Partners and some wonderful folks from the Eastern Shore Writing Project also presented about a "Noticing Protocol".  What I loved about the "noticing protocol" was that it asked us to take time to notice...really notice...others' work.  The Learning Walk is a kind of "noticing protocol" for me, a "get out there and see what you can see and then write about it" protocol.

So I started down my street and was immediately drawn to the small family cemetery across from my house.

There is one marker that always makes me feel a little sad...a baby's.  That's the one with the little angel beside it and the vase that has fallen over.  We say we will always remember, and we will, but the tangible things are sometimes easier to forget and we would rather hold on to sweet memories, or forget and block out the sadness all together.  The cemetery is not a sad place for me overall though.  Visitors to my house always ask me how I feel living across the street from a cemetery...looking right at it from my living room window.  Their noticing of it helps me reflect...how do I really feel about it?  For me it's a privilege.  I love to see the cemetery change with the seasons as family members come and replace flowers and flags, straighten the items that have crooked, pull weeds, and generally care for the place where their long gone loved ones are memorialized.  It reminds me of the importance of family and remembering.  It reminds me of the importance of honoring our ancestors.  It also reminds me that life is all too short.  

Living close to a thing can make it just a part of the routine.  Some days I notice the cemetery more than others.  The Learning Walk helped me notice it in a different way...to notice it for what it means to me.

Further down the road I come across the old homeplace where my nephew lives.  

  I notice the flag.  It is usual to see an American flag flying, or a flag honoring one's alma mater, or one's favorite past time like the beach or gardening, or a flag reminding you what season it is.  But my nephew hoists the colors of the Old North State.  I notice that he is different and wonder why he has made this choice.  I will make a point to ask him the next time I see him!  I love it though...love that he loves this state as much as I do...regardless of the political brouhaha that currently has teachers leaving for brighter futures in neighboring states, or even Texas...but enough about that.

Continuing my walk I come across the old, old homeplace.  What we would call a shack by today's standards, but what was once the home to a young family starting out farming.  It has been neglected over the hundred or so years it has been in existence.  And I imagine that through the recent decades there have been many a neighborhood child who has explored that old house.  Hence the sign...look closely at the words...

"No Trust Pass"  An interesting usage...intentional or just a mis-hearing and mis-usage of "trustpass" for "trespass"?  I like to imagine that it's intentional.  That the sign painter meant that you shall not enter here because you are not trusted to pass over the threshold.  I'd love to take a peek inside...but time has worn the structure down and it does not appear structurally sound enough to investigate.  Best find some relatives to tell me the story of this little house and the trust issues. 

As I turn to walk away, I notice this tire encrusted tree.  How long has that been there?  Was the tire set intentionally around a little sapling to keep it from being cut down?  Was it just discarded and the little sapling grew into it?  What will the tree do to the tire as it continues to grow???  Fascinating...and something I never would have seen in my neighborhood if I had not ventured on this Learning Walk with the singular focus to "notice". 

Then I see a ghost...

Can you see it too?  It is the remnants of a car that burned completely to the ground on my street.  The paper delivery person's car caught fire right there!  The trees used to have a singe all the way to the top on this side.  See the circles where the tires melted?  See the red on either side at the bottom that were the red plastic covers of the brake lights?  Another cemetery of sorts.  Another interesting "notice" from the Learning Walk.  

  Time to head back home.  Then I notice this...a perfectly straight nail, slightly rusted, just lying there in the road and I hear my daddy's voice in my head, "Look...pick up that nail!"  My dad was born in 1924.  He was a WWII Veteran.  He was a young boy during the Great Depression and a survivor of a World War.  He saved EVERYTHING!  He recycled and repurposed before it was trendy and hip to do so.  When I noticed this nail, I remembered my daddy...gone 11 years now...but still honored in memory, and in noticing.  I should credit him with first teaching me to notice.  I still walk with my eyes on the ground looking for what small treasure might be found there.  And as I walk back into my driveway...I notice this...

TWO NAILS...and STRAIGHT!  It's like I hit the jackpot on my Learning Walk this evening! I will add these to my collection.  They may not be useful for me, but they remind me.  Those two nails, and all the other things I noticed on my Learning Walk remind me of the stories that are out there just waiting to be told.  Through the "play" of the Learning Walk, I was able to "make" meaning and connect to memories and to new ideas.  I will share this in the hopes that it will spark new connections and be a beginning point for developing a Learning Walk with my teachers at school.  Thank you +Kim Douillard for starting this in the #CLMOOC and thank you +Kevin Hodgson for amplifying it through taking up the challenge.  Remember to "notice"! 

Here are a few more images that I will have to revisit for another reflection:

And now...even though the "woods are lovely, dark and deep, I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep."