Autumn Exuberance

I’ve been out and about a lot lately, enjoying the spectacular fall foliage. Autumn really doesn’t know how to tone things down, does she? She’s the queen of gaud and exuberance and exults in every moment of it. I’m a delighted spectator. These days, no matter how late I’m running, I keep taking the long way home. Somehow the wheel turns and I’m heading along yet another detour, prolonging my immersion in the glorious parade of color. From country lane to marsh to river to harvested field, there’s a constant sense of anticipation, of wondering what technicolor marvels might be just around the next corner. Flames of crimson and gold leap about in the landscape, blazing into brilliant blue skies, reflecting off the water, and lighting up overcast days. It’s a non-stop autumnal extravaganza and I’m thankful for every moment of it.

Release Day

(I’ve been sharing our butterfly adventures from week to week. You can see earlier installments here and here. You should know that we named all of our caterpillars and the favorite was named Bob Weezer.)

The day had finally arrived! Three of our four monarch caterpillars had transformed into butterflies and although we weren’t able to witness their emergence, we were still enchanted by their presence in the classroom. After giving them a day to strengthen up, and after a lot of oohing and aahing over their beauty, and a lot of calling out with excitement whenever they flapped their wings or decided to fly from one side of the enclosure to the other, I we decided it was time to send them on their way. There was some last minute concern expressed that the late-to-pupate Bob Weezer, who still remained tucked into his tidy chrysalis, would be lonely without the others. After some debate, we all agreed that the other butterflies needed all the time they could get to begin their migration. Bob Weezer was going to have to tough it out.

I gathered up the butterfly tent and my students got in line. As we walked outside, I heard a student whisper under her breath, “I’m going to miss those little bundles of love.” We wandered over to one of the school’s flower gardens, chattering the whole way. Then, lo and behold! What did we see there?

The kids cheered! This monarch was already happily gathering nectar in the garden. We all interpreted this as a positive sign.

I set down the butterfly tent in a nearby grassy spot.

“Shhhhh!” whispered all the kids as they huddled around.

“Ready?” I asked.

“Ready!” they whispered back.

I unzipped the tent and immediately one butterfly flew out and soared into the blue skies. The kids jumped up and waved frantically. Within moments it was out of sight, but their cries lingered.

“Goodbye! Goodbye!” they called.

“Adios!”

Mere moments later the second butterfly had joined its comrade, escaping the confines of the tent and flying briskly away to the cheers of our class.

We turned back to the tent. The final butterfly wasn’t as eager to leave. We watched and waited.

And waited.

“Come on! Come on!” the kids coaxed.

Some of them grew tired after a few minutes waiting and wandered off to examine the gardens, but quite a few still gathered around. They whispered to the butterfly.

“Come on, little guy. It’s okay!”

“You can do it!”

“It’s okay to be scared, but you’ll be okay. Just try.”

My heart melted just a bit. They were so earnest and concerned.

Finally, with their encouragement, the third butterfly stepped closer and closer to the opening and then leapt into flight with a dazzling flutter of wings. It soared up up up! The kids cheered again and jumped and hooted and hollered, waving furiously the whole time. After a moment or two of wild celebration, I zipped up the tent, rounded them up, and we headed back inside.

We walked back into the classroom with our tent, which seemed sadly depleted now.

One lone pupa hung from the top.

“Well,” said a student, “At least we still have Bob Weezer.”

Transformation

In the past, most of my students have known all about the monarch life cycle. They got excited when they see the J form, knowing it wouldn’t be long til there was a dangling chrysalis in its place. This year, like every year, the kids have been utterly entranced watching the caterpillars roam around in their butterfly tent. I’ve already written about some of our caterpillar adventures (here), but what’s really struck me is that my students seem much more unaware of the process of metamorphosis than in the past. Instead of confident comments and shared knowledge, there have been a slew of questions: What’s it doing? Why’s it doing that?

With this in mind, the other day I read to them all about the caterpillar lifecycle. We spent a long time examining a series of pictures of the final skin shed, when the dark striped skin splits down the back of the caterpillar and the green skin below emerges.

We wondered at the idea that this final skin would actually harden into the pupa. Minds blown! We had a grand time talking about the process and about having green skin in general. Finally, I glanced up at the clock. Oops.

“Ok, everyone, we’ve got to get going. It’s time to head to Specials.”

The kids got up off the carpet and moved toward the doorway. L, who was ahead of us all, suddenly cried out, “Hey, it’s doing it right now!”

We all briefly froze in our tracks, then raced across the room to converge around the butterfly tent. Sixteen pairs of eyes focused on the caterpillar dangling from the top. Sixteen mouths dropped open. Sixteen people started talking simultaneously.

What had been a striped monarch caterpillar before we began our read aloud was now undergoing a transformation. Green skin was visible over about half of it. The kids burst into excited chatter, hopping up and down and pointing.

“Look at that!”

“Wait! What’s it doing?”

“It’s pupating!”

“Ew!”

We watched as the caterpillar squirmed and wiggled and more and more green skin emerged.

“Look how much it’s moving!”

After the shed skin was finally gathered at one end, the caterpillar continued to wriggle dramatically until…

Plop!

The discarded skin dropped to the floor of the tent.

“Ah!” shrieked K, stepping back. “Did its head just fall off!?!”

We reassured K. and kept our eyes glued on the caterpillar. What was it going to do next? Finally, its intense wiggling ceased and it slowly stopped moving altogether.

The caterpillar may have been still, but the energy in the room remained electric. Kids chattered, their voices and comments tumbling over each other.

At this point it was definitely past time to head to Specials. The kids got into line, wriggling with excitement, transformed by this experience. Eyes wide. Faces aglow. More than once I heard one of them whisper again, with a big grin on their face, “That was amazing!”

It truly was.

Watching Caterpillars

The monarch caterpillars are the first and last things the kids look at every day. It’s been a long time since I’ve had caterpillars in the classroom, and I’d forgotten that they are a continual source of wonder and conversation. They are a total distraction, yet totally delightful.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though, as we’ve already had some high drama. One afternoon, we thought for sure one of them was a goner. It hadn’t moved or eaten for quite a while. All afternoon it stayed in one spot, far away from tempting milkweed. Never moving. The kids snuck over occasionally to peek. Nothing changed. It didn’t move. At all. Then a dark substance appeared behind it. It still wasn’t moving. Uh oh.

“Is it dead?” several kids asked later, as we passed the tent on our way to the buses.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “It doesn’t look good. We’ll see what’s happening in the morning.”

Silently, I was already contemplating how we could tuck a caterpillar funeral into our schedule.

We left school with heavy hearts.

The next morning, as I greeted kids at the door, two boys approached me.

Is it…?”

“Did he make it?”

“It did!” I enthused. ” Go see!”

The boys ran over to check things out. “Bob Weezer’s alive!” they called out in delight, high fiving each other. And so, in the midst of our collective relief, we all learned his name. (Later, we also learned that he was just chilling while he was shedding.)

Soon, the kids had christened two more of the visiting caterpillars: Chrysalissy and Butter. Debate raged about what to name the last one. It was down to two names: Tomato Tomahto and Hugo. C. asked me if he could poll the class during Quiet Time.

“Sure, ” I said. “Just make sure to whisper.”

He grabbed a piece of paper and created a tally chart with the two name options. Then, he quietly approached each classmate, asking them to vote.

At the end of Quiet Time, we were all on the edge of our seats. C stood up and made the announcement: It was a close contest, but…

Hugo won the day!

And now, we watch and wait.

Be sure to stay tuned for the next installment of Adventures with Bob Weezer, Hugo, Butter and Chrysalissy.

Change is Coming

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all. ~Stanley Horowitz

I’ve been feeling change lately, like a physical presence. Perhaps it’s school starting or the thread of chill in the morning air. Perhaps it’s the shift in light to a rich, golden hue. Or perhaps it’s that night lingers into morning and arrives earlier each day. Clearly, fall is edging closer.

Autumn invites nostalgia in.
Come sit beside me. Time is passing. Let’s linger here for a moment together.

I find myself feeling slightly more vulnerable to my memories, to recent losses. Contemplative. There’s a shift in the air. A shift in me. Everything feels just a bit different. On the cusp. Summer is sighing, fading away as fall steps in. It’s both beautiful and faintly unsettling. My feelings and thoughts rustle like leaves in a breeze, kaleidoscopic–a flickering mosaic of past, present and future.

Yesterday morning I went to the river to greet the day, something I have seldom done of late. I wanted to be surrounded by the cool serenity of dawn. To slow time down and watch the day awaken. To wrap a blanket of calm around me. 

Clouds and light stirred and shifted, layered land, water and sky. Boundaries blurred. 

The river slipped in and out of sight behind gilded grasses and veils of glowing mist.

With every moment, the light changed. The view altered. Inevitably clearer, yet still transitioning. Sky. Clouds. Land. Mist. Water. Separating into distinct yet interwoven layers.

I heard them before I saw them. The mournful cries rebounded off the low-lying clouds and filled the chilly air. Unmistakeable. The keen call of Canada geese. I scanned the skies, thinking, as always when I hear them, of Rachel Field’s poem. Something told the wild geese… They flew low above the marsh, passed overhead, then soared around the bend in the river and out of sight. 

Change is coming.

First Day

All day Sunday and Monday morning I kept trying to find it, wracking my brain for the perfect word to describe how I was feeling along the continuum between excited and scared. Or maybe it was really between excited and nervous. Anticipatory? No, that wasn’t quite it. What word captures that feeling? Is there one? It seems like there should be. Some wonderful word in another language, maybe a super long German word or a French phrase or something in Japanese, that encapsulates that feeling of being a little scared, a little anticipatory and a little excited. I kept picturing a Venn diagram with excited on one side. Nervous on the other. What would the label be for that intersecting part?

Finally, while driving in to school, heading back to the primary wing after a six year absence, I created my own word: affizzle. I was all affizzle. Yes. That felt right. It also felt akin to frazzled and flustered, which tracked.

And then my first day of teaching second grade unfolded in vignette after vignette.

Scene 1: A little girl, A, arrives, walked in by her mother, faces wreathed in smiles. Two minutes later, mother has departed and A is standing by my side, tears slowly dripping down her face.

“I want my Mommy.”

As I move to reassure her, another student moves closer.

“Do you want a hug, A?” he asks.

Scene 2: At recess M. asks if I’ll play basketball with him. I agree, but let him know I haven’t played in years and might need some help with the rules.

“I’ll take it easy on you,” he assures me. Then he proceeds to articulately explain the basic rules of the game, accompanying his words with active demonstration.

“I’ll show you the rest as we play,” he assures me.

When I have to bow out after a few minutes due to my supervisory duties, he comments, “So, we can play tomorrow again, right?”

Scene 3: As we play a game of “Taking Sides” I ask kids, “Would you rather eat an apple or a banana?” As the kids move to show their preference, and I step toward the apple area, a student nods knowingly and says to me, “Teachers love apples.”

Scene 4: During Readers’ Workshop, N.’s face lights up. He shoots up his hand and simultaneously announces, “Hey! We’re basically a classroom family.” (Now that’s the kind of blurting I can get behind!)

Scene 5: B. hands me a pink sticky note. “This is a list to help you remember,” she says.

“Oh, thanks!” I take it and read it aloud. “Be kind! Be empathetic!”

I’m a little taken aback. Am I in need of a reminder? I quickly think back through the day. Have I not been kind or empathetic? I ask for feedback to clarify. “So, am I doing okay with this so far?” I ask her, somewhat tentatively. She nods her head vigorously.

“Oh, ok, ” I say, “this is a great reminder list. Thanks!”

Scene 6: At the end of the day V shares, “I was so excited about school starting today that I was all tingly last night and this morning too! My whole body was tingly and I could hardly sleep!” Several students enthusiastically signaled silent agreement.

I think my heart grew two sizes right then and there.

Scene 7: Then C, the morning’s hugger, chimes in, “Before school today, I was in the car. I made a lot of silly faces. And then you know what happened?” He paused then rattled along, “Then I farted in the car.” He paused again and finished with a great big grin, “Because I fart a lot.”

Thanks C. for keeping it real 🙂

Best shirt of the day!

By the end of the day affizzle had faded to fatigue. Still, it was a wonderful first day.

Gathering Calm

When I write first thing in the morning, I allow my mind to drift from thought to thought. My pen flows with the wisps of dreams, follows half-remembered images or feelings, or reaches back to recent events. Whatever moves me to write. I want to capture and distill strong emotions, interesting connections, experiences, new thoughts, etc. I can be surprised by where these journeys lead me.

When I go out to take pictures, I usually have at least the location in mind, which dictates some of what I’ll see. Ocean versus marsh versus river. Forests or fields. Still, there are surprises here, too. I never know what will capture my attention at that particular time. Will the fog call to me, or shadows or spider webs? Will interesting patterns emerge in sand, water or sky? Sometimes I go with a goal in mind, usually to find certain birds, like a snowy owl or migrating warblers. Then I keep my eyes to the rooflines or treetops, depending. Still, I’m always intrigued by what other images tug at my lens.

On Saturday I woke early and decided to set out early to catch the sunrise at the marsh. The marsh is one of my favorite places in the world. I always leave feeling more at peace than when I arrived. On this morning, I arrived shortly before sunrise and followed the flow of the unfolding scenery, breathing in the damp, swampy tang of marsh that filled the air.

First dawn arrived in gentle hues, painting sky and water and clouds into a sunrise composition.

Dewdrops clustered, strung on the architecture of a stalky weed, capturing miniature sunrises in their globes.

The marsh waved its colors like a rippled quilt of golds, greens and browns. The grasses undulated like water, and I stopped to try to capture the hue and the sense of motion. It reminded me of lines from “In the Salt Marsh” by Nancy Willard. I couldn’t remember them then, but looked them up later:
“How faithfully grass holds the shape of the sea it loves,
how it molds itself to the waves, how the dried salt
peaks into cowlicks the combed mane of the marsh.”

Queen Anne’s lace lined the path, in all stages, from newly opening to a tight cluster poised to disperse seeds to wind and water. Each blossom a world to explore–gathering sunlight or crystalline dewdrops or filagrees of delicately spangled spiderwebs.

The birds put on a show as well. Snowy and great egrets rose and fell out beyond the still pannes, a cormorant fished and preened, a seagull and his reflection gazed out with a bold eye, and a great blue heron rested, silhouetted against the great variegated green of the marsh.

Further along, goldfinch flashed their bright feathers amidst the flowers, following the edges of the path from blossom to blossom, stopping to forage then flitting away.

As I ended my walk, another image pulled me in– the reflected symmetry of rock and still water.

Mornings like this will be more precious soon, limited to weekends and holidays. As I head into the rigors of the school calendar and its relentless pace, I am gathering up moments of serenity. As I left the marsh, my mind tumbled back through all the images, holding each one in my thoughts. Lingering in the light, the color, the movement. Gathering up each moment. Gathering calm.

Garden Wonder

I typically spend a fair amount of time taking photographs, but this summer I seem to have lost some of that motivation. My morning field trips to marsh, beach, or the river, have more or less evaporated. I still wake early in the morning, but have had no desire to head out to take pictures.

This morning, after more than a week of high temperatures, morning, noon, and night, it was a delight to wake to cool temperatures again. Yesterday’s downpours had cleared the air and drenched the greenery. They apparently also reinvigorated me. After my coffee and morning notebook time, I stepped outside, camera in hand, to see how my gardens were faring.

How can I forget how easy it is to fall into wonder with the world right outside my door?

Come On, Rain!

Yesterday, much to my delight, I noticed that rain was in the forecast. Much, much needed rain. As the skies greyed through the day, I found myself murmuring, Come on, rain!, over and over again, making me think of Karen Hesse’s fabulous picture book of the same name.

Finally, at around 3 pm, the rain started. Just a sprinkle or two at first. Come on, rain! Next a misting. Come on, rain!! Then, finally, the mist solidified into steady showers. Come on, rain!!!! Looking out my window at my garden, I could practically feel the plants shaking the dust off, their roots stirring and drinking, leaves plumping. I imagined them as jubilant as the young girls in Hesse’s book:

Thankfully, it continued to rain through the night. A soft, steady rush of water. Come on, rain!

In the middle of the night, or perhaps early in the morning, I woke with words running through my mind. I reached for pen, paper, and my book light, then scrawled them quickly so I wouldn’t forget them.

When I awoke this morning, I reached for the paper, remembering I’d written something on it, but not fully aware of what I’d recorded. Canticle? Do I even know that word? As you can see by the “?” on my paper, even my night-time mind wasn’t sure it made sense or that I was spelling it correctly. I looked it up to find that I had spelled it correctly and used it correctly, too, as it means a “hymn or chant.” The mind’s a funny thing, isn’t it?

Here’s what I ultimately did with those words:

The Rustle of Plants: A Translation

On this morning of rain
after endless days
of sun’s piercing gaze
we absorb its blessing
and offer up
a canticle of praise.

©Molly Hogan

On Grief’s Tender Gifts

Last month I came home from packing up my classroom to an unexpected package in the mail. I saw from the return address that it was from my friends, Dan and Hannah, two of the nicest and most considerate people you’d ever want to meet. I set it aside as I finished unloading the car, wondering all the while, What in the world could it be?

After finally unloading everything, I turned my attention back to the package. As I unwrapped the brown paper package, a soft beautiful hand-knitted shawl fell warmly into my hands. Ooooh! I sunk my hands into it and immediately wrapped it around me. I was still at a loss, though. Why had they sent me this? I dug around in the package in search of an explanation. Aha! There at the bottom was a letter. I pulled it out and opened it.

The letter offered a full explanation. Hannah is an in-home hairdresser and has a 96-year-old client, Helen, who lost her son to pancreatic cancer nine years ago. When he died, she was devastated. Ultimately she decided to make a prayer/comfort shawl in his memory. She chose to knit it in an ocean palette as her son made his living from the sea. When she was done knitting it, she asked Hannah if she knew anyone to whom it might bring comfort. Hannah had another client on hospice and she gave him the shawl.

This initial exchange blossomed into an ongoing practice. Helen has continued to make shawls and give them to others with Hannah as her conduit. At this point she has shared more than 75 shawls! Although she does not seek thanks or acknowledgement, she cherishes the notes she receives from recipients and feels that knitting these shawls has helped her deal with her loss. After summarizing this story, Hannah added a note for me, “We thought you might need a little extra comfort on Father’s Day. And the colors of this shawl seemed to me to speak comfort. And Peace.” I pulled the shawl closer around my shoulders and kept it on me all that evening, feeling grateful for its warmth on the cool evening and for the thoughtfulness of friends.

The next day I went to spend time with my dear friend, Sue, who was at home in hospice. I brought the shawl with me. Leaning close to her, I told her the story of Helen and the shawls.

“Oh, how lovely,” she whispered.

I tucked the shawl carefully around her and told her I wanted to share it with her. That I hoped it would bring her comfort.

Today I read a poem by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer called “As We Sang the Hymn at My Father’s Funeral”. This portion of it really captures that sense I have had so often lately–the feeling that within my grief, I have been blessed by the kindness of others:

Grief comes with its arms full of blessings.
I am not grateful for the loss,
but there is so much beauty in how the world
rises up to hold us—cradles us with kindness,
cradles us with song. There is so much good
in how grief asks us to be tender with each other—

(click here to read the full poem)

I have the shawl back now. The woven fibers hold Helen’s sorrow and comfort, her remembrance of her son and mine of my father, the kindness of Hannah and Dan, and the essence of Sue. Most mornings I wrap myself in it as I write. In fact, I’m wearing it right now.