Catching a Crab

After my first rowing experience (here), I was eager for another opportunity to get on the water. When Peter, our local rowing guru, offered another row this past Friday, I quickly signed up and showed up ready to go at 8 am. It was another all-woman crew. Two of us had been together last time and two were new to this adventure.

Peter gave a quick introduction and then we were out on the water. Learning to row, trying to pull all the pieces together in a coordinated way, is an interesting process. Posture, hold, stroke, rhythm. It’s a lot to remember! There’s also a whole new range of vocabulary to consider. As a group of four inexperienced rowers, we were trying to figure it all out in real time. Managing the oar and keeping time to a rhythm set by someone else (the “stroke”)is challenging. Initially, we struggled to find our rhythm. The boat moved along jerkily. We reset. Tried again. Peter gave some tips. We smiled and laughed.

Beautiful morning. Low stakes. Good times.

My focus was intent on my oar–keeping it in place, stroking in rhythm, not putting it too deep in the water, etc. I found that the more I thought about what I was doing, the more likely I was to screw it up. When the pieces fell into place, it was soothing to slide into the rhythm and focus solely on that. When we all got it, the boat settled down, the sounds synchronized. We skimmed up the river with the sun warm on our shoulders. Splash. Ka-chunk. Splash. Ka-chunk. Meditation on the water.

May be an image of 2 people, people sitting, lake and nature
Pausing to check out the scenery, photo by Corie Scribner
May be an image of 2 people, people standing, nature and lake
Action shot, photo by Peter Feeney

Until I was rowing… and then suddenly I wasn’t.

If you’d been watching, you’d have seen me tumble suddenly backward onto the floor of the boat and halfway onto the lap of the rower behind me–with considerable surprise (to me and to the rower behind me) and with no grace whatsoever. In my newly acquired lingo, I knew I’d “caught a crab.” Unfortunately, this insight was hindsight.

Peter, our stalwart guide, had warned us about this. “Catching a crab” is when the river, the water, sort of grabs your oar and the power of it pushes you backward. He’d told us what to do, or really what not to do–don’t struggle with the oar, but lift it up and let it slide.

“If you don’t fight it, the oar will move until it’s parallel to the boat, and then you can reset.” 

Well, at least that was my interpretation of what he said, but in the moment, I didn’t even realize I was in trouble until…

Bang!

Ouch!

My butt was off the seat and on the floor.

My fellow rowers stopped rowing while I righted myself.

Once I was back in my seat, Peter got us going again, “Sit ready…ready all…row!”

We spent about an hour on the water and all of us “caught a crab” at one point or another. One time, one of the other rowers managed to respond quickly, lift her oar, and avoid spilling out of her seat. Everyone else landed on their butts.

Later, at home, I googled “crabbing when rowing” and looked again at how to recover. It essentially repeated with Peter had said:

“To begin with, don’t resist it. Don’t fight the handle. …Left to itself, the oar will come to rest
parallel to the boat, trailing in the water. The boat loses very little speed.” (from the Union Bay Rowing Club, https://students.washington.edu/ubrc/links/dont-panic/)

The experience and the recommended course of action feel fraught with metaphor.

“Sometimes it’s important not to resist. Just pull up and reset…The boat loses very little speed.”

Learning to row has me thinking a lot about teaching and learning. My enjoyment of this experience, failures and successes, was largely due to the fact that Peter is a patient, easygoing teacher. He wants people to learn to row, but more importantly he wants people to enjoy the experience. He got us into the boat and out on the water quickly. He anticipated the bumps along the way, suggested corrective action when necessary, and was quick to point out successes. He also had control of the rudder and could quietly adjust our course as necessary. It reminded me how important teacher tone and response are, especially early on in the learning curve when experience and confidence are lower. It also reinforced for me how important it is to try new things and experience that learning curve first hand.

So, even though my chances for heading out on the water are going to be limited in the coming weeks, I’ll definitely be taking the experience with me as I head back into the classroom. Happily, weather permitting, I’m signed up again to row this weekend. Here’s hoping that if I catch a crab this time, I’ll remember not to resist and avoid the fall. But if not, I’ll just reset and start rowing again…and try to remember that lesson as I head into the unchartered waters of this upcoming school year.

PS In case you’re interested, here’s what it could look like when you’re really rowing and catch a crab:


Small Town Magic

Saturday was a morning brimming with small moments. To start, I finally dragged myself down to the river for sunrise. I missed the peak of it, but what I saw wasn’t too shabby! Another bonus was that my friend, Roger, was there. Between one thing and another, it had been months since we’d bumped into each other and shared time enjoying the waterfront, the birds, and each other. We spent some time taking photos, catching up and sharing recent sightings. After a spate of overcast days and a day-long torrent of rain, everything had that sparkly newly-washed look. The air was fresh and the sun was warm. It was a glorious morning!

When I returned home, I popped on line. This spring I’d signed up to get notices about rowing outings that a local man was offering. A Facebook post from the night before caught my eye. It was an offer to anyone interested in going out for a row. I checked the date and time and realized it was scheduled for that morning.

Could I?
Should I? ….

Well, why not!?

With a few quick messages back and forth, I was signed up to be the fifth rower–that meant I’d be along for the ride for the first half of the journey and then take my turn on the return. I got my things together and hustled down to the town landing. By eight am our all-woman crew was gathered. After some introductory tips and safety information, Peter had us get started. With little fanfare and some trepidation (at least on my part!), we slipped away from the dock and into the river.

The language of rowing was all new to me. “Oars ready. All ready. Row.” “Hold water.” I listened intently, hoping I’d be able to put this all into practice when my turn came around. Since I was a spectator at this point, I got to watch the transformation as each rower gained in confidence. I also got to look at the scenery and snap a few photos–a definite plus!

We rowed under the bridge and up river, scattering a few cormorants away. There are no houses on the river up this way and it’s easy to imagine yourself alone in the wilderness. The banks of the river were lush, green and occasionally dotted with muskrat dens. Blue skies, water and green spilled out in every direction–a visual feast.

Peter patiently gave tips and directions. It was all very low-key and low-pressure. At one point, he told everyone to close their eyes and listen. To try to hear and feel the rhythm– one (hopefully!) splash as the oars entered the water. The clunk of the oars in the oarlocks and then the pause and repeat.

Splash. splash. Ka-Clunk. ka-clunk. Pause.

Splashsplash. Ka-Clunkclunk. Pause.

As the moment stretched out, I could hear the oars synchronize. Fall into place.

Splash. Ka-Chunk. Pause.

Splash. Ka-Chunk. Pause.

I could have spent a long time sitting, listening, feeling that rhythm. Getting lost in it. It was hypnotic and somehow, deeply soothing. Even though I knew the scenery around me was beautiful, I was reluctant to open my eyes again. When I finally did though, the day seemed even more dazzling.

A while later, I finally got my chance to row and managed not to disgrace myself. It took a lot of concentration though! My eyes were locked on the oar in front of me, trying to time my stroke correctly. I quickly realized how fortunate I’d been to sightsee along the way, as my focus was definitely elsewhere on the return.

We arrived back at the dock to find the farmer’s market in full swing. Peter guided us in smoothly and skillfully. After effusive thanks to him and goodbyes to the crew, I was unable to resist the lure of our local bread maker. I picked up golden raisin oatmeal sunflower bread and a few hot-from-the-oven almond croissants. Could this morning get any better? Then, I bumped into a prior colleague and we talked shop and kayaks. Finally, as I left, I saw a small troupe of kids headed into the center of the market. Story time was starting!

I drove back home, feeling deeply grateful. How lucky am I to live in this place!?

Small town magic was working overtime this morning and I was lucky enough to be a recipient.

Blessing

Last spring a thrush visited me almost every morning for a couple of weeks. Its call became one of my favorite bird songs, and one of very few that I can identify. This year it didn’t return and I’ve only heard the thrushes sing far off in the evening. Still, I welcome the sound. Whenever I hear it, I feel a little bit lighter.

This weekend, we headed down to Plymouth, Massachusetts for my son’s wedding. We had rented a house to gather in for a few days before the big event. Much to my delight, one of first things I heard when I arrived was a thrush singing. I was surprised to hear it in the beachfront neighborhood. Whether it’s true or not, I think of the thrush as a woodland bird. But there it was. And they kept singing. Thursday night, Friday, Saturday morning. Greeting me upon arrival. Singing the day away at dusk and welcoming the new day at dawn. I commented about it over and over again.

“Do you hear the thrush?”

“There it is again!”

“Isn’t that a beautiful sound!?”

On Saturday afternoon, we headed toward the wedding site about 20 minutes away. As soon as I got out of my car, there it was–thrush song once again. I heard it several more times as I moved about the grounds.

Eventually my focus shifted away from bird song as the wedding began. I could write about that forever. Lakeside venue. Perfect weather. Beautiful bride. Grinning groom. Heartfelt and moving vows. Friends. Family. Music. Food and fun. And lots and lots of dancing. Sore feet and full heart. Love and laughter. Oh, what a celebration!

The morning after the BWE (Best Wedding Ever), I wandered early along the lake front beach. And there it was. Thrush song once again. Idly, I wondered, Is there any significance associated with a thrush?

I picked up my phone and searched.

This was the first response:

“Of all the birds, the wood thrush is the symbol of solid, healthy relationships. It happily appears in our lives to signify that we are engaging in a long term relationship that will never break down at any cost. In this way, the wood thrush acts as a congratulatory animal totem.”

Wow.

I stared at the screen, stunned and deeply moved.

My heart blossomed with love and hope for my son and his new wife.

Now, as I type this early Monday morning, I’m back at home. Tired and happy, and still replaying the kaleidoscope of the weekend in my mind. Feeling so joyous and thankful.

Then, suddenly, a thrush calls from near the house. Over and again. Loud and clear. It’s the first time I’ve heard one this close since last year. I smile. It feels just perfect.

I know that every time I hear a thrush sing now, I’ll still feel lighter, but also my heart will lift as I think of Connor and Courtney and the love between them.

What a blessing.

Photo by Russell Smithe Video Productions

The Evidence is in…

I’m pretty sure I’m losing my marbles. Or at least I’m really, really tired. Exhausted. Wrung out. Or maybe both? All of the above? You be the judge. Here’s the evidence:

  1. Do you know that feeling on long drives, of being overwhelmed with fatigue? The one where you really can’t stay awake? When you’re opening windows, turning on the AC, shaking your head, pinching yourself, or just pulling over to nod off for a few minutes?
    Well, on a recent Friday, I drove home from work, feeling just that way, yawning madly. Struggling to keep my eyes open. I was so, so tired. I tried all the tricks, but none were working. It’s only a 25 minute drive, but I actually considered pulling over. I was desperate to get home.

    Finally, I pulled into the driveway and put the car in park….
    the next thing I knew, I was opening my eyes. The car was still running (thankfully in park!) and my audiobook was well ahead of where it had been. I have no idea how long I’d been sleeping, but I had been. As my colleague said, “Well, thank God you don’t have a garage!”

    Yikes.
  2. Late last week I fell into bed exhausted. (Are you sensing a theme here?) When Kurt came upstairs, it woke me, and I got up to go to the bathroom. As I returned to the bedroom, I looked down. What?! I was still wearing my work clothes. I never even got out of them before falling into bed. I mean, I’d been wearing a comfortable outfit, but still!
  3. Then, I was trying to figure out what to do about last Friday afternoon’s send-off party for a co-worker moving to Spain. I really wanted to attend, as she’s a lovely person and the parent of a student in my class. I also thought it would be nice to actually socialize with some colleagues. But I really didn’t know if I could carve out time to figure out what to make and then to make it, and my in-laws had arrived days ago and I’d barely seen them, and the wedding is fast approaching and report cards are due and…you get the gist.
    So, on Thursday afternoon, after a lot of agonizing and mental gymnastics, I finally realized I just couldn’t swing it. I decided I would simply explain to my co-worker and offer my apologies. I knew she’d understand.

    Here’s how that went:
    She happened to stop by my classroom this past Friday morning with her two kids and a gift of an iced coffee from Starbucks. (Yes, she’s an amazing, generous human being!)
    After my effusive thanks, we chatted for a few minutes, and then I took a deep breath and said,
    “I’m so sorry, J, but I’m not going to be able to make it to the party tonight.”
    She looked at me oddly.
    Crap! It wasn’t a surprise, was it?
    I search my memory.
    No….I distinctly remember the invite saying she knew about it. At least I think I remember that. Oh, no!
    “I didn’t blow it, did I?” I asked, anxiously. “I was sure you knew about it!”
    “Oh, no,” she said, still looking at me oddly,”I did know about it.”
    She paused, then continued, “But, Molly, the party was last Friday.”
    Oops.

So, the evidence is in. It’s pretty clear. There’s plenty more, but I didn’t want anyone to worry too much, and I think I’ve proven my case. I doubt there’s even a need to withdraw to deliberate.

In the slightly revised words of Daniel Pinkwater, I fear it’s clear that I have “gushed my mush, lost my marbles, and slipped my hawser. ” Or, perhaps I’ve “popped my cork, flipped my wig, blown my stack, and dropped my stopper.” However you put it, it doesn’t look good–the verdict seems to be a foregone conclusion.

I rest my case.




Waiting

Before it is even light today, I hear the tell-tale tik-tik-tik of icy beads tapping the windows. Later, sheets of rain and sleet fall and freeze. The bricks in the garden path gradually disappear below a thick layer of slush. Soon, the tangled wisteria vines are ice-glazed and the pine boughs hang heavy. Even in the dim light, all the stems and branches gleam slightly silver.

When the storm eases, I walk in the rain in the gardens. Watching. Listening. Trees sway and crackle in the breeze, and bits of ice cascade downward in tinkling showers. Rose hips glow dusky red beneath their cold new skin. Leaves and pods and seed heads appear both familiar and foreign, fully encased in ice. It all feels a bit otherworldly, like a place out of time, waiting. I feel that way too often these days–encased in ice or adrift in an unfamiliar world. And always waiting. Waiting for the vaccine. Waiting for the thaw. Waiting for some sort of new “normal.”

Even though I’m on Winter Break right now, with more time to write, I wasn’t planning on posting here today. I’ve fallen out of my Tuesday SOL habit to make room for some other ones. But I miss this space. I miss this community. I miss finding that once I start writing small moments, I notice more of them. This kind of writing wakes me up to the world around me in a different way.

So today, while waiting, I wrote. Not much, but it feels good.

Silver Linings

I can’t remember exactly how the conversation started, but I know it was during morning meeting. This year, we’ve often talked about choosing the lens through which we see the world. For example, right now our class focus, inspired by Irene Latham and Charles Water’s Dictionary for a Better World, is “kindness.” So, we’re trying to keep a keen eye out for acts of kindness and put them on our “Catch ’em Being Kind” bulletin board. We’ve talked about how looking for kindness helps us see it in our daily lives, which makes us feel good and also inspires us to be more kind. Somehow during the twists and turns of our discussion, I said something about “silver linings.”

They looked at me blankly.

“Have you ever heard that expression?” I asked. I fully anticipated a hand or two to shoot up, but none did, and heads shook from side to side.

“Oh,” I said, “well, have you ever seen a big dark cloud that blocks the sun, but the sun behind it lights up its edges so they sort of shimmer or glow?”

They nodded and I continued.

“Well, that’s called a silver lining. So sometimes when people are in the midst of hard times or unpleasant things, like a dark cloud, they notice there are some positive things happening, too. They call those silver linings. It’s sort of a metaphor for being optimistic–seeing the good things in the midst of the bad.”

This led into a conversation about the “up-sides” or silver linings of Covid. Spontaneously, I asked them to share any silver linings they’d had in their experience with Covid. Several students raised their hands immediately.

“I’ve learned to bake,” a student said. “I used to need a lot of help, but now I can bake things by myself.”

“We’ve gone hiking a lot more,” another student volunteered.

B. raised her hand. “I’ve been reading so much,” she said. ” I’ve had more time at home, so I just read and read and read.” Several other kids made our silent class “agree” signal.

Then, another student raised his hand.

“I learned to read during the pandemic,” he announced proudly.

Oh.

What a powerful statement that is.

“I learned to read during the pandemic.”

It just grabs you, doesn’t it? My heart swelled and the comment took me back to a staff meeting late last summer, probably before school even started. Our Principal, in a wry voice, said, “Well, welcome to the job you never applied for and didn’t want, but now you’ve got it. Congratulations!” Then he went on, in all seriousness, to talk about the work ahead. At one point he said, “When people ask you what you’re doing, just say ‘I’m teaching during a pandemic.'”

I didn’t play a part in that student learning to read, as his academic instruction doesn’t occur in our classroom. But I’m here, every day, doing my best to teach during a pandemic–trying to help kids navigate these crazy times, find joy in their worlds, and grow as learners and people. It’s tough work and sometimes it threatens to pull me under. But then I think of those silver linings. Of that student proclaiming, “I learned to read during a pandemic. Of another student who during a writing reflection wrote, “I used to be the kind of writer who didn’t like writing, but now I’m really interested in doing writing.”

Just like kindness, if you keep your eye out for the silver linings, you’ll find them.

And though I need to be reminded of this once in a while, many of them are happening in my fourth grade classroom every day.

Embracing the Mystery

Amidst the turmoil of last week, Ruth Ayres posted her latest writing invitation– a prompt to respond to the word “write”. In her prompt, she wrote, “This is a reminder that it’s okay to write, even when you don’t know what to think.”

As I started responding in my notebook, I quickly found myself thinking of my recent rededication to morning pages. I’ve been working hard to write three pages a day and to embrace a stream of consciousness approach to the whole exercise. Soon I found myself writing: “Write even when you don’t know where you’re going.” Then, just like that, I was remembering Mystery Drives.

DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer: Maine

Long ago, when our children were young, we used to occasionally set out on what we called “Mystery Drives.” We’d start by piling all the kids in the car. Then, we’d decide on an order: oldest to youngest, youngest to oldest, alphabetical by name or whatever. At the end of our driveway, we’d stop and ask the first child, “Which way?” They’d make a choice, point, and off we’d go. As we came to each intersection, we’d ask the next child, and let them select. And so on and so on. We’d continue this until we were typically out in the countryside seeing rarely visited or new sites. This was well before the days of easy GPS access and our trusted lifeline was a well-worn DeLorme atlas of Maine. We also had a compass in the car, so we knew that if worse came to worse, we could always head east.

As we drove, we discovered new views, new vistas. Sometimes. But sometimes we didn’t. And that was okay, too. Regardless of what we saw, throughout the journey there was a wonderful sense of possibility. Who knew what discovery might be around the next corner? Who knew where we might end up? I think back on those days now and wish we’d done that a bit more often.

It occurs to me that writing when you don’t know where you’re going is similar to a Mystery Drive. You just keep making choices when you get to an intersection. You may end up driving over familiar ground, you may discover fascinating new vistas –intriguing ideas, untapped memories–or you may even become lost. The point is the journey and the open nature of it–Just making your way through the terrain, one turn at a time. Eventually you’ll figure out how to find your way home, you’ll have some new experiences under your belt, and perhaps you’ll be all the richer for having set out not knowing where you were headed.

Teaching Tip: Use engaging video clips to elicit lively conversation

I had previewed the recommended video segment on Sunday, and knew it would be immediately engaging for my fourth graders. The opening scene showed a frog spewing a mass of eggs. Up close and personal. Later on in the footage, two frogs are mating on a leaf. I knew it was a great clip to research how a narrator might use their voice to make it easier for a listener to learn, but let’s just say I expected a variety of responses.

True to my expectations, as soon as the video started, there was a chorus of “Ew!” and “Gross!” with a few “Wow!”s sprinkled in. Then, as the video ended, the kids erupted into conversation. Some of it was responding to our guiding question, more of it was clearly not.

Above the hubbub, one boy’s voice rose strong and clear, “Did you see that baby getting a ride on its mom?”

Oh, boy.

While thoughts flashed through my head–Is he joking or serious? Do I ignore that or explain? How much do I explain? –a female classmate matter-of-factly replied.

“That wasn’t a baby. That was the father.”

“I guess he’s just too lazy to walk on his own,” the boy replied, laughing.

Okaaay…he is clearly utterly at sea.

She looked at him for a moment, then calmly replied, “He isn’t lazy. He’s fertilizing the eggs.”

“Well,” he proclaimed to the class–and honestly I do believe there was no intended double entendre here, just complete naivete–“he’s probably just going to keep riding her down to the water.”

At this point his classmate gave up on her attempts to educate him and I simultaneously steered the class back to our guiding question, stifling my laughter masterfully.

In the end, we had a good conversation about nonfiction reading fluency, but I have to admit, it really wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the previous one.

Today I declare…

It’s funny how you can lose sight of something–like an album you listen to all the time until somehow, without noticing, you just don’t anymore. Then one day, you hear a song on the radio and think–Oh my Gosh! When did I stop listening to that?

I used to respond to the “Word of the Day” (WOTD) prompt from TeachWrite all the time. Then, in some twist of algorithm, it disappeared from my internet universe. I stumbled upon it last week and have been dabbling away ever since.

Late last week, the WOTD was “declare”. With a few weeks of “bulk up for winter” autumnal eating under my belt and the addition of some more recent Thanksgiving gluttony, here’s what came to mind:

Today I declare
(like I did yesterday
and the day before
and maybe a few more days
before that)
I will show some restraint!
Skip the sugar!
Back off the fat!
Eat more veggies!
Ha!

My newest habit is
stating an intention
then ignoring it
over and over again.

I ponder next steps
as I wipe the stuffing crumbs
from my chin.

©Molly Hogan

And a follow up limerick:

A woman I know loved her stuffin’!
Five servings a day? That was nuffin’!
Eaten hot, warm or cold
even seven days old!
She just couldn’t gobble enough in!

©Molly Hogan

And though the stuffing is now sadly gone, my waistline and I cherish our fond memories.

Deer: Differing Perspectives

Two deer ambled across the road in the dim morning light. I eased off the gas, slowing as another scrambled up the bank and across. In an instant, they had entered the line of trees and disappeared. Here then gone.

Looking both ways carefully, wary of stragglers, I slowly sped up and resumed my commute to school. Smiling now. Thankful for the moment.

Good luck, I thought, mentally sending the deer wishes for safe passage across country roads and through this year’s hunting season. God speed!

Driving along, I replayed the moment in my mind. The graceful movements, overlarge ears and tawny pelts. The swish of white tails. Seeing deer always brings me such joy.

Maybe I’ll write a haiku.

I entertained myself with phrases and syllable counts until I pulled into the school parking lot. Then, as I entered the classroom, the deer faded from mind amidst the reality of towering stacks and endless to-do lists.

About two hours later, my students arrived. L. approached me with a huge grin on his face.

“Mrs. Hogan! Guess what I did!?” he asked, his excitement palpable.

I set down my clipboard to give him my full attention. “What?” I asked.

“I ate a deer heart last night!” he crowed.

Insert a long pause here.

“Um. Oh.” I stammered. Another long pause. He looked at me expectantly.

Finally, I spoke. “Why?” (Yes, not my finest response, but I was flummoxed and genuinely horrified. And also, really, Why??? As a vegetarian, I don’t appreciate meat eating, but heart eating seems like another level entirely–even more invasive and primitive. Yeah, I know that may not really make sense…)

“Huh?” he looked back at me, clearly uncertain how to answer. His smile faltered.

I regrouped and tried to manage my expression.

“Well, how did you cook it?” Ew!

“Oh, I think my dad just threw it in the oven,” he responded.

“Was it good?” I asked, really wishing I weren’t having this conversation.

“Yeah! It was delicious!” he replied, smile firmly entrenched again. He then bounded off to start his day.

I picked up my clipboard and shook my head.

I wish I’d taken the time to write that haiku.