Friday, December 30, 2011

Expiration Dates

I poured a quart of orange juice down the drain today. I'd bought this juice a couple of months ago. It sat in my fridge unopened, sealed tightly, until two weeks ago when I was baking something that needed a half cup of orange juice. I looked at that bottle, realized that it had never been opened. Even though it said right on it: use by November 11, I opened it and smelled it and tasted it, and it was just fine. I drank a glass and used it in my baking and used it again the next day. However, today, when I was going through the fridge again, I just didn't dare test it. I figured that it would really be pushing it to assume that six weeks after its expiration date, it would still be edible. So, down the drain it went.

 I'm musing about expiration dates, because, apparently there was an invisible one stamped on my feet when I was born: 2011. Done. Kaput. Over and Out. Finished. I've got another foot surgery scheduled in a month, because my other stupid, stupid foot has collapsed. I've been wearing the ortho boot again since Thanksgiving. I went to the doctor and he looked at the MRI report and it said, "complete tear, posterior tibial tendon." Complete this time, not just partially torn. It's unbelievable to me that my feet, although they've always been flat, would just both completely give up the ghost within such a short time!

Go read the link about this tendon....(Jeopardy! music plays till you come back....) Did you notice that it says there really isn't a "cause" or anything. Just that "it happens" usually to women over forty with flat feet. Actually, I guess it says "degeneration caused by long-term wear and tear." But why haven't I ever known anyone to whom this has happened? I don't have a single relative or friend who has had to have this surgery. Weird to me.

Plus, on my so-called "good foot" I now have a new bandage. I was moseying around my house on Wednesday night in bare feet because I get so tired of wearing this boot, and as I went outside to put some vegetable debris in my composter, I stubbed my pinkie toe on the leg of a large overstuffed chair. I've only walked past this chair nine billion times in the past as I've gone out this door, without stubbing my toe. But that hurt so bad, it took my breath away.

The next morning, my pinkie had become a purplie. It was terrifically sore; I could barely put on my sock. So, after I left the mammogram place (I'm on vacation...I'm going to lots of annual appointments.) I went to a walk-in clinic (ha ha!! I guess for me it would be a stump-in clinic, huh?) Anyway, they didn't have an X-ray tech that day. The clinic down the street didn't take my insurance. So, I called my foot doctor's office and they told me to come on over. Yes, an X-ray later: I fractured the bone just below the toe part that sticks off your foot. GOOD GRIEF. Here's the poor thing:

Under that bandage it is purple and black and blue. So, I'm to keep it bandaged for a month and try to wear just my hiking boot because it has a stiff sole and won't let it bend much. DOH. I'm having a bad foot year, huh? Well, I'll keep you posted on the upcoming foot surgery. It's scheduled for Feb. 3. I have lots of paper work to do for the school system. Then, lesson plans to write for the first two weeks, and some type of outline for the next four weeks, so my sub will have a clue what to do. 

Oh, oh!! And I got a jury summons in the mail this week, too!! But, I'm pretty sure that my doctor will sign off on my not having to go there, because the jury duty is scheduled for two days before the surgery, and I think if he tells them that I'm not going to be available for a jury because of that, they'll waive it for me. But, seriously?? Jury summons?? Right now?? Amazing... 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Transformational Literature

For Christmas, we visited with our children in Utah. When ever I go to my daughter's house, I never pack reading material because I know I will always find something in her bookshelves to pique my interest. Actually, she has an extensive collection of classics, and I try to read one of them each time I visit. This visit, I read Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather.

I remember reading some book by Willa Cather in high school. I regret to tell you that I cannot recall the was probably O Pioneers! or possibly My Antonia.  But the problem was that it didn't really stick in my head as so terrific that I've never forgotten it, making me a life-long Willa Cather fan. Some books did that to me: I read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and it transformed me. I read Wuthering Heights and it was all I could do to write the stupid paper about it because it struck me as a ridiculous soap opera and I could hardly believe it was considered "great literature." (I'm going to give it another chance soon.) I was also moved by Swiftwater, and A Separate Peace, and Tess of the D'Ubervilles, and A Tale of Two Cities. So, high school English wasn't a complete wash.

But, this time, Willa Cather got me. I started it one night for bedtime reading. The first couple of chapters were a bit slow, but then the next night, it captured me and I read until I dropped the book and fell asleep. I didn't have time to finish it before our departure, so I borrowed it and finished it as we drove south through the Great Basin into the Mohave Desert. Perhaps some books need to be read in their environment.

The book tells the story of a Catholic priest (two of them, actually) who are sent to the southwest after the United States annexes the territory of New Mexico/Arizona/Nevada. They are to reorganize the Church there under American diocesan authority. I was completely fascinated by their story. I kept re-reading the blurb on the back cover to see if this was actually fiction, and the description there emphasized that "from the riches of her imagination and sympathy Miss Cather had distilled a very rare piece of literature..." and "This sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather...."  But it is astonishing in its detail, historical references, and the voice with which she delivers this tale. It seems like a history book.

But, the environment...the descriptions of the desert southwest are so vivid and told with such obvious affection that if you hadn't been there, you'd want to go just to see with your own eyes the colors and the textures and the amazing sky. We were driving south on an exquisite winter day: blue sky, snow dusted on cedars and red rocks, air so clear you could practically count the needles on the trees. I read this passage, then I read it again, then I paused the music so I could read it to CoolGuy:

            The ride back to Santa Fe [from the eastern border area with Arizona, where they'd been visiting a Navajo community]  was something under four hundred miles. The weather alternated between blinding sand-storms and brilliant sunlight. The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still,--there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one's feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was far away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!

When I lived on the East Coast for ten years, I missed the sky in the West. Where we lived, the sky was seldom more than just a small patch accessible through an opening in the trees. If you went down to the bay side or one of the broad rivers, you could see more of it; but, it was seen through the shimmering layers of humidity and seemed so foreign. When we'd drive out to visit family members each summer, I'd get to western Nebraska and realize that, in addition to the scent of the sagebrush, the thing that made me feel like I was nearing "home" was the vast bowl of blue overhead.

Willa Cather's words about the look of the southwest were captivating, but I eventually was most moved by her description of the bishop's spiritual inner life. The viewpoint alternates between vignettes of the two priests' interaction with various inhabitants of their vast congregation, and the inner lives of the two men, but mainly it told of Jean Latour, the archbishop referenced in the title. As the story advances, many years progress, and the priest ages from a robust prime-of-life man to an aging, introspective man who revisits his regrets and triumphs. At one point of the story, he bids adieu to his life-long friend and fellow priest, who is leaving with fresh supplies to a new out-post of civilization. The bishop realizes that, likely, these two will never meet in life again. He is stricken by the loneliness of his life in this wilderness so far from his French family, and now his dearest friend was also departing.

But, as he enters his study he is overcome by the spirit of love from the One he serves. In the book, the Presence is defined as Mary, the Mother of God, the mother of the Master he serves. It is a Catholic doctrine that we approach the Christ through an intermediary--His earthly mother. But the feelings of love and comfort are articulated by this: "A life need not be cold, or devoid of grace in the worldly sense, if it were filled by Her who was all the graces;"  I do not worship the saints of that church, but I was filled with the same power he described as I read this page.

His sense of loss was replaced by a sense of restoration because he realized that his own relationships were not the source of joy and love in this world, but the true source of all love and joy is our Savior, Jesus Christ. The character in the book developed his relationship with Christ through his worship of Mary and through service to his fellow man. But I was impressed that I need not be weighed down by my sorrows and losses because Christ is waiting to lift them off my bowed shoulders. His whole purpose is to uplift and empower. Our role is to believe and accept. Our job is go out and help others through deed and through spirituality. Each of us needs to internalize this belief and understanding. We cannot fix it on our own--we need Christ.

Maybe Willa Cather wasn't striving for this effect when she wrote this book. I don't know. I didn't "get" her in high school. In fact, I was often annoyed that we were required to postulate on the "author's purpose." Why couldn't we just enjoy without all the examination?  As a teacher, I often feel the same: can't we just enjoy the book without picking at it? I think that perhaps I lacked experience to appreciate some of the literature that was presented to me. But, at this stage of my life, revisiting a piece of writing that didn't do it when I was young, is a life-changing event. I'm going to read more books. I need the transformations.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Apostrophe, Apostrophe...

Apostrophe abuse is problem we deal with daily in elementary school. For several reasons, this punctuation mark is a difficult one for students. I mean, first of all, how does one pronounce it?? It takes English speaking children some time to figure out the whole ph makes the f sound, and then, a final e  is usually silent--so come on! a-pos-tro-fee?? Seriously? My ELL students often just gesture, making a little hook in the air to show they know what it is and where it goes, but rarely attempt to pronounce it yet.

Then, its usage is another dilemma. Do you put one in your? Sometimes...but really it's only when you mean you're. And then there's it's and its and of course there's. It is a punctuation mark that is annoying to many. One of the main solutions for children is to just fling it here and there. I often see the apostrophe any time a word ends in s---The boy's went over to play at the park with their friend's. I work really hard to explain (over and over) (it's a concept that you must encounter repeatedly) that the apostrophe has two jobs: to show that a contraction has been made and to show that something belongs to someone or something.

             He can't see where he left his brother's jacket.

Great rule. Then we encounter its and it's. One is a contraction, true, but the other is the possessive BUT IT DOESN'T USE THE APOSTROPHE BEFORE S. Sigh. I assure them that many grown people get it wrong over and over. I tell them the best way to remember the correct way is to think, "It's means it is" and then they'll recall that the apostrophe is helping to make the contraction. Sometimes it works. Some children leave fourth grade with this cleared up in their minds and go on to a successful scholarly career of using apostrophes correctly.

Some don't; and evidently those students must work at the sign factory where these signs were made. We stopped at a gas station/convenience store in central Utah on Wednesday night as we drove up from the desert to spend Christmas with our children and grandchildren. We dashed in to the bathrooms and I stopped abruptly and sighed. CoolGuy pointed out, "Hey, no problem: this door is where the mens go and that door is where the womens go."

Apostrophe abuse---a societal problem that maybe we need a little colored ribbon for to create awareness. Or maybe we Grammar Police-persons should just get over it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Celebrate The Light

You know what today is, don't you? It's the last day of The Dark. It's also known as The Shortest Day of the Year. Starting tomorrow there will be a little more daylight each day, till we get to the glorious Longest Day of the Year in June.

I love the sun. I think I whine on Winter Solstice every year. It makes complete sense to me that my ancestors who dwelled in those far northern latitudes of Scandinavia developed a series of superstitions and celebrations that involved candles and lighting big fires this time of year. If we didn't celebrate Christmas this time of year we'd have to invent they did.

Some purists complain that many of the traditions we use each year for the celebration of Christ's birth are really based on pagan ritual. Duh. When Christian missionaries made their way north and found all those societies that held a big party during the winter, the missionaries were no dummies. They just introduced a new meaning to the celebrations. Gentle persuasion is often more effective than force. After all, they were representing The Prince of Peace. They just took all those traditions that celebrated the return of the light and created a new celebration for The Light of the World.

Anyway, I'm pleased to be at this point of the year-- both for the end of the physical darkness and for the opportunity to rejoice with the angels that Eternal Light has come to earth to banish the metaphysical darkness forever.

Unpacking the Box

We received a box last week from our son who has joined the Navy. He arrived at boot camp, and the first thing they do is have you remove all of your clothes and change into their clothes. Then, you place all of your belongings into a box--shoes, socks, underwear, jeans, phone, change from your pocket---all of it into the box and then you seal it up and address it to your home. That's it. You send away everything but your naked self, and then that person is marched off to be transformed from a civilian to a Sailor.

This week,  I decided I'd open it up and get his phone out and put it on his charger, and launder his clothes so I could put all of his belongings into a couple of new boxes. By February, he should be moved on to his first command, probably submarine school, and he'll be allowed to have his possessions again. I wanted to have everything ready so it would be handy to send on to him.

I opened the box, I withdrew his big blue hoodie with the bold NAVY printed in gold across the front. It smelled like him---Axe and Old Spice deodorant. I flashed back to the last time I'd touched this: hugging him good-bye in the doorway as his dad and he set off to the airport on the morning he left for the recruit training center. He's a tall, big person and he has to crouch a little to hug me back. I wanted to hang on, or go with him to make sure no one treated him badly---of course I couldn't. He was ready, so ready! He'd bought this beautiful pull-over to proudly wear on the journey to his new life.

But, I also imagined (just for a minute, then I had to shove that idea away) how it would be to open a box like that when you knew you wouldn't be seeing your son again. There were two missionaries killed last month when a car hit their bicycles. There are military men and women who die far from home every week. Their families get a box and experience that feeling in completely different way than I did. I don't know how they can bear it! When you unpack a box like that, the smells are what you notice.

I remember when CoolGuy went away the first time with the Marines to Saudi Arabia. He was a civilian, but he wore a uniform and lived in their conditions and was subject to the same dangers. It was scary. It was also hard because it didn't take long to forget tangible things about him. I remember burying my face in his motorcycle jacket as it hung on the coat rack in our room. It smelled like him and like the road. But after a couple of months, it just smelled like my room. He wrote that he'd like me to send him a big towel, and so I bought one, and then slept with it for a couple of nights. He noticed. When he came home and we were unpacking his boxes of clothes, sand sifted out of every nook and pocket and seam. It was different sand than our beach there in SoCal. There was a smell in the boxes, too. He said it was the smell of the desert and diesel and sweat.

How could you stand to unpack a box that held the belongings of your loved one who'd been gone for months and months, living in a foreign place you'd never been. How could you bear to smell them on the clothes and see their fingerprints smudging the letters you'd sent with the "love you" and the "be safe" you'd carefully written hoping that it would be true. How could you bear finding the dirty socks and the sweaty t-shirts knowing that you'll wash them, but they won't be needed again.

I hope to never find out.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Day Without

Today, I got up early and met with some other ladies at the church to rehearse a song we're performing tomorrow. Then, I went to the temple and enjoyed myself for a couple of hours doing service. They were busy there: six brides were scheduled! Then, CoolGuy and I sorted stuff to take to Deseret Industries thrift store, and loaded the truck with cardboard for the recycling center. We drove over to the part of town with our two destinations and afterward stopped for a delicious lunch of tamales for him and chile rellenos for me. We got home and I did a bunch of laundry. Then, he went out for a bit of motorcycle ride and I laid on the couch and watched three TIVOed shows in row. When he got home, I went out to the grocery store and then I wrote our Christmas letter.

Guess what I didn't do today? I didn't teach any classes. I didn't do any homework. I didn't go over to my classroom and check papers. YEAH!!!!  I mean---I laid on the couch and watch TV for two hours--come on. How's that for acting you're really on vacation? 

I've got seventeen days. I need to write a proposal for my final project for my master's degree. I need to run a lot of errands and start the paper work for my next stupid foot surgery. I need to correct several piles of papers. I need to write lesson plans and lay out my vision for the rest of the trimester for my sub. So,  I won't spend much more time on the couch. But today felt really good.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What She Taught

Today is the 84th anniversary of our mother's birth. She always said she was named "Carol" because of the proximity of her birthday to Christmas. She did Christmas well, as I've described. But it was not only Christmas when she outdid herself.  I often recall how much work she did, and how she was always hustling and bustling about. But, I realized tonight, as I cleaned the sink and wiped down my counter tops, that she actually taught us how to live without her.

There were always chores to do. No one in our family would have ever sighed, "I'm bored..." to our mother. All that would get you is dustmop, or a can of bathroom cleaner, or a dishcloth, or a dustcloth. Time existed to attack dirt, dust, clutter and kitchen messes. Every single morning before school, it was someone's job to dust mop the living room linoleum. Another child's job was to dust all the surfaces in the living room. This, of course, was after you'd made your bed. Not making your bed would have been some type of felony.

It sounds harsh, huh? No, it was the only recourse to having ten people living in one house. If you didn't clean regularly, then it ...I don't know. We always cleaned regularly. It was a nice place to live, too. Oh, wait, I do know what happens. I know, because when I got married, I was smart! I wasn't going to spend all that time cleaning house. That was just for chumps. Except that really soon, even though there were only two of us, I realized that cleaning regularly was necessary or, very quickly, you were no longer living in a nice place.

Apparently I passed on this notion to my own children. I remember reading letters about the mission companions my son had who didn't know how to clean or cook. I remember one daughter telling me how annoying it was to have to go into her apartment kitchen and wipe off the counters and clean off the stove tops because no one taught her roommates that those jobs were all part of "doing the dishes."  Of course, I learned all this at my mother's side, and I'm pleased that they all learned it at their mother's side.

So, whenever I wipe off the counter tops and clean the stove top, as I conclude my dish washing (even if I am only loading the dishwasher) I remember being taught by my mother to do that or the job wasn't finished. Now, if only I'd internalized sweeping the kitchen floor in that same way...HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAMA!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


It's the appreciation season again. My students have started bringing me Christmas gifts. It was the most amazing thing, the first year I taught school. My desk was laden and overflowing with presents from my class. I don't know why I was surprised. Every year I made gifts for my own children's teachers. I suppose the shock was in seeing the result of the other parents' efforts all in one place. I really, really appreciated their sentiments, too.

Today in Miss Manners' column in the Washington Post, was this letter:
I am a teacher among many in a small, affluent private school. Many of the parents of our students freely, by their own choice, give gifts to teachers at Christmas and/or the end of the school year. The thoughts behind these gifts are appreciated by us all.

However, the gifts vary. Some are touching and personal, and others end up in the “re-gifting” cycle. To further complicate the issue, the needs on the part of the faculty differ, and some of us truly want and need the gifts, while others would rather see the gifts go to charity, so among ourselves we do not all look at the question the same way.

Taking all of this into account, the question of our “suggesting” the nature of these gifts or putting a policy in our school handbook has been discussed among ourselves. Is there a polite or appropriate way to put forward the idea of these gifts being discontinued, or going, for example, to the local soup kitchen instead of to us? Or should we just appreciate things as they are?

Miss Manners pointed out that the obvious solution---refuse all gifts--was not proposed by the writer...Ahem.

See, it doesn't matter what the gift is. I know that it was given with utmost love and sincerity. So I accept them with extreme gratitude and sincere thanks. I may recycle many of them straight to my favorite thrift store, but I am thrilled (genuinely) by the fact that they have brought me a gift. That is the important thing.

However, my favorite gift today was not wrapped nor purchased from a store. Today, as we were coming back in from lunch to our classroom, one of my fellows, who was trailing at the very end of the line, slid over close to me and said, "Mrs. [EarthSignMama], do you know what I like about you? You're always cheerful. Even when you're mad at us, you do it in a cheerful way. How do  you do it?"  I laughed and he said, "See?" Well, I work hard at being cheerful, and apparently, someone noticed.

Appreciation: the best gift of all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

More Gratitude

So, I'm finishing the list of things I'm grateful for that I started yesterday. The goal is to end up with 100 things on the list, by creating 10 categories with 10 items in each list.

Ten Things I'm Thankful for Today
1. the left-over Indian food that I get to warm up for dinner
2. KittyCat
3. Fourth grade went very smoothly today. :)
4. I found little foam ornament crafts at Target to make with my students on Friday.
5. I got 80% on my final paper in my graduate class!!!!! I wasn't sure it would even pass...
6.  my new coat (I had playground duty this morning, and crossing guard duty this afternoon, and it was cold!)
7. cold leftover salmon for lunch that was delicious
8. a warm morning shower
10. got a letter from the Boot Camp Sailor! He's good!

Ten Places on Earth for Which I'm Thankful
1. the beach in Southern California/Pacific Ocean
2. Star Valley, Wyoming
3. The Chesapeake Bay
4. the spring that provided our drinking water for my childhood home
5. Mt. Rainier (it is just stunning to see---all of those Cascade's volcanoes are awesome)
6. Zion National Park
7. The Grand Tetons
8. The monuments on the main mall in Washington D.C.
9. cropland
10. the amazing vastness of the Western USA

Ten Modern Inventions for Which I'm Thankful
1. Running water in my house
2. the computer
3. the Internet
4. telephones
5. cameras
6. penicillin (and all those other antibiotics and vaccines against diseases that people just died from when my mom was a child)
7. foot surgery
8. washing machines
9. refrigerators
10. internal combustion engines (and all the vehicles for which they are used)

Ten Foods for Which I Am Thankful
1. dark chocolate
2. cheese
3. tom yum soup
4. eggs
5. milk
6. chili dogs
7. dutch oven potatoes
8. caprese salad
9. french toast and breakfast sausage
10. fresh fruit

Ten Things About The Gospel for Which I'm Thankful
1. the Mercy of God
2. being able to pray
3. getting answers to prayer
4. going to the temple
5. teaching at church
6. the Resurrection
7. eternal family ties
8. knowing that God loves me
9. reading the Scriptures
10. General Conference

Well, I'm at the end of the game, but I'm definitely not at the end of things I feel thankful for, by any means. When I  heard this proposed yesterday, my first thought was, "That would take so much time; how could anyone come up with a list that long?"  I was surprise how quickly I could cite ten things. And for every list, I discovered that ten items weren't nearly enough. Each thing I thought of just made me think of more that could go on the list, well past the limit of ten.

Try it---do it as a family, or as an individual. You'll be astonished. Then, don't forget to kneel tonight and thank God for helping you to have so many things to be thankful for. You know where all these blessings in your life come from, right??

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Someone gave a talk today in church and his theme was being grateful. He explained that he had learned to be grateful for the health problems he'd had as a child and young man because he realized that struggling to overcome these obstacles had made him more compassionate toward others who may have struggles like this in their own lives. He got the idea for listing things that he was grateful for in his life from reading about a game where the people were required to list 100 things they were thankful for. He said that to make the game more manageable, there were categories of ten.

I was quite intrigued by the concept, so I wrote down the list of categories and decided I'd blog about it. You could copy me, if you wish. It'll take a couple of days to list the 100 things, so today I'll do the first half.

Ten Physical Things About Myself for Which I Am Grateful
1.  being tall
2. no allergies or asthma.
3. strong hands
4. ability to carry a tune
5. I can hear.
6. I can see.
7. I can walk.
8. I can smell and taste.
9. I was able to have children.
10. relative good health

10 Talents I'm Grateful to Have
1. playing the piano
2. writing
3. being kind
4. growing things
5. teaching
6. rapport with children
7. giving talks
8. being cheerful
9. sewing
10. making friends

10 Living People for Which I Am Grateful
1. Son #1
2. Daughter #1
3. Daughter #2
4. Son #2
5. Son #3
6. CoolGuy
7. My sisters (I'm cheating a little here...)
8. My brothers   (...and here.)
9. Grandchildren (...yea, yea...)
10. a couple of really dear friends (you know who you are..)

10 People No Longer Living For Which I Am Grateful
1. Grandma Reeves
2. My parents
3. All the rest of my grandparents
4. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, et. al
5. My sister
6. Joseph Smith
7. Johanns Gutenberg
8. Louis Pasteur
9. Moroni
10. Susan B.Anthony

10 Things in Nature for Which I Am Grateful
1. the ocean
2. the mountains
3. cardinals (and most every other bird, too)
4. the smell of sagebrush
5. bougainvillea
6. poinsettias
7. basil
8. rain
9. pets
10. freshly tilled soil

Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the list. You should make your own list. It's a thought-provoking concept. At first, you think, 100?? Seriously?? But then, when you start listing them, you realize that you don't have room for everyone or everything. It's a great lesson...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lunar Las Vegas

It's a full moon tonight and I was out running errands as it peaked over the looming chunk of rock that forms the east side mountain here in the desert valley. The western sky was still glowing from the setting sun. It was "dark" but only in contrast to the Strip lights. The sky was actually indigo--not yet black. So the Big Rock was slightly illuminated because it reflects the sunset so well.

The moon had just cleared the tip of the Big Rock and looked so enormous as it was suspended there next to the jagged summit. It was pale yellow and the air was so clear that every crater and shadow on the lunar surface was visible. It took my breath away. There is nothing so arresting as the full moon low in the sky--either in the east or the west.

We're heading out on a little date to savor some samosas, and when we return, the hot tub will be steaming gently in the chilly night air. We will lay in the warm water and gaze up at the shimmering orb of La Luna. Relaxing, in the moonlight, mighty nice...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Two Worlds Meet

Today I took an anachronistic object to school and puzzled my students. (No, not my old, rickety Self--knock it off.)  It was the beaver skin/hide that I bought from my nephew, the trapper and taxidermist in Wyoming. When I first started teaching school here in Nevada, and we got to the section of our state history book about the early explorers, the students were stumped. What was a beaver and why were these guys coming to Nevada to trap them?

First, the girls were all aghast: those cute little furry creatures? They killed animals? Oh my! Then, we discussed that there weren't fake furs back then, and people had to wear something to keep warm. Plus, people earned their living doing lots of things the students had never heard of before. And, I pointed out, people still wear furs and use them for other things, and there are still trappers who go out and get those furs from animals in the wild. Like my nephew, for instance.

It was that clash of farm-girl/Wyoming person and the city kids/modern life people all over again. It has happened to me lots of time since I left the land of wild animals and hunting and fishing. So, to help my students understand the history of the West and their own state, I bought a beaver hide from my nephew. I bring it to school each year for this unit. Every year we have the same conversations.

"Oooooh!!! What IS that???"

"It is a the skin and fur from a beaver. Remember what we read about the early explorers of Nevada? They were here to trap beaver, or they were traveling through the state trying to find a way to get to California without dying?"

"Is it real?"  "Does it stink?"  "Where did you get it?"  "It's dead!! OOOOH!" 

So, I show them, I tell them about my nephew (and my great-grandfather, the trapper) and how people would do this to earn money. Then, I lay it in the middle of their table where everyone can reach it, and I stand back. At first, many of them recoil slightly, then they cautiously reach out to give it a little touch. Then, they rub their whole hand over it, then they squeeze the plush layers of fur between their fingers and start saying, "Oooh, ahh--it's so soft!" 

Occasionally there will be a student or two who are completely repulsed by it. After all, there are the hard spots where its eyes, ears and nose were. In fact, a couple of whiskers are still present on the edge by where its face once was. But most of the students are so amazed at how plush and smooth and inviting the fur is as they touch it. They imagine having a whole blanket of them sewed together, and how warm it would be, and how soft and pleasant it would be to sleep wrapped up in it.

We meet for a small moment: the girl from Wyoming where animals were a resource for humans and used to support our lives-- and the kids from the Big City where clothes are bought at Target, and food is shaped like nuggets and comes with a toy. There is no consciousness of the animals who may have been deeply involved in that meal or those shoes.

I knew where my leather gloves came from that I wore to protect my hands as I hauled bales: I helped my dad haul the deer skins to the glove maker after we'd eaten the deer. I knew that those delicious pork chops were once the cute little piggies that raced around the barnyard in the spring. Before putting it in the fridge to cool, I had to strain the errant piece or two of cow hair out of the milk I brought in from the barn.

I know I risk sounding like a cranky old lady, waving my cane. Really, I'm not upset at all. I'm just always amazed at how different my life is, as an adult, from how it was as a child. And how vividly different my childhood was from that of my students. A couple of them told me stories of deer hunting with their families as we admired (or not) the beaver hide today. Some of them tell about helping on a farm in Mexico, while visiting their grandparents. But mostly, this whole "natural world" thing is a mystery to them. So, each year I'm pleased to further their education with a relic from the past: an animal hide.