My Oak Tree

Saturday morning I pedaled to school to co-facilitate a writing session for teachers.  We always begin with a quick write and Saturday’s prompt went something like this: If you weren’t here, what would you like to be doing instead?

My answer was obvious.  Saturday mornings are for bike rides.  In fact I’d pedaled to class and scheduled a bike ride for the afternoon, too.  There is something peaceful about pedaling out of town.  Away from piles of laundry.  Away from my job.  Away from the noise.  Away from everything except my legs turning the cranks and my heart keeping time.

My favorite place to ride is out to Millville Plains, where the wind whips through the tall grasses in the Fall and the wildflowers paint the fields in the Spring.  Some days, the hands of the wind press against my back and lift me up the hills.  Other days the wind rushes against my face and I am strong enough to climb the crest despite the wind’s advances.

There is an oak tree, a lone oak tree, standing atop the plains.  She is impervious to the wind, snow, sun and anything else nature throws at her.  Oak trees can live to be 200 years old.  In fact the oldest oak tree is 400 years old!  I don’t know how old my tree is, but surely she is the matriarch of the plains.  She’s been there as long as I can remember, the umbrella of her crown a favorite resting place for cows.  In the summer the shadow of her crown provides respite from the harsh sun and in the winter her branches are shelter from the rain.

I ride by the tree, pushing uphill, keeping her trunk in my line of sight.  I think of how I want to be like that tree, impervious to things at work that press against me, threatening to uproot me.  I think about standing tall for the things I believe are best.  Best for children.  Best for teachers.  Best for the world I live in.  When I ride Millville Plains, I can’t help but think of that tree all the way home.

I’ve yet to see my tree this season and still she comes to mind.  As Congress cuts funding for education, I think of my tree and square my shoulders as I type out letters to my elected officials.  They need to hear about how class sizes bursting at the seams create little space for relationships with students.  They need to hear how important the NWP is in creating teacher leaders who empower their students to carve out their own voices on canvases of blank pages.  They need to hear about how the NWP rooted me deep in practices that translate into a beautiful writing community in my classroom, in my school, in my city.

I’m blessed that my oak tree is just a bike ride away.  When I need to be reminded to be strong, to stand up for my beliefs, I visit my tree.  She is always standing proud and tall over the plains.  She compels me to do the same.

I Am From

I was introduced to the work of George Ella Lyon at the NCWP Summer Institute.  That night I tucked myself into my dorm room, plugged my earbuds into my laptop and was mesmerized by the richness of  George Ella Lyon’s voice.  I listened to her poem Where I’m From over and over again that night.  And then, like all writers do, I tried to emulate her.  I plumbed my memories and tapped away at the keys, deleting and typing, deleting and typing until the lines left on the screen felt right in my mouth. These are those lines.

I Am From

I am from hopscotch chalked on sidewalks, from Schwinn and Barbies.

I am from the top of Sleepy Hollow Loop, picking Poet’s Shooting Star for my mother.

I am from dandelion seeds caught in my curls, a faded image captured in the pages of my red photo album.

I am from jumping barefoot over salty waves, gripping my grandfather’s steady hand.

I am from the Wheeler nose and Betty Jean’s dimpled cheeks.

I am from the never-ending goodbye and Christmas stockings, stitched with care.

I am from the empty tomb and undeserved, infinite grace.

I am from Redding, scorched into my skin on sweltering summer days.

I am from Saturday morning sweetmilks and strings of golden taffy.

I am from pink bikes and purple lips stained with blackberries by the river

I am from poetry and my mother’s lullabies.

I am from beeping EKG’s keeping time with my heart, keeping time with my beautiful life.

Shy Girl Magma

Growing up I was painfully shy.  I walked to class with my head down, fearful of making eye contact with anyone.

On my way to Mrs. Johannsen’s second grade, I ran smack into a pole because I refused to look up.

In third grade I cried and cried when my mom informed me that if I wanted people to come to my birthday party, I’d have to call them myself.  Actually talk to people and ask them to come over?  NO WAY.

I was even placed in a club for social spazzes.  It was called The Garfield Club, named after the famous lasagna lovin’ comic cat.  I know, so nerdy.

I survived junior high and my shyness lessened in high school.  My immediate circle of friends was a conglomeration of AP geeks and music nerds, but I was also able to come and go as I pleased amongst other groups.  This shy girl had somehow become friend to all and nobody was more surprised than me.

As an adult, my shyness lies dormant ninety-eight percent of the time, leaving two percent of the time for it to explode in spurts.  Last Saturday I zipped down to Chico for the Northern California Writing Project Summer Institute Orientation.  (Wow, that’s a mouthful.)  I absolutely loved the Summer Institute last year.  It changed who I am as a teacher in powerful and exciting ways.  I was thrilled to be accepted again this year.

And yet my stomach was boiling with nerves.  I would be in a roomful of people.  People I didn’t know.  People I’d have to talk to.  As I closed in on Chico, my nerves threatened to erupt and spew bits of shy girl magma all over my car.  Walking upstairs to the classroom, my upper lip dotted itself with sweat beads. Entering the room, I said hello to one of the directors and made a beeline for a desk without neighbors on either side.  I sat there for a moment, looking around at the other participants.  All of them had their noses buried in the folder of handouts.  The singular noise was the shuffling of papers.  This is ridiculous, I thought.

So, I made a bold move.  I gathered up my stuff and plopped down in a desk between two women.  Then I made an even bolder move.  I introduced myself and asked where they were from.  Somehow my lava flow of shyness had cooled and crystallized into a coherent mass of functioning social skills.  The sweat beads dried up as we chatted.  I found out that the woman two seats to my left is one of my mom’s colleagues.  And in a surprising turn of events, the woman two seats to my right is training for the Tahoe century ride.  By the end of the day, I’d managed to find myself a carpool buddy and a cycling companion.

In addition to being welcomed back to the Summer Institute, I was also selected to attend a writing retreat at a spa/resort in Arizona.  In July I’ll spend four days writing, learning about writing, thinking about writing, and reading about writing.  It sounds heavenly.

Except for the fact that I will be surrounded by people I don’t know.  People I’ll have to make eye contact with.  People I’ll have to actually talk to.  I can feel the deep rumblings of my shyness already.  The only thing that will save me is also the cause of the rumblings.  Upon arrival I will have to make eye contact, maybe even shake a hand or two and utter the most terrifying word in the English language.  That’s right, I’ll have to say hello.  Either that or I can die in an extravasation of sweat and molten timidity.

Right now it’s a toss up.

Summer Top Ten

It’s late at night and Letterman is on, so, here we go Top Ten style.

The Top Ten Reasons I’m Giddy For Summer

10.  I’m hoping to re-vamp my backyard a little bit so it feels more like an oasis and less like a slab of cement surrounded by dead plants.

9.  I’m heading to the NCWP Summer Institute again.  That means new ideas, new people, and time to reflect on my practice as a teacher.  Not to mention regular doses of Jon & Bon’s frozen yogurt.  Mmmmmm…

8.  After two weeks at the Institute, Terry and I head to Alaska with four of our friends.  We will mountain bike to justify eating unholy quantities of delicious food.  Then we’ll take a zipline ride and throw it all up.

7.  Fourth of July will announce that it’s birthday week for Terry and I.  I heart fireworks.

6.  On my birthday I head to Southern California to hang out with a few hundred of my favorite high schoolers, not to mention some of my dearest friends at Western States.

5.  I fly from Southern California to San Jose where I will meet up with Terry and The Rocket to ride 100 miles and show cancer exactly what I think of it.

4.  A few days later I fly to Arizona to participate in The Writing Project’s National Retreat where I will soak up as much knowledge as I can in hopes that this bear of little brain can retain some of it.

3.  Five of my nieces and nephews will be spending a month in Redding.  I can’t wait to squeeze, kiss and snuggle them all, especially the boys who pretend to hate all that mushy love stuff.  Deep down they love it.  Deep, deep down.

2.  In August I’ll sit down for a second in my new and improved oasis, surrounded by dead plants, and laugh at the fact that I’ve once again failed to cure my brown thumb.

1.  Terry and I will celebrate another year together.  The best compliment I’ve ever received came in the form of two little words: I do.  The fact that he still does makes my heart full.