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.