The Need for Solitude

avenue-of-poplars

Solitude is something I need.  I don’t need a lot of it, but it is a definite need. I recently read Mary Oliver‘s new book, Upstream, and although I knew it already, she and I are kindred spirits…

Not to be alone–ever–is one of my ideas of hell, and a day when I have had no solitude at all in which to catch up with myself I find mentally, physically and spiritually exhausting. When one is alone one is receptive–a ready vessel for the sights, the scents and sounds which pour in through relaxed and animated senses to refresh the inner man.

My moments of solitude each day have almost always been in the early morning before others in the house awaken. I love and need those quiet moments with my cup of tea, a good book or some knitting in hand. Moments for just me…and then I can take on the world.

We Should All Be Feminists

we-should-all-be-feminists

My first book read in 2017 was a very short but eloquent work by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We Should All Be Feminists is a wonderful explanation of what exactly is feminism and why it is important to look closely at our ideas about gender and how we raise our sons and our daughters in our culture. She very clearly explains why “Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice” for both women and men. It’s a very important little book to read.

“My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better”

Click here to see a 30-minute YouTube video of her speech on We Should All Be Feminists.

chimamanda-ngozi-adichie

My Orca Family

Granny and son, Ruffles

Granny and son, Ruffles

My friend, Kristen, @ We Be Reading, posted a couple of tweets recently that were heart wrenching to me. She and I share a common interest:  we both deeply care about the Puget Sound’s resident pods of Orcas.  In her tweets, she announced the deaths of two of those orcas within the last few months. This is very sad and concerning news for all of us, but for me the news was extra sad because I had a very personal connection to these whales.

Early in my teaching career, a science unit from a textbook included a little information about whales. For both me and my students, that unit of study sparked a fascination with whales and with Orcas in particular. We left the textbook and started reading everything we could find about whales.

Somewhere in our reading, we discovered the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington, which has wonderful educational and adoption programs that help support the research and care of the Puget Sound’s three resident pods of orcas. Even though we lived far from the ocean, my 5th graders that year became passionate whale advocates and decided that they wanted to raise some money and “adopt” a whale. They collected aluminum cans for months, and finally raised enough money to adopt one of the orcas.

After reading the biography of each orca in all three pods, they chose “Oreo,” a very young whale in J-Pod. (Click here to “meet the whales,” ) We sent in our money and didn’t have to wait very long for our adoption papers to come through. Each student received their own adoption certificate and extensive information about Oreo and the other orcas. It was an exciting time in our classroom!

Whale of A Purpose

Oreo (J-22)

Over the years of my teaching career, I taught my “whale unit” many times and to many different age groups. Three other classes wanted to go through the adoption process. One group of 6th graders adopted DoubleStuf , and a few years later a class of 2nd graders adopted Cookie. Both DoubleStuf and Cookie were male offspring of Oreo, my first adopted whale. I announced to my students that those two adoptions made me a whale grandma!

j34-and-j38-brothers

DoubleStuf (J34) and his brother Cookie (J38)

Needless to say, learning and teaching about the orcas was a favorite part of my teaching career. The excitement and enthusiasm of my students as they went through this learning process was wonderful to experience. I loved their surprise when they first learned that these magnificent beings live in a matriarchal society lead by an amazing matriarch called Granny; that they are incredibly social animals and their culture is highly organized; that they support each other in heartwarming ways,  even “babysitting” for each other, nursing the ill, and raising the offspring of family members that die.

I was an incredibly lucky teacher in that twice over my teaching years, the parents of my students were very happy to provide the funds, organization, and volunteers to enable our class (and the other classes at our grade level) to go on a whale watching tour so we could see our whales in the wild. Those were the most thrilling field trips of my career!

I was so saddened by the recent announcements of the sudden death of Doublestuf and the death of Granny at approximately 105 years of age. I know my former students, wherever they are, would be saddened by these losses, too, because these whales touched our lives and our hearts in a very profound way.

Links you might be interested in visiting:

Some books about Orcas:

granny-orca-network

Granny. photo courtesy of Orca Network

A Return to Middle Earth

In honor of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday today, I’d like to share some memories of how his books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, touched my life almost 50 years ago and are still today something that I turn to and love to reread.

1968 was an incredibly powerful year in my life. In late January of that year, I returned from living for a year in Argentina as an exchange student, a life-changing experience.  On my return, I immediately started college, another life-changing experience. The Vietnam War was raging and some of my high school friends were already gone. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In June we also lost Bobby Kennedy. And later that year, three astronauts orbited the moon. I remember the despondency I felt after the two assassinations and the awe I felt at the moon orbit. I remember vividly the overwhelming sense of the world spinning and life taking off at exponential speed, as indeed it did.

In the middle of that year of upheaval, I read a great book review in the New Yorker about a series I’d never heard of: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I immediately went out and bought the books and immersed myself in that world…and that experience was also life-changing in a way. The world that Tolkien created was so complete and so beautifully written. The books are an epic story of courage and dignity, of the power of goodness and friendship, and of the regular “little guys” being able to make an incredible difference in a world filled with darkness. It was a great tale, but I loved it especially for those nuggets of truth that spoke so eloquently to me and which are so often quoted now on the internet:

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

And I loved it, too, for the sense of nostalgia for times past and for home and the simple things in life. I’ve reread them numerous times now, and they capture me each time. So in early December, feeling overwhelmed by the state of the nation and the world, I realized that I wanted to read them again. I read The Fellowship of the Ring slowly, not wanting to miss a single word, song, or poem! And I am 1/2 way through The Two Towers now. Once again these books are helping me to put things in perspective, reminding me that “there is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit…” and giving me hope that each one of us can make a difference in the world today. There is always Hope.

That’s a pretty amazing experience/connection to have with a story, with any book! But, that is exactly why I love. to. read.

the-lord-of-the-rings