Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Day

And so we're told this is the golden age
And gold is the reason for the wars we wage
Though I want to be with you
Be with you night and day
Nothing changes
On New Year's Day
U2, New Year's Day

Leslie and I went for a long beach walk on New Year's, as we have for years, and as we will, God willing. I liked the first walk so much I went for another as the sun slid over the edge of the bay.

We do this instead of resolutions.

I cannot adequately describe a winter beach, but I will try. The thoughts are scattered, as my thoughts usually are, and I am laying them down for me, to remind me what matters in the next few days, few weeks, few months, as I go back to the classroom.

At low tide, the Delaware Bay recedes from our flat beaches as though swallowed by the first of The Five Chinese Brothers.

The light is a riotous gray--steel gray sky against a changing gray sea. The splashes of white from the waves seem out of place. If you look at the sky, patterns emerge, a blue-gray swirl blending with a patch of green-gray, ever-changing.

The wind whistles through your hoodie, occasionally overwhelming the mesmerizing call of the waves. The waves never stop, they never stop. Sometimes I do not hear them, then remember they never stop, and I hear them again. A crow caws. The gulls were strangely silent.

You smell the salt air tinged with odd sweetness of bay mud. In the summer, the death smell of the bay mud is more obvious, but less noticeable. In January, the tinge of death is dulled by the cold, but on this wintry beach there is little visible life to deflect its message.

I dug into the mudflat, to find a clam. The water stings. Later, on the way home in a cozily warm car, the aroma of the little mud left on my hand overwhelms my thoughts.

We saw a few vultures hovering over the beach a couple hundred yards up--beneath them, a large sea gull dragged its tattered left wing, foraging the ebb tide for the last time. There was enough life left in the gull to scatter the vultures. They will return with the tide.

At low tide, the tidal flat reaches out hundreds of yards--in the distance I saw a lone blue heron standing at the edge of a tide pool. There is enough life to sustain her. I look harder.

Tiny whelks are buried in the mud--the air is near freezing, the water a cozy 40 degrees F. There's more life present than I had realized.

About 30 yards away I see a huge horseshoe crab shell. I worked my way through the shallow pools to the shell, perhaps to use for class.

The shell is half buried in the mud, with characteristic tracks leading to where she lay--the horseshoe crab was very much alive.

I was tempted to move her back into the water--if the temperatures dropped below freezing before the new tide flooded the flats, she would freeze.

A large horseshoe crab is almost always female; one this large certainly was. She was likely near 20 years old, old enough to know what she was doing.

I headed back home.

Back in the classroom soon: WAC assignments, NCLB mandates, HSPA tests, UbD questions, NJCCCS. Acronyms developed by committees formed under the dull hum of fluorescent light.

I wonder what committees under sunlight would create?

But we cannot do that, we would be distracted,
we have important work to do!

If an idea seems silly literally under the light of day, then maybe it's the idea, not the light source.

So what am I going to do about this? If I am so enamored of the flats, of being surrounded by the natural world, yet teach under fluorescent lights, who's the villain?

Time for a field trip, to take my lambs to the real world, the one beyond the matrix we've created.

So here's my resolution: take a busload of kids to the shore, ostensibly to study something seemingly scientific, and let them loose among the mating horseshoe crabs this May.


JoeVol said...


Are you aware of this initiative:

More here:

You (and your students) can sign up to help craft the literacy plan for your state should this thing get passed in congress.


Barry Bachenheimer said...

NCLB: No Crabs Left Behind.

Best wishes for a happy and productive new year. Will we see you at the conference this coming week?

doyle said...

I had been aware, then forgot that I was aware, if that makes sense. A freakin' shame that we need to legislate this.

Dear Barry,

I am signed up and ready to go! (My supervisor, alas, has been bumped by higher ups, a good thing for the district, I suppose, but sad for me--she's been a super supporter as we try new things.)

I do worry about that crab--and today Leslie and I saw an errant sand hill crane. I fear it is doomed, hundreds (thousands) of miles off course.

No Crabs Left Behind indeed--if that's the case, I'm home free.

Kathryn J said...

I am so completely jealous of your winter beach walks. It's such a touchstone for me.

I think that all committee meetings should take place under the open skies of a wild place - or as close as possible. Just think of the sense that would replace nonsense. There have been open-air schools that have "cured" kids with ADD & ADHD.

I am happiest on those days in the year when I camp and spend 99% of my time without a roof over my head. I envy you your beach walks. Perhaps I'll brave the single-digit weather tomorrow and get outside for a bit. I seem to be in need.

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

The tides keep me centered, though it's easy to go askew again once I wander away from the edge of the sea.

If you go outside, bundle up!

(When inside, I often waver about going out--once outside, though, I never regret being under the sky, no matter how cold or wet.)

We gain a lot from our way of living, but it comes at a cost.

John Spencer said...

I love the description of the sea. It's foreign to me, I admit - even as a kid who grew up in CA. Every beach is different.

I wish you'd write a book of your musings. Just raw thoughts on raw life. Fully clothed, but teaching naked.

This reminds me of the reality that you can't think big without thinking small. You can't go universal until you go parochial. I think that's what I've learned the most from in reading your blog posts.