I’m old enough to know that some weeks are better than others, and I do appreciate the fact that I cannot recall the last time I was “bored.” (Usually that’s because I am juggling way too much stuff and don’t have enough time to get it all done.) That said, this past week has been particularly crappy. We had a family emergency resulting in an unexpected ER visit, hockey games across the state, a broken furnace that needs to be replaced, a bogus collection bill, 45 To Kill a Mockingbird essays to be graded, a biopsy (on my face!), and to top it all off – a high school reunion on Friday night. If parent/adulthood were a fraternity – THIS would be rush week.
In the middle of all this chaos, my co-worked Ioanna and I had planned to take a group of students to Weir Farm, in part to inspire them to think about writing and creating outside of the walls of our classrooms, and in part, to get to know the National Park in our backyard a little better. The fact that we would be part of #writeout was the icing on the cake.
I don’t think I am shocking anyone by admitting that getting myself there (let alone leading a field trip) after the weekend I had, was an effort. But I sucked it up, because I am an adult, and boy, am I glad I did. The entire experience was organized by Rich Novack, a fellow local English teacher, who worked to put everything together through “Writing Landscapes.” The previous week I had attended his wonderful workshop (that was partnered with the National Parks) and walked away that day with a new appreciation of Environmental Lit Crit. I didn’t know that as a seasoned English teacher, my mind still had the ability to be blown, but it was! How did I not ever realize that you can view/read literature through the lens of the environment! I feel like I see everything differently now….
The day of the field trip started with a tour of Weir Farm, arranged by the incredibly talented Park Ranger, Kristin Lessard. Volunteers, several of whom are former educators, brought us around to the house and studios, and students got to appreciate the history of the place and the inspiration is was to past and present artists.
Back at the barn space, students were treated to a very special presentation by author and artist Karen Romano Young. Karen has published blogs, comics, and children’s book about her adventures all around the world. She has a particular love of telling science stories and she encouraged students to think of doodling and drawing as part of the writing and creative process.
Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall of Fairfield University continued to inspire students with a presentation that asked them to think critically about their relationship to the environment. By drawing pictures of a waterway, Dr. Crandall challenged students to think about pollution and what their responsibility to clean water was.
Finally, students were sent out into Weir Farms Park to create. They were asked to think about what this park and space was like in the past, what it is today, and what might it become in the future. Some of my students created drawings, others painted, and some even wrote poems and observations.
The entire day was quite literally a breath of fresh air for both my students and me. The weather, warm for this time of year, was perfect the whole day. Bright blue skies, a soft breeze, and puffy clouds graced us, making the ride back to school all the more difficult. But, while no one was thrilled to have to return to the walls of school, we all felt lighter – like we had been fortified with a vitamin that would help us muddle forward.
I never joined a sorority myself when I was in college, but I am tempted to create one now; its Greek symbols will represent the words: Middle-Aged, Tired, and Overwhelmed. Anyone can join my frat or be my sorority sister. All you have to do is survive a rush week like I have had this week, with one stipulation — schedule a few moments to be outside. You can go for a hike, or rake the garden, or plants trees, or just park your car on the way home from work by the side of a beautiful road and breathe the fresh air for a few moments. If I’ve learned nothing else this week, I’ve learned this: we all need to find a place and a space to breathe, especially when life becomes overwhelming.
And so, I leave you with this little poem that I managed to piece together at Weir Farm. I hope you enjoy:
“Weir Farm – with Students”
Buildings that whisper the lives of the dead –
Studios holding memories of creating – building – capturing-
Sounds of crickets and the wind rustling the trees
Mask ghostly whispers.
“Come to the Farm,” she said.
“Learn how nature informs our art.
Connect to a place
Where time has stopped the hand of the clock
(Oct. 21 2019)