Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lastly on Terena Scott week, we have an excerpt from Traveling Blind; Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers by Laura Fogg. This is the first book being published by her press Medusa's Muse.

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From “A Close Look at Dying.”

Michelle and her squirrely third grade classmates had been forced to stay indoors for a full week on account of the storms, and I wanted to get her outside while we had the chance, since I was still charged form the magical energy of my drive to the coast.

This break in the weather was all the invitation I needed to abruptly cancel our braille lesson.

“Come on,” I said to my surprised student, shoving her raincoat into her hand, “We’re going out.”

“I can’t go out in the rain,” Michelle protested. “My mom says I’m not supposed to get wet.”

“Don’t worry. Neither one of us is sweet enough to melt if we get some water on us. This isn’t Oz; we aren’t like the wicked witch that Dorothy killed.”

Ignoring Michelle’s continuing complaints, I grabbed her hand and hustled her from the classroom out to the street. Michelle had lost most of her vision; she didn’t know much about what happens in the rain to the world that the rest of us can observe, and I was determined to take advantage of this opportunity to teach her something new through a firsthand experience.

We breathed deeply of the cool, moist air to clear our lungs of the stifling heat of the classroom we had just escaped. Sensible people were still holed up indoors busy with rainy day projects, so there wasn’t a soul to be seen. In the absence of the usual human activity and noise, the sprites and spirits of another domain emerged quietly from their hiding places to be felt, if not seen, by Michelle and me as we came out to play in this familiar, yet strangely altered landscape. I knew that today I would not be the teacher. Some other source of energy was in charge, and I was only along to offer the most minimal guidance to my student.

“What happened to all the birds?” Michelle asked before we had walked half a block. “It’s usually noisy outside.” I knew something felt different, but wasn’t as quick to put my finger on the absence of the usual clattering of blackbirds high up on the power lines and the raucous cawing of our crow friends in the treetops. Even the seagulls had been driven to shelter somewhere. Without the familiar background racket of the ever-present birds doing their daily bird chores, there was a thick sense of waiting in the air, every molecule poised for something to happen. Something new and special that the rain fairies would arrange just for Michelle and me in honor of our presence in their watery landscape.

What we heard in the silence was the earth drinking. From every direction, high and low, drops of rainwater trickled and dripped from trees, roofs, fence posts and daffodils, moving inevitably downward to the drenched ground in a lighthearted symphony of millions of tiny instruments. No two droplets of water colliding on the surface of a leaf did so silently. No thin rivulet cascading down the rough-barked trunk of a tree merged with the earth without a tinkle of clear bells or a tiny drum roll. No swallow of water was accepted by the earth without a song.

Michelle and I contributed to the symphony as we walked along. We squished. We splashed. We lobbed pebbles of various sizes into puddles, causing a different sounding plunk with every stone we tossed. We created entire songs by gathering fistfuls of stones and tossing them into the water one by one. We conducted a whole symphony, for a moment at least, by walking up to a drenched tree with a low-hanging branch that could be grabbed and tugged. A light tug caused a few dozen drops of water to fall to the ground in an airy staccato, while a harder jerk resulted in a percussive crescendo, soaking us both in the process.

In a beautiful neighborhood of fine old houses and glorious gardens that Michelle couldn’t see, we stopped to examine a cluster of wet Calla lilies sticking out from under a neat picket fence by the sidewalk. “Here, Michelle,” I directed her, “put your hand on this flower. Reach inside it.” In the throat of the sodden bloom she

discovered a tiny pool of water. She poked around a bit with a large smile on her face.

“Yikes!” she yelped suddenly, jerking her finger out of the miniature fairy pond she had discovered “There’s something moving in there. It’s slimy. What is it?” A tiny green frog had hopped out onto her hand, much to its own and our astonishment. In an instant the frog jumped wetly across Michelle’s open palm, plopped down onto the lawn below and disappeared. Michelle, for once in her life, was speechless. She stood motionless, with the fingers of one hand resting lightly on the palm of the other, remembering the touch of the little frog’s damp feet on her skin.

We both knew it was time to return to the world of ordinary events. We walked back slowly with Michelle’s arm looped through mine for guidance. She chattered on, giddily re-living her brief interaction with her frog, while I pondered the impact of this astonishing hour. Sharing this wet and wondrous morning with Michelle brought back the enchanted child world that I had forgotten when my own offspring outgrew it one by one. Michelle’s gift was showing me the path back to that magical land.


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