Wednesday, May 6, 2015

By the river with 7th graders, Mary Oliver, and Fafnir

There was an outing today. 150 kids, the entirety of the 7th grade, a drive out of our small town, and through Amish country to one of our glorious state parks. Warm, breezy, clear air redirected by cries of glee and teasing, kids running ahead, kids lagging behind, the incredible energy of this age. So here, a few impressions of working with these children who live on a thrilling cusp, somewhere between wonder and self-consciousness, moving across the gulf from 12 to 13 years of age. Mac said it beautifully, about what it was like for some of them to read the poem by Mary Oliver with which we started  - "It's as though some of them didn't want the words to be fully in their mouths." They spoke hurriedly, brushing over the sounds of their own voices - feeling (maybe) the words too strange, the idea of standing by the river in a circle reading one line of the poem each too disorienting. Much rejoicing at the invitation to make structures. The river was too high for us to have access to the stones that make good cairns, so we expanded our materials. The circle above of big and little standing stones surrounding seashells was made when the mud was still soft in the morning. We all loved thinking about how far the seashells had come - to wash up in crazy, misplaced plenitude on these inland shores.

The science teacher had suggested this next idea, which was an intense one, actually: stand blindfolded for five minutes and observe the environment around you without the sense of sight. I started thinking "There's no way that I could do this with college students" and I'm still not entirely sure I could put my finger on why. Bigger discussion, but I am wary of making my students too vulnerable - somewhere between 7th grade, and college, hurts and distrust accumulate. Here, there was willingness - and these kids' trust was very poignant to me. Those who wanted to stand in the quiet rush of the river were the most still. I thought that that was so cool: to purposefully stand where the ground would shift beneath your feet. Then, after big gasps of air as the blindfolds came off, they wrote (of birds and water and sensing others nearby and many many things).

There were three Sigfrids, one for each group of kids who gathered to hear the tale from the Völsunga Saga. Each time, when Mac called for a hero, one stepped forth. And a human Fafnir and a dragon Fafnir, and birds and Ragnar and Otter and the Other Brother and more. Sometimes (here) a crutch was the sword, others a stick long dead. Each time, Fafnir met his doom and then we'd all line up on the beach and throw rocks (Fafnir's gold) into the river at the same time, the sinking stones' expanding circles disassembled by eddies swirling past. The third time we did it, Sigfrid from the second group came back to join in the story again - to hear once more about gold making men mad, and dragon's blood revealing the language of birds, and wild throws by the river's edge.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a fabulous day. Those kids are very lucky.