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The Start - a memory about remembering something even older

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Jul. 28th, 2015 | 09:09 pm

The Start

Saturday, July 15, 2000

     Warm Southern Ontario night, on the forested banks of the Grand River, down Cambridge way, a place where I have walked many times – but we have driven here. The road ends, and there are picnic tables. “I was here before, when I was 15, and locked out of our house. I slept under the stars,” she says. “I came home late, and my father wouldn’t let me in.” I babble, as usual, about wind and whatever it is we refer to when we say freedom, believing it, believing everything I say, only partially, which, she has pointed out, is desirable. Until this time, this summer, I have, for the most part, wanted to be alone, that is, for 28 years, or thereabout. It is August, gorgeous, and she is leaving for Kingston.
     Down the river a few hundred yards, many years before, when I was in grade 4 or 5, I had gone on a winter school trip that has stayed with me, uncharacteristically, as if it happened yesterday. We had had a substitute teacher, a Pollution Probe (remember them?) activist, whose entirely appropriate and innovative teaching practice was  a couple decades ahead of its time, and the trip to the sewage treatment plant, which she had arranged, miraculously, the day before, more or less in front of us, leaving the classroom briefly to make, and later to take a phone call, had occurred (a Wednesday, as I recall) during her what I now consider too short a time with us, her week with a bunch of ruddy-faced country kids in a four-room schoolhouse in a village of about 50 people and 15 dogs. Every day she was there we went outside at least once to collect water from the frozen pond, snow from the forest, fallen pine needles, or to practice orienteering, snow shoeing (wherever did she get those?) etc. This was, perhaps, a golden opportunity for her, who must surely have spent most of her substitute hours in city schools, to practice her teaching style freely, with the so-called natural world, or something looking a little like it, anyway, just outside the front door. Perhaps everyone else in the class enjoyed that week of learning like I did, it being a significant break from our regular, David Copperfield reading, recorder playing, pencil and ruler breaking teacher whose armpits were always wet with perspiration. (I remember his name, but not hers, just as I forget everything he ever said, but, amazingly, remember most of what she told us). She had wanted us, no doubt, to appreciate how greatly we effect the world, to understand that not only could joy and knowledge and critical analysis co-exist, but that they must co-exist.
     But it was not long after this environmentalist week that the losing of things began, I think, that the world, which had been so immediate, began to recede, to arm’s length, then across the road, then farther and farther, until it became like a distant ocean never heard and never seen, the echo of a world that was. And what remained to refer to it at all was the rarest music, infrequent, fleeting, sad, always sad, nothing but sad. Do the pipers play to keep it that way, I wondered, much later. If they stop will it be right here, and broken beyond repair, around us, not hidden at all?
   
     Sunday, July 16, 2000
   
     Whatever people don’t believe about us, about each other, I think, is always the most obvious, the most undeniable. If we say, for instance, that a bolt of lightning struck a few feet from us, or that we ducked, in the so-called nick of time, to avoid being hit in the face by an arrow, shot, no doubt, by an aggressive relative, they will refuse to believe us, even if there are other witnesses , especially if there are other witnesses. We are, to them, unbelievable characters.
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