Monday, September 17, 2012

Picture this...


There is a walkway in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens.  It's not a specific destination, it would be hard to direct someone to its exact spot.  I usually come upon it by accident, hurrying from one one place to another.  But when you walk in, the temperature changes. The breeze floats through the open windows, carrying the fragrance of water lilies. Mingling with the fresh scent of ferns and blossoms, overflowing their baskets, time suddenly slows.  Every slow motion step, I find myself thinking, "I wish I could take a picture of the way this place feels." 

My favorite backyard in Southern Virginia is full of sky scraping Virginia Pines and Loblollies, bright lantanas, fragrant gardenias and views of the brackish Lynnhaven River--try as I might to capture its peaceful magic, I can't freeze that moment with my iphone or my Canon point and shoot.  It's the sensation of being there. The calm of the present.  A Night Heron may swoop in or a White Egret might catch a fish.

Sometimes there is not a thing--not a song, not a dance, not even a compelling movie montage that can capture or express, the feeling of being in a moment.

As creative thinkers in gardens, museums and in schools, we are being tasked with finding interactive on-line ways of interpretive, dynamic learning. But no matter what, if it's online, it's still virtual reality, not reality.  The internet is a wonderful tool, but it has yet to eclipse the necessity of human interaction. There is a magic in the ebb and flow of teacher student relationships that remains unmatched by our daily interactions with Google. What we really need to do is to challenge ourselves, our children and our students to live fullyExperience the things that we cannot describe.   What does it feel like to be inside listening to the rain? Can you describe the moment before an embrace, the split second of jumping off the high dive?  Imagine climbing the steep hills of San Francisco. What does snow taste like?  How does it feel to stand at the foot of the Giza Pyramids with your feet in the Saharan sand?

You can't take a photo of these moments, you can't truly describe them.  They don't add value to anyone's life when they are announced on facebook in the tawdry tone that has become common place---these moments only matter--when you live them.




Thursday, September 6, 2012

Naked Strength

Oak at Mount Vernon byLAM

With nothing to read the other day, I eyed an collection of Tennyson's poems across the room.  Forgetting his genius, I opened the book to see if I recognized any of the titles. Turns out Tennyson wrote the Charge of Light Brigade and the Lady of Shallot. As I picked over my pasta lunch, curiosity led me through poems filled with adventure, observation, heart, and light. Near the end of the book, I found this gem, The Oak. No doubt he is reflecting on the noble benefit of quiet growth and modest majesty, that Oak trees generally display. But, what's magical about his writing is the momentum he uses to keep us reading.  He tells us right away, to be like the Oak. But he compels us to keep reading to discover why. As I read, I wondered if Tennyson saw the Oak as a pillar of strength or a lonely giant. Down to the very last sentence, I felt a sense of foreboding over the bare oak, "leaves fallen at length...trunk and bough" --Until the last phrase,--the save-- when I read the words, "Naked Strength."  He is not telling us that the Oak is sad and bare, he is reminding us that when all the leaves fall, the Oak is finally able to show us what its' got.

Like the Oak, we weather the seasons of life. We gain and we grow. We are golden for a time, we are winning... then with in a wind's gust, we lose.  Whether by nature or by circumstance, there are moments when we stand bare....But when we do--we reveal our strength.  We let go of our leaves when we don't need them anymore, when we don't need them anymore and finally, we reveal ourselves.

The Oak

Live thy Life,
     Young and old,
Like yon oak,
Bright in spring,
Living gold;

Summer-rich
    Then; and then
Autumn-changed
Soberer-hued
Gold again.

All his leaves
     Fallen at length,
Look, he stands,
      Trunk and bough...
Naked strength.


-Alfred Lord Tennyson