Saturday, August 3, 2013

Stairs: Literal, Literary, Metaphorical

I'm afraid of heights. Very afraid.

I know the source of my fear originated from my father's insisting I climb the vented, open stairs of lookout towers in the Ozark Mountains between Joplin, Missouri and Eureka Springs, Arkansas during our spring and fall excursions to see the Dogwoods blooming when I was a child. 

As an adult, summertime presents ample opportunity for me to confront my fears. This summer's trip to Yosemite National Park is no exception. Yosemite is all about climbing and reaching new heights to reach optimal viewing vistas. 

During our trek to Vernal Falls, which requires one to climb a rock staircase of  700 stairs, literal, literary, and metaphorical stairs merged in my mind. 

Langston Hughes uses metaphorical stairs to illustrate the challenges we face in life and as an object lesson a mother teaches her son about pressing on during difficult times. 

"Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes

"Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair."

At times a used my hands to propel myself on up the stairs and crab crawled down a few stairs during the descent. 

Climbing stairs is easier when one has help. My fearless sister-in-law Lani offered encouragement to my granddaughter Kayla. Each time Kayla paused and proclaimed, "I don't think I want to go any further," Lani pointed to the falls and reminded Kayla, "That's where we're going." 

Keeping our eyes on the prize makes the climb more manageable. I didn't see any tacks in the stairs, but they were uneven, varied in height and width. And many were slippery with sand and pebbles. 

We made it to the top of Vernal Falls, but as is often the case, the real payoff was in the journey, both in terms of the view and the sense of accomplishment. 
For Lani, Kayla, my husband Ken, and me, the climb up the Vernal Falls stairs was enough, but since our individual climbs don't always correspond with one another's we left the trek to Nevada Falls to my brother Steve and niece Samantha. 

Sometimes the view from the bottom isn't too bad either. 
Sustaining a long teaching career is much like climbing those stairs. Along the way, I've stumbled and had to crawl and claw my way along the uneven path. We teachers ascend together but not necessarily in unison. We confront the tacks, splinters, torn boards, and bare floors that challenge our ascent and that of our most vulnerable students with faith that even though the profession is no crystal staircase, we won't sit down. We won't quit. We will reach landings and turn corners. The view from within is just too important to miss the climb. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Midsummer Day's Shakespeare on Lake Tahoe

Among the bikers, boaters, back-packers, and hikers at Lake Tahoe, you can also enjoy a little Shakespeare at the breathtakingly gorgeous Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, located in Sand Harbor State Park. 

We took our granddaughter Kayla to a rollicking production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," produced for children as part of the Tahoe Shakespeare Festival's education program. Kayla is nine and will be in fourth grade. This was her first Shakespeare production. I tried to share a bit of the storyline with her yesterday, but she promptly scolded me: "Grandma, don't tell me what happens." I granted Kayla's wish. 

That she didn't know the story didn't hinder her enjoyment or understanding of the multiple plots.

When I asked Kayla her favorite part, she replied: "The part when the two boys were fighting for the same girl." Of course, she was describing Demetrius and Lysander arguing about Helena. 

Kayla was also able to describe the spell Puck mistakenly cast on Lysander. But she was a bit confused about the play within the play and thought Bottom (Pyramus) had actually died. 

After the show the children were invited to meet the cast. Kayla fixated on the actress who played Helena and even thought to ask her how long she has been acting. 
She also had a chance to meet the spiritedly and adorable Puck.

At times we forget Shakespeare wrote for the masses and, in doing so, forget it's not necessary to understand every line of the Bard to enjoy his plays. My nine-year-old granddaughter illustrates this truth. She's already asking when we're going to another performance. 

The Tahoe Shakespeare Theater's cutting of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" ran a little over an hour and maintained all the most enjoyable parts in a coherent and easy to follow format. 

Puck's final speech is one of my favorites and seems an appropriate way to end a post about a vacation fantasy experience. For what are vacations if not fantasies and dreams made real? 

"If we shadows have offended, 
Think but this, and all is mended, 
That you have but slumber'd here 
While these visions did appear. 
And this weak and idle theme, 
No more yielding but a dream, 
Gentles, do not reprehend: 
if you pardon, we will mend: 
And, as I am an honest Puck, 
If we have unearned luck 
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, 
We will make amends ere long; 
Else the Puck a liar call; 
So, good night unto you all. 
Give me your hands, if we be friends, 
And Robin shall restore amends."

Monday, July 29, 2013

How We Read While Traveling

I'm posting this from my iPhone, so it will be short!

We are on the first leg of our vacation and have my granddaughter Kayla with us camping in Lake Tahoe. 

To pass the time driving, I haul along books in multiple formats: print, Kindle, iPad, and audiobooks I've downloaded onto my phone from SYNC's free audiobooks this summer. I also have last year's books on my laptop, which is also making the trip. 

For sheer listening pleasure, nothing tops "The Mysterious Howling: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place." I imagine it might be on a reading ladder heading to "Jane Eyre." 

We laughed and howled our way down desolate US95, pausing for Kayla to write in her journal. 

The English teacher in me loves the way Woods introduces young readers to hyperbole, irony, and classical names from literature and history. This is "tricking students into learning" at it's best! The three incorrigibles, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia, offer unconditional love to their governess, whose kindness is a reminder to parents and teachers alike that children, no matter how wild and "untamed" deserve humane nurturing. 

We finished book 1 last night as we lay in our tent. Kayla closed her eyes and said, " We didn't really finish the book because we didn't learn the secret." She's right, of course, so I imagine the ending is really just the beginning of yet another reading journey.