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All posts for the month August, 2014

Summer Challenge: Mexico Point Park

Published August 5, 2014 by Susan Woodward

“I walk out into a nature such as the old prophets and poets, Menu, Moses, Homer, Chaucer, walked in. You may name it America, but it is not America; neither Americus Vespueius, nor Columbus, nor the rest were the discoverers of it. There is a truer amount of it in mythology than in any history of America, so called, that I have seen” (Thoreau, Walking).

There is an interesting fact about New York State.  Did you know that while driving along the Thruway and the myriad expressways ending in “90”, you will come across exits for places like Troy, Ithaca (ask my students about those two and the New York Odyssey project we do!), Liverpool, Greece, Rome, or even Mexico, just to name a few? It’s as if I need a passport at the thruway exits…and how fun it would be to get my passport stamped at each place. It’s like going around the world without crossing a state line. I do have to say, though, that Las Vegas has us beat with being able to ride a Venetian gondola, nibble on fromage by the Eiffel Tower, and check out the missing chunk on the Sphinx’s nose all along one strip, but that will be another trip!

Today, I went to Mexico. No, not the country, the town in New York. Ironically, there is a hamlet WITHIN the town called Texas! Fortunately, I had no trouble with border crossings.

No matter where we go nor what a place is called by those who inhabit it, the place is ultimately Earth. No black lines can be seen from a plane or form space that divies up this planet, yet much violence and hatred is spewed over these imaginary lines. As inhabitants of this planet, we should be more united in our experience here than we are. This makes me think of Man’s dominion referred to in “To a Mouse,” the Robert Burns poem that I use when beginning to read Of Mice and Men with my students:

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
          Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
          Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
          Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
          An’ fellow-mortal!
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
          ’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
          An’ never miss ’t!
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
          O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
          Baith snell an’ keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary Winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
          Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
          Out thro’ thy cell.
That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
          But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
          An’ cranreuch cauld!
But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
          For promis’d joy!
Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
          On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
          I guess an’ fear!
And so on to the beauty of the Earth…

Mexico Point Park 1

I must say, this was a beautiful park. There was the ruins of what looked like an old church, but which turned out to be what once was an inn. Oddly, it’s called Casey’s Cottage…at least that is what the sign says.

Another interesting thing was the plethora of carved statues all around the perimeter of the park proper.

Mexico Point Park StatuesThese are just a few of the many statues around the park. They depict famous people (like the Native American and the boxer, both of whose names I forgot to write down) or set the tone for a specific aspect of the park (hospitality, swimming, and fishing).

Casey's CabinWhen I first came across this building, it looked like an old church because of the shape of the stained glass windows. According to the website, it’s an old inn. I loved the style of the door here…

Casey's Cottageand check out the ornamentation around the windows. It looks like draped valences! I also do not remember if it is Casey’s Cottage or Cabin, so I shall refer to both…I have a 50% chance that one of them is correct!

Woodland BasiliskI saw this and immediately felt like I was in the presence of the powerful Woodland Basilisk, distant American immigrant cousin to Harry Potter’s foe in the Chamber of Secrets.

Mexico Pt Park 2

Beauty and the BeachThis lovely was growing out of the sand among a bunch of rocks… and the color stood out.

Mexico Point Shoreline

Mexico Pt Shoreline

Mexico Point MonumentI shall have to do some research on Ancestry.com to find out whether or not Silas Towne is related to the Medina, NY Townes. If so, then I have a relative who was a Revolutionary War hero!

I hiked with MapMyWalk! Distance: 1.18mi, time: 56:03, pace: 47:25min/mi, speed: 1.27mi/h.
http://mapmywalk.com/workout/677102767

Mexico Point Park was just the first stop today….

Summer Challenge: Derby Hill Bird Observatory

Published August 4, 2014 by Susan Woodward

I really was hoping to see a large variety of birds and hear a splendid chorus today, but it was the thrum of bugsong to the insectual tune of “Lunch is Now Being Served on the Main Path” that made for a rather short walk. It seems that Deep Woods Off is a delicacy at Derby Hill, and every flying insect was happy to find me on the menu.

“I was as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito making its invisible and unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet that ever sang of fame” (Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”, Walden).

So, H.D., do you mean that you were affected in a way that the sound of a mosquito is something you cannot ignore, like the blaring sound of a trumpet or bugle at Reveille? Or did it affect you with its melodious hum like a jazz tune? If it’s option number one, then I get you! If it’s the latter, then I would like to introduce you to “Lunch is Now Being Served on the Main Path” and see if you will still be singing the same tune.

These pesky creatures managed to get behind my sun glasses and into my eyes!

Needless to say, I did not stay long at Derby Hill. As pretty as it was, there was hardly a bird in sight, and those who were flying nearby took off when they heard me fighting with the bugs. But at least I managed to get a few pictures before running away!

Derby Hill 1

The paths through the fields and forest were actually quite charming even though those that came to greet me were significantly less so!

Derby Hill 2

I am sure the birds love this sumac…and the picture does not do justice to the beauty of the flowering stems.

Derby Hill 3

Along with the bugs that most likely house themselves in what is left of this tree, Nature does remind me that with life, there must also be death. I accept and respect that…but then I got the hell out of there in an effort to preserve the life I have!

I hiked with MapMyWalk! Distance: 0.81mi, time: 24:29, pace: 30:14min/mi, speed: 1.98mi/h.
http://mapmywalk.com/workout/675660723

As a result of my bug experience, I decided that, at least for this afternoon, I would do my exploring in my car for a bit.

Amish School House

In my travels back to the cabin, I came across an Amish school house. As I looked at what seems to be a one room structure, I wondered how my students would fare in such a place. They already think that spending 55 minutes with me in room E210 is akin to Dante’s sojourn through Hell…can you imagine if they had to spend a whole day with me in one room? They’d go nuts. I have a lot of respect for the teachers of old who taught all subjects to all grade levels all in a single room. I cannot imagine how they did it. And so my respect and utter awe goes out to whoever is in charge of this school. I couldn’t do it!

Fernwood Feed Mill

Quite honestly, I wanted to pop in to see if Ike Godsey was in! For those of you too young to know who Ike Godsey or his wife Corabeth are, then click the pic for a link. Although this feed mill may not be a general store like Ike’s, it certainly did have the nostalgic aura of one. Like my admiration for those one-room schoolhouse teachers, I also admire the pride that came with a Mom-and-Pop business. Sadly, today’s economy does not allow small businessmen to survive, let alone thrive. The quaintness and charm of places visited on television or in literature…like Godsey’s store on Walton Mountain or the Olsen’s Mercantile in Walnut Creek…is not as readily available as it once was. The mercantile was not only a place of business, but a place of social gathering as well. Thoreau, too, enjoyed his visits to the “civilized” realm away from the pond.

“Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homeopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs” (Thoreau, “The Village”, Walden).

This goes to show that even though Thoreau chose to sequester himself in the woods, he was by no means a hermit. He knew the difference between loneliness and solitude. Over the past couple of years I have come to know and cherish that difference. I guess that is why the words of both Thoreau and Emerson have a profound effect upon me. I hope that I shall be able to convey that to my students as we read from the Transcendentalists.

*Sigh* I know that there are still country general stores out there, but they are few and far between. Their numbers have been greatly reduced by an economy that does little to sustain them.

On the flip side, though, I do have to admit that I love Wegman’s. Hypocritical?  Mehhhh… My apologies to the Godseys and the Olsens.

Hydro Plant

Behind the Feed Mill is the Fernwood, NY Hydro Plant. That’s what the stone sign says! When I’d gone canoeing earlier in the weekend, I’d been warned not to go too far down the pond to the dam. Barbara, the cabin proprietor, had been talking about beavers building dams in the creek. She also talked about how the town was doing something with a dam, so I assumed that her warning pertained to running into a beaver dam. Of course, I did go in that direction out of curiosity and a photo op, but seeing no place where beavers had built anything at all, I’d turned around disappointed. It seems that if I had continued on, though, I would have been treated to Fernwood’s version of white water rafting. I don’t know how well the canoe would have taken it! After having experienced white water rafting in Colorado’s stretch of the Rocky Mountains (and being terrified at being thrown into the middle of the raft when going over a waterfall), I do not think the Fernwood Falls experience would have added to the serenity of my Walden Project. I am glad I turned around, but it does make for a pretty picture from the other side.

And that concluded my sojourn for day three. Once more to the invigorating scent of a shower infusion of peppermint and lavender, and an evening with Harry Dresden. Even in the woods, I still love my murder mysteries!

Summer Challenge: My Walden Experiment

Published August 3, 2014 by Susan Woodward

How perfect is it that I am able to combine my Summer Challenge with preparation for the upcoming school year?

When I return to work after this summer respite, I will be teaching juniors for the first time in my district. After looking at the curriculum possibilities, I have decided that I will begin the year with the Transcendentalists. What better time to read Emerson’s “Self Reliance” and Thoreau’s Walden? Thoreau, in particular, was fond of writing his essays as personal narrative. It is ironic that both Emerson and Thoreau fall into the list of Common Core works when the ELA author of the Common Core State Standards, David Coleman gave a presentation at the New York State Education Department in 2011 titled, “Bringing the Common Core to Life” in which he said:

Do people know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today? Texting someone said; I don’t think that’s for credit though yet. But I would say that as someone said it is personal writing. It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.

I beg to differ.

The single most important piece that students will write is the college essay. It’s not a persuasive argument, and it’s not a literary analysis. It is a personal narrative about why the student wishes to pursue his/her higher education at a particular institute and what life experiences have brought him/her to the decision to apply. No matter how many arguments or analysis essays students produce, with no real practice in writing about themselves and what they really think/feel, the college essay will be an incredible source of stress for them. So in order to prepare them to write about themselves, we will look at essayists who did write about their thoughts and feelings. And what better place to start than with Emerson and Thoreau?

Because I will be asking students to write about their own experiences, I made an effort to model that behavior with my own Walden Experiment. To begin, I went so far as to rent a small cabin in the woods (yes, all by myself) and hiked about the area as much as possible. I recorded my excursions on MapMyWalk, a phone app that records your progress, and I took plenty of pictures, both of which I shared with my friends on FaceBook to whet their appetites for when I would write my blog entries.

You know…Thoreau would have LOVED modern technology. Oh, he may complain about man’s infringement upon Nature with his trains and fences, but as one who desired to share his Walden Pond experiences, I am certain that he would have blogged, tweeted, MappedHisWalk, and shared with the social networking cyberworld. As he said about his decision to live in a small cabin in the woods, “I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as Chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake the neighbors up” (Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”, Walden).

This is Thoreau’s cabin:

Thoreau CabinAnd here is the cabin I rented for five days:Feeder Creek Cabin Framed

It may not have been as rustic a Thoreau’s little place that he built (yeah…it had air conditioning and DishTV, which I avoided using…well the TV anyway), but it WAS in the woods and on a pond. It was also extremely economical, of which Thoreau would approve. Personally, I highly approved of the modern conveniences rolled into my experiences in Nature. I was especially grateful for the WiFi that was available! No hating about electronic devices! Thoreau would have approved of the ability to get the word to the masses.

Speaking of Chanticleer, I have been lied to my whole life about a rooster crowing at sunrise. Feeder Creek’s Chanticleer crowed ALL day and even into the evening! He, too, wanted to make his voice heard at every opportunity. So, like the rooster, I crowed on FaceBook and MapMyWalk every day.

And I kid you not, there were even bean plants growing in the garden right behind the cabin. As a place to partake in a bit of what Thoreau wrote about, I could not have found a better place without going to Massachusetts. And what was even better was that it was only about a two and a half hour drive from home. Because of it being in Upstate New York, I also was able to double dip the experience to include it as part of my Summer Challenge. I love how things work out perfectly.

Feeder Creek Cabin Interior

Feeder Creek Cabin Sitting Area

cabin kitchenette

Bean Fields

Even with all the lovely modern conveniences that made me feel comfortable, I still partook of the outdoors in Throeauvian fashion. The first place I explored immediately after unpacking was Grindstone Mill Pond. The owners of Feeder Creek Lodge and Cabin, Bill and Barbara VanWormer, offered me use of a canoe to aid in my explorations.

“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows” (Thoreau, “The Ponds”, Walden).

And so I hopped into the canoe…after first tipping it and myself with my first attempt to get going. Truth be told, I was afraid that there might be spiders in the canoe, and so I was tipping it into the pond to wash them out. Yes, that is the story I am going with! Thank goodness I had the foresight to put my cell phone in a plastic bag in my pouch…it serves as my camera. Once I finally got going, a huge spider DID make its way across the rim of the canoe, and I swear he was begging to join his friends for a swim. I was only too happy to oblige him. Thank goodness the remainder of the ride was arachnid-free! And was was glad to have sprayed myself with 85 SPF sun screed and Deep Woods Off. It really did make for a much more enjoyable afternoon on the pond.

Pond 3

Pond 5

 

View From a CanoeRather Monet-esque if I do say so myself…

pond 2

Canoe Ride on the Pond

And so, as the afternoon wore on and I returned to my cabin, I spent the remainder of the evening outdoors in my lounge chair enjoying the words of Henry David Thoreau and contemplating how I might experience the joy of Nature that he felt for myself.

And I am grateful the Deep Woods Off helped to make that experience more joyful! I do not know how Thoreau managed the bugs!

 

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