Heavy turquoise, mug, softly ribbed and a little asymmetrical, warms your hands as you sip the foam. You reflect on the pleasures of the good breakfast of sausage, eggs, and Brussels sprouts with cheese, the run along the trail with Indian plum buds bursting like candle flames on the banks of the running stream. The soy milk foam is stuck down at the bottom of your mug, and you want that last bit. Reaching for the first implement on hand to scoop it up, you find a weathered stick cracked to a point, rough and splintery, and after imagining the feel of the wood on your tongue, decide to leave it where it is. Your youngest son has been here, whittling sticks being his specialty. All sizes and shapes, with or without duct tape handles or wooden hilt, some with round twine, left behind everywhere, swords and pistols for his daily battles. You used to study animal tracks when you were a girl, learned to recognize rabbit trails, the difference between dog and cat impressions, the story of an owl attack on a rodent in the snow. Now you follow trails of toy weapons, discarded socks, used dishes, and food wrappers, interpreting natural human history.
You’ve hooked up your laptop in the back bedroom for some quiet while most of the family watches the football game. You’re glad your daughters and son can enjoy that relaxed time together with their dad, but you’ve never tried to cultivate that particular interest, though the advertisements are an interesting study. But sometimes people get annoyed at your commentary. The Mazda ad that asks, “Remember the time when your trunk wouldn’t open itself? When you only had HD in the living room? When a little weather could put a hold on your plans?” All a giant cultural irony to you, and you can’t help saying so. Do they think that just because some folks are sitting down to a football game on a Sunday afternoon, they think their purpose in life is to strive for more luxury, withdraw more from the troubles and injustices of our times, to give in to and feed a craving for more, more, more? Must just be clueless, never studied or served overseas, never had a taste for, say, the news. We talk about an educated citizenry, and then this is what we produce–manipulation of those too dull to separate false from true, want from need.
You pick up some audiobooks for your boy last week, told him they were required listening, wanting him to broaden his range beyond the usual formulaic series. Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, Hitler Youth, and Farmer Boy. He was totally engaged. Hitler Youth an eye-opener, the way these boys were encouraged to compete to be the best while being ruthless to the weak, to elevate the state above all other loyalties such that children turned their neighbors, their companions, their parents in for comments critical of the regime and the fuehrer, submitted themselves sacrificially unto death, all the while fighting tooth and claw to survive and come out on top, hoping to be one of the elite. As their nation did the same, organizing to recover from their war losses and breech the humiliating conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. In their trust in the state and desire to serve it in its struggle, ordinary Germans people failed to convey to their children the foundational principles, the personal ethics, that would have enabled them to see through this demonic form of patriotism. Which you see as a kind of moral laziness, an abandonment of parental responsibilities, both in actual families and in German religious institutions.
Back in the kitchen after the game you hear the comforting rush of dishwasher, the oven timer on the granola rings, your daughter taps on keys as she wraps up her essay on experiential learning. She was completely stuck, couldn’t get from being about to talk about what she wanted to say to creating written sentences that flowed. So you asked her questions and typed her thoughts, worked on showing her the process, even fed her some phrases. She’s really improving, and starting to write about issues important to her, getting that this is her education. You suggest that she conclude her paper with something about how it was through her educational experiences that she became interested in experiential education, and is now interested in not only getting this paper handed in as required for a grade, but in studying related issues for a deeper personal understanding.
Running down the trail today, you tried to pay more attention to the different bird songs, catch sight of the singers. The tough ones are those that hide out in the underbrush. But today as you came to the intersection of two trails, there was a winter wren perched on a mossy rock, singing. High and sweet, melodious in a non-structured way, each phrase a few seconds long. Each time it sang, it opened its tiny wings and held them at an angle downward from its body, and turned its beak from side to side to direct the song to all the wrens at various points of a wide arc. Although you were standing only a few yards away and it must have seen you, it ignored your presence and stayed relaxed. When a second runner came around the bend the wren looked after him and got quiet, and you moved on quietly.
It went like this: