On parks and land and coded language

Zaimu Challenge

North Georgia is beautiful. I say this grudgingly, as someone who counts Florida’s beaches, glorious dawns and scenic sunsets among my favorite things to experience. Born and raised a Georgia Peach, I know Georgia’s winters are short, summers long, springs fragrant, and falls gorgeous. It’s beautiful here.

IMG_8360I also know Georgia was a slave state, and the legacy of slavery is unmistakeable in these here hills.

Today’s trip to a nearby park was a good reminder of that.

While exploring the area for places to write and think, I noticed a plaque. Memorials are always fascinating documents to examine, and even more so in light of actual history and the language used to disguise it.

The plaque mentions a “beloved plantation” and notes “cotton was grown,” but there’s no mention of people being involved in any way. Certainly no mention of slavery or anything unpleasant as southerners are wont to say. Nope, just cows, cotton, and trees.

Some could argue that the purposeful use of passive voice helps the community heal and come together. Kumbaya and all that. Others could say it obscures the truth for no good damn reason.

Guess what I’d say?

Animals vs. iPhones

Zaimu Challenge
Greenway indigo by nicole denise
Greenway indigo by nicole denise

I spotted one today! An indigo bunting.

I ran for 30 minutes in one direction, and sure enough, on the way back in, I heard one chirping near the 2.5 stretch.

Although I wasn’t very close, he let me snap one photograph while he stood atop a pine. I tried for video, but it turns out, he wasn’t interested in posing. He wasn’t alone.

I ran another mile and a half, then slowed to watch a brown cottontail stretch in rain-soaked grass, silhouetted by the rising sun. She felt me approach, and distrusting my intentions, scampered out of photo distance.

I shook my head, giggling, and continued my journey.

After another half mile, I came to a straightway that sometimes doubles as a deer crossing. Sure enough, one and then another appeared up ahead. They seemed to notice me, and after a quick consultation, they decided one human was too many. Off they bounded into the woods.

Indigo Stretch

Zaimu Challenge

My running trail is an enchanted forest. Trees and grasses in various stages of bloom flank the whole path. Today I experienced the first honeysuckle this season. Nose candy.

Micro climates and mini ecosystems pulse in the enchanted forest. A chorus of birds on this stretch. A pond of frogs and cicadas on the next. More birds with new songs here. A deer crossing there. A snack bar for bunnies and so on. You experience this all within the first 1.5 miles of the trail. If you’re open to the sounds, scents and scenery, you’re never bored along the way.

indigo bunting
Indigo Bunting by Dan Vickers

Months I spent running that stretch, turning around at 2 miles and heading back in. But there’s a stretch farther in the distance. I make it there often now, but what a treat the first time I tried a five-miler…

Somewhere around the 2.25-2.5 mile turnaround, you spot them. About the size of sparrows, they boast a magnetic, electric blue. Their chirps are loud and persistent from atop the nearby trees, yet sometimes they bounce and fly along side you as you run. Cheering you on.

If you’re not sure you’ll make it to 2.5, these blues are worth the stretch. For the longest time I simply called them my electric birds. Google tells me they might be indigo buntings.

Blue and I went for a run date this morning – the first in months. We ran an easy conversation pace, and blissfully far enough to say hello to the indigos on the back stretch.

Good morning, sunshine.

Spring!?

30 Day Blog Challenge

Is it possible? Has spring finally sprung in Georgia?

After many false starts, has winter finally melted away? Flowers and trees have long thought so. Dogwoods are in bloom and a healthy layer of yellow dust has blanketed cars and outdoor furniture.

Folks with allergies walk around with puffy pink eyes and hints of congestion interferes with small talk about the weather.

Despite these outward signs, the morning 40s have persisted. We’ll warm up a bit by late afternoon, only to plummet once the sun goes down. That’s someone’s definition of spring time, but that’s not how we do it in the Deep South.

Yet today? There were no April showers! There were no morning 40s! The sun shone beautifully all day as did I in my dress! I’m excited. It’s time. Maybe I can finally pack away these sweaters!

Those who believe in the Lotus Sutra are as if in winter, but winter always turns to spring. ~Nichiren

Start with questions.

Education

So there’s a picture making the rounds. And although this particular picture and its provocative caption spawned this entry, what follows is applicable to any picture, meme, article, video and so on. In short, any document.

Being literate is one thing, but engaging in critical literacy means reading against the grain. Critical literacy starts with questions rather than reactions. It demands research instead of assumptions.

To be critically literate means to ask who published a given document and what do they hope to accomplish by doing so? Who benefits and who doesn’t?

Critical literacy asks for context. Not simply the text, but what comes with it. It requires active engagement over passive acceptance.

The picture in question is connected to education. Math, to be specific. And despite the caption and the header, there is no mention of grade level, no standard listed, no explanation. It’s devoid of meaningful context.

Some people are pretty upset about “it,” but aren’t really sure what “it” is. They know it looks strange/ difficult/ hard to understand and they are outraged that anyone would ever need to learn whatever “it” is.

I’m all for people having reservations and voicing concerns, but I advocate starting with questions first. For example:

In a free society, citizens should critique curriculum materials, legislation and all other documents that govern the ways we live. But it’s important to start with your own clear understanding, rather than someone else’s interpretation, summation and conviction.

It’s perfectly okay to not have a clue what you’re looking at. That’s the best time to start with questions.

Revelations

Personal Narrative

Every Valentine’s weekend, the magnificent dancers of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater command center stage at the fabulous Fox. I’ve gone perhaps once every five years or so since I was a little girl. I don’t remember much about my first show other than I was there with my mom and one of her friends, and I was quietly awed about what I’d seen.

Since then, each time I’ve returned, the beauty, power and magic of Revelations is what I most long to see. Years I don’t go, I pacify myself with YouTube.

When I’m lucky, I find older videos, sometimes 20 years old, and watch them alongside the newer ones. The dancers’ athleticism and grace, and the pictures they create on stage are awe-inspiring.

Last year I hadn’t moved back to Atlanta by the time AAADT came and went. Still, I was disappointed I didn’t go to a show. I missed them. It’s been too long, I told Blue. I’m turning 40 next February. I have to go see Ailey next year. An early birthday gift.

Fox AileyThis year, just in time for the second great thaw of 2014, we went! I have rotating list of favorite things, and Revelations has a permanent place in the top five. I’m not alone:

More people have seen Revelations than any other modern dance work, and it has been enjoyed by over 23 million people in 71 countries across six continents.

If you have the opportunity to experience Ailey in general and Revelations in particular, don’t miss it.

No School, No Lunch

Education, Politics, News & Notable

From NPR: When cold snaps and blizzards shutter schools, kids miss more than their daily lessons. Some miss out on the day’s nutritious meal as well.

Blue and I talked about this when the metro area shut down two weeks ago. Some folks were home when horrendous traffic and inclement weather collided in Atlanta, but thousands of others ended up stuck in the worst jam they’ve ever experienced.

People slept in their cars or abandoned them and hoofed it to nearby friends, restaurants and stores. But there were hundreds of students who had no such options – instead, they ended up at school over night when their buses were unable to maneuver the slick hills home.

For many parents, this may have been a nightmare. Many, but perhaps not all. For a few, knowing their child is at school with access to heat, running water and food, might be a comfort.

Over half of Georgia’s students live in poverty. I was a classroom teacher in what was then a middle class section of metro Atlanta. Even so, there were students who couldn’t always bathe at home and used makeshift facilities at the school, students who would’ve been cold without the socks, blankets and coats donated, or who were hungry but for free breakfast and lunch. We were never quite sure about their dinner. This was in the early 2000s and the poverty rate has increased since then.

So here we are, a mere two weeks away from the last winter storm, and kids are once again out for several days in a row. Parents with the resources to stockpile groceries did so, as evidenced by the numerous pictures tweeted from throughout the metro area earlier in the week. But still we wondered: What about parents who can’t afford take off work and are still expected to go? What about those who can’t stock up on food?

Summer Lunch
Hunger isn’t relegated to winter. When school is out for the summer, many students go hungry without community support. Growing up, I spent a good portion of my summer break in Savannah. In the afternoons, a truck would pull up to the park across from my grandmother’s house, and a throng of kids would crowd around. What are they doing? I remember asking once. Getting lunch, she explained. Grandma didn’t elaborate aside from explaining it was a special program and we already had lunch here. But given what I now know about some of the demographics of the area, I wonder if it was a free lunch program.

As The Washington Post has reported, one program in Tennessee retrofitted a bus carrying sack lunches and delivered free meals to kids in impoverished areas.

With Georgia’s slick, hilly roads, and kids who simply don’t have the wardrobe to brave the elements, we understand why schools and businesses close. But those in other quarters do wonder if keeping schools open isn’t the better response:

When schools close because of extreme cold, especially in areas where many families struggle to pay for heat as well, Alexander wonders whether closing schools is the best way to go.

“It seems to me the best place to be is in school,” she says. “At least we can get the kids a hot meal.”

Read the NPR article here.

Texas free write

Personal Narrative

I’m in Texas where they say everything is bigger.
I’m not sure about bigger, but certainly different is accurate.

I entered my hotel and spotted a poster screaming dire warnings about firearms and imprisonment and fines not to exceed $10,000.
I’ve stayed in lots of hotels. Never seen such a sign.
The last time I hoteled in Texas was in the 80s. Maybe they didn’t have those loud posters then.

I got punked by four interchanges in the first 15 minutes of my drive this evening. I’m working in the cut, the boondocks, bumble—-, etc. Apparently you have to really be quick at the wheel to make it to the middle of nowhere.

Driving an hour to the middle of nowhere, I noticed a recurring sign: Crossover 1/4 mile.
In Georgia, if you’re driving long stretches in semi-rural areas, good luck if you need to make a U-turn. The median is often blocked with silver railings. Sometimes there are ditches or otherwise treacherous patches land in the middle. Occasional signs announce that this turn around is for official use only. And if you’re desperate to go in the other direction, you might try and sneak a turn, but then you see the blue lights in your rearview.

So I’ve heard.

But in Texas, maybe they know that sometimes you go the wrong way. Or you miss your turn. Or you leave something behind that you need to go get. And in a mere quarter of a mile, you can crossover and try again.

When more is better

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Temple Building

Distance running didn’t come naturally to me. I’m a sprinter, and have been ever since I outran the neighborhood boys back in grade school. In my 20s, I tried distance running a few times, but it never really stuck. I rarely felt as if I could breathe very well, and my legs always itched. I figured out the solution to both of those things years later – a histamine blocker and pacing.

Yesterday’s run was a good one. This route had manageable hills and after 3 miles, I had energy left, but no time.

It takes me anywhere from a half mile to a mile to get warmed up. During those first 5-10 minutes, I’m looking for a comfortable stride length and finding a good cadence for my breathing. Around mile two I get in a groove. I relax and settle into the run, especially if it’s a familiar route.

The third mile varies. Depending on my level of fitness, I experience fatigue during the first half. I slow down a bit, especially if I was pushing things earlier. Sometimes I start wondering how much longer I have before I arrive at home base.

Unless I’m short on sleep or fuel, I shake it off by the second half of the mile. By then, I’ve gotten my breath back, my legs back, and I’m rocking out. Yet for years, that was the end of the run. Eventually I discovered the magic of mile four.

That fourth mile? That’s the sweet spot. I’m warm. Breaths come and go in energizing rhythms. My stride opens. I’m pushing it until I cross the finish line. The endorphins are in full effect. Life is great.

These days I’m back at 3 because I’m finding new routes and running hilly terrain for the first time. It’s a tough slog, really. Training on hills is more than a notion.  I’m looking forward to developing my fitness, and eventually finding 4 sweet again. After that? We’ll see.