So, some have asked to see photos of the Christmas "tree." Here you go. The story is, we live in a small house and annually feel guilty about putting a dying tree up, struggling to keep it as alive as possible, then throwing it away. So this year, the boys + I took a walk in the woods and collected dead + down branches, bound them up and put them in a vase. The result is above, in a very poor quality cell-phone image... But you get the idea.
So, we are just now catching up after the Thanksgiving break. My parents + sister came into town and we had a mini-Christmas celebration. Nice time had by all. We walked in the woods, collected and compared leaves, looked them up on the computer to determine their identity. We collected pine cones, interesting branches and made crafty things with them. HBA wanted to recreate the family stocking tradition, so we made stockings out of felt and decorated them, then rushed all over town buying stuff to put in them.
We saw the local theater company’s production of an Appalachian mystery play — “A Beautiful Star,” which we enjoyed a lot, although we were glad that RBA fell asleep prior to the Isaac / Abraham scene, in which Abraham struggles with and prepares to sacrifice his son. Thought it might be a bit much for him, and I was glad not to have to field those questions. However, since then, he has grown quite attached to the Beautiful Star soundtrack. He claims that his favorite song is “all of them.” HBA prefers “Waterbound.”
Over the course of the weekend, we ate a lot, ate well, and ate often, particularly Lucky 32 — the perfect holiday. Although, came to work this week, saw this, and felt guilty for our gluttony. In the end, so glad they had the chance to visit. Here are a few photos, thanks, in part, to my sister.
I went to visit with HBA’s second-grade teacher recently for a regularly-scheduled conference. Her report was glowing on all accounts except one. He takes after his father — not exactly a natural predilection for sports. So, he tends to sit on the bench with his teacher and comment on the happenings of the playground, or a new idea which has sunk its roots into his mind. His teacher thought we might want to encourage him to become more involved with sports, or something of that sort. So, on our bike ride home, I told him about how I regretted the fact that, when I was in second grade, I spent many a recess sitting with another student at the tether-ball pole, writing in the dirt with a stick, teaching ourselves cursive rather than playing with the kids our age. He seemed sympathetic to my story, and I thought I had passively gotten my point across. The next day, H was very excited to tell me that he had decided to teach himself cursive on the playground as well. In fact, he had spent recess that day sitting on the bench explaining his plan to his teacher. Since then, he has taught himself cursive — a script far superior to mine, which is really just scribbled print with some superfluous curls thrown in for effect. The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The woods are currently alive with color. RBA + I went for a rather lengthy walk yesterday, and discovered all sorts of interesting sights, including "Leaf Man," a mysterious creature with the body of a young boy, but with a leaf for a head. Luckily, I caught a picture before I fled.
I also tried a few shots of the woods from the back porch. None of the shots capture it, but this is the best I’ve been able to get. It still catches me off-guard sometimes.
Back in the woods behind our house is a huge tulip poplar tree. The tree is native to the region, and is characterized by ubiquitous tulip-shaped leaves, and an [apparently] phenomenal blossom in the spring. This particular tree is about 150 feet high, 64 inches in diameter, and at least 250 years old. It is listed as part of the county’s treasured tree program, and is literally revered within the college community, partly for its historical significance. The tree matches a number of descriptions of a meeting place on the underground railroad from the early 1820s. Early Quaker farmers who owned this land in the early 19th century were instrumental in establishing the railroad, and standing on the steep ravine near its enormous base, one can easily imagine that this would have been a fairly effective hiding place 185 years ago.
When we moved here, a number of people told us we had to go see The Tree, and all of them provided very helpful hand directions, e.g. “Down the road by your house, off to the left, then left, then right, down a ravine and it is right there. You can’t miss it, etc.” So, I tried and couldn’t find it; I chatted with another new faculty member who had also received the same advice, but she couldn’t find it either. So, our families got together to pool our collective wisdom and couldn’t find it, and barely made it out of the darkened woods alive thanks to our trusty flashlight. I called campus facilities on a lazy Saturday and one of the guys had some spare time, took me out to show me a very fascinating beech tree with wonderfully gnarled branches. But not the tulip poplar tree. My sister + brother-in-law came to visit, and we, again searched for the tree. She suggested that this may be some sort of new faculty prank. Just as we were about to give up, we ran into a Kenyan exchange student on the path. We asked him if he knew The Tree, and he graciously offered to take us directly to it.
The Tree is pretty phenomenal, and, of course, impossible to translate into photos. Four of us wrapped our arms around it. This past weekend, RBA and I took a long walk through the woods, back to the tree which is currently bright yellow.
We live on a college campus. Our house backs up to about 200 acres of woods, which is full of all sorts of wildlife, of the undergraduate and non-collegiate type. We regularly see deer very near our house in the evening. Two in our driveway the other night; five in front of our house last week, with one venturing within a few feet of our front porch. I have tried to snap a few pictures of the deer to no avail. As comfortable as they seem to be around us, they grow understandably skittish as I approach slowly with the camera.
So, here is the best shot so far. In fact, I like the picture, more for its abstract quality. I'm sure there will be more to come.
a lazy Saturday... I rehabed LBA's mountain bike — stripped it down to a single gear, new road tires — and we rode our bikes over to a neighborhood park. RBA is now, by his own description, an excellent mountain biker, although his training wheels tend to get caught on the roots which cut across the trails in the park. We fully enjoyed ourselves on the swingset, skipped some stones in the lake, then retired to Elizabeth's for pizza. All in all, a great Saturday. I suppose we all have to pay the piper tomorrow with some house-cleaning, homework + grading, but it was well worth it.
A few weeks ago, the boys + I participated in a local walk for peace. It consisted of a six mile walk from the Friends meeting house across the street from the college to downtown Greensboro. We made it for about two miles before the lure of Ben + Jerry’s distracted us. Both boys were real troopers, although RBA took three strides for each of ours. Both boys waved their signs + yelled whenever someone honked, which was a surprisingly common phenomenon.
There were a few hundred people, which was heartening to see. Lots of kids involved. Some local news coverage here [where you can see HBA in his red OU cap, and me standing next to him] + here.
So, this summer, we relocated to Greensboro, North Carolina from what the locals proudly called the nation’s “heartland.” While the move was professional, it was also an attempt to reorient priorities. We are learning to live in the south, and to simplify — surprisingly sympathetic processes. I will periodically post updates on our progress on both accounts. Work + school are keeping us busy. I am still occasionally astounded by the intricacy of the landscape, the colors and the overwhelming lack of linearity. It has turned cold. The leaves are falling. A crimson red oak leaf sits wrinkling on my desk. Others occasionally listlessly float by my office window. There is a fire in the hut, and the smoke wafts across the campus.