Monday, August 2, 2010

A Whale of a Trip

One of the absolute joys of the teaching life is having the opportunity to learn and grow along with one's students. Sometimes it is a small moment — a new book discovered or a new way of seeing an old favorite. Traveling through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island with a group of graduate students is no small moment — it is an explosion of sensation as rich and nurturing as the krill that flourish in these marshes and estuaries. We sing everywhere — in the van, on boats, as we walk the beach or city sidewalks. Our laughing muscles hurt and yet the writing that is shared is thoughtful, profound, moving.

Which is the best moment? Seeing the glacier-scored rocks at Peggy’s cove, or hearing the story of Peggy—a child pulled from the wreckage of a downed schooner? Or seeing the graves of Titanic victims—some unnamed—who were not rescued in time?

I feel dwarfed by the work of Alexander Graham Bell—and then awed by the bald eagle, Alex, who circles our boat near this wise man’s Cape Breton home. To say nothing of seeing (in just two days) two moose and more whales than I can count.

The sea is all around us here—it salts my skin, sings me to sleep at night, carries me back in time to my childhood on the beach. So is this the best? High on the list, a moonlight paddle across a glassy lake then spending the night in a tipi on the shore.

And through it all—day by day—watching these lovely people stretch, grow, explore, take risks. There is no one best moment, for there are so many brilliant ones. Instead, for me, the mix of writing and teaching is simply the best life.

Here is a poem I wrote while on the trip —


yellow bathtub in peaty brown water

currents, wind whip up

waves smack the boat bottom

a drumbeat tattoo

in my ears I am an ocean-going tug —

a pilot boat

a zodiac bounding from froth to froth

in truth I am a small woman

on a small plastic boat

upon a small placid lake

but the moment is infinite