Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holidays, community, and snow!

Here's a post from Emma Levy, one of my compadres. Happy Holidays all!

If you've been curious about grad student life at IslandWood beyond teaching and coursework, this weekend was an exceptional testament to the growing sense of community within our class. An unexpected and extended power outage that began in the middle of Child Development class on Friday afternoon and continued through the evening quickly turned a would-have-been mellow evening into a festive event. 18 of 27 grads were present for an impromptu get-together, lit by candles and suspended head lamps. Susan, our resident chef (and fellow grad) busily prepared enough tamales to feed the masses as the rest of us snacked happily on high quality appetizers. Around 8 p.m., when the electricity returned to campus, dinner disbanded and everyone dispersed to complete the day’s unfinished business—now possible with light and electronics.

Later on that night, three cars full of grads trooped down to Rockaway Beach to explore the tidal pooling and rocky beach exposed by the low tide (the first pre-midnight low tide of the winter). Under the biggest full moon of the year, backed by a striking panoramic view of Seattle, we poked around the beach, overturning rocks and seeking out likely homes for marine creatures. Being from the East Coast, I had never seen anything like purple-ish blue ochre stars or painted anemones, leaving me enthralled with this wonderland of critters and life that is usually hidden deep beneath the water.

Back at IslandWood, preparations for the next day’s celebration of “Faux Christmas Morning” were underway until late into the night. Since most of us are leaving the island for winter break, we decided (after checking on each grad’s holiday preferences) to have a mock Christmas morning, giving us a chance to share time and presents and family traditions. Clad in cheerful pajamas, we all gathered in the commons this morning bearing home-made brunch treats and Secret Santa gifts. These weren’t your typical store-bought presents: there was a song, a painting, a story, home-made books and ceramics, and a giant marshmallow duck, to name just a few. The morning wholly embodied the holiday spirit in its thoughtfulness and excitement for giving, and I think we each felt a true sense of thankfulness for each other and for the opportunity to share this year together in such an extraordinary place. The essence of holiday and community could only have been made more poignant by some small natural miracle, which came in the form of the first winter snow this evening.

-by Emma Levy

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Our first last

Today the 12 grads in my cohort finished up their last field- teaching week of 2008. We will have a two- week winter break, to return on January 6, but the faces of the cohorts (what we call the two groups grads are divided into) will be different. We will be shuffled around, and Cohort A will never be all together again! For a moment it felt a little sad, and Denise, a faculty member, commented at our Debrief Lunch, "It's your first last!" We snapped this group photo at the Friendship Circle this morning as we were waiting for our students to arrive from the lodges. We are all clad in knit hats, scarves, and sweaters (under our rain gear) because Thursday is "theme day"; we add a secret, silly theme to our attire on those last days of the teaching week to make ourselves laugh even more than we already do.

Thursdays in the IslandWood School Overnight Program are always bittersweet, as we get ready to say goodbye to the kids we've been spending our time with all week. So this Thursday was especially poignant since all us grads are getting ready to pack up and send off too. Pat, a fellow grad, and I were the "liaisons" for the two schools that visited, White Center Heights and Greenwood Elementaries, so we acted as the sort-of "masters of ceremonies" at all those gatherings in the Circle (an amphitheater around a campfire in the woods). It was sort-of our job to set the tone, get the kids excited, and make sure everything ran smoothly all week. So I may be a little biased when I say this, but I felt it was a really positive, fun, and rewarding week! We said goodbye to the kids with a closing song we call "Canoes", which is about wayfaring canoers singing to each other as they approach and then pass each other in the night. "Naaa na na na na --- Wayyyy ohhh ---," we sang. And the week ended with smiles on all our faces.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Grad-style family Thanksgiving

Some of us stuck around IslandWood for Thanksgiving; for many of us it was the first time we'd spent it away from home. (I'm one of them). Just like my family's big, loud gatherings back in South Shore Massachusetts, there was tons of delicious food, football- and movie-watching, tests of throwing skill (bottle caps in this case), and heated board game contests. I think we all pretty much felt at home. Some exceptions though: we cooked all of it! And, fortunately for us, since the grad housing is within IslandWood's 255-acre forest, we were able to stave off food coma by foraying out onto the trails in night hike fashion. No flashlights, just us in the woods with our digesting tummies. We slipped into 5th-grader mode here and there on the way to the suspension bridge over the ravine, with comments such as "Is it lodge time yet?" "No pushing!" "Does Sasquatch live at IslandWood?" "Aah! A ditch!". After three months of teaching in the field, we've heard it all, and the kid-mentality tends to rub off on us a from time to time. We made it back in one piece though, without getting eaten by bears, feeling refreshed and almost, maybe, possibly ready for dessert.