Dr. Grauer is experiencing nature on the other side of the country in Maine this week, enjoying the quiet beauty of rain falling on the lake on an autumn morning while paddling in his kayak.
Greetings from Maine. To start, I’ve never known nights so dark. The morning I turned 72, I got up early, dragged a kayak onto the damp, grassy bank of the river, pushed off and started paddling to the north end, where I’d never been. I set out and it is wonderful how incredibly efficient paddling is with the wind low and the surface smooth, how clean and long the glide is. I am alone here and preparing to return to the school with a little ambiguity in my role, which I don’t mind. Dealing with almost constant distraction and ambiguity will mean far more to future leaders than I think I would want to deal with, though. Be good to them.
The river, in coastal Maine, here in the town of Camden, pure, slick and dark, mirrored the greens and slight tinges of red and gold from the trees on the other side. Back at the cabin, I was in the middle of six books, literally, and I bought two more this week, all spread out over a farmhouse table, each representing for me something like a different life direction I seem to pick at random, each a victim of what we were calling interruptive technology for a while there. But out here, a paddle stroke is consuming and simple and uninterruptable.
After a few minutes, up ahead, a few pricks appeared on the still surface and sent out their concentric circles. Flies?
No, it wasn’t flies, and as the pricks increased, barely a sprinkling started spreading over me, along with what sounded like pink noise.
Pink noise is higher frequency than the “white noise” you’ve heard of, and common in biological systems. I prefer the lower frequency brown noise and can listen to it even during sleep. I love natural sound and I want my students and classes to have more of it, for health and concentration. (Read about Grauer Zenbells for more on sound in the classroom. )
I studied my sweatshirt and saw the evidence, that it was rain starting, or drizzle.
Up ahead was the trestle at Molyneaux Road where I was headed, and I was amusing myself at the mythology and storytelling in that vein: a low, dark trestle that you could paddle right under, passing by trolls, by fairies, entering the secret forest world, or Steven King stuff (another Mainer) that takes us away from it all. In general, even without books, I think it is the very young and the very old who have the greatest access to the spirit world, and mystery, and with gratitude on this day, I thought/felt I might qualify more.
I almost didn’t make it. As the rain continued, I involuntarily dipped my paddle in at the right angle so that the little vessel curved around a full 180 degrees, turning back. Why? What was that impulse?
Then it came to mind that I did not care a thing about how wet I got. I might like to get wet. I looked at the sky and figured there would not be lightning, then dug in a couple strokes, held the J position until I had completed the 360 and the little vessel was heading once again to the trestle. You could call that the climax of the story. I admit I was playing with the sense that continuing on revealed the natural optimism that had always prepared me for leadership, though such a tiny story, not exactly Leif Eriksson over here.
I soon was gliding in and under the trestle. In a burst, four geese were released from down in there and flew over me, hoarse and honking and cluttering their way out. I slid into a narrowing, shadowy green, riparian ecosystem, quiet and dark and deep. I sculled upstream till my hull was sliding like sandpaper over a rock, and now I could hear the light tinkling of a little rapid which came into view just ahead. I was at the end, enveloped like a cave, and stuck.
I understand that here in this space is where stories are written, but this is just a blog. It’s all yours, story weavers.
I shimmied and pushed backward until I was off the rock, turned, paddled back up the lake in what felt like slow motion, and before long, I dragged the kayak back onto thick grass that my bare feet sank into, and went inside again.
I busted out a clutter of work emails, then resumed writing a review of our recent student expedition in Kentucky, the opposite end of Appalachia from where I am now. I had recorded themes students had made at the end of that trip. They were strong:
“I figured out what it would be like to live in a more green area.”
“I did scary things and I really enjoyed them.”
“I had compassion for the bugs…”
That was a great group. They would not have turned back in the rain. Now, from my desk, I looked outside and there were the four geese at rest before me on the lawn, like a lovely little theme. Settle down! Settle down. In another ten days, the first, light frost came, and the golds and reds started taking over trees all around. By then, which is now, I had settled into just two of my books. That’s it from Maine, so thank you to those who have been asking, I’ll be back before long.
 Dr. Grauer's Column: Zenbells - Trade Secrets of Naturalist Education - December 19, 2021.
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