Saturday, March 17, 2018

2018 Johnny's Runnin' of the Green

A beautiful morning for a 5 mile run with 1,000 or so of my closest
sort-of acquaintances. (3/17/18)
Weather: Fair, 24°F (feels like 12°F) , 80% Humidity, Wind: WSW @ 13 mph.
Route: Johnny's Running of the Green, an out-and-back course.
Time (Pace): 41:29 (8:08 min/mile) Unofficial.

Pre-Race Observations:
With my forty-ninth birthday less than two months away, I have only recently returned to actively "running". My "competitive" racing "career" has entered a new stage beginning with this morning's awesome annual community run, the Johnny's Runnin' of the Green. In years past, I would fancy myself occasionally competitive. Now, I am just happy to be out there.

Following January's aborted Winter Warrior Half-Marathon, due to very inclement weather and, if I am honest, poor pre-race training on my part, this morning's (morn's?) run is my first organized one since December's equally festive Reindeer Run 5k. In the interim, I have been rehabbing my hamstrings, reading books, and whining about the weather (oddly, a time-honored tradition for those in Western New York born to it!).

Pre-run jitters less of a problem when
you're doing it for fun. (3/17/18)
After getting out and about on one-day-icy, one-day-spring-like roads for the past week-and-a-half, I registered for the Flower City Half Marathon this past week. This run takes place toward the end of April and today's run is just another step toward accomplishing crossing that finish line with a smile. This is my sixth Johnny's, and third consecutive one, and after posting admirable times the previous two years (38:20/7:40 per in 2016 and 38:33/7:43 in 2017), I suspect the law of diminishing returns will bite hard this year as I project a finishing time of around 45 minutes based upon the past two weeks. Like most "old grey mares", this one ain't what he used to be. An increasing comfort with that new reality does not mean I am resigned to not going faster, further in the future!

Post-Run Reflections: As usual, the Johnny's Runnin' of the Green was a festive, enjoyable community event regardless of how well one might have run. Lots of friendly faces, green t-shirts and picturesque skies made for a very pleasant morning jaunt. Though I am a little socially awkward, it is always nice to see some familiar faces enjoying their time together as a community of runners. It is even nicer to be a small part of it for a few hours on a cold March morning.

I felt remarkably well for initially feeling so unprepared to run. Though my pace was slightly slower than in years past, I was happy with both the final time and mile pace. As is to be expected with a back-of-the-pack position at the start (intentionally), my first mile was at a leisurely 8:49 pace though the final two miles were consistently faster (7:51 and 7:42). In both instances I settled within 5-10 meters of faster runners in an effort to pace with them. The pace also allowed me the breath with which to thank the many volunteers and police officers who helped keep the course safe.

While there was some slight discomfort in my hamstring, overall, I felt strong and excited about what comes next. With a little ice, core work and stretching, I look to be ready for tomorrow morning's longer, slower training run and ultimately (fingers crossed) ready for that half-marathon a few weeks.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Need for Lighter Literary Entrees

Just as we are what we eat, what is ingested intellectually (and let's face it, often on a spiritual level) can color one's outlook. Neither a "good" or "bad" thing, depending on the nature of what is being read, the experience can lead into some dark, though not wholly unsavory, places. This reality is further enhanced in the winter months of perceptibly shorter days and longer periods of darkness...

As a result of recent wear-and-tear that has kept me from running, I have more time. In an effort to fill this gap constructively, I have been reading quite a bit, perhaps more than usual. Though not part of some New Year's literacy resolution, since the start of the new calendar year I have been taking in numerous titles in rapid succession including The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance) and Borne by Jeff VanderMeer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roadside Picnic by Boris Strugatsky and Arkady Strugatsky, Monsters Among Us: An Exploration of Otherworldly Bigfoots, Wolfmen, Portals, Phantoms, and Odd Phenomena by Linda S. Godfrey, March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

As is always the case with new menu items, in some case I have taken one or two bites and walked away. The Breach by Patrick Lee, for example, just didn't offer enough nutritious value to warrant a full commitment. My personal reading, as has been the case for going on 35 years(!), is always supplemented by a healthy diet of 6-17 comic book titles weekly ranging from the familiar (Action Comics, Detective Comics, The Walking Dead, Black Panther) to "smaller" titles (Evolution, Atomic Robo, Saga, Hack/Slash or Bloodshot).

Each of the literary dishes on this reconstituted diet plan contained some very satisfying flavors in the moments of their enjoyment. In retrospect, however, the majority also possessed some dark and bitter tones. There is a valid argument to be made that much good reading, when considered beyond the superficial, does. Of course, this type of diet does not come without consequences, especially to a body (or mind--trying to stick to my metaphor!) already deficient in certain nutrients. Just as a lack of sunlight in one's day may require adding a Vitamin D supplement to any gustatory regimen, at some point, lighter, more uplifting literature becomes a necessity.

This is where I am at today--in dire need of some light, airy, new reading! While I have a number of books of poetry I turn to for warmth, and more than enough long boxes of past favorites from a "friendlier" time in comic books, filling this requirement in traditional longer-form narrative literature is always a challenge. Interestingly, two recent titles I have enjoyed in the past deal with anthropomorphic animals--a pattern I am unsure as to why it exists it my personal reading tastes (especially as I no longer literally "eat" animals). The first came from a recommendation made on NPR Radio. A few summers ago I read a wonderful piece of historical fiction entitled The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe. It remains the rare book that is neither insultingly silly or immature, that tells a compelling story with weight in a manner that suggests joy and warmth. It also serves as a reminder of the value of expanding one's book choice as it was purchased on a lark, but was significantly rewarding. The second was first read was first read ten years ago and (brainstorming as I write this) may very well get reread soon for purposes of sharing with my current high school juniors, Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh.

With these two titles (and a few others) in mind, the search for lighter literary entrees continues as I attempt to cleanse my intellectual and spiritual palette of some darker (albeit delicious) flavors...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Organizing Titles: Sci-fi Books

After multiple moves and seasonal cleaning flings, what remains of my book collection are those with either a high level of re-readability or a personal connection. While some were gifts (my son bought me 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights nearly six Christmases ago), others are titles acquired at different stages in my life (the original Dune series were given to me in a paper bag rescued by a co-worker cleaning her garage--and quickly devoured--during my divorce 17 years ago). It's not just the memories of each book's content, but the nostalgia provided via the tome's acquisition. It's true that even after being read and shelved and re-read, some titles continue to grow.

Remnants of fancies past still present themselves in the forms of duplicate copies of the same title by different publishers. Though this phenomena is occasionally the result of my repurchasing a title because I forget that I had it, or had lent it out when I really needed to read it, most are the product of collecting. Back when used book stores were more plentiful, I would come across editions with interesting covers or alternate forwards and pick them up for a dollar or two. The older I have grown, the less likely I am to do this, though multiple copies of Stranger in a Strange Land reveal that my forgetfulness is still a factor.

Not surprisingly, going back through titles also elicits a few pangs of regret. For example, at one point I had the complete Riverworld series by Philip Jose Farmer, where now only the first, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, remains. Fortunately, lost or misplaced titles are quickly replaced by new once as my affection for Science-Fiction as a literary genre only continues to grow...

Bookshelf Titles
  • Asimov, Isaac. Foundation.
  • Barlowe, Wayne. Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials.
  • Bradbury, Ray. The Illustrated Man.
  • Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles
  • Burroughs, Edgar Rice. A Princess of Mars.
  • Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End.
  • Clarke, Arthur C. Rendezvous with Rama.
  • Dick, Philip K. Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?).
  • Dick, Philip K. Ubik.
  • Dick, Philip K. Valis.
  • Eisler, Steven. Space Wars: Worlds and Weapons.
  • Farmer, Philip Jose. To Your Scattered Bodies Go.
  • Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger in a Strange Land. x2
  • Herbert, Brian. Dreamer of Dune (Frank Herbert Biography).
  • Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. Dune: House Atreides.
  • Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. Dune: House Harkonnen.
  • Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. Dune: House Corrino.
  • Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. Dune: The Butlerian Jihad.
  • Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. Dune: The Machine Crusade.
  • Herbert, Frank, Herbert, Brian and Anderson, Kevin J. The Road to Dune.
  • Herbert, Frank, Herbert, Brian (Editor). The Notebooks of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
  • Herbert, Frank. The Book of Frank Herbert.
  • Herbert, Frank. Dune. x3
  • Herbert, Frank. Dune Messiah. x3 
  • Herbert, Frank. Children of Dune. x3
  • Herbert, Frank. God Emperor of Dune. x3
  • Herbert, Frank. Heretics of Dune. x2
  • Herbert, Frank. Chapterhouse: Dune. x2 
  • Herbert, Frank. The Worlds of Frank Herbert.
  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World.
  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World Revisited.
  • Kirkman, Robert and Bonansinga, Jay. The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor.
  • Kirkman, Robert and Bonansinga, Jay. The Walking Dead: Road to Woodbury.
  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Lathe of Heaven.
  • Lem, Stanislaw. Solaris.
  • Miller Jr., Walter M. A Canticle for Leibowitz.
  • Moorcock, Michael. The Final Programme.
  • Murakami, Haruki. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
  • Mitsuse, Ryu. Smith, Alexander O. (Translator) 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights.
  • VanderMeer, Jeff. Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy Book 1). 
  • VanderMeer, Jeff. Authority (Southern Reach Trilogy Book 2).

Monday, December 18, 2017

Inspired by Students... to Organize!

Blackbeard the cat taking a quick look at titles of zero interest to him. (11/11/17)
During class a few weeks ago, while talking with my students prior to teaching, in a segment I call "Housekeeping" on the agenda, our conversation turned to books. As this is an English Language and Composition class, I was happy, and pleasantly surprised to learn, that a number of my charges enjoy reading so much that they, like I, collect books. As one student so succinctly put it, "I like to own the books I read." I can relate.

My childhood book shelf, now
in my son's old bedroom. (11/11/17)
Over that past 35 or so years, I have purchased and been given numerous titles, and though I have occasionally purged by shelves of those without emotional connection or with little likelihood of being shared or re-read, books cover much of the space I am afforded at home. This more a source of embarrassment than pride as 1) I rarely have people over to marvel at the spines and 2) I recognize the inherent wastefulness of hording books where no one can read them but me (or my largely disinterested family). During what became a wide-ranging discussion of reading for fun, I introduced my class to the Little Library phenomenon that has long take root in my urban community and off late had begun popping up in our suburban school district (most notable with an elementary school sponsoring one just outside its entrance).

While my wife has often suggested I donate the books to the public library or some other organization like the Salvation Army, I balk at that as I know the fate awaiting them: sitting on a 50 cent shelve until eventually being discarded like so many old shoes. I can't do that to my friends, even if our relationship has grown frosty over the years... On an old cell phone somewhere are images of sadly discarded books from my school library, secretly hidden in black plastic garbage bags awaiting a trip to the dumpster after hours. That fate just doesn't seem right.

So, with my cross-country season having drawn to a close and a desire not to spend every last free, moment gaming or grading, my students have inspired me to organize my collection. The ultimate hope being that I will find away to meaningfully disseminate them to interested readers, or at the very least purge the shelves of unwanted hangers-on...

One shelf in gaming room (daughter's old bedroom). (11/11/17)

One of four shelves in the attic; my default Sanctum Sanctorum. (11/11/17)

Second attic bookshelf. (11/11/17)

Also in my daughter's old bedroom. (11/11/17)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Holiday Flick: Smoke (1995)

The story shared by Auggie (Harvey Keitel) to Paul (William Hurt).

As often happens, I have fallen behind--about two-years behind--in posting my Twelve Days of Holiday Movies. Here I sit a week away from Christmas Eve thinking about a movie I first wrote about in 2011. Though as much a "Christmas movie" as the original Die Hard (1988), in my mind it still counts. While the original Mighty Joe Young (1949), and King Kong for that matter, will always be Thanksgiving movies for me, and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) is must-see viewing for Lent, today's film, and in particular the closing credits, is must-see Christmas viewing.

Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's Smoke (1995) is one film I rewatch during the Christmas season every year since I first saw it. Though not a family film (it's Rated R for language), Smoke is an ensemble piece starring Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Harold Perrineau, Stockard Channing, and Forrest Whitaker, among others. A quirky film, it speaks to such powerful holiday themes such as the many faces of redemption, the power of family and the quiet power of compassion.

Back-in-the-day, Smoke, and it's follow-up Blue In the Face (1995), were frequently promoted as slapsticky, New Yawk comedies (such as on the most common, and goofy, DVD packaging seen here). Promoted with (then) celebrity cigar smokers and an emphasis on the more humorous moments, this film and it's characters have much more going on below the surface. The slipcase developed for release in Japanese(?) markets (pictured to the right) offers a more evocative (not to mention holiday themed) image: this is a moving multi-character piece.

I can't recall exactly how I first got turned on to this film, almost twenty years ago now, but I do remember buying a VHS copy of it in a supermarket one day on my way to work. At one magic point in our culture, rare and unusual movies could be had on VHS for two bucks as the marketplace was transitioning to DVD). Up until our VHS player went the way of the dodo six years ago,  I would watch this film each year at just around this time. Taken as a whole, Smoke is not easily pigeon-holed as a “holiday film” (which is a good thing), but the values it eschews do seem to hit home, especially at this time of year.

The final five minutes are more overtly holiday-themed which contributes to its easy selection as a  holiday film, much more so than Die Hard. Originally published as "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story" by writer (and the co-director and screenplay writer for Smoke) Paul Auster (a version of which is available here), the final moments of the film show what is told earlier in the movie. The set-up is this: two of the primary characters, Auggie and Paul, are having lunch. Paul is a columnist who needs to submit an essay to the New York Times for its holiday edition. Auggie (the cigar store owner whose own story is intertwined with those of the other characters) has a story he'll share for lunch. The emotional impact of Auggie’s story is further punctuated by the Tom Wait’s song, "You Dream," which accompanies it.

The story acted out and set to "Innocent When You Dream" by Tom Waits.

Unfortunately, hard copies of Smoke in DVD/Blu-ray are difficult to come by. Nor is it available on Netflix or Amazon Prime for direct streaming. Thanks to the magic your local public library (in my hometown of Rochester, New York, there are two copies for borrowing), Smoke is worth seeking out.

Great stuff, and just one of many evocative scenes from an excellent film.

Originally posted on December 24, 2011

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Veggie Cooking: Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Wings

Don't let Bertie's expression fool you, he was also impressed by the final product! (11/11/17)
Attempting to maintain a less cruel diet, I haven't eaten meat, fish or chicken since July 1. While I have also tried to reduce/eliminate products harvested from animals, by replacing animal milk with Almond for example, a satisfactory replacement for some favorites has thus far eluded me. By far the two animal-product-based meals I most miss eating are ice cream and chicken wings. With the ice cream absence addressed by a delicious banana-almond milk-peanut butter smoothie, the chicken wing "loss" is one that often aches at my gut, especially on Sundays.

After recently enjoying some baked cauliflower buffalo wings at a local vegetarian eatery, I sought to duplicate the epicurean experience at home. Fortunately an easy to prepare recipe for Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Wings online at was quickly found, and after carrying it around on my cell phone for a month, my tummy prompted me to action. On this wintry November afternoon, Bertie, our English Springer Spaniel puppy, and I set about making our first batch.

I am an unremarkable cook, choosing rather a clich├ęd path of learned helplessness when it comes to the kitchen. Even with this culinary handicap, I found this recipe remarkably easy to prepare, in addition to being incredibly rewarding. That the sauce consisted of two favorite ingredients (butter and Red Hot) was a bonus.

A key ingredient: classic Frank's Red Hot! (11/11/17)

Baked once in batter for 20 minutes. (11/11/17)

At this point Bertie had other plans. (11/11/17)

Twenty more minutes after being drizzled with buttery Frank's. (11/11/17)

Plated and ready to SLAY! (11/11/17)
The final product proved an excellent gustatory eexperience. Though too spicy for milady, my stepson and I quickly gobbled down the order of "wings" with a side of dressing. The crispiness of the twice-baked flowerets was solid and the overall flavor VERY reminiscent of the far less fowl-friendly original on which it is based. I am excited to have discovered, and actually tried, a recipe from GimmeeDelicious and look forward to attempting another cauliflower recipe, the Sticky Honey Sriracha Cauliflower “Wings” in the very near future!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Reading: Assessment 3.0

Each summer I intentionally mix a little professional reading into my bedside book pile. In many instances, the titles I choose for this purpose are read with the thought of using them to enhance the  range of content for the courses I teach. More and more frequently, however, books are chosen in an effort to improve my teaching craft. Late this spring, a coaching/teaching peer of mine from a neighboring district began chronicling his move toward a "grade-less classroom" on his personal blog.

In an effort to reach out to like-minded educators, he also invited others to dialogue about their own efforts on Twitter. Though I have often thought (and read a little about) the use of anecdotal evidence and conferencing in place of traditional numbers as a means of assessing and motivating student learning, the excuses I could (and continue to) tell myself far superseded my will. I also was unclear as to what primary text could best articulate a practical approach.

Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes was the book he suggested I start with.

As the subtitle Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning suggests, this is a book of interest primarily to educators. I read this as a means of personal professional development over the summer at the suggestion of a colleague. Short (124 pages including appendices), Barnes’ book is written in very accessible language for teachers of all experience levels. The author uses examples from a variety of educational levels as a means of validating his assertion that using his model of assessment (SE2R) will lead to more independently motivated learners.

The approach employed by Barnes in delivering instruction and feedback can be distilled down to "four simple words," which when combined result in the aforementioned acronym SE2R: Summarize, Explain, Redirect, Resubmit. Assessment 3.0 guides the reader though numerous situations across multiple disciplines and grade levels using this technique to promote the creation of an ongoing, objective conversation about learning. The final result, if properly facilitated, is mastery learning on the part of the student.

As a widely read piece of educational literature, there are quite a few excellent summaries and thoughtful analysis on the validity of Assessment 3.0, much of it written by teachers implementing it. Though I am currently just researching and evaluating the potential, I did have two thoughts:

  • The greatest challenge to change is time, and Barnes addresses that concern head on, by acknowledging and asserting that "Yes, You Have Time For Feedback" (64), and furthermore, offering some suggestions as to how to meed the added expectation of responding in "more than simply written descriptors of work." (61) The central point of his concept is that the work, whether by student or teacher, should be meaningful and that this targeted conversation is a way to make it so.
  • While a well-intentioned (if traditional) educator, I continue to operate under a number of the misconceptions (preconceptions?) regarding effective student assessment and learning that Barnes' work seek to counteract. This doesn't make me "bad," or even ineffective, but it does shed light on the truth that there are areas for improvement. Throughout Assessment 3.0, Barnes cautions against an all-or-nothing mindset, suggesting the practical, intellectual and cultural transition necessary for the shift to an SE2R-centric approach. I am excited to follow the implementation of my colleague at another school district, but the extensive leg work and culture building with administration and colleagues he has taken on prior to doing so reminds me that I am still only cherry-picking.

Ultimately, good books, like good teaching, provoke more questions (the result being the dialogue key) than answers. As an introduction to grade-less (number-less) teaching Assessment 3.0 makes a compelling argument for more research on the subject by interested educators such as your's truly.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Summer Reading: Lovecraft's Monsters

Recently I shared with an old friend my struggle finding Lovecraft-inspired material not written by the author himself. For every "Worms of the Earth" by Robert E. Howard there are a myriad of lesser attempts at aping H.P. Lovecraft's unique vision.

Given the wealth of Cthulhu mythos "fan-fic" available, the challenge is not in finding content, but rather in discovering stories that entertain without proving too derivative. A few days after this conversation, I returned to a Lovecraft anthology I had purchased many months earlier that had been repeatedly relegated to my "to be read" pile after only two of the stories had been read. Fortunately, this proved to be a mistake on my part. With a long car/train ride ahead of me, I once again picked up Lovecraft's Monsters and after enjoying the next two stories I turned to and was heartened by what I read.

The secret of quality Lovecraft inspired stories, to my personal tastes at any rate, is demonstrated by the majority of stories in this collection, edited by Hugo and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor Ellen Datlow. The challenge met by many of the pieces selected by Datlow is transferring elements of Lovecraft's work, such as mood and subtle characterization, into a setting or circumstance that, while clearly influenced by the source, extends those ideas into a new direction including culture, setting and time period. The organization of the text as a whole, including the front (Foreword by Stefan Dziemianowicz) and  back matter ("Monster Index"), contributes to a high quality presentation of the stories, even if a few fall flat for this reader.  

Each story is preceded by a single panel image that foreshadows a key event in the story to follow. While not always the case, many of the images are of the monsters encountered in the story to follow. When this is not the case,  the aforementioned "Monster Index" by Rachel Fagundes fills in the gaps by including both narrative and visual sketches of key Lovecraftian monsters that appear throughout. A  handy cross-referencing of
John Coulthart provides evocative
and creepy illustrations such
as this one that precedes "Red 
Goat Black Goat.
monsters with the stories in the anthology allows for the reader to choose those stories that feature favorites first. As an effective collection probably should, Lovecraft's Monsters is both a fine collection of ancillary stories by writers others than Lovecraft as well as a good introduction to the world of the author. When a recognizable monster, such as The King in Yellow or Azathoth, included in the back of the collections

Some stories such as "Only the End of the World Again" by Neil Gaiman and "Black As the Pit, From Pole to Pole" by the duo of Howard Waldrop and Steve Utley take a monster mash-up approach by pairing Lovecraftian creatures with more familiar ones (the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster respectively). While entertaining and clever to this fan of Lawrence Talbot and the traditional horror icons, it is the more straightforward "new" tales that kept me reading. In each case, the author chooses to mix another literary genre with a dash of Lovecraft to effectively deliver compelling new takes on familiar creature. Standouts include:
  • "Bulldozer" by Laird Barron, pages 33-62. Set in the Old West, this is the story of a "Pinkerton man" on a "hunting expedition to the West." (48) As a bulldozer, a colloquialism for an investigator/security, our protagonist Jonah Koenig is on the trail of a criminal. This is not just any ordinary bad guy, however, but an individual who very clearly has taken part in rituals and dark magic related to Belphagor, one of the seven princes of Hell. Employing a contemporary narrative structure to the story (translation: unusual chronology of plot points), Barron ratchets up the tension and drama. As a fan of the neo-Western, I found this one very engaging. 
  • "That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable" by Nick Mamatas, pages 303-312. Mamatas' vignette is a snapshot of a trio of revelers awaiting the end of the world, beginning of a return of the old Gods, depending on how you look at it. The characters reflect this dual anticipation in that one welcomes them, acting as a self-appointed prophet, while others fear for what is to come. The contemporary setting and familiar perspectives on the nature love in modern society help to make this a particular relatable story. While some of the stories in the anthology only suggest Lovecraft's creatures (for example "Bulldozer"),"That of Which" explicitly namedrops the shoggoths who arrive to welcome the new day (night). 
Other standouts include "Red Goat Black Goat" by Nadia Bulkin (65-76) and "The Same Deep Waters As You" by Brian Hodge (79-115). Whether a Lovecraft enthusiast or seeking an introduction to his rich world of dark magic and monsters, Lovecraft's Monsters, edited by Ellen Datlow and published Tachyon is an beach read... especially at dusk.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Summer Reading: Walkabout

They came to the humble bushes first, the twitching, quivering leaves
tumbling to the sand as they approached. Then came the straw-like mellowbane,
and growing amongst them grass of a very different kind--sturdy reed-thick
grass, each blade tipped with a black, bean-shaped nodule: rustling death rattle, astir
in the sunset wind. (Walkabout, page 56.)

Nearly eleven years ago now, I made the move from teaching eighth grade in the middle school down (physically to a lower floor) to the high school. Currently, I teach five sections of eleventh grade English, and having concluded all of my assigned summer reading books, am on to other reading. Last week I once again came across a title I'd salvaged from the school's discard pile many moons ago, Walkabout (1959) by James Vance Marshall. My recovered copy is in near pristine condition, having not (if ever) been read by students, it's internal coding (86-1) revealing that the school acquired the book in 1986.

My familiarity with the novel comes from prior numerous viewings of the 1971 film adaptation by the same name directed by Nicolas Roeg that it eventually spawned. The movie version of Walkabout has since become a personal favorite that I enjoy watching annually. Given the film's mature subtext, subtle nudity, and themes, I was very surprised to find it in a middle school book room. With the political climate in some schools, I would be surprised to find it in the stacks of more conservative high school libraries, let alone on some approved reading list

Marshall's Walkabout is much more of a traditional young adult survival novel than the film, though a number of the coming-of-age themes explored with greater depth in the film are present. The basic plot elements are the same: two children get lost in the Australian Outback and are helped by an Aborigine on his walkabout. The specifics, such as how the two find themselves in that predicament, as well as their nationalities, among other things, however, result in two very different narrative experiences. Just a few are considered in the quick table below:

The brief excerpt at the top of this post is illustrative of Marshall's vivid and poetic descriptions of the Australian outback; a necessity when the setting is itself a significant character. Though a survival story, the environment is presented less as overtly hostile and more as an aggressively nurturing co-facilitator of experience. Even once they are joined by the "bush boy," Peter and Mary embrace the beauty of their prison even as they search for a way home. The direction Walkabout's plot takes also marks it as an unusual reading choice for middle-schoolers. Unlike other adventure survival reads, The Cay by Theodore Taylor comes to mind, Marshall offers little clear resolution to the subtle internal turmoil between Mary and the boy; no satisfying bridge is built across the cultural divide. As an adult reader, however, one is likely more well-equipped by experience to see some connections being drawn.

The novel Walkabout by James Vance Marshall is a breezy read at a tightly written 158 pages. A descriptive writing style and carefully researched cultural information about the fascinating Aboriginal people make this an easy novel to recommend. I also highly recommend Nicolas Roeg's 1971 film of the same name for a very different, and decidedly more mature, exploration of some themes only touched upon in the book.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Favorite Summer Things

Backyard bunny stops by for a nibble. (7/3/17)
Very few of my neighbors cut their own lawn anymore. Seeing folks outside laying their own mulch in the spring/early summer is a rare occurrence. These were chores forced upon me as a child that I have come to take great comfort doing myself in adulthood. There is something very rewarding and therapeutic about throwing down mulch, pulling weeds and just plain ol' digging in the dirt. I am rarely alone in working in doing yard work in the early morning hours. Fortunately, my wife, the bunny that lives under our shed, neighborhood birds and all types of worms and insects keep me company. These are among my favorite moments in summer time.

Front yard with Japanese Maple. (7/3/17)
Hens and chicks from the backyard. Reminders of my
late grandmother's yard. (7/3/17)
Our original large compost pit made with stakes and chicken wire to far left,
next to shed and vegetable garden with a smaller composter within. (7/3/17)
Had a thing for ornamental grasses a few years ago
and ferns are beyond plentiful. (7/3/17)
Baby bell pepper in the vegetable garden. (7/3/17)
A number of our plants are inspect magnets... everything has its purpose. (7/3/17)
"Stones" made by my children almost 15 years ago and originally planted
at my parents home. After my father's death and mother's move to smaller
living arrangement, they have found their way to our yard. (7/3/17)