A Story of Natural Consequences


A little ways to the left of the dock above is a deep channel dug years ago for irrigation purposes.  Whoever was digging it gave up and now it’s just a deep, muddy ditch.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that the program I work for regularly brings students into that marsh.  Which isn’t actually a big deal: typically, our students listen to us when we tell them not to go into the mud because they’ll sink in up to their waists.  Typically they hear these instructions and heed our advice.  Typically.

Last week, the final week of our program for the school year, we had a school from the Boston inner city area.  With urban schools, my main objective is to get the kids out into nature, to try to get them to connect with something, anything, in the outdoors.  Now Boston isn’t New York in terms of nature, but my goal remains the same.  This is mud, those are trees, bug spray goes on you not the insects.

Regardless of where a school is from my rules are simple: we stay together, we have fun and learn something, don’t get hurt.  This last school had a little trouble with the rules.  None of the students got hurt, but half were having trouble with the “have fun and learn something” rule (“it’s so cold!”, “there are so many bugs!”, “I’m gonna get wet!”), while the other half was disregarding the “stay together” rule.

Tuesday, we’re in the marsh, about four girls have informed me they have to pee (these muffins are not prepared to go in the trees), I am attempting to get us as close to an actual bathroom as possible.  This is proving difficult as the kids not into the exploration are dragging their feet, and the kids who are into finding animals in the marsh keep finding really cool crabs and asking questions about the various species, and I’m really pumped to stop and examine and answer their questions.  However, slowly, but surely, we are getting closer and closer to the dock above (which is a short walk to the dining hall and, therefore, toilets) but we are still on the far side of the channel.

And I don’t realize that I’m not going to be able to get up ahead of them to warn them about the mud.

There I am, standing in the marsh, looking around to make sure all students are moving with the group, while staying away from the osprey nest on the point, when I turn back around to see, up ahead, K—-, a small, fifth grade boy in a clear plastic poncho, jump off the marsh, into the channel, and run/crawl up the far bank back onto the marsh.  I yell to them to stay where they are as the rest of the students and I make our way to the channel.  Miraculously all the students come gather around.  Mostly due to other kids yelling “K—- LOST HIS SHOE!  K—- LOST HIS SHOE!  MISS BECKA, K—- LOST HIS SHOE!”

K—- had, indeed, lost one of his shoes.

Very calmly, to the gathered students, I tell them that I am now going to tell them the story of the girl who jumped in the channel.  She didn’t listen to me, got ahead of me, much like K—- did, jumped in the channel and sank up to her waist in the mud.  She was lucky, however, I told my students.  Unlike another student who lost his boot in the mud.  When his teacher reached in to get it out, she pulled out a boot, sure; but not that kid’s boot.  A different boot.  K—-‘s shoe is gone.  K—-‘s shoe is no more.  There is no shoe.  It’s gone, baby; gone.

And I couldn’t be mad at him.  Couldn’t yell at him.  I couldn’t give him a warning or a strike for running ahead.  The boy lost his shoe in the mud.  Forever.  I wasn’t about to jump in there and try to retrieve it, especially after the kid told me he had another pair in the cabin.  I did tell his teacher when we got back, however.  He agreed with me: Natural Consequences.  Now the kid knows if he jumps in the mud again: he might lose his shoes.

This child is destined to lose shoes, though; I’m convinced.  The next day, that same student almost lost his sandal to the ocean.  Another kid fished it out with a crabbing net.


The Day Before My Grandmother Dies


The day before my grandmother dies
I’m on a bus heading for a celebration.
The bus is full and quiet,
it reminds me of another bus,
on another continent,
on a trip that solidified a friendship
I’d be worse-off without.
The memory makes the bus ride
less heinous than expected.

The day before my grandmother dies
I sip hot coffee and watch CNN in a bus station
waiting for a ride to a celebration.
A young man asks to use my cellphone;
His has been stolen, along with other things.
He’s wearing someone else’s shoes.
I am happy to help him get home safely.

The day before my grandmother dies
we are on the road to a celebration.
We chat about cotton candy machines,
puppets, and art.
The GPS interrupts our conversation, KITT
desperate to be included.
We ignore him as we discuss
the beauty of nature.

The day before my grandmother dies
a man gives a friend a precious gift:
a stack of ancient comic books.
We are preparing for a celebration.
Although they are old, the books
foretell our evening:
Aquaman assured enjoyment, and
Hulk-sized fun.

On the day before my grandmother dies
I wear a blue dress made in India,
purchased in Rhode Island.
My hair falls in natural curls,
I wear almost no makeup.
A fellow guest is excited, I
am wearing flip-flops too.
Another compliments my sweater,
she calls it: The Everdeen.
I am dressed for a celebration.

The day before my grandmother dies
I watch two people I love
mentally, spiritually, and legally
become a family.
They are the reason for our celebration.
The groom makes us smile,
the bride makes us cry;
a bridesmaid makes us laugh
when she pulls a reading from her bra.

The day before my grandmother dies
I witness the bitchin’est father-daughter dance
in recorded history.
They teach me how to celebrate.
I drink champagne and mead, and
am a party to lewd acts
committed by stuffed animals and men
who are often boys;
Which only makes me love them more.

The day before my grandmother dies
I, uncharacteristically, do not feel like dancing.
I celebrate, In Spirit, as I watch them
move, and groove, and twirl.
I want more champagne;
but if I had the energy to track down another bottle,
I’d be dancing.

Because the day before my grandmother dies
has been a long, exhausting one.
I hug my friend so tight.
I traveled far to help her celebrate;
Because, and it’s been weighing on my mind,
Life is sweet, and
Life is short.
Too short for them not to know
You Love.
Because you do love
even when you can’t dance,
and you do not spend the night.

On the day before my grandmother dies
I am overwhelmed
by Love.
From the family who invite friends
to a celebration that honors their only daughter,
to the stranger who lends her cellphone
to the boy who’s been mugged.
Love creeps in every word, and Love
oozes out of every action.

on the day before my grandmother dies
we are built
out of Love.
From the bride to the groom,
to the guests, to the dog
pressed against me as we leave
the celebration behind
the day before my grandmother dies.

— Bex, August 2014