Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saving Things

Brian Christianson Photography, Taken from Mt. Sentinel in Missoula, 8/17/17
Saturday, July 15th at around 2:35 p.m. lightning sparked a fire about 10 miles southwest of Lolo, Montana. The fire burned at above 7,000 feet where the terrain was sparse, rugged and alpine in nature. My husband and I made note of the thin spiral of blue smoke from our front porch in Missoula , MT, twenty miles away. We find out later, from a friend, that it's a small wild fire, probably not a big deal. It's deep in the wilderness, too steep and inaccessible for the fire fighters to tackle so it's a wait and watch situation. The fire is mildly annoying to all of us. It means smoke in the valleys when the wind blows in a certain direction. It obscures our views, stings the eyes, makes outdoor recreation hard on the lungs, but we aren't too worried. We'd been lulled into security by the record snow pack in the mountains last winter. There had been plenty of moisture, we thought no fire would really take hold.

Fast forward to August 15th, 2017 when many in the Bitterroot Valley, many friends, students, and fellow staff members from my school got a knock on their door at 10:30 p.m. It's a mandatory evacuation. A hand of fire, as my friend and fellow teacher, Leanne, described it, was reaching over the mountain ridge and making a run towards the valley and houses below. Leanne, her family, and around 400 other families in homes in the area, had a matter of minutes to grab what they could and get out. What did Leanne grab? It was one of the first questions I asked her, and she seemed rather surprised by her own answer. She took some clothes, her children's baby books, her dogs, and her flute. It's amazing what really matters when it comes down to it, and how little we really need. Most other staff members, parents of students, and students mentioned grabbing similar items: a few pieces of clothing, pets, and photographs.

August 17th, the Lolo Peak fire explodes. A massive smoke plume rises up. This is the view from my front door in the Missoula Valley.

The idea of only being able to save a select number of objects reminded me of a Saving Things Poem I have done in my classroom. These poems center around the idea of saving things. There have been several different mindsets that my students have gone into when writing these poems. The first idea was really about objects that are special to us, and what students would save if they could only choose a few, select items. However, as we wrote these poems in class, it quickly became obvious that the things students want to save wasn't objects or things, but memories, family, friends, and pieces of nature.

 The scope of the poems evolved into saving things that were more intangible. I had one student tell me that he thought about the idea of the world being destroyed, and what he would most want to save when he wrote his poem. A 4th grade girl wanted to know if it was alright if she saved one of each of the five senses in her poem. Since I felt like both these ideas were more powerful and creative than the original premise of the poem, I encouraged them all. Let's be honest, this is the moment all teachers really strive towards when students take an idea and make it their own. It's when the spark of creativity takes hold and comes to life.

What I Would Save
By: Cyrra, 4th grade

I would save the smell of my father's spearmint tea,
and the taste of my mother's homemade, raspberry cheesecake.
The smell of purple lilacs on the tall, green bush in my backyard.
The sight of the sunset over the mountain tops: red, orange, blue, pink, gray and purple.
The feeling of my cat, Minki's, soft, smooth fur.

The sound of the bird singing outside of my window.
The feeling of the wind against my cold cheeks.
The feeling of teardrops dripping down my face when I am sad.
The smell of soft, silky hair that's just been washed.

The taste of cold water going down my throat.
The sound of a beautiful, tall waterfall running down rough rocks.
That is what I would save.
What about you?

I have always been fascinated by the idea of preserving things physically that cannot really be contained. I love the magical idea of keeping something like ocean wind, or a mother's lullaby in a mason jar. Since I was a child, I was captivated by the way the BFG captured children's dreams and nightmares with his net in the novel The Big Friendly Giant by Roald Dahl. Grandma Dollop in the book Savvy by Ingrid Law saves special songs like wedding songs in jars that can be listened to at any time if the lid is slightly unscrewed. Now when I introduce the Saving Things Poem to my classes the sky is the limit, anything and everything is encouraged to be saved.

Saving Things
By: Desi, 5th grade

I want to save fluffy, pink clouds from the sunset in Alaska
in a clear, glass jar.
I would save the sight of fog in the early morning.
I would save the fresh smell of my mother in the pine-filled forest.
Maybe the feeling of my not-to-fluffy cat's fur against my cheek.
I would save my mother's voice so happy and cheerful with a mind of it's own.
I want to remember the taste of a tomato fresh from our summer garden.

The Lolo Peak fire is still being courageously fought in Montana. Precious, irreplaceable things, and people have been lost: two houses, and a fire fighter's life. There are still many people who have been unable to return to their homes. Writing a Saving Things Poem won't really save anything, but it can provide an outlet to reflect on what is truly important in our lives, and all of the things that we should and can be grateful for.

I'm going to end this post with a poem written by a former student of mine, Derek, when he was in 6th grade. Derek was a bright, energetic, intelligent and creative student. He always had a smile on his face, and his humor and wit cracked me and his fellow classmates up on a daily basis. Sadly, when he was only nineteen years old he was killed in a car accident. After hearing the devastating news, one of the first things I took solace in was Derek's poetry. I was so grateful that I had saved many of his poems. The following is the first poem I found of his. I still read it often, share it with my classes, and am astounded by its wisdom. It reminds me that we all need to appreciate the many wonderful things, people, and experiences we have in our lives right now, because in the blink of an eye they can be gone.

By: Derek, 6th grade
If the world was to go,
I would sift through all
the bitter hate and pain
and watch it float away.

I would keep all of the love
and all the true joy.
I would save what is clear
and let go of what is unpure.

I would save dreams
silently slinking through the night.
If I could, I would save
the whole world.
But then again,
only one has that power.

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