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Three summers back, when I loaded my boys into my (dearly departed) Subaru and drove to Yellowstone (the trip that gave birth to this blog), I met writer and former teacher Brian A. Connolly in Lamar Valley on the morning I took the boys wolf watching. I’ll be forever thankful for how he generously shared his knowledge of and love for wild wolves (and his spotting scope) with the boys and I, and I’ll also be forever thankful for the poem he put in my hands when he found out I am a teacher.  The small print at the bottom reads “Please share this with any teacher you feel is in need of a poem!”  Following the back-and-forth in the comment threads of my last couple of posts, I went and dug it out to share.

Curriculum

It is such a shock
being back
from the wild valley
where for months I lived
in a tent within the sound
of wolves howling,
where bears ambled down mountains
to wander through camp
dressed in the cream of moonlight.

I must clean up my act
for tomorrow’s faculty meeting,
departmental gatherings,
discussion groups where goals are set,
rubrics, outcomes, behavior
modifications are outlined.
I’ll shave, trade sandals for shoes,
wear long pants
so that we can decide
in the high school cafeteria
what we want these kids to know
and how we can tell when they know it;
what battery of tests
will indicate they are ready
to go into the world,
take charge of things,
and do to those who follow
what we have done to them.

Tomorrow, looking sharp, civilized,
with unfailing courage,
I will suggest as a progressive
educational experiment
that we try a field trip;
ten months is all I’ll ask.
Instead of eighty pounds of books,
we give each child a down bag,
a few utensils, a compass, of course,
a blank journal, a good pen.
Drop them off, alone, in wild valleys:
the Tetons, Yellowstone,
the Beartooth, the Sawtooth, the Cascades,
the Adirondacks, the Green, the White,
the Alleghenies.
Let the rustling and snuffling sounds
of darkest night teach them to listen;
let glacial meltwater teach them
the true nature of cold;
let those beings making a living
on icy summits teach survival;
let wildflowers teach beauty;
let morning fog among valley pines
teach them peace;
let the glassy stars
spread across the dark
like a sparkling cloud
be their curriculum.

No tests will be needed,
no mimeograph sheets.
And when they graduate,
each one will know who he is,
that he is part of a living world,
and that his job
is to live in that world
with grace and respect.

–Brian A. Connolly

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There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,

A race that can’t stay still;

So they break the hearts of kith and kin,

And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood,

And they climb the mountain’s crest;

Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,

And they don’t know how to rest.

—from Robert Service, “The Men That Don’t Fit In” in The Spell of the Yukon

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