I am writing from a canvass tent on a hill overlooking the lights of Quito, and the surrounding glaciated, volcanic peaks. I am teaching a semester course with Kroka Expeditions which started on August 25th in Marlow, New Hampshire. We spent four weeks in New England on mountain biking and paddling expeditions, sewing backpacks, carving spoons, visiting local farms to learn about permaculture, and studying Spanish, creative writing and poetry. We arrived in Ecuador a week and a half ago, and have been absorbed in making knives and studying permaculture, geology, herbal medicine, fire cooking, poetry, more! We are getting ready for our first wilderness expedition in Ecuador, which begins on Tuesday and returns on November 4th. We start mountain biking from the farm and take three days to arrive in San Clemente, an indigenous community on the flanks of Imbabura Volcano which I visited during my travels in January. After visiting families in San Clemente and climbing the volcano, we continue by mountain biking and trekking through the western cloud forest. These days with the semester are absorbing and enlivening, centering around essential questions of how to live consciously on the earth today. My students write a blog with lots of photos: http://krokaecuadorsemester2017.blogspot.com/?m=1
1. Fields and Meadows
I have been living in a valley, unseeing of far, and I have been giving myself slowly, piece by piece, to that valley. That valley only ever faces north, and the sun only sets in reflection. Here in the highlands of the year, the far view is enthralling, Volcán Cotopaxi stark and crisp in the morning gleam, a delicate fume floating from the glaciated peak. The last fingers of sunset behind Pichincha, the gray afternoon mist, enclose as imperative relief from the world pressing its glory into our days.
I hope in teaching to swing variously from the contraction of the valley to the over- boldening of heights, and land spread amidst the meadow. Where am I in relation to the field of my heart? (A.L. Steiner) Where am I in relation to my students? How can teaching be the opening of a place? A place where people could come and pay attention. I’ve begun a collection of meadows, fields of words opening towards me.
Out beyond wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I will meet you there (Rumi)
2. Words and students
As we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them, so
the meadow, muddy with dreams, is gathering itself together
(Marie Howe, Meadow)
How to let my words, as my students, be at once contained and uncontained? How to create with words, as with lives, a feasting without greed for meaning? How to go, without having yet been?
This poem, like this life, may not necessarily be a steady accrual of meaning and learning. It will not make sense of itself.
Are not the best poems (lives) arisen from the despair of not yet having written? Words (days) are the consistent present, the always coming ever-arrivers. When they flock so faithfully, I feel they will always continue to flatter.
This last-most insight, perched for arrival, is that words follow words. Words (days) emerge in all moments and it takes a certain earthly energy to bring them out from under gut, rib, skin, out from ether.
Words, days, students sit down beside each other in parallel assimilation in this stormy languid time of ritual, construction and newness.
I walk, all day, across the heaven- verging field. (Mary Oliver, Upstream)
I am wooed by these days, enchanted by this company. The day is a unit of thrumming fascination. Smoothing out the corners, thumbing back the edges. To whom do I dedicate the bulk, the best?
This constant uncertainty of futures is not unwilling to tentatively begin us again and again. How to foster people being more like themselves, and not more like their teacher? Is there even an essential self it behooves to assimilate?
I have come to be sensing the tender buoyancy of poetry, the wet stickiness. Some nights I leave behind my glasses and don’t wish to see the world in so much clarity, want for what’s around to not be so separate as the light dims, as the earth enters shapeful silent realms and what goes uncontacted remains unitary, as the moon’s burr widens in darkness.
- What is actually happening
The crafting of curriculum is only the teacher carving a place for herself in the world, carving a room of requirement. But when is that carving found and when made? A few things I have ‘taught’ in the past weeks feel more like spaces where I and another have happened to meet. Often I am permitted to return to a meadow (Robert Duncan)
- Translating Mary Oliver into Spanish, we realize that some poets, in fact many poets, are still alive!
- Flying over the Panama Canal, harbors blaze in the night and we wander in conversation into trade and shipping, US imperialism, and the whipping winds of the Magellan Strait.
- In the loft of the boathouse, we’re muted by the crashing thunderstorm and write 13-line poems in the round. We write until we can hear each other again.
- Before the sun rises over the eastern Andean ridge, we tromp to the vegetable garden for morning chores. It’s a chosen, delicate morning within a waxing moon, and I’m translating grafting a fertile nectarine branch onto this sapling. There’s an easy awe about these words—menguante, creciente, heard softly before the full blaze of day.
- Sprawled on the floor of the airport, any place is a place of fascination and of learning. We interview pilots on fuel consumption and conversions for a math class, play clarinet and fiddle, knit hats, translate Spanish.
- Reading Love In the Time of Cholera together, some students read in Spanish and others in English, and we hear the parrot’s ‘sancocho’ reduced in translation to ‘soup.’ Sancocho, with yucca and plantains ‘verde’ which we made over fire just last night.
In these days of doing prolifically, to take poetry seriously, we have to believe that words actually happen, and actually do.
What I want to read:
Naomi Shihab Nye, Words Under the Words
Gregory Orr, Concerning the book that is the body of the beloved
John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us