just an update from West Virginia

I took the curious kids out the edge of the gorge and peered over. For a few minutes, they stopped talking.

It's been a dramatic few weeks here in west virginia.

now, if anyone wrote that in my writing class i'd slash it out and remind them that abstract weak little words like 'dramatic' mean nothing (same with good, bad, nice, interesting) should always be replaced by the concrete and tangible.

it's been gauleylicious, for some more than others. isn't that always the case.

in the past few weeks there have been some massive NRS pro-orders. Some epic paddling on the lower Gauley with a dream, dodging punchy waves and foaming holes on a scrappy little line that barely eeked me through, excruciatingly haunting and overwhelmingly sorrowful harmonies late at night with Andy and Tino. Some hiking and disc golfing in the surounding woods and raft companies and gorges. We've been swimming in the dried-out dries run of the New River Gorge and sliding down waterslides in tiny canyons.

I've slept under a tarp in front of the embers of campfire at the Gauley put in. And drank pints of beer at Pie slike

I've been teaching about the league of New England Geniusses and pulling my hair out trying to make the kids laugh while learning about Whitman which isn't easy. I watched one girl get eaten alive with poisin ivy and hauled her off to the health clinic where she got injected with a gallon of steroids, then I bought her a chocolate milkshake.

There's been little sleep but a lot to eat. There's been a lot to do, more every day. There's been not very much paddling for me but the ride was good when I got it. The classes have been long and longer. The photo-shoots I take my photo students on have been sketchy in a deliverance kind of way. SATs are creeping up. Today Kara handed me my itinerary for Chile. And that's the update from West Virginia, more or less.

Wishing you were somehow here again

I put Hometeam in a car today. She's going back home with David and Tino who were heading that way for the Whitewater Symposium. I'm sending her home early so she doesn't have to put up with the airplane I'm taking in a few weeks at the end of the quarter. Since getting into Fern's catfood, she can no longer fit under the airplane seat. Tonight, my bed is cold and my heart is stone. HT, tonight, this song is for you.

Teaching for the national AP Literature and Composition exam

The best part of teaching high school English at a tiny, alternative boarding school is that the overlords of education are not breathing down my neck, and my classes need not comply with the materials on the standardized testing omnipresent in today's public classroom. My Advanced Placement class has to pass the national AP exam otherwise I'll be in a lot of trouble, but it's up to me how I go about learnin' them all the test materials. So far it's involved a huge turkey supper and this Grapes of Wrath Monopoly board game. The best part of Haaken's game was that in the end there were no winners because the bank took all your property and money. I'm sure Steinbeck would have approved.

Ducks on Gauley

The 2nd half of the quarter is underway. Tino is leading the ducklings down the upper Gauley today. In the rain. It's warm and humid here, like swimming in a soup, an unsettling climate. Yesterday we swam in the dries, swooping down the rock waterslides, building dams out of rocks. All the kids were just kids and the trees were still as green as they were this summer. But I feel restless. I think all the time about the upper corners of the map, the one on the East and the one of the West, where the weather has turned to tang and chill and the fires are lit each night. And I think about North Carolina.

another Friday night on the Ottawa

Yesterday was a nice day, I suppose. I allowed myself two cups of coffee before AP and floated through the rest of the day bouncing around and talking a mile a minute. It was cold, cold, cold. In the afternoon I sunk into the chestnut and navy waters of the Ottawa and paddled across the current to the push button, where the air stung my face and bit into my hands. Andy and Matt both gave up and went to wait in their dry clothes on the riverbank where they wouldn't be so chilled. The wave was a sticky angel and I can actually take rides now, long twirly rides full of shove its and spins. We stayed with a few others until we were pale as ghosts and finally too frozen to paddle. The water was warm and soft but the air while waiting in the eddy was cold as....as you might expect it to be in Canada.

In the evening I made a giant pot of soup by frying a whole pack of bacon and saving all the grease. I threw in diced onion and leeks and sauteed them in the grease, then added broth, potatoes, cream, flour and butter, then topped it off with mushrooms satueed in more bacon grease and more butter. I didn't say it was entirely healthy, but it was a hell of a soup. Two of the Boys, Haaken and Alex, made brownies with whipped cream and the kids fought over them to the point where I banned all desserts for the rest of the trip.

At night we walked way down the banks of the river to the survival camp, where the kids have built a moss shelter and a fire pit. Alex was asleep inside the shelter and there was a fire going. That's where we spent our Friday night, until past midnight, telling all our personal stories of tripping accidentally into the spiritual realm. Between us we've got more than our fair share, I'd say. The fire spit smoke and sparks. Ghosts hovered around in the trees. We scared ourselves so bad it wasn't even fun any more. Two of the boys who had decided to sleep outside went running back to the cabins. Only Eric remained outside for the night, already asleep with hometeam buried in the bottom of this sleeping bag.

I slept fitfully, expecting to see Liarona rise from the riverbank and beckon me in towards the rapids that pound away only yards from the hard peice of wood I sleep upon.

Remember how I said this job could be less than glamorous?

My world literature class ended in disaster. Inspired by reading The Last American Man, a couple of the boys set about building a rabbit trap in the woods. Normally they would not have much time for things like that but today was a mandatory day off the river. So one of the boys, C, perhaps lacking the precise skills of Eustace Conway, busts his finger open by smashing a rock against it with all his might. When I happen to walk into the main cabin he's standing there holding a palmful of blood, dripping over Andy's precalculous study sheet he's laboriously written out by hand.

It's too bad, because it was supposed to be a lovely afternoon off, our only off-river day in Canada. Instead of rushing around getting cold gear on, scrambling in and out of the eddy and participating in flushfestive '09:

with a side of windowshade, pulling gear off, getting caught in the rubber of a dry top, throwing on (by now extremely dirty) sweatshirt, driving to dinner, piling food into your body, driving home, starting study hall, teaching an SAT class, helping with homework, responding to mom ("you never write anymore....what, do you not love me?") reading aloud, putting the chilins to bed, preparing for classes and brushin your own teeth and falling into bed to worry for a while about your personal finances and then next thing you know you're waking up and doing it all over again....

instead...it was supposed to be an afternoon of taking the dog for a walk, maybe hand washing the delicates, taking a little nap, rewatching arrested development, organizing your scattered things and all.....well. Ha. Instead we wrestled one kid into the van to go to the ER, three more hopped on because the ER is close to a Wal-Mart, Matt went along to sit in the waiting room, Dave went along because we're out of food, Stephen went to shop with David, Tino went MIA, and Andy and I were standing there blinking in a cloud of dust with a pile of blood spattered documents inside the house. The rest of the kids were watching a movie and eating a bowl of popcorn, completely unfazed.

Andy and I sat in silence for a while. I didn't have the energy to study. So I played him the single most amazing video ever made on this entire planet. And then I went to get the kids rounded up for dinner, found them sitting a fetid room watching Shooters. marinating in a haze of stink. What's IS that SMELL? I demanded. They didn't look up. That's just popcorn, One answered. Sure. I stalked into the bathroom and found the toilet clogged in the most vile of manners. I hit the pause button, which seemed to emanate a chorus of protests. Nobody's leaving this place till you all clean the toilet.

Then I tried to explain that on a Grand Canyon expedition, packing away the groover (the group pack out toilet) can actually be a fun activity to do with a buddy. The unusual proximity to human excrement. The sprinkling of lime dust. The disinfecting the hands. It all wraps up to be just a neat little ritual.

I explained that. They didn't get it. But they trooped into the bathroom like good little soldiers and did something to remedy the problem, and then I drove them to Wilderness Tours to eat giant plates of spaghetti, very similar to the giant plates of spaghetti we'd had that day for lunch.

It's 9:30, and the Wal Mart/ER/Food Shoppers aren't back yet. They've been gone 5 hours and counting. I took a kid to the ER just two days ago and waited in that waiting room for 6 hours, rereading a Canadian People, so I have little hope they'll be back any time soon.