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.

big water Beat down & Babyface

We live in a handful of cabins on the banks of the Ottawa river, it's a full moon, and so far school has been mellow. Only seven kids so far. We'll get one more in a few days. On the staff it's me and three men, one plays the fiddle, on plays the guitar, on was an Abercrombie model, one's got a beard, one has sideburns. They drink strong coffee all the live-long day. I had a cup and spent the rest of the evening hiding from light, hiding from sound, even the light of tepid light of a glow stick erupted throbs of pain in my temple. I have had a migraine since landing on the Ottawa, which I pray will abate as the moon gets smaller and less obtrusive in the sky.

There are six boys and one tiny girl who clips her hair to the side with huge hair bows.

Paddle just a minute or two across the flat water over to a natural playground of rapids and waves: the daunting McCoy's rapid with a line that snakes between Phil's hole and Sattler's hole, both massive. In the middle of the rapid is Corner Wave, directly adjacent to an eddy, and below that is the u-shaped Horshoe hole that stretches across the whole river, with one tiny little tongue greening out through the middle. Below horshoe is babyface, the kind little wave, perfect to learn on, that leads only into a friendly little wave train and then a lake.

Each Thursday is "big-water beat-down day" where the kids plunge happily head first into the meat of Phil's hole and get punched in the face a bunch by the wave before surfing out or being spit out. The point is to gain confidence in big thrashy spots. The only thing it does for me is make me want to blarg all over the rocks. I would describe this as one of my worst nightmares. For the kids, it's just another Thursday.

After much coaxing by Stephen, I consented to follow him down the tongue of McCoy's, a line that kissed the edge of both holes but avoided the worst. "It's a big tongue, just a little bump, and then you're out." Was how he described it. Turned out, it was a big drop into a giant pile of foam. I braced, hit it, got flipped, rolled up, was flipped again, and, while upside down, came to grips with the idea that I was most certainly going to die, in front of everyone, in the gnashing teeth of Phil. I felt oddly calm about this.

Then I rolled up, turned around and realized I had threaded the needle and avoided the worse. Stephen was grinning. "Uhm...I was going into that hole, and I realized, woah that's a lot bigger than I remembered it....it's usually a lot easier at higher levels....sorry about that." Stephen and I travelled to Chile last semester, he taught me a lot about kayaking, he was in my creative writing class. He was enthusiastic, talkative, friendly, and eager to patiently lead me on the river. Once, during a post-Ottawa City wave workout at a burger restaurant called "the Works" he talked non-stop for 2 1/2 hours straight. I don't know how he managed to eat his burger and drink his mocha-oreo shake. It's one of my best memories from 4th quarter, which is good, because that quarter was, for me, totally shit. Stephen is also the moodiest student I've ever had. On a bad day, he can sever off your head with just one searing glance.
Well as usual, I can't go on, because there is never enough time here, and always too much to write about. I feel like I'm just lightly glossing over everything, not really explaining anything the way it ought to be explained. But right now, I have to read aloud from The Last American men to three young American boys, because somehow even after all my emailing and bitching and threatening, we still manage to have only ONE copy of the book between the FOUR of us. And so, read aloud it is. Today during class as I read aloud, Alex fell asleep on the couch and Matt hit him so hard his entire body jerked and lifted off the couch cushion. It was....entertaining.

up down and all around

today was the best day so far. it was the worst day so far. it was an up down and all around day.

I paddled my first creek, first canyon first double drop, first 16 footer and first 20 footer.

David was a flawless leader. My heart only beat faster than usual at one point on the whole river. He knows when to point, when to speak, when to smile, when to scout.

The first rapid was a double drop. I was flipped inbetween the two and got worked. I thought about swimming. I let go of my paddle with one hand. I reached for my skirt. Then i thought wait a second, i don't know where I am, I think there is another drop a foot from me and I don't want to swim the drop, woman up, so I reached back up, grabbed the paddle and gave it one last heave ho and rolled up to hear Coach Tino and David shouting PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE GO LEFT! And I went left and plugged the drop, came up and that is when my heart beat was elevated, and Palmer, this brave 11th grader who went before me, also on her head, and came up totally unphased, asked are you okay? I nodded and breathed. She said are you hyperventilating? I nodded and breathed.

Then came the 16 footer, I hit the eddy right in front of it. Now this is a boxy canyon of smooth stone, shadowy and creeky. The eddies are tough to catch. David is nearby trying to give me some beta but I start getting pulled out of the eddy, the creek is flowing slowly but I lose my stuff when I hear the sound of a paddle blade scrapinga against canyon wall and I'm suddenly heading backwards to the drop. I'm not ready to run the drop but it's now and it's either backwards or forwards, so I turn around and BANG!

I'm over and at the bottom, deep deep deep, getting thrashed and trashed and I hold on for dear life and think wait it out lady wait it out. I wait it out. I roll up. David is hollering at me from up above to see if I'm okay but I'm too out of breath to holler back, so he comes rolling over the falls, looks at me, and laughs.

Next up is some boogy water, some class 3, fun stuff, a piton or two and then the 20 footer. David said, You run this and I' gaurantee I'll be cheering for you when you roll up.

The 20 footer is the most beautiful thing I have ever done. I tiptoed up to the lip, set up, tucked, and FELL. I had my eyes open. My mouth shut. I saw it all. It looked wett. A nice soft DOINK! landing and then I rise up and sure enough lo and behold he is cheering at me. "Perfect line coogan." he said. "That was a PERFECT Line."

There are pictures, they are coming soon.

So, that was the up, that was the all around. but where does the down come in? because when we drove home we were all laughing, exhilerated, shouting, happy, wet, proud....

....and then we got back to the base. And we looked around. And then we weren't any of those things any more.

But that's a story for the next time.