Thursday, October 24, 2013

The week of the Eastern Gray Squirrel

I have been working at developing a different lesson for each grade level that visits Arrowhead, and seven lesson plans for our "outreach" lessons for kindergarten -- we visit each kindergarten in the Floyd County school system seven times during the school year. My plan is to introduce a different Georgia animal in each lesson, illustrate several of the Georgia Performance Standards for that grade level through that animal, and tell a story that involves that animal to reinforce a few of those standards. 

I've used the wonderful American marsupial, the Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) with several second grade classes. It's a fascinating animal, and I just happen to have several stories in my repertoire that feature this animal.

With kindergarten I've taught about the alligator and the box turtle and used native American stories about how alligator lost his beautiful smooth golden skin, and the time turtle went on the warpath. Watching kindergartners respond to real live animals like these two is a lot of fun.

We have had lots of "outreaches" and field trip visits so far this year, but on Wednesday we had our first Third Grade field trip of the year. I decided to make the ever-present Eastern Gray Squirrel our third grade animal. It is a very successful species as homeowners know. As any bird-feeder knows. As British folk know, since invasive Gray Squirrels from America have all but obliterated the native squirrels of Great Britain.

One of my old standby folktales is the old "Sody Saleratus" and, ta-dah!, it features a squirrel. So I prepared a squirrel coloring/memento sheet, read up on those fascinating critters, -- They can turn their rear feet to face backwards which allows them to run head-first down a tree trunk! -- and practiced my story. I had a great time with the Cave Spring third-graders. 

Our "Coloring Sheet" for Third Grade

We had a lot of work done on our house last year, as some of you will remember. One job I gave the contractor was to squirrel-proof our attic. They made a heroic effort, nailing up hardware cloth inside the attic eaves. Still I have heard occasional tale-tale scurrying footpads over my head, and this week as colder weather arrived the bushy-tailed rodents relocated in noisy numbers to our attic space. I made a mental note last night to buy some more hardware cloth.

Then came today. 

Sheila rises early twice a week to exercise at a local gym. She was dressed this morning and going out the door when she noticed our lights playing games. They would dim down to a faint yellow, then suddenly glow brightly, then just as quickly blink completely off, then bright, then dim then bright then off, etc. Up the stairs she comes to tell me. About the same time my consciousness is beginning to comprehend that something is amiss. I smell a rancid electrical burning and hear periodic pops and crackles. My first thought was: Eastern Gray Tree Rats! --errr, squirrels.

After walking around the house, turning things off, hearing more pops and watching the continuing light show, and ascending the stairs to even stronger acrid smells, I decided to call 911 and keep our 144-year-old from burning down. 

I was too busy trying to find fire to take pics of the wonderful firefighters
who came to our rescue this morning. They came is several vehicles, 
including one that looked a lot like this.

The firefighters were here in no time, in force, armed with some pretty impressive technology. Their heat-seeking video gun soon located a burned out surge suppressor on some of our computer equipment in our bedroom. But the popping light show was undiminished and they decided that cutting electricity to the house was the best course till Georgia power could check things out.

The bucket truck

Sheila HAD to get to work -- big deadlines this week, so she showered in the dark while I waited on Georgia Power, and the fire department were barely out of the yard before two friendly and efficient linemen for Georgia Power showed up with a bucket truck and more amazing equipment. 

The bucket truck

In a matter of minutes they had isolated the root cause of our problems. 

 The section of shorted wire 

Yep. You guessed it. Sciurus carolinensis, the good old Eastern Gray Squirrel. There, right at the old telephone pole at the edge of the road at the driveway, the insulation on the Georgia Power supply line to our house had attracted the attention of a squirrel, and as a result it was shorted almost completely out. 

I enjoyed talking with the two men as they worked, demonstrating the marvelous advances in technology that allow linemen to avoid much of the danger and muscle strain of past decades. They taught me how to read the poles along our street. The new pole across the street with its recent tag with a "12" nail signifying 2012 installation. The many climbing spike wounds and darkened square (from an old-style Georgia Power metal notice) that showed the pole at the drive to be a 1940s pole. The one on the corner with two bands of faded paint that used to denote a bus stop when Georgia Power ran the city buses.

They let me keep the bad section of wire to show off and walked with me to our electric meter and main cutoff so we could let the energy flow again. And they left. 

Sheila was ready to head out to Kennesaw. I showed her the wire. She told mer about our friend Welton's recommendation of Purdy Electric. And she was gone. I walked around the house checking on stuff. The stove was definitely damaged. The microwave was dead. Lights and electronics in the downstairs hall were off. A clock-radio had expired. The laser printer had bit the dust. There may be more. 

Two fine young fellows from Purdy Electric showed up about noon. They got to work, first carefully checking the circuit breaker panel. they found the breaker for the front heat-pump buzzing and hot, and so replaced it. They climbed into the attic and checked out the wiring and junction boxes there, then crawled under house and checked the wiring there. One of the guys is from Trion, the other from Armuchee. He came through our school but missed me by way of Nancy Smith's fourth grade class.

Tomorrow morning North Georgia Equipment will be here to check out the AC/Heat System. It seems to be working fine. And I guess I'll have to get out and find a stove and microwave.

My friend, former student-teacher, present "boss" at Arrowhead, and genuine animal lover, Vivian Davis Chesley kept a pet Eastern Gray Squirrel named Charlie for more than a decade. She loved that rodent. So I hesitate to tell of my current emotions regarding Eastern Gray Tree Rats.

Friday, October 11, 2013

What's Up Doc?

What is it about becoming involved in Republican politics that causes medical doctors to lose all reason?

To become a medical doctor one has to start with pretty good intelligence, obtain excellent grades. display a good work ethic, have lots of sticktoitiveness …. well, everyone knows, it is a long hard road to a medical degree.

But somehow we are plagued with several Republican medical doctors who are badly in need of a cure for foot-in-mouth disease. Here in Georgia we have two medical doctors competing for the Republican nomination for US Senate. Listen to examples of the effusion of their mouths:

“There are more people killed with baseball bats and hammers than are killed with guns.”
-Congressman Paul Broun, M.D.   
[For the record: Firearms account for about 68% of killings, blunt objects about 4%.]

“Meanwhile, I’m stuck here making $172,000 a year.”
-Congressman Phil Gingrey, M.D. 
[I heard poor Dr. Gingrey inspire 500 preteens with the message that his poverty is so abject that he could never dream of a run for President like wealthy guys who have managed to ascend to that office, like rich-boy Abe Lincoln, I guess, or the current fellow who grew up in the lap of, I suppose, comparative luxury?]

And now, one of the best doctors in America, one who has a remarkable and truly inspiring life story, and successfully saved someone I love from the excruciating chronic pain of trigeminal neuralgia. So I am sincerely and deeply grateful to this good man for his skill and dedication.

But in the last few months this wonderfully accomplished physician has gotten involved in Republican politics. Today he spoke to a “Values Voters”* group and these absurdly hyperbolic words escaped his lips:

“I have to tell you, you know [The Affordable Care Act] is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is slavery  in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”
- Benjamin Carson, M.D.

I have some much admired friends who are medical doctors. I have great admiration for them. I have great admiration for Ben Carson. But Republican politics seems to bring out the very worst in physicians.

* By the way, I have values, too.

Friday, October 04, 2013

41st Annual Nat'l Storytelling Festival - A little music to get us ready

Pre-Festival Thursday
Getting Ready Music
Tim O'Brien

Opening act:

Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line

The pretty blonde took the stage with the four guys in her band, to warm us up for the main act. Nine songs later they left the stage to thunderous applause. Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line are talented musicians. Each had an opportunity in to spotlight their skills during the show.
I had noticed a young man talking with the two couples seated in front of us before the show. During the show the whole tent was duly impressed with the energy and talent of this same guy, Jack Devereau, the fiddler. But those couples seemed especially expressive of their admiration, giving proud and knowing looks at each other as he played and bursting into applause or joyful laughter often. It reminded me of myself.

Twice this year I have had the joy of watching a daughter in a major role on stage, performing beautifully and reaping just acclamation from an audience. Lillian as Tracy in Rome Little theatre’s production of Hairspray, and Brannon as Velma in Oceanside California’s Star Theater production of Hairspray. Both, in this father’s humble and righteous opinion, were magnificent. I beamed whenever they took the stage, nudged Sheila at highlight points, laughed outloud just from sheer joy, clapped and hooted when they completed a number, and wildly when they took their bows.

I recognized the tableau before me last night. These folk were Jack’s parents and grandparents. During a break we struck up a conversation --- Are you surprized, Brannon?

Jack’s grandmother told me about entering Jack’s room when he was a toddler to find him performing there to an imaginary audience with his pretend guitar. He stood peering into a distance, standing on his bed. She asked hin what he was looking at. “All dem people!” he replied.

Both my girls were performers from the get-go, too. 

Nora Jane and the boys played mostly her own songs

The interplay of the instruments and voices and personalities on the stage can be magical and joyful and tragic and awe-inspiring. I like to remind my kids and fellow actors that the audience has fun when the folks on the stage are having fun. Since the audience’s fun is our our object, having fun on stage is required. This group had fun on that stage last night. Turning and grinning at each other when they got in a special lick, or maybe at some (unheard by me) glitch.

My only complaint is my old geezer, slightly hard of hearing, usual complaint with virually everyone in America under 40. Enunciation! If songs have words, the words are important. I have had a mantra that has become ritual for me. I learned it from my friend and vocal coach, Rachel Jones. Before any performance of a song I mentally chant at least a couple of time, “The Words. The Words. The Words.”

Main Attraction:

Tim O'Brien

A very different kind of magic happens when there is one singer and one acoustic instrument (at a time) owning a stage as occurred in the Library tent for 15 consective numbers to end the evening. Just Tim O’Brien in his ordinary non-descript print shirt, tails hanging casually and comfortably over non-descript pants, his reddish hair and beard slightly unkempt. He might have been driving down Boone Street and decided on a whim to drop by and jam with us. 

His two Grammys for Best Bluegrass Vocalist are well deserved, but my goodness, he is no slouch as an instrumentalist, either. He worked by turns for an hour or more through four instruments, beginning with an awesome guitar, then the “scariest instrument in America” (the banjo), that Italian mandolin (“mandolin is Italian for ‘out-of-tune’”, he jokes), and finally a mean fiddle (His fingers blurred on “The Black and White Rag”).

My friend Duane Parsons, whom we lost this year, would have enjoyed this show I think. He was a big fan of traditional music, especially blues. Not a lot of blues tonight, but lots of bluegrass. I thought of him, since the last traditional concert I attended was a great blues show in Decatur with Duane and Charlotte.

And he can enunciate. I understood each line, always simply constructed, like most good writing.

I have several pages of notes on the individual songs from Nora Jane and Tim, but will have to stop here for now. Sheila is working up in our room at the Sleep Inn, while I tap keys and sip coffee in the braekfast area downstairs, surrounded by several other tables of breakfasting fans of storytelling. I need to go up and make some sandwiches for lunch while she finishes up a work assignment. The first stories begin at ten. We need to be in our seats by a little past nine. Probably won’t make that, so it’ll be back seats for us this morning, probably.

Here we go. The 41st NSF official begins!

Check back, I hope to add some pics and links later. Gotta go!

Thursday, October 03, 2013

41st Annual National Storytelling Festival (Head Start Wednesday)

From the 41st National Storytelling Festival
Jonesborough, Tennessee
Storytelling Live!
Storyteller in Residence
Donald Davis
Wednesday, October 2, 2013

As usual we were later leaving than we intended. Sheila had work to do. Telephone conference. E-mails to respond to. Nose to the grindstone all morning and until 2. She took occasional breaks to throw clothes into the suitcase.

I was at the grocery store and the credit union (our bank), then off getting the car fueled and washed.

By the time I had made a last check of the doors - especially the refrigerator doors - and pottied one last time, we were all packed up and headed out the driveway in our new-to-us red 2010 Camry Hybrid. The dashboard clock read 2:41. Google says Jonesborough is over four hours away.

At 2:42 Sheila remembered that the Zip-lock bag of Festival tickets, hotel reservation form, and parking tags was still lying on a shelf in the kitchen.

And we were headed out the driveway in our new-to-us red 2010 Camry Hybrid. The dashboard clock read 2:48. Did I mention Google says Jonesborough is over four hours away?

All gassed up we can drive there and back without refuelling. Bladder breaks are usually more frequent, but this time it’s GA 53 to GA 140 to I 75 to I 40 to I 26 to Boone’s Creek Road, Jonesborough. No pauses. 

We park at the White House on College Street, as always, and join the other folk strolling down the steep hill toward the gleaming big white circus tents, first the empty College Street tent then the crowded Library tent. 

There’s Donald, resplendant in gold shirt and bowtie, talking through a wide smile to the folks milling about the entrance. The tent is pretty crowded for this pre-festival event, but we make our way  to the very front and find seats there way to the side, but with a clear view of the microphone. 

We took a selfie before the program started.

Here's a blurry pic that gives a better idea of the tent and crowd.

After a brief introduction from the emcee, the Dean of American Storytellers grabbed a mike and the ears of several hundred listeners and didn’t let go for ninety minutes. I wouldn’t have complained if he’d held on another hour.

He started right out letting us know what we were in for. He’s a retired Methodist preacher, after all, and that’s a common preacherly way to start out, you know: tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ’em, tell ‘em, then remind ‘em what you told ‘em. He explained that these were a new set of old stories he had never told before. I liked the idea that this was a World Premiere. And that they were the stories he had learned storytelling on.

 “When you are just learning to play guitar,” declares Donald, “you don’t write your own music!” 

These stories date from the days before he even knew they were stories. It was just called visiting then. 

The stories were in three roughly thirty-minute chapters, one for each of three uncles, Grover, Gudger, and, everybody’s favorite, Frank.

Uncle Grover was the elder of Donald’s daddy’s brothers -- 17 years older! And he was the teacher of 16 children, eight of whom were his siblings! First day of the school year he had each child pick out a hickory branch his own height, trim it good, and carve his initials in it with a pocket knife. With those switches lined up against the building as a reminder, most of them remained unused through the year.

There was quite an adventure when the boys caught a feral cat in their rabbit gum and put it in the school’s cold pot-bellied stove after Grover had “laid a fire” for the next day. When Grover tried to light the fire the next morning? That cat nearly killed him. But he kept his cool, and cancelled school till he solved the crime. (Frank was the culprit.)
Grover “read” law, and passed the bar exam with only one missed question. As a solititor (procecutor) he traveled a circuit. 

Once he had transmission trouble in his Model T and a passing stranger hooked his horse to the bumper and helped him over the hill. As luck would have it the stranger turned out to be a moonshiner/defendant in one of the trials that afternoon. When the judge asked the miscreant if he had a character witness, you guessed it, he called on Grover, who said that was his only occasion to represent both sides in a trial.

I’m not sure how we got to next story of Uncle Alfred Jolly who made, sold, and drank more whiskey than anyone else in Haywood County. When he got religion, his bushy beard got in the way of the baptizing, and somehow his lips missed the cleansing, which led to some major Methodist-style backsliding.

Next came Uncle Gudger, who just died last year at 102. Gudher’s first wife was a sister to Frank and Grover. As a recent widower at seventy or so, Gudger declared he’d have to marry one of the local widows just to get rid of the rest. At 8 Gudger had taked his mama into letting him bring home a runt kitten.

The thing grew so fast under their care that they named it Haywood County. This story grew into a great tall tale that I’ll probably steal for some of my own lies, er, stories before long. Punch line: “Here came that cat carrying its head in its mouth!”

And then there was the snake that stuck its head through the fence and swallowed a rabbit. Then it stuck its head back through the fence to swallow another rabbit on the other side. Whoops.

Finally there was the youngest of the many David brothers, Frank, who believed that if it didn’t take longer to tell a story than it took the story to happen, it wasn’t much of a story. Everybody knows about Uncle Frank’s famous Foxhound, Rainy Weather. (I tell my version of that story, and have to credit Donald, since I keep most of his particulars under different names.) But this story was about how Frank, who was a local politician, kept folks votes while also keeping them from hunting on his property.

Frank taught Donald how to stomp mud puddles dry, to the consternation of Mrs. Davis.

And Frank sure knows how to discourage college boys from the dangerous practice of hitchhiking. “Law, yeah, [at the state pen], they make you WORK!” That boy is probably still crawling through Kudzu.

Donald ended up, of course reminding us that he had told us about only three of his uncles, and there are more stories about those three, and there are enough more uncles, not to mention aunts,  to keep him talking a long time, but he reckoned he’d stop there.

Donald Davis is a wonderfully creative storyteller, with a warm comic style. My girls grew up on Donald Davis tapes. I don’t know if he has changed or if I have just grown to know him better, but his style seems truer, less presentational, than it did to me years ago. I love his stories.

Last year I used his DVD, Make It. Tell It. Write It. with my students. I’d show a short clip of Donald, we kept “Trouble Lists” in our writing notebooks, and I told my “trouble” stories and the kids told theirs and eventually we wrote them down. It is the best and simplest children’s creative writing program I know of -- and the kids don’t even know it’s a writing class. It’s their Storytelling Club.

If you ever get a chance to see Donald Davis in person, don’t miss it. Meanwhile you can find a few clips on YouTube and you can buy his CDs and DVDs online.

Tonight’s Pre-festival concert is musical. it features Tim O’Brien. Tomorow morning Sheila and I will be under one of the BigTops when the real National Storytelling Festival kicks off at ten. Now the always agonizing question - which tent? There are five wonderful choices.

Tomorrow’s blog: 
Who in the world is Tim O’Brien and what is the Party Line?