Like Water (Redux)

From the top of the outdoor steps, behind the swing set, you can look down into the forest and see Mt. Nebo Creek passing through the school’s property on its way to the Patuxent River, the Chesapeake Bay, and, ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean. Housing its fossils, naming our first book, the stream (as we call it) has become one of the ur-metaphors for Fairhaven School, a constant reminder of the way things can be: lovely, flowing, unfettered.

Imagine my surprise the second week of the 2010-2011 school year when I looked down from my usual spot and saw a brown, stagnant section of stream blocked by a log. Although the tannin that causes this discoloration occurs naturally , the sight of brown water with attendant foam always discomfits. Our annual tree trimming was scheduled for the next day, so I asked the guys to cut the fallen oak into manageable pieces. They did, but were reluctant to enter the water to remove the section that was blocking the water. No problem, I said. I’ll get it tomorrow.

Funny thing, how water seeps into a log, and how much water can weigh. Hence the term “waterlogged,” I thought to myself, wrestling with the unwieldy ten-foot section of tree. I need some help. Later, two student volunteers and I took off our shoes and socks on the bank, surveying the task ahead. It was hard to resist the metaphor, how much the log was functioning like test-driven curriculum, and how much the blocked water resembled dis-empowered students. Oh, the water seeped slowly under the impediment, eventually making it downstream, just like students will generally survive anything. But will they thrive?

After twenty minutes of gingerly stepping on the uneven bottom and hoisting the log (lift with your legs!), we managed to drag it to the bank. What a tangled mess of branches and leaves we found pinned underneath, still not moving even after the main issue was addressed: unforeseen consequences. We lifted away as much of this detritus as we could, counting on the next big rain to finish the job. After moving a smaller tree just above the waterfall, we headed back up the steps toward the school. Looking back, the brown section had begun to wash down, its leading edge a curve.

These things take time. We are a month into the school year now, and a huge rainstorm has indeed washed the stream clean. Likewise, a number of new students are getting used to Fairhaven, and I tell you, some of them seem to be clarifying, like water in the stream, right before our eyes.

Mark McCaig

October, 2010