Saturday, March 28, 2009

whose intention?

Here's a poem that combines teaching and the woods.
Hope it works for you.

ways in the woods

I imagine the growing up years as a trackless wood
through which each young person moves,
sometimes in old growth,
the way clear,
each possible path a way to the wonderful,
sometimes there’s been a fall,
brambles abound,
any way forward feels stymied
and getting nowhere seems a good option,

as a teacher I feel most ready to be companion
as the student finds a way,
I have a gift to see the path
and where it can lead,
and my work is to reinforce their better inclinations
so that each can feel even more confidence
that their way has a rightness,
and that around a bend ahead is another wonder,

intentionality versus the hands-off in teaching intrigues me,
I seek to learn how colleagues in earlier sections of the wood
can be so purposeful, so intentional as guides,

I want to know as much as possible
of the whole wood through which a person can travel,
then as my students explore
I judge how much to be companion
and how much to be guide,

life is a trackless wood
until each of us makes a way.

by Henry Walke
March 27, ‘09

Sunday, March 22, 2009

in the air, and . . .

decision maker within

there is within us
a decision-maker,
one who chooses every moment
how to react,
which thoughts to choose to pursue,
which options upon which to act,

experience herds us
as we call up what hurt
and what felt good,
too often just in the immediate,

there’s always a high road, a low road,
and road after road in between,

and we fancy ourselves good at the decision-making:
we fancy we judge and choose rationally,
with common sense as to what is possible
as to what feels right,
and we can easily avoid the path that is hard,
that hints of future gain
while it delivers present frustration and effort,
a leap of faith from no foundation but hope,
hope that the advice from self or other can be trusted
as worth the risk,

time after time
students, family, colleagues, I myself
enable the decision-maker within
to choose a path I’d call lesser,

free will is a wonderful, damnable thing
for it enables both the best of us and the worst of us
to manifest in what we decide,

before us the lemming’s cliff
and the metamorphosis until we fly,
and we only know which way is which
after we’re already in the air.

by Henry H. Walker
March 20, ‘09

Thursday, March 19, 2009

isn't it spring vacation yet?

something new, something old

when should the new year begin?

our calendar figures that if we wait about a week
after the shortest day of the year,
maybe enough time passes for us to get
that the Sun has started back from its retreat south,

we call it a new year
even though there’s a 3 month lag
before the world is ready to spring forth in growth,
for that time winter pauses & holds
until water quits phase changing solid,
we huddle together
hoping for hope,
the calendar flips
and flips again,
and the March is on,

as spring approaches
bud and red bud notice and wake up,

we teachers & students, though, are not at a beginning,
our year is 2/3 over,
and our energies are more forced in their bloom than natural,
there is a double dog tiredness about,
and it’s getting hard to finish a thought, a project,
hard to open to the other, the new,

it may be a good time for a new year,
yet deep within me I’m more ready to take a break, a nap,

isn’t it spring vacation yet?

by Henry H. Walker
March 17, ’09

Saturday, March 14, 2009

the rules of the game

a day of science

I look at the kids
and I see eyes wide-open:
each focus forward and intense,
as cheeks lift, lips part, eyes dance
with the humor in the moment,
as behind the eyes
the mind is awake, alive, intrigued,

the speaker owns the stage
and intellect after intellect wakens to the hunt--
a question is raised and the answer becomes the quarry,
each of us gets the scent
and we thrill in the pursuit and when we get it,

there’s something deeply satisfying each time we realize
how much the question grabs us
and how completing it feels as we step forward into answers,

each pursuit and success also whets the appetite,
and we re-awaken to hunger after hunger to learn,
and to the thrill when a window unto a piece of the universe
opens, clears, reveals,

as wide-ranging and profound as this first hour’s revelations,
the next journeys take us further and deeper,
and the students follow interest and leadings into hands-on odysseys:

extracting DNA from strawberries and bananas,
learning lab techniques to get at nature’s rules,
exploring memory and string theory,
reading the story in bones and mystery boxes,
in what an infrared camera and music reveal,
building an enclosed world for amphibians
and releasing the power of a potato cannon and a rocket,

learning of home disasters and how to prevent them,
of what’s in our lungs and in our air,

of the magic that a prism reveals within light,

then, after lunch, experiencing, vicariously,
others’ taking a risk to ask a question,
posit a potential answer,
and what follows in the results
as the universe gives answers to the question
within the possibilities the experiment allows,
at the same time experiencing others’ labor to make models of a solar car,

a final project, working with fellow advisees,
to protect an egg to be dropped 10 feet,
the enthusiasm for each success,
the camaraderie at each breaking,

and the day winds down,
a spotlight on particular experiments that spoke particularly loudly,

throughout, there was a joy in the learning,
a sense that student after student gets it,
that the world is accessible to understanding
and that each of us is accessible to the means
from without us and from within us
to learn answers that respond to deep needs within us to know,

for all of us who live play a game
and how much more wonderful if we know the rules.

by Henry Walker
March 13, ’09

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


being present

winter is not done with us,
whispered each flake of snow
as March begins deeply cold,

in the morning snow has built high
on every branch and grassy surface,

brave, foolhardy daffodils and crocus
are forced to bow beneath heavy frostings of snow,

January jasmine and red maple flowers
seem resigned to the icy coats forced on them,

I fear for the lettuce and sugar snap peas
I just planted in the garden,

there’s a bone-tiredness at school in teacher and student alike,
as if winter has sapped whatever reserves each of us had,
and only will, rather than joy, can keep us functional,
we huddle together and fuss
as if to warm ourselves with shared worry and frustrations,

so what do I do?
I carve out a personal escape up into the mountains,
the world being too much with me
I decide to be just as much with the world,

up here where elevation, rock, water, and solitude
can let me disconnect from that hyper-awareness and involvement
that students, friends, and love call from me,

each morning of the year I meditate
and that focus on the eternal helps me not lose my balance
as I reach out to all the dramas around me,

up here I hope to immerse myself in heart-pounding exercise
up, down, and along the mountain,
and I hope to regain perspective, to recharge my batteries,
so that as winter turns to spring
I am not so sleepy that I cannot celebrate each new beginning,

so, after a good sleep, I softly pound my way up the trail
as snow increasingly covers the world around me,
my thoughts simplify,
all those little worries that bedevil me
are like little biting insects that can’t keep up and they fall off,
I get real and choose each moment where to put my foot,
realize how much I need each breath,
each effort to go up and up,
I feel my heart pound, my senses sharpen,
I thrill at the soft snow and sharply vertical icicles,

the surprise of color on a sunny ridge
where maroon galax leaves shout at me
amidst the limegreen crowd of heathy friends,
and then around a corner I’m back in the white-out simplicity
of a snowy dark hollow,

only when I let my attention wander back inside
and away from being in this moment
do my slips on the trail threaten me,

on the way down winter continues its presentation
and I work to notice, to photograph to learn,
on the way down my body, through the words of my muscles and feet,
reminds me of how much work there is in my play,

I marvel at the creek, full of melted snow,

which sings of what water can do
when released from the rigid sculptures of winter,
and how then in sap and blood will dance
and carry life into virtuosities of performance,

I hope I can be more fully present and renewed
through the being present I give myself today.

by Henry H. Walker
March 5, ‘09

getting the stories

a door to open

I climb halfway up the mountain
to where a fragment of a Cherokee story
has a hero, who, while chasing a giant serpent,
finds instead Walasiyi, a great frog, going about its own story,
the hero continues on and the action story finds climax
far away from this gap and the frog who was here,

every year the mountain draws me
to hike up it and wander its slopes,

I seek its stories:

the quick anecdotes of flower and fungus,

the brief visit of a peregrine falcon or a black bear,

the ephemeral glory, or grey subtlety, of a sunset, a sunrise,
the cliff top views sometimes clear enough to pull me far away,
often veiled enough to remind me to savor the moment, the immediate,

the scientist in me seeks the back stories,
what the mycelium was doing before it fruited,
how all those who flower wrought revolution
and transformed the Earth with their success,
how the rock formed, was lifted, and how water, the great mother,
shapes the season and the mountain itself,

I can almost feel the power of the stories
that the gatekeeper of my intellect lets pass,

as I stand at the gap where Walasiyi and the Cherokee hero passed each other,
I cannot feel the truth of that story wrench me
and I cannot find the door within me to understand the mountains
as the magical mind knew them to be,

I love how many stories I can get
and that I can also get fragments of what’s beyond me,

I open every door I can
and some opened doors block the others from opening,

I mourn that so many in our culture
don’t even perceive the doors
those for whom the world is but full of things,
things which only exist for our pleasure.

by Henry H. Walker
March 5, ‘09

a healthy optimism

block upon block

I look out at the world
and I project a reality that feels right to me,
and often I win the bet
and the wonderful person, I believe before me,
and the student who could slip away steps forward,
the friend who could disappear stands beside me,
the person I hire reveals the artist within him,
and each of us is still with realities
that express themselves to remind us
that our selves and our relationships
continue to be works in progress,

the Pollyanna in me doesn’t always get it right,
I can be the mark to another’s sting
as they who fall pull at me to diminish with them,

I know that my optimism
only gets it right some of the time,
I also know that my optimism is true all of the time
for it supports the best of me
and it keeps me adding block upon block
so that I can be ahead in the counting
despite all the tragedies
when anyone subtracts from the combining,

I mourn for how much the loss is their loss,
and I celebrate how often belief in another
releases the best in both of us.

by Henry H. Walker
March 7, ‘09

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

to be a sous chef

a newness

every mother lives a truth
that distances itself from me,
despite how much I want to matter they way they do,
as much as I love my children and grandchildren,
I feel like a sous chef to a master,

I wonder if a craftsman crafts so as to be his own chef,

I garden and I teach
yet in each I believe
I but husband miracles beyond me,

when I write I feel of worth
as something new comes into the world,
even here, though, I feel not the creator
and more the conduit through which I open myself to the greater,

if my role is to help
or if my role is to appreciate,

I still love to be there at each new birthing
when hope finds a new way into the world.

by Henry H. Walker
March 4, ‘09

Monday, March 2, 2009

like the immune system

a power within

as I chalk up the closing years
of my fourth decade as a teacher,
I look out at classes
and see student after student
find within themselves the wherewithal
to pull themselves together
and leap into excellence--

I celebrate when each takes the step into risk,
when each makes the effort to remain original, unique,
and, at the same time, to also let the model of others within them
so as to learn ways of being and doing
that further empower the uniqueness,

I celebrate each student who is true to self
and true to how much each should feel bonded to the other,

within each of us a whole system of defenses,
the immune system,
maintains integrity of self
despite contagion after contagion whispering denial,

I contend that within each of us is a power
that, when not buried away in denial
or short-circuited by self-doubt,
when not drained away by an imposed negative charge,
asserts an integrity of self,
which often achieves the extraordinary
as it acts to reveal that within
and as it acts to express a vision upon the world,

as a teacher I rarely seek to mold the clay before me
into a shape I find within my own will,
rather, I seek deep within the eyes of the student before me,
and speak to that power within
of how right it is to release itself,
I speak of what should be denied, fought,

and when the student leaps into excellence

how wonderful to acknowledge and celebrate the leap!

by Henry Walker
February 28, ’09