Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Even In Poetry: Middle School Never Fails

I substituted for a middle school language arts class this past week. 5 classes of 7th graders. The first 30 minutes of each period was spent following along in a novel as we listened to the recording.

Things got more exciting during the final 15 minutes, when the kids were supposed to write a poem, the only guideline being a "Message to a Friend." When everyone seemed stumped, I gave them suggestions. I told them that a "message to a friend" is just a guideline, that you can write it to an object, to food, or even to someone you're angry with. This got them going. Here are some priceless samples:

Poem #1
I met a new friend,
We had a lot of fun.
The next day,
She ditched me 3 times,
One by one.
After school,
I saw her,
She gave me gum.
We talked,
And laughed,
I guess we're friends
A week before,
I got better
Relations with a friend.
She ditched me to go to science,
She ditched me.
That's OK but to go
Uh oh, that's not right.
Or is it?

Poem #2
Jahleel is my baby,
Love him to death,
Known him since
September 25th
Last year, met at
A party. He'll
Always be in
My heart, threw
Thick and thin
I'll always be
There for him

Poem #3

Josh is going around talking like he's
Cool, making lame jokes about his
Fake life, even when I laugh he
Takes it as a compliment, Yea right,
I wish he left
Webslingers, and
Got a life of
Dismal days, That
Will be grand,
Getting away
From him, is
Not a request,
But a life
Goal, so when
Something like
That happens, I
Will thank the lord
For that day, also
He gets all in my
Face and I'm like buzz
Off to your bad life,

Poem #4
Nolan, what is this gap that stands between us?
Ever since we first met,
We were tighter than a noose.
Now we stand on either side
Of an invisible wall,
Thousands of miles across.
This wall is called employment.

When mom’s job made us move,
We were separated and each sealed
On either side of this gap.
But one day, our separate prisons will fall
And we will once again roam the earth together,
No wall to divide us from our friendship.

Poem #5

Mr. Nyquil
You are my quill

Monday, November 16, 2009

Underwater World: The Wrack of Ida on the Carolina Coast

This past weekend I headed to the coast to assist the UNC Chapel Hill Vert. Zoology class on a birding field trip. Fortunately, the timing was perfect. The trip would coincide with the tail-end of the Nor'Easter passing by... giving me the rare opportunity of being able to witness, first hand, the damage brought to our coastline.

Locals said that this was the biggest storm since Isabel in 2003, and the evidence supports it. In Nags Head, dunes disappeared and beachside boardwalks were buried in a foot of sand, while the surf was littered with the shards of docks. Driving throughout the Pamlico Peninsula, settlement after settlement had sections underwater, and most fields had become temporary ponds.

Not something you see everyday. Thankfully for you, I have a few photos to give you some idea. Strap on your belts and take a ride!

We were stationed on the Outer Banks in Nags Head at the Sea Foam Motel, a weathered, somewhat charming establishment. Above is the view at dawn on Saturday, November 14th. Still a 20-30 mph NW wind, large swells.

Here is a view looking North along the beach, where you can see the sand bag wall. The goal of these sand bags is to prevent the onslaught of the ocean as the Outer Banks erode inland, slowly but surely.

Above is the shower head behind the motel. It may be hard to tell in this photo, but it's under 1.5 feet of sand... only a hobbit could bathe under this.

Continued signs of the sand deposition... here is the staircase leading to the oceanfront gazebo. As you can see, the steps are under sand and the hand-rail is more like an ankle-rail.

"Walk down the steps and enter the ocean," the sign should read. All morning, waves broke onto the gazebo.

Leaving the Outer Banks and back on the mainland now, here are some photos of the town of Engelhard on the Pamlico Peninsula. A small town, a water world. There's not a whole lot you can do to combat it, other than to move your car to high ground and wait for the water to recede. Many areas totaled over a foot of rain the past week, too much for the earth to soak up.

But, even in dire times, someone benefits. Riiight? Some thrive in such conditions. Like beavers. Too bad this 50 pounder decided to cross the road. His life may be forfeit, but he would be happy to know how much we loved prodding him. He was very fresh.

Whether it be in New Orleans, Bangladesh, or North Carolina... some places are, by definition, disaster zones in waiting. The unique ecosystems of these areas have been created by, and depend on, storms like these. It is a fact that the barrier islands along the Carolina coast are geologically unstable, shifting sands that are incompatible with permanent structures and associated human habitation.

It just so happens that humans feel the benefits outweigh the negatives in living here. What is it that binds them to these risky places? Is it family tradition? The ocean front? The natural resources?

Most certainly it is all of the above... but let it be known...

Storms will persist, separate from man's desire.

Ida: All That Rain Last Week

In September of 1989 Hurricane Hugo blew through Charlotte NC, leveling trees, cutting power, and to young me, creating the greatest jungle gym he would ever see.

Flipping through the T.V. channels as a growing boy, the channels I flipped through included TNT for Scooby Doo, PBS for Wishbone, ESPN for sports, and Cable Channel 41, the Weather Channel. During late summer and fall, my days revolved around the Tropical Update at the :50 of every hour. I envied the cue-ball head of Jim Cantore as he stood in the midst of 120 mph winds, lusted after the opportunity to stand a foot deep in a horizontal, driving snow.

So, when I became aware of Tropical Storm Ida churning in the Gulf of Mexico last week, I kept a casual eye on the reports. I read that, once making landfall, the winds would bring it towards the Carolinas. I also read that as it did so, it would team up with a low pressure system off of the southeastern coast, creating a two-fold storm, the swirling comma of a Nor'Easter.


As everyone with a pulse now knows, it wound up raining a ton last week, whether you were in the Appalachians, piedmont or coastal plain. Instinct told you stay cooped up during all that rain. To stay sheltered, warm, lazy, fat. A mini-hibernation. On the other hand, for me, cursed by the Hugo Effect, my urges lay elsewhere. Outside.

As the Flood Warnings were posted, the Wind Advisories issued, I thought of Morgan and Bolin Creek. How fat would they get?

So, what else to do but go find out? The afternoon of November 11th I went out to survey the situation. Here are the photos.

Running southeast out of town, Morgan Creek drains a great deal of the town's runoff. I went to check on it behind Finley Golf Course, along the entrance road to Mason Farm Biological Reserve. Above is the water level, below, a pan of the swollen channel.

As I continued down the road, my trip came to an abrupt halt. The road had become a torrent, as the adjacent beaver pond had jumped its banks, connecting the two bodies of water. Below, a great blue heron spends its time fishing in the road. Its not a road to him! Just more water.

I continued on foot, where I discovered the weir to be way underwater!!!

Looking up from the middle of the road. Below, looking down.

And of course, the casualties. The taming of the shrew.

Why do this? I don't know, and back then I didn't even need to know. But as I ponder it now, I believe part of it is this: There is no greater force, no more dominant power, than what our planet churns.

So what greater thrill can there be, other than to subject yourself, in complete submission, to this power? To immerse yourself in the driving force. How unnecessary thoughts seem when our senses are firing so intensely.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Coffee Shop Attendance: Filtration and Procession

I’ve been haunting coffee shops for a while now. While I can’t say it is my favorite activity, it has become somewhat of a necessity for me to go there.


Simple. I am a victim of homeland denial. I cannot achieve anything inside my house, a habit that has become a black mark, a true medical condition. I no longer even consider tackling a book, or doing anything worthwhile, inside my house. Why? I don’t know. The best explanation I can come up with is this.

I am a bachelor. I am young. I am unachieved... and in my house I disappear. I am taken out of the ocean. The opportunity for a tidal wave is next to none.

Coffee shop attendance, on the other hand, provides ample opportunity for participation and observation of the schools of fish swimming by. I usually sit solo, sometimes slipping in with the other fish. But today I am like a spreading sea fan on a block of coral - filtering my environment and to the casual eye, barely participating.

And as I do so, I realize is this: What I hear, see, and smell while sitting on a porch with coffee is often priceless. Just like the sea fan I am filter feeding, oriented across the prevailing current, maximizing the intake of particulate matter. That's me below...

And so the experience begins.

On a lucid afternoon, the temperature has dropped 5 degrees since the rain began. The sky is uniformly gray. I see rain on the hoods, pavement, reflecting on the sidewalks. I cannot read. I cannot chat. So what do I do?

I unfurl my receptors and dedicate 30 minutes to writing down what I hear and see, written down in the reality of my mind. No goal other than to try and gain some understanding.

The osmosis begins.


To my left, four guys are sitting together. One with dreadlocks, others normal enough, I catch one phrase: “What about the Christian Hell? That too?”

To my left, there is an aging blond female speaking of her relationship troubles with her boyfriend to a male confidant: She says: “He doesn’t respect my sobriety! He comes over with beers.”

Moving on to her dating life, she continues: “One other thing about this guy I’m dating… He’s also dating my best friend…She’s out of town a lot working a lot… It seems like he’s got a girl in every town!”

She is chain smoking, and I realize something. There is an unalterable correlation in my overhearing: cigarette smokers = the loudest speaker, a plagued past and eccentric outlooks.


A salt-and-pepper haired man in Carhartts walks out with a beautiful young woman, a woman that raises the question in my mind, “Is that his wife or daughter?”

I pause and lean back to process my surroundings. I see the peak of autumn flush.


Two testosterone-suppressed men arrive, color-coordinated pumas and sweaters, the pair of them matching in their dark rims and dark mesh hair. They sit down besides me, begin to whisper imperceptibly.

I see a lot of 35 year old men, fresh shaven and iron-pressed. I decide that they vary between two subspecies, the cocky-calculating sort and the alternative-coveting. Both successful in societies terms.

The resident grandpa arrives teetering, with a truck hat and a cassette deck. Conversational, many people stop to talk to him, call him by his name.

I note the other Elder, celebrated minds. Then I see those that wish they were such. Then those vanilla folks that wish to be near such, that leach off their presence.

The people I like best are the ones that are such but don’t look so, that don’t know so, and perhaps don’t care so, and that get away with their work unseen and unadorned, like a throbbing torpedo below the surface, separate from the hot air of coffee houses. I fantasize that I am one of these.


I realize that the subconscious reason of every visit for me, and many others, is the women.

One passes, bursting in the tight jeans, tight sweater, shaved head, slender glasses, fatless body.

Then another in a toboggan hat, auburn hair, studded ears, shredded black jean skirt with leggings underneath, unatheletic and large.

I muse over my potential hyper-exposure to germs due to my constant presence in public schools. My thoughts are fluid, entering and exiting, external from my control.


A few thrown out of left-field arrive, the ones that defy all of my categorization attempts:

The stocky Vietnamese man with glasses that belts it out in foreign tongues. The pastel polo 20 somethings, perhaps the only stock that is OUT OF PLACE.

One of the group of four men at the beginning, returning from inside, circles the other three laughing, “Y’all still going at it? Dogmatic in the rain… still arguing.” These are the coffee shop revolutionaries.

The coffee begins to dig at my empty stomach, the sound of voices fades into the rush hour. I walk to my bike, unlock it and pedal into the rain, steering towards home.


It is said that the size, shape, and appearance of sea fans is highly correlated to their location. The more fan-shaped and flexible sea fans tend to populate shallower areas with strong currents, while the taller, thinner, and stiffer ones can be found in deeper, calmer waters.

Many creatures are known to dwell within their branches, some of which closely resemble their host and are thus well camouflaged.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Starting Early: Middle School Felons

I have always avoided the letters I.S.S.

As a student, they were deadly, as a substitute they are threatening.

In. School. Suspension.

But I felt reckless this morning, curious. Middle school I.S.S. can't be that bad... the kids that are in there will surely be scared out of their wits and in turn will sit quietly doing work, and I will have a simple day. Correct?

Correct. The two lads in here are very obedient.

But, being the inquisitive sort, I can't let the two boys sit in complete silence. I have to hear why they are in here...

And so I do. After prompting each one, asking why they are in here, they are more than willing to share their stories, eager for some conciliation, some understanding.

Story #1
8th grader, Michael is a wigger and has just been caught for selling oregano on the bus. For 5 bucks, he told the boy it was Salvia. His prospective buyer told on him and now he's busted. Michael has now admitted to me that he smokes Salvia on a regular basis and needs to quit, but I think he is lying to impress me. But regardless of that, this morning his parents found a homemade bong made out of a Gatorade bottle. He has yet to face the music for this and is frightened to go home. He is going to court tomorrow and will be going to reform school for 90 days. To compound the issue, he has been accused of tattling on one of his friends for smoking weed, and this friend is now threatening to "kill him." To protect him, his grandmother has been called in to drive him home, because the school bus is no longer safe for him.

Story #2
Jimmy, 8th grader. Currently in I.S.S. for mouthing off to his health teacher. His mouth starts running and all of a sudden he is telling me a high action drama of his recent past, a drama that goes something like this: His friend Tyreke had a gun and brought it to school and was threatening to kill someone. This someone had stolen his "girl." Tyreke then fires the gun into the ground 5 times, while Jimmy is by his side. Word got around that Jimmy witnessed the firing, so he was called to the office to give information on Tyreke. He refused to rat. Tyreke is in juvie now. Jimmy is still ballin.

Jimmy left after one period. Now it's just me and Michael, and Michael is in no mood to do anymore work, and how can I blame him? He may not be coming back to school for 90 days... why do your homework? So we talk. It devolves into him reading me Insect Jokes, which are funny for all the wrong reasons. We laugh out loud. Check these out:

What kind of boats do mosquitos like?

Blood vessels.

How did the firefly feel when it ran into the fan?

He was delighted.

What bug goes snap crackle fizz?

A lightning bug with a short-circuit.

Why did the bee go to the doctor?

It had hives.

What animal is smarter than a talking parrot?

A spelling bee.

What kind of fly has a frog in its throat?

A banana.

Why did the fly fly?

Because the spider spied her.

Yeah I know. Those are terrible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Especially those last two... I mean W.T.F. Anyways, I.S.S. is now on my subbing radar. I'm doing it whenever it surfaces from here on out.