A Year of Morning Thanks
To see ourselves as others see us
Soon enough there will be no more biking out to Sandy Hollow. It was almost eighty yesterday, November 2, a record-breaker; soon enough the bike trail will be full of drifts or the temps will be such that riding out east of town, over hill and dale, will freeze your eyeballs. But yesterday, I got a trip in, maybe one more time, last one 'till May.
And when I did I thought about an international student's essay I'd read just the day before, a little essay describing the very same ground, a bike trip she took last summer. I'd asked my students to write an essay that was based somehow in nature. It's a dirty trick, maybe, because my real objective is to get them to look closely at the world around them, something few of them seem to do, burdened as they are with a college kid's work and play.
She chose to write about a little bike trip to Sandy Hollow, when she saw a garter snake (horrors!), drove through "tall green weeds" (she had to be talking about corn), and then experienced something of an epiphany when she and her accomplices were out at the campground. While she was resting from the ride, her sister pointed at a picture. I'll let my student tell the story:
I looked, pondering what my sister meant. I finally figured what she meant—a group of boys climbing the tree leaning over the lake, holding on to the rope tightly, dropping off for an exciting jump, driving into the water, and resurfacing. I smiled, with the saying—“Ah-hah!”
The view—boys swimming in the lake—was precious and felt just like heaven. Eight boys, around eleven or twelve, did not seem afraid of climbing the tree, nor worrying that there might be a squirrel on the tree--which I would probably be scared about. They jumped off the rope, not thinking too much on the insurance cost which I would probably worry about. They played in the water going in and out, not worrying that there might be water snakes around which I would probably worry about. Unlike me, the boys screamed and hollered, enjoying nature. On the other hand, I screamed out loud over the snake. In addition, I really disliked the curvy road biking.
All of a sudden, I felt shame compared to the boys who appreciate nature as if they were in the best place to be in. The boys, younger than I, made me realize how nature can give pleasure more than what people think and also is friendly to be with.
She's writing in her second language, maybe third, so the diction is far more entertaining than it is sound, but the idea stuck with me as I biked. She's Korean, and she's likely lived most of her life in the city. What she knows is the city; the vistas she loves are the starry nights of vast urban landscapes. She's never been surrounded by corn in a world where boys play Tarzan over a sand pit.
To see those boys jumping into the water was as foreign to her as her world would be to them, a place where they'd be as afraid as she was.
Her last essay was about home--and homesickness. In her own way, she wrote about how she missed it, the Korean high-rise apartment where her family lives, a world away from "the tall green weeds" all around her here.
Yesterday, on a quick little trip out to Sandy Hollow, I just had to giggle--and take some joy as I pedaled back to town, not because I believe that rural life is somehow "better" than her urbanity, but because my heart is glad (as she might say) to live in a place where there still is some touch of wilderness, where boys can still bellyflop from a rope, where an encounter with a garter snake isn't all that rare, and where one can bike ten miles and not really meet a soul.
She helped me to see anew a world I see everyday. And for that gift from a homesick Korean student, I'm thankful.