“Well the other day, Amalia and I were in the car and the song, we are young, came on in the radio. It reminded me of my mom because she thought that one line in it said, ‘we’ll set the world on fire,’ but she thought it said, set the house on fire. So Amalia and I sang to set the house on fire instead. It was a nice reminder of my mom.” She said twiddling a piece of paper in-between her hands.
“Well I have something a little bit different,” Leeya said. “The other day I was at my grandmother’s house and she showed me a picture of my grandpa on Mt. Moosalamoo, when he was twelve. It is from 1933. And I have the picture so I’ll pass it around.” She passed it to Wyatt who was sitting next to her, “And a couple years after this picture he went off to fight in World War II, he was a pilot and bombed a lot of people. It was weird to see this boy but then know this about him. I was just thinking about how much people can change in those years.” She paused and a look of remembrance crossed her face and she said, “Oh! My grandmother is looking for anybody to take her cats, which she has three of, so if anybody is looking for a pet…” She said smiling raising her hands suggestively. People smiled and chatted to the person next to them pondering the idea of a new pet. Maxine brought everybody back by saying,
“Well, I just have a question for everyone: What did you guys list as your favorite sounds on the self eval? I personally like geese and my alarm clock.” People started to blurt out answers. Tal cut them off so we could hear what everyone was saying.
“Well,” started off Merry, “I really like the sound of Willoughby ’s lips flapping up and down when he is asleep and breathing heavily.” While talking she gave a hand demonstration.
“Well one of my favorite sounds is the sound of my Dad’s van, because I grew up with that noise,” said Angus, referring to an old VW bus his family has.
“Did ya’ll take this question seriously as if you couldn’t live without them or did you loosen it up, and say, the essential sounds I need. Because you all know that you are able to rebel with these questions if you want too, and do it differently,” said Tal reassuring us while he twisted his gray and white beard.
“I was also am wondering what people picked out for the question, what image could you relate to? So I was wondering what you guys picked and what it meant to you.” Marina asked the whole room looking curiously around the room with her big blue eyes. Wren answered her,
“Well I picked a Monet painting of a mother and a child in a garden, it reminds me off innocence for some reason.” Wren trailed off, then started talking again. “I had to write about it camp this summer, and then it didnt’ mean much to me. But now it does.”
Tal swooped in on the conversation eagerly to tell us a bit about Monet. “He had a great big beard down to here. And he lived at his garden and house at Giverny fro 39 years. Monet was one of the fathers of abstract art because when he got older he was slowly losing his vision. So his paintings became distorted.” Tal stopped talking and Hannah answered Marina’s question.
“I did a snowflake Bentley picture,” she said.
“Oh! Old Snow Flake Bentley, huh?” Said Tal getting riled up. Hannah nodded smiling without her teeth.
“Did you know that every single snow flake is different? And so is popcorn.” Said Tal enthusiastically. Then with a dash of tease and cheese slightly laughing he said, “Just like every one of you!” The whole room seemed to be a wave a eyebrows raising and the corners of mouths lifting. After that people went to their neighbors once again and started to chat, while Tal threw out information about popcorn. We learned that the Mayans invented popcorn and that it pops because the moisture inside it boils and it explodes. WE discussed the merits of air popping. vs. oil, Whirly-Poppers vs. any other kind, and how Cindy Seligmann is a cogniscenti of popcorn. It is decided that after our salad dressing cook-off, we will do a popcorn one, a “Pop-off.”
“Everybody remember there is hot lunch this week!” Eric said, “So find a bowl and spoon to keep as your own throughout the week, make sure to put your name on it!” He emphasized.
“Alright, ya’ll its time,” Said Tal, everybody got up and went to their classes. The school was like an alive animal.
The seventh graders headed off to math, the eighth graders headed off to science. They all disappeared from the big room where the ninth graders had study. Throughout study we all observed the beautiful lemon Meringue pie Sheila had made. We had that throughout study as everybody had their heads down completing an assignment hurriedly. After a wonderful study, all the classes rotated, and the ninth graders went bustling off again to science.
In science we started out utopian villages out in the woods. Many old structures and stones were being reincarnated from old utopian villages. Leeya and I built off of what our fellow eighth graders on our team had made. Eric told us we had stolen the turkey house from many years ago. There are many things lingering in the NBS woods from past projects. Eric also pointed out to us a still standing balancing sculpture. I hoped I could make something or do something here at NBS to outlive my very own presence, too. Soon after science finished the ninth graders came in rosy-cheeked from the cold, rubbing our hands together. Then the school became chaotic as people headed off to lunch.
Students raced to the microwave in order to be first to warm up there pasta or Ramen noodles. While clumps of people gathered in various rooms or stroledl outside to play some soccer. But before you know it the bell rang. Sometimes North Branch lunches can be as long as fifteen minutes or two hours— it usually depends on the weather, or the mood of the school that day.
After this short lunch everybody scrambles down the stairs to the basement, where we were doing self-portraits. Tal told us to be silent and focus. It was the only way to do a good job. The portraits varied in art skill, but you could tell that just after one day much effort had been put into all of them. The day came to a close. While some people went home and others stayed for ultimate. It was another crazy, beautiful day at North Branch.
The usual hub-bub of a Tuesday morning at 8;30 started in the woods of Ripton, Vermont, at the North Branch School, as the Lincoln carpool walked in through the big trees surrounding the amber-colored wooden door. Kids scrubbed dishes from the previous day in the tiny kitchen area, while people swept the big room floor. After a clean up the bell was rung and meeting begun. Tal wasn’t there this morning, but Eric and Rose sat in their usual spots behind the table.
Maxine started it off, “Well I know I talk about my dad a lot, but he’s just a cool guy,” said Maxine smiling and slightly raising her eyebrows, “But anyway, this morning he said he needed a new pair of Merrils because his pair that he had were starting to wear out, and those are his favorite shoes. And his basically only pair of shoes, and I was just thinking about all the shoes I own, and it makes me think if I really need all of them,” she said.
“I think we should all go home and count our shoes.” Leeya said holding up her pencil. A murmur of agreement spread throughout the room.
“It’s funny,” said Marina, “How a piece of clothing or shoes you need to get rid of when they are worn out, but it would be a good thing to wear out a piece of writing you are writing, because then it makes it better,” she said thoughtfully. Another wave of agreement passed through the school.
“Well, to change the subject,” said Wren, “I don’t know if you guys remember.. but my mom auditioned for a play and she got in, so I am happy about that!” She said this with a positive note.
“Speaking of plays, I am going into tech week next week with my play, which is going to be very stressful and lots of long nights, and there is a lot that goes into the play behind the scenes,” Eden announced. A pause crossed the room.
“Well,” started off Griffin putting out one hand while he talked, “the other day I went dirt biking, and I saw two deer. It got me excited for hunting season, but not really the killing part, but just to be outside,” Said Griffin, putting his hand back in his lap.
“Well, last night, Yana and I kind of got in a tiny fight over little things and we were mad at each other, but then at night Yana told me to come outside and look at the moon and we both just started talking about it, and I was happy that the moon brought us back together,” said Leeya
“Well I have really been liking the projects this year, they have been much more efficient and more interesting,” stated Rose, talking with one hand off her coffee clay cup.
“Well, this morning my sister was driving and it seemed like just yesterday we had been in our backyard just playing with each other, but now she is driving me around and it just seems so soon,” said….
“Well last night I looked at my camp blog, and read the daily post that the lady would usually post at the camp. And in her most recent article, she described traveling and how everywhere she went she felt at home even though it wasn’t her home, and I just thought that was interesting…” Said Wren
“Well,” said Catherine. I have been thinking a lot about the term “carrying the fire,” and I wish I did it more. Leeya carries the fire by talking a lot in meeting, Wren does it by exceeding in art every single time, I don’t really know how to carry the fire.” She finished with a quiver in her voice.
Catherine was talking about a phrase in our lit book last year, The Road, where the man tells the boy that he will carry the fire, after the man dies.
“Catherine, I think there are many different ways to carry the fire and it’s not necessarily talking in meeting. I think you can carry it in different things too,” said Kelsey wisely.
“Well the other day I had a good time talking to Rosemary’s dad as he drove me home and we talked about how much we take for granted.” Said Griffin nodding, a brief silence entered the room.
“Well last night, while I was doing by homework Russell came and lay down on my keyboard, and I started to scratch his ears and hug him, and I was just thinking about, why do we show love in this way, how come we don’t touch elbows or something?” Said Angus. Everybody nodded and seemed to understand.
“Last night after play rehearsal, Jackson and I went to the Mt.Abe gym and Jackson taught me how to throw his really long throw ins, and I was happy to have a friend at Mt.Abe.” Said Aidan, looking up at the ceiling while half smiling.
“Well, last night I was listening to the news on NPR, it was about a massacre that had just recently happened. And I was just thinking, how could a person be so emotionless?” Said Sam, as he said it the whole school seemed to pause and think for a second, at least I did.
“Connecting to that, I was just on the internet the other day and I saw a picture of a model with and without makeup, and there were thousands and thousands of comments on it. But with bad news, it is always emotionless, I wish the more publicized things weren’t so fake,” said Leeya.
“I think when you are a news reporter on those hard things you kind of have to act, because you want people to stay calm,” stated Aidan
“The other day in art while I was drawing, something that I kept on telling myself was to be slow and accurate, and I found I drew much better.” said Owen giving the whole school a piece of advice. Owen’s self-portrait is one of the best.
“The other day when I was coming home from ultimate,” said Marina, “and I sat in the front seat with Sheila and we also listened to something on NPR, about girls lives in India. If they don’t get sent off to boarding school then they normally get married at age ten, usually to an older man. But If you were even lucky enough to go to boarding school you can be in school until ninth grade, then you have to take a test, and if you don’t get a good enough grade on that test, you can’t continue with your education, you have to get married off if you don’t pass.” Said Marina, I suddenly felt very fortunate, and was very happy I wasn’t already married, or was to be married off next year. It was alarming.
“It’s odd how some people always assume to get married,” said Leeya, “How come that’s always asked when people are together? Why do you need to get married?” Leeya spoke aloud thoughtfully. In response Owen said,
“Well all animals are built to survive and live on and reproduce, so I think it’s basically just looking for a mate,” said Owen. Just as Owen finished his sentence Tal walked in dramatically as usual.
“Do we have a poem?” Eric asked form his stool in the corner.
“Yup, I have it.” Said Marina, “this is a bit of the poem “Splendour in the Grass” by William Wordsworth:
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
“Alright let’s go, y’all.” Said Tal, immediately the sound of chairs being pushed against cement, falling binders and pencils filled the room, while some people left it to get a snack. It was eighty and ninety lit, the sevies had math.
In eight and nine literature we are reading To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Tal had us made a constellation of metaphor connections we had found throughout the book and had us play a little bit of metaphor boggle, to see if they all connected.
After this in science Eric read the ninth graders a book about a seagull who was different than the other seagulls, while we papier-mached half of our big globe.
Today was no ordinary lunch, as it was the hot lunch program today at the North Branch School. Many kids had brought in different ingredients to make a soup. It turned out being delicious. And in the end there were lots of left over carrots.
After lunch the ninth graders headed towards a productive math. I am happy to see everybody working well together. Rose showed us a new concept about angles. Soon math ended and study was given for the rest of the day. A perfect time to get some work done. And yet again another day finished, waiting for the next one to come.
As I walked into the gray splatter painted basement. I saw microphones, speakers, a guitar, drums and pianos all set up.
“What’s going on down here?” I asked Marina as I saw her at her cubby taking out the things she needed for the day.
“Oh music group is performing this morning.” She said,
“Cool,” I responded. And sure enough, when everybody got to school everybody crowded around the art tables downstairs where it was set up. The played two songs, “Let Her Go,” by Passenger, and “Valerie,” by Amy Winehouse. It was a wonderful way to start a Wednesday. Something to bring us through the week. After we listened to those tunes, the whole school transferred upstairs to have a meeting. As soon as everybody settled down Leeya began to talk,
“Last night, all the lights were turned off, because my Dad’s just been weird about not wanting them on, and usually before I go to bed I watch TV. But last night I didn’t and I found I slept much better, I have just been thinking about what’s best to do with that time before you go to bed.”
“Ya, I guess I have also been kind of thinking about that too, and I used to distract myself before I went to bed, and watch something pointless on YouTube,” said Marina.
“Well, can’t some TV shows trigger your thoughts?” Said Eric. A brief silence covered the room.
“Last night my dad showed me a Ted talk about “What it’s like to be wrong,” said Rosemary, “And really if you think about it, the only bad part it when you are realizing that you were wrong but before that you thought you were right, so the realization part is really the only downfall.”
“The other day I was reading an article, kind of about this and it said the best thing to do is to have courage in your belief but not to assume that you aren’t wrong at all,” Said Rose. “Having conviction and doubt at the same time is more powerful.”
“It’s kind of like the school. We are going another way, instead of the normal way, and sometimes we might be wrong.” Said Tal. “But we want to be people who subvert the dominant paradigm. We have to go into it all the way.”
“I have been happier after being kind, following Merry’s dads advice. I also am happy I finished my self evals,” said Rosemary, “I also want everybody to know that I love them.” Said Rosemary getting teary eyed. People smiled around the room somebody squeezed her hand.
“Well, on a different note I researched about love and affection from what Angus was talking about the other day and I found out that love is as addicting as cocaine and people actually do go through withdrawals. It’s all just a chemical reaction in your brain,” Said Kelsey.
“I just really appreciated listening to the music group this morning I thought it was a great way to start the day,” said Rose.
“Before I go to bed I always think about all my problems, then after that I think about all these wild solutions to them and say, okay I am going to go and confront this person tomorrow, then when I wake up, I think I was crazy to think that. I just wish I could actually follow through with it. Oh and on a different note, sadly the Mets lost last night,” Said Wren thoughtfully.
Wyatt then described the baseball details of the game to Tal. And slowly important talk and random jibber jabber came to an end. And Tal reminded everybody to wear their Halloween costumes on Friday! Then to sum up the meeting Henry read a poem, called Darkness and Light by Andre Gibson.
I know you think this world is too dark to even dream in colour,
but I’ve seen flowers bloom at midnight.
I’ve seen kites fly in gray skies and they were real close to looking like the sunrise,
and sometimes it takes the most wounded wings the most broken things
to notice how strong the breeze is, how precious the flight.
The day consisted of the regular classes and at the end of the day everybody was excited to see Ned again. Ned is the film maker who is making a short movie about NBS.
When Ned came in he told us about himself, how he lived in Burlington with his brother. And we officially got introduced Ned even though he already felt like part of the school. We went around and shared our names, just for a little review. Then Ned had us watch some of the footage he took from last year and asked us to write down the visual things we thought was important and the content that we thought was important. It was weird to see myself and other people it really brought last year back to life.
Once again the day began with lots of cleaning, printing of papers for lit. And the starting of our next hot lunch, a yummy curry dish with rice, veggies and chicken. After the bell had rung, it drew everyone to the big room to a central spot to come together.
Marina opened up meeting by talking about her mom, “Well I really appreciate that the other day Eden asked me questions about my mom. It’s nice to have someone so innocent about it to ask questions. Plus I think I can deal with talking about her now without breaking down, I think I am stronger. I just want to say that nobody has to feel awkward to ask me questions because I don’t mind talking about my mom.” The room grew silent processing this information they were receiving. Then Merry spoke up.
“Do you feel her presence Marina?”
“Yes I do, mostly in things other people do,” she responded.
“What are some of those things?” Questioned Tal.
“Well, when we did waltzing in the basement last year for Maxine’s project in reminded me of my mom, and when Merry was singing on the hike that reminded me of her too, so yeah, its mostly in people I would say,” Answered Marina, holding her ground.
“Do you think she is watching over you?” I asked Marina.
“Yes, sometimes I do. When I am not feeling very good mentally I always like to remember that,” She said strongly. I smiled at her across the room. After that the room grew silent, not sure of what to day. It stayed that way for, 1…2…3…4 seconds.
“This is something a little different,” said Leeya. “But the other day we were going through some of the stuff at my grandmother’s house, mostly photographs, and I saw a picture of my grandma’s other partner she had had before her last partner, and after her husband. And I realized that when I saw that picture that I had forgotten about him, and he had been there when I was little, it was weird to think that such a big figure in my life was forgotten,” Leeya said as if still in realization.
“Interesting..” Said Tal twisting his beard thoughtfully.
“Sorry Y’all but we gotta go,” said Tal, “who’s go the poem?”
“I do,” Said Rosemary taking out her purple Ipad, she began to read,
“I Am Not I” By Juan Ramón Jiménez, Translated By Robert Bly
I am not I.
I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
who remains calm and silent while I talk,
and forgives, gently, when I hate,
who walks where I am not,
who will remain standing when I die.
After the poems was finished it was time for lit class once again, people pulled out there loved, battered lit books and responses. While Tal’s green binder was being passed around with a certain amount of points that no one really knew what they were out of. Tal had us write a letter to Boo Radley.
Then we had science where we continued to watch the movie “Longitude,” that has many actors from Harry Potter in, which everyone grew very excited about. While we were watching it the smells of curry and the chicken Rosemary had brought it drifted pleasurably through my nostrils. Hot lunch was delicious. During lunch people split up and did work, or went outside to play soccer, though the thing about North Branch is, it’s not segregated or cliquey. If you want to hang out with anybody you can, and it’s very welcoming.
At the end of the day we finished with all Tal. Tal warned us we better get all our stuff together before conferences so that Tal won’t be able to say anything bad about us. After this we read some finished and un-finished place descriptions. Angus’ was read, a scene about him and had his dog Russell sitting out in the yard together. It was a beautiful place description that was drenched in feeling of brotherhood and lots of love. Tal also read Anika’s place description, and she wrote about missing Hawaii. And how she missed it so much she wanted to cry, so she tried not to think about it because it awakened a deep snake-pit of feelings. It sounded very mature, and elegant. Those were the fully baked ones. He also read some unbaked ones for us to get the feel of what really is finished work, including Kesley’s, which was incredible.
Everybody came in suited up in some sort of a costume. Wyatt and Sam came in as bride and groom, and Griffin was a Hershey’s bar. Juliette was a purple cat. Eric was a baseball player. Tal and Rose were sophisticated French existentialist beatnik people. The ninth grade boys were, Netflix and Chill Chill. Eden had the facemask of somebody celebrating the Day of the Dead. Leeya was a lady Robin Hood. Merry was Calvin and Kelsey was Hobbes. There were many wonderful costumes. On Friday, there is no morning meeting, so as soon as you get to school you dive into your first class. The ninth graders had science first.
Not only did Eric look different as a baseball player, but there were also some cool things about the science room that day. Green Mist came out from underneath the globe creating an eerie effect around the science room table. We continued to watch the “Longitude” movie.
Then we headed on off to math were it was shockingly silent and everybody had their heads tilted over their assignments ready and focused to learn. It went very well. The bell was rung after for a quick meeting, although it didn’t turn out quick.
Everybody gathered in the big room for a quick meeting, which started with some fun, small talk, when were Sam and Wyatt going to officially get married, and where? Tal also talked about how we need to butter up lots of people to get some good funds for our school. Then Leeya broke the chitter chatter by saying a solid comment,
“Well my grandma can’t get out of bed anymore, and she can’t walk around, go outside and do “normal” things, her life is just in one single room now, and that would kind of scare, me it’s just been on my mind.” She said, people nodded their heads, sympathetically. Everybody seemed to take a deep breathe in and out.
“Well, I just want to say I don’t like people, commenting on my size, in a joke or anything, even if you don’t really mean it.” Said Angus out right, very bravely. He began to cry a little.
“Your sick of it,” said Tal. He nodded.
“Is there anything we can do, besides stop?” Leeya asked.
“No, I would just like if people could try not to do that anymore,” aaid Angus, I nodded my head, corresponding to Leeya’s nodding head. The Will, who was sitting next to Angus, spoke up.
“I also don’t like it when people pick on me about the color orange, and how I wear it all the time,” said Will his voice shaking. And he began to cry too. It was strong though, even though it was shaking. Everybody felt very apologetic and aware after receiving both sets of information. Will told us how he had always grown up with the color orange and his dog was orange, and he plays hockey for the Middleburg Tigers. It became normal, always on his sports jerseys. He grew to love that color and it is important for him. I think it’s awesome.
“I am so happy that you both said that, said Tal. “You both stood up for yourselves instead of just “. You don’t have to be smart, you just have to be brave to mark out your territory. You’re not going with the flow, and that’s brilliant.” He told them and it sure was. Many people related to how they were feeling and reassured both of them. I was so happy to be part of such an accepting place at that time. Time eventually moved.
Everybody then placed their Picasso sculptures out on Lincoln Road, to be kind of creepy, to mark the driveway for Halloween. Lunch came and passed, then it was time for the wiffle ball game against the board, who were all ridiculously dressed up, as much as the kids were. The kids ended up winning and the board had to hand the ninth graders the golden bat. We finished up the day with cider and donuts and a good big clean up to end another week at the North Branch School. An extraordinary week, never the same as another, just like a snowflake.