The first day of school. I walked into school nervous on the first day, wondering if any other ninth graders were a little nervous as well. The school was quiet, like how it usually is in mornings. I looked in the window expecting to see some people sitting at the table, but no one was sitting there. A group of three new faces walked around the corner, looking like they didn’t know what to do. And then walked on. Later on I figured out it was some new sevie girls, named Lena, Sydney and Hannah. I followed after them to the basement. I walked into the big room after finding a cubby and putting all my stuff in it; and some people followed behind me. It made me think of at the epigenesis party, Tal said that we all started out being shiny and new in the beginning before we get to the real stuff. And I looked around the room at everyone's new school supplies, shiny binders, clean notebooks, sharpened pencils, new shirts, and shoes, fixed hair, and shiny faces. Little did some of them know in about 2-3 weeks it would not be the same. Their binders would be written and scribbled on with doodles and random things other people wrote on it like “love youuuuu!!” or “You da best!” with hearts a smiley faces. They will be dirty. Their shiny shoes taken off and their feet dyed brown from running around barefoot. And they won’t have a clue where the hell any of their pencils went. And slowly a layer will be shed.
Tal told us a story about the man who saved Chartres Cathedral, and how he risked his life to save the cathedral, and later on was killed the same day.
“That’s how I want to live my life, risking my life to save something beautiful.”
The question being asked was, "How do you want to live you life?"
“Just think of a way. How do you want to live your life?” Tal asked blatantly, scanning the room. It was silent. I looked down at my paper nervously, no thoughts came to mind.
“It doesn’t have to be big, just something small, start with the small and build from there. Come on, just give it a try” Tal said, again scanning the room. I was thinking about my grandparents, and how they were old and I was old, too. And the new generation of children in my family. But I didn’t think it related. And sometimes I really thought it did, and then I lost my umph to do it. And then a small, voice came from the other side of the table. It was Leeya.
“I guess I’ll give it a try,” she said, hunching her back and smiling a little.
“Okay first,” Tal said, ‘What’s your name?”
“And your middle name?” Tal asked
“Luna,” She said, looking at Tal with raised eyebrows,
“And your last name?” Tal kept going.
“Tudek,” She answered.
“Okay, Leeya Luna Tudek. Now where are you from? And what grade are you in?” He asked again, and the class laughed a little bit at his list of basic, but important, questions.
“I’m from Lincoln and I’m in ninth grade,” She said smiling as she stuck her head out to see Tal’s face.
“Okay, you now may begin,” Tal said with a nod of his head.
Leeya explained how she went to a camp in Africa where there were children that only wanted to be held and hold your hand. And that her grandmother Sue, despite her age, was still seeking for new things to find. Still adventuring to Africa when a trip to Africa is not easy. And when Leeya got together with Rosemary, Rosemary was telling Leeya that she wanted to make a trail everywhere she had gone, and that there were probably places in your house that you’d never gone. She explained how she wants to always be doing that. Always be finding the new places she’s never gone, never stepped. No matter the difficulties, she wants to always having the same craving to learn and explore as her grandmother.
I was happy Leeya had been the first to talk, but deep down I was thinking that I should’ve done it, I should’ve said something when I thought it. But I only kept going over it in my head, perfecting what I should and shouldn’t say. And I was wondering if that’s what everyone else was thinking. I looked around.
Owen wanted to bring back the saying “How you do one thing is how you do everything” And Tal told him to make a list of all the things he did the easy easy way.
“Make a list of all the things you did half assed,” Tal said, “And make a list of all the things you did whole-assed,” And his voice sounded questioning when he said whole-assed “And why is it called Half-assed anyway?” He looked around the room, but nobody knew. “Alright, Owen that’s your extra homework for tonight, find out why it’s called half-assed and where is came from, okay?” he said, looking at Owen, and Owen nodded.
“Juliette look up the lyrics to that song by the Beatles, "Michelle, my Belle?" We need to know what the Beatles were saying in French. And, Will, will you figure out how many guys went over Niagara Falls and why. And Owen, look up the origin of half-assed,” Tal said, and he laughed a smirky laugh.
“Alright y’all, let’s take a break.” Tal said, and everyone left the big room quickly like someone was sticking their foot into a bucket of small, insane fish, and they all went separate directions.
Soobe we were all told to go to the science room. Everyone made their way to the science room slowly, some sevies uncertain of what to do when they got there. Eric gave us a little speech about how he was going to give us a pencil and for those who didn’t know, that we had a hard time with pencils at the North Branch School, and to try and keep your for as long as you can because they are nice pencils.
We had a scavenger hunt for a list of things on a paper we were given. Things like “The quote on the bench of the science/math hallway?" (“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” -Dalai Lama) And then everyone would run there and try to copy down the quote as soon as possible and the smart people would do it out of order to beat the crowd.
By the end of that class, Eric had us moving a wood pile from the driveway into piles in the woods to then be created into something for our Utopian villages. And how he got us to move the wood was by telling us it was a race, and knowing we have Aidan Warren at our school, I knew this would probably be competitive. And then there went Aidan carrying a full stack of wood in his arms, grunting loudly as he sprinted from the pile of wood to the pile in the woods.
We ended the day with a meeting.
“This was the best first day ever,” Jack exclaimed. And the first day of this year was over, and would never be done again, so I’m glad he thinks it went right.
I walked into the school today paranoid. Paranoid because I didn’t have my speech idea printed out, paranoid because Owen and Eden had told me they wrote more than 1,000 words, which I did not and paranoid that it was so hot that I had walked from the car to the school and I was sweating.
Nothing had seemed to change, people were standing around talking, people were unpacking their bags, a pretty average day it seemed. I made my way quickly up the stairs in need to find someone who could print out my speech idea.
Tal walked in like he was about to say something, then looked at the clock.
“Uuahhh, we have one more minute,” He said, like he wanted to savor the last minute of freedom before the school day started.
Shortly meeting began.
“Does anyone have anything from yesterday, and thoughts about it. Was it hell?” He scanned the room.
“Sydney, was is hell or was it okay?” he asked.
“It was okay,” she said quietly. Tal pointed to Jack.
“What did Jack say yesterday about the first day?” he said.
“That it was the best first day ever?” Rosemary said.
"Tell us about that," Tal said. And Jack explained why.
Sadly, Marina’s mom’s apartment was flooded while they were in Spain, and had ruined all the furniture in her mom’s room and all the clothes were soaking wet. But the clothes were now at the dry cleaners, and Marina had taken all the pictures out of her mom's rooms before so they weren’t ruined.
“I’m sad that her scent on her clothes will no longer be there and her room will not be the same but at least the clothes are saved.” Marina says. “And Maria and Kippy and I picked out the new tiling and carpeting for the part of the apartment that was flooded”.
Merry said that she missed having Ziven around to talk to about hockey, but was happy to find out that the new sevie Will plays hockey, and can now have a hockey buddy to talk about hockey without feeling like she’d be boring them.
“Why do all the boys hockey teams have dumb demeaning names like bantams, squirts and pee wees?” Tal asked. He said ‘peewee’s’ as though he were pretending it was an embarrassing word. “And the girls have cool name like u-12 and u-14”
“My old hockey team was called the Spirky J’s” Someone called out from the corner.
“Dalia’s soccer team is called The Ninja Kitties," Tal said, "But really Dalia only likes playing soccer for the snacks she gets on the side lines,” Tal said, and the class laughed.
“Owen, Juliette, Will?” Tal says, referring to the assignments he gave for those three to find out.
Owen started talking. “Okay so there’s a bunch of stupid reasons on the internet about the term "half assed but no one really knows why the term half assed is what it is. This guy says that it was comes from the word half ask, but he doesn’t know why.”
Tal put in two cents. “The two that I heard was that when you were being pulled by a cart of donkeys, and you only have one donkey, that half assed. ANd the other one was half adze because and adze is something you carve with, so if only one side of a beam was adzed it would be a half-adzed job.”
We concluded the one with the donkeys was more plausible.
“Juliette, the lyrics to "Michelle my Belle" by the Beatles?” Tal looked at Juliette.
“Do you want to play the song?” Juliette asked.
“Noo” Tal said quickly. "Tell us the French words."
“Okay, the lyrics are Michelle, ma belle, Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble. Tres bien ensemble,” Juliette said, and though it did sound fancier in French. But the words only meant, “These are words that go well together, very well together" and we were all disappointed.
“Will, what about Niagara Falls?” Tal asked.
“One of the guys that went over was with his pet turtle and the guy died and the pet turtle lived,” He said. And Tal nodded sternly.
"That'll teach you."
“Does anyone have the most recent schedule?” Eric asked, signally morning meeting is over and other classes will start soon. Wren raised her hand.
“I do?” She said smiling. “Okay so, sevies have math and eighties and nineties have science.”
“And classes start at nine-twenty-five,”Eric said as he looked at his watch and at the clock, “so you have exactly now to get there.”
Everyone rumbled up and the sound of talking and chairs screeching began.
I sat down next to Merry in the science room. She was hunched over a pencil and a sharpening it with a utility knife (With Eric’s instructions and approval). WE all had to bring our own pocket knives to class.
“Ah, I love sharpening pencils,” She said, purposefully trying to sound like a nerd.
“Ay, wanna sharpen mine?” I asked her, remembering I had forgotten to sharpen the pencil Eric had given me yesterday. Without an answer she grabbed my pencil and started carving away at it.
When class began, Eric had us move because of obvious reasons. Boys were at one of the table, girls at the other. With the exception of Angus who was sitting opposite of the boys, but later on in the class drifted his way so he was standing next to Aidan. Everyone moved to different places.
In this science class, we learned how to log into a Weebly account so that everyone could edit the new North Branch blog called; Thalweg.
“Anyone know what that means?” Eric asked.
“it means the middle point in a river or stream type thing,” Leeya said.
“Correct Leeya. If there are any quick people they would already be writing this word in the back of their science journal with the definition and heading that says VOCABULARY. Everyone flipped their journals to the back quickly.
Eric wrote on the board.
‘THALWEG; The deepest point in a river channel’
Tal walked in three seconds later, leaning against the door frame. First he looked around at the class, scanning.
“Thalweg mean the deepest point in a river channel,” He said. “Or it can be metaphor. Where do you want to be? In the Shallows? Or in the Thalweg?” And then left the room mysteriously.
Sitting in the math room for break, Rose said to us
“Okay ninth graders, you guys have class next.” And Althea and I concluded it felt strange to be called a ninth grader.
While making quite difficult Tangrams, which was a shape you had to create out of seven other shapes and you had to have all the seven shapes in it, Owen and Angus, though finished their work well, were giggling at each other, and found some way to makes shapes inappropriate. ( we will need to have a class discussion about why they felt they had to make inappropriate shapes with tangrams).
Later after math, the school was going to take a class picture, nineties in front, Eighties in the middle and sevies on bottom. And after that picture, Tal yelled,
“Alright, now mix it up!”
“Ooh, now we’re getting ARTSY,” Owen said, And we all rumbled into each other and held funny poses until Donna was done taking the picture, and then lunch began.
During lunch people played soccer outside, some girls sat at the picnic table, some girls in the math room, some boys in the big room. I went wandering the halls looking for someone to talk to. I found the ninety girls in the science room and decided to sit down with them. As I walked into the science room I smelt Eric’s scent of fresh sardines and I winced. But as Eric said, sardines are very healthy for you, so I have nothing against that, just the smell.
All Tal began again with the question “How do you want to live your life?”
“I want to be free, not trapped inside self doubt, because there’s a little person inside of me wanting to come out,” she said.
“A little person inside?” Tal asked and Althea nodded.
Tal now had us write about a time where we were free and not free. Then he said,
“You know what, I’ll give you some more categories to write about,” And he scratched his beard. He later came up with the categories; Being free and not free, doing something the hard way, or the easy way, or trying your absolute best in something.
“Does everyone have an idea?” Tal looked around, knowing some people were clueless but were too scared to say. “Lena?” Lena looked pretty scared.
“Yeah, I’m going to write about how I’m free when I am painting.” She said, and Tal nodded. "I've seen your painting and it looks like Matisse." And the writing began, always a silent time but you never really realize it until you stop writing because your brain seems to be making so much noise as you think.
After we had read some scene aloud, Tal asked the question “How do you want to live?” again. “Just how do you want to live? Shout out some words.
Jack started. “With enthusiasm” he said. Then more words came after. Gratitude! Being Thankful, With love, being big. Then a small voice yelled, quite confidently “Confidence!” And we all looked back to see it was the little sevie Henry Wagner, shocked and happy that he said it the way he did. Then more words came quickly. Strong, Believing, Having faith, Not being a lemming, Beautiful, Chasing, Working, Being tired, Success, Making a difference, and Friendship. "How about Joy," Tal said.
Tal read something Rosemary had written about joy, in the one hour of summer school she had to do because she needed to finish her work from last year. It was titled "Little Blue Bubble Bottle"
It is Tuesday and we’re on the road to Montpelier, for the second time this week. On the hour’s car ride there, I let my mom rave about the antidepressant benefits of certain herbs and plants, and the different magical experiences and communications she’s had with some of them. Every so often I give her a comment or an “wow,” to let her know I’m still there. If I don't feel like talking, I just give her a question when she pauses, such as, "How are Ginko one, Ginko two, and Ginko three?" Then I hear all about them and how they help people with their medicine. She tells me stories I can’t remember from when I was a baby. We chat about what we’ll do and where we’ll go today, and I ask her about her work or the herb class she’s taking.
Today, again, we will stop by the food pantry first, to check in with the volunteers. Then we'll drive down the road to an intersection. We will turn left onto Barre street where my mom has been running the free summer lunch program for kids. Ellen and Maddie, both about twenty years old, will probably be there already, getting all the gear set up for the first wave of children, who usually show up at 11:30 or so.
Soon we arrive at the food shelf, but I stay in the car this time because my mom says it’ll be quick. Next is Barre street. I bring out the chalkboard and write Free Lunch for Kids!in 3D lettering, then Ages 0-18, and 12:00 to 1:00 pm on the bottom and the top. I walk over to one of the tables set up, and take a few spoons out of the fork container. Soon, an old lady named Susan arrives. She used to be a professional clown. My mom thinks she’s a little bit cuckoo, but Susan is very kind and enjoys making balloon flowers for me to take home. Today she has brought little blue plastic bottles of bubble stuff, or whatever you’d like to call it, and smiley face stickers for me to give out. Shortly I find out that the stickers do not stick to any sort of fabric, so I place a green winking face one on my forehead and then put them away.
The first people to come are two little boys and their mother. I put on plastic gloves and stand next to Maddie, encouraging those innocent little kids to try some “delicious vegetables!” Next there’s a few kids who all refuse the vegetables, except one who asks for just two carrot sticks. A lego club from nearby stops to eat, and some of them say I can put one pepper strip of each color on their plates. There's a break in the flow for a little bit, so I serve myself an orange slice, then peel off my plastic gloves to go fix a stack of dirty plates that are about to fall over. I retreat to the shade, grabbing another orange slice on my way.
At 12:15, a family that has come every day arrives, and the kids look through the pile of plates to find the colors they like. I help one of the littler ones, named Rivers, get a blue plate from near the bottom.
As they finish their meal, I remember the bubbles from Susan. I root around for them, then finally find the bag in a crate, under a tablecloth. I take out a red bottle, and begin blowing bubbles. One of the kids immediately runs toward me, making little noises of excitement and calling back to her siblings, “bubbles!” I blow some more and she jumps around trying to pop them, as the other kids quickly put their plates and silverware in the bin and rush over. Hundreds of bubbles, I create for them, leaning down to blow them close to the ground occasionally, so Rivers can run over in her wobbly way and reach out to pop them. The kids jump around like monkeys, and let out delighted shrieks every time I blow another bunch of bubbles from the little wand. "Whoa!" they say, whenever there's a bubble bigger than the rest, or one that goes way up high. Their awe makes me smile and I almost breath in a bubble that's floating by my face. The kids’ mother is sitting in the shade, watching us with a smile as she feeds some applesauce to the youngest, in a stroller. He turns his head at the last minute to watch the bubbles and the applesauce is spread across his cheek. Rivers comes over and tugs on the hem of my shirt. "More bubbles!" she says, and I dip the plastic loop back in the little blue bottle, then send a breeze of breath through it. I'm creating mini rainbows, and it's a blur of smiling around me as the kids gallop after them. Here, in the burning sunshine, there is plain joy in the air, and we are catching it and releasing it all over Barre Street.
We ended the day with a meeting, where everyone could say whatever. I said I was glad that Hannah had read her scene to vigorously and strong, and that she wasn’t sheepish. Aidan was glad he had such a productive time with Eden in math class, and Marina was glad Henry said "confident" so confidently.
As I ran out to the soccer field I knew it was going to be hot, and I was going to be sweaty and thirsty. In soccer practice, Tal had us first do warm ups, and said we were all pretty good at karaoke considering no one fell over.
My team was winning in the scrimmage, but at the clouds slowly thickened over us, and the rain started coming down, we knew the game wouldn’t last much longer. And we played in the heavy rain, until and giant crack of lightning and thunder boomed above us, and we all ran inside like little scared chickens. And slowly kids got picked up until the North Branch school was empty, and would start soon again tomorrow morning.
THURSDAY ( note poem by Maxine)
The school is like a vessel
without the school
we will lose everything.
Anika’s grandmother’s quilts
Marina’s mom’s willow tree
In the beginning the impulse is there.
Eden said Griffin said He was glad she was at the school
When the building was built
it was built to last
take care of the school
LIFT & AIM
Wren felt dead when the little gnats buzzed around her head
she felt like carrion
Tell us something new
Catherine said she is happy about the sevies
impressed by their bravery
Lena broke her arm this summer and did a pottery class
she could center clay on the wheel with one hand
Tal goes on
about the crack of lightning during soccer practice
was it a life or death situation?
Catherine didn’t want to sit at the table
Until we force her to
Wren asks if she can lie about the book she is reading
“read more than the caption on the picture” Tal says.
Kelsey is reading a book called “Modern Romance”
Keep reading to be a good student, Tal Says.
reading lit the morning of class
is like running through a museum filled with Monet paintings
and trying to look at them as you run
Tal makes a joke on the book we’re going to read
The Red Pony
Which he keeps saying is
The Dead Pony
We realize, like the garden of Eden
Eden’s name is Eden
And her father’s name is Adam
Billy Buck is tough
puffed muscled hands.
Silence as we look through our books
Wren is next to me
raising her hand eagerly,
like she is going to explode
Salient; important, relevant
Pedagogy; method of teaching
is what he told us at the beginning of class
Aidan mumbles something random
Henry David's house on Walden Pond
Eric decides to have us, during study
as a class, measure the 200 year old beam above the big room table
Tal compares the small project we’re each going to do,
to a platter of ors d'ouvres
and everyone will pick from it.
The day starts off different than any other day I’ve been at at The North Branch School. No morning meeting and in the morning, and straight into study at 8;30. Which I felt was useful for me, considering friday is usually the day you want to get as much done and have as little for the weekend.
On the way to Lake Pleiad, driving in Eric’s mini truck with Kelsey, Merry, Eric, and I, we listened to some Alabama Shakes (Eric’s new fav band). He says they have soul. and then on to Eric’s favorite song (which he sang to) All about that Bass by Meghan Trainor.
It was a crisp, sunny day to go on a hike. And after we “hiked’ up to the pond, which, while talking to other people, felt like a five minute walk through the woods. When we get there, some of the eightie and sevie boys gathered together and started picking at the water, and putting leeches and tadpoles into a jar. And a large majority of the girls made pile of all their stuff on one large rock as they went swimming, and then sat there all together as they ate their lunch. Tal was telling me about how junk food is the only food that tastes good, as he shoved a handful of potato chips in his mouth, and that only a small portion of healthy food tastes good. But Anika proves him wrong by naming five things that are healthy, and taste good. Such as raw fish, and sushi.
After The North Branch School was finished gnawing on all their food, Tal had us all do the annual nature building thing. Where we all had to spread apart and be quiet, Tal described it as being ‘together but alone’. He hands us paper from his special notebook, and pencils sharpened specially by kids who brought their army knives to school. Tal mentioned how cool it was to have an army knife be on the list to bring to school, and we all agreed. Tal got us back on track. After we made out sculptures or before or when we were making our sculpture, you had to name it and give a reason why is was utopia.
As we spread out throughout the woods, I found a little indent in the bottom of a tree. I started out trying to balance small sticks together and make a teepee, but after a long while of trying to do that didn’t work out so I angrily grabbed all the sticks and set them aside to maybe use for something else. Then I thought I could find rocks and use them for something, but I went as far as twenty feet and couldn’t find any rocks to I gave up. I started thinking about something that would be utopian, or have to do with something in that direction. As I walked back to my spot, I almost stepped on a mushroom, but instead I picked it up and that became the centerpiece of my creation called ‘The Living Mushroom’.
I looked over at Wyatt while he carefully placed small sticks on top of each other to create a log cabin type thing that got smaller and smaller as he went up. He had more patience than I did.
Wyatt wrote this about his creation.
My little village is utopia because there is a tower coming out of the side of a hill and it looks like it is hovering. Also my village it utopia because there is a little camouflaged house that is very isolated, with a wood pile and a tree to represent new life. Here are some of the names of others.
cause everybody wants to be free
THE SLUG NEST
Even slugs need homes
TOMORROW'S SEPTEMBERING BAND
Your world will be a utopia when you can accept the passage of time and seasons.
This is what could be a utopia, it has grassy hills, a cliffside view of the lake, and beautiful surroundings. But it is nothing without the people inside of it. They will decide if it is utopian. It is like the difference between a house and a home.
This place is a little village. The leaves and sticks point inwards. The leaves will blow away and the sticks will fall down. It’s not meant to be permanent, It’s like NBS each year it will fall and the next year will build it up again.
This is my utopia because if I were a little person and did not know how to build houses this is what my shelter would probably look like.
THE UTOPIAN SUN
Each layer of the sun represents all the different people/things in this world. The sun is not perfect, just as no one is. The heart of the sun blinds us all together, it’s the colorful part, that catches your eyes. We are all one sun, no matter what our size or shape is like, we are all part of the sun. The middle is fed by the river of color, that comes from the outside, where people find their real selves, and live life in the wild.