I hold an adamant belief that travel can be an invaluable, life-altering experience. Families that have the means to travel often see it as a luxury, and take for granted the incredible learning that they and their children gain. I work in an alternative high school – most of my students are from families that do not have anywhere near those kinds of means. Their experiences have been, in large part, a struggle and the larger world is mostly an abstraction – including the potential wonder and hope that it can hold. Monteverde, Costa Rica epitomizes that kind of wonder and hope – blending the culture of indigenous inhabitants with that of the American Quaker settlers that arrived in the 1950’s, and balancing a model of conservation with becoming an international eco-tourism destination. The book, Walking With Wolf, tells this story in a remarkable way.
We are now in the midst of a year-long interdisciplinary class that will include Walking With Wolf, student blogs (which I hope you'll check out on the right), individual research projects, and a 10-day trip to Monteverde this Spring. The students are working hard and must fundraise their entire way there - they need your help. If you are willing to support their efforts,
checks can be made out to “Lister Academy – Costa Rica Class”, and mailed to: Robert J. Lister Academy, Attn: Bryan Mascio, 35 Sherburne Road, Portsmouth, NH 03801.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Chapter 1

While I have been blogging my travels all summer (BryanSummerTravels.blogspot.com), and had posted here about the fundraising we have done, this is my first blog about the book, Walking With Wolf - the text that forms the foundation for our year-long class. The students are going to be reading a chapter each week and then using their own blogs to post responses and reflections as well as updates on the research that each chapter has inspired them to pursue that week. I have decided to blog along with them this semester, and have given a lot of thought to what my posts should look like.

First and foremost, I hope that my posts can act as a model for theirs - especially right now in the beginning while they are learning the new technology and format. They're probably not sure what I'm looking for so I'll try to pick possible responses out of the chapter and record them here as potential examples. Recognizing that my background knowledge may be a bit broader and deeper than theirs, plus I have been to Costa Rica twice and I have already read the book once, creating a "model" for their posts is a bit more complicated. Of great importance is that I want to be authentic in my posts - the relationship I nurture with the students demands it. I am not going to pretend to be surprised by things that I am accustomed to, or question things that I already understand. The last thing I want to do is parody what a student post would look like.

I re-read the first chapter today while waiting at the barber shop. I'm not a fast reader, but I do find this to be a quick read. I jotted down some notes so that I could have some structure to this post - this is what I have asked the students to do as well. The first thing that struck me as I opened the book up was how much I enjoy the opening quotes that begin each chapter. I've read other books that start chapters with famous or important quotes, and I like how it provided a framework for the reading of the chapter - but this is different. These quotes are from Wolf Guidon - the central character of the book. The author, Kay Chornook, provided Wolf with a tape recorder and turned 17 years of his story telling into this book. These beginning quotes certainly don't summarize the chapter, and I'd even question whether they represent the central idea of the chapter, but they do adjust my mind in such a way that it has a wonderful impact on how I read the chapter.

As I continued reading, I was struck by all of the names of places. I'm a little familiar after having read the rest of the book - and I can even match a few up to what I saw when I was there - but I find myself flipping to the map inside of the front cover, pretty regularly. I've noticed the students doing the same thing, and even asking questions about it. I suspect we'll be including a similar map on our website - some of the students may even want it on their individual blogs. That might also help with some of the unfamiliar measurements that the book uses - kilometers, hectares, and even meters of elevation. In a society that doesn't use the metric system, it's difficult to really conceptualize these things - the book uses them a lot, so I may need to figure out an activity to help students connect with it. (On an aside, I couldn't help notice that the author uses the phrase, "... he has walked countless miles..." - it just struck me as odd since everything is in metric.)

The students will be doing research each week on the ideas and topics that they find interesting in the chapter. This kind of give-and-take with a text is essential to making it real and I hope that it will inspire greater curiosity and inquiry. There were several terms and ideas in this chapter that I clearly remember wondering about when I read the book the first time - and I did look into many of them. The term "Quaker" was the first one - and it's a central one to the book. I didn't know anything about Quakers other than that picture on the oatmeal container. The book taught me quite a bit and I've done some additional research on Quakerism since. The more I learned about it, the better I understood my feelings for Monteverde. There were plenty of new plants and animals that I found fascinating, but the Bairds's tapir particularly stood out as a name that I wanted to know more about. I also remain interested in the Pink Impatiens mentioned on page 4. The author, Kay, explains that they came from Europe and are wide spread along the sides of the trails. Here, environmentalists call plants like these "invasive" and lament their existence, but Kay doesn't seem to assign any negative status. This is a topic that I find very interesting - in the environmental education courses that I've been involved in, I always asked when an "invader" becomes an accepted addition to an environment ("wild" horses in America?).

My wife, Carmela, and I traveled this summer out west, and I found several passages in this chapter had new meaning for me because of those experiences. On page 4, Kay describes how amazed she is by the giant trees in the rain forest, and I immediately thought about the redwoods in northern California - it's hard to imagine the size and scope of these titans. On pages 4 and 5 Kay talks about the change in elevation as she's hiking in Monteverde, and the significant change that makes in temperature, sounds and sights. While we were traveling we ranged from approximately 10,000 feet elevation (Brian Head, Utah and Tualomne Meadow in Yosemite National Park) to 282 feet below sea level (Death Valley). As I wrote about on my blog, the difference was astounding.

On page 3, Kay makes the comparison of her hike to the "convoluted" path that the settlers in Monteverde were on as they developed and conserved the area. I love the imagery and analogy of this paragraph and understand it quite well, having read the whole book. I wonder if it even registered with me the first time I read it - or whether the students will even notice it. This relation between the evolution of their community and the natural surroundings - both literally and figuratively - is why I am drawn to Monteverde and so dedicated to bringing my students there. This book is what made that visible to me, giving structure and clarity to what I had felt the moment I first visited. I am thrilled to be sharing it all with my students.

1 comment:

  1. I had to re-read the first chapter too. I'm not a fast reader either but this is a pretty quick read. The opening quotes were interesting but very debatable because that is not always true. Your blog posting is very good and I believe that it was a good example for us to see.