Sunday, June 19, 2005


the old lady on the bike

I'm sitting in Stratton library, at these terribly old computers, typing away after my first class. Fiction, filled with lovely people, most of whom I have taught before. Finn, Anthea, Ardea, Aren, Tieri, Molly, Becca--these are my crew. And the wonderful new kids, who already feel familiar, because they are here, in Sitka. Glorious, grey-skied, dear old Sitka.

Some of my favorite teachers at camp, dear friends, are not here this year. And I'm still terribly sad. But all these new people? They're fine. I'm sure that I'll grow to love some of them by the end of the two weeks. There's Tony Danero, the hip-hop dancer from Philadelphia. Young, with a diamond earring in one ear, his hat cocked to the side, his sneakers hip and ready to go. He's teaching b-boying (break dancing, to those of us outside the community), sweet as pie, and I'm sure the kids are going to adore him. Karl is teaching strings. He's quiet and thoughtful, sensitive and open. A little overwhelmed by our wackiness, I think. But this morning he told me that he had a flying dream last night, so he's clearly already home. And of course, my dear friend Sharon, who is teaching Beverly's improv classes, and class in stand-up comedy. Oh my god, the kids are going to go crazy for her. And I'm in joyful bliss being able to show her around this place I love so well.

We're all staying at the Mt. Edgecumbe high school dorms, which were newly refinished this spring, making us the first residents. If you don't know where that is, we're on the other side of the bridge, on Japonski Island. Go past the bridge, take the first right, go through the grey concrete and gravel path of the construction sight, stop to gawk at the eagles soaring over the water, then walk up to the door. They look a little like army barracks. I have to say that right away. And of course, there are foibles. Clearly, it was a cheap construction. The floors are made of plasticized wood, and Dawn told us the first night that they buckle if you leave water spilled on them. So I'm walking around my room with pieces of toilet paper, frantically dabbing after I take a shower. The toilets, which are shared between two rooms, have a sucking loud flush like a tsunami. The first time I used mine, I thought I was going down in it. And when you're trying to sleep, you can hear the squelching roar around the building. And the kitchen has an enormous freezer, and a minuscule refrigerator. For twenty people. And I must have a refrigerator, because I can't eat at the cafeteria this year, with the celiac. (Oh darn. Last night's dinner was apparently breaded pork chops.) So I claimed a giant cooler at the first night's faculty dinner, and I have to fill it up with ice every morning and store my soy milk and hummus in there. But really, it's okay. The rooms are pretty enormous, with windows overlooking the harbor, and sturdy bunk beds. We have two closets each, and an enormous sink space in the room. And finally, it's much much much better than the nursing home. Nuff said.

(And right now, Roger's wife Jeanine is reading a book to Anja, Forrest, and Mina among the stacks, since there are no classes going on. And all the little children are giggling delightedly at the end of every page, stamping their feet in acclimation. You have to love that.)

Mojo's--one of my favorite places in Sikta, for its coffee, soups, and cinnamon rolls--is closed. No more. I walked by it, almost walked into it, did a double take, then did another one. Now, it's a resource center for education of young kids in the community? Or something. It's hard to make out exactly what it is, through the mess of papers and xerox machines. I'm so sad about it. But this morning, Sharon, Lyn (new photography teacher, great, one of my colleagues at Northwest, fierce and funny), and I went to the Back Door, which is owned by the same people who owned Mojo's. And they are now making the cinnamon rolls on Sundays. The doughy, wonderfully sticky cinnamon rolls. And the guy there made us coffee and sold Sharon rolls (not me anymore, one of the few bready foods I miss) before they were even officially open. Ah, Sitka.

Yesterday, I showed Sitka to Sharon. We came to the morning faculty meeting (Roger with his usual laconic grace, Scott with his usual bumbling. He tried to xerox a stack of flyers for everyone, but half of them turned out to be blank pages, and the other quarter were another memo. Oh well.), then strolled through campus. I showed her the cafeteria, but I haven't shown her the creepy huge photo of the boy on the wall. That's today. We walked through town, looking at the Ben Franklin and the tourist artist shops, and the Pioneer Home, and the natural foods store (wonderfully, full of food I can eat). And then we went back to the dorms, for a little rest, some lunch. Later, we took a fast walk back to town, back through campus (stopping for a moment to try and figure out the confusing xerox situation; as always, it's a nightmare), then into Totem Park. The eagles were calling to each other. The sun shone bright and clear, infusing all the leaves with an electric green. And the beautiful field, with the large totem in the middle, still felt sacred in solid sunlight. I could feel Sharon relaxing next to me. She's already hooked. And then we hoofed it back to town for dinner at Ludvigs. They didn't have any space, or time, but they let us sit at the bar, near the window, for an hour. We three ate warm artichoke salads, with French olives, manchego cheese, balsamic reduction, hot chili oil, and wild greens. Plus a good glass of Spanish wine. Gorgeous. And then we went to the welcoming ceremony for the camp, which this year happened under an enormous tent erected on the green field. The students gathered in growing excitement. And we all introduced ourselves, in suitable fashion, making everyone laugh, and loving it. Scott finished the introductions by giving the last instructions while doing a handstand. His wallet fell out of his pocket, Roger stole his credit card, and Scott crashed down on Roger's back.

Ah, we're at camp.

The other evening, as the light was starting to fade, Lyn, Sharon, and I were walking over the bridge. And we spotted this older lady, perhaps near 80, on her bike. Her back hunched, she wore a flowered brown top, and bright magenta lipstick. She smiled at us as she wheeled by, and we all waved. And then she continued pumping her legs, urgently, and with great lightness, and cycled back to her home. I just loved her.

And when I go to bed at night, I put on my eye mask, to help me sleep when it's not even dark out. But when I wake up in the morning, I find that I have taken it off in the middle of the night. Probably because I don't want to miss a moment of light.

That's Sitka today.

All my love,

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