Dec 21, 1934.
My Dear Little Son-
This I learned from the shadow of a tree,
That back and forth did sway upon the wall,
Our shadow selves, our influence, may fall
Where we may never be,
I recently put together this work. Multiple inspirations. During this time of the year in California autumn leaves abound. I find myself constantly looking at the colorful leaves. As I write there is a tree outside my window flashing a colorful exhibit of deep dark reds that only a tree in the Fall can accomplish. Fall is the only season I miss of the Midwest---well Spring is pretty amazing too.
So, I actually did some "perfect" leaf hunting in my yard and neighborhood. I explain, to clarify my obsession. This leaf I felt was the perfect color and shape, but had bird poop ruining it... further evidence of this craziness... I had to clean the leaf before using.
I found the poem above in an old autograph book of my grandfather's. The handwriting that I layered into the image was written by my great grandmother to him. The photo in the bottom corner is of them both. I placed all of this on a photo of a road alongside a cornfield leading back to one lone tree in the distance. I tried to bring all the elements together as a visual revelation of passing time and lives, family and memories, and the influence and characteristics that continue on into another's life which are further shared and carried on.
This work I especially connect to for numerous reasons, not only do I see the metaphor of a tree, roots, branches, leaves as family generations, but also as my role as a teacher to thousands of teenagers over the past decades. To have found this poem by my great-grandmother that references a tree and shadows, and the idea of passing influence was deeply poignant to me. I may be a bit more moved during this nostalgic time of the year, but I must say it is a period of profound gratitude. Gratitude for my roots--my family, but also gratitude for those passing shadows I've encountered in my teaching career.
I'm grateful to recently have had a couple dozen students come and visit before our break. Some from just finishing their 1st semester in college to one who was finishing his PhD. in chemistry to recent notes of gratitude from those married with kids of their own. It is a blessing for me to see them spring off into their hopeful futures, but remembering their small roots with me. It is a strange thing to me that a person's act of gratitude and acknowledement fills the other so fully.
Clearly, by no means am I a poet, but I put a few words together awhile back at the end of the school year that expressed my view on so many of my students---and children. I am grateful my passing shadow was able to fall on a few if only for a short while.
Out of the nest, with your wobbly wings
Awkward, flailing around in a squawking panic
Crying as your mama hovers anxiously near
Trying to get you to just flap your wings
Wings are waiting, strong and ready
Find the courage in that little beating heart
Start flappin those wings
and feel the air below
Soar freely, above it all
Fly little bird, fly