OK, I finished the A-Z Challenge, so I am going to restart it. This time, however, I am going to focus on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County. I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me. Today’s letter is E for Eel, as in Eel River.
Down Along the Eel
We took the boys up to the Eel River a lot when they were growing up, primarily because Annie had so much respect for the ocean, she was afraid to take them to the coast. Because the Eel River flows for approximately two hundred miles, there were several places where we could go, for either day use, or to camp, including Standish Hickey State Park, located up close to the boundary line of Mendocino and Humboldt County. It takes only a little over half-hour to get there, which is certainly a selling point when it comes to transporting three small boys.
One of the most memorable of these occasions occurred one August, a couple of weeks before we all went back to school. I say we all, because I used to teach in the school district that the boys attended. Preparing for the start of the school year was a summer-long exercise, and this particular year my teaching partner, Paul, and I decided to take the kids with us up to Standish Hickey, in order to do some school year planning.
Paul and I team-taught for ten years, combining sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the same class, and thus a great deal of time went into planning appropriate activities for a project-based, thematic classroom. Thematic-based education simply meant that we would take a theme and utilize it across all subject areas. If we were reading Steinbeck’s The Pearl, then we might be studying scorpions in science, and cultures native to Baja California in social studies, while writing a character analysis of Kino, the protagonist: Was Kino greedy, in trying to get the most for his “pearl of the world?” Of course, there was no right or wrong answer; a student could take either point of view, as long as he/she justified his/her opinion.
One year we turned the octagonal science class into a bathysphere, and students were asked to make paper-mache reproductions of sea critters, from those found near the surface, to those found deep within the depths of the ocean. We lined the overhanging sides of the classroom with black plastic, so that windows were created, into which were placed the student-produced sea animals. In literature we were reading Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."
And, of course, each year we did a full-length Shakespeare production, rotating through three plays: Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing. I was-and remain-constantly amazed at the things we asked of our students. Whoever played Romeo, or Beatrice/Benedick, or Viola/Malvolio had to learn more than two thousand lines of Shakespeare. And there was so much competition for the roles.
Early on I devised a system of try-outs which involved a panel of judges, consisting of me, one or more adults not associated with the classes, and a student, in order to choose the person who would play each role. With sixty students between Paul and me to choose from, it was never easy.
So in order to try and come up with a framework for the school year, Paul and I would spend time together in the summer, trying to configure the best schedule for everyone. If we were doing Twelfth Night, and we wanted to show it at Christmas, then that meant we had to be going full-blast from the outset of the new school year. That took planning.
Thus we would combine a little camping, a little planning, and I seem to remember a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin being employed for creative purposes only, mind you. The two of us and Annie would take the kids down to the water in the afternoon, and combine some work with some pleasure. There were many swimming holes from which to choose, depending on the ages of the kids. Whereas the ocean had those infernal rip-tides, which worried Annie so much, the Eel River was an infinitely more benign environment, in which the kids could cavort.
And it didn’t get much better than sitting around the campfire at night, again, mixing a little work with a little relaxation. Teaching was always one of the hardest jobs I ever did, but at least there were some elements that made it all worthwhile, and relaxing alongside the Eel River was one of them.