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What Are They After?

  by  Rick Hartwell

I think of Henry David Thoreau’s aphorism, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Does this apply to me?  -  to my life? -  to the lives of my students?  Well, yes, but . . . It is that hesitation which causes me the greatest consternation.

On a personal level, I have cast about -- I might as well retain Thoreau’s metaphor -- for much of my life.  I had many false starts and indirections.  I floated from job to job, marriage to marriage, and even through two professional careers.  It’s too easy to now look back and excuse all that indecision and misdirection on the basis of being too young, or because I was searching for the “real” me, or similar apologia.  I just had no concept of that for which I was fishing.  However, I am now a teacher and have been for quite some time.  I’ve caught what I wanted.  I’ve found what I was missing.  I’m personally satisfied with what I am doing.  But the nature of the profession that I caught, or which caught and captivates me, is filled with young fishermen who struggle with their own limited vision as to what it is for which each of them they search. Thus, I struggle still.

I am too savvy or perhaps just too old to quaintly ask my students, “What is it you want when you grow up?” Yet the answer to that is what I sometimes think I need in order to provide them help, to better understand the needs of individual students as if they each wore their fishing permit on a chain around their neck.  But I am no educational game warden.  I don’t really want to channel and direct my students, not even to college.

What I want to do is to provide my students with all the basic tools of fishing, or life, in order that wherever they fish, or for whatever they fish, they will be prepared. I don’t want to belabor the figure of speech.  If I can provide the rudiments of reading and writing, of critical thinking and analysis, of individual effort and group cooperation, why then, I believe even the most fumbling among my apprentice fishermen might someday catch the big one they are truly after.  Perhaps they will take a moment to reflect on when they first learned to cast without snarling the line.



Your Own Front Yard

    by Rick Hartwell

History is relative; it is dependent on perspective and associations. The history of the tree in our own front yard is no different. In 1988 we planted a tree in the front yard of our suburban tract home. We wanted it to mask the view out the front window and to create an umbrella of shade and protection. We chose a young sapling, a European white birch, only about six feet tall at the time. It cost only $10.00, but has paid enormous dividends ever since and is, without exception, the best investment I ever made.

My children helped me plant the tree twenty-four years ago, although my eldest grandson, fourteen years of age, now thinks of it as his alone. His father is more a historic owner, if a tree can even truly be owned.

Like my children, and even my children’s children, the tree too has grown. It is now about fifty feet tall and, although pruned back twice, spreads about forty feet across. It sheds in winter and leaves only white tendrils reaching for a slate gray sky, but in spring and summer it leafs out gorgeously and provides the shade and protection we wanted.

It is now infested with ants and birds in a sort of harmonic balance, but I’m willing to share. My young granddaughter is too finicky to climb the tree with the ants. This is probably all right with the tree, and the ants, and with me. It is just one more relative aspect of history, the tree and me.


Bio: Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school (remember, the hormonally-challenged?) English teacher living in Moreno Valley, California.  He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity.  Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing poetry, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon.