Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ambitious Spiders on the C and O Canal

As an amendment to my second installment of “Baltimore Adventure” I want to give a little flora and fauna report. This weekend I am at my dad’s place in Cumberland, Maryland. Cumberland is the terminus of the C and O Canal Tow Path (C and O for Chesapeake and Ohio). This canal has not been in use for some many decades, and for a long time the tow path still existed but was in a state of disrepair. But in recent years the C and O Canal Tow Path was made a National Historic Park, and the trails and historic sites along the way have been restored and maintained for hikers, bicyclers and horse riders. The tow path is 184.5 miles long, starting in Harper’s Ferry (near Washington D.C.) and ending in Cumberland. One could hike or ride the entire distance of it, and a boy scout troop from Cumberland did just that this last week. Jonathan and I have set a goal to walk/bike the entire length of it in sections (this section one weekend, that section another weekend, and so on); but we would also like to take a week or so and do the entire length at one time at some point. A small tourist industry has built up around the restoration of the tow path, and there are accommodations along the full length of the path at reasonable intervals, so we wouldn’t even have to camp out if we didn’t want to; although there are great camping areas all along the way.

Yesterday I started at Canal Place in Cumberland (a restored train station, where you can take a ride on an old steam locomotive to Frostburg and back) and walked along the tow path for about a mile and then turned around (it was about noon, it was hot, the humidity was about 70%, and there was no shade along this stretch). This morning I started at the North Branch junction and walked about two miles to a steam pump ruin (about two miles) and then turned around and walked back. That part of the tow path is shady the entire way, and it was wonderful! (I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t want to carry anything with me.) There was a hiker/biker camping area near the North Branch junction, and there were a couple of bikers camping there (sleeping) when I walked out. On my way back they were up having their breakfast. It was very enticing—I am really looking forward to being able to do that! It’s not Montana, but it’s green and it is beautiful and peaceful.

One thing that is really odd about the green places / trails I’ve found out here is that there are hardly any people on them. Unlike Bozeman, where any trail you choose nowadays (whether in town or in the mountains) is practically a backcountry freeway of human foot traffic, I very rarely pass people on these trails. On the busiest trail day so far I passed about 5 people total during a one hour walk. I’ve been out at all times of day (morning, evening, midday) and this doesn’t seem to change. So, while the east coast is just brimming with people in general, getting off the beaten path to these little green spaces is a true respite, because hardly anyone takes advantage of them. That’s unfortunate, really, because people are not availing themselves of these wonderful outdoor resources; but it means more open space and quiet for me, so I’m not complaining.

So…’re probably wondering what “ambitious spiders” (from the subject line, above) have to do with anything. This morning my feet hit the tow path at 7:05, and I was the first person out on that stretch of the trail. The trail itself is about 8 feet wide (wide enough for a wagon, though in the days when the tow path was used wagons did not pull the canal boats—one mule led by a man pulled them). Then there are about two to three feet of grass or brush to each side of the path and then lots of trees. In two separate places within the two mile stretch of trail that I was walking, I walked right through a spider web that had been constructed right in the middle of the path, at just about face level (I’m about 5’7” tall, so that would be MY face level). After I did that twice I actually started looking for the things. On the way back I saw several more and managed to avoid them. These spider webs were only about a foot in diameter and the spiders that were hanging out in them were pretty small (between a half inch and an inch in diameter, including legs). The strands that were holding that one foot medallion of spider web in the middle of the trail were easily ten feet long, strung from each of what would be four corners of the web, if a web had corners. These little spiders must build and rebuild their webs a dozen or more times a day as they are torn down by hikers and bikers walking/riding through them. My active imagination could envision these ambitious little spiders seeing hikers and bikers going by and thinking what a big meal they would have if they could trap one of those!

If you want to know more about the C and O Canal Tow Path, go to You’ll find a map at this link: (be aware that the map is arranged for convenient viewing, which means the Mason Dixon Line is to your right—if you were looking at a North-oriented map the Mason Dixon line would be at the top of the page). Enjoy.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Shirley, and Kids Who Talk

What a difference a week makes! Shirley is back on the road with a new water pump and a new wiring harness. She still needs a bit more TLC, but she pulled through and lived to tell the tale and will likely not leave me stranded on the side of the road in the city somewhere. And now I have a Volvo mechanic who has recommended a repair and maintenance schedule for Ol’ Shirley, so I don’t feel panicky and desperate about having a reliable vehicle anymore. I highly recommend Danneman Auto ( if you are having car trouble in the Baltimore area.

I also received a teaching placement on Friday! I’ll be teaching Art in grades K-12 at Patterson High School which is in the Greek Town section of Baltimore City (southeast corner, just north the Fort McHenry Tunnel, just east of the Inner Harbor, for those of you who like to use Earth Google and/or Mapquest, and are actually interested enough to look it up). Get this: I was at my interview yesterday with the Assistant Principal and the other Art Teacher, and when they saw on my resume that I have a masters in Native American Studies they got all excited and asked me if I had any idea that they have a very large group of Native American students at that school. I replied that I knew that there are NA students in the district, because all of the federal Indian service agencies are in the D.C. / Baltimore area. They said that the ratio is a LOT higher at Patterson because a large group of Lumbee people (tribe in North Carolina: relocated to that part of Baltimore a long time ago and stayed, and all of the kids go to Patterson. Weirdly, I learned about the Lumbee relocation in my masters program, but had no idea what schools the kids attended, or that they were all at one school. What do you suppose the odds are that the only person of all the BCTR residents with a MA in NAS would end up getting placed (coincidentally) at the school with all the Lumbee kids? Truth truly is stranger than fiction. I can’t think of a more perfect fit for me! Looks like that masters in NAS will be useful after all.

Yesterday I also found out that the Baltimore City School District managed to negotiate a pay increase for teachers, so I will be making $3,000 more per year than I thought I would be when I entered this program. They also negotiated a mandatory 5% annual pay increase in that deal. Sweet. J

And just when you might think that those are enough serendipities for one person in one week...This morning I got a call from the Art Teacher who was at my interview yesterday. She called to tell me that the art teacher who I am replacing has been renting a little house that she owns less than a mile from the school at which I will be teaching. The reason I am replacing that other art teacher is because she and her husband are moving to upstate New York to be closer to family (they’re having a baby soon), so the rental will be available around Labor Day (which is precisely when I will need to have found a place). She asked me if I had found a permanent place to live and if and (if not) would I be interested in renting it. The price is great for the city, the location is within walking distance of my job, the neighborhood is a great working-class neighborhood (Greek Town) with easy access to all of the neat stuff in Baltimore City (i.e., the Inner Harbor, just west of there), and a convenient distance to the Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus (where I take my education courses two nights a week—part of the program I was hired through), and she doesn’t mind that I have two dogs. So of course I said I’LL TAKE IT! I’m not completely stupid, though—I’m going to do a drive-by tomorrow and then go look at the inside on Monday evening. If everything is hunky dory I’ll sign a lease and rent it.

As for my training and student teaching placement for the summer….I have to spend two and a half hours every morning in another teacher’s classroom observing and teaching for part of the time as part of my accelerated teacher certification training. My placement is at Maree Ferring Elementary School in Brooklyn, MD, which is just south of the Inner Harbor. The site coordinator for the summer school (sort of like a principal, but she’s not the principal—she just supervises the teachers who are teaching summer school at that location, but who usually teach at other schools during the regular school year) informed us at our initial orientation that Brooklyn is known as “the West Virginia of Baltimore.” For those of you who are not familiar with West Virginia and its associated stereotypes let me tell you that that is an insult to West Virginia and an insult to the residents of Brooklyn. She’s referring to the West Virginia stereotype of hillbilly inbreeding (which is JUST a stereotype).

The teacher I have been placed with is awesome! She is a terrific teacher and was hired and trained through the same program (Baltimore City Teaching Residency, AKA BCTR) that I am working through. I am working in a class with 1st graders who are going into 2nd grade but are a little behind where they need to be and are in summer school as a sort of bridge program, to get them up to speed for second grade. There are also a few 2nd graders who were held back and are in summer school for the same reason—to get them up to speed so they have a better chance of not being held back for a second time. For the first two days of my summer school placement I worked with two boys who the teacher called “non-readers.” Their reading skills are about Kindergarten level for one kid, and pre-kindergarten for the other. After just one day of working with the two of them I got to watch their reading improve! Very exciting! It made me feel like I might really be a teacher after all.

On the third day, the summer school site coordinator came into the classroom while the teacher was working with a small group on an activity, and while I and the other student teacher placed in that class were working with two smaller groups on sentence writing skills. The site coordinator explained that she had placed the little boy she had in tow in the wrong classroom (where he had been for three days) and she had only noticed just a few minutes before bringing him to our class that he should have been in our class. Then she explained to the teacher that he would cause no trouble for the teacher, and that he didn’t even talk. “He doesn’t talk at all. You’ll talk to him but he won’t talk to you and he won’t talk to the other kids. He won’t cause any trouble.” He had not spoken a single word in the three days of summer school, and evidently had a history of not speaking prior to the beginning of summer school (though I have no idea for how long). What she said and the way she said it caused me to assume that he must either be actually mute or had an emotional disorder that prevented him from talking.

After the site coordinator left, the teacher of this class brought the boy over to my table and explained that since we were nearly finished with our activity he did not have to do it. He could color one of the coloring pages that she had provided the other kids as a reward for finishing their assignments, just so he would have time to settle into a new class. Then she planned to work on getting him caught up with the other kids the next day. I welcomed him to the table and asked him if he would like to color. He nodded yes. I asked him if he would like to pick out a coloring page and he nodded yes. I got him some crayons and he started coloring. I continued working with my other two students while he colored his page. I asked him if he had everything he needed and he nodded yes. I purposefully only asked him yes or no questions so he would not feel pressured to talk to me, and so he could respond just by nodding or shaking his head. I do not have it in me to not encourage a child, so every couple of minutes I would say something like, “You’re doing a great job on that picture. I can tell you’re a really great artist.” Or, “I like the colors you chose for that part of the picture.” Just anything I could say to encourage him and let him know he was.

After about ten minutes of this, all of the sudden he looked at me and said, “Don’t look at my picture until I’m done.” He smiled—he wanted to surprise us with what he was coloring. Inside my head I was hollering with excitement, “OH MY GOD, HE TALKED!” But what I said was, “OK—You just let us know when you’re ready.” I kept helping my other student, and every few minutes would say “Just let us know when you’re ready. We can’t wait to see what you’re doing!” He finished the picture and showed it to us and started another one, talking to us conversationally all the while he worked on the second one. At that point my other student said to me, “HEY! That lady said he couldn’t talk! But he’s talking.” Kids never miss a thing.

WOW! That was EXCITING! Later that day, in my training session with the other teaching residents our facilitator asked if anyone had anything to share from our morning of student teaching. So I told the story I just told you. From behind me one of my colleagues said, “Was that [and she named the student]?” I answered that it was. She said, “Oh my God! He was in our class for three days and we couldn’t get him to say one word. It says in his student record that he simply doesn’t talk. How did you do it?”

I honestly don’t know how I did it. I just made him feel welcome, let him know I was interested in him, I didn’t talk down to him, and I let him come around in his own time. As it turned out, “his own time” was in the range of 10-15 minutes. I was as shocked as anyone that he chose to talk to me.

This week ended on a decidedly calm and satisfying note. My car is fixed. My permanent teaching placement is secured. A convenient and affordable place to live has emerged. And it looks like I actually CAN teach! Life is good! I am still sort of amazed at how everything not only came together just swell, but it all came together as if the whole thing was tailor made for me—art teaching job that makes my MA in Native American Studies downright useful, at a high school in a neat part of town, with a practically built-in place to live within walking distance for the right price. It’s enough to make a person believe in the invisible guiding hand of God (which I do, anyway; although for a while there I was inclined to think that he was distracted or something…). At the very least it is encouraging and thought provoking, and I am enjoying the way everything is coming together. And I’m not so stressed out, now—I think I might be actually be able to get through this week on a little less adrenaline.

Hopefully, all of my future installments will be as happy as this one. If they aren’t I promise I’ll at least make them entertaining. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the ride.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Made it to Baltimore

Well, I made it. After three 12-14 hour days of driving, a broken muffler, and a busted water pump Shirley (my 1982 Volvo, dubbed “slowly but Shirley” by Sarah) and I limped into Cumberland, Maryland on Friday, June 30th. I found a place to fix my muffler (which I had already paid $200.00 in Bozeman to have replaced, but the guy who did it—someone I had never used before, and if I could remember his name or the name of his shop I’d tell you to never go there—welded the new assembly to a rusty flange, so of course it broke off after 2500 miles and had to be reattached). The same guy that fixed my muffler problem in Cumberland also informed me that my slow coolant leak was due to the fact that my water pump was on it’s way to the bone yard. Cumberland is in the Allegany mountains, which is part of the Appalachian chain, and is home to untold numbers of mechanics who either won’t or don’t know how to work on foreign cars (because, I suppose, only Pinkos and Commies would do that—it’s un-American, I guess). I had to put about 4 gallons of antifreeze in my trunk to stay ahead of my leak, cross my fingers, and hope that it would be easier to find some Pinko Commie Volvo mechanics in Baltimore who could fix my car.

Guess What? There are TWO, count ‘em, TWO Volvo repair places in the entire Baltimore metropolitan area. There is ONE, exactly ONE Volvo dealership in the Baltimore metropolitan area. HA! I guess those Cumberland mechanics told ME a thing or two! Crimony! Well, lucky for me one of the Volvo repair places could actually get me in on Monday. So, I rented a car, dropped it off there this morning, and will HOPE that they can actually get it fixed on Monday and I can have my car back so that I can get to work next week in my own vehicle. I’ll let you know in my next dispatch if the repair place I took it to is any good. If not, I’ll let you know what kind of all-American car I’m driving at that time, because I’ll have to get something different if the Volvo thing doesn’t work out.

Regardless of the challenges finding a Volvo mechanic, I’ve had a reasonably pleasant introduction to my new home. Everything has gone pretty well with the new teaching thing. I’ve been officially accepted into the Master of Science in Educational Studies in Art Education program at Johns Hopkins, so I’m working on my second masters now (and my last—if I have to do more school I’ll just do a doctorate next time). I’m on a track to graduate in May 2008.

Also, my experience with the Baltimore City Teaching Residency people and the Baltimore City Public Schools people has been extremely positive. They have demonstrated a high level of commitment to making sure that all of us are settling in, getting our bearings, and get a placement in the Fall. They gave us some final statistics on this year’s teaching cohort that was hired through the BCTR program: out of 2000 applicants only 280 people received offers and only 244 of us accepted—a highly selective process, despite the fact that they are still about 500 teachers short this year in this district; they are desperate enough to hire any warm bodies that show up, but they didn’t do that—comforting. My only complaint so far is that we (the summer cohort) don’t know when we will get paid for this summer training institute. That is separate from our regular teaching salary (which begins on August 21) and is provided through a special funding source, so the plan for dispersal of the funds was still being discussed up through the day before we all arrived. This, of course, makes all of us nervous since we were all broke upon arrival, after having moved across the country to get here. And believe it or not I do NOT win the award for having moved the farthest to get here—there are a couple of people from Oregon, two from Colorado, some from Florida (of course the Oregonians are the only ones who beat me out of the booby prize for greatest distance).

Today I got up at 6:30am after getting my first full eight hours of sleep in about a month and a half. I made some coffee and sat down with the Baltimore phone book (which is about 3 inches thick, and not one of those ¾ size things we had in Bozeman) and let my fingers do the walking through the “Automobile—Repair and Service” section for about an hour, looking for my new Volvo mechanic. Having found one, checked it out on the internet (, had the dumb luck of actually talking to the owner on a Saturday morning (when they are actually closed), arranged for the Enterprise rental car people to pick me up at the Volvo mechanic’s place and fix me up with a car, I headed down there. This place is in the corridor between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., which is about 30 or so miles south of where I live (at about 10:00 0’Clock on the Baltimore dial, just outside the beltway). The only other thing I absolutely had to do today was to go to Occupational Medical Services and have my TB test area looked at (all of us in this BCTR training cohort had to have physicals, pee in a cup, and get tested for TB on Thursday). I had to be there between 2:00-3:00pm other test would be invalid. By the time I had dropped off my car and picked up the rental it was only 12:30pm, which meant I had about 2 hours to kill before having to show up at the TB test place.

Now for semi-fun stuff (there hasn’t been any outright fun stuff yet—too much stress between the move and the car problems)….

The Baltimore Inner Harbor is on the southern edge of the city, and close to where I had to go for this TB test thing. So I decided to have lunch in the Inner Harbor to kill time. It was beautiful day to be outside, and my humble little seafood lunch was delicious! It was overcast, but not raining; warm, but not hot; breezy and pleasant. The temperature was in the high seventies and the humidity was pretty low for here. Aaaaaahhhhh. I sat on a second floor balcony terrace in the La Tasca restaurant, right in front of the U.S.S. Constellation (a Civil War era Frigate) looking out over the harbor at the National Aquarium and Fort McHenry. There were lots and lots of people out enjoying the day. Go to to see the pictures I took from where I was sitting. It was a nice reprieve from the chaos of car trouble.

Then, after my visit to the clinic where I found out (of course) that I do not have TB, I decided to check out a park that is just a few miles from where I am staying this summer. On my way back home I stopped at Soldier’s Delight Natural Environment Area: It is a state park which has about seven miles of hiking trails. Beautiful! And a nice reprieve from the city. You can see pictures of the area from my hike on the same web page where you found my pictures of the Inner Harbor: If you look really close, you’ll see a deer in the last picture of the woods. I kept hearing animals crashing through the woods and assumed that they were deer (although they could have been black bears—there are lots of them out here, and I saw two little piles of bear scat that were probably left on the trail this morning). Sure enough, on my last leg of the hike I looked up and there was a deer standing there looking at me; so I took a picture. The deer was still standing there looking at me when I walked around the bend.

So far so good, really, although I’m completely saturated with new everything and I’m maxed out. Everything is new, nothing is familiar, and I miss my husband and daughter and dogs and friends and church. But I’m doing OK and I’ve already made a lot of new friends through the program that I’m in. Baltimore is a really friendly city—surprisingly enough it is the kind of place where strangers strike up conversations on the street; something that has happened to me several times already. I think this is going to be the most challenging job I’ve ever had, and the hardest good year I’ve ever been through. But I’m sure I’ll be fine, and I’m looking forward to it and I like it here so far. Please think happy thoughts for me, keep me (and Shirley) in your prayers, and send all the positive energy you can in my direction—I’ll need it more as the school year progresses!