Tuesday, March 1, 2011

February Went Out Like a Lion

Arrived at work this morning on a bright sunny day, the first of March. In front of the place where I park, a bright red fire hydrant poked up through the snow. Somehow the combination of sparkling, sunlit snow and the bright red fire hydrant set off a collision of images and ideas over which I felt no control. As I often do at such times, I broke out the camera. For some reason, the stereotypical image of dogs peeing on hydrants never entered my mind until now, two hours later. What first got my attention when I took a close-up was the source of the fire hydrant, Albertville, Alabama, as indicated in raised lettering. While proctoring the annual writing test for 4th- and 7th-graders, I looked up Albertville, and my findings stirred an additional collision of images. Let's see if I can sort them out.
First, the title of this post. I had a major flashback to my 8th-grade graduation ceremony when our chorus, which I remember as being quite good, sang "June Is Bustin' Out All Over," which contains the line "March went out like a lion." Well, I don't know how March will end this year, but it has begun beautifully sunny. I understand that may change tonight. In any case, February definitely went out like a lion. I guess one reason I can never forget the 8th-grade ceremony is that I had a classmate named June whose adult figure was "bustin' out" during that spring. We had already committed to the song, and I suspect our advisers in then puritanical New England probably didn't know what to do about our barely repressed snickers at every rehearsal. Although I found the situation very funny, I was also embarrassed for the girl as she was very nice and a partner in a couple of musical groups in which I played piano.
Back to the fire hydrant. I could not help but imagine a butterfly landing on the hydrant. Or some other insect normally attracted to red flowers. It didn't happen. Still below freezing, not to mention the fact all said creatures are either somewhere else this time of year or in a dormant state under ground or inside various parts of various plants. But my imagination put them on the fire hydrant. If I were a believer in faking photos with Photoshop, this would have been a perfect opportunity.
Now Albertville, Alabama. I discovered that the own is just off US Highway 11 which I traveled often in college, commuting a few times a year from Tulane University in New Orleans to my home in Massachusetts. Looking at the map on line, I saw that near Albertville is a town called Arab. That aroused my curiosity. Perhaps follow up on that another time.
Other nearby towns included Scottsboro which brought back memories of a horrendous piece of Alabama history, and Boaz, which is the name of a famous anthropologist. Finally, the thing I was looking for: Albertville is the home of the Mueller Company, builder of fire hydrants. Albertville prides itself on being the "fire hydrant capital of the world," which rivals, in my mind, the folksiness of a little town I once passed through in Kansas which boasts the world's largest ball of string.
The reason I share all these random musings is that my apparent surplus of imagination is in such contrast to the kids taking the writing test who are complaining "I don't know what to write," and "I don't have any ideas." As a naturalist who just can't stop writing, I am always thinking about when the tendency, one way or the other, is established. How can I instill in my students a passion for discovery and self-expression? I wonder, can the world get too much of that?
The test is over, and the kids seem to have reached deeply enough to fill a couple of pages. I hope they did well.

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