Monday, September 5, 2016

It's the Little Things (or Little Ones) That Matter

One of the many recently-deceased RODS
I've found on the Trail. Actually, it's not a
rodent but a shrew. I think a well-fed cat
is killing & discarding them. 
I spend a lot of time on the Munger Trail, between Duluth and Jay Cooke State Park. Most of the folks who use the Munger Trail are bikers, joggers, and snowmobilers. 

I'm not a "real" biker, because my primary motive is taking photographs of wildflowers (including orchids), fungi, lichen, and recently-deceased rodents of diminutive size (or RODS*). I move slowly, paying close attention to what's on and alongside the Trail, and I stop frequently, to take photos of what I see. 

Those who are moving much faster than I am have other reasons for being on this multi-use Trail; their priorities are much more common, much more typical of Trail-users. I know I'm in the minority. Most folks don't care much about wildflowers. Oh, people care in a general way--they'd notice if all the flowers suddenly disappeared--but they don't get really, really upset when the trail-sides are mowed each year at this time to control the vegetation. 

Murdered Bottle Gentian flower--it won't
be producing any seed-pods this fall.
They don't care, for instance, if the Bottle Gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) are less plentiful along the Trail this year because of the timing of the mowing. And most folks don't sort angrily through the cut vegetation, searching for murdered flowers. 

The Trail is mowed and trimmed for the benefit of the majority of users, especially for the snowmobilers, I'm guessing, who don't want untamed vegetation getting in their way. And no one is likely to change their habits and policies because of one wildflower freak who talks to the plants and stops to move every dead shrew or mole to the side of the Trail...I get that. 
Star-nosed mole, Munger Trail, May, 2013.
But I think the world is a slightly better place if even these tiniest of critters are treated with respect and a bit of compassion. Shrews are really cool animals and an important part of our ecosystem. Some can inject venom into their prey; others use echolocation to navigate and find food. Star-nosed moles are pretty interesting, too (thanks to Mr Schonfeld for the video link). All these little RODS are living beings who have suffered violence and deserve to be treated with dignity. I'm like their funeral director, I guess. Using a leaf to pick them up, I make sure they're laid in the bosom of Mother Earth, rather than left on the Trail to be squashed by the next bicyclist or runner who comes along. 

This is the smallest RODS I've ever found--possibly
an Arctic Shrew.
It's important to care about both big and little things--which brings me to another story about little beings. On Friday, all the students, grades 4 through 12, participated in a scavenger hunt. Students were divided into teams that included at least one student from each grade level. 

We teachers stood in small groups in the hallways as these teams wandered around the school, finding their clues and completing their tasks. It may not have seemed like it, but we were watching all of you, noting how you behaved and interacted with each other.

I wish I had taken a photo of the most important interaction I witnessed. Eli's team was passing by, and the 5th grader in the group (I don't know his name--Sam, maybe?) needed to stop and tie his shoe. The other members of the team (hungry for the prize donuts at the end of the game, perhaps) moved on, but Eli stopped and waited, even asked the youngster if he needed help tying his shoe (he didn't). 

This is precisely the kind of caring and inclusive behavior we teachers hope to see during this exercise. I know that a lot of you Upper School students get impatient or bored with these all-school activities, but a real community is one in which everyone, even the smallest, the youngest, the different, and the "other," feels included and taken care of. In a real community, someone stops and waits for you when you fall behind. Someone checks on you, to see if you need help. 

Now, I don't know what it is about Eli that made him do this--I don't know much about Eli yet, but I do know that his interaction with Sam left a positive impression on me. Perhaps no one else on Eli's team saw what happened, but I noticed, and so did my colleagues. And I bet the next time Sam sees Eli, he'll think of him as a friend.

You have three options for your first blogging assignment. Write a post about 

  • the little things you care about that perhaps no one else notices, or 
  • some snapshots of your summer (model your post after mine), or 
  • the numbers that describe you--see my example, or
  • if you learned some important lessons during our big summer storm, when so many folks lost access to power and/or water, you could write about that.

Include captioned photos, taken by you or a family member, and relevant links; apply sensible labels (tags) to your
post, and give it a catchy title. Due date TBA. 

*Let's see who's paying attention:  1 extra-credit point to the first of my students who identifies the allusion in my acronym. Put your answer in a comment. Alumni, you may provide SUBTLE clues in the comments...


  1. And Maeve C. waited with 4th grade Miles while he finished his doughnut before going into the auditorium!

  2. Replies
    1. Well, Troy, that is the acronym, but you didn't explain the allusion!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Yes, Matt, but you haven't explain the allusion, either!

  3. I believe you are referencing The Princess Bride when they call the giant rats R.O.U.S.