I take a long walk through a residential neighborhood and then join Natasha, her mom and dad, and her nephew for lunch. Ezra is Stacy and Joshua's son. The last time I saw him he was nine months old; now he's ten. There's nothing like the difference between a baby and a boy to signify the passage of time. “Hi Ezra,” I say to him, shaking his hand. “Hi James,” he responds politely. “You married my parents.” I laugh. “I did.” I laugh because I find it funny that the first thing he says to me after saying hello is that I married his parents. That this is the factor largest in his life of who I am. Indeed, it's true. Almost twelve years ago, along the MacKenzie River I officiated the marriage of Stacy and Joshua. They asked me. It felt right for me to do it. We were kindred spirits, as Stacy later commented on this journey to Oregon.
After eating, I ask Ezra if he'd like to play a game of War while Natasha and Betty make snacks and dinner for a hike we're taking later in the afternoon. He says yes. Something I've learned over the years is that if you play games with children they often immediately form a bond with them. Talking is boring; it's what adults do. Playing is awesome; it's what kids do. Sure enough, Ezra and I become fast friends. He's a Spoden. I'm not surprised. They game gets rather competitive and the taunts start flying from both of us. He's surprised to find out I'm a middle school teacher and even more surprised when I tell him with only five cards left that he's going down, down like a turd in a toilet, and I will be the reigning king of this war. Somehow he manages to come from behind and suddenly I'm losing. He's gaining my cards one right after another until he has all of them and wins. He does a victory dance; turns around, sticks out his butt and shakes it, saying “Oh yeah, oh yeah!” It's exactly what his father would do. The organic apple has not fallen far from the organic apple tree.
Our backpacks filled with food and water are ready. Natasha, Betty, Ezra,, and I walk to the transit station where we take the public bus to the MacKenzie River Ranger Station about an hour away. As I mentioned earlier, one of the cultural differences you notice in Eugene is the large number of “hippies” and one of the things about many of these “hippies” is that they don't use deodorant and perhaps don't shower often. As a result, they can't get stinky. Stinky as in their own ripe and raunchy body odor, which you've you've never smelled it on someone who hasn't deodorized or bathed in a long time is pungent and overpowering, and that's what I smell from the woman sitting one seat from me. I try not to breathe because every time I do, I smell her, but it's a long trip, and breathing is required. Fortunately, about a half of the way to our destination, she pulls the cord, and gets off the bus.
We arrive around 2:20. The path through the forest along the MacKenzie River winds through large coniferous and lush deciduous trees. Sunlight filters through the leaves and ripples on the river. We stop along a bank and each have a granola bar. Right after coffee and organic vegetable and fruits, the Spodens love granola bars. Maybe wine and beer are before granola bars. Nourished and liquified, we continue walking. There's a lot of talking as we're walking. Sometimes all four of us in a conversation; sometimes two of us as a pair lags behind or speeds up ahead. We're walking and talking, talking and walking for a really long time when Ezra says, “Grandma, it's 6:00. Shouldn't we turn back soon if we want to catch the bus?” Sure enough, the adults have forgotten to pay attention to the time and if we don't catch what is the next bus, the last bus, then we don't have a way back home. Well, we do, but that would involve calling Stacy or Josh ans asking them to pick us up. There's a moment of “oh shit!” among Betty, Natasha, and I. We thank Ezra for being conscientious of time, assure him we'll make it back in time, even though we're not sure if we will, and turn immediately around and walk quickly with a purpose. At some point, we think we'll make it in time for the bus, and we're all hungry, so we stop by a narrow and shallow creek next to a single person walking bridge and eat our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Ezra and Natasha takes off their tennis shoes and soak their feet in the chilly water. After I finish my sandwich, I join them. It's a quick respite with maximum enjoyment and we're off again. “We've got a bus to catch or it's hitchhiking for us!” I joke. This worries Ezra though. “Grandma, will we really have to hitchhike?” he asks. “No,” Betty says, “we'll call your parents if we don't make it.” Nothing like the fear of hitchhiking and being in a car with a bunch of stinky hippies to get a ten year old boy to become the line leader and ambulate with such a brisk pace that we're jogging through the forest rather than walking.
We make it to the bus pick up location with fifteen minutes to spare! Just as we're stepping out of the forest and into the parking lot area, however, Ezra gets stung by a bee. The production he makes is spectacular. He's a drama queen! I love it. Clearly, he takes after his mother. Or is that his father?
The hilarity of riding public transportation is the odd things you see people doing.From the back seat of the bus which Ezra chose, we watch a long haired, grubby clothed young man with a fishing pole at the front jamming to his music, lip synching it quietly to himself, gesturing with emotion in the air. At some point it looks as if he's singing to Natasha, serenading her with his head banging rendition of whatever Grateful Dead or Phish song he's loving. We joke that soon he's going to do the cowboy dance move and twirl his imaginary lasso in the air and then throw it around Natasha and pull him toward him. And once someone has thrown their magic lasso, you can't refuse, and so Natasha would have to stumble reluctantly down the aisle of the bus to his seat. What's this? He's standing and walking toward us! Perhaps no lasso necessary! He's simply going to sit next to us and talk to Natasha! But no, he's after the girl in front of Natasha. It appears he knows her since she he says her name, but she's not interested, and like a pesky fly, shoos him away.
Somehow we get on the topic of television and Ezra says he gets to watch an hour of TV a week, play an hour of video games a week, and watch one movie on TV a week. To which I say, bravo, Stacy and Josh. Way to limit his screen time. I'm not surprised. None of them is a TV watcher. There are better things to do with your time as a kid and as an adult, and as a teacher, my students always tell me they watch several hours of TV every day, sometimes all weekend, and play video games for sometimes five or six hours straight. Turn it off America! Unplug the media drug! Ween from the screen! Get your kids and yourself doing other things—playing, walking, biking, sporting, reading, building, gardening, creating, whatever, anything besides all the screens we use all the time.
Here's the other thing that's cool about the way Stacy and Josh are raising Ezra: he attends a Waldorf School. It's a K-8 private school based around the philosophy and pedagogy of Rudolf Steiner, a prominent educational thinker from about a hundred years ago. His belief is that education should nurture the whole child, should foster the spiritual self, should develop community that respects and responds to the world around them, and should hold imaginative thinking as highly as critical thinking. I've known about Waldorf education for almost twenty years and I'm glad Stacy and Joshua have enrolled their son in this private school. I know he's receiving a personalized education unlike one he would receive in a public school. Part of the the philosophy is that the same teacher teaches the same children for the entire elementary experience. This means that Ezra has had the same teacher, Mr. French, since he was in the kindergarten, and Mr. French has become almost a third parent to Ezra and the other twenty or so children he has taught for the past five years.
Speaking of the amazing parents, back in Eugene, Stacy and Josh are waiting for us. It's great to see them and to hug them and to be in the same physical space after all this time. We all talk for a while inside and then Stacy, Josh, and I go back to Venetta, a small town about twenty minutes from Eugene where they live with Jenny and Nathan and their son Finnegan. Ezra stays overnight at his Grandma and Grandpa's house along with Auntie Natasha.
Where do you begin after nine years? The immediate seems most relevant, so I begin by telling them about my time in Portland and Eugene and they tell me about Ezra, as if oft the case with parents, after I mention he's a great kid and I enjoyed spending time with him. “So what have you been up to for the past nine years?” encourages generalizations too sweeping. And yet, if we were to pursue this line of questioning, I think for them it would go something like this: raising a child, working at Organically Grown Company, traveling, and living with various combinations of family and friends at their noble experiment in living collectively in their house in the country; and for me, teaching, writing, pursuing my zen thing, enjoying my summers away from teaching, living alone most of the time, not dating anyone, wanting to, and yet, liking my single.
We arrive home around ten. Jenny and Nathan and Finn are already in bed. Stacy and Josh work in the morning. We talk for a bit in the living room and then it's goodnight. They have a capacious house and I basically have the entire upstairs to myself: bedroom, bathroom, library, large open space with a ping pong table in the middle of it. It's quiet, incredibly and deliciously quiet. I savor it. I appreciate it. I seldom get it like this. I want more of it in my life. I open the window in the bedroom where I'll fall asleep soon. Silence surrounds me except for the soothing sounds of the frogs croaking rhythmically in the nearby pond. I listen to them. I hear myself breathing. I pay attention to my breath, slow and soft, calm and content. I begin counting each breath, something I do several times a day as a meditation practice, counting to ten and starting over again, but tonight, I don't make it past seven. It's as if the frogs have hypnotized me and I fall asleep and sleep deep.