What Would Mike Say?

A friend messaged me today out of the blue. She was in CELP when I was in Headwaters, in 2009. She said she was thinking of her next steps and asked “what would Mike do?” We exchanged a few messaged reminiscing about Mike’s mischievous ways, his smile, and sense of peace and optimism with life. It reminded her of the book Why is God Laughing? (because he gets the joke). It reminded me of the book The Music Lesson (where a music teacher, Mike, makes a journey out of the point of music). These connections to literature remind me of quote Paul pulled from Halfway Man about weaving landscape and narrative. I felt deeply moved by this brief conversation, and, naturally, it sparked a flurry of memories for me. I re-read the 2010 Pathways issue, Zocalo’s blog post from 2015, sifted through photos, only to arrive here, my own journey through writing.

I have to admit, I’ve never stopped to ask myself what a conversation with Mike might be like today. I have been so focused on finding my own mentors, carving my own journeys, and creating my own communities that I never really thought about what he’d have to say about it all. I feel like he’d probably tell me to have more fun.

“So… what’s in the news?” he’d say, with a smirk and arms outstretched, briefly, only lowered to pull one leg over the over and sit with his hands clasped. He’d wiggle his nose, blink, and then tilt his head to the side and wait for one of us to speak up.

Mike, the news right now is wild. I had to stop tuning in daily because it feels like a constant crisis. I think if you were here during this pandemic you’d be in full force to get people outside. More access to trails and rivers and trees, I’d think.

I wonder if you would have made a new trail somewhere in Arkell/Eden Mills since they are getting so busy. Perhaps maintain the popular ones. Or spend time in a tent somewhere.

I’m sure you’d have things to say about the whole stove-in-the-winter-tent issue that came up last year. Warmth, after all, was the point of a hot-tent.

You would not believe that the other day I told my friend about The Hero’s Journey. It came up naturally in conversation and I probably butchered the description. But the wild thing is that the next day she read about it in the book she’s reading. That prompted me to get the audiobook. I feel like you’d tell me to find a physical copy somewhere.

I returned home, Mike, 10 years after we embarked on our journey to The Source. But I’m still returning. I think that this is the fourth story that you told Paul hadn’t happened yet. It’s all your students returning home, in their own time. We trickle back, one by one, to visit the old places that were so sacred. Edgewood. The boathouse for ice cream. Your solo spot. Sacred places from sacred journeys.

I live by the river now, by the way. Close to the mill where we did our interview. Imagine I could interview you today?! You’d give me such fantastic prompts, challenges, and insights to wrestle with, I’m sure. You’d probably tell me to be a musician instead of a scholar. Music was important to you. I think you’d like the role of pedagogical consultant though. I get to mentor other people, hopefully. And I think you’d like what’s happening in early learning in terms of emergent curriculum, pedagogical documentation, and risky play. We would have some fascinating conversations.

I’ve learned so much wisdom from Paul, you know. He doesn’t carry your relationship lightly. He is moved, deeply, by his love for you. We all are.

“We were so in love with each other”. That rings in my ears from time to time. It’s something my friend said to me a year ago, at an Outdoor Ed conference, as we reminisced about you back then. That was the magic you created for us in your programs. It was beyond community and activism. It was poetry. It was belonging. It was transformational.

I wonder what you’d think of this blog and my writing. My songs. My presentations. My research. My work ethic. My break down a few years ago. I wonder if I would have ever attended COEO in 2020 or if it would have happened at a different time. I wonder if I would have never failed Uni Geography. I wonder if I would have gone to Queens. I wonder, if you had lived longer, when I would have returned home. I suspect it would have been so much later.

Noticing my own sense of wonder makes me proud. I feel like it would make you proud, too.

Your sense of wonder is one of the things that sustains me today. Alongside your hard work was your visionary style, compassionate leadership, and commitment to reflection and documentation. Reading your writing today demonstrates how deeply you had journeyed with your ideas. You showed us that at 17 we could get published, noticed even, if we journey to the source and offer something meaningful for our community. You showed us that we had the strength, ideas, and endurance to create innovative solutions to the world’s problems. You made us into the farmers, engineers, entrepreneurs, partners, architects, teachers, nurses, and community partners we are today because, to you, were always those things.

Thank you for showing me the power of an authentic educator, father, lover, and community dweller.

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