Thursday, April 05, 2012

Visiting Our Lake

This was a field trip I've been anticipating since last spring. Not the specific destination of The Center for Wooden Boats, but the general orientation toward Lake Union itself. Last May I wrote a series of pieces (It's a Story That Will Take a Few Days to Tell, Let Your Fingers Touch the Water, and The Center of the Universe) inspired by my family's move to the south end of this urban lake, followed a few months later by our school's move to our current home in Fremont at its north end.

We already knew by this time last year that the school needed to move elsewhere. I think we'd already started talking to our friends at the Fremont Baptist Church, from whom we now lease rooms, but nothing was finalized until mid-May. We were moved by the first week of June, a monumental task for our community, one that called all hands on deck and included the building of our new outdoor classroom in time for the start of our summer sessions. There have been times when we've looked around during the past couple months and wondered why we've not made more progress on things like building our new teaching garden or erecting more walls to turn our windmill into a proper play house, but yesterday as we made our first foray as a community to the actual shores of the lake, I was reminded that we, by all rights, ought to be still catching our collective breaths.

As we waited on a Fremont sidewalk for the bus that would loop us around to the south end of the lake, several of the children pointed out the sculpture, Waiting For The Interurban.

They reminded me that I recently suggested, as an aside, that we walk down there one day and join the tradition of dressing the figures who perpetually wait there.

I guess we need to get talking about how we want to dress them.

Our bus, when it came, carried us across our blue and orange bridge with a neon Rapunzel residing in one of the towers. I was sitting with Gray who informed me as we bounced across its grated surface, "This is a opening up bridge."

"That's right. It's a drawbridge," I said. I was reminded of how the children pointed out so much that was familiar and exciting to them during our long walk to tour our Theo's Chocolate Factory a few months back. Maybe they would have become such experts about these things without our move here to Fremont, but we most certainly wouldn't share the knowledge the way we do now.

There is really no way to get around our new urban neighborhood without having to negotiate traffic, but it's something children being raised in a city need to learn about. It felt a little harrowing crossing the busy Westlake Avenue to get to South Lake Union Park, where we discussed goose poop in the grass and the coots we scared into the water as we approached.

We'd cut the timing close so there was no time to horse around before walking onto the docks and floating structures that make up The Center for Wooden Boats, an educational facility for all ages that provides "a gathering place were maritime history comes alive through direct experience and our small craft heritage is enjoyed, preserved, and passed along to future generations." You can rent wooden sailing vessels there, learn to build your own wooden boats, or just drop by on Sunday afternoons for free sailing on one of their larger vessels.

We were expected to wear life vests since we were walking around on slippery, narrow floating docks. In this city in which water plays such an important part, learning to be both safe and comfortable around water is an important part of our education.

We clambered aboard one of the larger sail boats, where our guide Lucy urged us to talk about what we could hear, feel and smell.

We watched a sea plane take off from the lake's surface. The adults chaperoning this trip, all of us, were hyper-alert, constantly catching kids by their belt loops. I kept running through in my mind whether or not I'd have time to drop my first aid back pack before jumping in to rescue a kid. I'm sure all of us were thinking similar thoughts. We warned the children many times, but falling in the water was the farthest thing from their minds, even as we leaned out over it to touch it with our fingers.

We were definitely relieved when we returned to the wider part of the docks and went inside one of the buildings for a story time, then a session building our own wooden boats.

I was proud of how competent we were with our hammers and drills.

We've had quite a bit of practice at school, so it was exciting to see the kids take on the challenge, safely, in a new environment.

It was also gratifying to see our parent-teachers dropping to their knees, themselves experienced in assisting young children in using these tools.

It probably also helped our competence that we have hundreds of these wooden boat blanks back at school with which we've been fiddling these last few months. I was reminded that one of my "field trip" ideas had been to make our own wooden boats, release them in the canal that flows under the Fremont Bridge, then attempt to follow their progress as we walk together along the banks.

And then it was time to go. We left ourselves enough time to stop by the concrete pond built specifically for the purpose of sailing toy boats.

No one fell in. All of our boats floated.

We then packed ourselves up and once more harrowed the traffic to return to our still new home at the Center of the Universe.

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