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 Pedagogy, Philosophy, and Nonsense
Thoughts About Education, Writing, and Experience

Another Fortunate Fall

by Forrest D. Poston

This had been the neighborhood field of dreams, good for baseball, football, or just digging holes when the one in the backyard caused trouble. the field also marked the end of the neighborhood, end of the town, beginning of the wilderness, at least to a kid. When I was 8, the family moved from paradise to the far end of town, but now I was 21, in my second year as a college drop-out, and helping build one of the houses that were beginning to fill the field with other people's dreams. Naturally, the entire neighborhood had shrunk like a flannel shirt dried on high.

A few years earlier, I had been back inside the old house, where the ceilings seemed hardly high enough to stand up. Now, even the street didn't seem long enough to bother walking, just 10 or 12 houses on each side. The maple tree that had been small enough for me to learn tree climbing had grown and gone. The games, the goofs, the mystery, magic, and adventure had all been washed clean. The neighborhood had grown into something as ordinary as adulthood was threatening to become.

Still, the memories had not quite vanished, merely varnished by later experiences, partly hidden beneath the layers, and on one day I happened to be working alone, thinking more and more about that line of trees along the northern edge of the field. Those trees had marked the end of allowed territory years ago, part of a broader territory than many pre-schoolers ever know, but that reflected the neighborhood, small, slightly isolated, and essentially safe from any dangers except those we sought out.

I remembered that just inside the treeline, the ground dropped off, which had been part of the attraction and the danger because there were also a variety of grapevines growing from those trees. Kids love swings and high places, so a grapevine that swung out over a downslope was something special, special enough to be quite, quite forbidden and quite, quite irresistible. Only one time, only one swing had stayed in my memory.

Paul and I were about 5 years old, and we had both been told time and again about people who were maimed or killed by falling off grapevines, but we were young enough to simply wonder why anyone would let go and fall, young enough not to question our invincibility. I don't remember how many swings we took before Paul said we should leave before we got caught, but I remember being the one who suggested that we each take one more swing. Guess I still needed to learn about jinxes.

Paul took his swing into the air and returned. I took my swing into the air, and the grapevine returned. I didn't know anything was wrong until I realized that the grapevine was going back, and I wasn't. And the trees were going up awfully fast. In dreams, you have a sense of falling, but when you're awake it's as if everything else is moving while you remain stationary. And then you become stationary very quickly.

Luck, the natural responses of youth, or divine intervention, I landed in a fully spread position so that the force of landing was spread evenly. I didn't even get the wind knocked out of me, got up laughing, got up just short of a barbed-wire fence and just to the side of a tree stump. Considering the height of the fall, the result was magical, a youthful magic we learn to avoid later.

As I worked on the house that morning, thinking about how much smaller the neighborhood was, I began to wonder just how far I had fallen that day. After all, when you're about 4 feet tall, almost anything is a long way. Since I didn't get hurt, the fall was sure to have been a minor one, six feet perhaps, maybe eight feet tops maybe less. Come lunch time, I decided to go look and have a good laugh at myself.

I walked to the treeline, stepped just inside it where I could see the hill. It took just a moment for my eyes to adjust to the shadows, but it took a lot longer to adjust to what I saw. That was one steep hill, and landing down near the fence meant that the fall was about the same as jumping off the roof of the house, which I'd had sense enough to never actually try. Reason clearly said that I should have been hurt, badly hurt. Odds said that I should have died, not survived by inches and gone off with no more fear than I had before the fall. This wasn't fair. My present was drifting, and my future lacked all sense of destiny, but I thought I had gotten a grip on the past, had it all nicely sorted and packaged.

I knew that summer didn't last forever, and that knee-deep snow on a five year old isn't all that deep. I knew that the monster in the closet wasn't there at all, knew that the crayon-eating creature who saved us from the witch was just a dream. I knew that losing the field to houses, someone cutting down the old apple orchard, everybody growing up, everybody going different ways, all these were simply the way things were, to be accepted. Understanding came at me a little more slowly than the ground had done back then, and it's a good thing because I wasn't nearly as resilient as I had been. The truth was simple.

             I knew squat.

Summer is endless, and Hobbs is real. Jumping off the house is rarely a good idea, and someone will always incorporate our fields, but that edge of wilderness remains, always stays exactly on the edge. Where we live is up to us, but I think the neighborhood was perfect back then. We lived in tidy rows of houses that were all different, and we always played along the edge, edge of the neighborhood and edge of reason. Without having to think about it, we walked along between dreams and doubt, between possibilities and standing pat. By risking the fall, we kept magic alive.

I never should have taken that last swing, certainly shouldn't have let my grip slip, but I got lucky twice. I survived the fall, the lack of good sense, and I got my sense of proportion back. Life has always been about falling, ever since we tried taking our first step. That's probably why we have that nice padding on the rear. Falling hurts, and never falling gets dull in a hurry, but the real dangers are only at the extremes, the big falls we shouldn't take and the life spent so far from the edge that we can't even see the view.



     Would you like to know when the site gets updated? Drop me an e-mail, and I'll add you to the list. Much of my writing has been for the antiques site lately, but I have a long list of essays in assorted stages of revision for this site. The people who e-mail often apologize because they assume I'm swamped with e-mails. I only wish it were true. I'm a teacher from the marrow out, so give me questions. I'm a writer, so I also need an audience. Sometimes that means applause, sometimes rotten tomatoes.

     From time to time, a student decides to use some of my ideas, or perhaps they even quote me in a paper. Great, I'll take what fame and traces of immortality I can get. However, I should also warn such students that my ideas are not always the things that your teachers want to hear. I'm a stubborn idealist, and that puts me at odds with quite a bit of education theory and literary criticism. Sure, I think I'm right about some things, and I'm sometimes convinced of my own brilliance, but don't jump into the fire blindfolded.


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