Regina’s River Rules

The Guadalupe River is a destination for many. For us, it is home. We are privileged. We have the luxury to enjoy the benefits of river life as we please. We take out our kayaks, paddleboards or tubes at our leisure. No need to squeeze in all the fun in just one weekend or day. We try not to take it for granted; we spend a great deal of time on the water, especially during Texas’ long summers. In fact, several years ago, we boasted the fact that we had floated the river at least one day a month for the entire year including the day after Christmas!

NO ONE CAN KNOW A RIVER

However, we do not really know the river, not even our little part of it. I say this because no one can ever really know a river. Rivers are ever-changing and wild. Rivers, like all of nature, demand respect. Water level changes, rocks and other underwater debris migrate. Despite ordinances against glass containers, people bring them, drop them, break them. Even water chemistry changes so that one day a person can easily skip across the rocks from the bank to the island and the very next day a slippery film develops so that crossing becomes precarious.

NATURE’S BEAUTY

I can go on endlessly about the river’s beauty and often do. The turtles and ducks and herons and hawks. The fish, the hummingbirds and dragonflies. The sound of water flowing over rocks, frogs croaking and the cicadas playing their symphony. Majestic trees that shade deep pools. Early morning mist hanging low across the water. Yes, it’s gorgeous.

DANGER

But it can also be dangerous. Apparently, people forget this little fact all too easily. Over the years I have witnessed countless foolish behaviors and they never cease to make me cringe. The thing is, I am there to relax, to enjoy the company I am with and forget about the larger world for a time. I do not want to feel responsible for others (especially strangers). I am not a lifeguard. At the same time, I am certainly not going to sit idly by and watch a disaster happen right in front of me without trying to prevent it.

REGINA’S RIVER RULES

That said, here are Regina’s River Rules:

  • Proper shoes. I don’t care that you went barefoot throughout your carefree childhood (I did too). Rocks can be slippery. Stupid people leave behind broken glass. Find yourself a good, sturdy pair of river shoes.
  • Watch your kids! This one bears repeating.
  • WATCH YOUR KIDS. If you don’t feel like you can have a good time AND keep an eye on your children, then don’t bring them along! You are not familiar with the water flow and other river conditions. You don’t know the other people on the river and neither does your kid. There really are strangers about, especially on a holiday weekend. I should not have to watch your young child slip through flowing water, lifejacketless and unsupervised while your back is turned. That’s your job.
  • Don’t bring your kids unless they are strong swimmers or have lifejackets or both.
  • Show respect. Respect those around you, respect the locals (we live here) and most especially, respect the river. Don’t throw your trash in the river. If you accidentally drop your beer can, swim after it. When you leave, you should be taking all your trash with you.
  • Bring plenty of water to drink. Sure, enjoy your alcoholic beverages, but keep yourself hydrated.
  • Be friendly. Smile and wave as you pass. We will wave back!

If you visit many of the tube rental websites, you will find the following warning:

IMPORTANT… Guadalupe River tubing, swimming and river activities have both inherent and unknown risks and dangers. These include but are not limited to injury or loss of life. (https://www.riversportstubes.com/guadaluperivertubingchecklist.htm)

Take heed. Don’t be stupid. I beg of you, should you visit our river, give her the respect she deserves. Be safe. Have fun. Let us locals enjoy ourselves too.

Perfect Days

Today is one of those perfect days. Lately, I am experiencing more and more of them. This is how they look: Up early, coffee with my husband, we chat about everything and nothing. We tease and laugh. Then it’s outdoors before the heat sets in. We garden and weed, make our little world a prettier place and grow some vegetables. Today I even rode the riding mower. Before the sun climbs too high, I retreat indoors, quick shower, early lunch and then I sit down to write. As I write with the dogs at my feet, I watch the hummingbirds on the flowers outside my window. After hours of writing and some light housework, together we will spend the late afternoon sitting in the cold river water and reading or chatting with friends.

TEXAS TEACHERS FOR A SAFE REOPENING

I am part of a Facebook group called “Texas Teachers for a Safe Reopening.” This group was formed in the middle of COVID lockdown when many of us were concerned that Texas was in too much of a hurry to open back up safely. Turns out, we were right. Not only was it too soon, but in many districts, safety was in name only. Rules were made but not followed, nor were there repercussions for not following them. Granted, this was a matter of degrees depending on the district, but this Facebook group was proof that the problems were not isolated.

STAY OR GO

Many group members posted about leaving the profession, retiring earlier than planned or changing professions. Please understand, we are professional educators. We are dedicated and we love our students and teaching and learning. Also, understand that COVID was not the first or only problem we encountered over the years in public education.

Furthermore, let me make it clear that I do not speak for all teachers or even for this group. These are my thoughts alone based on over twenty years of experience including COVID lockdown and after.

BROKEN SYSTEM

While many states as of this date are still debating the opening of schools, Texas reopened a year ago. In the beginning, I saw the lockdown as an opportunity. It was a chance for all of us to slow down and finally get it right. That did not happen; instead what happened during COVID exposed the public education system for what it is and for what it is not. The very institution that is meant to support educators to do their best job of teaching and is meant to support students as they learn, has become the biggest obstacle of all, promoting only mediocrity and supporting the lowest common denominators.  The “system” blocks teachers at every turn from performing at their professional best.

In spite of all of that, I know many, many teachers who do a phenomenal job. Not an easy task and it requires tremendous energy and a strong backbone. It requires so much perseverance. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but after a while even the strongest begin to wear down and just get tired. Understand, not tired from teaching. Tired from fighting the very system that is meant to support us.

NO REGRETS

That said, a week or so ago a member of this Facebook group, “Texas Teachers for a Safe Reopening” posed the following question to the group:

If you retired earlier than you originally intended or left teaching for a job outside of public schools, do you regret your decision?

As of today, there are 78 responses including my own. The vast majority have no regrets. My own response was short and to the point as a Facebook response should be, but I feel like the question warrants a more in-depth response.

Someone in the group responded that if you left the profession, you would certainly say “no regrets” not because that is true but because you are rationalizing your decision. I can only speak for myself, but no. I have no regrets and I am not trying to make myself feel better.

I retired in December, after the first semester. I did not feel safe. Nor did I feel respected by administration, by some teachers, by some parents or by some students. My well-being and the well-being of others were of very little importance to too many people. I could not do my job at the level of expectation that I set for myself.

TWO THINGS CAN BE TRUE

Two things can be true at the same time. It is true that I loved my job. I was a school librarian and I got to do many amazing things such as talk books with students, teach a love for reading and research, purchase books and maintain them, assist teachers with curriculum and lessons. My job was great.

It is also true that I am over the moon with the life I have found after leaving public education. I work part-time at a job where I am appreciated, and I am writing every day. I no longer experience the anxiety or depression that was bringing me down before. I have the energy and mental space to write. I am a better writer, a better person and I have had the luxury to slow down and appreciate the world around me and the people I love. I also appreciate the fact that I am extremely fortunate and not everyone has the opportunity to live this way. I am grateful every single day.

So, no, I do not regret my decision. It was the absolute best choice I could make for myself and for my family. I will add that it was not an easy decision, and it was pretty scary. But was it worth it? Yes. Without a doubt.

I hope to have many days like today.

Summertime

Summer is my favorite time of year. When I was a child, it was the freedom of course. School was out and I spent most of most summers at my grandparents’ house on the bayou. Summer is nostalgic. Dinner was served at lunch time, we ran wild and barefoot through the woods, built forts, picked blackberries, went sailing in the bay whenever we pleased, ate watermelon on the back porch. Fond memories.

SUMMERTIME GIRL

More than that, or because of that, I am a summertime girl. Sunshine and water, beaches and rivers, close friends, good company and time for reflection; summer is all of that and more.

Today, I spent the early morning working in the yard and weeding, careful not to disturb the earthworms or skinks too much. Lovely start to a lovely day.

I write this sitting on my porch, listening to the birds and watching hummingbirds as they flit among the red jasmine. I sip sweet tea with my dog is at my feet. The farmer has mowed his field so the hay lays drying in the sun. All is calm. I love this life. How could anyone not?

The place where I live is meant for summer. As my husband sometimes says, “we live in a destination.” No need to travel; we are already here. We are so fortunate.

TIME AND PACE

As a teacher and a school librarian I always enjoyed my time off during the summer, but it’s different now as a semi-retired person. I don’t feel the urgency to hurry up and take advantage of each summer day before the new school year begins. I am living at a different pace.

Don’t get me wrong, every single day feels so packed. I am always busy, and time passes quicker than ever. My time is filled with activities I love and care about; writing, reading, sitting at the river, my dogs, gardening. And the best things of all: more time with my husband, daily phone calls with my daughter and my mom, time with loved ones.

No matter the time of year, I have found balance.  And balance feels so good. Still, summer is the best!

“How near to good is what is WILD!”

After a night of thunder and lightning and heavy rain, I sit on my porch taking in the wildlife that closes in around me. I watch a red-bellied woodpecker couple, a doe with her fawn stroll through the high grass, soon to be cut and dried as hay. Water drips like a metronome from the roof. I watch. And I read Thoreau.

NOT BORING

I remember reading Henry David Thoreau in school and falling into a state of near comatose boredom. As I read him now, I have a completely different experience. Recently I came across an essay he published in 1862 after presenting it as a speech several times. I’m not going to lie; it’s long, he rambles, he covers a multitude of topics. Oh but it’s chock full of treasures! He covers everything from conservation to politics, to literature and sense of place.

TO HAVE BEEN THERE

I wonder what it must have been to be a member of the audience of that speech back in the nineteenth century. Where they bored and restless as they sat in hard chairs in their stiff attire? Did they fight a yawn? Force open their eyes? Or did they hang on his every word, mesmerized by his poetic descriptions and advanced vocabulary? Were they in awe at his predictions of future America? They should have been; he was spot on.

This essay, which I never before heard of, fell into my hands as I was doing a little research for a character in a short story I am currently writing. Indeed, it helps me to get to know the character better, but it’s providing me with so much more food for thought. It’s called Walking. Look it up if you are so inclined but be patient and allow it time.

CHARMED, I’M SURE

Like I said, he rambles. Also, he lived a charmed life, clearly. Anyone whose daily stroll lasts four hours pretty much has it made in my book. We can assume that most of the remainder of the day was spent writing and reading. So, yeah, charmed. Not everyone has such luxury. I am glad he had it though because he had some important things to say.

CONSERVATION

His discussion of conservation was far ahead of his time. He saw in the future, an America depleted of its forests and wild space. He saw, even then, how we as humans were destroying our very home. He stressed the importance of educating our youth about nature and conservation; about the need for individuals to spend time in nature (both to appreciate so we will care for it, but also for how it benefits the soul), and the dire need for public lands. “Wildness is the preservation of the world,” he says.

AMERICA

On the subject of America as a nation, as a culture, as a people, he sees us as being shaped by the nature around us, by the wildness and unique flora and fauna. He brings up the idea of an “American mythology” which is fascinating. With prescience he states, “Perchance, when in the course of ages, American liberty has become a fiction of the past—as it is to some extent a fiction of the present—the poets of the world will be inspired by American mythology.”

I love his take on American literature and its place in the world. Our American experience lends a special quality, unique and rich. It’s good to own that. His nineteenth century mind is hopeful for a prolific and rich literary collection inspired by the American experience. Indeed, I think we’ve got that!

NOT PERFECT JUST LIKE AMERICA HERSELF

There are some things he’s gotten wrong, or rather failed to consider. Most notably, the contributions and inclusion of Native Americans. Imagine if Natives could have influenced conservation efforts back then! When commenting on our proclivity to go west toward the new as opposed to traveling east, he tells of his witnessing “the Indians moving west across the stream (the Mississippi River),” as if they traveled willingly. But that’s a discussion for another day.

ONE LAST THOUGHT

As I said, he rambles and now I am too. It’s raining again here, and the world is green and lush. I will leave you with one last quotation from Walking just to prove how varied his subject matter is and because I just love books: “A truly good book is something as natural, and as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a wildflower discovered in the prairies of the West or in the jungles of the East.”

Thoreau, Henry David. Walking. 1862. Republished by National Geographic. https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2011/11/17/walking-by-henry-david-thoreau/