Thursday, September 30, 2010

K.B. Carpenter And Other Mean Flowers

Centennial Trail - Mile markers 11 - 13

We've been blessed with glorious weather this week. Yesterday I treated myself to a run along the Centennial Trail. It's a treat because I know it takes gas money to drive there which is hard to justify when I can just run in my neighborhood. I don't normally allow myself this luxury during the week. I justified it because I know that these beautiful days are numbered and because, quite frankly I needed it.

As I was running I looked at the plant life along the trail and noticed that at this time of year color comes from leaves and weeds. Fall leaves get plenty of good press but weeds are universally unloved. They have their own beauty though, remarkable in engineering for survival despite a hostile world.

There is an incredibly well written children's book called The Great Gilly Hopkins. Unlike most of today's children's literature, this book is a gem of a good story told with subtlety and intelligence. Most children miss the layers of deeper meaning woven throughout the story. In fact, most teachers in their quest for the holy grail of words per minute standards, miss them too. The main character is an unlovable girl who comes to live with a foster family comprised of mostly what our society would consider losers - overweight foster mother, weird, scared, easily bullied foster brother. All judged and found wanting.

The chapter titles in this book are chosen with great care and inspire wonderful discussion points with fifth graders. The chapter titled: William Ernest and Other Mean Flowers is an example. William Ernest is the little boy in the foster home. Up to this point the main character who is a sharp, but not very nice little girl despises and uses her foster brother William Ernest. Their relationship changes in this chapter as Gilly comes to appreciate and even care for him. The "mean flower" referenced in the title is a lowly dandelion, a maligned, despised weed. The word "mean" here is not used the way we commonly use it but is used in its older English meaning which is lowly. We come to find in this chapter that while it is easy to look at William Ernest as unimportant, lowly, even undesirable, to do so is to miss incredible beauty and strength.

As someone who grew up feeling like a "mean flower", I decided that I would go back to the trail today to run again and take pictures of these lowly plants which despite little encouragement and even active hostility, manage to survive. Everyone loves and encourages the roses of the world. Here's my tribute to the other mean flowers.