Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Same old story?

Some time back....a looong time back!....I shared our discovery of a new and enjoyable pastime my husband and I discovered. Geocaching. Indeed, we have discovered that it has been an enjoyable way to spend time together, exploring places tucked away that only the locals know, hiking the highs and lows of a place and meeting many fine folks who share our passion for discovering a sense of place. We've paddled rivers and lakes, freeclimbed rocky outcrops and snowshoed miles into the middle of a frozen swamp, always in search of a container with a piece of paper to sign and prove we were here.


The beauty of this pastime is its great diversity. For us, discovery and adventure are the appeal, but there are many other kinds of hidden treasures we find along the way. For families with small children, caches are often hidden in city parks near playgrounds. Not our favorite, but with grandkids, they will have renewed appeal. Many are hidden in completely nondescript spots....Walmart parking lots, dead end guardrails and the like. These appeal to those folks who have mobility issues but might want to find things, too.

Little did we realize almost four years ago, when we found the first geocache hidden along our neighborhood bike trail that it would be just the first of several thousand finds. Nor did we realize we'd be drawn to the challenges placed, challenges that required us to pursue those rare caches that require time, effort and sometimes dogged persistence to locate. Those have always been our favorites, and we've had to travel as much as 300 miles from home to locate those rare few.

I discovered an excellent photoessay book, Local Treasures: Geocaching Across America, by Margot Anne Kelley, herself a geocacher. In it, along with sharing her stories of her own caching adventures, accompanied by photos, she details the unique intersection of technology and the real world this hobby brings together. Drawing upon the work of Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone in America, she describes how people playing in the virtual world of the geocaching website come together as members of a community in the real world. They organize events, campouts, community clean up gatherings and informal get-togethers to seek out certain geocaches.

This is where the "same old story" enters into place. When real people come together....all kinds of contentious behavior sets in. What could be controversial about going out into the world with a handheld navigational device, looking for a box and signing the paper contained therein, then telling your story on the website? Sounds simple, right? There are absolutely no prizes awarded. The entire concept is based on sharing your own discoveries with the rest of the geocaching community, either in the form of placing your own hidden treasures or sharing your story when you find the treasures hidden by others. Simplicity itself, it would seem.

Not so. As we've played the game and read the comments posted by other players, either on a cache page or on an internet bulletin board, or even face to face, it's clear that human beings behave like....well, human beings.

People cheat. They lie. They fudge the rules, maybe by getting help solving a puzzle. We've done the latter.

People disagree. Does it count if a group was out caching and only one member of the group climbed the tree? We've done this, too, but for every tree we did not climb, we can point to at least as many trees where we were the ones to climb and throw the cache down for others to sign.

People do all of these things, and for what? Bragging rights to some nebulous "honor" that, when shared outside the community, is often met with a puzzled expression or the question...."what do you get?"

What do we get? For us, even as we go after challenges, trying to follow the intent of the challenge as presented, we still get....time together, with each other and with friends. The chance to discover new places. The opportunity to have a bit of an adventure along the way. Encounters with a pair of wolves. A moment to stop and enjoy the beauty of nature in front of us. All these things and many more are what we get from following an arrow on a handheld navigational device.


One more thing we get? It's something we never really expected, starting out four years ago, but unlimited opportunities to watch human nature in action, even as that human nature interacts with nature.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The reports of my death are premature...

But I need a place to put this tombstone, so it can be used to log a geocache!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Bucket story

I did it. I signed on to committee work at school this year, more specifically the year long school theme committee. This year's theme....peace. The guidebook? A little book by Carol McCloud called "Have You Filled a Bucket?"

Early on, I was asked to help kick off the year during the first school assembly by telling that "story" to the kids. Couldn't do that. It is not a story, it's a guidebook to a life philosophy. Now, I know there are some of you who will say,
"Well, what story *isn't* a guidebook to some life philosophy?" True enough, but at least those have the elements of story; characters, setting, plot. This has none of those.

Instead, I told a story of a related nature. It was months ago; I can't even remember exactly what story it was, but I do remember many children coming up to me in the halls or in the lunchroom for a few days afterward, saying, "I really liked your story!"

That is actually the essence of Ms. McCloud's message. You fill the "buckets" of others and it fills your own. We had the privilege of hosting Ms. McCloud at our school yesterday. She did assemblies for the kids, an inservice for the teachers, had dinner with us, then presented to the community. The philosophy is so elegantly nice and you'll feel good. The kids at our school have been getting the message about being "bucket fillers" or "bucket dippers" don't want to be a dipper!...for 92 days now. After the visit yesterday, we enjoyed a day at school with all kinds of bucket filling...."Hi, Mrs. Calvetti, how are you doing?" A picture left on a teacher's desk by a kindergartner, "just because."

The one that made me smile was a young man with autism who came down to work with me and proceeded to give me one of his signature bear hugs. He asked to played Uno, and when he'd get those "draw 4" cards....which he always did...he'd chortle at me.
At one point, I stopped, looked at him and said, "You know....we're just kidding around with each other cause we're friends. What if you were doing that with another friend? Would it fill his bucket?"

To which my young friend replied, in his inimitable speech patterns...."I not need to worry, my bucket full!"

His bucket is indeed full. Let's all try and fill each others' buckets, something anyone can do for another these tough economic times, it costs nothing and means much.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The story can now be told!


We've kept quiet about this one for some time now. It's not as if it's a huge secret, but we just needed to let some time pass. What am I talking about? Why, the one time our geocaching hobby paid off in cash!

A couple months ago, the LaCrosse Sports Commission hosted a fall geocaching event. A workshop to teach about geocaching was held in one of the main city parks, with coordinates available for a number of temporary hides.

For the uninitiated....geocaching is basically hunting for junk in the woods using multimillion dollar satellites via a Global Positioning System, better known as a handheld GPSr. Players look up coordinates online for treasures hidden by others. You've probably passed some in your day to day travels. Just go to this website...

...type in your zip code and see what you find.

Anyway, players will go look for this stuff, then come back to the website and tell their stories about their hunt. For some, this is nothing more than "found it." However, being a storyteller, I can't let it stop at that, and most people tell me they enjoy what I post after our adventures.

There is another category of geocache hides, called "temporaries." These are not listed on the site, but placed for a short period of time, usually in connection with an event such as the one mentioned. Though not listed on the site, some folks have found ways of adding these to their "find count." We don't do that. If others do, we don't care, it's a game, after all. We just chose to log only the ones listed.

So, we have a story about one of the temporaries we found during this event and it deserves to be told somewhere. Isn't that what a blog is for?

So, after spending time at the clinic, where many thought we were part of the instructional staff, we finally broke away to join others in searching for the temps.
We found a few with an old friend who is an occasional cacher, then began entering all the coordinates into the GPSr to see where they were. Upon doing so, we noticed one all by itself, far removed from the rest. Could this be the money prize? You see, one of the temps had a certificate for a cash prize of $125. We figured we might as well try.

As we crossed the Mississippi and headed to the overlook high on the bluffs, our phone rang. It was one of the cachers who had helped to hide many of the caches for the event, wondering where we were. We told him, then asked where he was at.

"Oh, we're just hanging around one of the caches to see who shows up."

Hmm. Would we be seeing Tom shortly? We reached the site and headed down the trails to the area known as "ground zero." Accuracy of these things is contingent on so many things, but a well placed cache will have coordinates that get you within 30 feet of its location. Lots of trees, lots of leaves on the ground, and a clue that read "Piggin out on the view." We got to work.

Could it be that it was in a tree? These guys have been known to do that, and there was a likely tree that afforded a great river view, with what appeared to be a rope. Dick aka "Trekkin'"...geocachers have caching names....pulled on it to get himself up into searching position. Nothing. Back down to the ground, we searched more. Probably an hour all told. Finally, he decided to try one last time in the tree, grabbed that rope thing and....fell right on his back, from about seven feet up! Springing to his feet before feeling the pain, we could see he hadn't broken his back. Walking around a little more as I turned over dead logs, he said, "You aren't gonna believe it."


"I'm standing on it!"

Sure enough, close to our ground zero, was a little toy pig, glued to the top of a jar. We opened it and one had signed the log book yet! As we looked further we discovered....more coordinates? It's a multi-cache, one in which the searchers must find a series of caches before finding the final. We plugged those in and discovered we'd be crossing back into Wisconsin, heading for Granddad's Bluff. We figured we had a little advantage over others on this one. We knew the main road was closed, so we headed off on the detour. Arriving there, with it being a beautiful fall day, we were dismayed to see a group of people sitting right where we'd have to search. Well....might as well explain ourselves.

"Oh, we LOVE geocaching!" Oh no, had they already found the prize? We continued our search, with them taunting us, saying things like "I see something blue!" We checked one place that looked likely, and it appeared that the container was gone. However, I noticed something else suspicious, just beyond my reach. We called our friends to ask if it had been in the likely spot and they said, "No, but it will help you."

Aha! I knew just where it was, then. That other suspicious spot. Right by the main road to the city overlook, traveled constantly. Waiting for the traffic stream to pass, I grabbed the cut stump and dragged it to a traffic sign, where I loosened an already loose bolt, discovering rolled up inside more coordinates and another clue..."you'll be fined."

These coordinates took us just a short distance closer to the overlook and down the hill into the woods. Near this ground zero, we found an old firepit and began searching there, to no avail. Poking in other likely spots, Trekkin' found a bent pop can with a toy mouse in it. Hmm. What the....? Of course, littering is punishable by fine, and sure enough, there was the log and....a certificate for $125!

We were elated! As we were heading off to our car, the phone rang once more. It was our friend Tom, who had been just down the hill with his son and brother in law, watching our antics up there the whole time.

norski42 and kendog1, better known as Tom and Ken, have graced the Coulee Region with a large number of really clever and creative cache hides. This one was a masterpiece, but one that unfortunately could not be turned into a permanent cache because it didn't meet all the stated guidelines. So here is where I can tell the story of their wonderful multi-cache, with surely the best trade good we've ever found!


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Walmart Moment

There are these small moments in our lives that seem like nothing when they happen, but upon reflection, you realize....epiphany! I had such a moment this afternoon, in the most unlikely place to have an epiphany, Walmart. Although my friend Ben Rosenfield likes to quip that "God lives at Walmart," my feelings diverge from that viewpoint. Walmart, to me, is a place to be avoided. In fairness to the Walton family, it isn't just Walmart; I avoid any big box place that looks the same whether it's in Wisconsin, Iowa or Australia. Give me a small local business anytime, though it is hard to find them anymore.

Today, I had little choice, however. The secretary called down to my classroom to let me know the custodian thought it was my car with the flat, flat tire with a nail in it. Fair guess. Mine is the only car in the school parking lot with a storytelling bumper sticker. Sure enough, it was flatter than flat, and though the custodian filled the tire, it was hissing faster than the compressor could fill it. My best option at that point was to fill it, put the pedal to the metal and get to the nearest express auto center...which in this case was Super Walmart.

Off I went, and it being the lunch hour, the place was busy. An interesting group of us lined up at the counter: a young black man decked out in Bears outerwear; a well dressed office worker lady; a gothic looking young couple with all visible body parts pierced multiple times; and myself, local educator dressed for Friday casual, since this is the last school day before break. We all stood there, wordless, which it seems is often the case while waiting in line, especially with such a diverse looking group. Finally, the office worker lady said to the Bears fan, "Sorry about last week!"

This is Packer country, folks. Yes, the Green Bay Packers have a following, even when they play as they did last night, which was embarrassing. That opened the door. We were all sharing our personal football raves and faves, offering false condolences to the Bears fan, who simply tossed it back after last night's game.

Football talk. Not exactly the "high art" of storytelling, but as I was driving home from work on my newly patched tire, it struck me; would we even have said a word to one another if the door hadn't been opened to share our football stories? This was the kind of group sociologists would love to analyze, each of us so different from the next as to be part of our own little subculture.

Stories unite us, open doors of commonality and allow us to connect with one another, pierced or perfectly coiffed, black or pale white. And to think...this epiphany brought to you by Walmart, always the low price!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Joy during state standardized testing?

As an educator in the public schools, it's my duty to help administer the mandated high stakes standardized tests, known in Wisconsin as the WKCE (Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination). As a special education teacher, my duty involves giving the test to a small group of special ed students with testing modifications written into their Individual Education Plans. We won't even go into opinions on the value of these tests here. Let's just leave it that it's not anyone's favorite time of year, teachers or kids.

So why is the title of this blog post asking about joy during the testing period? I have three fifth grade boys who are taking the test with me, starting before our long weekend break and finishing up this coming week. It's long and grueling. They are in special education for a reason, and that makes such tasks even more grueling for them. Plus, they tend to finish up quickly, in spite of all those teacherly admonitions to "take your time and check over your answers." What to do when they're all done and can't go back to the classroom to join their classmates who actually [b]are[/b] taking their time? The answer to me was obvious....a story!

I started their testing sessions with a short tale to relax them and allow for some tension relief. If it had been up to them, we'd have skipped the paper and pencil stuff and just told stories. Since it was right before Halloween, we did the scary stuff. "Jack and the Haunted House" was a great hit. Images of the headless body breaking off a finger, lighting it and handing it to Jack to use as a torch are just the antidote to test anxiety, especially for 11 year old boys!

Of course, they still finished early. Time for the old campfire tale about the boy taking the short cut past the creepy old house, following the voice that called "Turn me over..." to discover a burnt burger on a grill. These boys can't [b]wait[/b] for their next testing session now! Oh, they could easily skip the test administration, as could I, but they know they'll have a personal storytelling session each session, and seem to think they're hot stuff to have been placed in my group.

I do think that given all the anecdotal reports, as well as some of the current brain research, on storytelling and its positive impact on learning, it would be interesting to do controlled studies to see if perhaps, a little bit of Jack before the WKCE has a positive effect on the all-powerful test scores. It certainly brings a little joy into an otherwise loathsome task.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Weather woes and storytelling.....

It finally happened. My first cancellation due to the weather. I guess that living where I do, Wisconsin, I should be glad it hadn't happened before now. Of course, we haven't had a real winter before now! This winter has been like the winters of childhood...snow fell early on and never really left, but continued to pile up, with occasional melts to keep the snowpiles at street corners from towering over our home.
I've been out cross country skiing. Snowshoed twice, even. Since living in Coulee Country...resident since 1980...we've rarely had snow deep enough to bother with snowshoes. Not so this season. Although I've been out twice, there are many more hikes where I've found myself saying "Man, we could have done with the snowshoes here!"

However, I digress from the topic at hand. Sunday I had been booked to do my "Bird Tales" program for the Zumbro Valley Audubon Club at Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester. I enjoy these gigs, because those in attendance share that passion for all things birdy that I have, and it's gratifying to be in the company of like-minded souls. My husband had planned to join me, geocaching along the way and maybe even during my program.

Saturday evening, the weathermen were actually right this time. Temperatures started to plummet well below zero. Winds kicked up, gusting at times near 50 MPH, slamming the side of our house. By Sunday morning, there were whiteouts on the route I'd travel, and the state patrol was advising against unnecessary travel.

My contact person emailed, then called. I was prepared to make the 70 mile trip, as I'd agreed. The nice people at Zumbro Valley Audubon were concerned about the safety of travel, and frankly, whether many folks would turn out this month. Though I'd been looking forward to this gig, I was secretly relieved. Telling to one or two people just doesn't provide the energy for the teller to shine. Hopefully when they contact me for next year, the weather will be fairer. For now, I can add this experience to my list of "yeah, I'm a real storyteller now, I had a cancellation!"