Stories of Autumn

On Saturday I went looking for signs of autumn and was not disappointed.  The most extraordinary assortment of reds and yellows was, surprisingly, lying in the gravel along Baseline Road not far from the Seed.  A year ago I went on a similar hunt for leaves to show the children in my Saturday yoga class.  I couldn’t believe how long it took me that day to find a tree that even mildly resembled fall.  I was determined to find better examples for this year’s group.

Around this time of year, throughout most of my professional career, I often attended the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention.  It’s usually held in a gray, cold city of the midwest or east coast.  As I scurried from one location to the next, bundled in my once-a-year black wool coat, there was never a shortage of autumn artifacts.  I frequently gathered up leaves of wild hues and stuffed them in the books I was carrying.  By the time I returned back to the desert, they were nicely pressed and ready to share with the kids in my classroom.  In addition to the leaves I came home with, there was always a fresh supply of inspiration from national speakers, children’s authors, and conversations with colleagues I saw only once a year.  I saw the newest releases in children’s literature and annually collected autographs from my favorite authors.  One of my finest moments was the year I presented my story of teaching poetry to two students with autism, with Ted Kooser, the US Poet Laureate, seated in the audience.

Mingling among some of the finest minds in literacy education, I always came home with a deeper appreciation for our Seed community.  As I heard of challenges from others around the country who faced large classes, budget cuts, and the demands of standardization, I always felt grateful for the space and freedom we have to do what we believe is best for children.  The world of the Seed always seemed so small in comparison to the New York City public schools.  Yet as I witnessed others’ responses to my stories, I knew it was important to keep telling them.

The last NCTE convention I attended was two years ago in Philadelphia.  Although I had a great time, I knew it was my last convention.  I still had stories to tell, but realized I’d reached a point where they needed to be told in a new way.  I understood that I didn’t need to go somewhere else, I could tell them right from home.   Over the years my work with NCTE and the people I met through the organization, shaped me a writer.  They taught me that the best stories arise from everyday life in a school, from my garden, my family and friends.  My colleagues helped me see that a story worth telling can even be found in a pile of autumn leaves, lying in gravel, beside a busy road.

4 thoughts on “Stories of Autumn

  1. Dear Mary, I just got home from NCTE’s 100th anniversary in Chicago. It was just as you describe–complete with gray skies and wind; and like you, I had to search for my coat (it’s
    82 degrees here in Austin). I wish I had brought back a leaf pressed into my book. Oh, how I love the image of you doing that! Indeed, I have missed you these last years at NCTE, but I am thankful that I can find you in the gorgeous words of your blog and your poems. Peace, Katherine

  2. I think that you brought me some of those autumn leaves from back east to share with my class. I do still miss those autumn leaves from New York.
    Thank you for this beautiful writing. It touched my heart.


  3. I remember finding some of the lost leaves in books long after the return to our home. The best thing about finding the leaves was the reminder that nothing is ever really lost or alone.

  4. I missed you at NCTE, Mary, but somehow I knew that you were in Phoenix doing something poetic and real like searching for colorful leaves. (Karen brought your greetings!) I actually spent Thanksgiving raking leaves at my cousin’s house in Oak Park, the first suburb west of Chicago, as she recovers from surgery and radiation. If I had known I would have saved the best specimens and mailed them to you. Thanks for sending this! Love, Susan

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