Our Country’s Grand Canyon

mountains majesty
AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN

 

I am weirdly patriotic. As cynical as I often feel about our country–about its sanctity of capitalism, its perverse bureaucracies–I have a ready-made soft spot for the pageantry of this land.

In the years following September 11th, I teared up singing the third verse of “America”: Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears….

When I traveled to Washington for work, I was drawn to the avenues crowded with granite-faced monuments, testaments of our people’s hard-fought efforts.

I choke up anytime a military officer tenderly hands a spouse the flag that moments ago draped a casket. It doesn’t matter whose.

There is something comforting about our systems, the simple drawings of our order: the conformity of interstate highway markings, the plain hues of printed money. Even the modern aesthetic of National Park signs moves me, the efforts to carefully note the blessed continental cathedrals wrought by time and, depending on your point of view, the Creator. Continue reading “Our Country’s Grand Canyon”

In Memoriam: Kathryn Stripling Byer

Kathryn Stripling Byer
IN MEMORIAM

 

A poet who sang, who shared, but above all, who inspired.

 

I have a clear memory from the end of a British Lit course in college: we were packing up our things, and the professor called me to the podium¬†to hand back a poem I’d given him the week before. “It’s good,” he said. “And the poet of the house likes it, too.”

The professor was easily among my favorites, and as anyone knows by now a young writer handing his verse to an inspiring teacher needs only “good” to make his day. But the second part–the part about the poet of the house–meant even more.

That poet, Kathryn Stripling Byer, would later become the first female Poet Laureate of North Carolina and a member of our state’s Literary Hall of Fame. She passed away today after a brief illness. Continue reading “In Memoriam: Kathryn Stripling Byer”

The Beautiful Story of a D-Rated School

EDUCATION

 

Letter grades can’t possibly tell the whole story of a school. An inside look at the passionate work of a school our state says is a letter away from failing.

(Author’s note: this story was originally published in September 2015.)

A few weeks ago, my wife began her fifteenth year teaching elementary school music. She’s been in the same classroom and the same school for her entire career, and she’s seen thousands of kids come through her hallway.

She enjoys her job; she teaches every kid in the building, so she’s kind of like a local celebrity. We rarely can make it through the grocery store (or anywhere around town) without someone running up to her, hugging her leg, and running off with a smile. It’s a happy thing to see.

This week, though, her school received a North Carolina school performance grade of D. Continue reading “The Beautiful Story of a D-Rated School”