February 2nd, 2011
Today was a gift sent to us from on high – from God? the weather reporter? the school board? – and before the day is completely done, I want to offer up thanks. Snow days are not an everyday occurrence in Toronto, whether it is because Buffalo habitually swallows up the majority of the moisture that lifts off Lake Erie, or because we in Toronto remember better our ancient past when our forebears wouldn’t think twice about trudging through the snow to school (uphill). It is supposedly the first time since Mayor Mel called in the army in 1999 that we have enjoyed a snow day. And enjoy, I have. And more than that, my experience taught me something about education – the education of the body.
After getting the announcement out to our school community that we were closing up shop for the day, and dispatching a reasonable morning’s worth of emails, I headed out through the drifts to the shed at the back of the property – 10 meter’s distance, no less – to dig out my cross-country skis. While neighbours stood sentinel in Ken Dryden stance, shovels clasped firmly under their chins, I silently glided past, evoking the occasional smile and friendly comment. Parenthetically, it is worthy of note that humans respond much better than do dogs to the cross country skier – last week’s foray into the ravines leading down to the Brickworks resembled a WWII prisoner-of-war escape movie, except set in the steppes of Russia, complete with snarling dogs of all sizes and descriptions that were bound and determined to bring me to justice.
Today the dogs must have been snuggling safely inside – wondering, no doubt, what would possess humans to want to push and throw the snow this way and that – as I was able to proceed unchased through the near-virgin snow of the side streets, choosing this tire track or another as a convenient guide for my skis. I learned that shushing down Pottery Road hill on the sidewalk is made dangerous, not so much by the traffic, but by the occasional salt patch, one of which pitched me first forward, then backwards, finally propelling me into a (thankfully) deep and forgiving snow bank. I was no worse for wear – although I’m sure my backside carried evidence of my fall from gracious form – and I carried on my way.
My destination was the trail along the Don River, which meanders through the heart of Toronto, blissfully unaware of the six lane highway that accompanies it on its way to the shores of Lake Ontario. Sandwiched between the river and the constant shhhh sound of the cars that bear the working, but not teaching, citizens to their cubicles in the sky, I kept my head down and focused on the thin track that had been set by a fellow skier.
I have both skied and run this trail before, but never before had I allowed music to share the journey with me. Today was different, as I had recently been shown, techno-dinosaur that I am, that yes, that wire can be plugged into that Blackberry, and that I, too, can look like every other city dweller, with long black earrings hanging from my ears and disappearing into my upper garments, miraculously drawing sounds from my pocket. I have resisted this modern penchant for constant music for quite some time. I virtuously asserted to myself (no one else would listen) that I wanted to be in the moment, connected to my environment, whether it be the deep woods, or the interior of a subway car. I think I have finally decided that the interior of a subway car is highly over rated. Hence the advent of the new, plugged-in me.
So, although for those who might have spied me from the Danforth subway cars I appeared a solitary skier, I was not entirely alone. Franz Schubert was right there with me. And thanks to Schubert, I became acutely aware of the rhythm of the body in motion. The lilting rhythms of Schubert’s melodies gave me the impression that I was not just skiing, but was dancing across the snow. I was reminded once again that part of what I love about sports is the sheer beauty of the body in rhythm. I have often likened the basketball player or the diving football receiver to the ballet dancer, and for me, on this day, I was able to experience that beauty firsthand.
All of which suggests to me that we have a great duty in our schools to educate our children so that they can live a life in which they find opportunities to reconnect with beauty through their bodies. I hear of so many adults who see their children’s sports in terms of competition and being in the best leagues, when the vast majority of mature adults never experience sports (except virtually, from the couch), or their bodies, in these ways. It is with good reason that we call that course that occurs in the gym Physical Education, and not Sports.
And there is every reason to expose our students to a wide variety of physical expressions. At The York School, we have always balanced the learning of competitive sports with the learning of other recreations, such as dance and yoga. I now appreciate that these early experiences of a wide variety of movements, rhythms and balance reside with us throughout our lives, to be reawakened, either by our own bodies’ movement, or in response to the movements of others. How much more do we enjoy watching a sport or recreation that we have played, as our bodies’ have developed empathy for the rhythms inherent in the activity?
So it was, that a snow day became a school day in which my body’s experience taught me a thing or two about how to prepare our children’ bodies for a life of rhythm and beauty.