Bend But Don’t Break

The South Fork of the American River was alive and kicking during our late May visit to the Coloma Outdoor Discovery School (CODS). The roar of the record Sierra snowmelt as it passed over Troublemaker rapids, just upstream from the CODS campus, drown out the raucous calls of the carpentaros, working on their granary tree.

As was my usual habit, I rose with the quail and headed out to sketch, before all 85 fourth graders were up and about. I wanted to sketch the old iron Coloma Bridge (1917). This was the bridge that brought us from the small town of Coloma, across the American ( just upstream from the gold “discovery ” site) to the CODS campus.

I found a picnic bench and started sketching. Some sketches turn into a labryinth of lines that test my powers of perspective so I took another sip of coffee, turned the page, and turned 90 degrees to the left.

A quick riverside sketch of the bank at CODS that is now under water as a Canada goose looks on.

I though I’d sketch something more organic: the river itself. The South Fork of the American seemed to be barely contained within its banks. Now here was a metaphor (a comparison I frequently point out to fourth graders). Trees, young saplings, where bent, their green leaves almost touching the rushing waters. These young ones had survived one of the river’s bigger deluges. Just as my fourth graders had stood tall this year, especially at Coloma. They’ve had to battle late spring high temps, mosquitos, the intricacies of the Virginia Reel, the fear of the unknown, not finding enough gold in the diggins, not getting the top bunk, and homesickness.  Bend but don’t break,  and like these saplings, they stood tall.

These trees and my students inspired a poem which I added to my river sketch (painted of course with the waters of the American).


In the year of the deluge

Tree bend but don’t break.

Roots covered in swollen waters

Reminds me of my charges

Struggling to stand tall

Against forces bent to topple.

Bend but don’t break,

Is all I can offer,

Bend but don’t break

As green, new growth

Implores the early morning sun

To shine and I say “shine”.

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