Introducing The Meander

The fall issue of The Meander, a literary magazine published by students of Rio Del Sol, drops this week. Read the introduction to our debut issue below.   

When I was hired to come to Rio, I was given a challenge, a mission, posed by Dr. Puglisi as a question: How are we going to help the river find its way in the next hundred years? I’d left the Midwest where I lived most all my life a literal stone’s throw from the Mississippi River. To my mind, rivers are big shouldered, carrying barges of grain or crude. Standing on the berm along the Santa Clara River for the first time, I thought, where is the water? This is a very different river, and I have much to learn.

Rivers elbow and oxbow their way through landscape and through our imaginations. They have their sources in the land itself, an identity shaped by geography, climate, and culture. They meander. “Meandering,” writes Ted Leeson, “is the curve of curiosity and exploration and sometimes of discovery – digressive and indirect.” The answer to Dr. P’s question lies in following the literal and figurative bends and eddies of our respective rivers.

The literal threats to our waterways are well documented, worrying. The Colorado, for example, dammed and tapped for agriculture, runs dry before reaching the Gulf of California. Our own Santa Clara, veined with pesticide, trickles to the ocean. Iconic steelhead cannot reach headwaters in order to fan spawning redds into gravel.

Figuratively, we too, emerging from a pandemic, have lost our way. Schools struggle. Economies struggle. Impenetrable dams stack up dividing people. The aesthetic of the meander, a curve painter William Hogarth deemed “the most aesthetically perfect of all shapes” (qtd in Leeson), has been forgotten, channelized, sanitized, anesthetized. 

This magazine – the stories, poems and artwork, you’ll find here – is our best effort to dynamite some dams. Story, that is how we will help the river find its way. Follow the currents and eddies of our efforts here. Explore and discover with us. Let us know what you notice. It is our hope to reestablish some connection with this work – connections with each other, connections with place.

2021 Was the Year That…

Coffee steamed from our Rt 66 mugs. The sun wouldn’t brighten rooms for another couple hours. Everyone else slept. Rain tapped window glass. 

“…then the biologist said, ‘the captain has just informed me that sonar indicates two large shadows directly under the boat. Small fish hide in the shadow of the boat. The humpbacks have figured that out. Be alert, they could surface anywhere.’ On anywhere, the whales exhaled just off the stern of the boat. The sound was leathery, like a blacksmith’s bellows. They were twenty feet away. We could smell their breath! Briny. Fishy.”

“Yes,” she said, “I’m glad you’ve been able to see the things you’ve seen.” She paused; it felt like she was trying to convince herself of the truth in what she had said. I know she wishes I’d not moved to California. I know she’s not the only one who wishes so.

I’d not been home in over two years. 

Over a second cup of coffee, she told me stories of her work at the KoA campground – the comings and goings, a caravan of characters moving about the Midwest, all searching for something or fleeing something. Modern-day Joads. 

When I was in fifth grade, my mom and I read together Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. We hiked with George and Lenny through Salinas. Hid out with them on the banks of a slow and green river.

In Big Sur, I told her, I placed my hands against the trunk of a redwood, the crevices in the bark six inches deep, and looked up into the canopy. I imagined Steinbeck or Hunter Thompson doing the same and finding in the branches their stories. 

***

Not entirely unlike the Joads, three years ago, we packed everything that would fit, plus two cats and a dog, into a pickup truck and headed west. The dream we set off after has proven elusive. Where we expected to find flowing rivers, we found dry washes. There are many who would interpret any expression of regret as an admission of failure. Others, overtly or otherwise, have wished failure on this adventure. To be sure, the past three school years have been the most difficult of my career – of any teacher’s career, of any learner’s, I’d argue. The vision that brought us to California is now out of focus. The dream morphing the way dreams do. It would be a lie to say I have no regrets. 

I’ve never been one to make resolutions. Besides their inevitable failure, they have always seemed to me like apologies or regrets. A philosophy, however, of “no regrets,” I’m realizing, is an arrogant and selfish one. Brene Brown has written and spoken of regret as a tough but fair teacher, that regret is an aspect of empathy. Who among us hasn’t, with the clarity of hindsight said, “If I had that to do again, I’d have done it differently.” Of course I have regrets. What I want to guard against is for regret to degrade into resentment. Regret is healthy reflection. Resentment, a bitter toxin.

I still will refrain from making a resolution. I will, however, own my regrets. I vow to do better.