Saturday, January 14, 2017

Zip-lining with Monkeys

In celebration of my dear mother's 80th birthday, I've chosen to allocate my three precious district-provided personal days, and escape January in America for St. Maarten.  It's a beautiful place that is nothing like the beautiful farmland that surrounds my home in Lancaster County -- yet "change is good," (that's what some people say.) **

Indeed, St. Maarten is an island paradise, with all of the things that my husband detests - sun, sand, water, and starfish and anchors on clothing - so this girls-only adventure provided an opportunity to visit somewhere not on our joint bucket list.  In addition to the three of us, we also have the females of the next generation with us; my daughter, Kristin, and nieces Abby and Juliette.

On our first full day of the trip, we made our way to Loterie Farm on the French side of the island in Pic Pardis, at the highest point. It seemed to make sense that we'd tour the single main road that loops the entire island, and venture to this high-point to take in the sights. The view is spectacular, and the documented history of the land goes back to 1721.  The fact that the land has been turned into a retreat sanctuary adds to its beauty, because those venturing there have a genuine interest in maintaining the past -- oh, and flying through the trees with monkeys.  

It's no secret that I am 55 years old, and have more metal in my body than some small hardware stores.  Those who know me don't consider me to be the most graceful person on the planet, and some of those who love me actually own a t shirt that says "Never Trust Banana Pudding"since it took me out of commission for half a semester after a concussion.  

Yet somehow, zip-lining with monkeys seemed like something I needed to do.

As an educator reflecting back on this experience, I can't help but point out the educational parallels between zip-lining through a high-ropes obstacle course, and teaching.  The guides for this experience were fabulous educators.  They strapped us into the harnesses, and clearly demonstrated how to transfer clips from the harnesses onto the cables mounted in the trees.  We learned that one glove was good enough for Michael Jackson's Thriller, and was certainly adequate for our adventure as well.  After this brief Activating Strategy, which included the euphoric tales of those who just completed the adventure returning in front of us and stripping themselves out of harnesses, we were off.


The ladder of no-turning-back....
 The vertical climb to the first platform seemed pretty daunting, but I had paid the money, and we had waited quite a while to be invited to start - and my daughter was already climbing, and clipping, and climbing, and clipping, in front of me.  It truly was a "now or never" experience.  






Tightwire

That ladder led to a platform to the first tightwire, which was probably ten feet off the ground.  My sainted mother was sitting on a bench below us, looking relatively terrified.  (After all, she's spent the last 55 years dragging me to emergency rooms for injuries sustained in far less dramatic fashion than this.) 

Without a complete blow-by-blow of each and every obstacle, be aware that each platform took us higher into the trees, with increasing intensity and difficulty, with less and less scaffolding provided.  (Just like the progression of new learning in the classroom.)

Rope bridge
The rope walk was among the most difficult challenges for my 5'2" daughter and I to do, as we struggled to reach the guide wire above, while still keeping our feet on the net. (This picture has two guide-wires, while we had one wire overhead.)  The educator in me was screaming for an additional wire to differentiate for the vertically challenged among us.

Nine times throughout the course, we attached our apparatus and glided on a zip line to the next stop.  These were welcome, and thrilling, rest opportunities -- not unlike the points in the semester when I get to sit back and watch students presentations, while someone else does the teaching. 

Balance beam

 There were rounded logs, and swinging balance beams.  There were rope bridges that looked like something from the Road Runner, with random spacing between the planks.  And suddenly I heard a voice from behind me - Anna, the Ecology major from Wisconsin who knew enough about me to identify my body for the medics if I fell, yell "MONKEYS!"

The front of a monkey (I can identify the back)
My goal was to zip line with monkeys.  To face my fears, to finish the obstacle.  I saw a furry butt, and a long tail.  I was 30 feet in the air on a crazy-spaced plank bridge that required focus on the complicated footwork.  I couldn't back up and gaze at monkeys, and I had no camera to capture their images.  I called to Kristin, with a Go Pro mounted to her head, hoping she'd catch a glimpse.  (We later found out that the Go Pro was actually a Stop Pro during this entire adventure, and captured nothing!)

We conquered the last bridge, and encountered a tree -- with no platform.  We had been warned about this final exam:  Use the tree to get around to the other side, clip and slide down the line, climb another giant ladder, and head down the final line to where my  family was waiting.  The designers of this course had thought of everything, as they scaffolded this adventure for their learners.  There were guides on the platforms in the beginning, to reassure, demonstrate, and double-check for understanding.   When we got to the tree with no platform or net, there was a quiet observer on the ground, wearing the identifying blue polo indicating he was an employee, calling us "Beautiful," and encouraging us -- not telling us -- how to succeed.

Kristin
Feeling Confident



























Landing on the last platform and being offered rum punch provided adequate time for our summarizing activity, as we swapped stories with the rest of Anna's group from Wisconsin, along with some others who had risen to the occasion and triumphed.


Tomorrow, I'm headed home, and back to my classroom next week.  The end of the semester is upon us, and there's a platform covered in padding waiting for each student to glide home.
And lined up on the deck above, is a whole new class list of students, waiting to search for monkeys in places they've never dreamed they could reach.

**(Editorial comment:  When my sister, mother, and I get together, there are certain phrases that become part of the vernacular for the trip, and the aforementioned parenthetical comment is one such example.)