A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
Memory hadn't failed; exhaustion is triumphing, and the night has turned over a quarter-hour into morning. Now it comes back why six years of teaching youngsters was the limit.
But the experience of today was marvelous, and until I was able to relax in the late afternoon, had little to do with music. The campers arrive at the ferry dock, moving away from their towering parents and within minutes growing into life-size people. Chess boards are already working on the only table available -- a split bench on either side of the information board. Some boards are balanced on stone barriers, others on knees, and even a few on the ground.
The Valcour arrives, discharges its few cars coming across to Vermont from Port Kent, New York, and opens for our group -- with instructors, counselors, trainees and chaperones, it is a crowd of some fifty. The ferry is small and unremarkable, with the captain in a cabin to port and the car deck on top. A crowded cabin below has booths and tables, a snack bar, and a souvenir shop. Some snacks are of interest, but more important are the games. It's inexplicable beyond how dull it must seem -- a bunch of kids playing chess in a stuffy cabin in near ninety-degree heat. But there's a palpable thrill in the air. Unfettered by parents or teachers, these young folks come alive with their own power to imagine whole worlds from bits of plastic and cardboard and wood.
And it's not just a serious demeanor of intellectuals. It is a passion that, were it not for the concept of chess as a game of the intellect or the evil mind of a Fu-Manchu (both fortunately dispelled by films such as Knights of the South Bronx), would be cheered as any competitive sport. For it is competitive, even while it can be harbor a sense of wild exploration. Tournament games are played against a clock, but games for fun -- and breaks are frequently taken for these -- consist of a clock set to five or two or even one minute, wherein a complete chess game takes place. Pawns are pummeled, knights knocked down, and kings checked and checkmated as fast as the hands can move.
The longer games are built from the dozens (eventually hundreds or thousands) of historical games studied, and the individual moves or collections of moves creating patterns akin to an endless scroll of baroque music -- but moving inevitably toward a conquest rather than a coda. The short games are improvisatory and, like all improvisation, built upon licks exchanged and understood in a flash of insight. Nothing is left behind in these improvisations, nothing recorded for posterity. But skills are built and attention sharpened.
We arrive across the lake in little over a half hour. The group comes tumbling out of the ferry, down a short path, and onto the grass by the understocked and overpriced snack bar. The toilets are shut for repairs. Kids have to change in closets and portapotties, but it doesn't matter. There is beach and sun and swings and sand-castle building and more games of chess (at no moment are fewer than four games in progress) -- and the promise of pizza for lunch.
Morning cycles into afternoon as sweaty youngsters grab some juice and run back to the beach, and others play each other while waiting to play the instructors. The weather peaks in the mid-nineties, and an alert comes across the radio: severe thunderstorms are heading our way. As the thunderheads build over the Adirondacks to the west, everyone gathers their packs and boards and moves into the shelter and into the snackbar and into anything that will hold them and their steamy cargo. The storm crashes into the building, washes away sand castles, and drenches everyone running for left-behind items. Undeterred by spraying rain, some play in the safety of eaves.
The weather clears in an almost Beethovenian way, and our jolly peasants rush back out to the beach, games, and in wait of pizza. Unfortunately, a combination of misunderstandings and homeland security directives prevent our pizzas from being loaded in Burlington. The incoming ferry has no food. Pizzas are ordered locally, and don't arrive for another two hours -- while the kids, in other circumstances likely to melt down into angry puddles of childishness, hardly notice save for an occasional "are the pizzas here yet?"
The pizza is gone quickly. More games are played. Sand castles are photographed for display back in the classroom tomorrow. The ferry arrives, and a quiet & tired group begins the journey back to Vermont and family. The storms are gone, and the water is quiet, a reminder of the long scope of the world's colors and rhythms.
More tomorrow if more blissful exhaustion doesn't demand a cover of night...
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