Broaden the Size of Your Back Porch – Back Porch Tales Part 7 of 7

Determined to break the bonds of fear and to broaden the size of my back porch, I explored nearby nature spots. As I walked and savored my growing sense of safety and well-being, it felt as if each aspect of nature had a wonderful story to tell.

“Depart not from the path which fate has you assigned.”
– Chinese Fortune Cookie


When I was eleven, a girl of my own age, Betty Jean Necessary, was tragically murdered while walking in the woods. I was so traumatized that I no longer indulged in my favorite pastime of exploring without great fear. Years later, I decided it was time to broaden the size of my back porch. I drove to parks and other places of interests. Following my instincts and inner wisdom, not only did I feel safe, I found that each aspect of nature had a wonderful story to share. Please enjoy the seventh part in my series of Deb’s Back Porch Tales.


May 12, 1999
A Rainstorm in my Back Yard in Knoxville, TN

This is a cleansing rain. This is a purifying rain. It is also God’s tears when people choose to mis-use their free will and commit such atrocities as the shootings in Littleton, Colorado. First to commit murder, then to commit suicide! There is no escape from the consequences of their acts, not even in death. Those two will pay to the uttermost farthing as far into eternity as necessary until the karmic debt incurred is finally paid off. Who is responsible for their debt? Those two boys – yes. Their parents – partially. Their teachers – partially. Their fellow students – partially and not at all, depending on if they were kind, indifferent, or mean to those two and their friends. The media – partially. The creators and perpetuators of the violent video games they espoused – probably more so than others. The NRA – partially. There are many, many culprits in this crime and all will pay in their own particular way and in their own particular time.

Now we sense you wondering about your own dealings with your students. We would like you to be more careful about the young man who is clearly unpopular in your third period class. He has not yet learned how to manage his dealings in a mature fashion. Be more patient with his mistakes and be more active in jumping to his defense when the others get critical of him. You have come a long way, but still, you can do more to make your room a safe place. He is not likely to be one of those who comes to school with a gun, but he too feels labeled as a bit of an outcast. Every student and every teacher are partially responsible for making that a reality. Be very gentle of him and others like him. He is worthy of the extra time that this may require. You are your brother’s keeper.


May 16, 1999 – Orange mushrooms
Approaching Grotto Falls off of Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Great Smoky Mountains

Eye-catching is our color in the midst of so much green and brown. Mushrooms growing on a decaying log just off the path. Flower-like in appearance, yet some would consider us a blight. An outcast perhaps? It is hard, we are aware, to know exactly how to find that right balance between being tender of the feelings of those who might consider themselves or are considered to be outcasts and to also teach to the masses. It is not something that can easily be done without outside intervention. Watchful prayer and the on-going desire to be of service to those students entrusted to your care will be your safeguard. But each day, you need to spend some moments monitoring your personal level of progress in this regard. Depending on the student, it is possible that it would be best to take one of your planning periods and counsel with him or her – providing they are willing. This particular young man who haunts your thoughts would be a good candidate for one of these talks. Affirm his specialness by again acknowledging that he dances to the beat of a different drummer. Reassure him that in high school, he is likely to find many kindred souls in the drama club. But ask him to analyze along with you what he is doing to perpetuate the problem as it seems he is sometimes purposely going out of his way to annoy the other students in the class. Remind him that in high school, he will pretty much be able to begin with a clean slate. He needs to be cautious of how he chooses to write on that slate. He has a strong spirit and possesses some leadership qualities. He is talented and loves to perform. He needs to find ways to maintain his strength yet be considerate of the sensibilities of others around him who do not understand those who can not or will not conform to what they consider the norm. You have been selected for this task. We have faith you will succeed in making a difference in his life.


May 16, 1999
1.2 mile hike approaching Grotto Falls off of Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Great Smoky Mountains

Many are the ways that trees can flourish, even in the most unlikely places. Years ago, this was a seedling who found a place to build its nest on some soil that had accumulated on this large rock. Year by year, it nestled in more and more strongly. Now look at it. It is strong and invincible. Its roots have grown on top of and now all around this rock. Multiple are the ways that nature finds to remind us of the wisdom inherent within our souls.

Is it nurture or nature that makes the difference? Is it environment or genetics that will determine the level of success of a particular student? It is all of these and none of these. When a child comes into your classroom to be taught, you must work hard to foster his or her growth so that he or she feels strong enough to tenaciously flourish no matter what obstacles may fall upon his or her path. You must carefully cultivate the right atmosphere in your classroom. All are deserving of your love and care. All students have the right to feel safe to be who they are. Give them the tools so that they too can grow and flourish, even in the unlikeliest of places. It makes such a difference when teachers seek to discover and verbalize the strengths inherent within each student. It is part of your job to learn their names as quickly as possible and affirm these strengths just as quickly as you can discover them. As students observe that you find qualities to admire in each of them, as they feel affirmed as a person of unique talents, the more ready they will be to recognize the worth of their fellow classmates. Your vision of these students may begin to be the way that they are related to by their peers. Elevate their status by working to discover and comment upon their special talents. That is part of your job.


May 16, 1999
1.2 mile hike approaching Grotto Falls off of Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Great Smoky Mountains

As you stare at these lichen-encrusted hollowed-out logs, you speculate on the wisdom inherent within this scene. You wonder if these were hollow trees to begin with, or if this happened just as part of the decaying process. Many are the wonders inherent in nature. Many are the questions that can be asked. Many are the answers to be handed out. Each time, the answers and the wisdom shared can be totally unique as it all depends on the individual doing the asking and the current questions that this same individual is struggling with. As you passed by these logs, you were thinking about perception. You were trying to come up with some specific ways to teach your students about perception. The wisdom that came to you was the following: it is all about each human being either feeling worthwhile or worthless. First, one must become convinced of one’s own worth. Then, one by one, embrace and venerate one’s fellow man. Your job is to convince your students of their own worthiness. Just because these logs appear hollow now, does not mean that this was always the case. Once, they were full of the life’s blood of the tree. Your students are not hollowed-out hulls. They are worthy of one’s esteem and are capable of seeing the worth and worthiness of their fellow classmates. It is your job to set up the class atmosphere to bring this condition into effect. All are worthy regardless of their appearance or the opinions of the masses. Perception is everything. Help them to perceive their worth.


May 16, 1999
1.2 mile hike approaching Grotto Falls off of Roaring Fork Motor Trail
Great Smoky Mountains

This tree appears twisted as it reaches toward the sky while its trunk and roots cling tenaciously to the top of a slowly eroding bank. Just so, you also feel a bit twisted with the demands you place upon yourself to truly be a person who will be a healing presence for the people who come synchronistically into your life. Sometimes, it may feel overwhelming, and you long for the days when you were not so conscious of your responsibilities. Sometimes, it feels like a blessed opportunity that you are so grateful to be a part. Sometimes, you question if you are truly worthy and capable of bringing this dream into fruition. You are capable and you are worthy. This dream is slated to become a reality. It is up to you to make this happen with the help and aid of God who resides within, without, and everywhere. But it is essential that you constantly replenish your spiritual and emotional strength by taking care of your spirit. Though those who read this travelogue may view it as only a bunch of picturesque photos, to you it is a handbook of directions and counsel to keep you feeling whole and strong as you walk the path that destiny has assigned. Though the path may appear rocky at times, depart not from this path. God will be your guard and your guide and an ever-present source of strength. “Let go and let God.”

Epilogue: These words were written toward the end of the first year I was assigned to teach a Conflict Resolution class in an East Tennessee middle school. I went on to teach this class for four more years until a budget-cut forced the school to cut out many of their special programs. I taught over 500 students a year conflict resolution strategies, character education techniques, and public speaking skills. The class was called Communication Skills. During that 1998 to 2003 job, I created over 3000 pages of curriculum for the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. I was really sorry to see this program come to an end as it was a great success and one of my dream jobs. Sadly, that curriculum gathers dust in my storage room. Perhaps one day, there will be a school or group of schools visionary enough that will enable me to dust off that curriculum and bring it back to life once again

My original plan was to eventually try to get this material published as an additional source of revenue. In light of the two eleven year-old boys who recently committed suicide due to the acidic effects of bullying, I made a decision. Instead of continuing to allow this material to gather dust, I decided to post as many of these stories, class activities, and role-plays as I could in the hopes that it would be of benefit to others.

Therefore, feel free to help yourself to FREE stories, role-plays, and conflict resolution lesson plans on my School Conflict Resolution Examiner writing page. You are welcome to make use of this material as you work with kids. I will be adding more material in the days and weeks to come.

If the scenes we view in nature could talk, what would they say? This is Part 7 of a 7-part series. View the slideshow of the pictures described above: Back Porch Tales Slideshow


Chinese Fortune Cookie

Inspired by Michael J. Road’s book titled Talking with Nature: Sharing the Energies and Spirit of Trees, Plants, Birds, and Earth