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On Wednesday afternoon, I went to Middle Earth for lunch!  At least…it might as well have been Middle Earth because there was a fully-furnished hobbit house with a chimney and a door and luscious plants growing around it and I had to duck down to squeeze half of my body inside to take a look around.  It was pure magic…and all I was expecting was a barbecued sausage and a beverage.

In the midst of final mark submissions and cleaning desks/classrooms and monotonous end-of-the-year paperwork, a brief lunch with a couple of guys in a co-worker’s backyard brought me unexpected joy!  This same backyard contains a pirate ship, an Ewok village, numerous slides and tunnels, a wealth of fruits/vegetables/flowers, a walkway bordered by trees (like something out of a Tim Burton film) and a gigantic ancient rock that is still the source of much mystery.  The river that passes along the back of the property is home to swans, frogs, fish and a host of other unknown creatures.

My backyard–by comparison–is comprised of a lowly shed, some green onion plants I can’t seem to get rid of and a decrepit gate in need of repair.

The obvious care and meticulous attention to detail I witnessed were evidence of the passion and love that a family continues to pour into this space!  How long must it have taken to collect dozens of pieces of driftwood and assemble them into a working gate?  How many years of gentle coaxing were required to produce a ‘hallway’ made only of trees, or the circular gardens where popcorn bursts forth from the ground and a different section is designated as compost each growing season?

It’s almost intoxicating to catch a glimpse of a passion so defined and alive!  I couldn’t help but drop my colleague an email later that afternoon to express my gratitude for his willingness to share such a place with us, and the words that came to mind were impressive, inspiring and infectious!  Were I not among fellow professionals, I may not have suppressed a burgeoning child-like desire to explore and discover–to seek out the yard’s best hiding places and best-kept secrets.  I imagined my own 3-year-old daughter and how she would react in this environment.  I was in awe.  I have a feeling I won’t soon forget this place.

As I bid farewell yesterday to the staff and students at Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School (until we meet again!) I walked away from another place I won’t soon forget.  W-O is a place filled with passionate people who love their work and pursue it with excellence and integrity at every turn because they believe that we have a responsibility not only to be good educators, but good people as well!  The school building is their ‘backyard’ and the community that inhabits it is alive and growing because of the enthusiasm shared by all involved.  As one finally entering a profession I had long ago been convicted was my calling, I was warmly welcomed, actively supported and regularly invigorated by those I worked alongside.  At times I was even in awe of the generosity, sincerity, and skill of those with whom I worked closely.

Now, I’m keenly aware that passion alone can yield reckless behaviour and lead to chaotic results.  The backyard I visited was not disorganized, and not without deliberate design.  The desire and enthusiasm that brought it into existence were obviously coupled with a high level of skill and much contemplation.  It is also true of the Waterloo-Oxford teaching staff (many of whom I am proud to call my friends) that though the work is ignited by passion, it is expertise and continued reflection that are largely responsible for the positive results.  This winning combination isn’t magical, and some would say it’s easily explained and simply the product of experienced individuals who have honed their craft, but we can’t dismiss the fact that it’s special!

As I look back upon the school year that was and anticipate the one that is before us, I am grateful for these fellow educators–passionately working for the betterment of a body of students and a surrounding community.  My personal growth as an educator and the many lessons I received this year are fodder for another post, but suffice it to say that I will remember fondly the time spent in our ‘backyard’.  My one wish is that my own passion for students and education was visible to others, and that maybe I left an object or two behind–something distinct–that will add character or spirit to an already unique space.

*I acknowledge that the title of this post (save for the alteration of one word) bears striking similarity to the title of the latest Patrick Watson album (talented Canadian singer-songwriter!)  Pics have been posted with permission from Kirk Bergey in Wellesley, Ontario.