Beaver attack!

Two days after the full moon of November, I was attacked by a wild beaver in the middle of the Anacostia River. It swam toward me as I fumbled to take out my phone and capture it on video. So cute! I’d just seen a flock of turkeys, so I thought it was a good wildlife day. Until it swam aggressively under my rigger, leaped over the gunwale, and chomped down on my right hip. 

This is not the only thing in my life to go completely wrong this fall, but it’s certainly the most extraordinary. I could never have predicted, for example, that my husband of 31 years would decide to retire and move to Maine on the same day, leaving me with a developmentally disabled son to manage alone. The irrational behavior of my siblings before and after my mother died hurt me more than I can admit. But rowing has always been my place of refuge, recreation, and relaxation. The river is my antidote for all that ails me.

Some people would take an attack like this as a sign to stop rowing all together. The cold weather usually forces us off the river from mid-November until late February. However, a crisp 50-degree, sunny afternoon lured six of us to launch our singles and head out together. I’m a seasoned rower, a coach, and a strong advocate of safety precautions. In fact, I’d just reviewed with Anthony how to avoid hypothermia if he flipped his boat and fell into the water.

Sarah caught up with me just south of the New York Avenue bridge while we waited for the others. She said she’d hit a beaver with her boat! Minutes later, Ben confirmed that he’d seen a beaver, too; maybe it was the same one. Rowers out of Bladensburg Waterfront Park are more accustomed to Great Blue herons, osprey, kingfishers, geese, and the occasional bald eagle. It’s unusual to see a beaver in the river but November is the time of year that they are busiest, preparing their lodges for winter. Why would it swim in front of a rowing shell?

I turned around first to head back to the dock, rowing pretty much ahead of everyone else, when I heard a big splash and looked over. Nothing. A few minutes later, a beaver emerged just off my stern. So exciting! I thought. I hustled to take my cell phone out. The thing started moving toward me at an alarming speed! Maybe it was looking for food? It had a large, open, pink sore on its head. 

In survival scenarios, victims often find a strength that they didn’t know they possessed. I screamed at the top of my lungs, grabbed the beaver’s front paw, and beat it on the head with one hand while desperately holding the oar handles steady to keep from tipping into the river. My waterproof bag was open, and everything would have tumbled into the river. Water splashed up onto my lap, soaking me from knee to waist in frigid water. 

I will never forget those orangey-brown incisors coming at me! 

The beaver would not let go. Martin and the others appeared around the bend, but they were too far away to hear me. Dang! I continued scream-shouting and hitting the beaver on the head. It finally let go. I slapped my blade on the water to warn it away. It looked at me, like it wanted more, so I rowed like it was the last 250 meters of a sprint race all the way back to the dock. 

What I’ve learned about myself from this incident is that I am resilient and determined. When faced with unprecedented challenges, I will fight to stay upright. This lesson applies to my personal life as well. Some days feel like I’m rowing upstream against invisible enemies. Other days, I can stop to enjoy the beauty surrounding me.

I will never stop rowing. 

Weather warning: magical morning

After torrential rains and coastal flood alerts, it was not at all clear that I’d be able to row on Saturday morning. But I got up before dawn any way, and dressed in my tights and performance tee — the one that stays warm when it’s wet. I drove out to the waterfront in the dark drizzle, easily found a parking spot, and watched the sun rise from the Bladensburg boat house.

A few other rowers were already on the dock sweeping off goose droppings and pushing heavy debris away from the launch area. Coaches had pulled their motor boats onto the dock the night before so they wouldn’t float away in the storm. The strong current washed the logs easily downstream. As the sun rose, the rain stopped, and instead of the usual mud banks, the high, flat water of the upper Anacostia River stretched out wide across from me. High tide. Cool air. Perfect rowing conditions.

My stress level started to fall once I shoved off — it had been a crazy week. At school, several fights had broken out, and a medical emergency sent us into a shelter-in-place. Rumors were flying that someone had been stabbed (not true, thank god). Every day, a different student was crying at their desk. Senior essays were overdue, college application deadlines loomed, and Halloween hijinks forced school administrators into high alert. 🚨 My own anxiety about paying utilities and the mortgage on time spiked my cortisol levels.

The upper Anacostia is so different than the lower part of the river – with the stadium, Navy Yard, several yacht clubs, and industrial-building landmarks – that fellow rowers at Capital Rowing Club have named us Narnia (after the children’s fantasy). In fact, on that very morning, CRC was hosting their annual Narnia Chase regatta downriver.

What most people don’t know is that our section of the Anacostia River is a lush greenway, full of wildlife and unexpected natural beauty. Normally I row past Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the National Arboretum, and down past Kingman Island. Osprey flying with fish in their talons, turtles sunning on a log, great white egrets, black cormorants with outstretched wings that look like little Draculas, noisy geese, beavers, and the occasional bald eagle pop into view.

So when Sue suggested we head upstream, it didn’t take much to convince me. Even though I’ve been rowing out of Bladensburg Waterfront Park for 15 years, I’d never rowed upstream. Here’s why: that part of the river, even at high tide, is not usually navigable due to the mud and silt that washes down from the streams further north. The mud is so bad that once every couple of years, the Army Corps of Engineers has to dredge near the docks so that we can continue accessing the river there.

We rowed under the footbridge that normally signals danger, and kept rowing north to the confluence of the Northeast Branch Stream and the Northwest Branch Stream — the headwaters of the Anacostia. Only ducks and geese witnessed our historic adventure. The calm quiet juxtaposed against the fierce current and the surprisingly warm sun created a magical effect. Who needs fiction when such an extraordinary moment can transform us? We turned around at the Route 1 bridge, and I unsealed the plastic case around my phone camera to record the event. I smiled with child-like delight all the way home.

Sometimes when in times of trouble

My husband walked out of my life the week school started, and my mother passed away 10 days ago. My siblings are bickering, my son is depressed, and I am overwhelmed by sadness and grief for all that I’ve lost this year. I still wake up at 3:00 am in a panic about finances. Oh — and I’m teaching full time in a public school in the midst of a pandemic.

But one thing I’ve experienced has been a huge source of comfort: female friends. Neighbors, colleagues, relatives, and acquaintances have reached out to me just to talk, go for a walk, bring a meal, flowers, offer to feed the cat, hug me, say how much they’ve been thinking about me, offer condolences, or lend an ear.

“You will always find people who are helping,” children’s TV host Fred Rogers famously said. I’ve always been the one doing the helping, so it feels a little awkward to be on the receiving end of so much caring support. But I am enormously thankful. I think I’ve even made a couple of new friends.

It’s taken me decades to learn a lesson that many women know from their earliest years of life: Women will support you if you show vulnerability and express a need. Why did I wait until my 60’s to open up? Talking about hurt and pain is a way to ease it. I so appreciate everyone who has reached out to me these last couple of months.

Tribute to my mother, Ruth Christ Sullivan.

Travel in the time of Covid

When the kids were little, we began every summer with a road trip to my mother’s house. Over the mountains and through the woods, we drove 400 miles to southwestern West Virginia. We’d go swimming, play board games, and sit on the front porch of her old Victorian eating moon ice, a mouthwatering frozen dessert made with bananas. Later in the summer we’d drive 400 miles in the opposite direction to visit their other grandparents in Rhode Island, where we learned that jimmies are something that goes on ice cream. A few years in a row we put 25,000 miles on our two vehicles. 

After 15 months of pandemic isolation, I dreamed about traveling again. 

What destination had good Covid protocols and was open to Americans? I thought about Hawaii, but it was really expensive and I’d read about mainlanders being turned away from pre-paid vacations at the airport, due to the coronavirus. I found a guided tour of Alaska, but the dates didn’t work out. I was itching to travel again. International travel didn’t seem possible until the GEEO tour leader asked, “Have you ever considered Iceland?” I booked the last open slot and two weeks later I was on a plane to Reykjavik. 

Traveling with a group of teachers is nothing like traveling with your family. Every morning, 16 of us would ask the same questions: Where are we going? What’s the weather? What time is lunch? How long before we get to the hotel? When is the bathroom break? The poor Icelandic guide was a little out of practice with American tourists – and teachers used to being in charge wanted to know the daily goals and expectations up front. Every day got a little easier as we hiked spectacular waterfalls, went whale watching, and shared stories of the school year we’d just lived through. Each one of us had experienced the worst year of teaching in our professional careers. By the end of the week, we had bonded as a group. 

I highly recommend Iceland as a destination for Americans who’ve never traveled internationally, or for those who want an exotic destination with all the amenities of a modern European country. Everyone speaks English, the food is delicious (but expensive), and the toilets are clean. In late June, we had to take a Covid test upon arrival and quarantine for 5 hours in the hotel until our results came back negative (we were all vaccinated). And we had to take another Covid test within 72 hours of boarding a return flight to the US. They made it so easy. 

The Delta variant of Covid hadn’t quite landed in the US when my son and I embarked on a 1,200 mile road trip to my family reunion on Dauphin Island, Alabama. He’s no longer a little kid and could help with the driving. We’d driven this route many times before and planned to spend two nights on the road. As we drove south, fewer and fewer people were wearing masks at the rest stops and motels – even though the signs clearly stated a mask requirement. In mid-July, Alabama was the least vaccinated state in the US. In spite of some anxiety over this, we drove south at the start of a new hurricane season to visit with family members with vastly different world views. We needed to see family this year. I needed to see family. 

My kids learned early in life how to adjust to unspoken rules and new tastes, depending on where they traveled. Travel teaches us tolerance, humility, and patience. When we take ourselves somewhere we’ve never been, we stretch out of our comfort zones, and meet differences with an open mind. I wish everyone could travel the way I have this summer.

Filed Away

by Eva K. Sullivan

During the last week of school, I stared at the gray, four-drawer, metal filing cabinet in the corner of the classroom. In the last fifteen months, I hadn’t opened a single drawer even once. We’d been back in person since April, but everything I needed was inside the four-pound laptop that I carried everywhere. Thirty years of well-loved teaching materials now seemed like a burden. It was time. Most teachers my age wait until they’re retired to clean out their folders. But the pandemic changed forever how I will look at stacks of paper.

As a high school teacher of Multilingual Learners, I never knew what level I would be teaching from year to year. The carefully labelled folders ranged from Phonics/Vowel Sounds to Argument and Research. Before Covid-19 forced school closures in March 2020, I taught two sections of Developmental Reading for immigrant students with interrupted formal education. Most were reading at a kindergarten level. Even without a global pandemic, it’s hard to find appropriate reading material – no baby books – for teens learning to read English! So my curated collection represented hundreds of hours of valuable prep time.

This year we piloted a new districtwide coteaching model. All juniors and seniors are now enrolled in Honors English classes, and I’ve moved to a supporting role. All my Beginner English files are in the trash and I’m not even wistful. Teachers never throw anything out, so this feels momentous, a tectonic shift. 

I filled a recycling bin with The OdysseyRun-On SentencesExistentialismSurvival Project, and Subject-Verb Agreement. I found overhead projector film carefully preserved with the original copy next to it for reference. Grammar games on laminated index cards. I didn’t bother to ask if any new, younger colleagues want them this year. All those things are gone. Paper worksheets may be a thing of the past. 

A friend who retired in 2020 asked if I carried my materials from room to room on a cart this year, as I have in the past. I laughed. Nope, all I carry now is a laptop. Every student has a Chromebook preloaded with Zoom, Canvas Instructure and Synergy platforms. Even 5-year-olds in kindergarten know how to do school on a computer. 

When we left the building in March 2020, we gathered food from our desks and cleaned out the refrigerators, but left everything else as is. It was the first time for teachers to just walk away. We had no time to take down bulletin boards, put away pencils, or erase the white boards. We thought we’d be out two weeks.  

The way we’ve taught during the pandemic has permanently changed how educators understand school. As I eyed my fat folders containing emergency substitute plans, I asked a colleague if I should throw them out. “Ha, ha! They’ll probably make us teach via Zoom when we’re out sick!” she replied. I felt nostalgic as I looked at my neatly-outlined notes on top of 30-page sets, a large binder clip holding everything together. I had to wait in line for the photocopier to make those worksheets. Do subs know how to use our new technology? I decided to keep the emergency plans. 

Pandemic mode is forever etched in our memory. Like any good survival story, we escaped from danger with what we could carry – plants, photos, whatever we were currently working on. We reinvented teaching every day, learning and teaching new new apps (Kami, Peardeck, Nearpod), new platforms (Zoom, Canvas, Synergy), new instructional models (coteaching), new virtual curriculum (no textbooks), and new ways of interacting with students (mute black screens in a breakout room). We made it work because there was no choice. In my three decades in the classroom, it was by far the most stressful year that I have ever taught. 

I already miss handwriting. I miss hands-on assignments with physical items that students need to manipulate. I hope those aren’t gone forever. The Romeo and Juliet speed dating activity was so much fun! The Socratic Seminar, the Bicycle Chain activity. Partner work. I don’t need paper for that. Maybe next year?

 Text, letter

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Will school ever look like this again?

Teaching to a computer screen from the corner of my bedroom for a year has made me realize that I don’t need paper to create relationships with students. When you take away all the extraneous details of teaching – the great experiment of the 2020-2021 school year – it boils down to building a community in a classroom. 

This past year, I shared more of my personal life than I’d ever intended – like when the cat brought a live chipmunk into my lesson and the whole class heard me scream. I used humor, music, catchy visuals. I lowered the affective filter with silly stories. I called home when students didn’t show up. I invited them to participate in activities any way they felt comfortable – unmuting and calling out, typing in the chat, or participating in an electronic discussion board. 

Many students thrived in the flexible online classroom. I was amazed by some of the profound, philosophical, mature responses that they shared. All these lived lessons from the past year are filed away in our collective memory – not a four-drawer cabinet – and can be pulled out to help plan for next. But first we need a summer vacation to figure out what it all means.  

Will we ever need to photocopy packets of work again? It’s a rhetorical question. That folder got thrown out too. 

Welcome back. Goodbye.

On the last day of instruction for high school seniors, I greeted many for the first time. “Nice to meet you,” I said as student after student took a seat – every other desk remained empty to keep social distancing. Our last hybrid Honors English 12 class began. Does anything encapsulate this disjointed year better than welcoming students and sending them off on the same day? 

“I didn’t want my last memory of senior year to be clicking the ‘Leave Meeting’ button,” said Kaleb. Yet, that’s exactly how 60% of the class of 2021 ended their 13 years of public education in my school district. The students who opted for in-person instruction started returning to the building on April 6, alternating A weeks and B weeks so that we could stay six feet apart in the classrooms. 

The result is that students couldn’t sit with their lifelong friends until the last week of school, when they collapsed the A-B weeks as more community members got vaccinated. Any seniors who wanted to return in-person could do so. Suddenly, 15 students in a class felt jam-packed. It was great to hear their voices again and see those beautiful eyes looking up from their laptops. 

On the way out, Aaron gave me his senior photo, a little wallet-sized memento – the facial hair visible above his lip caused me to smile. I’d never seen his full face. At the Senior Farewell Party earlier in the week, Marta and I posed for a photo outside the football stadium, maskless for the first time. She’s been in my class all year, but I didn’t know she wore braces. Her nose and mouth looked different from how I imagined it. 

Bidding adieu on Zoom was anti-climactic – even though teachers made little speeches about resilience and perseverance. “Does anyone want to turn on their camera to wave goodbye?” A few faces popped up briefly on my screen, but most virtual students just disappeared when class was over. Some have chosen to skip the in-person graduation ceremony in two weeks as well, remaining enigmatic little black boxes in perpetuity. 

It’s too raw to process what this pandemic year has meant for young people. I’m a married woman with decades-long friendships to bolster me throughout the year. However, I’ve been back at school for two months, and have nearly forgotten how to make small talk. Kids will be affected for the rest of their lives in ways we can only imagine – a new kind of PTSD will take hold as a year of social isolation becomes a silent national crisis.

I hope that our school system will examine some of the old policies and procedures. What used to seem so normal — 18-year-olds asking for permission to use the rest room, penalizing kids for missing a due date — already seems antiquated. We will need to teach students how to talk to each other, how to interact as a class. We need to address the deep mental health challenges that will affect teaching and learning.

But the graduating class of 2021 will be on their own to figure it all out, to heal from the traumatic year. I hope that they’ll be okay as we send them off to “the real world.” I hope they’ll teach us all how to be resilient and persevere through hardship. I hope they come back to say hello and introduce themselves again one day. These seniors will remain in my heart forever.

Rowing upstream

To paraphrase a Greek philosopher: “You can never step in the same river twice.”

For the past 13 months the river has sustained me while the rest of the world turned upside down. I’m so lucky to engage in an outdoor sport where social distancing is the norm. My happy place is a single in the middle of the river.

I’ve been rowing and coaching on the Anacostia River in Washington, DC since 2006. Every year, a new group of young people learn how to row. They learn new vocabulary: port, starboard, feather, catch, gunwale, coxswain, oarlock. And they learn sportsmanship and team work. They learn technical skills and how far they can push themselves physically.

Every year, we row the same river, but it’s always a different experience. The winds, the rain, and the currents shift the sand bars regularly. At high tide, we avoid the muddy edges, and steer through bridges carefully, following a known traffic pattern. Students who are too young to drive are guiding a 64-foot rowing shell expertly around kayaks, downed trees, and other teams out practicing. Every year I am amazed at how much students learn and grow.

On a school poster somewhere, a rowing shell heads into the sunset. There’s no I in TEAMWORK, it says. Rowers push themselves hard, and hold each other accountable. This year, I have focused on the novice rowers who are learning the technique and the culture of rowing. We do a distanced team cheer after practice. In a short time, some newcomers will show leadership, and others will come just to socialize with other teens. Some will develop amazing rowing skills and might earn a scholarship to college. Every year a different group of rowers will learn that it’s harder to row upstream than down, and they will figure out how to pace themselves.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, rowing and coaching has buoyed me when I felt hopeless or lost. The smells, sounds, sight, and feel of the river is in my heart and deeply ingrained in my memory. A river is constantly changing even while it remains the same. Everyone should have a place that pulls them like the river pulls me.

I hope everyone can find their river.

High school teams practicing on the Anacostia River, Washington DC.

Cherry Blossoms and Spring Break

The famous cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC reached the peduncle elongation stage last week, then burst into peak bloom several days before expected. The high temperatures and warm sun have brought on the full glory of a DC spring – just in time for local school children to enjoy Spring Break.

Like thousands of blossom watchers, teachers keep their eyes on Board of Education meetings, trying to anticipate when a vote might suddenly change everything. It’s happened so many times during this pandemic year, that almost nothing has been a total surprise for educators who read the signs. However, when Governor Hogan announced suddenly that schools needed to reopen March 1st instead of March 15th, school districts scrambled, loud-mouths bloviated, and unvaccinated teachers panicked. It was the equivalent of rushing from the Green Bud phase to the Fluffy Blossom phase without anything in between and way before the cameras were ready.

With the possible exception of air-traffic controllers, teachers are probably the best multi-taskers in the world. You want us to teach online and in-person at the same time? Sure, no problem! You want us to work on social-emotional health while mitigating “learning loss” with just two hours a week of contact time? Sure! Asynchronous lessons using a new platform and grading program? Got it! Student Learning Objectives posted? Check. Opportunities for one-to-one time and reteaching? Of course! Just come to our “office hours.” Oh, it’s my evaluation year? I can do the dog-and-pony show, too!

Hybrid teaching? No problem!
Doing it all

In my district, 60% of students have opted to remain virtual, but parents and politicians have been pushing hard – very hard – to reopen school buildings before it’s Covid safe. Schools with the most number of parents opting for the return to in-person instruction happen to be in the wealthiest communities. Ironically, they are the ones to argue that it’s for the poor kids, the English Language Learners, and the black and brown students. But the data and my experience says something else.

I teach high school seniors and, even though they’ve been 100% virtual for the past year, less than half are coming back to the building after spring break. My district has had meeting after meeting after meeting about getting kids back into the building – but few resources have been directed to the majority of students who opt to remain at home through the end of the year. It’s a highly emotional issue that’s pitted parents against teachers. The rhetoric has been exhausting.

Spring Break is supposed to be a time of rest and renewal. So far, I’m feeling the pleasure of elongated days, even though I’m spending part of them grading all the late student essays that need feedback. The beautiful DC weather and spectacular cherry blossoms, tulip trees, flowering pears, forsythia, and daffodils make me smile. This weekend, fully vaccinated, I will be able to hug my elderly mother for the first time in more than a year.

High Anxiety

The trees out back are bare and cold rain is drizzling down on the deck. I’m watching a squirrel climb up the railing and attempt to reach the bird feeder. First it shimmies up the narrow metal pole and steps tentatively onto the squirrel-proof “hat” that tilts and swerves under the weight. It tries to lock its feet on the pole and slide belly first down to a perch where seed spills out just two inches from its mouth. The squirrel loses its balance, hangs upside down for a moment, then scrambles back up the pole. It hops gracelessly back to the railing, avoiding a 10-foot drop to the ground. A sparrow flits to the feeder, pecks at the food and flies away. The squirrel tries again and again. 

Teachers in Maryland have been ordered back to school starting on Monday, March 1st. The Governor, the Central Office, and the Board of Education expect that teachers can just fly in like birds to a feeder. But what they’re asking us to do is perform more like the squirrels. Coronavirus has killed more than 8,000 people in Maryland and has infected hundreds of thousands. Teachers have been left completely on their own to find vaccines, competing with each other and those over age 75 for the few scarce resources. 

While other states have rolled out the vaccines effectively, Maryland’s has been confusing and chaotic. Starting on January 18th, when they announced people in the 1B priority group were eligible, I logged in every day, sometimes multiple times per day, trying to register for a vaccine. By the time I finished typing in my contact information, appointments would disappear. Twice I had legitimate appointments confirmed, then cancelled. Colleagues were texting about new doses available – hurry! Teachers were getting turned away from scheduled appointments after waiting in long lines. Teachers were driving three hours to other counties to get vaccinated. I waited in line for two hours at a super center, expecting until the last minute to get turned away. I cried with relief when I finally got that first shot in my arm. 

I want to go back to school desperately. Online teaching is a poor substitute for in-person learning. Like everyone else, I am concerned about the mental health of students. Since I work with English Language Learners, I am concerned that their language and academic skills have suffered. I am worried that students whose best community is inside a school building are not getting the support they need. I miss my students, the ones I have now and do not really know, and the ones I had last year and don’t see passing in the hallways any more. Teachers long to get “back to normal,” but we won’t do it with wishful thinking.


Getting vaccines for teachers is just the first step in a safe return to school. Adequate CDC measures like PPE and physical distancing, cohorts of no more than 60, and sanitizing shared surfaces is manageable. But coronavirus has airborne transmission. Ventilation is a major concern, especially in older buildings. For many teachers the dread of contracting the virus and bringing it home to vulnerable family members is all-consuming. We don’t even know if those who are vaccinated can spread the disease to others. Why are we rushing back to school buildings before these safety measures are in place? 

About 60 percent of students in my district have opted to remain at home and continue virtual instruction. Teachers are not being given this option. In fact, many have been denied their legitimate ADA requests, giving the school system power over their medical health. The focus has been so strongly on a return to the physical building, but what about the majority of students remaining virtual? How will teachers instruct both virtually and in-person at the same time? Will they be getting less of an education because they remain virtual? 

The Superintendent of Schools was “perplexed” by the union’s No Confidence resolution. Then the principals union sent a letter blasting the reopening plan, and the SEIU paraeducators union joined in. Educators understand how teaching and learning operates, and have thought of every possible scenario. We are not to blame for the pandemic. The Board of Education has succumbed to outside pressure and made decisions without the input of key educators. If we are going back into school buildings, then we need a districtwide plan that allows for common sense, compassion, and competence. 

It’s as if climbing up a metal pole, hanging on with our back feet, and stretching to reach a nearly-impossible target were normal. Teachers are planners, not squirrels.

This is what teachers are being asked to do

This I Believe

In the 1950s, journalist Edward R. Murrow hosted a weekly radio series inviting listeners “to write about the core beliefs that guide your daily life.” In class this week, my students listened to several “This I Believe” recordings (one of my favorites is Be Cool to the Pizza Dude) and answered questions about what each one was really saying.

Inspired by Amanda Gorman’s profoundly moving poem delivered at the Inauguration on Wednesday, we examined several spoken word mentor texts. Students were then tasked to write and record their own pieces.

Below is my own sample “This I Believe” that I gave students:

I believe in the power of trees and nature. Trees change with the seasons even as they stay in one place. They reach for the light while spreading deep roots. A stand of trees is stronger together than a tree standing alone. Just like humans. Trees clean our air. They provide food and shelter for wildlife. They rise strong after adversity. We can learn something from trees. 

I believe in the healing power of outdoor exercise. While rowing on DC’s “forgotten river,” the Anacostia, I can see abundant wildlife: bald eagles, osprey, beavers, turtles, deer, and the great blue heron. This river was once a polluted dumping ground, but now has come back to life with rowers, kayakers, and boaters. The river provides a different perspective of the city I love, and makes my life joyful. The Anacostia River is a story of faith and action. 

Heading outdoors has gotten me through this pandemic. The allure of rowing or hiking motivates me to finish my work, shut down my laptop, and silence my phone. I can visit with old friends outdoors, where we can exercise, walking 6 feet apart. We can sit around a fire pit at night and stay together even though we’re sitting far enough away. Friends outdoors are still friends. 

I believe in democracy, especially these days when it has been under attack. I have faith in people to tell their stories – and in journalists who tell the stories of others. I have faith in family and believe we should help others. I believe music can help soothe us in difficult times and lift up our spirits. 

I choose to go forward in optimism knowing that the sun always rises in the east, trees stand steady in the wind, and rivers flow to the sea. We have a responsibility to preserve our natural environment for future generations. Finally, I believe in the power of nature to heal us. 

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us

but what stands before us

Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb” inauguration poem