Bon Jour, Mes Amis

                                          On the road …again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek


A Talk Story to a 2nd Grade Spanish Class


Sharing ideas with children is an important part of their formative education.  So is showing them things that are all around us; and teaching them that things from the natural world also have stories to tell.  If a bird could talk, it would tell us of floating on warm breezes; of darting through stormy skies; of long migrations to distant lands. If we look closely, even rocks and trees can tell us their very own stories.


The following episode comes from an invited visit to Sewickley Academy in Western Pennsylvania in 2008.


Let me say hello to you, and then I will explain how I introduced myself.


                 Bon Jour   Guten Morgen   Salamat Pagi   Chao chi, Chao anh      Bon Jou         Salam alakium

                    Bom Dia      Salaam          Bello Verderti       Namaste           Good Morning       Buenos Dias                     


Those words you all recognize as words of greeting.  A warm greeting is always welcome, whether you are a stranger in the land in which those words are spoken, or a stranger from another country who is visiting.  Whether you are on a trip to France and say Bon Jour in French, or in Germany and say Guten Morgen in German, chances are you are establishing a good relationship at the very outset of the meeting.

My specialty is not languages, although at one time or another I have used those greetings when meeting somebody new. Meeting new people and having new experiences is a very exciting prospect. As students in this Spanish class, I hope that you all someday are able to use the Spanish language in very positive ways, furthermore that you have a chance to travel and learn first-hand how people live in Spanish-speaking countries. If it does not change your lives, I would be very surprised.

Whenever I am asked to speak with young people, it always fills me with excitement. Mostly that is because it gives me a chance to share thoughts with you; and to show you things that you probably never saw before.  Unless I miss my guess, most kids like to see new things and to learn new things.  And I like to tell stories about how some things came about, in my own words, and as I understand how things work.  Nobody likes a “know it all” with a “know it all” attitude, but I think most people would like to know more than they already know, but just don’t want to admit it.  I’m pretty sure that nobody in this room wants to be a Know Nothing.  If that was the case, then why go to school at all?

So, I’m going to assume that you won’t mind sitting through a session that should stir your imagination, and in the end should spur you to think a bit differently about the things and the people around you. My preferred approach is, and has always been, one of show-and-tell. My impulse to show something rather than just talk about something has always been strong. By the way, the person doing the talking sometimes calls himself the Footloose Forester.  He prefers it that way so that you pay attention to the story, and not to the story teller. Some stories come out right away just like turning on a light; others come later, sometimes much later. And sometimes what develops is not what I expected (or you expected), but sometimes it is something completely different than what we expected. I call it the serendipity factor. OK, that’s a big word, so let’s start by learning the definition of serendipity—in Spanish, maybe we can look it up together.


In English, the definitions are: 1) discovery of something fortunate; and   2) the one I prefer, is: gift for discovery. A natural gift for making pleasant, valuable or useful discoveries by accident.  If, and when, you accept serendipity as an unexpected gift; and you pursue serendipitous findings with renewed interest; and if you enlarge things serendipitously to expand your horizons and your personal viewpoint; then you are well on your way to being a different person. 

So, without further blabber, here are a few show-and-tell items that the Footloose Forester hopes will interest you.  As a forester, he was inclined to collect things from the natural world, but in this case, there are other things you may get a kick out of.  There are lots of things to look at on the table, and we are going to say a few things about each of them.  The items are listed.

1.    A grey stone – a white stone

2.    A black stone (obsidian)

3.    A green stone from Haiti

4.    An orange stone

5.    A pumice from Ethiopia

6.    A stone that burns

7.    Chert arrowhead(s)

8.    Ebony carving

9.    A sculpture of an African lady we know

10   Bank notes from afar

11.  Zebra amber

12   Story about Wrights Lake in California


In his pockets, the Footloose Forester has several items, most of which were obtained serendipitously.  1)  The plain flat stone that is grey on one side is magically white on the other side.  2) The black stone, an obsidian, was collected in Kenya but the Footloose Forester did not know where to look until he looked around him, and then discovered that there was a whole hillside where obsidian was one of the major shapers of the terrain there.  A pretty and striking green stone from Haiti (3) was a discovery on a beach where there was almost nothing but sand. It was almost all sand, but not quite.

Finding one of the wonders of nature was serendipitous, but now it is a prized part of his rock garden. The orange stone (4), also from Haiti is what is left from quite a large rock.  When he and his wife first saw it sticking out from the ground along a dirt road, they both knew that they were going to dig it up. So they did, and the formerly large rock went into the back of their truck, and later became a prominent feature in their rock garden. After two decades of freeze and thaw in the Pennsylvania climate, it split into pieces, but here is part of what is left.

The football sized pumice specimen from Ethiopia (5) floats in water; and a stone that burns (6) was discovered less than a month ago, in 2010, under his boot as he was leaving the site of a logging job right here in Pennsylvania. You all know this rock by name--it is coal. But its discovery was serendipitous. A heavy earth moving machine with a sharp blade had gouged it out of the soil only a month earlier. Now it is a teaching tool.

The red chert arrowhead (7), (in his pocket), was pried from beneath the boot of someone else.  As he was telling a fellow forester about the probable existence of an Indian campground in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, an encampment that had not yet been discovered, the Footloose Forester asked the other man to please move his foot so that we both could have a look at one of those arrowheads. If you are curious, you can read about that episode in his chronicle about Kyburz, California.  That is item #12 on the list.

Maybe you are not terribly interested in geology, or in science.  Society is made up by people with many various interests. So, today there are a few other things that I would like to show you. The carving you see (8), might look pretty non-descript at first glance, but take a look on the other side and you will see something beautiful. We have the ability to make things even more beautiful than they already are, but it requires an appreciation for what we are looking at, and then what it might become. In the case of the second carving (9), it is an African wood sculpture that the Footloose Forester bought from a street vendor in Lilongwe, Malawi a year or more before he met the person who came to work in our house in Kenya. If anybody asked him to describe his future maid named Catherine, he would show you this sculpture. No changes, at all!  That is exactly what Catherine looked like.

Perhaps your career interest will become banking, or finance.  Although he mentions this to you, ever so modestly, the Footloose Forester would like you to remember that here, standing before you, is a millionaire. I’ve brought along a few millions to show you, so you won’t think he is just making that up. Exhibit #10 makes that point.

Finally, today you will see something nobody outside of Western Pennsylvania has ever seen before. It is zebra amber (11), a combination of serendipity begun in his own back yard, then made more beautiful by artistic embellishment in an experiment; and made even more mysterious by yet another serendipitous happenstance.

A picture tells more than 10,000 words. Look closely at the pictures and you will remember more than these fleeting words.

Who is your favorite ancestor and why?
Paul and Karen Hair


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