Friday, December 18, 2015
Yesterday my son brought home his school project: a clay sculpture of mountains, rivers, and other natural features, shaped and painted like a chicken's head, with a black volcano for an eye. He called it Cluckington Island.
Prior to this, "Cluckington Island" had been mentioned around the dinner table, but as I had no idea what he was talking about, I simply nodded and moved on.
Now seeing the thing for myself, I was impressed. My son had used a topography lesson to make a chicken-shaped world, populated by chickens, in which all human-imposed labels were irrelevant. Cluckington Island!
Nature is a big theme this school year. For months his class studied "the wetlands" across a variety of platforms. They journalled about the wetlands after viewing wetland-themed documentaries. They took a field trip to the wetlands to see, firsthand, the storied interplay between water and land. Their math problems began, Two ducks and a cormorant walk into an estuary, or maybe those were their little wetland-nerd jokes, swapped merrily amongst themselves.
"Aren't you done with the wetlands yet?" I'd ask. No, there was still much to be learned!
I tried to summon every fact I myself knew about the wetlands. It came down to a single Onion headline -- an off-color joke about "federal wetlands" -- but that hardly seemed an appropriate subject for third grade.
Anyway: Cluckington Island. It sounded like a place Thomas the Tank Engine would let off passengers before resuming his loop around a pastel-colored postwar Britain.
Back in Oakland, where my three-year-old son watched a lot of Thomas & Friends, I began to develop "feelings" for the human chief of the railroad, Sir Topham Hatt. He was so powerful and confident, so dapper in his eponymous top hat! Through narrowed eyes I regarded the potato-shaped Mrs. Hatt, who lived in a beautiful house by the railroad without a care in the world! If only Sir Hatt would turn his gaze from the tracks and see my heroic struggles, perhaps I could lure him away, for he could not bear to see me suffer in this manner . . .
I was sleep-deprived, and my thinking tended toward the dissociative. Every time we visited a place, I would speak -- jokingly! -- of running away from home and beginning a new life there under an assumed identity. If I could not be Lady Hatt, I would be someone else -- anyone else. Of course, I would -- after a period of recuperation -- send for the children, and we'd live a pastel-colored life, far away from Oakland, California, on Cluckington Island . . .
And it has worked out just that way.
"Your island is fantastic," I remarked to my son, now almost nine, as we walked across the school playground with his sister.
"Thanks," he said.