Over the last six days, a contractor and I have worked to erect a pergola on the relatively large poured patio that existed in front of our house when we bought it. This has been an ambition of mine for some time; I had always eyed those brick pillars as the start of something, and as they were they had come to look out of place to me, inviting me to build and create every time I glanced at them anew. I knew I didn’t have the technical skill set nor the equipment to build the pergola singlehandedly, so I paid the man who did our basement bathroom to help me out, and together we fashioned a pergola on the space after my design. I was grateful for his help, glad to be able to participate in the process, and ultimately, pleased with the outcome. The best part of all, of course, was that through working with a masterful craftsman, I learned a lot about how to do some of the things required to build a structure like this one. I am ever a student in the classroom of life.
Last night, I got home from the state track meet in time to roll around on the floor with Zooey and read Marlon Bundo’s Big Day to Titus. “I love you buddy, get some sleep,” I told him as I turned his light off. “I love you too, dad,” he told me, and I was about as happy as I’ve ever been.
Downstairs, Sonja and I grabbed a bottle of white wine and stepped out onto the front porch. Then it donned on me: we have a patio and a new pergola! I coaxed my patient wife, who was already seated comfortably on the front porch and sipping wine, into going down to the new structure on the side of the house. We sat at the table, sipped, and fantasized aloud to one another about getting better furniture on the patio. We attempted to light some old tiki torches, but they didn’t take so I suggested a fire. Again, I had to talk my beautiful wife into the fire, but she acquiesced at last (if you see her today, don’t mention that we both smell like woodsmoke). What happened next however, was, for want of greater eloquence, really cool.
I hadn’t even gotten the fire built yet when our neighbors Baron and Travis came walking up the winding brick path I had laid two summers prior, carrying a bottle of wine. I finished making the fire, grabbed them some glasses, and together we sipped for about five minutes before Stephen, another neighbor who was out walking his golden retriever, Oliver, saw us. I called out to him and he joined us. Then Larry, our neighbor to the west stopped by shortly thereafter, bringing his beer and jokes. And without even having to put something on the calendar in advance, we had a pergola party pop up. I went inside to get more wine, and we whiled away the night around a fire with some of our favorite people in the world. It was pretty perfect.
I recently submitted a proposal to give another TED talk, this one about creating a high context learning environment. In essence, I want to talk about genuinely knowing other people — in this case my students, versus merely knowing their name, how to do it, and the benefits that I’ve seen arise in fifteen years of teaching. We’ll see whether or not I get accepted, but in the meantime, whether in the classroom or under a pergola, the principle is the same: you spend time with people, and you let them talk rather than just talking to them, and you listen, and you learn. Handshakes, eye contact, sincerity, civil disagreement, mutual respect — these are the mortar of our society. I often tell my students that the lengthy conversations we have about what is going on in the world are preparation for real life. I’m never entirely sure if they believe me, but events like last night reinforce my belief tenfold. I loved having a group of friends gathered, discussing the world and whatever else came to mind. I suppose the only substantial differences are that I don’t have to give my friends a grade — I give them all A’s of course, and that we can’t have wine in the classroom.
The wine we had in the classroom of life last night was terrific. It is the product of a winemaker I’ve known for a long time, Tom Rinaldi, who spent 22 years at Duckhorn and now makes wine for the Pellet Estate in Napa, which I love, and also Ambassador in Washington. This is the lone white wine from the Washington portfolio, and it’s a beauty. There’s a vibrancy to the pale straw hue, and the aromatics are inviting. On the palate, notes of lemon, limestone, dill, stone fruits, and plastic all hang out together in harmony around the fire. A low 13.3% ABV assures that this wine is mellow and easy drinking, with medium acidity levels and a clean finish. Washington State isn’t known for it’s Sauvignon Blanc, but if Tom and others keep making wine like this, it will be soon.
Thus, my weekend has begun. I’m going to take Sonja a cup of coffee, go get Titus up, and then move some wine down to the cellar and set the table as we have brunch guests coming. I hope that no matter what the classroom of your life may hold this weekend, that it is a high context environment and full of wonderful people for you to share it with.
Cheers to the wonderful people we share time and wine with, and to never ceasing to learn,