In the Land of Boys

Evan and I drive to Zac and Sammy’s house at the base of Roan Mountain. They are brothers in fifth and fourth grades respectively and we both teach them at the Montessori school. Their mother, PD, is a well-known wrought iron sculptor and fine metals jeweler who I will be interviewing this summer for freelance work.

But today’s visit is not about business. We are there to have fun and be with the boys on their turf – and oh what fun they have. Zac is skinny with soft white skin, light brown freckles, and dirty blonde hair. His facial features are unique and masculine even at a young age, skin curving tightly over his cheekbones and his nostrils noticeably shaped in a regal way. But the spark in his eyes is all boy, especially when he leads the way as we hike through his backyard, which is fifteen acres of mixed forest just along the National Forest boundary.

Sammy plays the part of the younger, adoring brother, although he maintains his own autonomy without being disloyal to the big bro. His features are softer and his face more round but he bears the same array of freckles across his face and his hair is feathery and soft like Zac’s. Side by each, they almost look like twins and since their days together in elementary they have played together like best friends.

Evan, PD, and I follow the boys into the woods keeping a safe distance as they swing their machetes and chop down swaths of stinging nettle. All totaled we must have spent two hours marching around the woods, exploring various plant species and identifying trees. The boys take us to their favorite fallen log, a giant shaggy hickory that has fallen across two creeks that run down their property.

Later, we all huddle around the table and feast on chips and salsa as we make quick sandwiches and PD brews French press coffee. After Zac and Sammy finish eating they remember they have a captive audience and Evan, PD, and I get a live performance of lip-syncing and drama to their favorite production, a spoof play on the Wild, Wild West. Wearing cowboy hats and adorned in plastic pistols, the boys move their lips and faces enthusiastically and in time to the music, which replays the refrain “We’re CATTLEMEN!” over and over as Zac and Sammy march to and fro and puff up their chests.

The performance ends when the adults crash the stage and we all dance around in their tiny kitchen, linking arms and hooting and hollering and swinging dance partners round and round. The boys tumble over in laughter, PD and I start to clean up from lunch, and Doce the sweet dog bark-yips at the boys on the floor, wanting to be one of them.

When all is said and done Evan and I teach Zac and Sammy secret handshakes, PD and I make plans for next week and confirm our summer interview ideas. Evan lets out a big sigh of relief once we get into the car and he is relaxed after a long, fun-filled day with two of the most light-hearted, loving, playful boys I know. We might be the teachers who visited our students, but being invited into Zac and Sammy’s world is a blessing that carries me through the rest of the evening and fills my heart with joy. In the land of boys, lessons don’t take shape on blackboards or with Montessori materials from the classroom shelves – the lessons happen on the go as we leap and bound off trees in the backwoods of boy world, laughing and smiling all the way until we know it just feels right. And somehow, that’s more like passing the test than anything I could ever offer in the classroom.

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