Five decades on the planet and a long ways away from high school daydreams of fame and fortune, I am still amazed by wonder life has to offer and moved by new passions, not necessarily searching for something missing, but simply sampling the various joys life has to offer. My favorite quote right now is, “Ships are safest in the harbor, but then that’s not what ships are made for.” My deepest and most constant passions are those of family and the faith that there is an ultimate purpose in life. Perhaps the part that makes each new adventure most enjoyable is that absolute security in the ability to return home to wife and kids who love me despite my foolishness and shortcomings. How I wove my way through life and arrived at this particular place of good fortune is somewhat a mystery to me. My ever optimistic mind plays with the past, and it usually tumbles out onto the page or rolls off my tongue slightly modified in the retelling, but it’s all true to me.
My childhood in Potter Valley, California was a watercolor of silver-grey mornings, misty over the vineyards, soft washes of green and gold in the afternoon sun, and brilliant, star-speckled nights. It smelled of pear blossoms, fermenting grapes, dust, new-mown hay, and that pungent, sage that grows thick by the river. The dirt is red in my childhood. Potter Valley and my childhood are inextricably linked in my memory – one entity – as if neither could possibly exist without the other. Childhood is as much a place as the valley is a time.
My parents blessed us with the move to Potter before I was old enough to remember the hazy Los Angeles sky. Pop had grown up the son of a naval officer during the Second World War, and though his home was in Santa Barbara, he spent great lengths of time on his cousin’s dairy in the Salinas area. Mom grew up in Whittier, but spent her summers in the sierras, so when it came time to raise my brother and me, my parents both recognized the pull of life outside the city limits. Grandpa taught at Santa Barbara High after he got out of the navy, so it was no surprise that my father followed in his footsteps and went into education as well, first as a teacher and then as an elementary principal at Potter Valley School.
I passed the years of my youth in joyful pursuit of many passing fancies. I love the outdoors to this day, and escaped to the hills every chance I had, canoeing, hiking, hunting, rock climbing, and just generally letting the world overwhelm me with its amazing capacity for wonder. I’ve been a farmer, a cook, a carpenter, and a number of other things, but mostly a dreamer. College saw me through five majors, a summer “Finding myself” in the Desolation Wilderness, a misguided foray into the weird world of entertainment management and concert promotion, and eventually to the streets of San Diego where I had to sell the guitar I couldn’t play to get the money to eat.
The Valley was calling, and one night I tossed everything I owned into my red Celica and put the big city lights in my rear-view mirror somewhere around midnight. On my way through Ukiah the next morning I stopped at a local store to buy a new cassette tape and found my wife instead. She was the girl behind the counter in tight, pink jeans, and I was hopelessly in love. I spent the next few months getting life together, working back on a local ranch. I talked April into going out with me in May, asked her to marry me in June, and called a college counselor to see what I was closest to finishing. Before I knew it, I was an English major on my way to becoming a teacher.
April and I both finished college at CSU Chico, during which time our first son, Daniel, was born. I completed my credential and then spent a year working with Shasta County Youth for Christ before stumbling across an opening at my old school in Potter Valley. I decided to interview for the position, and ten years after switching my tassel on the graduation stage, I was back at Potter Valley School. I knew that I was home. I was back where the air was clean, the creeks were cool, and each old, pot-holed road held the kind of memory that tickled the back of your mind and made the corners of your mouth grin just a little. I was back where my kids would be able to run through the same fields and forests I did, beating me in a foot-race to the creek.
I had the sometimes frustrating joy of walking into the lives of teen-agers each day as a Jr.- Sr. high teacher, and I was blessed to be doing that in the town and school where I grew up. Our second son, Luke was born during my first year teaching at Potter valley, and we put a second home in the old sheep pasture just through the woods from my folks place. I worked my way into the position of focusing on junior high for about eight years and took on the responsibility of activities director. This afforded me the ability to teach and play both. I also worked as administrative designee four periods a day for a couple years, assisting with discipline. Then, in typical fashion for my life, I went happily to work as a teacher one day in April of 2005, and came home having been asked to take on the secondary principal position in the fall. Two weeks later I found myself diving headlong down the rabbit hole of school administration.
As I reflect on the past years I guess I have come to realize that I became an educator because I felt it would afford me the opportunity to invest my life in something meaningful, rather than spend it in a career where the end goal was to simply receive a paycheck. Education provided me the opportunity to touch lives and make a positive difference. While I enjoy the curricular areas I have had the opportunity to explore with my students, my deepest commitment has always been to them as people, beyond the academic content. It is from this passion and commitment to young people, that I draw my excitement for education.
My aspirations as an educator have always to simply make a difference every day, to the best of my ability, and to be a good father and husband, and friend to those God placed in my path. I wanted to do that first in the valley that had been my home and my life for so long and give my two boys the opportunity to create memories of fields, forests, and streams in their youth. But my wife and I always had our sights set on working abroad as well.
With our first-born partly-raised and away to college, we began to explore the distant shores of a future in international education. Younger son, Luke, caught the infectious call to adventure as we began to discuss possibilities, so we put ourselves out there to see what and where we might land. Then I met Dr. Kim and knew our immediate future lay in Korea at APIS. It has been amazing the adventures that opened up before us as we followed that path. After four years in Korea and countless new friends and new experiences, I was able to lead APIS in the opening a new APIS campus and boarding program on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. This school allowed me to work with an incredibly talented and dedicated group of teachers and professionals to design a truly innovative instructional program of multi-disciplinary, project-based learning from the ground up.
Mike Yaconelli wrote:
“If I were to have a heart attack right at this moment, I hope I would have just enough air in my lungs and just enough strength in me to utter one last sentence as I fell to the floor: “What a ride!” My life has been up and down, careening left then right, full of mistakes and bad decisions, and if I died right now, even though I would love to live longer, I could say from the depths of my soul, “What a ride!”
Life for me has always been this sort of thrill ride, full of mystery, mistakes, victories, and wonder. To have been blessed to be a part of people’s lives along the journey is more than I deserve, but I’ll take it. As I have now transitioned back to the mainland to reconnect with family and friends at “Home,” I wait expectantly to see what words will be written on the next pages of my life.
Here’s to the ride!