Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dr. James Taylor's Response to Lake Almanor and St. Andrew's Academy

I was thrilled, as was the rest of the faculty and the St. Andrew's Family, to have Dr. James Taylor visit us in November and be our speaker for our St. Andrew's Day Conference as well as visit the school and sit in on classes, join discussions, etc.

Below is his response, which he wrote as his weekly column in his local paper in Kansas. Thank you Dr. Taylor for such kind words.

NOTES FROM NORTHEAST KANSAS… and Lake Almanor, California
By James S. Taylor

The name is enchanting – Lake Almanor. It could have been used in a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, but when I arrived at this destination nearly two weeks ago in northern California, I was informed otherwise.

According to local historical sources, in 1914 the vice-president of Great Western Power Company was persuaded to finance a hydroelectric facility that, with the building of a dam to catch the flow of the Feather River, became one of the largest man made lakes in California. It is approximately 52 square miles, rests at an elevation of 4,500 feet, is thirteen miles long and six miles wide, and is 90 feet deep at its deepest point.

There was something of a poetic and romantic history to the lake after all: Guy C. Earl, the vice-president, named the lake after his three daughters, Alice, Martha, and Eleanor – thus, Almanor.

And 1914 was truly an explosive year for the region. The Mt. Lassen National Park sources record that in May of that year the volcano Lassen Peak burst into eruption, beginning a seven-year cycle of sporadic volcanic outbursts. The climax of the episode took place in 1915, when the peak blew an enormous mushroom cloud some seven miles into the stratosphere.
My two room shore side resort apartment at the Dorado Inn offered a wide picture post card view of the Lake, the mountains and Mt. Lassen. The sunsets were such a palette of pastels melting into deep reds spreading over the purple mountains and reflected in the Lake, a tourist, like me, will pull the car off the road to watch, and the locals never tire of commenting on the beauty.

But the lasting impression for me were the trees, Ponderosa pines, Sugar pines, cedar, rising 100 and 150 feet high on both sides of the highways and standing like brave and stalwart sentinels up the sides of the mountains. They are so silent and calm in the morning fog and mist, so deeply green and imperious against a blue sky and high sun. Logging has been the business up here for a long time, but if there have been abuses like clear cuts, I did not see them from the road and suspect over the years laws have been enacted to protect against such destructive greed. These silent giants are obviously thoughtfully thinned to space them just enough not to choke or clutter the growth. As a result, the eye is led over the tawny colored pine needle floor and into the cool darkness of the forest.

The highways, which are in good shape, snake around the sides of mountains through the tall hallways of the pines. Now and then a logging truck grinds up a grade then roars down the other side carrying its stacked load of harvested trees, the circumference of the smallest log bigger than a 50 gallon barrel drum.

I had not come here just to look at the trees and the mountains and the Lake, though that would be a perfectly good thing to do and nothing else. My immediate purpose was to visit a school, a rather special one now in its sixth year. It is small by some standards, maybe by any standards. There are about 30 students, K – 12. There are six teachers. Each morning before school and every day after school, they sing together. They sing hymns according to The Hymnal of the Anglican Church and they say prayers from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The boys and girls of St. Andrew’s Academy wear uniforms and are among the happiest and most cheerful group of students I have met. After listening to their singing, seeing how song transforms their faces and their behavior, there is no question in my mind where their composure comes from. Oh, they have their mischief and weaknesses, and they have some of the particular wounds children carry in the modern world; and like other students they need direction, correction, and encouragement.

But I came as an educational consultant or some such inflated title, and as is usually the case, I am the one who learns. And what was that? I saw that the school has sought to be a faculty of friends and the light of this friendship naturally extends to the students who, by the way, stand when teachers or adults enter the room and address them formally, more or less naturally and without stiffness. They have developed a curriculum based on the liberal arts appropriate for grammar and high school. This can be seen in their grammar school writing program based on Aesop Fables and their high school Latin class now translating Caesar; the richness of the literature and philosophy classes; the approach to math and science that along with the rigor does not neglect seeing the beautiful in numbers and order. And they sing, sing and sing. Every student is a member of the school choir under the direction of the headmaster, Fr. Brian Foos.

The morning of my return to Kansas my airplane lifted up to clear the mountains around Reno, Nevada, a little over a hundred miles from Lake Almanor. I looked out the window at the rounded tops of the sparse Sierra Nevada range flattening out as we gained altitude and I thought about how bright the students would have sung in choir that morning, shoulders squared, chins slightly lifted, standing straight and strong as the tall green pines in the forests around Lake Almanor. It seemed that all of creation was singing then. And maybe it was.


Mark said...

Very high marks from a distinguished Christian Educator. Maseltov.

(This isn't the same guy who wrote the song about seeing Fire and Rain, is it? No, I didn't think so )

Fr. Brad+ said...

Fr. Foos,

Congratulations on this beautiful assessment of your vocation.

St. Andrew's is a wonderful place, full of grace and beauty. I sometimes wonder if it is real or maybe I imagined it. Reading this article, I guess I have proof of my experience.

May God continue to bless you.