Plunging to the Depths: Learning + Ice Cuts

The knowledge of place “comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons, valuing it for the profound investment of labor and feeling that you, your parents and grandparents, your all-but-unknown ancestors have put into it.” ~ Wallace Stegner, novelist, environmentalist, historian

IMG_7851If we take the time to notice, we can truly revel in our connection to place. Two fourth graders, recent participants in the LEAPS of IMAGINATION program,* were asked what they love most about living on the coast of Maine. In a jiffy they responded, “That I can look at the sun when it is rising near the ocean,” and, “The harbor and the cool ocean breeze.” In a time in which we scurry from place to place and we focus on one commitment or another, I was ecstatic to hear that kids are passionate about their community near the sea.  IMG_7802

On a blustery winter day in Maine we can’t help but know where we are and what’s going on around us. Today the snow, two feet high, is glistening in the afternoon sun, and icicles hang from the eaves. Winter has unexpectedly carved a formidable place, deep within my soul.

IMG_8017I recently got still another perspective from Eric Aho’s Ice Cuts, exhibited at The Hood Museum, in Hanover, N.H. – breathtaking works that reveal the artist’s experience of the winter landscape over nearly a decade. Each year he cuts a hole in the ice, “a meditation on the nuances of light and color.” “Winter,” says Aho,”takes me to faraway, impossible reaches.” Interweaving past and present, he travels back in time, recalling his father’s ice-harvesting days while experiencing “the depth of the ice, the light of the day, and the reflections of the water.” His artwork brought me marvelously close to that chill of winter.

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IMG_7606IMG_7921Kids Drawing Imaginary Maps

The depth of one’s learning, like the depth of Aho’s ice cuts, offer the ultimate experience for school children. Both in the classroom and in connection to place, making our own meaning lets us deepen our personal narratives and connect to our inner selves. When we are “in this place” we can move from abstraction to memory in school and from memory to abstraction in art.


It’s now common knowledge that children need to plunge into learning. “Deeper learning competencies are what will help students succeed in a dynamic and uncertain world that places a premium on people who are flexible, creative, and innovative.” ** So that is what we must offer them. It’s time to give them the challenge of making “ice cuts” this season, and give them big blocks of time in which to take the plunge. 

There’s more to winter still. And I, for one, am happily sinking my boots into it.

Nancy Harris Frohlich

IMG_8032* LEAPS of IMAGINATION is an in-school art + literature program for public school children, whose art programs have been significantly cut.

**National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future 2016, “How Deeper Learning Can Create a New Vision for Teaching”

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