Fare Thee Well, Whitney

By Mike Guardino, former CHS science teacher —

Fare Thee Well, Whitney

Teaching in a traditional public high school can isolate a person from his colleagues as opportunities to watch each other teach, or to actually collaborate on a lesson to be delivered to both teachers’ classes, come along very infrequently. When Whitney Grummon first started working at Carmel High we were both having our students read Cannery Row at the same time. My Biology I class was reading the novel to support our unit on marine biology while Whit’s freshman English class was studying the literary aspects of Steinbeck’s little masterpiece. As Whitney and I had several students in common, they soon pointed out to each of us that they were being asked to read the same book for our two different courses.

I stopped by room 21 one afternoon to talk to Whitney about our shared interest in Steinbeck and we ended up discussing our perceptions of Cannery Row for over an hour. My main interest in the novel was the protagonist ‘Doc’ who was the romanticized version of Steinbeck’s best friend, the marine ecologist and author of Between Pacific Tides, Ed Ricketts. Whitney was equally impressed with the novel’s analysis of the ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches’ who are the supporting characters. Both of us appreciated the novel’s design, which focuses on the present as Ricketts philosophy of non-teleological or “Is” thinking advocated: the only thing which matters is now because you can’t change the past and the future is impossible to control.  Live for the moment, or as Ricketts defended his thinking by asserting, “Is things are.”

I had been taking my students on field trips to Ed Ricketts’ Pacific Biological Laboratories on Cannery Row since 1987 and asked Whitney if she would like to team up and bring both of our classes to wrap up our units on Steinbeck. That is when I first got the chance to watch Whit teach and truly relate to each and every student who was present in the Lab that day. We asked the students to read several passages from Cannery Row in the very building that most of the events took place before helping them discover the subtle message behind each anecdote. I saw the real joy that Whitney found in teaching that day as she exchanged ideas with our students and encouraged them to think about science, literature, and life in general.

We repeated this Cannery Row adventure with our classes several more times over the years while adding other aspects to the tour such as visits to the Aquarium for scientific dive shows and guest speakers at Ricketts’ Lab. Whether she brought her APLAC students or a group of freshman, Whitney always related to their needs and gave them a needed voice to express themselves. To ensure that we kept our trips to the Lab light and fun, we always ate our lunch there and made a toast to Ricketts and Steinbeck by drinking (root)beer milkshakes. This was the ‘G’ rated version of an excerpt from Chapter 17 of Cannery Row where a friend of Doc’s says, “You love beer so much. I’ll bet someday you’ll go in and order a beer milkshake.”

Whitney and I also connected with our shared love for the Grateful Dead. As faithful Deadheads we would trade stories of the many concerts each of us had attended along with tales of Jerry Garcia and days gone by. As I was ten years older than Whitney my history of following, and photographing, the Dead dated back to 1971 when I was a sophomore in high school. I gave Whitney a picture of Jerry that I took at a concert at Winterland, in San Francisco in 1972, and she proudly hung it on her classroom wall for all of her students to enjoy. In June of 2015 my brother was able to buy four tickets for the Dead’s 50th anniversary, ‘Fare Thee Well’ tour in Santa Clara. As Whitney and Haven didn’t have tickets, we sold them our extras and I watched mother and daughter joyfully dancing to Sugar Magnolia under the ‘Jerry rainbow.’ I will always have that.

I didn’t participate in the annual CHS Desert Trip for a long time because I used my spring vacations to take my Subtidal Marine Research students on a week-long dive trip to the Channel Islands each year. When I finally had the time to join in, Whitney was one of the other staff members on the Desert Trip crew, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her work her magic on students who were clearly looking for meaningful connections in their high school experience. She gave that to them, and so much more.

Whitney was my sounding board when it came to politics as we were both a few standard deviations to the left of the societal bell curve. I appreciated her willingness to listen to my rants while considering her similar concerns and objections.

I got the opportunity to dive with Haven shortly before she went off to Duke. I can see so much of Whitney’s spirit in Haven and know that she will somehow learn to deal with this tragic and unexpected loss. Life is so precious and all of us need to live each day to the fullest.

 

Fare you well, fare you well

I love you more than words can tell

Listen to the river sing sweet songs

to rock my soul*

  • Jerry Garcia, “Brokedown Palace”

 

Mike Guardino