Caring for a Rose

Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you that it’s only very recently that I’ve been able to take care of a plant for longer than three months without killing it. Beta fish went the same way in middle school several times. I love my cat because she told me (loudly) to feed her every morning while I was in high school! Mostly I just forget to water plants for too long, or stick them near a window that’s too cold, or never repot them…my poor plants.

This has led me to learn about some of the hardiest plants out there. I did keep a spider plant alive for almost four years; it sometimes weathered month-long droughts! (Sorry, spider plant…) Coleus plants are also fairly hardy; my AP bio project (round two, but still) is still living the bay window in Steamboat! (This could possibly be because Mom takes care of it now.)

And then Mom gave me a challenge. She got me ten different plants to keep in my classroom. Some of them were hanging plants; I have another spider plant that I love. Some were small and drape off the edge of things, and some were huge! As of today, I can say that nine are still alive. There was a succulent that succumbed to a combination of over-watering and over-interest from my students (they liked to pull the leaves off). And I have to say that one of the hanging plants is still mad from when I accidentally stripped most of its leaves off when I set another plant on top of it during the trip back to school this fall.

But the others look great!

And yes, it’s partially my student aides who help remember to water them. I have the best student aides.

Even my school plants are nothing on my biggest plant challenge. Last February, I received a miniature rose plant that I have desperately been trying not to kill ever since.

Roses are not the most difficult to grow, but they’re a big step up from the almost un-kill-able plants I’d previously killed. They don’t like being too dry. They don’t like being too wet. They’re susceptible to white fungi and aphids. They like a lot of light but not being cold. I can tell you all of these things because my rose has survived all of these things.

When I got my rose, there were five plants twined together in a single pot. This is common for commercial plants; it makes them look thick and healthy and gives you options for repotting. At first I kept the rose a little too dry; leaves near the bottom started to yellow and dry. One stem died off all together. Marilyn, who owns the house I live in and visits frequently, showed me how to soak the rose in a pot once a week to keep it happier.

20170430_160833

This worked for a while, until a white powder substance began to appear on the leaves. This white fungus coats rose plants and causes the leaves to shrivel up. Now my rose was too wet and fighting a fungus! I went to Home Depot and purchased some rose fertilizer/protector stuff with all sorts of warning labels all over it. I mixed it to the proper concentration and poured it over my rose plant.

Turns out it was not made for potted plants. This was nearly the end of my rose. Leaves fell. Stems turned hard and brown. I hadn’t had a single bloom since the ones that were budding when I got the silly thing.

Like a guardian angel, Marilyn swooped in with pruning shears. She cut the rose WAY back and put it outside in a pot with several other flowers. There was one sad stem left of the five I’d started with, and it didn’t have a single leaf. Both Marilyn and I thought that was the end of the rose. Ellen, who lives in the apartment in the basement, waters the outside pots all summer, so it would get water whether it was dead or not.

But there must have been some green left in there somewhere; all of a sudden there were little sprouts coming off everywhere on that stem. And then there were leaves. And magically, then there was a bud. And then there was a rose.

20170620_160133

Every time I managed to make it to Boulder over the summer, there were more leaves and more buds. My rose was thriving! I think it liked the long hot days and being with other plants and insects and such things. And I think it liked getting regular water from Ellen. It did grow a little wonky; the other flowers in the pot had a head start, so my rose had to grow kind of sideways and then up to get out from under them. But wonky or not, my rose grew.

20170906_172055

And then fall came, and it was getting around to the time to bring the rose back inside.

I carefully repotted the rose into it’s own pot, and left it next to its outside pot for another week. I wanted it to have the same sunlight it’d had before to hopefully ease the transition. After a week I brought it inside and set it next to the sliding glass door. I felt the soil every day to check the moisture and rotated my plant so it would grow a little straighter. Leaves turned brown. Leaves fell. I crossed my fingers that my rose was just transitioning. I forgot to water it once. A few more leaves fell. And then my dear rose stabilized and, though it still doesn’t look as happy as it did all summer, it was all green and blooming again.

20171108_061759

Until the day I went to pour the water in a realized it looked…fuzzy. I looked closer and realized my poor rose was COVERED in aphids! I sprayed my rose down (and carefully dried the leaves to avoid the white fungus episode of last year) and picked off any aphids that were still there. I became the predatory rose-mom; I checked it every evening and picked off any aphids I saw. I thought I had the population pretty much destroyed until I left for Christmas. When I came back, they were back in even stronger numbers than they had been before. Leaves were dropping. One sad bloom refused to open. One branch was completely denuded.

I have since wielded a soap spray with great efficacy, though I still check it and pull an aphid or two off every three nights or so. But my rose is green, and my bloom is opening. Yesterday I found a new one.

I love taking care of my rose. I like the way the leaves smell, I like watching the blooms develop. I love how weird the stems are since they keep growing towards the light. I even sort of like picking off aphids (though I would rather my rose not have to deal with them). I really like repotting and playing in the dirt. And the best part is my rose isn’t dead yet! It’s likely the hardiest rose to ever be tortured, but I’m getting better at it.

Maybe I’m ready for a vegetable garden!

Your homework: What’s one thing you struggled to be good at? Who helped you? Did your rose survive?

Hej då,

Jamie

Advertisements

Oceanography Class

As part of my adventure in moving to Utah, one of the things I’ve been doing is working on getting my Utah teaching license. Education is a state power, so every state licenses differently. And oh boy, do they do it differently.

In Colorado, I hold a secondary science teaching license. This means, according to the state of Colorado, that I am qualified to teach any science class from grade 7 to grade 12. Colorado had a series of requirements I needed in order to get this license; I needed to have a bachelor’s in a science, six credits plus a lab class in the other two core sciences (since my bachelor’s was in biology, the other two core sciences for me were chemistry and physics), an earth science class, an astronomy class, and a certain number of credits. I needed a passing score on the general science Praxis exam, and a certain number of education credits along with student teaching.

Utah, on the other hand, licenses by discipline. When I receive a secondary science license, I must also apply for endorsements for each type of science. For example, I am working on getting my biology, chemistry, environmental, and earth science endorsements. Utah has a list of college classes required for each endorsement, and each endorsement also requires its own specific Praxis test. Amusingly, the only endorsement I actually had all the classes for was chemistry! Because my major was in molecular biology, I was missing several crucial “big bio” classes.

In order to remedy all of these missing pieces, I’ve been diving into AP bio study sessions with Mom to prepare for the biology Praxis (she was highly successful in preparing me!) and taking several online courses. The first of these courses was Oceanography.

To be totally honest, it’s been awesome to go back to being a student again! There’s something very satisfying about having a reading assignment (this week was FIVE chapters, which was a bit much…) and a three page paper to write. I will admit to having the same problem with word limits that I’ve always had – I write three to four times more than I have space for and then have to cut things out.

And I’ve been learning interesting things! My favorite so far has been learning about global wind patterns; I now know what the trade winds are and why they go the direction they do, and why sailors warn against westerlies. These winds drive many of the ocean currents; I can now explain why Uppsala, Sweden has a climate similar to Colorado (but wetter) even though it’s so much farther north. (It’s because the Gulf Stream moves masses of warm air that direction.) And I’ve learned that if you ever need to explain why air or water is moving in a circular or spiraling motion on a global scale, or just explain why anything isn’t behaving as linearly as you thought, the answer is the Coriolis effect.

If you think about the Earth, the most solar radiation happens at the equator. That means that air gets warm and rises. Then it pushes out towards the poles, drops a lot of precipitation, and falls back down as cool dry air. If you look at the Earth, you can see the hot wet equator is bounded on either side by deserts; the deserts are where the cold dry air falls back down.

However, the Earth is spinning. This is the basis of the Coriolis effect. Imagine if you launched a rocket from Quito, Ecuador (at the equator). Even if you launched it straight north, the Earth would spin underneath it while it was flying. The rocket would land northwest of Quito. There’s all sorts of math you can do to figure out exactly how far west, but I haven’t gotten that in-depth.

The Coriolis effect means that the warm air rising from the equator falls back down to the west of where it started, either northwest or southwest. These are the trade winds. The next convection cell away from the equator, either north or south, blows to the east (these are the westerlies!). And now when I read novels, I actually know what these things mean!

(The lead image explains it nicely, too, if you like images better than words.)

I still have oceanography homework due today, so I’ll leave this one here and give you your homework! What’s the best new thing you’ve learned lately? You can define “best” however you like.

Actually, a post script. The first new thing I learned this year was “awkward salmon.” Remember awkward turtle? You put your hands on top of each other and circled your thumbs in awkward situations when no one knew what to say. It was an awkward turtle because it only had two legs. This spawned all sorts of awkward animals and plants…all the way to awkward palm tree. But when my brother put his hand between my arm and my rib cage and flapped it back and forth, that was a new one to me. That’s awkward salmon. Cheers, Jeff, for teaching me that on our New Year’s hike.

Hej då!

Jamie

A Big Adventure

Hej friends, and Happy New Year! This year I spent Christmas and New Years in my beloved Steamboat Springs with my family, including Granny, and Jonathan. We ate way too many cookies, managed to (by sheer luck) find a couple of powder stashes, lazed in front of the fire, and generally did wonderful Christmas-y things.

This morning Mom, Jeff, Jonathan and I got up early to hike to the quarry to greet the sun. This is still one of my favorite holiday traditions, and this year was particularly spectacular. It was cold, but the red hue of the clouds was incredible. Like I wrote about last year, I’m grateful for my family, who gives me the gear I need to be able to play outside. The only thing I wore today that wasn’t a present at some point in my life were my boots!

Hiking up to watch the sunrise gives me a sense of peace and purpose for the coming day. I love how the muscles in my legs bunch and release, how my fingertips pulse, how my cheeks feel windburned. This time Mom and I carried our yoga mats up so we had something to sit on, and I spent some time pretending I was an archer carrying a quiver. Yes, I’m definitely still eight sometimes.

I like how the pre-dawn light paints everything in gentle pastel colors, and how quiet it is. I like the crunch of the snow and the creak of the trees as they warm up. I like how awesome the warm tea tastes and feels as it slides into my stomach. But most of all, I love doing it with my people. Jeff tossed me in a snowbank, and Mom and I matched our footsteps so we sounded like one person. Last year I did my New Years hike by myself, and I’m really grateful I got to do it with these people this year.

But that’s not the only adventure I’m going to tell you about today. The other adventure I’m going to tell you about will happen in June and it will likely be the biggest adventure I go on this year. After the end of the school year, I’m going to move to Ogden, Utah to be closer to Jonathan!

Coming from a girl who likes routine, plans, and certainty, this might just be one of the more out-of-character things I’ve ever done. I don’t have a job out there yet; schools tend to hire in the spring. I don’t have a place to live; Jonathan’s current apartment is not big enough for all the skis and bikes we collectively play with! The only person I know out there is, in fact, Jonathan. The level of uncertainty I am willingly introducing into my life is a little mind-boggling.

I’m also wrestling with the fact that I’m leaving Colorado. The longest I’ve ever left Colorado was when I studied abroad in Sweden – I was there for just over six months. But even then, I bought a round-trip plane ticket. Colorado has never not been my home, and quite a lot of my identity is tied up in this state and the Rocky Mountains. I’m also moving farther away for my family, which is a wrench for all of us.

But none of that is the most important part. I am going on an incredible adventure! From Ogden, I could bike from wherever I end up living to bike trails. Snowbasin and Powder Mountain are both thirty minutes away. And I freely admit that I will NOT miss I-70. At all. Ever. (Jeff, Dad and Granny spent SIX HOURS in Downieville on the 23rd. Oy.) I will have the opportunity to learn about a new school and from new teachers. And most importantly, I’ll be with Jonathan.

Here’s where I spare you all the sappy gooey stuff. I’ll just tell you a piece of wisdom I read in a fanfiction story once; when all the cliches in the songs on the radio feel like they apply to you, that’s when you know you’re in trouble. And I am outrageously, unabashedly, happy about all of this. Somewhat terrified, at times, but isn’t that how all the best adventures start?

When I tell people this, I immediately get peppered with questions. This response makes sense to me. What I can tell you is that I don’t have a whole lot of answers yet, but a lot of hope for a really good 2018. I have five months in Colorado, and I intend to make the most of them. And then I can finally stop doing the wretched long-distance thing, and I intend to make the most of that as well!

I hope you all had a wonderful winter break, Merry Christmas or [insert your favorite holiday wishes here], and a good New Years. Here’s to all the resolutions, but more importantly all the hopes and dreams we have. May our hard work and a little bit of luck get us a little closer to them!

Hej då,

Jamie

Knowledge: Breadth versus Depth

This week I get to spend a little bit of time in Utah with Jonathan. He’s finishing up working, and I’m taking care of all that pesky work that builds up until breaks – writing letters of recommendation, reflections for classes I took through the district. Last night we went to dinner with several of his coworkers.

Jonathan works for a company called Orbital ATK. They make rockets for both NASA (they made the boosters for the space shuttles) and the Department of Defense. In particular, Jonathan’s group tests rocket motors that are old, or in extreme temperatures or other conditions, to see the range of conditions the motor can go through and still be a viable motor. That being said, yes, I am literally dating a rocket scientist.

Jonathan’s colleagues are equally intelligent. I sat across from an engineer named Lee, and our conversation ranged from molecular genetics regulation mechanisms to ecosystem principles of population regulation – then he pulled out a pen and started writing first order codependent differential equations (I only half-understand what that means) on a napkin to model ecosystem interactions – to phase changes of social movements to classical music to economics to quantum physics to data analysis and experimental design. At one point he started teaching himself organic chemistry because he wanted to learn it!

In college I knew a lot of people who were incredibly brilliant. But one of my biggest frustrations with my major, in particular, was how specialized the knowledge became. I didn’t want to know everything there was to know about the seven proteins in a p-body that can regulate mRNA translation. I wanted to know about how the story of the p-body was connected to the other science stories I had learned. I wanted to know how biology informed mathematical modeling and how that informed music and dance and how those things reflected political reform.

(Yes, actually, dance can absolutely reflect political reform. For example, ballet before the French Revolution was very different than afterwards. It was primarily a male dance, for one, and the courtiers who performed it wore heels and corsets. After the French Revolution, more women began to dance and the fascination with classics fashion, which introduced flat sandals and toga-like attire, allowed the jumps and bending of the torso that we know of ballet today. Pointe shoes didn’t show up until even later. So there’s your random history lesson!)

Jonathan is similar to Lee in a lot of ways – he loves to be informed about a wide range of subjects. He can speak fluently about physics and engineering, of course, but also about geology and economics and Japanese culture. He knows classic fantasy and science fiction and loves history of all sorts. Though Jonathan and Lee both work in an extremely specialized setting, they themselves seek knowledge outside of that. They epitomize the idea of the “Renaissance man” (OR WOMAN) who was knowledge in many fields and uses that to make leaps to new ideas or knowledge.

All day today, I’ve been pondering (for not the first time) the value of a broad education versus the value of a deep education. When I think about what I teach in my classroom, I feel like I’m rushing through topics and I don’t give students the depth to make the content meaningful. This can lead to students feeling like they’re memorizing a lot of facts with no connection. However, you already know that as a student in my molecular biology major, I found much of the information too specialized to be useful. It lacked the connections to other information that made it interesting.

And that, I think, is the key. It’s not about fighting the battle between breadth versus depth. It’s about finding the meaning and the connected-ness of the information.

Take, for example, one of my favorite moments of learning in my biochemistry class. We were talking about the differences in structure between DNA and RNA. Both are made up of four nucleotides (ATCG for DNA, and AUCG for RNA) that have a similar structure. Every nucleotide has a phosphate, a ribose sugar, and a nitrogenous base (which is the part that determines if it’s A, U, C, G, or T). In DNA, the sugar is slightly different than in the RNA. It’s actually in the name; DNA stands for deoxyribose nucleic acid, while RNA stands for ribose nucleic acid. The sugar in DNA has one less oxygen atom (thus the “deoxy” than the ribose in RNA.

Turns out that extra oxygen in RNA takes up enough space and creates enough intermolecular forces that RNA doesn’t like to form (isn’t as energetically stable in) the classic helix structure we know of DNA. Since DNA is lacking that oxygen, there’s no interference between the turns of the helix and it’s easy for DNA to make that shape. That’s why RNA never looks like DNA! How cool is that?!

Well, unless you’re a total nerd about DNA and RNA like I am, it’s not that cool. RNA nucleotides have one more oxygen than DNA nucleotides. Whee.

I care about this fact because I can connect it to what I already know about DNA and RNA. That fact has meaning to me. It deepens my understanding. But for my students, this likely feels like too much depth into details they really don’t care about.

The value of breadth is that it allows cross-pollination of ideas. Lee could model ecosystems with differential equations, or model social uprisings with the same math that describes ice melting. But the value of depth is the understanding of details that make the story richer and more meaningful in specific settings. Both have their place. But without the story to make the meaning and the connections, both can feel tasteless and boring.

My homework for you: Do you prefer lots of details or the big-picture view? How do you move between these two mindsets?

Hej då,

Jamie

How to Define Success

When I was an undergraduate student at CU, I was fortunate to be part of the President’s Leadership Class. This was a four year program that we described as having three parts; it was a series of classes, a scholarship, and a community. Through the classwork and other associated requirements, we earned a certificate in leadership and invaluable relationship with our peers.

In the first two and a half years of my undergraduate career, I had an intense and somewhat rocky relationship with the program. I was surrounded by incredibly brilliant and talented people, and I wasn’t sure how I fit in or how to stand out. I felt crippled by the incredibly high expectations the program placed on me, and overwhelmed by the workload and the successes of the people around me.

During my spring semester of my junior year, I studied abroad in Sweden and for six months, I hardly talked to anyone in the US except for my immediate family. I took several classes, but mostly I wandered a lot up and down the Fyris river and spent a lot of time thinking. That separation was crucial in many ways.

At the end of that time, I returned to PLC and was a TA for the first year classes. This was, by far, my favorite year of my undergraduate career. I aced biochemistry (along with the rest of my classes), kept school in perspective, and had a wonderful time living at Holly House with my friends. I am immensely proud of the work I did with the first year team and what I learned in my final year as a PLCer.

Interesting story, you say. But why am I revisiting it tonight?

I just finished an interview with a first-year PLC student who is creating a yearbook of past and present PLCers. Since my mom was also in PLC, the program director wanted to feature the two of us as a generational story. And in that interview, Jenna asked me a really excellent question. She asked me, “How do you define success?”

I had to think for a moment before I answered that one, and in some ways I’m not sure I answered her at all. But the very short version of what I told her was that I had to define success for myself, rather than defining it by others’ expectations of me.

The long version included telling her the story that I just told you, about my overwhelmed-ness with trying to live up to being in PLC and a Boettcher scholar, taking space, and coming back with an entirely new attitude. When I came back to Boulder that year, I decided I was going to Take Back Boulder. (Really, it had nothing to do with Boulder; it had to do with classes and school and my priorities. But Boulder sounds better.) I set stringent boundaries for PLC; I didn’t live with other PLCers and I was extremely cautious about letting PLC in my house. I didn’t talk about it, work on it, or have PLCers over except in very non-PLC settings. I defined my own goals for biochemistry and my other classes. I had goals outside of school for my social life and health that I prioritized over homework, sometimes. And, with the support of the people of Holly House, I met all of my goals.

In doing this, I also met a lot of the other expectations of success for other people. Aced classes, good projects, family dinner for Holly people once a week: these things all happened. But they didn’t happen because other people expected them. They happened because I decided I wanted them to.

Defining success is about defining expectations. When I answered Jenna, I didn’t tell her how I defined success. In some ways, that’s very dependent on the situation. And sometimes it’s really important to consider other people’s expectations. But I did tell her that it was super important for me to define success, rather than letting other people do it for me.

Hooray! Success story! I learned a cool thing and now my life is awesome!

Except…not quite.

As I was telling all of this to Jenna, I realized that I had completely forgotten this lesson when I became a teacher. There are a lot of perceptions of teachers, ranging from incompetents in a failing system to saviors of American culture. With all of this comes a lot of expectations about pulling long hours at school, doing lots of grading, what lessons should look like, how students should behave and how much they should learn…the list of expectations is endless. And it’s literally impossible to meet them all; but despite that, I try. And I burn out, and I get exhausted, and I keep trying, and it’s really quite terrible for me.

So. I have some major homework and thinking to do, courtesy once again of PLC. How do I regain control of how define success as a teacher? How do I lay aside everyone else’s expectations and live up only to my own? How do I use my expectations to set boundaries so I can be an excellent teacher in the classroom and also a real human when I get home?

Good questions. But the good thing is that I know I figured it once. It was in a different setting at a different time in my life, but I think I can figure it out again.

Your homework is the same homework Jenna gave me. How do you define success?

Hej då,

Jamie

Exploring the Well-Known

This last weekend, a math-teacher-friend and I hiked up in Chautauqua Park. Paige has lived in Boulder her entire life, so she’s incredibly familiar with the trail system there. I’ve always loved that trail system; the iconic Flat Irons rise above a meadow and it’s easy to get up high quickly to a good view. (It’s also a good way to get a wicked work out very quickly; those trails go up!)

I have a couple of favorite trails I go up a lot; Royal Arch, Mallory Cave, and especially the Amphitheater Trail up to Saddle Rock. But Paige took me somewhere I’ve never been before, up to Wood’s Quarry.

It was an excellent hike; there’s a good amount of climbing, a lovely view, lots of “chairs” and a “couch” built from rock slabs, and the whole expedition takes about an hour and a little bit. I love that, despite the hours I’ve spent playing on those trails, there are tons of places I still don’t know.

This isn’t the first time Paige and I have hiked together at Chautauqua. About a month ago, we hiked up Gregory Canyon to Flagstaff Road. It was a new hike to both of us; I’d heard another friend talking about it, I’d seen the trail head, and I wanted to see what it was like. The leaves were beautiful, the trail winding through rocks and creek beds.

When we got to the top, Paige realized where we were and knew all the trails we could take from there. Unfortunately, we were time-limited that day and decided to head back down the way we came up.

A lot of people don’t like out-and-back hikes, but I find in many ways I really enjoy them. The hike looks completely different when you’re facing the other direction; I notice different things and enjoy it differently. This is especially true when the trail is steep; I tend to put my head down and let my legs churn on the way up.

Often we spend a lot of time in the same places, driving on the same roads, walking the same paths. Habits are really important for freeing up cognitive space and energy. But it’s also really important not to go through the motions in a daze. Goodness knows I could probably drive to and from Longmont High School while mostly asleep. (In reality, I probably have after parent teacher conferences. Or this morning. Whoops.)

Every Friday after school, I drive home a different route than normal. Most of my motivation for doing this is the alternate route takes me past a bakery and I can get a cupcake! But I like driving a different way. I notice the mountains more. I like driving past different farms and seeing different horses.

It’s a short post this week – finals week preparation is taking a toll – but I still have homework for you! Where is somewhere that is intimately familiar to you? How can you make it new again?

Hej då,

Jamie

Harry Potter and Different Kinds of Fear

Well, it’s been a very long time since I’ve written you anything about Harry Potter, despite my proclaimed love for his story. I will admit, I’ve recently gotten sucked into Anne of Green Gables fanfiction, which has been revitalized by Netflix’s release of Anne with an E. I didn’t make it through the first episode – it was a little dark and a little too different for me – but I digress. As much as I love Anne (and I really, really do) there is still something special about the wizarding world.

When I first wrote about Harry Potter (over a year ago!) I mentioned that I got to take a college class (yes, a real class, for credit and everything) about Harry Potter. One of the things we focused on when we read book three was fear. I’d like to share some of those thoughts with you today.

**Do I really need to put a spoilers warning here? I’m going to anyway, just in case.**

(Plot summary for those who need a refresher: Harry spends his summer trying to be good in order to get the Dursleys to sign his permission slip for him to go to Hogsmeade, the wizarding village near Hogwarts. This ends disastrously when Harry loses his temper and inflates his Aunt Marge. He runs from home and ends up spending the rest of the summer in Diagon Ally, courtesy of the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge. He learns that Sirius Black has escaped from the wizard prison of Azkaban, where he was serving a life sentence for the betrayal of Lily and James and the murder of Peter Pettigrew and thirteen other Muggles. This escape leads to Dementors, the magical Azkaban guards, being posted around Hogwarts. Remus Lupin, a friend of the Potters and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, teaches Harry the Patronus charm after Harry finds he is especially badly affected by the Dementors, who suck happiness from all around them. In the midst of all of this, Hagrid is fighting to save a hippogriff named Buckbeak, who slashed Draco Malfoy during Care of Magical Creatures class and is set to be executed. In a twisty ending, Harry, Hermione and Ron meet Sirius and Peter Pettigrew, learn that Peter has been masquerading as Scabbers the rat, and that it was in fact Peter who committed all the crimes attributed to Sirius. Sirius is Harry’s godfather, and for one moment Harry thinks he can leave the Dursleys and have something of a family. Peter escapes, however, and Fudge doesn’t believe anyone who tries to tell him that Sirius in innocent. Harry and Hermione use Hermione’s Time Turner to go back in time to save Buckbeak and free Sirius. Or that’s the gist, anyway.)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a special book in many ways. For the first time, we know more about the generation of witches and wizards before Harry. We get to meet Remus Lupin, werewolf, Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, and one of James Potter’s best friends. We spend the entire book wondering about Sirius Black, and learn the secrets of the castle with the Marauders, only to learn their identities at the end of the book. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs end up being no less than Remus, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius, and James. Harry identifies incredibly strongly with his father in this book – in Latin, the incantation for a Patronus literally translates to “expect father.”

It’s also the first book where readers gained insight into the fact that JKR had an incredibly detailed master plan. Scabbers, Ron’s pet rat, became a pivotal character. Hagrid’s comment about borrowing Sirius’ bike in the first chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone is suddenly monumental. In the fandom, this book was the one that started the online communities and the explosion of fan theories. If details such as those could become important, what else was hiding in plain sight?

But beyond the generational parallels, which are fascinating, the theme that we spent a lot of time discussing was fear. When Harry runs from Number 4, Privet Drive, he’s nearly crushed by the Knight Bus because he stumbles backwards in fear, thinking he’s seen the Grim. The Grim is a dog, and all those who see one die of fear. Hermione thinks this is preposterous, Ron claims that’s how is Uncle Bilius died, and Trelawney, the professor of Divination (or future-telling) continually uses the symbol to predict Harry’s death.

You also meet Boggarts in this book in the Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Boggarts are shape-shifters that turn into the thing each person fears the most. For Ron, it’s a giant spider. Hermione meets McGonagall, telling her that she’s failed everything. Neville is confronted with Professor Snape. However, Boggarts are easily defeated once a witch or wizard has identified them. The trick is to think of some way to make the feared thing funny and to use laughter (and the incantation Riddikulus, which implies the same thing) to get rid of it. It can also be helpful to confront Boggarts in groups, because the creature gets confused about what to turn in to. Everyone is delighted when Professor Snape appears in Neville’s grandmother’s vulture hat, dress, and large handbag, for example.

I also find it interesting that this is the first book in which we’re introduced to werewolves. Most of wizarding society fears and discriminates against werewolves, but the professor we know in Remus Lupin is the last person who would normally be scary. He becomes Harry’s mentor and first real connection to his parents. Like boggarts, when scary things are placed into the right context, they’re no longer scary.

In contrast with these two examples are the Dementors. JKR has said in interviews that Dementors were directly born out of her experience with depression. Dementors suck happy thoughts and memories from people, feeding on positive emotions. In the presence of a Dementor, people are forced to relive their most awful memories. When left uncontrolled, they can suck the soul from a person. The Dementor’s Kiss is a fascinating alternative to the death sentence in wizarding law. Rather than laughter, a wizard facing a Dementor needs to call upon their strongest joyous memory to fuel the spell.

As part of my class, I wrote an essay about my “Boggart fears” and my “Dementor fears.” Boggart fears are very real, but somewhat silly and overcome-able with support from friends and the right mindset. These are things like how I run from wasps and get nervous before getting evaluated in my classroom. Dementor fears are the things that grip my whole being and paralyze me. For example, feeling out of control of my situation makes me uncomfortable to the point of avoidance and/or tears. Another Dementor fear that used to grip me with incredible power was the fear of being alone. In my loneliest times, it seemed to me that I would always be alone.

Dementor fears aren’t insurmountable. Particularly the fear about being alone has proven to be categorically untrue. (I’m looking at you, dear readers.) The one about control and ambiguity…I’m still working on that one.

The incredibly powerful thing about Harry is that his Boggart is a Dementor. The thing he fears more than anything is being afraid to the point of being powerless.

Your homework: What are some of your Boggart fears? What are some of your Dementor fears? How do you empower yourself in the face of these fears?

Hej då,

Jamie