The Boo Boo Bear Express
The paper boat lived on a stage in New Harmony’s cafeteria for the entirety of its inaugural school year. While many students were integral to the construction of the final four layers of the boat, Kahi was the student you would consistently find at the boat’s side during breakfast, lunch and independent work time. He showed up almost every day possible. Quietly on the stage, he cut strips of paper, delicately layered hundreds of them onto the boat across several layers, dripping lots of watery wood glue on his shoes and pants (sorry Mr. & Mrs. Augustin!). He came in to work on the boat on holidays when we were pressed for time, and he even ventured out to the middle of the Manchac Marshes to a slightly creepy swamp lodge for a two night arts retreat. It was there that he taught us as teachers a huge lesson about how differently students can learn and create.
While he was always deeply involved in the construction aspects of the project, when we got out to Manchac, he would hardly put a pen to paper to write stories for the project. The second day, though, was the printmaking workshop. Kahi and the others walked the long boardwalks above the marsh and observed and sketched pieces of the ecosystem — Kahi quiet as usual. But when we got back to the lodge to carve the sketches into linoleum, Kahi was insatiable. He spent the next two days, quiet in the quiet basement surrounded by fishing equipment carving first a boat, then an owl, and then a cartoon character. Each creature he carved had these eyes that spoke to you and knew things; they conveyed life and personality. After the retreat, he asked for an even bigger piece of linoleum to make a big print for the New Harmony magazine. A few days later when we asked how it was going, he said he couldn’t figure out what to draw, but he thought maybe another bird. I was thinking of the beautiful owl he’d already carved or maybe an eagle or pelican. Something majestic. A couple days later, still no carving, but he said he’d started. “What is it?” I asked, excited to know.
“A pigeon,” he said with almost no expression.
In my head I was like “A pigeon?! Of all the creatures we saw in the marshes?!?”
I was so wrong! He drew and carved the most knowing and majestic of pigeons, its head slightly cocked to the side, as if it was maybe slightly confused or questioning why someone had carved such a pigeon into existence in the first place.
I am truly thankful for this pigeon and for Kahi, for Kahi’s loving parents, and for Kyren, his brother who is one of the most supportive siblings I’ve ever witnessed.
Four out of seven paper layers of the boat are compiled with Kahi’s fastidious touch, unique artwork and shining spirit. Kahi lives on in the paper boat. This was clear last Monday, the afternoon after Kahi passed, when a procession of students poured out of New Harmony, a dozen carrying the boat and even more processing behind, along Bayou St John and across The Magnolia Bridge. We took a moment to remember how much work and love Kahi put into this boat and how much we always will miss him. Then, in the tradition of naming boats after a virtuous figure in hopes of bringing good fortune to the vessel’s travels and travelers, the paper boat was christened the Boo Boo Bear Express after Kahi’s affectionate family nickname. We love you Kahi. We will never forget you: virtuous, quiet, loud, sarcastic, a secretly amazing dancer, loving. Thank you for all you contributed to this boat and all you taught us. Pigeons are majestic!