It was long ago and far away. Little Ben was the smallest kid and the only white in a resource class full of African Americans. He was quiet, sullen, and, according to the teachers, stupid.
And, when I visited the classroom, he seemed to be acting out the teacher predictions.
I was a naturalist, and I took the class to the nature center for a hike and nature lesson. The loud, aggressive, street-talking blacks were suddenly shy and quiet. "Are there lions and tigers and bears?" they asked, all trying to hide behind me at once.
But the biggest change was in Little Ben. He wore a giant smile, surged ahead, caught a frog to show the others, remembered everything I told him and repeated it back--the names of the trees, the names of the flowers, the names of the fish in the lake and heron fishing on the shore.
Little Ben was not stupid or sullen or quiet. He was excited, engaged, intelligent, eager. I saw him again, several times, and the difference was like night and day. In the classroom, he wilted. In the woods, he blossomed.
Little Ben needed that all-outdoor program they offer at Cornell, but it wasn't offered than, and even if it was, his family couldn't have afforded it. I often wonder what happened to him, but it was long ago and far away and I don't know.
Somewhere, I have a photo (maybe several) of the real Little Ben, but this painting of Asher from Bradbury Mountain in Maine, filling in for both Garryd and Billy Owens can now also filling in for Little Ben. He looks quite a bit like the real Little Ben.