Helen and boating

Words: 801-900

Skills: Character Traits Context Clues Figurative Language Summary

Grades: 5th 6th 7th 8th

Topics: History

Genres: Biography / Autobiography

Lexile Range:

Lexile Measure:

CCSS: Reading: Informational Text

Themes:

Helen and Boating


by Helen Keller from The Story of My Life

CHAPTER XXII passage: Born in 1880, Helen Keller was a bright, intelligent child. Then as a toddler, she contracted a serious disease that left her without her hearing or sight. Helen's parents finally found a teacher who helped her find her way out of the darkness and silence. This passage from Helen's 1903 autobiography speaks of her love of boating and the water. After reading the passage, students will answer questions on the language, the details, and Helen's character.

Reading Comprehension Passage

Helen and Boating

by Helen Keller from The Story of My Life
Helen Keller was born in 1880 in Alabama. As a small child, she became seriously ill. She recovered, but she lost her sight and her hearing. Because she was so young when she became ill, she never learned to speak. Helen's parents knew she was very bright and found a special teacher to help her learn language and communication. Helen went on to college and became an activist, author, and lecturer. This passage is from her autobiography, published in 1903, about her time in college.

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More than once in the course of my story I have referred to my love of the country and out-of-door sports. When I was quite a little girl, I learned to row and swim, and during the summer, when I am at Wrentham, Massachusetts, I almost live in my boat. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to take my friends out rowing when they visit me. Of course, I cannot guide the boat very well. Some one usually sits in the stern and manages the rudder while I row. Sometimes, however, I go rowing without the rudder. It is fun to try to steer by the scent of watergrasses and lilies, and of bushes that grow on the shore. I use oars with leather bands, which keep them in position in the oarlocks, and I know by the resistance of the water when the oars are evenly poised. In the same manner I can also tell when I am pulling against the current. I like to contend with wind and wave. What is more exhilarating than to make your staunch little boat, obedient to your will and muscle, go skimming lightly over glistening, tilting waves, and to feel the steady, imperious surge of the water!

I also enjoy canoeing, and I suppose you will smile when I say that I especially like it on moonlight nights. I cannot, it is true, see the moon climb up the sky behind the pines and steal softly across the heavens, making a shining path for us to follow; but I know she is there, and as I lie back among the pillows and put my hand in the water, I fancy that I feel the shimmer of her garments as she passes. Sometimes a daring little fish slips between my fingers, and often a pond-lily presses shyly against my hand. Frequently, as we emerge from the shelter of a cove or inlet, I am suddenly conscious of the spaciousness of the air about me. A luminous warmth seems to enfold me. Whether it comes from the trees which have been heated by the sun, or from the water, I can never discover. I have had the same strange sensation even in the heart of the city. I have felt it on cold, stormy days and at night. It is like the kiss of warm lips on my face.

My favourite amusement is sailing. In the summer of 1901 I visited Nova Scotia, and had opportunities such as I had not enjoyed before to make the acquaintance of the ocean. After spending a few days in Evangeline's country, about which Longfellow's beautiful poem has woven a spell of enchantment, Miss Sullivan and I went to Halifax, where we remained the greater part of the summer. The harbour was our joy, our paradise. What glorious sails we had to Bedford Basin, to McNabb's Island, to York Redoubt, and to the Northwest Arm! And at night what soothing, wondrous hours we spent in the shadow of the great, silent men-of-war. Oh, it was all so interesting, so beautiful! The memory of it is a joy forever.

One day we had a thrilling experience. There was a regatta in the Northwest Arm, in which the boats from the different warships were engaged. We went in a sail-boat along with many others to watch the races. Hundreds of little sail-boats swung to and fro close by, and the sea was calm. When the races were over, and we turned our faces homeward, one of the party noticed a black cloud drifting in from the sea, which grew and spread and thickened until it covered the whole sky. The wind rose, and the waves chopped angrily at unseen barriers. Our little boat confronted the gale fearlessly; with sails spread and ropes taut, she seemed to sit upon the wind. Now she swirled in the billows, now she spring upward on a gigantic wave, only to be driven down with angry howl and hiss. Down came the mainsail. Tacking and jibbing, we wrestled with opposing winds that drove us from side to side with impetuous fury. Our hearts beat fast, and our hands trembled with excitement, not fear, for we had the hearts of vikings, and we knew that our skipper was master of the situation. He had steered through many a storm with firm hand and sea-wise eye. As they passed us, the large craft and the gunboats in the harbour saluted and the seamen shouted applause for the master of the only little sail-boat that ventured out into the storm. At last, cold, hungry and weary, we reached our pier.

Passage Only

Reading Comprehension Questions

1. When Helen goes out in the rowboat without a rudder, how does she steer since she can't see?



2. What does Helen compare the moon to?



3. What does staunch mean here: "make your staunch little boat, obedient to your will"?



4. Helen seems thrilled by being in the sailboat during the storm after the regatta. How would you feel if you were on a sailboat during a heavy storm and were not able to see anything?