When Keller had learned to spell out some words, her teacher gave her pieces of cardboard with words on them in raised lettering. She would make sentences with these words at the same time as she arranged objects to correspond with the sentences, putting her doll on her bed as she assembled the words “doll,” “is,” “on,” and “bed.” Keller had no regular lessons, and these activities seemed more like play than work to her, particularly as Sullivan constantly reinforced her teaching with beautiful stories and poems. They often studied outside, “preferring the sunlit woods to the house,” and Keller learned the names of many plants and animals that were all around them.
Arithmetic was the only subject Keller did not enjoy, but even this she began to learn by stringing beads and arranging straws. She learned from a collection of fossils she was given, from shells and plants, and from tadpoles she kept in a bowl. Sullivan’s sympathy and genius turned every aspect of Keller’s life into an opportunity for learning.
The Christmas of 1887 was a great event, with Sullivan helping Keller to prepare surprises for everyone in her family. On Christmas Eve, Keller was invited to the Christmas festivities of the Tuscumbia schoolchildren and took great delight in dancing round their tree. She received many gifts for Christmas, but her favourite was a canary given to her by Sullivan. She called the canary Little Tim, and he was so tame that he ate out of her hand. However, one morning, when she left Little Tim’s cage on the window seat, he was eaten by a cat.
In May 1888, Keller went to Boston with her mother and Sullivan. As soon as she arrived at the Perkins Institution for the Blind, she began to make friends with other blind children and was overjoyed to find that they knew the manual alphabet and she could talk to them in her own language. She had her first history lesson when the group visited Bunker Hill and her second when they took a boat trip to Plymouth. Keller was deeply interested in Plymouth Rock and the story of the Pilgrims who landed on it. The fact that she could touch the Rock itself “made their toils and great deeds seem more real.” She was given a little model of Plymouth Rock embossed with the date 1620, which she often held in her hand afterwards when she thought about the Pilgrims, whose story reminded her of the importance of perseverance. She made many friends in Boston, including Mr. William Endicott, whom she visited at Beverly Farms. His kindness to her during their many meetings made her think of Boston as “the City of Kind Hearts.”
The Perkins Institution closed for the summer, whereupon Keller spent the vacation with a friend named Mrs. Hopkins, who lived at Brewster on Cape Cod. Keller was eager to experience the ocean for herself, having read about it in a book called Our World. Her first experience, however, was a frightening one, as she was tossed about by the current until the sea, “as if weary of its new toy,” threw her unceremoniously back to the shore, where she promptly demanded to know who had put salt in the water.
After she had recovered from this experience, Keller came to love the ocean, the smell of the salt air, and the creatures she found there. Once, Sullivan found a horseshoe crab, which Keller wanted to keep as a pet. She took it home and kept it in a trough, but the next morning it had disappeared....
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After her initial disappointment, however, Keller reflected that she should not have forced the crab out of its element and was glad to think that it might have returned to the sea.
That autumn, Keller returned home with joyous memories of her time in Boston and Cape Cod. She spent the fall at Fern Quarry, her family’s cottage in the mountains, about fourteen miles from Tuscumbia. The thickly wooded mountains were delightful, and they had many visitors, men who came and played cards by the campfire while talking about their triumphs in hunting and fishing. The men would go out hunting early in the mornings, and the women would prepare a barbecue for them. One summer, Keller took her pony (called Black Beauty, as she had just read the book) to Fern Quarry. Another time, she; her sister, Mildred; and Sullivan were nearly run down by a train when using the railroad trestle as a shortcut home. However, they managed to climb down under the cross-braces as the train rushed over their heads, then make their way back onto the track without falling into the gorge below.
After her first visit to Boston in 1888, Keller spent most of her winters in the North, allowing her to experience snow. She recounts one particular snowstorm that lasted for three days. Afterwards, the light was so dazzling that “it penetrated even the darkness that veils my eyes.” She particularly loved tobogganing, a sensation she describes as “exhilarating madness,” saying,
For one wild, glad moment we snapped the chain that binds us to earth, and joining hands with the winds we felt ourselves divine!