What I Did On My Summer “Vacation”

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the seasonal nature of teaching. It’s August and a new school year is upon us. The approaching school year brings anxiety dreams. You know, the kind that involve missing exams for classes you didn’t know you were taking, not knowing where your locker is, and underwear. Why always underwear? Maybe that’s revealing too much?

In addition to my normal teaching load and duties as department chair, I (pleaded) to take on an overload of credits to teach a course titled People and the Environment. Boiled down, this course is about providing a means for college students to discover their “ecological identity.” If you’ve read my book Within These Woods, you’ve read about my ecological identity. It’s more work, but nothing is more energizing to a teacher than teaching his or her passion. However, nothing is more daunting. “What if they don’t buy what I’m selling?” When you don’t connect with a student or students in any old class that is frustrating. When it is something you have a passion about it is disheartening. But when you do…that is why we do this profession.

The start of the school year also marks the end of the summer. If you aren’t a teacher, you don’t know the necessity of the summer. And undoubtedly you are envious of the cushy schedule and wish you could only work 9 months of the year. I’m not gonna lie. It ain’t bad. When I first started teaching, summers were for augmenting my salary with a side business of construction.  As I got older, summer became more devoted to renewal–graduate school, planning for the next year, reading, writing, music, and household remodeling. Always another project to do.

This summer began with a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Despite beginning the trip with a half mile portage before even touching the water and discovering that the sticky film on the rain fly for my trusty 20-year-old tent wasn’t pine sap after all but what happens when the waterproof coating begins to break down, it was a wonderful five days of canoeing, fishing, napping, reading, and camaraderie.

After five days of sleeping on the ground and eating around a campfire, I found myself back in the office. With no remodeling projects to do, I focused on different sorts of projects. I officially published Ecological Identity: Finding Your Place in a Biological World. This book is the behind the scenes biology and ecology that supports the more emotional and spiritual description of my ecological identity in Within These Woods. Ecological Identity is a more academic book. Earlier drafts of this book came about while teaching high school biology and was initially written to augment a biology course.  It really is an attempt to take all that science one learns in school that too often is what Paul Simon described as “…all the random crap I learned in high school”  and put it into a meaningful context for the reader so that he or she can do more than simply memorize the “random crap.” I also recorded in my little makeshift home studio an audio edition.

This is the summer that renewal meant not doing prep in work in June and July for classes that have now started. Of course it just meant I have spent the last two weeks “cramming” to get that work done. And having those dreams! But this is the thing about teaching. When you aren’t there (either physically or emotionally) the students still are there. Once you start up again there is no break, no matter what is happening in your life, your health, or your emotional state. So I set that work aside for a couple months and focused on finishing the book and playing more music. It feels indulgent just typing that. Guilt can be like a stalker. I purchased some new equipment (Maybe that is the source of guilt!), did some more song writing, and began playing out around town publicly where they would have me. I even entered a song contest about bogs–you know swamps.

Here’s my entry titled “Sphagnum Was There Too.”

Like everyone else, I fretted about presidential politics, shootings, and racial tension, producing these two efforts:

And just for the pure fun of it I began working on a collection of recordings of songs by singer-songwriter Bill Morrissey–one of my favorite songwriters who died all too young a few years ago. If I finish this, maybe I will call it  So Long Bill, We Hardly Knew You. Here’s a first attempt at one of his songs.

Well, there it is, what I did with my summer vacation. Classes started last Monday, which by the way, starting classes when it’s 90 degrees and two weeks before labor day stretches the “seasonal” aspect of this teaching gig I have to say. But man was it great to be back with students this week.

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