Friday, March 16, 2018

Conservation, consternation, and a really bad cold

No posts all week! I must be having a wild and crazy Spring Break!

Except no, I'm not. It's true that I had a great lunch with an old grad-school friend on Monday and went on a snowy hike with the grandson on Tuesday morning, but since Tuesday afternoon I've been tethered to a box of tissues and bumbling around through a haze of antihistamines. Why do I have to get sick just when things start getting interesting?

Wednesday was a total loss. On Thursday I felt energetic enough to go to my office (where the heat was working, unlike at home, where the temperature hovered just over 60 degrees all day) and worked very hard for a few hours and then came home and collapsed.

Today I needed to restock my supply of tissues but I didn't want to go all the way to Marietta, so I headed a few miles up the Muskingum to my namesake town of Beverly and tried not to sneeze all over the grocery store. But the weather was gorgeous and I was determined to stay outside and enjoy the crisp sunshine, so I drove a little further upriver, past the defunct coal-fired power plant that's slowly being disassembled, and turned left on the pot-holiest highway in the county to visit the Luke Chute Conservation Area, which I've driven past many times without ever stopping to see what's there.

What's there is a 60-acre plot criss-crossed with trails that run down a ravine, through woods and grassland, down to the river and alongside a creek. I heard song sparrows and flickers accompanied by the constant roar of water crashing over the low-head dam, and I saw water swirling past an island and puffy white clouds marching across the sky, accompanied by steam from the natural-gas-fired power plant on the hill across the river.

It was impossible to walk far, though, without being aware that around here conservation is necessarily linked with reclamation. Around the edges of the conservation area are ruins of abandoned buildings, and even the deep woods provide ample evidence that the area was long inhabited by residents who suffered no qualms about tossing their beer cans and old appliances over the edge of a ravine.

Luke Chute Conservation Area is managed by the Friends of the Lower Muskingum River, a group I recently joined because I've been an unofficial friend of the Muskingum for nearly 20 years and I thought it was high time to make our friendship official. It's clear that they have a big job on their hands "protecting and restoring land in the lower Muskingum watershed," and when they gear up again this spring, I'm looking forward to lending a hand.

But first I've got to get over this cold. Excuse me while I sneeze a few dozen times. (Good thing germs don't travel over the Internet.)

Trees bring beauty even in gray winter.

The path down the ravine.

Seriously, who thinks this is a good idea?

Power plant just visible in the upper right corner.

My river!

Luke Chute dam

Who does this? Why?

Pipe sticking up in the middle of woods. No idea.

The ruins of....something. Again, no idea.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Waxwing invasion

Proof positive that you don't have to live in the woods to see interesting birds: this afternoon on a walk through my daughter's suburban neighborhood in northern Ohio, we saw a whole flock of cedar waxwings feeding on berries in a tree. Beautiful! 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Sometimes it feels like the whole world is whirling

Yesterday I constructed a class discussion that built toward comprehension of immanence, transcendence, and performativity; today I constructed a Lego house with rooms for all kinds of little creatures and built a helipad on top.

Yesterday I responded to student drafts with such diligence that my rapid reading pace made my head spin; today I watched the whole world whirl around a little girl discovering the joys of a twirly skirt.

Yesterday I collected enough midterm exams and reading assignments to carry me clear through Spring Break; today I carried a step-stool and screwdriver to help my daughter prepare the nursery for the arrival of the new grandbaby.

Yesterday I steered my car through snow and wind and semi-trucks while turkey vultures circled overhead; today I steered my grandson through a maze of games and Lego blocks while bouncy balls erupted out of nowhere.

Yesterday I did my job well and earned my keep; today I keep laughing so hard that I don't even notice how hard I'm working--and I don't intend to stop as long as Spring Break lasts.

I made that dress for my daughter, decades ago.


Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Because babies run on their own special schedules

Lately I've been issuing a caveat with every commitment I make: Sure, I'll come to the meeting, provided that my daughter doesn't go into labor on that day. Or sure, I'll observe your class, provided that my daughter doesn't go into labor on that day. I'm constantly looking ahead on my syllabi and trying to figure out which classes could be cancelled or moved online temporarily or which colleague could cover for me if I get called away. 

The other day a colleague objected--"But isn't this your third grandchild?" As if to say, "What's the big deal? You've done this before." But this is the first time I've had a third grandchild, which is enough to make me pretty excited. I want to be there, just as I was there when the first two arrived on the scene. (And no, I don't need to be in the room where it happens, but nearby would be nice.)

Of course the first two had the foresight to be born during summer break, when I could drop everything and drive two hours north without much thought and then stay around as long as I could be helpful. Two years ago my husband and I enjoyed taking our granddaughter out kite-flying while her brother was easing his way into the world, and then we got to take her in to meet her new sibling, a priceless moment I wouldn't trade for anything.

This time, though, the baby is due in the middle of the semester, so I can't just leave at the drop of a hat. I have promised my students that I won't leave town for Spring Break until I've sent them comments on all their drafts, but mentally I added provided that my daughter isn't in labor. How can I pay attention to comma splices while my offspring is experiencing the joys and pains of childbirth?

I have done my part: I've encouraged my daughter to give birth this weekend so I'll be able to spend all of Spring Break helping out, and she said she'll do her best, but ultimately, we don't hold the reins in this situation. Babies arrive when they arrive, and if I happen to be in the middle of a class discussion on Allen Ginsberg when it happens, I'll just have to carry on and try not to howl.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Because nobody reads on weekends, or weekdays, or weeknights, or, apparently, ever

Today I collected a reading quiz that offered a very refreshing answer: "I didn't do the reading." I wish I could give him an A for honesty, especially after wading through long rambling paragraphs of vague nothingness on other quizzes. 

Where did all that empty blather come from? It was pretty easy to track it down. I'd posted just the introductory chapters of a certain work on our course management system, and the quiz asked students to answer a question and support their position with two specific examples from those chapters. 

It was easy to tell who had done the reading because their examples were specific, relevant, and clearly drawn from today's reading. But that was just a handful of students. The rest rambled on at length without saying much; some offered no examples at all or examples so vague as to be meaningless ("she learns a lot from the trials of growing up"), while others offered specific examples of events that happen later in the book.

But wait: I gave them only the first couple of chapters; where did they come up with examples from later in the book? I doubt that all these students got so interested in the topic that they went and dug up the complete text of a fairly obscure book in order to read it over the weekend. No, I'm pretty sure they're relying on online summaries.

This makes me crazy. I mean, it's not even a long or difficult text, just a few short chapters of lively, engaging writing, and it looks as if more than half of the class didn't even bother trying. A student in another class told me it's unreasonable to expect students to read over the weekend because they have so many other things to do, but in that case maybe they could download the text early and read it before the weekend hits--a fluid time period since many students start the festivities on Thursday night.

So today in class the few of us who had done the reading enjoyed a free-wheeling discussion of a terrific text, but I'm not sure what the rest of the students thought they were doing there. And now that I've read their reading quizzes, I have to wonder what I'm doing there. This is a literature class! If I can't motivate my students to perform the most basic task essential to understanding literature--reading the text--then what do I think I'm accomplishing?

Friday, March 02, 2018

Nothing weird about Brittany Wagner

I heard an ad on the radio this morning for nitrogen-infused coffee, which is only about the third-weirdest thing I've experienced this week. The weirdest thing I've heard all week is Weird Al Yankovic's "Hamilton Polka" (listen here), which made me smile until I thought my face would break in half. 

And the second-weirdest thing? Having lunch with a reality TV star.

That's right: yesterday I had lunch with Brittany Wagner, star of the first two seasons of Last Chance U (on Netflix). I told the lunch organizer that I'd never seen the show, and she said, "That's okay--neither have I." I did a little online noodling to get a grasp of what Ms. Wagner does, but I still felt like the imposter in the room. 

Ms. Wagner was on campus to meet with various groups about engaging athletes in academics, so about a dozen of us--students, faculty, staff--chatted with her at lunch. She mostly focused on the students present, all of whom got hugs and selfies, but after the students left for class, she talked with the rest of us for quite some time about our advising system and offered some suggestions on how to fix it.

I'm not gonna lie: the label "reality TV star" led me to believe I'd be listening to a lightweight, but I was pleasantly surprised. Brittany Wagner knows her stuff, and she's a terrific listener and an enthusiastic speaker brimming with great ideas. Have I become a fangirl? Maybe so, but there are worse things to be. I mean, I could be the kind of person who drinks nitrogen-infused coffee while dancing to the Hamilton polka, right?

Nah. There's such a thing as too weird.