Statesboro is a different place when Georgia Southern students leave for summer. It is quieter, sleepier, more like the towns surrounding it. Tables are available at restaurants at peak times; the grocery stores are not packed with humans buying convenience foods and apples. The mild traffic jams encountered in fall and winter convert to clear passage, although the stop lights always seem to thwart forward motion, no matter how many human elements are involved.
Statesboro also changes because we, the educators, enter into a calm we can’t access during the school year. Our personalities change a little. We wear clothing we wouldn’t when classes are in session, old tennis shoes and tight jeans, short-shorts and shirts that show our shoulders. Those of us who are introverted recharge our social batteries as, for the time being, our days don’t include talking to 100 students, not to mention colleagues and friends; we may marvel at our ability to do so during the year, and understand better why we are so exhausted by the end.
When I was working on the farm in Colorado, we had an off-season, too, but it was exactly opposite of this newfound summer holiday. Rather, summers brought an exhausting, breakneck pace. The soil, the herbs, and cucurbits needed daily tending. The irrigation pipes needed unwieldy relocation at dawn on wet days, dry days. The cattle required careful rotation, watering, salt licks. The chickens inside their electric fence were grown now and difficult, at dusk, to lead back into their safe houses, so we scooped their legs and held them upside down on the walk back to the coop, and they went silent and still, mesmerized by the inverted world.
Winters, though. Winters were a time of rest, a dormant period we relished and cursed. The snow made the garden paths into deeply riveted mud deposits, the formerly lush fields beyond them gone fallow, the chickens asleep in warmer buildings. Crisp air chapped our faces, the cattle’s water froze. Dead things encountered in the wilderness did not decompose, but crystallized, were dusted with snowfall before they were buried by it. We stacked the irrigation equipment on trailers and watched the pastures turn a wheat gold and were put on cellar or kitchen or pest control duty, exterminating prairie dogs with a hose on the tailpipe of a truck and counting the number of mice removed from traps in the old dairy, where seed was kept in winter.
On the farm, I trained for a marathon during the winter, ice in my eyelashes as I ran up fire-blighted mountains coming back to life, past reservoirs and pastures that were not my charge. This, too, is different than the off-season I experience now: rather than train for a marathon in my time off, I feel my break is the rest I earned for the marathon that is the school year.
They say not to run the full 26 miles prior to race day, and I never did: the thrill of the event itself is supposed to propel you forward for those last few miles, and that is what happens at the end of a semester, too. All of the planning in the world will not change the increased grading, strained student interactions, deadlines, meetings, evening events and celebrations.
The seasons are reversed in these two chapters, but the relief at the break of those seasons is the same: now we get, in some way, to do what we want with our time. The odd thing is that on the farm in winter, I spent time doing work that wasn’t required of me. I enjoyed it so much I filled my days not only with my own personal priorities, but tending to the animals and landscape and man-made ruins of the grounds.
On breaks from Georgia Southern wherein I tell myself my time is dedicated entirely to writing, I spend a lot of time thinking about my students and my classes. I take notes of things I see or read that might be of interest, or relevant, in my classroom. I make adjustments to assignment and rubrics, keeping in mind the feedback I receive at the semester’s close, and what I saw had confused students at checkpoints during the semester.
My life now is so very different: suburban, salaried, work of the mind so that I have to put forth serious effort to make time for work of the body, and I cannot see into the literal distance the way that I could in Colorado. But there is growth, and the comforting, cyclical passage of time. Surrounded by pines, we are building a coop for chickens. I am writing. We pluck fresh herbs at dinnertime.
What has changed feels less jarring when I consider one common factor, which I did not have in the years between these two life-altering employments, nor before: you know you love your job when you just can’t stop doing it.