Back in the Saddle Again

It’s September.

I opened up my blog page and recognized that I had left a draft concerning the first day of school and a hike in the Green River Gorge sitting as a draft until it felt like a distant memory.  Indeed, the incident at the core of this post is over a week old.  Getting back in the swing of the new school year means recalibrating time…all the things that were so easily and leisurely accomplished during the long days of summer are now pressed against the never-ending stream of papers to grade, lessons to plan, recommendations to write.  It’s easy to feel like you’r buckling under the waves.

Finding time for personal writing is perhaps the hardest.  Even as I type these scant words, I have put myriad minute tasks on the back burner, just so I don’t let this personal space that I’ve been cultivating wither on the vine.  On the third day of class, I had a chance encounter so powerful; now it, like much else, falls down the memory hole.

The room was dark…6:30 in the morning.  I have a weird routine, one that has me walking to the back of my class to turn one lamp on and letting myself come into the space before I turn on the jarring overhead lights.  As I made it to the back of the room, I felt a sensation familiar and out of place.  All around my head and shoulders, strands of web folded over me.  A spider, it seems, had created a web that must have stretched at least 15 feet…floor to ceiling.

When I hike or run in the woods, this is of little concern.  It happened to me this morning.  I pick the pieces from my flesh, make a quick check to see if its builder is scurrying across my skin and move on.  But something about finding this in the classroom stirred a wave of cognitive dissonance.

On top of that, I had been reading this article only the day before, which had me musing on the amount of time we keep students indoors, especially when the days of fall approach.  I see it in my students, even the most patient ones in the best of lessons, who longingly look at the swaying trees and woods just a hundred feet or so from my classroom window.  I, too, feel this urge, and feel that more and more we put students in a place and watch over them in the fear that they’ll cause trouble…days upon days in the beautiful weather they sit in the recycled air.  Are they gaining skills?  Sure.  Are they learning things that will be important?  The teacher in me hopes so.  But the human in me who craves communion with nature, who just the week before school started made sure he hiked and kayaked before school started–just to get his fill, knows this longing.

But I digress.  And of course, I had a day to start–booting up computers, checking email, turning on projectors, setting up the announcements–now with an ad for McDonalds or Toyota to start the kids right in the morning.  And then I saw him–the web’s creator.  Perhaps two inches long, the spider sat on the wall two feet from me.

In the woods I watch the spiders and the snakes with marvel, hope that Juno doesn’t go after them, and then we go our separate ways.  As the spider had probably been in my room longer than I had in the last week, he could be given some sort of squatter’s rights; he wouldn’t bother me.  But then I thought of the chaos that would ensue when one student saw this spider crawling on their desk or backpack, and I knew the spider had to go.

I have students and colleagues who look at me strangely because I don’t kill the myriad insects that crawl our halls.  The roaches are big enough to ride, and as the building has been there since the 50’s, their family claim to this hallowed ground certainly stretches past the mere five years I’ve spent there, spinning webs of rhetoric and philosophy for the students who come and go.  I’ve been called to kill the insects, only to take a paper towel, toss them back outside, and continue with my day.  Soon, this decrepit building will be torn down in the making of progress of our campus, and all the roaches, spiders, and other microscopic denizens of the LA hall will find a new place to burrow down, go through their cycles of life, spinning their own webs, masterpieces of design to be torn down once someone walks through.

Spider webs don’t bother me, and as strange as it sounds, it was a comforting reminder of my place in nature.  Though we try to erect block walls as safe havens for our learning, they, too, like the words of all my lessons, are transient, passing through time.  The spiders, meanwhile, find their way through crack and crevice to do their work as well.

“Do your work and step back,” says the Tao, a reminder I keep on my desk.  For the spider, his work was gone.  My webs may last a bit longer, but in the grand scheme of time, not by much.  That much encourages me to never get overwhelmed or too attached to them.  I will do my work and I will have my play.  And I will try to let the worry for the outcome wash on down the river.

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