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June 2018 Archives

The New Digs

We're moved. Mostly. There are a lot of small items still back in the apartment, and between now and the 30th, we'll be ferrying them to the house bit by bit. But in terms of where we're living and sleeping and eating, we've moved.

It's an enormous improvement.

I'm not sure we've acquired all that much additional square footage, but it's laid out differently, and even with bins and boxes still stacked and waiting to be unpacked, I feel much less enclosed. And speaking as someone with low-grade claustrophobia, less enclosed is a Good Thing. One thing Kelly and I didn't really notice until we got here was that the apartment had only three windows, one in the living room and one in each bedroom. Each faced southward, giving us a view of the parking lot and the building on the other side. I didn't really understand how oppressive that was until I was sitting in the new living room, able to see our big picture window AND the two windows in the dining room behind me AND the kitchen window just beyond that AND even a smidgen of the side window upstairs in my study. I realized at that moment that I am now surrounded by light and trees and sky.

The neighborhood is very different from any I've lived in before. I've spent many years living out in the country, and many years in a town with a few urban elements, and for the last three years I thought I was living in an actual urban environment. Maybe I should have considered how varied cities can be, which I should have known if I'd only thought about my year living in Manchester. I also lived in a city when I lived in Fayetteville, but again, it was nothing like this.

Basically, until now, I have never lived on a block. Except in Manchester, where I was in a dormitory, I have lived mostly on curvy and irregular streets carved out of the available landscape. Even our apartment complex was surrounded by winding streets and bordered on a creek with a small strip of parkland on the far side. 

This neighborhood, by contrast, is actually set up as a grid, albeit an irregular one, and it's offering me a strange new set of sights. From my study upstairs, which looks out over the back yard, I can see an array of fences, small sections of yard, and the service road behind us where the trash and recycling cans go. I can even see between two of the houses behind us, and there I can get a glimpse of the houses the next block over. But what I can mostly see right now are trees, enormous shade trees. Our back yard is shaded by a quartet of massive oaks, with an understory containing a weeping cherry, a cedar, and an as-yet unidentified tree with shaggy bark and alternating leaves. Beyond our fence I can see the grand oaks in our neighbors' yards, and the wall of green covering the next block over. It's not at all wild-looking but it's far from tamed.

And the birds are comPLETEly different.

I have been keeping yard lists since we lived on campus at Woodberry, and some things are consistent: the first birds to turn up after moving into a new home are almost always the common birds of the southeastern summer: American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove. And yes, they've appeared here as well. But the most visible birds here have been Eastern Towhees; we have a male who perches out front and calls to a female up on a wire to our neighbors' house. Both can be seen flying over and hopping around the back yard regularly. Gray Catbirds are also making regular appearances. We have a Brown Thrasher who has flown up out of the ground cover on a number of occasions. But the real surprises have been what's missing; first, I really would have expected at least one House Sparrow by now, given their ubiquity in other parts of Richmond, and second, I am actually shocked that I haven't seen or even heard a Carolina Wren yet. It's been a little over 48 hours since we moved in, and I simply can't believe I haven't heard so much as a single teakettle.

But what HAS turned up has been equally shocking, particularly in the way it's turned up. I have written before of my lifelong dearth of House Wrens, so you can imagine my delight at spotting one winging across the yard and diving into cover on our very first day here. I'll ask you to further extend your imagination to what I must have looked like yesterday when I spotted one taking a dirt bath in a bare patch near our deck. It was there long enough for me to come downstairs and get a naked-eye look from the kitchen (though it flew into the bushes just as I was calling Kelly over to see it.) 

And this afternoon? Having retired to my study to enjoy the brand-new internet connection, I was keeping half an eye on the yard, and I can report looks at the Robins, the Catbirds, and the Towhees, and even a gilmpse of a couple of Song Sparrows in the big willow oak. What bewildered me was the sudden landing of a largish songbird on the lawn. Like the House Wren, it was using the dry soil of our yard for a dirt bath, but its long cinnamon tail was something I'd never seen in a yard before. I had seen it once or twice a year, usually in woodlands or parkland of some kind, and certainly never in any spot close to human habitation.

It was a Great Crested Flycatcher.

It's a yard bird here.

I'm going to put up a feeder at some point, and from then on we may see more of the usual suspects, but right now I'm glorying in the unexpected, celebrating the differences in perspective that can be enjoyed even when you've only moved a mile away from where you were.

I think I'm going to like it here.

5:07 PM

Moving On

It's been a busy week. For one thing, we've started the hauling. Many of our books and a variety of our other belongings have already made their way to our new house, and today I'm going to load up a few more items (the bicycles, primarily) to clear access to the closets here We have lots of boxes and lots of bins, but the thing we are (thankfully) supplied with in some degree of plenty is time; the movers don't get here for another week. By the 16th, I'm hoping that everything we don't use daily will already be packed up and out of the apartment. 

We've already done the first load of laundry at the new place--hey, we're already paying for the water and power there, so why throw quarters at the current joint's laundromat?--and we've taken Ripley over to get acclimated to her new yard. I'd have to describe her response as enthusiastic. Since we rarely have her off the leash outside, we weren't entirely prepared to see her running around full-tilt for a good ten minutes. She even chased a stick I'd thrown, something we've never seen her do. She immediately seized it, ran to the opposite end of the yard with it, dropped it as she was reversing course, and sprinted back past me without a care.

The other big thing, however, is that I wrapped up my final year at Seven Hills. I've cleaned out my classroom and the teacher work room, so it's now basically a matter of me going in next week and turning in my keys and my Chromebook. For some reason the head of school didn't want to discuss my departure openly, which I can't say I agree with or understand, but I dutifully followed his request not to talk about it right until the last faculty meeting. When the head turned the meeting from our opening salutes to the more mundane matters of summer planning, he still hadn't officially said that we wouldn't all be there, and that was just too much for me. I gently interrupted and told the rest of the faculty how much I'd appreciated their collegiality and their work on behalf of our students, then stood up and headed out to the parking lot.

As I walked out, I saw my friend Adrienne, another of the teachers who won't be back next year. She had decided not to attend the meeting, instead opting to send a card to each member of the faculty, and had spent the afternoon cleaning out her own room. I stopped her on the soccer field to say goodbye, and we hugged and agreed we'd continue to be friends even after we stop being colleagues. And then I got in my car and drove home. Summer vacation has never felt like less of a celebration.

I do have a confession, though. I wasn't entirely quiet about the fact that I wasn't coming back. I had already decided that I wasn't going to lie to the students, but as long as nobody asked me, I was free to keep my mouth shut. That changed on the last day, when Arthur stopped on his way out the door to shake my hands. Arthur is a seventh-grader and a brilliant kid, though his status as a ringleader can make him something of force for chaos in the classroom, and he had been particularly enthusiastic about one of the games I introduced to the 7HS Game Club: Steve Jackson's hilarious game of world conspiracy, Illuminati. I therefore should have realized that if any student were to put together the clues that I was not returning, it would be Arthur.

"Are you gonna be back next year, Cashie?" he asked. Affectionate diminutives are the norm at 7HS, with art teacher Tom O'Keefe being called "Keefie" and even the Upper Program Head, Tim Franzak, known almost universally among the students as "Frannie."

"I'm afraid I will not," I replied evenly. He was the first student I'd told.

"Awwww," he said, and wrapped me in a bear hug. Then he was out the door and off into summer, and I was left standing there realizing that I probably won't be called "Cashie" in the future. I've never liked it, but somehow I may actually miss it.

And in truth, Arthur wasn't the first student I told. As the oldest teacher at Seven Hills by more than a decade, I often took it on myself to share with the students elements of our popular culture from before they were born. During break on our last school day, I opted to do indirectly, rather than by lecturing, and spent a few minutes with a piece of chalk imitating the example of one of my favorite television characters, BJ Hunnicutt of M*A*S*H. If I couldn't tell my students goodbye directly, I figured the least I could do was leave them a note.

Goodbye crop.jpg

12:10 PM


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