Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sound Exchange

The sounds changed even in the car on my way out of the city, well, I changed the sound anyway. For some reason, NPR's reports on the daily movements of Al Quaeda grated more than usual, and I switched to music. My poor little car radio has been waiting for years to play something other than news.

As I neared the little farm where I'll be working this summer, I opened the windows and let the country smells and sounds in. The air shifted as I got off the highway. Southern country air is thick, dense and sweet in the summer. When you step out of air conditioning, it feels a little syrupy for the first few breaths until your lungs relax. Southern city air is also thick and dense in summer, but it has a sticky sour quality to it, perhaps from the additional particulates or ozone.

It's not technically summer yet, but you can be fooled into thinking it's summer in the daytime heat. At night, the air is still cool and dry - a sure sign of spring.

The farm itself turned out to be everything I had imagined a picturesque organic farm to be. It has gorgeous rows of greens and flowers, edges of grasses and rural weeds, a sturdy old barn leftover from the last farm, two hoop houses and the owners' house complete with skylights.

I quickly fell into the old familiar rhythms of farm work. In college, I worked on the state of Florida's research farm assisting a plant geneticist. The job was long days of transplanting, mixing soil, watering, fertilizing and spraying pesticides. There is a kind of zone that the body goes into when actively working all day in the heat. It is almost surprising to be quick and strong in intense heat. It was satisfying to revisit those sensations from a younger age with the perspective I have now.

Since I enjoy the work and the atmosphere, the stretching of time that happens with a pleasing repetitive task gives way to thoughts. It was my first day, so there was a lot of conversation with the farm owner and the other worker. I hope that will continue, but I also know we'll all fade into long stretches of nothing but farm sounds and our own thoughts. The contrast with my old job in these aspects is almost comical. The pace of high school teaching is like a car race - constant, hectic, loud and inconsiderate. I enjoyed the excitement of quick decisions and rapid-fire intellectual problem solving, but there was never time to reflect or converse at length with colleagues, and the repetitive work required all one's attention, or one would be embarrassedly fixing idiotic grading errors the students noticed. Time passes not in minutes but in weeks at school. Each glance at the calendar requires the crossing-out of a shocking number of boxes.

I wasn't sure I'd still be up to the task of laboring all day in the sun, but I made it through easily. Next time, I'll bring a little more water, as water becomes much more appealing than even my favorite dessert when I'm sweating like that. I'll also bring my own big straw hat and a handkerchief - two essential items of comfort. One provides an umbrella of shade, and the other provides passing moments of dry skin. Sweat cools best when there is just a little of it on the skin, but for some reason, my sweat glands seems to increase their output in a linear fashion with the temperature, so I need to mop it off to have a few moments of cooling as the next batch of sweat starts to pour out.

As I drove home, I was thankful to have completed my first First of the next phase of life. Quitting my teaching job required giving notice in March, telling students and colleagues in April, and doing things for the last time since I knew I would be leaving. It's been months of sad goodbyes and well-wishing. I am satisfied with the work I did, and I hate to lose that truly wonderful community. Since it had to happen, I must admit I've been a little antsy to get on with it. Yesterday, I finally cleared out my classroom and surrendered my keys to the school, and from now on, my days are about building my next life. I know I'll find ways to weave threads of my teaching life into my future life. My nomadic childhood taught me that old friendships must be maintained intentionally, so I'll put in the effort to make it happen. But now, I'm doing everything for the first time again - first day on the new job, first blog post, first time designing my future with intention.

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