The rain in Maine falls mainly on the…um…rocks, I guess.
The school year is now well underway in central Ohio. Students have settled into familiar routines, teachers are dutifully plowing through the curriculum, and the specter of statewide standardized achievement testing is but a faint glow on the distant horizon. It’s the season when the world of a teacher begins to contract like a closing camera aperture. Our collective focus is narrowed on academic objectives and the welfare of our students, leaving comparatively little time for our own extracurricular pursuits. That is why I am especially grateful that I enjoyed a totally fulfilling and restorative summer break.
If you are of the currently fashionable conservative ilk who resent educators as bloated, public-sector leeches sucking the monetary lifeblood out of taxpayer coffers, then read no further, unless you want to risk being provoked into a jealous and indignant rage. For while you were slaving away, trying to prime the sluggish circulation of our torpid economy, I was enjoying the better part of June, July and August in a leisurely existence free from the annoyance of a weekday clock alarm. Seething yet? You might just want to give this lucrative education thing a try.
Anyway, my summer was rewarding not because it was idle but rather due to it being filled with interesting things, some extravagant and others ordinary. June began with a game, Tinner’s Trail, which I played with my brothers David and Richard. Tinner’s Trail is an historical board game based on the mining industries of Cornwall, England, where we have ancestral ties. Summer is the perfect time to indulge in this sort of activity, which requires the sacrifice of a full afternoon or evening. We enjoyed tickling our Anglophilic fancies by immersing ourselves in the culture and geography of Cornwall, and a splendid time was had by all. A few days later, I was sharing the front-row barricade for a DEVO show with a teaching friend. Two days after that, our family gathered together to watch eldest daughter Amber in the figure-skating fundraiser Skate For Hope, which featured a wonderfully over-the-top performance from the dependably outrageous Johnny Weir. The month ended with the beginning of an excursion to Maine with brothers David and Brian.
It was Brian’s idea to head up to New England, if for no other reason than he had never been there, and it represented a sufficient change of scenery. Driving was enjoyable and not very taxing with the three of us to share the burden, and we arrived at our cabin on Mt. Desert Island early on the evening of our second day. We spent several days ambling about Acadia National Park, snapping hundreds of pictures in weather conditions that ranged from an eerie fog to clear and sunny skies. Emulating the elite set, we ate popovers at Jordan Pond and played croquet on the pitch of the Claremont Hotel. And one day, we set out from Bar Harbor on a three-hour tour (really!) to spot whales, and we were not disappointed.
The first days of July saw us leaving Maine via New Hampshire, where we took the time to ride the famous Cog Railroad to the summit of Mount Washington, legendary home of the world’s worst weather. It was uncharacteristically mild that afternoon, and David, who had brought along his anemometer only to register a paltry wind speed of 3 miles per hour, was understandably disappointed. Still, the view was great, and it was there that I expanded my culinary horizons by purchasing a bag of deep fried peanuts, which were advertised as wholly edible, shells and all.
There was the parade and fireworks back home on the 4th of July, and a few days later a virgin trip to an historic local diner. Then there was the night that our incorrigible cat, Tony, somehow managed to rotate a gas burner to ignite underneath a pizza box on the oven (luckily I heard the tell-tale tick-tick-tick noise and saved us all from a truly disastrous summer). Soon I was back on the road again, this time with my wife and our youngest daughter, Melinda, for a whirlwind tour of northern Ohio. We visited relatives in Akron, ogled Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and walked the decks of a cargo ship anchored nearby. As it happened, some friends of ours were also checking out the Hall of Fame that day, and we later shared a memorable meal at a trendy eatery known for obscenely caloric sandwich melts and menus printed on the backs of album covers. From there were struck out for Port Clinton, where we had close encounters with wildlife at an improbably located African safari, and marveled at the waves buffeting the shore of Lake Erie at Marblehead Lighthouse, a churning body of water that was just as active as the coast of Maine.
And then we bought a car. A third car, to be precise, a used model for our currently driving daughter to use to shuttle herself to her many engagements, thus freeing her parents from many hours of chauffeuring. But the excitement of July wasn’t yet over. The month ended with a special treat: my 25-year high school reunion, held on my birthday, no less.
August, too, had its charms. A McCartney concert in Cincinnati. A pleasant summer lunch with some colleagues. Watching the Perseid meteor shower with David and Melinda. Front row with some fellow die-hards at an Alice Cooper show. My third visit of the summer to my hometown, where I once again enjoyed the company and hospitality of my parents, as well as that of my sister Chris and her family. Chris has a small lake behind her house, a man-made affair with enough trees and twists to lend it the air of a little private Eden. It’s there that I like to engage in an annual summer ritual, and this year was no exception.
Donning a life jacket and swimming out to the middle of a broad channel under the cool canopy of dozens of tall trees, I stopped and let my limbs hang loose. As I tilted my head back and allowed myself to succumb to total relaxation, water filled my ears and dulled my senses. I closed my eyes and hung there like a spacewalking astronaut, hearing little but my own breathing, feeling only the cool currents that slithered past my dangling feet. It was, as it always is, the ultimate in placid sensory deprivation, and I willed myself, as I always do, to remember the sensation.
For I knew that this wonderful and affirming summer was destined to end, and the peace I was now experiencing was a well from which I would draw during the coming school year. Just like all of my other memorable summer experiences. It’s September, and I’m focused like a laser on the job at hand. But I’m also thankful for the many gifts of summer, which help me return to my profession with the energy and optimism it demands.