The Day the Season Begins

There is no fixed date; the season chooses its own arrival. But when it comes, I know; I honor it. I do what needs to be done.

We wake, early, to a frozen world. There is talk of two big accidents on the expressway; Mark pulls his IPad toward him, and searches grimly: he learns there has been a tragic death in the slippery early hours.

“Be careful today,” he says, and he searches for school closings. The high schools in the town where I teach, 45 miles away, are closed or delayed. But colleges rarely close.

By the time I leave, I assure him, the roads will have been tended. But I stick close by my computer, checking periodically, that little kid’s hope banked but burning: could this be a snow day?

But at 11:30, James bundles himself into the car, and I pack up my book bag, and we head off. There is a slow, cold, steady rain. The burning bush at the end of the drive has lost all its scarlet leaves. Each spindly branch is encased in ice; each red berry gleams as if shellacked.

It is warm enough—34 degrees–that the sky spits rain, and just cold enough that the dark time’s ice has not yet melted.

I drop Jim at the side door of the college; then he doesn’t have so far to run in this relentless downpour. He bolts inside without his usual wave, and I head north to drive to the Coshocton campus.

**********

The car warms up, and I turn on NPR, and I settle in to the ride. I’d sent my students an email: I’ll be there, I said, but don’t panic if I’m a little late: I am taking my time.

I discover, though, that the roads are fine. I clip along at the speed limit or thereabouts, and I arrive half an hour early. Several students are already in the classroom, and many have stories of ice-skimmed back roads and dicey drives. Josh started out to walk the almost five miles to class because his car had died; a neighbor picked him up at the crossroads, and he arrived two hours early.

“Dedication,” I murmur, and he waves the thought away.

“No sense staying home,” he says.

It’s a good class. The students present group position papers, and then they ruminate and rank each presentation. They are kind; that is something I’ve noted about this group of students from the very start. Their comments are thoughtful, and the rankings are generous.

We talk about the steps to analyzing the group presentation and morph those into peer review steps, and I randomly assign pairs. But then we notice that the rain has turned to snow. Right now, the streets are still dry. I have them exchange email addresses and send them off to work on each other’s drafts electronically, safely at home.

Only Josh groans.

“My ride’s not coming till 3:00,” he says.

But on the first floor, in this inn converted to college classrooms, there is a den with comfortable leather chairs and a snapping gas fire in a broad hearth. Josh hefts his backpack and heads down there.

I sit in the quiet classroom and tally up the rankings for each group. The totals are within one point of each other, all within the low A/high B range. They have been generous, but they have made astute remarks and suggestions, too.

I have high hopes for the peer review process.

I pack up my supplies, bundle into my coat, and reassuringly text Mark, who wonders how the drive was. I head downstairs and out to my car. I wave to Josh, who is nodding by the fire.

***************

On Thursday nights, Jim has a two-hour break between work and class. Mark picks him up at the college. Then they select a restaurant; there they can eat, they tell me, as men do. Sometimes, a little time left over, they pop in at the house to say hello.

But tonight, Jim is anxious to work on some homework before class, and Mark texts that he’ll be joining some Bar Association peeps at Weasel Boy’s.

The house is quiet,—quiet and clean. I am glad I ran the vacuum in the morning, de-cluttered messy surfaces, and flicked the duster over the ceilings. No little clutter clumps chastise me; I am greeted by warmth and order.

I light the fire, and the rain pours steadily down outside. The furnace burbles below me, chugging and huffing. I kick off my shoes, place them in front of the fire to dry off, and find my book. I turn on my reading lamp, slide into the chair, and grab the knitted blanket. I wrap my feet, mummy style, pull the satiny edge up to my chin, and open my book.

As the flames flicker and their glow warms my feet, I read Bella Figura. Kamin Mohammadi, in this chapter of her memoir, is staying in Florence in August, while those who live there head off in many directions to the sea. It is hot in Florence, she tells me, and her beautiful apartment has no air conditioning. She suffers a bout of sunstroke after a long afternoon walk and learns to go to the market in the earliest hours of the morning. She spends the rest of the August days inside, writing, and ventures out again as the evening cools, meeting other ex-pats at a café around the corner.

The fire snaps, and I imagine its warmth is like the Italian sun’s; my book transports me. The clock ticks noisily; the rain pours down outside, but for this moment in time, I am warm and dry with an imaginative world open before me.

The reading season, I realize, has begun.

************

In the reading season, my mind seems, contrary to the weather, to thaw and open. I am captured, at the library, by strange new offerings. I take home novels that, in the rest of the year, I might consider too dark for recreational reading, and the stories move me and make me realize how lucky I am, how protected. I borrow memoirs by unlikely people—some celebrated, and some just damned interesting.

I take home a book of essays.

And, at home, I search my shelves, uncovering neglected books, books I purchased and brought home, and then thought, for whatever reason, No. Not now. I find the true story of a lady doctor in the 1800’s, a lady doctor who lived and worked in my last hometown before this one.  I’d bought that book at Kim’s enthusiastic recommendation, and then Kim’s illness and death made me too sad to read it. But now it feels like a connection rather than an aching reminder, and I put it on my TBR stack.

I find some Willa Cather, and some Dickens, who always seems to mesh with this season. I add them to the pile along with Ready Player One and The Last Painting of Sara DeVos, the book the art museum group is discussing this month.

There’s a satisfying stack to one side of the ottoman, and I light the fire, and I take the top book, and I plunge.

**************

In other seasons, waiting books would distract and dismay me; I would feel a pull away from the pages in front of me. To be polite to my current book, to give it all my attention, I would have to dismantle that stack of books to be read, and secrete them, discreetly, in waiting spots throughout the house. Then I could finally concentrate on the words that danced before me.

But, when the reading season begins, the books seem to coexist with bubbly good cheer. The book I am reading compels and uplifts me, and the joy I take in that bodes well for the joy to come in the reading pile. Sometimes I read two books at once… a biography and a novel, maybe, and always, some pings of shared knowledge will arise. The biographer describes the very place in France where the novel’s current chapter takes place, and my understanding of both stories, the true and the imagined, bursts open.

Sometimes I crave a poem, and the emotion it evokes shimmers its way into the book I am reading, shimmers and matches and expands.

In the reading season, Jim comes upstairs and asks if he might connect his video game system to the big TV in the family room. Mark is ensconced in his own reading chair in the living room, and I am mind-traveling by the fireplace, and we both encourage James to help himself.

And he will play for an hour or so, his crows and muttered curses a counterpoint to the words we’re absorbing. But Jim, too, succumbs to the season; sated, he’ll shut down the game, and grab a graphic novel, and head to bed to read.

The reading season arrives and sets up camp and opens doors we didn’t even know were there.

**************

Friday morning, I determine to frontload my day. I organize my grading and then plan what needs to be done around the house. I throw in a load of laundry, sweep the kitchen floor, and heat a cup of vinegar in the microwave. When that has frothed and bubbled, I take a soft cloth and wipe the little oven’s insides clean, and I shovel baking soda down the sink’s drain in the little half bath.

I dump the hot vinegar down after it and I hear the satisfying hiss and simmer of serious cleaning taking place, deep in the pipe’s bowels.

I vacuum the living room, make sure Jim is waking up, and get ready to meet some wonderful friends for lunch. The house settles around me, approvingly; its back scratched nicely, it can relax.

The boyos are going to Westerville for an appointment; they will, again, eat in a favorite restaurant; they might stop at Fresh Thyme and pick up lovely organic bargains. They’ll come home around seven or so, toting bags and brimming with stories of the day’s adventures.

And after lunch, I will lug packages to the post office, do a little necessary shopping, and come home, again, to a quiet house. Then I will grade three papers. That’s my ticket to the reading chair, where I will spend the rest of the quiet time, lost in a book, the afternoon darkening around me, the fire snapping its ancient message of warmth and protection. I’ll take some soup from the freezer, nuke it up for my supper with a crisp salad and a thin sliver of sharp cheese.

Alone in the house, I will read while I eat, and then quickly clean up my dishes, so I can slip back into the reading chair, and learn more about the fictional Sara De Vos.

****************

The events and obligations of life are grouted together tightly by little strips of time. But the reading season comes, with cold and damp and inside comfort, and those little time-strips seem to expand. The work gets done, and the grades get posted, and we prepare and enjoy family meals. I go to meetings, and do my research, and I cut out the shapes for my book shelf quilt.

In the other seasons, all of that might fill a day, and I might find myself snugged up in bed, asleep before eyes travel down the first page.

But the reading seasons works its magic or its physics, and time’s doors, like my mind’s, open wider. There is always a comfortable space—in the late afternoon’s gloaming, in the quiet dark of our Ohio at 8 PM—to push back and page up.

And for a time, the reading spaces are natural, accepted, taken for granted parts of the day. But time will surge forward, and some day, on a timetable not available to my notice, the season will change, and life will shift, and other priorities will weigh down the need and the time to read.

I know that will happen, but, as I welcome the sudden onset of rich book time, I don’t care. The reading season is here; the books are hushed and waiting, and that, for now, is plenty for me  and more.

 

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18 thoughts on “The Day the Season Begins

  1. The reading season, indeed. It is late Saturday night, as I write. I’ve spent most of this week–a vacation week–curled up on my couch, reading a big new book called *The Writer’s Map*, in which various contributors trace the relations between maps and books from ancient times through the present day. It is a glorious work, filled with colorful maps that will make readers remember books they read in childhood, books they read fairly recently (like the *Harry Potter* books), and many, many books they might have heard of, but have yet to read. It is a book to get lost in, to read and then re-read, finding peace, happiness, and wonder therein.

    I have also, just this evening, begun putting on my shelves a set of *Great Books of the Western World.* My father bought it years ago, just about the time I acquired the same set in mint condition. Necessity compelled me to sell my set when I was still in graduate school, but my father held on to his set and has bequeathed it to me. I am grateful for his gift not only because I recognize in it an expression of his love for me but also because I recognize the lasting value of these particular books, and the labor that went into the creation of this particular set. He also gave me a set of the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica; you know the one; it’s the one with the articles signed by the preeminent experts in their fields, like Sigmund Freud on Psychoanalysis.

    So, needless to say, I’m feeling quite bookish lately, but not in a best-sellerish kind of way–more like a middle-aged sailor who’s being called back to the sea he’s sailed on for much of his life. Trouble is, he knows the waters, knows how deep they are in some places, and fears that he may not live long enough to complete all the voyages he would like. There are so many places to go, and the hourglass in the wheelhouse measures out only so much time.

    Still, it is November, and I treasure the days from now until March, when many of my evenings are free and I have the time to read in earnest. Robert Louis Stevenson, a lover of maps (think *Treasure Island*) and a kindred spirit to mine, would simply tell me to plunge ahead, take a stab at what I really want to read, and make what progress I can. For him, virtue lay not only in the accomplishment of a thing, but also in the attempt itself. I believe I will follow his lead in my reading and my writing and see how far I can get as the days turn colder and quieter.

    1. I had to take a brief trip, John, and look up The Writer’s Map, which I’ve put on the TBR list. Along the way, I noticed a book called The Writer’s Compass, and I need to go back and see if that’s a companion piece. I remember discovering the Lord of Rings early in my college days and poring over the maps Tolkien created, wondering at his ability to create a complete and sensible world. Later, I would almost skip the maps books shared in my rush to get to the words, and now I don’t have all those inner geographies, like I do with the starting point in the Shire… I think this is a book the family library needs.

      It has crossed my mind many times lately that there is a finite chunk of reading time left, and I like Stevenson’s advice. I was at a presentation yesterday where a speaker talked about PG Wodehouse, and I was lamenting that I’d never discovered his work. She said, “You know, you can’t read everything, and you have to listen to what calls you.” And Stevenson is saying the same. This reading season, I’m trying to listen to what calls me, to read for enrichment and challenge and not for obligation.

      1. *The Writer’s Compass* is a book about “how-to” map out your book-in-progress. *The Writer’s Map” celebrates all those books and writers which have been inspired by maps.

        Yes, listen to what calls us, and worry less about the rest. That’s good advice for older readers, although Stevenson himself died young. “Enrichment and challenge, and not for obligation”–an *excellent* way of putting it. Thank you!

  2. Jane Dasher

    I’m from Coshocton and read your post as Sean shared it. I live in Syracuse area now. My grandmother lived in Roscoe when she left home in the early 1900’s so she could go to high school there. She lived in Dr. Johnson’s House. She then attended normal school in West Lafayette and taught in a one room school in Coshocton County.
    I also lived in Westerville. Thank you for evoking many warm memories.

    1. Jane, The class I’m teaching at Central Ohio Technical College at Roscoe is 9/10 high schol students from Riverview, Coshocton High, and…Riverside? They are some of the nicest, most hard-working young people I’ve ever worked with!

      When we first moved to Mount Vernon, I worked at Roscoe Village as an interpreter while I tried to find a place to teach. I often played the role of Mrs. Johnson, and cooked over the hearth in the basement. Small, small, world.

      And we love Westerville. Our son, who is autistic, has a great doctor there, and we love the library and the bookstores and the bustle and pace of downtown.

      It’s truly a small world, and so good to hear from you! I think I have another Roscoe post, which I’ll dig up and impose upon you via FaceBook…

      1. Jane Dasher

        It is a small world. I grew up during the Canal Days heyday and several in my family wore “authentic” garb while working in Roscoe.
        The other highschool in the area is Ridgewood in West Lafayette.
        I’ll look forward to your other Roscoe story. My grandmother was Roscoe High class of 1915.
        Thank you.

  3. Sue

    ~quite honestly have nothing profound to add after scanning all of these eloquent remarks concerning the art of reading, except, as I watch the snow gently falling in the 30° temps. outside, you all have the totally right ideas…read on!

      1. Sue

        ~will, however, share that I’ve baked double crunch apple crisp, sweet potato chips, & now have acorn squash in the oven…comfort foods…my excuse: extra heat!!! ;>}

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