I don’t really consider August 20th my first day in my new job because I have been working on my property all summer. In fact, Halcyon was starting to look quite spiffed up until the Derecho on June 29 paid us a visit. On the morning of June 30th, it was hard to see the forest for the trees; all the weeding and mulching and clearing that had we’d done could not stand out against all our tree damage. Plans were sidelined while tree limbs were cut, hauled away to yet another brush pile, or split and stacked. In my mind though, August 20 became a symbolic first day date because it is the day I would have gone back to teaching, and I would have been doing all that summer yard work anyway.
It was a wonderful first day, starting with getting a really good night’s sleep. I usually eat, sleep, and dream school and its related plans, content, and students for at least the first month. I woke up at 7 am instead of 5:30, and I made breakfast for my son. In the past, I’d be gone before he awoke.
The day continued to unravel in pleasant chores or tasks related to my new life. I visited my chicks and cleaned their waste that seems to increase in size each day. I made and canned 16 pints of split pea soup because I had cooked a ham on Sunday. Or rather, I cooked a ham on Sunday because I wanted to can split pea soup. I picked my son up from cross-country practice, and we had a real conversation about his first day because my mind was not writing a lesson plan or fretting about school. I made a roast for dinner. I did not have a meltdown when my son presented me with the mountain of first day of school forms. These forms usually made me cry because I’d have spent the day sorting and filing 18 copies of these same papers. By evening of the first day of school the exhaustion easily brought tears. Admittedly the forms would only qualify as a hill this year, but I know I could have handled a mountain with the same relaxed mood.
All the teachers I know probably had a crazy day, but they know that their honeymoon period starts soon, when they are in the swing of things and everyone’s first day jitters settle down. Their period of good feeling can last the whole year with a few expected bumps along the way. What about my honeymoon period? It’s over!
I don’t mean I am second-guessing my decision. What happened was only a small part of my day, but it had me wondering about my naïve notion of biocentric living at Halcyon. What I mean is that I have some unpleasant neighbors. The one I met today was down right mean. I was not bothering anything but the autumn olive tree whose berries I was gathering, when something flew full force into my chin. That would be a minor nuisance except for the attached stinger that felt like it pierced my chin bone. I jumped back a few feet fearing I had upset a nest and looked for a swarm to soon follow me. Nothing. A hit and run I guess. Did my neighbor wonder what happened? Do stinging insects always fly ready to sting or can they attack that fast?
I decided I was done picking berries. This was not the first stinging event at Halcyon this year and so I had a recent memory that jewelweed (Imatiens capensis) can be used to ease the pain. Near the creek I picked some leaves – the undersides really do look like silver underwater – and chewed them briefly to mash them before rubbing them on my chin. I felt sort of outdoorsy and survival-like, playing Katniss Everdeen in my yard. Mean neighbors, no problem. By the time I got to the house, the pain did seem better. I had a lump the size of a marble on the underside of my chin, definitely not attractive, but not horrible either.
Then it happened. My brain was telling me, Honeymoon’s over. It’s a wild world out there and why do you want to go around meddling in it? This is not like me; I’ve been stung many times in my life. I’ve slept out without a tent, suffered poison ivy, backpacked in grizzly bear country, and once rescued a snake tangled in plastic netting. I’m not wimpy when it comes to the outdoors. I realized the panic messages were coming from my throat. My throat felt funny, then it felt smaller, and I grabbed some Benadryl trying not to panic. Why do they package each tablet separately in such a hard to open manner? I forced myself to stay calm and the best way to do that was to continue my to do list for the day. So I went out to mow the garden, but I brought my cell phone in case I had to call 911. A half-hour later I felt much better, though two hours after that I still felt like something was stuck in my throat when I swallowed.
Much later still all is well, Benadryl is amazing, and my mean neighbor will not deter me. I know every day cannot be as Leave it to Beaverish as my first day. I know there will be days I curse the mower or get too many mosquito bites, or feel hopelessly overwhelmed at the tenacious ability of plants to accumulate biomass, especially the ones I pull. Overall, the second day of my new job still beats the day, early in my first year of teaching, when all the buses pulled away filled with students, somehow forgetting all the students in my class.