I have been, all morning, like a bee in a field of clover at the end of summer, drinking in the ink of one book and then another—a small store of sweetness swells invisibly inside me.
We’re both teachers watching our final days of summer lapse, and, like most teachers, I’m torn between preparing for the first day and relishing these last moments, gathering sustenance for sparse months ahead. I wrestle sometimes with summer’s purpose. Are June, July, and August supposed to be productive or recuperative? Should I row for all I’m worth or glide on the glassy time granted me?
Whichever, I often reach summer’s end dissatisfied. I don’t do enough with what I should be thankful for, or I do too much to feel rejuvenated. I’ve had plenty of practice but have yet to get these months right. In June, the previous school year seems soul-crushing. In August, the year ahead feels overwhelming. You tell yourself the initial class, the compulsion of a syllabus, a pile of ungraded homework will get you going, but year by year it becomes harder. My cistern drains as quickly as it fills. Wanting to be ready is seldom enough.
As Dan suggests, maybe the secret is eluding the idea of labor, understanding that ink sustains us. Loving learning and curiosity keep us moving. On the first few days I return from break, I feel wonderful if I’m satisfied by my answer to “How was your summer?” I want to be ready to discuss encounters with new places and books and people. Students return changed by every break, and keeping up with them would signal a perfect sojourn for me. Revelation is the soul of learning. My students grow physically as I never will again, but their new stature and faces are as metaphysical as they are physical. They remind me—experience ought to penetrate.
The bee Dan describes can seem a fickle guide. Some summers I sip flowers chaotically. A stack of half-read books piles on my bedside table. The starts of multiple projects lie about. Lists of aspirations sit poorly crossed-out or lost altogether. Though I try to remind myself range and depth are important, ignoring shortfalls proves difficult—I started with such high hopes!
But perhaps it’s a matter of being instead of achieving, I tell myself. Maybe a teacher needs reminding of the essential pleasures of having a brain. Teachers need to relearn the mind’s operations and whims and discoveries. Maybe the “small store of sweetness” Dan describes doesn’t have to be stored so much as savored. The grasshopper—the one who sang the gathering season away—may not have wasted his time. He may simply have used those months differently than the ants, to remind himself that, no matter the conditions of the weather or the world, living vividly counts most.
Some moment in November, I will try to remember August. College recommendations will be due soon, and the endgame of the semester and all I have yet to accomplish will loom. I’ll try to recall being a bee, the field of clover then so far away. I’ll try to bring back the taste of ink and its essential value—its sweetness—and nutrition. I may not succeed. I may regard these summer months as wasted. But if, as Dan suggests, I can bring back that store—its substance and its memory—perhaps I’ll be okay. Some “swelling” will persist still, maybe not what I hoped to save but what I can appreciate as on-going, the life of a scholar, its pleasures and profits.