Classes ended yesterday, and through one thing and another, I ended up with eight women in my living room yesterday evening, watching the six-hour Pride and Prejudice. By the time they left and I rounded up the things I'd strewn around campus over the course of the day, I was ready to drop--and then did, for nine hours.
Nine hours of sleep will change one's perspective on nearly anything, as will waking up to brilliant sun where at midnight there was only spitty rain. Add to that my realization, just after waking, that I now have only my final grading, and the Academic Mayhem, left to go before months of dedicated research time, and you have a person already contented, even before an excellent day got itself underway.
The summer students and I headed to the next county over for lunch and pie this afternoon, followed by a trip to a semi-secret Knox County location known as Aqua Farm. I think that I'm not supposed to say much about Aqua Farm. I had never been there before this afternoon; the woman riding shotgun directed me, and one of the three students in the backseat documented the trip using my camera. Car photography was new to her, but within a few shots, she was shooting away and, I found out later, getting good stuff, including reclining cows, and the only shot I'm going to give of Aqua Farm, and many other lovely red barns.
We made it back to campus at about 2 p.m., which was the time I'd told my department's wonderwoman of an administrative assistant that I would be coming to the officehouse this afternoon. She'd asked about this yesterday, and I hadn't thought much of it, though it did turn out to be the reason that I actually hauled myself (and my small arsenal of grading goads) back out of the house. But the weather was gorgeous, and there is all this grading to be done, so I thought: yes. Work. I will do work, and then I will walk out with my new set of eyes and see what I can see.
Only, when I arrived at the office, there were gifts abounding. My beloved Brooklynite's holiday presents arrived, and I (impatient thing that I am) opened them and showed them off. My textbook for next semester's photography class arrived, and I opened it and paged through it a bit. I was in the process of showing off pictures of the Aqua Farm (before I remembered having been semi-sworn to semi-secrecy while still in the car) when the first strange thing happened: one of my poet friends, who normally might have manifested at least some interest in what I was showing two other people, instead shot us a quick glance and then abruptly left the building, as if leaving for good, without saying a word. A little while later--after I'd received two more holiday gifts! what a day!--a cry went up through the officehouse: my excellent friend, in our other officehouse, had something funny to show us, and we had to come over immediately.
When we got to the other building, a door that is usually open was closed. Because it's a reading day, leading up to exams, I wondered whether we should take a different route, lest we disturb anyone. I opened the door gingerly and found that, indeed, the room behind the door was full of people. But then they all yelled "Surprise!"--which only made things more confusing. I turned to my companions and said, "Who's the surprise for?" Everyone laughed at me. I understood better when the assembled revelers began wishing me a happy research leave. It turns out that my seniors decided that they wanted to throw a party because I won't be teaching next semester. "You're such an easy mark," said my poet friend, who had (of course) been on his way to the surprise when he swept out of the officehouse so abruptly. He had predicted that I would walk in and ask whose party it was. I am indeed easy that way: for me? a party?
Incredible amounts of eating ensued--on top of all the eating I'd done at lunch. I have not been this consistently un-hungry in a good long while; leftovers are mounting in the house, and now I have piles of baked goods in my office. But even better was the enormity of my students' and friends' generosity and good will. It is such a thing, this kind of wholly unanticipated love-gift. One student presented me with a piece of her art that I had offered to buy from her. One colleague baked me my favorite kind of pie. I continue to reel in gratitude, especially having learned that this fest had been in the works for nearly a month (no small feat in tiny Gambier). I fear that I was not able to eat enough to show my gratitude fully.
When everyone had begun to clear out, after an hour of hanging about and consuming mass quantities of food and drink, I mentioned Aqua Farm yet again--still marvelling at its strangeness, and at the fact that I had no knowledge of its proximity to Gambier before today. Four of the women who organized and/or participated in the surprise were still around and said, "Aqua Farm?" Inspiration struck: as a thank you to them for having given me one kind of Kenyon moment, I gave them one in return.
On my second trip to Aqua Farm in one day, I actually parked the car, and we wandered a little ways up and down Esto Road, which turns to gravel not long after one turns onto it from OH-229. We all had cameras of one sort or another. I broke with my usual procedure and tried for some portraits of these women, all so beautiful and strong and thoughtful in their own ways. At some point, one of them began to dance a little, and suddenly they all teetered on the edge of dancing together in their loose and lovely semi-circle, in the cooling Ohio dusk.
"What did you do today?" I said, ventriloquizing those to whom we would return when we made our gravelly way back to campus.
"Oh, we were line-dancing on Esto Road," came my own reply.