Gambier is emptying out; those left now are the unfortunate souls who had the last exam slot (tonight from 6:30-9:30) or those who simply haven't had time to clear out already. The work is largely in our hands now: I spent the bulk of my day grading in one place or another, and I watch as all of these people I have come to know and love become a series of numbers and then a single letter in the registrar's online system, and all the while, I wonder how the people I know and love will respond to that letter, when it reaches them. It's a strange and fraught experience, to be sure, but one that is going awfully nicely this semester, prompting vast pride in me at all the inventive things my students did with their final projects. It's too early to say that everything has gone smoothly; there's still much to be done. But so far, so good. And everyone starts to uncoil just a bit at the end of a semester, which is lovely indeed.
And we are only two days from the solstice. At 7:22 p.m. Thursday--or so I am told--we'll have hit the bottom of the year. For me, that pivot point of the year is a time of great rejoicing, just as the pivot in June is a time of small sorrow, something that always feels a bit strange, given that it comes in the first third of the academic year's summer. Through the warmest part of the year, I watch the light diminish a bit more each day; through the coldest part of the year, I welcome it back, day by day.
The weather turns colder and colder, so that tonight the stars are as bright as I've seen them this season. Orion hangs over my house in the southern sky, massive and silent. I tried to photograph him, and he showed up after the long exposure time, but I have a ways to go before I get a starshot with which I'm happy. (My inability to get the picture I wanted was a perplexity to me until I woke up Wednesday morning realizing that--yes, indeed--I did not focus the camera while taking pictures last night. The perils of having become dependent on automation! So: I stumble, I fall, I learn: it's an old, old process. If the skies allow it tonight, I'll try again. My father's classic explanation for "mechanical" failure comes to mind: "Sounds like operator error to me.")
Here's a place I would visit tomorrow, if I could, I think. I am always careful what I wish for, lest it come true in ways I don't expect. But this one place, I miss more than most places. And I don't think I even have a picture of it that's my own; I've had to borrow this one from Gabriel Gudding's Conchology.
Somehow, posting this picture has reminded me of what I wanted to tell you earlier, before I forgot, before I remembered again. Last night, as I stood on the college president's lawn, photographing Christmas tree lights by the side of the state highway, I heard a Canada goose honking its rough way through the darkness. I think of this, in connection with this picture of Ithaca Falls, because of a particular walk I took nearly four years ago, through the streets of Ithaca in the dark, to the bridge over Fall Creek where I could look toward the falls, almost visible despite the night's depth and the heft of the water's own sound. It was mid-March; the war was about to start; my heart was enormous and full of everything but fear; the wind was blowing vaporous exhalations all the way along from the falls so that my face dampened as I leaned over the bridge to listen. On the way there, an enormous vee of geese passed high overhead, chorusing. I wanted to believe, still want to believe, that last night's goose was not flying alone, that there were at least two.
Tonight, a fifth candle. For the turn about to take place. For those among us who are worried and fearful. For those among us who rejoice. For last night's goose and an end to loneliness. For still thinking that life is beautiful.