The rain pelts down, pockmarking the ground and whipping in the turbulence of cold front clashing with warm like sheets on a laundry line. Everything is instantly ponderous with the weight of falling water and my body curls tighter on the couch, thinking of being out in it rather than tucked up in the warm dry of a house. Soon enough, out in it is very much where I’ll be, not playfully drenched by Vermont summer rains, but subject to whatever category of precipitation nature decides to throw at me, my co-faculty, and my hearty band of students during our fall expedition in the Pacific Northwest.
Watching the hammering drops batter the heads of water lilies and bend young maple branches towards the ground, I am still in that before time- that preparatory pause just before an adventure when the real challenges of what is to come are just vague premonitions, and the nuts and bolts survival fears make mischief with one’s thoughts.
I’ve been to the Pacific Northwest with the very same learning institution for which I will be teaching. I lived outside in all weather, getting cold and wet with nothing but a tarp thrown over a picnic table to shelter my soggy head at night. I got wet, then briefly dry, then wet again and on and on. My base Smart Wool layer became a second skin and I often forgot, between hasty lukewarm showers at campgrounds, the look and feel of the actual skin beneath. I loved every minute of it. The happiest pictures I have of myself were taken when I was hip deep in a river, splattered with mud on a stream bank, or scrambling across some mossy rock on the shores of a lake in a downpour. I should be far more preoccupied with how I will perform as an academic and mentor in the coming semester, yet currently one of my two biggest fears is simply “getting wet”.
It reminds me of a similar moment during my Peace Corps orientation, held in Washington, D.C. just before I left for my two-year stint as a volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa. As an ice breaker, we were all asked to stand up and name one of our biggest fears about our upcoming service. We were encouraged to be completely honest in the spirit of group bonding. When my turn came, I braced myself for vulnerability, eyes still red from saying farewell to the boyfriend who would slowly and painfully become an ex over the next twenty-four months. I brushed the wrinkles from my thrift store wrap skirt, stood up, and said: “I’m mostly worried about being thirsty.” And it was true. At the time, I knew nothing about cultural isolation, Larium-induced panic attacks, amoebic dysentery, and the constant uphill battle of my job. Thank heavens for that or I might not have gotten on the plane, and in spite of it all (amoebic dysentery included), I’m glad that I did.
These little fears are the ones that keep me company, and keep me from dwelling overlong on the ones that could dangerously undermine my enthusiasm for what lays ahead. Better to preoccupy myself with waterproofing than contemplate the possibility that nothing I have to offer as an educator will be of worth or interest to my students. Better to fret over the crushingly dull Commercial Driver’s License manual I have to memorize in order to drive the retrofitted school bus that will be our transport, kitchen, and library than ponder the possibility that I will never be able to pick up all of the threads of life that I have to drop to go off and do this thing.
I pull myself up off the couch, the CDL manual sliding off of my chest and on to the floor. I resist the urge to kick it across the room, and instead crack open my laptop with a sigh as yet another CDL practice test glows from the screen. The rain is still falling, and it is not yet my job to be out in it. Today my job is this, crossing one small fear off of the list, and leaving the big ones to take care of themselves.