The bus is a very different place with the students gone, though not so empty as it was when my co-pilot, Bruce, and I drove it from Vermont to Seattle more than three months ago. It had been years, when we collected it from the parking lot at Marlboro College in southern Vermont, since the aisles were smeared with mud and fir needles and the overhead bins overspilling with wet socks and ripe t-shirts. The echoes of laughter and quiet, headlamp-lit conversations had faded to whispers easily mistaken for wind while the bus searched for a new college to partner with so it could ply the highways and byways once again. Now, just two days past the end of the Pacific Northwest Fall 2016 semester, those sounds and smells might have dissipated to the untrained senses, but to my reckoning, we are bringing the bus back to Vermont loaded full.
My colleague and I elected to loop southward on our return back to Vermont, in order to avoid the steep mountain grades and inevitable weather hang-ups of a December traverse along the northern route. Even as I speak, a white disk of sun spreads its ivory light over the miles of creosote and craggy mesas of Interstate 40. Earlier today, we passed a small bluff with a sign atop it advertising some “one of a kind” Paleolithic wonder. Alongside the billboard sat an improbable, abandoned school bus.
The same crane and winch that had hoisted the billboard up the sheer face of the bluff must have levered the school bus into place as well. Seeing it there made me sad in the most maudlin and melodramatic of ways. School buses aren’t meant to be ornamental. They’re meant to barely contain the exuberance of the young, reverberating with their shrieks and sighs as they goad each other into hysterical laughter or righteous indignation over the day. That’s me being all reflective and “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” about this business we’ve been about over the last few months. Seems like the thing to do.
To be honest, my brain feels like a burnt crépe, and my thoughts are a mishmash of longing for the people and comforts of home, plus mental Post-its bearing dialogue for the two books that have been clawing to get out of my insides for months. There were plenty of stories about the semester that I wanted to share with you along the way, very few of which found their way to this blog. There was simply little time or computer or internet availability, blah blah blah it just didn’t happen the way I thought it would.
You’ll just have to take me at my word that what did happen was full of wonder and awe, even beyond the pair of coyotes that came prancing by within a stone’s throw of where I stood (not that I would have thrown one, or that these audacious coyotes would have given a rat’s ass if I had). Beyond the galvanizing conversations with activists, authors, academics, and people returning to the earth in every way they can think of to cultivate hope. Beyond the utter exhaustion and physical discomfort of living outside for twelve weeks come the hell of putting on cold, wet clothes or waking up to the high water flooding our tents.
I had thought, at the beginning, to share the specifics of the seven other people that dominated my waking (and often resting) hours all this time, but the conundrum of education is this: What happens when one person meets another person/place/thing/idea/part of themselves in such a way that changes them irreversibly is an intimate thing, and nobody else’s story to tell. Not even mine, though I was witness and occasional midwife to it all. I would have loved to share my students’ quirks and peculiarities with you, their silly jokes and amusing mishaps, because who doesn’t like being the one with the good story to tell? Also, you would have come to love them, I think, as I have, and maybe even felt a little bit jealous that I got to tag along with them for a while.
Maybe at some point the pictures will start circulating through cyberspace and you will have a clearer idea of who these anonymous darlings were, or maybe not. Their adventures have already taken them elsewhere, as has mine. Perhaps I’ll do a better job of documenting what comes next, here or somewhere else, but perhaps not. Time is still a-flying while we’re out gathering rosebuds, and there’s just no telling with adventures.