Tag Archives: Cerro Pedernal

Field as teacher

John Cheever in Massachusetts at the age of seventeen…

The spring of five months ago was the most beautiful spring I have ever lived in. The year before I had not known all about the trees and the heavy peach blossoms and the tea-colored brooks that shook down over the brown rocks. Five months ago it was spring and I was in school.

In school the white limbs beyond the study hall shook out a greenness, and the tennis courts became white and scalding. The air was empty and hard, and the vacant wind dragged shadows over the road. I knew all this only from the classrooms.

I knew about the trees from the window frames, I knew the rain only from the sounds on the roof. I was tired of seeing spring with walls and awnings to intercept the sweet sun and the hard fruit. I wanted to go outdoors and see the spring, I wanted to feel and taste the air and be among the shadows. That is perhaps why I left school.

In the spring I was glad to leave school. Everything outside was elegant and savage and fleshy. Everything inside was slow and cool and vacant. It seemed a shame to stay inside.

~ John Cheever, “Expelled,”  The New Republic, October 1, 1930.

* * *

I think it important, even redemptive, that I spend time in nature, away from the classroom or ranch house, walking in pasture and grove.  Yes, I know, it is all nature, even within four walls — the air, the sunlight, the particles of dust and skin floating within the house.  Without walls, however, weather intrudes, scents come sharply and trees present their foliage.  Wildlife intersects the trail.

When I lectured at T. C. U. one semester, I taught from a second-story lecture hall with an array of seven or eight windows looking out upon elms and green grass about the campus.  It was a western civilization class of thirty students.  Often I went to the windows while lecturing, propped my elbow on the ledge and instructed undergraduates while frequently glancing into the seasons outside the panes.  I liked that classroom and sometimes dream of it.

* * *

Field work in anthropology never tired me.  Surface surveys for isolated occurrences of stone tools or hearths carried me from arroyo to mesa in New Mexico.  Boots dusty, sweatband wet and Levis soiled at the end of the morning offered solid evidence of my toil.  I thought of people, long ago, that walked the same good ground, gazing at Cerro Pedernal.  My students that I led into the field, without fail, always returned to the classroom the next day invigorated, talkative and inspired.  The field instructed, not me.

______________________________

Notes:


John Cheever, “Expelled,” The New Republic, October 1, 1930, reprinted in The New Republic, January 5, 2011.

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