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Fall Fever: Excerpts...


Late August, 1977. If I were a chipmunk, this feeling would send me off to the burr oak to harvest acorns. Being related to the chipmunk, I glance at the stack of fireplace fuel on the terrace and decide that one day soon I must sharpen my ax.

But my real concern is not shared by the chipmunk. The yellowing of poplar leaves, the reddening of hawthorn fruits, the noisy conferences of grackles-these are a calendar that reminds me to search the Squaw Creek pools for whirligig beetles, and to verify that the blazing star is still blooming. It tells me to take stock of ailanthus trees where I can clip a few stems for the study of leaf scars.

Such tasks take hold of me every autumn, a prelude to the delights and disappointments that I find in being a biology teacher. Each school year ends in a weariness that comes with the frustrations of almost any teaching assignment. But there is renewal in the summer sun and a change of duties. Then as the days become shorter, I feel this urge. It is a sort of "fall fever."

More than a hundred fresh sophomores; some will join me in the excitement of seeing blood flow through the embryonic heart of a chick; others will not. A few will share their satisfaction in finding that their own cells and those of the blazing star blooming on the prairie just outside our classroom windows have a common plan; others won't.

A few, having learned to track down the name of a flower or bug with an identification key, will ask for more; many will decline.

Some I will come to know. Others will remain strangers.

Perhaps this "fall fever" conditions me for what is ahead, just as the chipmunk's anxiety over the autumn harvest conditions it for winter. Whatever it is, I am glad it is a part of my life. It has been that way for 41 years; and even though retirement is providing time for sorting through the log of what happened, I find myself writing as though it is still happening.

R. F. Trump divided his 41 years into days of the week: Monday - the beginning of his career, Wednesday - toward the middle. The following snippet is from the Wedesday section:

Skulls, Cocoons, and Diabetes

I found the skull on an eroded bank of the Skunk River. Wanting to verify that it had belonged to a bison calf, not a domestic cow, I showed it to Tom B. Tom is a sophomore. He finds bones and learns where they came from.

When I wanted to know when to expect the emergence of a cecropia after I brought the cocoon indoors in January, I asked Paul P. He, too, was a sophomore at the time of my question. He studies the cecropia.

And when I wanted to know more about the symptoms of insulin shock, I stopped Maureen M. after class. She listens when her doctor explains the physiology of diabetes.

I wish I had kept a list of sophomores who know more about some biological topic than their teacher. There have been others. This thought hit me when I saw a sign on a farm gate: "I repare hydrolics." Mentally I marked the repairman down on spelling. Then it occurred to me that if my hydraulics were faltering, he is the one I would call for help.

Try Again?

I was in the supermarket line when Alice told me her married name and asked if I remembered the time when she tried to throw a ball of paper into the waste-basket. "I missed," she explained, "and it was right at the first of the period. You had already started with instructions of some kind, and I didn't think you'd seen me throw. But a few minutes later you walked over while you were talking and picked up the paper. Do you remember what you did?

I didn't, and Alice continued, "You laid it on your desk. I was afraid you would straighten the paper out and see the notes Jan and I wrote about our dates. Well, when class was almost over you brought the paper back and handed it to me. You don't remember? You handed it to me and said, 'Do you want to try again?'"

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