Archive for March, 2009

More animals

March 31, 2009

This morning we spotted a gray squirrel poking around at the edge of our woods out back. There’s nothing terribly remarkable about that (I’d be more surprised if we didn’t have squirrels than I was to see one), but it’s the first one we’ve seen here. This fellow had a big fat white belly, almost as fat as the ones we used to see nosing around the trash barrels in the parks in New York. I wonder what he’s been eating all winter to be so roly-poly.

Around lunchtime we had a convention-load of birds in our woods: a gaggle of robins, a blue jay, some crows, and a bunch of little things that might have been chickadees or finches. Together they made a wonderful racket of calls and song.

Up to now there’s been very little sign of animal life in our woods. I wonder what it is that has brought all these critters out all of a sudden.


“I am not a committee!”

March 31, 2009

I’m beginning to feel that the root of all evil is not money but committees. The history department faculty is filled with good, intelligent people with lots of great ideas who care very much about teaching and who want to get things done—yet every time we have a faculty meeting we seem to just spin our wheels talking about the same things over and over, getting bogged down in small details and not making any decisions. To be fair, a large part of that comes from wanting to give everyone a chance to speak and to arrive at a consensus decision, which I think are admirable positions, but I’m starting to understand why some members of the faculty just don’t show up to meetings.

The outcome of yesterday’s committee meeting was that I need to rewrite some parts of my course proposals. I had hoped to have them approved by the department committee today, but if I can get the revisions done soon there is still time to have them approved by the department and sent on to the college-wide committee before the next cycle of classes begins. (I was not alone in that, either: one of my colleagues who is tenured has been at SSC for years also got asked to revise their new course proposals.)

In other news, the fire alarm went off at the beginning of my second World History class, so we all had to tromp out of the building in a cold rain and wait while the firefighters came and checked the building. Fortunately we got the all clear pretty quickly and were allowed back in, but that was an unpleasant interruption to the day.

Despite those setbacks, I’m happy to say that it was a good day otherwise. My World History classes were looking at the geography of the Americas before we start examining the cultures that developed there and both my classes responded very well, even the one that is usually quieter. In Greece and Rome we were talking about the life and death of Julius Caesar and we also had a pretty good class.

New courses

March 30, 2009

This morning I’m presenting five new course proposals before the history department curriculum committee. If they approve the courses, they’ll be sent on to a college-wide committee for further approval. If they approve as well, I’ll be able to start teaching these classes next spring. The courses I’m proposing are:

  • History of Ancient Greece
  • History of Rome (these two split up the Greece and Rome class that I’m teaching now into two separate, semester-long courses)
  • Roman Law
  • Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World
  • History of Northern Europe to 1066

I’ve gotten a lot of encouraging comments from my fellow history faculty so I hope that all will go well today and with the college-wide committee later. I’ve been pretty free to design the courses I’ve been teaching so far, but I’m looking forward to teaching courses that are completely of my own creation.

Ice is out, grass is in

March 29, 2009

Some changes from the past few days here:

Rock Pond with lots of open water

Rock Pond with lots of open water

Not two days ago all that open water was covered by ice.  We’ve had a few warm days, plus some rain, and now the ice is only a few chunks floating around the shady pats of the shoreline.

The corner of our lot, with some grass starting to show

The corner of our lot, with some grass starting to show

It doesn’t show so well in the picture, but some patches of our land are starting to get a little green fuzz on them as the seeded grass comes up.  It’s curious to see where the grass is popping first– some of it can be explained by sun and shelter, but other parts I’m not so sure about.

We still have traces of snow in our back yard, but that, too, is going fast.  Today we’re getting steady rain, which may well melt away the last of it.


March 29, 2009

We have had a number of animal sightings since moving into Heather House:

I spotted a handsome white-tailed deer in the woods beside the house not twenty feet from the road one evening as I was arriving home from work. I slowed down to stare in astonishment and it bounded off into the woods. It was a wonderful thing to see and I’m sorry that E. wasn’t there to share it.

We saw a flock of six soaring birds gracefully gliding through the sky overhead. I couldn’t identify them properly, but they looked like hawks. I’ve always thought of birds like those as solitary; I’ve certainly never seen six together before, but they were clearly soaring together.

In the past week crows have started flying around the woods here and making a racket. We’ve heard some songbirds as well, but I haven’t seen them yet, at least not close to the house. Driving out down the road yesterday we spotted a cardinal, though.

We keep hearing flocks of geese honking away as they fly overhead. I’m not surprised if we’re on a migration route, being right next to a pond, I just hope they don’t decide to spend a night on our lawn any time.

Is our children learning?

March 28, 2009

I just finished grading the midterms for one of my two world history classes.  I have to say that most of them were decent and some were astonishingly good.  The problems I saw were for the most part problems of expressing ideas clearly, not of knowledge or comprehension.  For example, one student informed me that:

“Islam was divided between the Sunnis and the Shits.”

Another one demonstrated thoughtful self-correction:

“The caliph was chosen by the wealthy peeps people.”

For some reason, however, many of my students seem to be convinced that the ancient Egyptians were Christian.  Oh well– more work to do.

Grading… ugh

March 28, 2009

I have two stacks of papers and two stacks of exams to grade. I’m going to try to get a start on them this weekend, but I doubt I’ll get very far. One thing I don’t enjoy about teaching is grading. I do think that writing papers is one of the best ways for my students to put their thoughts together into a coherent shape and I think that the process is worthwhile even if the paper it produces doesn’t amount to much. Wading through all of those papers, though, is not something I look forward to.


March 27, 2009

Now that the weather is getting warmer with the coming of spring, we have started exploring our woods and getting to know the land that is now ours.

Our house sits on about an acre of land, most of which, stretching back in a narrow plot behind the house, is wooded. The trees in our woods seem to be mostly oak with a scattering of pine. To judge from the dead leaves on the ground, we seem to have two different types of oak; one has a spindly, angled leaf, the other a fuller, rounder leaf. I’ve looked at some tree guides, but so far I’m not confident of having identified any types. We also have a couple of examples of another evergreen tree, something with fine needles and reddish bark that seems to naturally peel off in long, shaggy strips—possibly a variety of juniper or something related. To judge from the leaves on the ground, it looks like we have a few maples mixed in, which delights me: maybe some spring we’ll try tapping a maple and making some syrup.

Around the property there are also some flowering pear trees planted by the builder. They are all very small at this point, but they seem to be healthy so we should see them starting to grow this spring and summer. In the surrounding woods we can see a few birch trees, which E. likes. We may try to get a few to take root on our land as well.

The trees are just starting to show leaf buds, hard little nodules studding the twigs and branches. In the next few weeks I’m sure we will see things start to emerge. Living in New York City all those years I always felt so disconnected from nature. There were parks and trees planted along the sidewalks, but that’s no substituted for woods growing wild and fresh air. It is wonderful now to be able to watch the changing of the seasons in our own back yard.

New beginnings

March 27, 2009

Welcome to Erik’s new journal.

The life that my wife and I share has changed enormously in the past year: two graduations, a new job, an interstate move, a new apartment, then a new house. My old journal never quite kept up with all of those changes, and now the webspace it used occupy is gone. So here I am starting again, another change and hopefully a new beginning.

Recent experience has taught me that trying to keep up a journal day by day as I used to do is no longer feasible with my new schedule, and so I will not try. I will try instead to use this new journal to track the larger movements of my life and the world around me and to share my thoughts on such random and generally pointless things as happen to enter my head or amuse me.