back to school

This time of year has meant “back to school” for me since 1976, when I entered Mrs. Wright’s preschool class. Each fall since that time I’ve been back to school, either as a student, a teacher, or both. This year is different.

In the midst of my institution’s first day of school, I was hundreds of miles away and thousands of feet above, climbing up towards the Paintbrush Divide, just north and within sight of the Grand Teton, the representative landmark and namesake of that National Park. Pleasant lunchtime weather at a place called Solitude Lake turned gray, then threatening, and soon thereafter much worse, until myself and two friends were cowering under boulders and listening to thunder and hail moving through. And so started my sabbatical.


There were many reasons to be on this mountain pass on my first non-back-to-school day since I was a 4-year-old. I’ll actually be returning to this and other national parks, and I was able to learn a little about what I could be doing and make a few contacts. I’ll follow up on this later; but maybe the most pertinent and honest reason for hefting 50 pounds on my back, stepping out into the rain, and climbing over mountain passes is represented by this sign I’d found along the trail back in the valley far below:


I think that I’ll sneak in some weekend and put this on my office door while I’m away.

To get a sabbatical — derivative of the “sabbath” — you have to put in a proposal and demonstrate that there’s something worthwhile for your institution and the general public to support. But there’s also a general acknowledgement that I can’t just keep treading upon the same ground repeatedly, doing the same things that I’ve been doing since I started teaching in 1994 (!!!) or making the same assumptions about education since 1976 when I started paying attention in class. The hiking trek was a way for me to get out of town, physically remove myself from anything remotely like a physical classroom, and see how I might start over.

We did make it over the divide, and the weather cleared slightly so that there wasn’t lightning or hail. I started to sing “I Can See Clearly Now,” straining a little for air as we approached 11,000 feet above sea level. I flashed back to the planning that started eight months ago when I reserved a permit for this hike, and then looked down the other side of the pass that represents the next steps of a larger project.