Sean and I got down to business when we got home last Tuesday. We loaded up the truck with the tables and the propane cooker that we’d borrowed for the barbeque and bumped down the road to Danny’s. I was reading this amazing book, Code Name Verity, so I didn’t look up until Sean said “whoah…” and stopped the truck. There was a snake, sunning itself in the middle of the driveway, perfectly still. It was a rattlesnake, at least four feet long and easily as big around as my forearm. Whoah.
We edged around it warily, and I placed my body between Sean and the snake, which never moved a centimeter. Its stillness gave me the heebie jeebies. We knocked on the door and Sean informed Danny that his “pet was loose in the driveway.” Danny looked out from the top step and went goggle-eyed; He does this very well – our neighbors are all good at theatrics and story-telling. He went into the house and came out with Nancy and a flat hoe, then walked right up to that rattler in his house-slippers. “Be careful baby,” said a worried Nancy, then to Sean and me, “the logging up behind Catherine’s place is driving them out of the woods. We’ve never seen one on this property before, but they’re on the move now. Loggers killed a six footer with 18 rattles just the other day. Wish they hadn’t killed it, they’re endangered.” Danny had reached the snake by now and was using the hoe to prod it. It set up a rattle, which is more like a buzz, and rose up, ready to strike. Danny held his ground and then actually scooped the snake up on the hoe and threw it a few feet off into the grass. He followed it and repeated the performance. It never stopped buzzing, but Danny was slowly able to harry it until it was well into the treeline.
Sean, Nancy and I let out our breath with a whoosh and Sean and I hopped into the truck to meet Danny down at the shop to unload the tables and cooker. We were all a little unsettled and I looked down at the ground before I stepped out of the truck, unreasonably afraid of running across another snake, this time by surprise. Of course there was nothing there, and I laughed at myself as I stepped out of the truck, reached into the back and pulled out the stand for the cooker. Sean and Danny were leaning against the tailgate, talking about snakes. I walked a few steps into the shop and just about set it down right on top of a copperhead. I noticed just in time and pulled back. “speaking of snakes,” I said, and gestured. Danny turned and there it was, not two feet away from him. “Keely!” he hollered, “My God! He has got to go. He was inside the shop! My God! How did he get in here!” The snake was gorgeous: its hide was a polished copper with deep chocolate patterns. It was coiled up, probably hunkered down for the night, and it never moved until Danny grabbed a long handled tool with a blade and smashed its head. It thrashed a bit, and Danny flung it off into the grass outside the shop. “You’re not gonna skin it, Keely?” Sean said with a shudder. I shrugged. “You want it?” asked Danny, and I nodded “why not? I’ll skin it and practice on it, just like with my raccoon.” Danny gave a laugh but beheaded it for me and I placed it in a bag and chucked it in the truck.
Snakes are weird. They have a musky smell to them that lingers on your hands. I pulled the snake out of the bag when we got home and started trying to skin it. Sometimes, when I would trigger something just right, it would thrash or make a slow slithering glide. It seemed alive, even without its head. Sean couldn’t be in the room with me while I did it. I made a long cut down the belly and once I got it started, the skin pulled off like a banana peel, but all in once piece. It was easier than skinning a raccoon or a pig and took maybe ten minutes. The skinned snake was gray and strange. I bagged it back up and threw it away, disconcerted on an animal level. The skin I laid out, scaly-side down, on the same pallet as my coon skin. Sean helped me flatten it with some window-screen and then staple the screen down to the board so that there wouldn’t be holes in my snake-skin. It’s drying now, though nothing’s really drying in this humidity. I’m going to try making some bracelets out of the hide.
Last Wednesday was my official last day of school, though it was our third day without kids. We teachers spent most of the week doing nitpicky things in our classrooms and gossiping anxiously about the big changes that our district is going through: TFA is not placing in our district for reasons that I wholly support, but the news came late and we have a lot of positions to fill; in addition to that pressure, we’re moving the 7th and 8th grades up to the high school campus. We don’t have enough classrooms, so some teachers will be in portables. We’ll be offering fewer electives and some of us may have to teach more subjects. It’s not a comfortable change, and transparency isn’t one of our superintendent’s professional values.
Interjection: It is broad daylight and I’m hearing coyotes outside. This is extremely unusual and a little nervewracking.
Wednesday evening, Sean and I went to Memphis for dinner and I was able to check out the book Rose Under Fire which is the companion to the book I had just finished. A librarian had to bend the rules for me to make it happen, since the book had not yet been processed since its return, but I charmed her with my enthusiasm/desperation. Her willingness to help me reaffirmed every good thing I’ve ever believed about librarians. I gladly spent $50 for another year’s membership with the Memphis library. Every time I go through the doors to that place I have to fight back a happy-dance.
We went to bed too late and I woke up way too early: I had to be in Monticello, nearly three hours away, by 8:00 am. You do the math: I’m on vacation. I was volunteering to help with induction, TFARK’s orientation for new teachers, and I was less than 100% stoked. I’d committed before I realized that we’d have no new TFA teachers at my school, and I couldn’t go back on my word so I stayed the course. My exhaustion evaporated soon after I arrived and began meeting new teachers. Everyone was so passionate about teaching, so excited to meet their students, so ready to love everything about Arkansas, and so eager to learn that I found myself plugging in to their bubbling energy and recharging. I think I made a summer’s worth of recovery in two days. My jaded, cynical perspective is gone and I’m ready to dive in to next year with all my heart. If you’re one of the people I met at induction or at the party in Helena on Saturday, this is my sincerest thank you. You’ve inspired me.
My favorite part of induction was the math content group. I love teaching math (most of the time) and talking about the specifics of teaching math makes me happy. I loved being grilled by new teachers about my classroom and hearing their ideas for how to get kids excited about math. Totally wonderful. I hope some of them will take me up on my invitation to come up here some weekend during institute to do some planning or talking or canoeing and to let Sean feed them. I want to have a real community of math teachers next year, and it’s already looking good.
Sean’s science lady from our co-op had us over to her beautiful home yesterday. We sat by the pool and had some drinks and chit-chat. She was funny and gracious and fed us generously. It was a perfect way to kick off the summer, that strange season where I have free time and I don’t quite know what to do with myself. It’s a fantastic feeling.