The Light in August

Today I turned in semester grades to the university office. We have the option of mailing them in, but I’ve always enjoyed hand-delivering them. It’s like a victory lap when the term is over, when the hard work is behind us all, students and teachers, for a little while. The campus is pretty much deserted these days, but it was such a perfect summer day, absolutely cloudless, that I decided to take along my camera and capture, for your viewing pleasure, some of my favorite places there.

First, there’s this wonderful, whispery stairway between the new Lawson convenience store and the library. The campuses I can remember being on the States are all pretty much flat (maybe because I’ve only been on ones in Illinois, and non-southern Illinois, at that). But Niigata University’s grounds have delightful drops in elevation such as this one. The land falls sharply below the main plaza outside the General Education building. The trees and underbrush have been left untouched where the ground is steep, providing patches of what amounts to full-scale forest in the midst of the pavements and traffic of university life. More than once I’ve been startled by a lizard scuttling underfoot across the bricks or clinging to a bush’s leaves beside my elbow. Today I was marveling at the spiderwebs in the thicket behind the bicycle rack. I could see ten spiders at once without turning my head — it was Mirkwood, right here in Niigata — the webs catching the light of the afternoon sun, nets of flashing gold. [I’m still getting used to digital photography, and I couldn’t get the webs to show up, no matter what post-production tricks I pulled, so those pictures aren’t here.] Note the weeds growing from the roof of the bicycle parking shelter (very top picture) — pretty cool, huh? I also saw an actual pheasant browsing along in the undergrowth at the southwest corner of the General Education building!

I’ll also include here some views of one of my classrooms. This is B-354, the one in which I taught Advanced English for economics students and the Practical English Seminar for (mostly) humanities students. This is pretty typical of Japanese classrooms, with long, straight rows of desks. In conversation classes, though, it’s not at all uncommon to move the desks around, gathering them into little “islands” when the students speak in groups. Notice also the platform for teachers to stand on. This wing of the building was just remodeled, so this room was brand-new this past semester — very nice, roomy, bright with the row of windows along the side, and air-conditioned. The row of inner windows looking out into the hallway can be screened off with pull-down blinds. The only problem I’ve noticed is with sound: much more than with the old classrooms, sound from neighboring rooms carries quite loudly. It was hard for us all to keep straight faces one day when a class somewhere nearby was apparently studying traditional minyou singing (I think) — I’m not sure if it was the professor demonstrating, or if we were listening to a tape, but it did make it hard to concentrate.

Another of my favorite little features is the way a treetrunk and a hedge form a living framework around a doorway into the General Education building. The picture is here on the left.

In a much earlier blog posting, I showed you “the birthplace of Dragonfly.” This photo tour includes the place where, just over a year ago, I worked out the details of “Here About to Die” during the late spring/early summer. I frequently ate lunch here, above a stagnant pool in a basin. Sometimes a crow would hop around at what it considered a safe distance and would “beg,” snatching up the little pieces of bread I tossed its way. So it was here, in this green light, that I thought about Lucia and Athria and the Grand Arena on Cheleboth.

Finally, a view of the place I usually park my bicycle (the little photo on the left). To the right here is the Lucia grove above the stagnant pool.

Those of you who know me well know that I speak at times of regret. I was reflecting on how one thing in life that I do not regret in the least is teaching at this university. I really do love it — the chance I’ve had to intersect the lives of so many students at such a formative, direction-finding time for them, a time when they’re making all sorts of discoveries, realizing how wide open the world is, and trying to choose their courses in it. If I live to be an old man, I know a great many of the images that will come to me and make me smile will be the faces and the words of my students over the years. What a privilege it is to be here!

What does this all have to do with writing? What, I ask you, doesn’t have to do with writing?!

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5 Responses to “The Light in August”

  1. I fished the Flat Branch Says:

    I know I speak for all in saying a big “thank you” to Fred for sharing with us the wonderful pictures of the campus where Sensei Durbin is, no doubt, the first professor to have his classes fill up at registration.
    Fred, you referenced Mirkwood. I can see that, but several of these photos make me think more of Rivendell (sans all the running water). I note the “delightful drops in elevation” and the way in which the structures seem to have been built around, and as a part of, the natural landscape rather than ‘into’ it.
    Khazad-dum in its glory days may be Fred’s dream desitination in Middle-earth, but based on his obvious love of trees I would suggest Fangorn as high on the list.
    As much as Lothlorien would be a dream vacation for me, it is photos like those seen here, combined with the LOTR vision and my own imagination, that make Imladris where I would must want to visit (having a few scatted Noldorin elves around weighs into this, of course!).
    I particularly love Fred’s ending query: “What does this all have to do with writing? What, I ask you, doesn’t have to do with writing?!”
    Exactly, my friend. Exactly.

  2. Eunice Says:

    Japanese classrooms look just like Chinese classrooms, except Chinese students sit two or three to a bench rather than in individual chairs.

  3. fsdthreshold Says:

    Flat Branch–Thank you for such encouraging words!
    I meant “Mirkwood” only in reference to the spiders in the thicket behind the bicycle-parking place (not the one where I park my bicycle, but that one at the bottom of the stairway, with the weeds growing from its roof). There were just spiders in every direction I looked there yesterday–some up under the roof, and eight or ten more with their webs unfurled in the underbrush. I would _not_ want to be a fly with orders to navigate through that thicket. Oddly, the spiders there weren’t all that creepy–very far, faaar-removed tiny scions of old Madam Ungoliant.
    And you’re absolutely right! If I had to pick a Middle-earth forest: Fangorn all the way! Its vast age and heaviness almost make it an honorary cavern! A couple years ago in a writing class, I used a brief passage from LOTR in which the Hobbits enter Fangorn and are talking about how it doesn’t look as if any spring cleaning has ever been done there. Wow, you don’t realize until you try it what a nightmare a Tolkien passage is for students of English as a second language! Haven’t tried that again since!

    Thanks, Eunice, for the comparison with classrooms in China. Two or three to a bench–wow!

  4. Jason Van Hollander Says:

    Fred: You are a very gifted author. Your weblog provides a glimpse into your fine sensibility. All best, Jason Van Hollander – 8/8/08

  5. fsdthreshold Says:

    Jason: Thank you! I’m honored that you stopped in here, and I appreciate your words. You’re always, always most welcome here! For those readers not familiar with the realms of fantasy and horror publishing, this gentleman is an accomplished writer and visual artist, winner of the World Fantasy Award and numerous other accolades–and the illustrator of the original edition of _Dragonfly_.

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