Home My Vegetable Love Weathering Winter Taking Retirement Letters to Kate The Made-Up Self Essayists on the Essay A Self Made of Words
March 20, 1995

Meanwhile, back here in March, the first rainstorm of the year finally arrived last night around midnight, complete with lightning and thunder, and more fell this morning. Enough to saturate the soil that had been drying out during the unusual warmth of last week. Also enough to cool down and slow down all the prematurely budding trees, shrubs, vines, brambles, and perennials. The leonine side of March also blustered in with a northwest wind gusting up to thirty-five miles an hour. An uncomfortable day for people, a blessing for things in the garden.

But a near-freezing temperature scheduled for this evening had me shuttling all the tender herb plants from the gazebo back to the house. And the tomato seedlings from the cool of the outside cellarway back up to the warmth of the kitchen, then back down again, when Kate and I agreed they're sturdy enough to take it down there. Ever watchful and fretful, like nurses in a preemie ward, we continually check on our seedling trays. Are they germinating on time? Have new ones emerged? Are they shedding their seed husks in good order? Do they need their surfaces moistened or bottoms watered? And we're continually moving them back and forth between radiators or other warm spots at night to windowsills during the day, or the terrace if it's warm enough and calm enough outside. Kate's already tending about two-hundred flower seedlings for our yard and the neighborhood park, and before long she'll be up to about five-hundred. So, my hundred vegetable seedlings are a breeze.

Especially by comparison with the fifty graduate students I was tending last year at this time, when I was still directing our program in nonfiction writing. Students looking for advice about admission, or courses, or manuscripts, or theses, or financial aid, or jobs, or publishers, or agents, or doctors, or writing blocks. Back then, they came to see me or waited to see me almost every day of the week, as I was reminded recently by my colleague Carol, whose office is next to mine. "Aren't you delighted to be free of all that?" Well, yes, I couldn't deny that I was happy to be free of all that. To be working on my own writing. But upon reflection, I also had to admit there was a time, and not so long ago, when I was happy to be involved in all of that. To be of help, to have a good influence, to build an outstanding program. Why is it, I wonder, that I no longer care to do such things so much as I once did? Is it just fatigue? Or burnout? Or is it also selfishness? Or some irrepressible desire to withdraw? en to be estranged, as a way of preempting the inevitable estrangement to come? Now, at last, I think I'm beginning to understand why some of my retired colleagues seemed to behave so strangely in the years shortly before their retirement.

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