First day of school

The detective who gave an overview of the campus police department during the graduate school orientation got a big laugh when he compared campus parking permits to hunting licenses: “You can look, and you can take it if you see it, but…”

Orientation was fantastic. I had a great time meeting my fellow students and my teachers, got into a great discussion of graphic novels with two of the guys, and was blown away by how nice everyone was. I really think I’m going to love it here. And to top it off, the professor I was really blown away with when I visited here is going to be my adviser. I just about danced for joy when I heard that.

One of my new classmates and her husband gave me a ride to the orientation picnic, and we stopped at a bar for some of the local brew, which is delicious. And I don’t even like beer! This was tasty, though, a wheat beer, almost like rich, mildly alcoholic orange juice. Yum.

The bike path west of town is almost unbearably beautiful. To one side, you have the tree-lined Poudre River, where college students and young families swing on ropes hung from tree branches and crash into the water below with howls of joy. To the other side, wide fields of tall, sun-bleached grasses and a narrow trail where people amble by on horseback. And in front, the mountains, blue-brown and sere at some times of day, at others a wide relief of cobalt blue backed by paler and paler swaths of color as the Rockies fade into the distance. At some sunsets, little fingers of clouds echo from the mountains like ripples from the shore of a pond, turning the sky to a vast ocean.

I noticed something the other day: my whole life, my default expression has been either worry or sadness, even when I was a little kid. But ever since I got here, any time I’m aware of my expression, I’ve been smiling.

My first class isn’t until 7:00 tonight, so mostly the first day has involved running errands and finding things, but there’s a few things I’m noticing, now that students are here…

1. There is a reason the bike laws are enforced so strictly here: the town’s population has just increased by 25%, and all of us ride bikes. It creates an oddly graceful flocking effect when three or more bikers glide into formation in the bike lanes, like geese, but can be very frustrating for drivers and pedestrians when bikers attempt the narrower sidewalks or run red lights.

2. Corollary to #1: the oceans of bike racks on campus, which seemed very generous last week, are now crammed to the gills. Parking a bike on campus is about as tricky as finding a parking spot in Manhattan.

3. I do not have straight blonde hair.

4. I am not Christian. I’ve had to explain this twice in 36 hours, gently but firmly, to two very earnest undergrads who were inviting people to prayer meetings. That, and the three poster-wielding ‘end is nigh’ers in the courtyard have made it clear I’m not in Kansas anymore. Or not in New England, anyway. To their credit, the two students were respectful once I did explain myself, and everyone just avoided/ignored the poster-boys in the courtyard.

Tomorrow I have classes from 9 AM to 7 PM; it’s going to be a little nuts, but I can’t wait. All these weeks of gearing up, getting ready, and now we start the toboggan ride. It’s going to be awesome.

Massive life change update

Sorry for being offline so long; my brain seems to have shut down for rebooting!

The goodbye party at the RA was just amazing. One of the rabbis, who has been on vacation, came back specifically for this, and our printer came in from Hoboken to say goodbye as well. People said the most lovely things to me, both in public and in private, and I kept tearing up every time I realized how much I was going to miss everybody. And we all had a lot of fun. Two of the rabbis who are handy with their PDAs started snagging facts about Colorado in general and Fort Collins in particular (state bird, population, etc.) and one of them commented that the public schools in Fort Collins are supposed to be really excellent. I grinned at her and said, “It’s only a three-year program; even if I get right on it, I’m not going to be able to take advantage of that,” and she blushed bright red and said, “I meant to teach! To teach!” “Oh, yeah, I guess I could do that, too…”

And then Amy and my replacement came and helped me drag my boxes from my apartment to the RA for shipping, which was such a weight off my mind. And two days later, I took the driving test, passed with flying colors, and came home to Northampton.

Those three weeks up in Massachusetts were so heavenly, a moment out of time. I biked through the woods every morning, listening to the birds and the insects chirping, watching for chipmunks in the brush and herons, snakes, lotuses and cattails in the swamps, my mind utterly quiet for the 17-mile circuit. Then I’d cool down at Barnes and Noble with a book and a frappuchino, and then home to have dinner with the folks and play a few hands of spades or sew something with my mom. I can’t remember the last time I felt so at peace.

Saying goodbye was a hundred times harder than I thought it would be. My brother came home for the last weekend and when we went to put him on the bus, I literally couldn’t let go of him. And when my parents said goodbye at the airport, I just kept crying, and trying to be cheery and excited, and then crying again. But the flight was smooth, and I’m now settling in to Fort Collins, figuring out things like how to get a bike and a mattress. I’m glad I came early; it gives me a chance to get settled before classes start.

Fort Collins is beautiful, dark, lush, old growth trees hiding the quaint little houses on never-ending streets, and rising out of the west, the purple-blue fist of the Rockies punching out of the flat horizon and stretching out forever. I’m in love with this place already.