On a blight

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on my way upstairs to teach my morning writing classes in the Earth and Planetary Sciences building, I pass the lecture hall where I made my only B+ at the university. It still sticks in my craw, a single blight on the landscape of my transcript.

The course was Geology 202: Earth as an Ecosystem: Modern Problems and Solutions. How much worse because I loved the class. I still remember factoids from that course. It changed the way I saw endangered species, the way I understood urban development, the way I saw my own city, which in the late ‘90s was sprawling outward, paving bit by bit all its rural outskirts, even as it died out in the center. (It has since reversed at least the latter part of that trend, if not the former.)

That professor still teaches and publishes at my university. He used to ride his bike to campus. He didn’t own a car. I remember him joking – if he was joking? – that he’d give extra credit to anyone who chained themselves to a bulldozer to stop the Turkey Creek development, which was at that time about to break ground just west of town. I went to my first ever public hearing in order to protest that development. The wetlands surrounding Turkey Creek were a local anomaly. A 90-year-old man, who had lived and fished there in his little rowboat for his entire life, was the voice of the resistance. The new development would bring many jobs to East Tennessee, promised the developers. Of course the project went through.

Now, usually at Christmastime, I’ll drive over and buy things at the Turkey Creek Pier 1 and the Michael’s and the Target. At the entrance, which stretches six total lanes across, there’s a large sign with the gilded silhouette of a turkey, the feathers of its tail fan abstracted to look like the rays of a half sun. The sign is elegy to what it displaced. Once, early in the morning, zooming down Parkside Drive, crossing the bridge over what’s left of the creek – the rich wetland that surrounded it now dried up – I saw the pale blur of a white-tailed doe as it bounded into the sparse copse of saplings next to the road.

I think of that class now and then, and it occurs to me again – as it often does these days – that a college education was wasted on 20-year-old me. Only now am I even beginning to learn how to learn.

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