He stood tall, the mist of morning surrounded his head and rose out of his mug. He regulated, with big, slow, loam filled breaths, his desire to spring into the forest and happily disappear, deeper and deeper into the woods, and away from even himself.
His breath was smoke in the sun, silver and crisp as he waited for their bus to arrive. His skin vibrated with nervous energy; every first time was scary, he thought to himself. His daypack, stocked with educational gear: his own fire-by-friction kit, animal track casts, soft pelts, snake skins, a bear skull, and granola bars, felt weightless on his shoulders. His legs bounced in his brown Carharts, and worn running sneakers wrapped his feet like post-apocalyptic moccasins. He had stopped shaving and his surprisingly red-tinted beard caught the wind, and allowed his mind to sail back and forth through memory and aspiration.
He remembered waiting for the D train to the Bronx, and the N train to Queens. The squeal of their brakes would not be missed. He’d rather listen to the Chickadees and the Red Squirrels; their alarms and their barks. He recalled dress shoes that didn’t fit quite right, and the acrid smell of urine that seemed to never go away.
A vehicle, far down the hill, shifted gears and began its ascension. He shuffled his plastic tree identification and animal track cards. He recited facts and reviewed ice-breakers.
It was an ordinary school bus, a black and yellow iron bumble bee. Its occupants though, were extraordinary; smiling children, overjoyed to be greeted by Nick, on his first day as a teacher.
The vehicle pulled up and jiggled back and forth when the brakes were applied. The door split in half, before young visitors poured out like a frothy, sweet, shake.
“Good morning guys, I’m so glad to be…” he started his practiced spiel, only to be interrupted, without any intention of confrontation, by a girl who had Downs Syndrome and straight blond hair.
“This is my boyfriend! We’re getting married!” she sang, her joyous eyes shrinking because of her confident smile.
“Well… uh… good to meet you… boyfriend! And congratulations on your marriage!”
Laughter ensued, lesson plans blew away, and a dusty sunbeam burst onto the yellow metal, and reflected back into Nick’s happy face.
I had left the world of database programming in Manhattan and moved to Port Jervis, New York to work for Greenkill YMCA Outdoor Education Center. After a few months of shadowing and assisting other instructors I was tasked to teach wilderness ecology, night awareness, team building, canoeing, water ecology, and my favorite class of all wilderness survival. Greenkill was a relatively small operation and instructors didn’t just facilitate an outdoor and environmental education curriculum, we also greeted the visiting school kids who stayed in lodges and even ran campfire activities for them at night. The first time I was allowed to independently teach is still one of the most memorable times of my now twenty years of teaching. It was the beginning of Spring and my first students were a group that came from a school which catered to kids with special needs.