Sunday, December 19, 2010


By the time we had finished packing the papers into the green three-ring binder it was past five in the morning and Biology had become my least-favorite subject.

It had been eighteen hours of typing, editing, drawing, and analyzing. It began on a Sunday morning and ended just before dawn on Monday. I had never experienced an all-nighter before. I thought an all-nighter was something that could kill you.

Imagine two high school freshmen everyone assumes will work hard for high grades doing their damndest to live up to the expectations set by one of their favorite teachers- Jerry Lentz, biology- and leaving themselves little more than twenty hours before the due date to do so.

It began in Wood Lot II. For those who don't know where that is it's next to Wood Lot I.

Wood Lots I and II were behind the centuries-old stone walls that bordered the high school athletic fields and the school's neighbors' properties. They boasted an imposing array of maples, red and white pines, elms, and oaks.

These trees had all the ingredients for an ecological survey and more: the new-growth sprouting in the canopies; the vines that added still more items to our damn "species list;" the sassafras and the shrubs in the understory that marked "forest gaps!" (dun, dun, dunnn!).

The more time Mike and I spent out in Wood Lot II the more overwhelmed we became by the diversity surrounding us and the immensity of the report hanging over us slated to be well over ninety pages. To a freshman a report over twenty pages long earned someone a doctorate.

And we did spend a lot of time out in the woods. We collected every type of leaf one who expect to find on the ground during autumn in New England. I would come home with a pile of humus and just drop it on my carpeted bedroom floor, all for Mr. Lentz.

This was a man who would speed walk through the woods in a fluorescent yellow running jacket and bright orange hat. You felt you were already failing if you didn't keep stride with him during our classroom trek through the woods and follow his rapid-fire gaze to everything of interest. He made you nervous.

Mike and I were nervous when we agreed to partner up for the project. We were nervous until we spent a Saturday morning out in Wood Lot II unsupervised and did what all well-meaning freshmen with no sense of what deadlines meant do. We just, well, goofed off. We threw rocks at one another. I sang songs about LSD I heard on the radio, and Mike sat in a tree and watched potheads go riding through the woods on motorbikes.

Had we kept on that track and not buckled down to do the work in front of us who knows what could have been. We could very well have ended up in a Seattle grunge band.

The weeks at school and weekends at home passed quickly. One Sunday in late October it occurred to both of us that a massive project was due the next day. We had made some progress- some. We had written a few paragraphs on succession and ecological borders. We had drawn some pictures of leaves we had discovered, veins and all. It did not amount to anything close to the ninety-plus pages we were staring down.


The day before that dreadful Monday went something like this:

Sunday Morning: Mike arrives at Dan's house. He and Dan survey everything scattered on the carpet in Dan's bedroom, a mass of papers and graphs all needing a home in a three-ring binder.
Sunday Afternoon: Dan and Mike discover the art of delegation. Dan agrees to write the section on some topic or other. Mike agrees to write another section on something else.

Sunday Evening: Dan and Mike discover the art of procrastination. They don't like putting all this time into a project about stuff in the woods. They realize they would much rather be playing tennis. They do the next best thing. They launch tennis balls at one another from across the room.

Sunday Night: Dan and Mike focus themselves on typing up their report as panic starts to set in. What happens if you don't turn in an assignment like this on time? Does Mr. Lentz kill people with his bare hands?

The Wee Hours of Monday Morning: Most of the project is in a three-ring binder. Dan is getting cranky. Mike's mom has already volunteered to pick Mike up between four and five a.m. if need be.

The Darkest Hours of Monday Morning: Dan's eyes are glazed. He and Mike are probably still singing rather stupid buzz ballads off the radio. Dan's mother offers them both coffee. Dan chooses ginger ale, incorrectly assuming it "does the trick" as well as any other morning beverage.

Five A.M.: The project is... complete? Really? Mike can go home now? He and Dan look forward to the one hour of sleep they can savor before it is time to wake up for school. Dan is feeling that lightness in the head and limbs that can only mean the body hasn't slept. Does that mean he will vomit all day tomorrow? More importantly is he going to get out of doing his paper route at 6 a.m.?

Epilogue: Mike and Dan get an "A" on the ecological study of Wood Lot II.

The Moral Of The Story: Well, does it really matter what the moral is? Neither Dan nor Mike get enough sleep to this day.

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