If I never teach again after this year, what I most won't miss is the kind of day I'm facing right now--a day when what I lug along into class is disliked by students as heartily as it is beloved by me. That dissonance is always disheartening, and my getting older only makes it worse--and more frequent.
This morning, Ian Frazier's Great Plains--case in point. Frazier's book is a junk drawer of info that, most of the time, looks incredibly out-of-control because, for the most part, it is. It's a mess. It's a playground.
But then, so are the Great Plains, he'd say--they've been a playground for as long as Europeans have tried to live out here. The very first white settlers to these climes--my own neighborhood--were the raucous sons of English land barons who came out here to do little more than hunt fox on their loyal steeds.
Frazier pushes that thesis into absurdity, really, claiming that the greatest Great Plains-er of all was none other than Custer, who, with his men, got himself slain but good on the banks of the Little Big Horn. But doggone it, the man had a great time out here.
Absurd as it sounds, that claim is probably more right than wrong. Why else would the man lead his troops into a Sioux encampment as big as Chicago? We're going to whup us some savages, he must have thought. Yeeehaw.
And I love this story: Captain Reno and his men, who weren't that far from the carnage, were in the battle themselves, of course, but fighting some distance away from the hill where Custer and his men were slaughtered. What all reports of Indian battles describe is the immense clouds of dust and smoke raised where fighting raged. Such was the case on the hill where Custer was killed. Reno and his men saw that mushroom cloud over yonder, but they still had no idea where in the world Custer had gone. It never once dawned on them that Gen. Yellow Hair could have a run smack dab into a Cheyenne and Sioux buzzsaw.
Why not? Because their white imaginations simply could not create a scenario of fear: it never dawned on them that Custer and his men would get slaughtered. So absolutely sure were they of the calvary's superiority, of European sovereignty, that they absolutely could not imagine what had, in fact, happened.
I love that story. How often have I not been a victim of my own limited imagination?
But Frazier says that all of this was grand time, and no one loved the whole spectacle more than Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
My students will struggle to stay awake, and I'll come back from class ticked--not only at them either, but at myself for not finding a way to make them like it.
Anyway, that's this morning. Ain't we got fun out here on the Plains?