Walking…

By Neva Knott

That one day, the day after a series of grueling migraines, I yearned toward water. We left the apartment, Ted and I. It was a Sunday, just a few weeks ago. A soft hint of rain fell from the sky as we turned the bend at the corner of the state patrol building off 12th and onto Columbia, the street we’d beeline down to the marina. We walked, all the way to the point. It was low tide and I stood, calm, and in synesthesia, taking in the landscape.

As we headed back, it began to rain. We were just down town, right by the apartments a couple of friends lived in in college. At first a drizzle and then a down pour, and by the time we got a block from the apartment, Ted was pulling to hide under trees.

I got my water that Sunday. In Hawaii, a cleansing rain is called a meele meele rain. On our route, we’d come to the southern most reach of the Salish Sea, had walked through puddles and felt the Hawaiian spirts fall from the sky. As we crossed the rail tracks below Jefferson, I notices the horsetail plants and knew there’d once been water there, too.

The week before, again on a post-migraine day, we walked far on a different route, west from the apartment and toward the capitol grounds. I couldn’t think in words that day. I wanted to take photographs, to put my mind on its other channel, so our walk was slow.

Often, daily mostly, we walk past my grandparents’ church; it’s just a few blocks up from the apartment.

Today, though, I don’t know where to walk. I stood outside with Ted and thought, I just want to walk at home; when walking in Olympia, I glimpse and feel my familial history, but not my personal history. Today, I want to walk somewhere deeply familiar, in a place that holds my history and has been solace throughout time. Along the Columbia river, in Forest Park, across the Burnside bridge and on the esplanade along the Willamette, at Little Crater Lake on that section of the Pacific Crest Trail that I love, among the trees that make Ted look so small.

Or maybe I just want to walk my path.

The email came on Friday; low enrollments, cutting classes, undetermined forecast for fall.

Ten years ago, the announcement came in a Friday faculty meeting; budget cuts, next year doesn’t look good, we’ll try to save jobs, and they did–for a year, and then another faculty meeting, and then the day our principal came to each of us, and the look on his face made me understand just how hard it was for him to tell me I didn’t have a job next year.

And just about 10 years before that, April, and the principal explains that she is going to try to keep me in the position, but since I am not yet permanent, I could get bumped, and my hiring round doesn’t start until August. The next year, same thing…but that year they wrote the job description so it only fit my experience.

And before I was in those April-wait-to-know-if-you’re-cut to August-you-made-it-through rounds, I was a new graduate of my teaching program and there were no jobs. It was the year Oregon passed the infamous Measure 5, meant to fix school funding, but it did the opposite. Our professors had talked to us about hiring cycles, and had admitted that the current outlook was bleak.

So the year I graduated with my teaching degree, I was 34, and there were two jobs in Oregon. One person in my cohort took the one hella way out in who knows where, Oregon. The other was in Astoria, which was crack alley back then–no way. So I kept bartending. I did the pub-and-sub circuit, and then got a short term sub gig, and then they cut the position. And I slung some more beer and got up to the 5 AM sub calls and got another short term sub gig and the position was again dissolved.

I decided in the second grade that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I wrote out my goals when I turned 22: teach at a small college like Evergreen; write and photograph alongside teaching; money to come through investments (the buffer against my mom’s constant warning that teachers don’t make enough money); buy a barn and remodel it into a house (it was a thing in the 1980s when I wrote the list); have a small, self-sustaining farm.

I’m 25 years into teaching. I have four college degrees. I’m good at what I do–really good at it. People say, you could do something else, and their sentiments echo my mantra during the recession, saying time and time again that my whole career had been budget cuts and I was going to try something else. But after putting myself through two Master’s programs and sending hundreds of applications to job postings in my purported new field, a stint back to pub-ing, a stretch of time on unemployment, the only job offer I got was as adjunct faculty. I was happy to have it, even though part time, because it was a step into teaching college; I was finally achieving the top goal on my list.

But last Friday, the email came.

I don’t want to stop doing this work even though I am painfully under-employed at my current job; it is the walk I want to walk.

If COVID does to me what the recession did professionally and financially, I don’t know. I won’t know where to walk.

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