At the end of any semester, I always experience a dazed few days when I do my own version of cerebral detox. I submitted Keene State grades on Monday night, well before their Tuesday-at-noon deadline, and I spent Tuesday and Wednesday catching up with online teaching tasks and other random chores. Today, I’m literally unplugging, stepping away from my computer to head to the Museum of Fine Arts in the afternoon and the Cambridge Zen Center in the evening: a little art and a little meditation to ease me into my part-time summer teaching schedule. See you on the other side.

Kousa dogwood

At first glance, they look like an alien life form: little pink globules hanging from gracefully branching ornamental trees. And this year, they’re everywhere: golf-ball-dimpled fruit dotting a tree in front of the President’s house at Keene State, and baubles bobbing on a tree by a bench in front of the now-closed Waban branch library in Newton.

Sign of autumn

I don’t remember seeing pink, dimpled globules hanging from trees last year, but surely they were there: the trees that currently sport spherical pink Easter eggs aren’t new to their neighborhoods, and neither am I. But I had to do a double-, triple-, then quadruple-take when I first noticed this year’s strange fruit. These alien life forms hang from trees with dogwood-looking leaves, and dogwoods are popular ornamentals in both Newton and Keene. But the dogwoods I’m familiar with–the wild kind–bear clusters of bright red berries, not funky, fleshy globes.

A quick Google search solves the mystery: Kousa dogwood, alternately called Asian or Japanese flowering dogwood. Apparently ornamental Asian dogwoods don’t follow the same fruiting form as their wild American counterparts. But still, I’m left with another, more pressing enigma: how could I have walked for so long through the neighborhoods I and these dogwoods share without having previously noticed them?

Flowering crabapples

One of several unanswered emails in my Inbox right now is from a friend asking if I’ve done something to celebrate the end of the semester at Keene State. The fact that said friend asked this on Tuesday, after I’d submitted grades right before their noon deadline, and I haven’t had a spare moment to answer her email tells you something about the past few days.


After submitting grades at Keene State, I had online discussion board posts to catch up with; after I caught up with discussion board posts, I had neglected errands to run. Today, I drove from Newton to Keene to attend a pair of faculty development meetings; tomorrow, I’ll be helping teach meditation to a gaggle of suburban high school seniors. I haven’t, in the meantime, had a chance to finish last week’s online grading, answer emails from friends, or otherwise celebrate the end of one set of classes while another set continues on. The downside of being a multi-tasking, moonlighting adjunct instructor is that there’s always something going on somewhere: the end of the semester for one school is Just Another Week at another.

Reflected maple flowers & leaves

The upside of being a multi-tasking, moonlighting adjunct instructor is the steady flow of paychecks a staggered academic schedule assures. As I chatted with various adjunct colleagues at Keene State, several of them mentioned in one way or another the financial pinch of the coming months: a summer without teaching is, for adjunct instructors, a summer without paychecks. By choosing an academic rather than a corporate career, I chose a employment path that allows me more free time in the summer to enjoy the flowering and leafy things that bring that season joy; by choosing to supplement my adjunct income at Keene State with what I can earn elsewhere, I chose a path that occasionally results in conflicting schedules.

Later this summer, I’ll have time to smell the flowers, catch up with email, and celebrate some downtime…eventually. In the meantime, an occasional glimpse of crab-apples, dogwoods, and flowering maples will have to do.