One of my favorite memories as a school administrator had nothing to do with school. With a group of administrators I traveled to Portland to attend a career fair. We spent the day trying to entice teacher applicants, especially special education teachers, to talk to us rather than the urban districts of Beaverton, Portland or Lake Oswego. Not many teachers were interested in starting their careers in a small town in rural eastern Oregon. Our recruiting efforts were not very fruitful, but we had a good day working with each other and finding the humor in our interactions with some interesting characters.
Living in eastern Oregon we were used to the long drive to “the valley.” Meetings with the Oregon Department of Education or educational conferences always took place in the more populated western part of the state. For those of us from the east, it is a 200 mile drive through the Columbia River Gorge to Portland. We usually tried to get there, do our business, and get back in one day. They were long days, but the time went quickly with stimulating conversations in the car about the latest educational trends, budget reductions, or our best guesses on the future directions of our schools.
The Columbia River Gorge is a beautiful drive, in the daylight during good weather. In the warmer months you can see wind surfers flying through the air as they jump the river waves and catch the air. If you look carefully on the cliffs you might spot deer or elk or the herd of mountain goats that live in the gorge. But, at the end of a long work day, the gorge is just a long, dark drive home.
After packing up our van with our recruiting materials we headed east in rush hour traffic for the three and a half hour drive home. Somewhere between Biggs and Boardman we pulled the district van to the side of the road in a vast desert area, miles from the nearest artificial light source, and piled out of the van. We stood in a group at the shoulder of the road. It was dark and quiet and the Hale Bopp comet was clearly visible in the eastern sky. The comet had been visible for several weeks, but I had only viewed it from my backyard. In the vast eastern Oregon desert black sky, it was magnificent. We stood by the side of the road and gazed at the night sky. In the silence I felt the majesty of the universe and my own insignificance.
A moment of majesty, shared with intelligent, caring coworkers…at the time I didn’t realize how special that administrative team was. Sometimes you don’t value a gift until it is gone.
A very few times in my career I was blessed to work with the best and the brightest; Educators who worked hard and played hard. We trusted and supported each other. They cared about kids, doing good work, and making a difference.
That night on the edge of the highway I had a sense of the universe in harmony and then, like the comet, it was gone.
So what did I learn from the beauty of that moment under the eastern Oregon night sky? Treasure the moments, they are fleeting and don’t come around that often.