Monday, December 8, 2014

Finals Are Over and the Lesters are Loving It

winter solstice and the end of fall term

For students, finals are events to dread and yet celebrate --- as with the turning of the seasons, they mark ends and beginnings.

Faculty by contract have a week to turn in grades after the last instructional day of the term, and so for most of us, finals week marks the start of a week with a few extra "D"s in it, sort of, "dread, dread, dread, THEN celebrate."

Most faculty will spend the post-finals week grading before happy hour can tip its happy martini our way. I don't think anybody looks forward to it, and I have to say that sometimes for me, there's a degree of sadness or even frustration when I see a student who had great potential give up right before the finish line. In Language Arts, we use a standardized grading rubric for English 097, 099, and 101 (available for anybody to see on the Language Arts page of the main AVC website), and alas, it's very product oriented. There's no boost for potential or even effort. All that matters is the answer to the question, "Does the paper fulfill the expectations of the assignment and does it live up to the expectations of the rubric?"

Those rubric guidelines include the markers for audience, thesis, development, and academic conventions. I suspect that most of my colleagues do their best to help papers fit into the highest slot on the rubric matrix that they can. Even if some students disappoint us (and themselves, I am sure), it is also true that some surprise us. Kudos to my night English 101 student --- she will know who she is --- whose term paper was 21 pages long. Wow! Right on. (And no, for any doubters out there, none of those 21 pages was filled with bull-shoot.) She is somebody whose career arc I can anticipate will be high indeed.

As I came onto campus over the weekend to grade final papers, I was struck again what an amazing place this is to work at. Is it just me or is the fall foliage just off the charts this year? Here is a picture from Saturday, looking towards the Fine Arts quad.

We've also had waves of birds passing through campus all week. On Friday, these red berries were the most popular item on the Christmas menu.

Especially fond of them were Western Bluebirds, a species that's on the official campus bird list but not often seen. They were everywhere in all the trees and bushes in front of the library. I didn't have my camera that day, so will rely on David Sibley's guide to birds of North America to lend a hand:

Twenty-four hours later, by Saturday there had been a shift change. The bluebirds were gone but in the alders outside LS1, it was Lesser Goldfinches who were on duty. They were feeding on the itty bitty little baby pine cones called "catkins." Here again is a David Sibley illustration:

These are tiny guys, nimble and active, and they don't mind hanging upside-down to eat. One nickname for them among birdwatchers (who can have a very nerdy sense of humor) is "Lesters." While they can occur anywhere in the Antelope Valley, we might more often expect them up in the foothills, such as in the cottonwoods around Lake Elizabeth, or in among the oaks of Green Valley. To have them on campus is a rare treat indeed.

On Saturday they were on campus all day, feeding actively. In summer it's hard to find birds midday but in winter, shorter days and colder nights mean they need to feed longer.

Final exams crowds right up against an ancient astronomical event, celebrated by cultures around the world. That is Winter Solstice, which in Los Angeles this year will occur at 3:03 p.m. on 21 December. From the Griffith Observatory: "That moment is the start of winter in the earth's northern hemisphere and the start of summer in the southern. It is also the moment when the sun, in its apparent path around the earth, reaches its southern-most point in the sky."

That is, the sun is up the least amount of time on that day, compared to any other day of the year, and it rises the furthest south of east that it ever will do. For ancient peoples, it must have been alarming to note the days getting shorter and shorter and the sun moving further and further away from its anchor point. What a relief it would have been to see the sun start to swing back towards its midpoint and then its summer high point.

The solstice coincides with a week that many religions mark as deeply significant. Whether you are going skiing, going to church, or just going bargain-hunting at the mall that week, AVC thanks you for being part of our community in 2014, and we hope that you join us in looking forward to an even more successful and productive 2015.


The AVC blog was curated today by Charles Hood, Language Arts, and he can be reached at The official campus bird list is undergoing a format change and will be released in "version 2.0" some time in early 2015. Until then, look around you --- the birds are here with or without a list.