To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Interlude 4

Time for another interlude already? I guess it is.

Hi, all, Daniel-of-2018 here.

Gosh, I've been doing this a long time, now. I only have about one more year to go--I was a candidate for three years, and then, not long after I won my mastery, the events occurred which led to my writing this account. If I continue at the current pace, I will describe those events, and thereby catch my narrative up to the point where you came in, sometime in the spring of 2020. This story does, in fact, have an ending....

What shall I do after we reach the ending? I haven't decided yet. As you may have noticed, I regard this blog as far from perfect, and I'd like a chance for some kind of do-over. I might write the story over in book-form--possibly several books?--or I might do it again as a blog, but with all the entries pre-written and nicely edited and organized. I lean one way and then the other, depending on the day. What do you think? If you have a preference or an idea, please let me know.

My plan is to write this year's Litha post this coming Monday, so that when Litha itself occurs I can include the link to the post in online holiday wishes. The alternative is to wait until the following Monday, which seems less satisfying, emotionally. Better early than late?

It's funny, in the secular world, people celebrate either Memorial Day or 4th of July in much the same spirit as Litha, as though they need to celebrate something in that spirit. And neither of those holidays is really for that. Memorial Day properly memorializes dead soldiers, it ought to be more like a species of Samhain in feel, but no. It's like Litha erupts through whatever aperture it can.

And perhaps Litha as we celebrate it is itself an eruption of something. After all, I don't know what the "original" Litha celebrations were like. Maybe we're not doing it right. But something has to go here, it seems, and this holiday we have cobbled together is our something.

And I like it pretty well.

-best, D.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 3: Post 6: Meditation

You ever read the Winnie the Pooh stories? I mean the real ones, by A.A. Milne. I was raised on the Disney version, but Charlie has a thing about Disney, and growled on the subject until I caved and read the original.

Anyway, there is a story that begins with Piglet sitting at home alone while floodwaters rise around him. It’s not really flooding here, but it is raining hard, and has been for hours, and I’m all alone here in the Mansion, and I’m feeling very small and isolated.

Not literally alone—Sharon and the others are working in the Office and Aaron and the others are working in the Library, but everyone else is elsewhere. Everyone else has something to do.

The students and masters are all in class, except for Greg, who has no classes, being retired, but he has a doctor’s appointment. June is in the office making phone calls relative to the children’s camp, which is starting in less than a month, now, so there is a lot to do, and she says she’s not to be bothered. I was supposed to be off-campus, working for the landscaping company today, which is why I’m not scheduled for anything, but my boss there called and canceled work because of the rain, and now I have nothing to do and I’m all by myself.

I could take a walk in the rain. I do, sometimes. I could take a nap. In fact, I might. But for the moment I’m just sitting here in the Great Hall, watching the Mansion be empty and dark and listening to the sound of the rain coming in through a few open windows. Natural history of wet weather. Zen and the art of rainy days. Meditation. Daydreaming.

The air in here smells wet, but it is not the scent of wet weather in winter. That is of wool and snow and sometimes of the wood stove, which has a distinctive scent when it gets too hot. And someone is usually making coffee or hot chocolate in a pan set on the stove surface, and you can smell that. Then there’s the honey scent of beeswax candles, more often than not, and always the mingled scents of various kinds of incense and sage—though nag champa tends to predominate. Now, the snow-scent is gone, and the wool-scent is going as people wear fewer layers and some switch over to summer-weight cotton. Instead, a green, muddy, live scent comes in through the windows. I can smell floor-wax and soap, old wood and old potpourri, and a hint of mildew. It’s starting to smell like summer. The incense and beeswax remain, the constants of this place.

Greg returns from his appointment, coming in through the Meditation Hall and nodding gravely but companionably to me before heading up the stairs. I wonder why he didn’t come in through the Secret Stair? Maybe he wanted to see who was in the Great Hall, so he could nod, just so, to someone. I think Greg is more companionable than he lets on.

It’s almost lunchtime. I think I’ll go into the office and see if June is ready to take a break. If she isn’t, I’ll go bother Aaron for a while. There’ll be vegetable soup and crusty sourdough bread in the Dining Hall in half an hour, and if I get cold on the way over I can wrap my hands around a big mug of sweet coffee. I’ve had enough of meditating, for now.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 3 : Post 5: Why Natural History?

I went on a walk with Steve today. We do this a lot. I think my work with Steve is much more labor-intensive that Charlie's has been with me. He'd take 30 seconds to tell me to do something, and then I'd go and spend hours and hours doing it....Though, come to think of it, the growing ears exercise took as much of his time as mine, and the whole adventure where he was unlabeling trees as fast as I could label them must have been pretty time-consuming on his part, too. So maybe what I'm doing isn't more labor-intensive. But it certainly seems more social.

It's not just that Steve is less motivated, it's that I'm less experienced. If I'm not there when he reacts to something, I won't know how he reacts. And, also, maybe I'm more social. I like taking walks and talking to people. I won't be able to do this much one-on-one when I'm a master, though. Not with dozens of students at once.

Wait, did I just say that? "When" I'm a master?

Anyway, so Steve asked me what the point of learning all this natural history stuff is. This from a man who isn't learning a tenth of what I had do. Mostly we're just working on experiencing and noticing things.

"What do you think the point is?" I asked.

"Oh, no, don't pull that mystical stuff with me, your belt is the same color mine is." We both wear white belts with brown uniforms, rather than brown belts like the masters do. "I'm not some yearling."

"Too bad for you, yearlings have it made," I replied. "Well, what's the point of learning all that stuff you know, history and politics and everything?"

"It helps me be a better person."

"How?" I asked.

"Do you think we shouldn't learn history?"

"I said nothing about should or shouldn't. I want to know how it works."

He had to think for a bit about that. Finally:

"Knowing the historical context of events helps me avoid hurting others so much. And it makes me feel like what I'm doing matters."

"Well," I said, "same with ecological context."

He had to think about that one, too.

Honestly, folks, I'm making this stuff up as I go along, but I seem to hit upon the right thing to say, at least sometimes.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 3: Post 4: Time

They're ba-ack!

The yearlings, I mean. They spent two weeks on the Island, as they do every year, bonding and learning about the place. I suppose it's our equivalent of the freshman orientation trips a lot of colleges do, except we wait a couple of months to give them time to get properly...indoctrinated...first.

That doesn't sound right. Seriously, every time I try to talk about our process of creating a campus culture I end up making it sound like some nefarious cult. It isn't like that. It's just that people come here because they want to live in a certain type of community and be a certain type of person, and that doesn't happen by accident.


The masters were gone, too, all except Greg, who took the opportunity to sleep a lot, and the campus seemed strange without them. They each teach on the Island for a day or three, and spend the rest of their time there on vacation.

I did not go, though I've helped Charlie teach his segment in years past. I wasn't prohibited from going, like I was last year, and in fact I had intended to go, but then the list of workshops I was supposed to teach on campus simply got too long and I ended up not even asking. Plus, Steve is supposed to be my student and clearly couldn't be left to his own devices (since he isn't very motivated at present), and June is going to be working hard to get ready for the children's camp all next month, so I wanted to spend time with her now, while she still has time to spend with me.

Is this what being a master is going to be like? Or do I get more control of my schedule again later, somehow?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 3: Post 3: Growing a Heart

I asked Rick how he's coming along with loving and he shrugged.

As you may remember, Rick's primary assignment as a mastery candidate is to learn to love one person--Charlie, specifically. The issue is that he doesn't really like humans, so working with us, as he must to make any sort of difference in the world, is both unpleasant and difficult for him. So the thinking is that if he learns to really care about one of us, he might be more patient with the rest of us. Charlie volunteered himself because obviously he knows about the assignment and won't be confused or offended by Rick acting weird around him as he figures out this love thing.

Anyway, so I asked Rick how it's going and he shrugged.

"I'm treating him well," he said. "Everything I do, I think will this help Charlie? What will Charlie think? I get up in the morning and I plan my day around the man. I guess I'm used to it, now. But I'm not sure it's love."

"How does it feel?" I asked I know Charlie generally defines love as an action, not a feeling, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around that one.

Rick gave me an odd smile, an I-know-that-you-know-that-I-know-you-can-do-better smile, just for a moment.

"I don't mind acting this way, believe it or not," he admitted. "If anybody deserves to be the center of anyone's day, that man does. But I don't know what else I'm supposed to do."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, can I graduate yet? And if not, when can I? What am I supposed to do? It's not like I'm likely to wake up one morning feeling all oogly. This is me, this is what I am, I don't get the warm fuzzies."

"You're growing a heart," I said.

"What, now?"

So I told him about the growing ears exercise Charlie had me go through as a novice, making me count the number of bird species I could hear at any given moment, over and over, essentially constantly, until he judged that my ears had become sensitized to bird song.

"I think he'll tell you when you're done," I added. "Or, maybe he'll test you somehow." I'd already told Rick how Charlie tested my love for the land by pretending there was a logging operation planned.

"Test me? What's he going to do, threaten to jump off a bridge to see if I mind?"

"Don't say that so loud," I said. "He might hear you and think it's a good idea." 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 3: Post 2: No Sure Thing

The warm, almost summery weather of the beginning of May has dissipated, and while we haven't reverted to snow, the days have been gray, cool, and rainy more often than not. A cold, thick fog descends and the ridgeline above campus is hidden by low-hanging fog. Crows call to each other in weather like this, two, three, or four caws in succession, and then the same number repeated by another crow. They never do it in any other weather. I don't know why.

I've been having a hard time convincing Steve Bees to study with me. He doesn't see the point in it. Right now, he sees that the problem is his wife's illness, period, and unless a solution applies directly to that problem, he isn't into it. I can understand why. Her situation must seem like such an all-consuming emergency that dealing with anything else feels like a waste of time. And yet, there is nothing that Steve can really do for Sarah, right now, because she's in the hospital and he isn't. He's already doing everything he can do, and in the meantime other problems continue to exist, including the one he came back here to solve--his inability to manage his justified anger over injustice and the waste of energy and the problems in his marriage that anger caused.

And he's not leaving. He could mope around somewhere else, if he wanted to mope. He could even teach a couple of college courses elsewhere, if he wanted to do that. But he's here. It's like he wants to do or learn or be something more, and he wants us to push him to do it.

So, I'm pushing.

I'm not exactly teaching him the same things Charlie taught me. I've decided not to push him into plant ID so much. Frankly, I don't think he needs to become an expert on natural history, he's already an expert on other things. I'm not sure what he does need, but I have a feeling that in my impulse to get him to listen to and sniff the snow the other week I was on to something. In some way, for some reason, he should spend more time outside and observing.

So, that's what we've been doing.

I have him counting bird voices, since it's spring, except I don't really have the clout to threaten him into compliance the way Charlie did me. For one thing, Steve didn't ask to be my student, so I can't play the demanding Yoda-like figure with him. So we're making a game of it. I quiz him every time I see him outdoors, and sometimes I tell him he's right and sometimes I don't. As I've learned, even ornithologists don't hear every single bird, and the point is to get him to keep trying, to notice more, not to accurately assess his performance for its own sake. We've also worked with visual recognition. I've had him sorting grass stems, feathers, seeds, twigs, photographs of insects....not trying to identify them, just trying to notice the differences among them.

But mostly we just sit outside or walk around for a half hour or an hour every day, and I ask him questions to get him to notice things. If we spot an animal, we watch it doing its thing for as long as it will let us. I want to get him into tracking, but I haven't decided yet whether to introduce it to him now, or wait until next year's snow.

I don't know if I'm doing this right. I don't know what he needs from me, or if he needs anything, or if I can give him what he needs.

I asked Charlie, the other day, how he knew how to put together a plan for me. He grinned at me an instant, and I grinned back, but I don't know what that grin meant. Then his expression changed and he looked away.

"If you're looking for a guarantee, there isn't one," he said, almost growling.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 3: Beltane

Note: I'm doubling up this week so I can post about Beltane on Beltane, and so that I don't fall behind.-D.

Happy Beltane, our day of music, love, and the Maypole. Except this year, for the first time, I didn't get to do the Maypole Dance. I had to content myself with helping to make music, which, by the way, I don't really know how to do. I banged away on a skin drum, despite having no sense of rhythm, and at least nobody made fun of me for it.

I'd intended to dance, and I'd been looking forward to it, but there just weren't enough ribbons. Participants each hold a ribbon and everyone weaves the ribbons around the pole as they dance. And there are more students than ribbons. The yearlings get first dibs on the ribbons, and after that it's first come, first served, and I came too late to be served a ribbon at all. I suppose I've had my share, and more than my share, to have danced for so many years running, and that it is someone else's turn, now, but I was still disappointed.

The day was warm and breezy, though clouds mostly obscured the sun until late in the day. A little over a week ago, it was snowing, but today felt legitimately like the first day of some species of summer. Most of the leaves, while not quite full-size, are large enough that the forests are turning green, and the puddles that formed and then subsided in the weekend's rain left a greenish coating of pollen in the low spots of the driveways of campus.

The trees are having a merry May Day, anyway.

Each Beltane is a little different, I find. It's the most variable, the least traditional, of our holidays here. Some years there are two, or even three dances, so different groups of people can get involved. Some years there are concerts or mystery plays. This year, we had only the one dance, though the masters seemed to have partnered up for the day, so I assume they had their own Maypole Dance in private, earlier--as you may recall, the dance is always used to randomly assign partners for the chores to get ready for the feast. The sprouts did not dance at all, but they were present and they were involved. They had, of all things, a mini-science fair, a series of displays they made themselves on the reproduction of various farm animals. Like last year, the music, aside from the Dance itself, took the form of a children's concert. Sarah is still in her ascendancy.

But some things are always the same. There is always the blessing of the animals (by a Catholic priest), and there is always the feast at the end of the day, held out of doors as the sun sets and the night deepens, capped by the various partners all taking a moment to publicly appreciate each other, and then couples dancing afterwards.

I'd really been looking forward to the appreciation thing. You have to figure out something good to say about your partner, even though you might hardly know them at all. Or, if you do know the well, you have to say the kind things you were thinking, but maybe were too shy to say. Since I'm often too shy, I appreciate being pushed a bit. But since I hadn't danced, I had no partner for the day, so I had no place in the appreciation ritual.

I felt ready to pop with all the things I suddenly wasn't being forced to say.

"You can say nice things about people anyway," said June, while we were dancing. I hadn't said anything to her about it, she just knew.

"No, I can't," I said. "I'd look silly."

"You look silly anyway."

"That's true."

"You can say nice things to me," she prompted.

"Always and forever," I said.