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.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Year 3: Fourth Interlude



Hi, there, Daniel-of-2015 here.

Sorry about last Friday. As I said, we had a problem with our internet connection and then by the time we got it fixed I had other commitments I needed to meet. My schedule is too full these days to let me adjust to unexpected events—an obvious problem. In fact, for the next few months I’ll shift back to doing just one post per week, on Mondays.

My parents know I’m overworking myself and they ask why I can’t just drop this blog completely. After all, I’m not being paid for the project, and I’ve hidden my identity here so I can’t even put it on my resume. I’ve tried to explain to them that I have a duty to continue, a duty laid upon me by the others in the community. The thing is, at the moment the school doesn’t exist. If we don’t manage to re-establish ourselves somehow, then what we achieved, what we built and learned, will more or less evaporate and be lost. The reason I write this blog is to disseminate the principles and the sense of our community so as to hopefully inspire other people to pick up where we were forced to leave off. It’s our legacy. And that’s why I can’t just quit the blog because I’m too busy. The project is bigger than I am.

But we are making progress on other aspects of our legacy. As I’ve mentioned, Aiden has joined our school as its first new student since campus closed—so far, that doesn’t make much practical difference to him, since we’re just helping him through his homeschool program, which all of us would have done anyway. But it’s a big deal for him emotionally and it’s huge for us. For the first time in years, we’re thinking as a group about how to design a curriculum. We don’t know whether, or even if, we’ll have more students, but it feels good to be acting like a faculty again.
At the same time, we’re making progress in other areas.

I mentioned, a few months ago, how we’d had a conversation about whether to move forward as a group, to become something more than a group of friends who used to have a school together. Since then, we’ve been talking a lot about what we could do, how our interests and resources could come together to create some kind of educational or service community—because that’s what we’ve always been and that’s what we’ll need to be again if we’re to continue, if we’re to have a reason to exist.
We don’t yet have a hard and fast answer to the question, but what we’ve been doing is talking about our individual projects to maybe see how they fit together, whether one or more of them could become the new medium of community activity.

For example, there's Andy's bicycle shop, Sadie's restaurant, Karen's martial arts studio....

And there’s the homeschooling network. Some of the families in the community have always homeschooled, but they always did it independently of each other. That changed when Allen and Lo got involved. They had to get David re-enrolled in something quickly, so they didn’t have a lot of time to research and weigh their options. So they talked to Sadie and to Sarah and her husband about different ways to do homeschooling, and the three families formed a loose network. Through those conversations, Allen has gotten interested in children’s education as an extension of his work as a therapist. This fall, he and a group of other parents plan to open an after-school center that will also work as a resource room and community facility for homeschoolers.

Allen didn’t initially plan on his learning center having anything to do with our community as a whole, but we’ve been talking about it and throwing around ideas. Perhaps our community could develop new members through a high school rather than a college? Perhaps we could become a training program for teachers and camp counselors? Perhaps the community of parents with kids in the learning center might have some role in our future?

Anyway, among the group of us we have at least half a dozen projects either already launched or still in development around which we are having these kinds of discussions.

It’s exciting.

And in the meantime, my daughter is really starting to talk—whole sentences and everything—June is doing well in her career, I am still a mostly stay-at-home dad with way too many projects to look after, and this blog will continue for the foreseeable future.

It's the least and the most I can do for the community at present.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Note

Hi, all; I'm ok, I just couldn't get online yesterday because of computer problems. I'll post as normal on Monday.

-best, Daniel

Monday, July 20, 2015

Year 3: Part 4: Post 10: Sharon



I just realized that all of the current mastery candidates are expecting to graduate either this year or next. If no new candidates arrive next February, they’ll be a break in the candidate group, a gap across which two groups of people will have nothing in common. If no one shows up the year after that, there won’t be a candidate group for a year.

Obviously, it’s possible to speculate about anything—we could all die tomorrow or four hundred novices could all turn up at the same time—but I mean, it actually seems plausible that there might be no candidate group for a year or so, because the group is so small, just three or four new ones a year, usually. Numbers that small are very variable, so there could be a year with none at all by pure chance.

So, I asked, and Sharon said there’s always somebody, in a tone that suggests she thinks there always will be somebody.

“How do you know these things?” I asked.

She shrugged.

“Can’t tell you,” she told me, with a smile. “Professional secret.”

“I thought Allen was the one with professional secrets.”

“He’s the one who eventually tells students his secrets.” Again, she had that twinkling little smile.
And you know, I hadn’t thought of it, but I don’t think she has any students. Of course, she’s one of the so-called non-teaching staff, but that only means she doesn’t teach classes and they don’t draw attention to the fact that she is one of the masters. The non-teaching staff don’t take on students as often, but they do it. But Sharon doesn’t, or at least I’ve never heard of her doing so. I mean, she teaches the office staff how to do their jobs, but she doesn’t teach her particular kind of magic, which is to act as door-keeper and campus know-it-all.

Come to think of it, not only have I not heard of her having a student, I’ve heard hardly anything about her at all. She mostly lives on campus, but nobody knows where she goes when she leaves. No one knows anything about her family, or even what her interests are other than working here. And I say this even though I talk with her, simply because I like her company, at least every week or two.
She’s friendly with everybody, she always keeps a bowl of the most amazing hand-made candy on her desk (something else I tend to take for granted), and she’s almost always at work (I mean she rarely takes weekends or vacations, not that she’s there 24/7), always there at her desk, available to us. And--

“You seem to know everything, but no one knows anything about you,” I said.

“I listen more than I talk.”

“Me, too,” I said, and laughed.

I had something else to do, so I went on my way, grabbing a handful of sugared violets as I went.
It only occurred to me later that she probably did tell me her secret—she listens more than she talks, so of course people tell her things, and she remembers what she hears. That’s what I do, and I know a lot about what goes on, even if I don’t know as much as Sharon.

So, maybe she does have students?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Year 3: Part 4: Post 9: Listening

I got back from my job off-campus this afternoon and went to check the job board in the greenhouse, just in case I'd missed something.

The job board is the the basement of the main greenhouse and it's where Charlie posts everything that he wants the horticulture team to do, plus any information he considers important. Usually, he leaves it up to us to organize ourselves around  the work, though sometimes he leaves a note for us to come find him. Since I've been working off campus, I've kind of fallen out of the loop as to what's going on in the campus gardens, so I like to come check the board--so I don't look like too much of an idiot when I show up for my next shift.

Anyway, there wasn't anything unexpected on the board, just watering reminders for the potted plants and ordinary chores, mostly crossed off already. I went back upstairs and was about to leave when I noticed Sarah sitting on the back steps. Which was odd, because those steps don't really lead anywhere--nobody uses them.

The greenhouse is built on the foundation of some earlier building. Behind it, now, is a sort of wet pasture maybe three or four hundred feet across, and then the edge of the forest and beginning of the slope of the mountain. Off to the right is an open area with the brick grille, fire pit, and picnic tables where Philosopher's Stone Soup meets in the summer, but nobody but sheep and deer use the area right behind the greenhouse. Years ago, though, someone must have, because there are foundations back there for other, now vanished, buildings. I've always guessed that those were dormitories back when this was a boys' boarding school, in which case the boys must have sometimes used these steps to come in to whatever building this was--a group of classrooms, maybe.

The greenhouse does have a back door that opens onto those steps. I went through it.

"Mind of I join you?" I asked.

"Go right ahead," Sarah told me. We sat on the steps together for a while, not talking.

"Would it be intrusive to ask what you're thinking?" I asked, and Sarah made an odd face.

"That's a very strange question," she said. "I don't really know what to do with it."

"I'm sorry."

"I don't know what to do with that, either."

"Sarah, I don't know what to do with you not knowing what to do." I was a bit exasperated. Sarah is every bit as analytical as Allen, but it isn't a game to her and she can easily get offended by things I didn't even realize I'd said. "Do you mind if I talk with you? Because if you do, I will be silent."

"I don't mind. What do you want to talk about?"

"What you are thinking." Put that way, it sounded intrusive, but I doubt anything other than honesty would have helped my situation. She gave a kind of a grunt, a single ha! of laughter.

"I was thinking about the children who used to live in those dorms," she said, "and what living here was like for them, and what they're doing with their lives now. I sometimes think of looking some of them up, but it might attract attention to our school. I don't know whether sending children away from school is really a good thing to do."

"Plenty of children survive it and go on to live meaningful lives."

"Yes, but that's not a reasonable standard, is it? I mean, lots of people survive lots of things. Not destroying people can't be the only definition of good, now can it?"

"I suppose not," I told her, really hoping she wasn't going to to pick apart such a bland non-answer. I just didn't feel like sparring with her just then--I always lose.

"And I was listening to the birds," she added.

"There are four of them," I said, just in case Charlie had sent her as a spy to check if I was still paying attention. She waved my words away with her hand.

"The number of them is irrelevant. They are beautiful."

"Can't a beautiful thing have a number?" I asked, before I could stop myself.

"Of course they have a number," she answered. "The number is just irrelevant."

"Do you suppose the birds think their song is beautiful?" I asked.

"They do if they can perceive beauty," she answered, as though such an answer should be obvious.

"You think beauty is objective?" I asked.

"Of course. Beauty is part of what gives life meaning. If it were just imaginary then life would be meaningless."

I could see several different holes in this, could imagine how Allen or Kit might respond philosophically to the statement. I did not attempt to emulate them. Sarah can out-talk me any day of the week, she'd take any challenge of mine apart.

"What does Charlie think about it?" I asked instead. I knew he would say that beauty is a human bias, a projection to be enjoyed but not taken seriously. He says he is after larger game than that which fits within a human world view.

Sarah simply turned away and did not answer.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Year 3: Part 4: Post 8: Watching

I was working by myself in the formal garden this morning, pulling out a few weeds and transplanting a couple of native annuals into the beds. Charlie hopes the annuals will flower and set seed and so come up again next year. Much of what we do here is  shaping, creating assemblies of plants that function in ways similar to wild communities, but we also weed out exotics and add in natives that Charlie thinks belong here and are missing--that is one reason why we encourage her plants to self-maintain and to spread. Where we put a plant is always secondary to the design--because if we do it right, it's going to move and find its own place.

Specifically, I was working around the little frog pond on the edge of the garden. It's cool there and relatively dark under the trees, though you can see the bright, sunny meadows through the line of northern white ceders along one side and look over to the Mansion and its gardens through the pines and hemlocks along the other side, a little further away. The pond is artificial, with a deliberately waterproofed bottom, since it sits well above the water table, but it provides good nursery habitat to half a dozen different amphibians. Deer and foxes drink here, and the air smells of water and stone.

I paused for a minute in my work and happened to see movement through the trees, near the Mansion. I got up and walked over to see who it was, and spotted Karen coming along the margins of the gardens. She didn't seem to have noticed me. She did notice Greg's Cat, who was walking along the same path but in the opposite direction. He saw her, looked up, and meowed. She spoke to him, but I could not hear her words. She held out a hand to the cat, to greet and to pet him, but he turned a little away from her. He had raised his tail, as cats usually do around humans, and he still looked towards her, but he seemed tense. She knelt, holding out her hand, and he turned and trotted back the way he had come. He won't let anyone but Greg touch him.

Karen stared after him for a moment, then stood and took a couple of steps backward before looking up at the Mansion. From where she stood, I think she could see Greg's window and was staring at it, almost reverently. Then she came out of her reverie and walked on. She came to the secret door, looked both ways to be sure no one was watching her, then unlocked the door and went in.

I think it bothers Karen that she can't pet Greg's cat, and it bothers her because he is Greg's. She wants to be like him, but the cat clearly recognizes some difference. She is the youngest of the Masters, the most recently hired, and the quietest. I mean that she is shy, and also that when she walks by, not speaking, a kind of silence follows her the way noise, even subtle noise, follows most other people. Greg, I think, is the only one she ever seeks out, the only person whose regard she really wants. I think, sometimes, that Greg has the devotion of two cats and that Karen is the other one.

I also think that I am getting altogether too good at spying on people. I do not mean to spy, and today, in fact, I would have been perfectly visible to Karen if she had just looked in my direction. Perhaps she did look and I did not catch it--she's quite aware of her surroundings, as you'd expect of a martial artist. But still, it's like I watch but am not in turn watched. Why do I do it? How do I do it? Is it ok to do?

Even as I had those thoughts, I turned and looked up towards the branches of the young pine trees, knowing what I would see.

Charlie had been watching me, watching Karen.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Year 3: Part 4: Post 7: Overhearing

The other day, I woke up in the hayloft above the horse barn, to voices.

I have to admit I was momentarily surprised to wake up there. I'd gone up into the hayloft to look for Rick's knife, which had fallen off his belt somewhere. He had class that morning, so I'd agreed to look for it for him. The hayloft was one of the places he'd said he'd been. I hadn't meant to fall asleep, and woke up disoriented.

(By the way, when I say "horse barn"--there's only one barn on campus, but almost a third of it is partitioned off for the horses, with a separate entrance. That third is the horse barn.)

The voices I heard belonged to Kit and Joy. I felt torn. On the one hand, I wanted to listen. I'm curious about people. On the other hand, I didn't want to eavesdrop. But if I revealed myself, they'd feel obligated to include me in the conversation and then I wouldn't be able to observe how they interacted with each other. Politeness triumphed over curiosity and I stood up to climb down out of the loft--and banged my head on a support beam of the sloping ceiling. I said some words and sat in the hay for a bit, rubbing my head. It really hurt.

"What's that?" asked Kit's voice.

"Daniel, I'm guessing," answered Joy. "You ok?"

"Yes," I said, weakly. "Just gimme a minute."

"What's he doing up there?" Kit asked, speaking to Joy.

"Hitting his head, obviously...I expect he fell asleep. He went up there about half an hour ago."

"To take a nap? He's on the horticulture team in the mornings, isn't he?"

"I don't think he meant to. Poor boy's exhausted. Do you know he gets up at four in the morning."

"Oh, for heaven's sake."

Joy was right, I do get up at four, but I don't see how she knew that. An occupational hazard of having professors who are witches is that  they sometimes know things they shouldn't. In any case, they seemed to be talking about me as though I wasn't there. I lay quietly in the loft, smelling the hay around me, and listening to the women and the sounds of birds and grasshoppers and cicadas outside and the buzzing of a couple of flies around the shifting and occasionally grunting horses.

There are four horses on campus right now. Sometimes there are more, when Joy takes on boarders or fosters rescues. These four, though, are hers, her partners in a kind of therapy she offers to people on and off campus. It sounded like Joy and Kit were brushing one of these horses in the cool of the barn.

"I so like doing this," Kit was saying. "I wish I could ride them, but whenever I try, I feel so awkward."

"They don't think you're awkward," Joy said, meaning the horses. "They think you're small and...cute? They like you."

"So you say."

"Ask them! You know I could teach you."

"You say that, too."

"Why don't you learn animal communication?" asked Joy. She meant psychic communication with animals.

"To tell you the truth, I don't know. Maybe I'm, afraid they won't want to talk to me," Kit suggested.

"You're worried you won't be able to do it, aren't you?"

"Yeah, maybe."

"You don't have to be a star at everything, Kit. It's ok to struggle, sometimes."

"Yeah, I know. I'm just...not any good at struggling." Something in Kit's voice suggested she knew how ridiculous that sounded. "You know, when I got my ring I thought 'now I finally belong.' Like, I belong here because I'm good at what I do, because I can teach."

"I can't picture this place without you anymore."

"And yet you started here before me. You joined the Six before I did."

"That's true. One year earlier. That's not very much."

"We never knew each other as students."

"No. Hey, listen, how about you teach me how to talk to plants and I'll teach you how to talk to animals. Deal?"

"Ok, deal." Kit giggled a little as she said it.

"And no backing out of your end! If you teach me, you have to let me teach you!"

"On my honor as a witch. Pinky-swear?"

"Pinky-swear!" Joy was laughing now.

"Oh, jeez, is Daniel still listening?" this was Kit, almost whispering. I instantly wished I had not been. The last thing I wanted to do was make Kit uncomfortable.

"Oh, I'd forgotten about him!" admitted Joy, whispering so I could barely hear. Then, in a normal tone of voice, "do you really mind if he is?"

"No, I guess not. Do you know, sometimes I think he knows everything that goes on around here? He listens to everything. People talk to him."

"Yes. It's his gift, or one of them. He's going to make a fine priest."

"Not a witch?" Kit uses the term 'witch' for both males and females.

"No, I don't think so. There's nothing of the uncanny about him. He belongs to a different archetype."

"You're right. In his company I feel...as unselfconscious as if I were alone, but I'm never lonely around him. It's quite a gift."

"Of course, he's listening to this, too."

"Let him. If anyone can avoid getting a swelled head it's him. He deserves to hear the truth."

"Then, again, he may be asleep again," suggested Joy, in a whisper.

"Oh, for heaven's sakes. The poor dear."

They left a few minutes later, without saying much else. I heard their steps, and those of the horse, on the concrete slab floor. I stayed in the hayloft, thinking about things.

I had never heard myself spoken of that way before, especially not by anyone I admired as much as Kit. I had to enlarge myself somehow to take it in. Then, too, I had never heard Kit talk in tones of vulnerability before. I can't picture this place without her either, and she is fantastically skilled at so much. Could she really think, on some level, that all that skill is just barely enough to let her stay?

I found Rick's knife, there in the hay, where he left it--sheathed, fortunately. It's a lot like mine, although his has an antler handle and its decoration includes a raven feather, whereas I have a bone handle and an owl feather. I took out my knife and contemplated it for a long time.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Year 3: Part 4: Post 6: Updates

So, I've realized I haven't talked much lately about what a lot of my friends here are doing. Here, for your reading pleasure, is an update:

Nora

Nora's nineteenth birthday is this week. It's strange to think she's as old now as I was when I started--she still looks so young to me....

But she's obviously matured a lot. She's not rebellious so much as independent, now. When she started, she was only taking half as many credits per semester as the rest of us, since she hadn't finished high school yet. Now, she's gotten her GED and while she has two more years to go, she seems to have mostly caught up with the rest of us in other respects. She's been studying Wicca, bee-keeping, and aromatherapy, and seems very much a witch in her own right, now. The big news is that she's raising money to start her own business making scented candles, massage oils, and lotions.

Kayla

Kayla is sixteen and looks and acts like a teenager now, instead of a child. Since she's no longer nursing Aidan, her relationship with her son is much more like if she were an involved big sister or an aunt, which is probably how it should be. She's still taking just one class per year, spread out over the entire year, while otherwise home-schooling. Her mother is concerned that she's too isolated from other kids her age, so this summer Kayla got a job off-campus as a junior counselor in a day-camp for children. She seems to like it.

Andy

Andy is in his final year here. He is physically healthy, clean from drugs, and seems...more grown-up. It sounds odd to say that, since of course he's something like fifteen years older than I am, but for the first year there was definitely something childlike about him, and that wasn't always a good thing. Now, there's still a trace of that, but he seems almost, well, normal. He, too, is going about going into business. He has an off-campus job in a bicycle shop and the owner is seriously considering making him a partner. Once his credit is rebuilt, he wants to buy the place.


Arther

I haven't talked to Arther much this year. He's on campus as a candidate, and he often teaches workshops on various aspects of Wicca. He seems happy.


Joanna

Joanna is still a puzzle to me. She is not kind, but I seek her company anyway. Being on the receiving end of her teases and jabs, as I often am, is rather like being tickled--you laugh and try to get away at the same time. Maybe that's it--she makes me laugh. I've been told my writing seems overly serious. Maybe I'm overly serious. Maybe I need to laugh more?

She is working on becoming a yoga instructor and she makes, and sometimes sells, ritual implements, like chalices, wands, and alter cloths.

Rick

Rick is mostly living indoors again, though I can tell he still has mixed feelings about it. This is his final year, here, and he's spending it completing a few credit requirements he'd skipped earlier. He still does trail work with me, sometimes, and we go tracking together. I am still learning from him. We don't talk often, or at much depth, but I know he's wondering what he's going to do when he leaves here--and, more broadly, what he's going to do with his life. He doesn't have any clear answers on that, yet.

Ebony

I have not talked to Ebony in a while. I don't really know what she's doing. She's been spending a lot of time off-campus and seems unhappy, for some reason. She insists she's fine.

Ollie

Ollie is, of course, off-campus, having graduated. He's not in Absence yet, though, so he did come to visit at Litha. I don't hear from him very often, but his fiancee, Willa, does, and she gives us updates. He's starting graduate school in the fall, going for a masters' in Divinity. 
 

The Ravens

Of course, there are multiple women named Raven in my story, and I really should have established some way of differentiating them from the beginning, but I didn't.


There are four women named Raven left on campus, three of whom are Allen's students and planning on graduating this year. Two of them are in the Reiki group with me and one of those is a good friend of mine--she's studying totemic animism with Kit and there are overlaps between that and my studies with Charlie.

The fourth Raven is graduating next year and is one of Charlie's students. She's on the groundskeeping team with me, and we get along well.