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.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Year 2: Part 6: Post 4: Homework

Remember, at the beginning of the semester, when I was all happy that Charlie's class only had one homework assignment? I was psyched. I thought I'd be able to focus on my other classes and basically not do much in that one class because there was only one assignment, due at the end.

Famous last words. I was wrong, of course, REALLY wrong. That one assignment is almost a dissertation. It's due tomorrow.

The class is Creating Campus, and it covers the ecological and horticultural theory behind the landscaping of the school. Each week, we've covered a different principle, like co-evolution, energy transfer, or spatial structure, using campus as an example. It's been fun and interesting. Charlie's assigned a lot of reading--he tends to assume that everyone can read as fast as he does, which is not remotely true--but he said at the beginning that the reading is for us not for him and he's not going check to see if we do it. There's only this one assignment he's really going to check.

We have to design a new feature for the campus landscape plan and fully document how and why it would work.

We're not actually going to build our features, it's just an educational exercise, but he says he's used elements of student plans before and might again. He's also had students go into ecological landscaping after they graduate and adapt their final projects for use with clients. So this is kind of a big deal.

I didn't just start the assignment today, I'm not that bad--I got working on it seriously about a week and a half ago--but I still left myself with too little time. I think I'm going to make it, and I'm doing a good job, but only because I've been staying up late night after night and working insanely hard on it.

Our design has to include at least two of the ecological principles we covered in class, plus is must be attractive, must not interfere with human use of the campus, and must solve some shortcoming of the existing plan. I didn't perceive any shortcoming of the existing plan, so that last part was hard for me. I ended up using as my starting point something Charlie said back in the spring, when we were on the Island together. He was sitting, looking at the water and listening to the waves, as he often did, when he sighed and spoke.

"That's the one thing campus is missing--water."

Allen was with us, and he pointed out that there is, in fact, a pond on campus, not to mention the lake nearby, but Charlie shook his head.

"No, running water, moving water," he said. "Something you can sit and listen to."

So I started thinking how I could design something to fix that. After all, you can build an artificial stream using a pump to take the water from a pool at the the bottom back up to a pool at the top. But even if the pump were solar powered, like the fountains are, I don't think Charlie would like that very much. One of the things he said in class was to pay attention to what the land was already doing. There is a time for making dramatic changes, by mimicking an earlier fire regime, for example, or removing an invasive species and starting over, but if you don't understand the system very well already, always default to going with the flow. "Let the land stay in character," he would say, or "help your site do what it what it was already doing. Don't make it do what it doesn't want to."

And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that our patch of land doesn't want to have a stream on it. But it might want another wetland.

So, in the end I dispensed with the stream idea, and my plan evolved into using the waste water from the Mansion to make a wetland on the Flat Field. I figured that would meet the human usefulness requirement, because that water now goes through a filter and then into a fairly traditional septic field, and I know they are working to come up with some more useful alternative. I figure, why not pipe that water into an artificial wetland and use it to fertilize some flowers? That field also receives runnoff from almost a quarter of campus, including most of our impermeable surfaces, so it's also a good place for a rain garden.

The Flat Field, as you may recall, is the graded footprint of a huge barn that burned down before the School took over this property. It's at least a hundred feet on a side, flat as the name implies, and boarded on two sides by a steep embankment going down and on two sides by an embankment going up. My plan involves scooping out a shallow depression at the corner where the higher ground slopes down to the Field and then grading it out so that the whole Field slopes in to the corner. Then pipe the waste water to a point just inside that slope, above the depression, so the soil could act as a secondary filter and there wouldn't be a pool of dirty water. When it rained, a pool would form for a while, but otherwise the soil would just be wet. I'd plant it with wetland flowers that like a lot of nutrients--yes, I listed them--put stepping stones through the middle of it, and a couple of benches around the outer edge of it. I even charted out the blooming times of the different flowers so it would provide nectar and look good continuously throughout the growing season.

It's taken me a little over a week to calculate the proper size for the garden to handle the water it would receive and to work out the species list. Now, I have to rewrite the whole thing, rework all my visual aids, my maps and plans and charts, and format it. Charlie gave us this detailed list of exactly how the thing has to be formatted, even right down to where the page numbers have to be and what size font we have to use--unusually, it does have to be typed. I don't expect to sleep tonight, especially considering that I have other classes where I also have homework due.

The thing is, I think I've gone completely crazy over the past few days. I'm not thinking about anything other than homework, I'm not doing anything other than homework, I'm like this complete homework zombie. I'm serious, it's mind-altering.

It's kind of the opposite of what most of Charlie's teaching do--open me up, make me more aware of the world. This assignment is making me less aware. It's my own fault, for putting this off until the last minute. I have nothing profound to say.

[Next Post: Monday, October 28th: Interlude]

Monday, October 13, 2014

Year 2: Part 6: Post 3: Turning the Wheel

This week we took the window boxes down from the balconies. The beans that grew in them all summer and shaded our dorms in the head and attracted hummingbirds to our bedroom windows are done. I remember watching the horticulture crew do this last year--lowering the boxes on ropes down the side of the Mansion so they wouldn't get soil on the floor inside. Now, I'm on the team so I got to do it. It's kind of fun, leaning out over the edge of the balcony and working with your partner to keep the thing level so it doesn't dump all the dirt down on the lawn. Sometimes one does tip and make a big mess and everybody shouts and jeers. Once each box was down, Dillon and Diane loaded it on to a horse-drawn cart. Charlie took the cart down to the barn whenever it filled up. I don't know who unloaded it.

There were A LOT of boxes--a hundred and four--and it took the six of us, plus four from the farming team, a good five hours to get them all down. We had to work through lunch and then eat during class. Every window that isn't on the first floor had one. That's a lot of beans, maybe a few hundred pounds, green and dried beans combined. I hadn't thought of it before--I knew I'd eaten them--when I do homework on my balcony the green ones make handy snacks--but I hadn't realized that we must eat from our own sun-shades an average of once or twice a week all year. Of course, there are beans or peas available at almost every lunch and dinner cooked one way or another. We grow about a half-dozen varieties, counting the various beds on the farm.

The Mansion looks oddly naked now, all stone and wood and glass, as it was when I first saw it. Almost all the flowers on campus and in the woods are done, now; even most of the goldenrods and asters are setting seed, little fluffy, messy things. Soon, the witch-hazel will flower, flowers for Samhain. The wheel of the year is turning, as they say around here. And I am one of the people turning it. I helped take down the window boxes. Last week, I helped twine cut vines, ivy, grape, and bittersweet, all through the Great Hall, up the columns near the staircase and beside the windows and doors and out along the wooden beams that support the ceiling. I didn't do the arrangements of gourds in the Dining Hall, Karen and some of her students do that, but I did help cut the dried flowers and the branches they used for the Great Hall. I like being involved in this way.

The forest looks brighter, now, like there are patches of sun in among the trees even on rainy days. It's the Fall leaves, of course, just about at their peak now, I'd say. Decorating the campus as we are, and the forest decorating itself as it is, it's like we're all straining forward in anticipation, building up to some mighty crescendo of the year--and what's actually going to happen is the leaves will all fall off, the land will look grey and dead, and campus will all but close down for months on end. It's an odd thing to strain forward to.

"We live until we die," says Charlie.

"In the beginning is the end, in the end, the beginning," says Kit.

"The leaves are pretty today," says Greg.

In the mundane is the profound. And here, the profound is often mundane.

[Next Post: Monday, October 19th]

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Year 2: Part 6: Post 2: Looking at Fall

It's just kind of hit me that the school year is over in less than four weeks. I'm just completely bowled over, thinking about this.

Part of it is that I'm still continually amazed I'm here at all, let alone that I've been here for almost two years. I mean, yes, I'm used to being here. When I wake up in the morning I'm never surprised to find myself in my room--and I sometimes am surprised to find myself anywhere else, like when I visit my parents and spend the night. I wake up disoriented, not all the time, just sometimes. I'm comfortable living here, and there are times I forget there is any other way, any other place. Of course I'm going running with Ollie in the morning. Of course I'm going tracking with Rick, or discussing art with Ebony, or getting in leaf-fights with Joanna (she started it). Of course I'm doing some godawful, impossible task for Charlie, counting grass blades or something like that. Doesn't everyone wear a floor-length black hooded cloak when the weather gets chilly? But at the same time, there is something about this place that I can never quite take for granted. The mystery never wears off.

It reminds me of a story I read years ago, Leaf by Niggle, in which there is a magical country where you can actually walk into the distance--that is, when you walk towards the horizon, the sense of novelty and promise doesn't recede as you go, but rather you arrive at it, in the distance. It's hard to explain. But in some way, this school is like that. I keep wanting to pinch myself to be sure I'm awake.

But there's another thing about the end of the school year, besides the way it marks how long I've been here,and that is that more people are leaving. They're not leaving at Samhain, of course--graduation isn't until Brigid, three more months after that. But we don't necessarily see each other as much over the winter, and anyway it is everybody running around tying up loose ends before the masters leave that keeps reminding me who's graduating.

In a word, Ollie's graduating this year.

It's not a surprise, of course, but it's strange to think that next year he won't be here. We won't go running together, he won't debate philosophy with me and get on my case when I'm being stupid. I haven't needed him as my "buddy," my guide as a new student, since last spring, of course, but it's strange to think he won't be available, just in case.

It's not just him, obviously; twenty-eight people expect to graduate this coming Brigid, counting mastery candidates. Only one--Zarah, whom I hardly know--is a "one hit wonder," graduating after only a year and a day, but six people from my yearling group are going, including three of the Ravens. I don't know any of the three- and four-year graduates well.

Willa, Ollie's girlfriend, isn't graduating until next year. This, too, isn't a surprise, it's just something I hadn't thought of before. I expect they haven't either, since dwelling on the future isn't really like either of them. But it is a bit of an issue. I'd always assumed Ollie would go on to try for mastery, since he is so much Allen's acolyte--I'd think he'd want to learn as much from him as he could. But to become a candidate you have to do a minimum of three years' Absence, and while Absent from campus you can't have any contact with current students. That would include Willa. I don't know what they're going to do about that.

In the meantime, Fall has definitely begun falling. Between last week and this we've gone from just a couple of trees starting to turn, to almost everything orange and red. The ridge behind campus looks like a pile of Fruity Pebbles, and the birch trees are glowing yellow in among the dark pines and hemlocks that ring the berry orchards and the grape arbor. The first frost can't be far off. When I go walking in the woods, or even some places on campus, I can hear leaves falling all around me. They sound like rain or snow.

Charlie did, in fact, give me a new project a few weeks ago--it seems strange to me to start this sort of thing in the fall, I can't figure out if there's a method to his madness, or if he just didn't think of this project until recently. Anyway, he has me keeping track of everything that's sprouting, flowering, fruiting, or going dormant/dying on campus.By species, I mean. There's a form I have to fill out every week, and yes it includes the woods, too. I don't have to be exhaustive, but I do have to be reasonably complete, whatever that means.

So, of course now pretty much everything is in fruit or dying back, except the asters (and witch-hazel, which will flower later this month). And the problem is, if I don't already know the things that are past flowering, I can't look them up, except for the shrubs and trees--because non-woody plants are listed in my guide books by their flowers. When I've done this sort of thing before--last year, Charlie had me surveying plants in tiny plots--I've drawn pictures or taken photographs of the things I couldn't identify and given them my own names, like Unidentified Thing With Galls #3.That way, if I figured out what they were later, I could go back and fill in my records with the right name. And I got extra practice noticing the details of plants that way, which was probably the point. Charlie's big on noticing things. But I've got such a huge pile of unidentified plants, now!

I asked Charlie about it a few days ago, hoping he'd suggest some guidebook to plants in fruit that I hadn't known about, or tell me I could leave off the project, but he just told me to do the best I could with that I had.

"The fruiting structure tells you something about the flower structure," he told me, "the number of divisions usually corresponds to the number of petals, for instance. And you can see whether the leaves are alternate, opposite, or whorled. Take what you know and see what that tells you. Half answers beat no answers. Usually."

I've found that when Charlie tells me a thing, what he says seldom makes sense until I put it into practice. He doesn't tell me the answer to my question, he tells me how to find the answer, even if I'm finding it inside my own mind, by a process of thought. In this case, once I started taking stock of what I did know about a plant, I could usually narrow it down to family or genus, sometimes to species. So, the advice worked. But that more abstract statement--half-answers beat no answers. Usually. I persist in hearing that as having bigger significance, like he was talking about more than wildflower identification. What process must I go through to find out what he means?

It's that one word, "usually," that gets me.

[Next post: Monday, October 13th: Dreams]

Monday, September 29, 2014

Year 2: Part 6: Post 1: Mabon

Last week, of course, was Mabon, the Fall equinox. Or, maybe Mabon is simply on the equinox. I still haven't sorted out whether the quarter-days are the astronomic events, or simply on them. Like, is "Mabon" a synonym or "Fall equinox?" I don't know.

Anyway, so as I said last year, it's a holiday but not a semester break. The fall semester goes until Samhain. Unlike the other Sabbats, though, there isn't just one thing going on on campus. Instead, there's a couple of different activities, some of them overlapping with each other, so you can choose which ones you want to do.

There are fall-related crafts (mostly for sprouts and their friends) like making leaf rubbings, there's bobbing for apples and a tour of the cider press (also mostly for sprouts), a lunch-time version of the Paleolithic Dinner, and a storytelling gathering. Charlie leads a plant walk for anyone who's interested, all about how different plants (and any animals they encounter) are preparing for winter. Greg and Karen lead a Buddhist ceremony--something to do with honoring the dead--for anyone interested. There's a charity collection for food--that started a couple of weeks ago, so Karen and Joy's students from off-campus could drop off canned goods and so forth, but on Mabon we counted it all up and put the boxes in the Office for the next person who drives into town to take. There's the gratitude circle I attended last year. And there's the Thank You Doll.

The Thank You Doll is built at the same time as the Gratitude Circle, so you can't do both. Last year I did the Circle, this year I did the Doll Build.

Sarah runs it, which kind of surprised me, as it's rather pagan, but I suppose she was pagan once, and she does work here. Charlie attends, which is why he wasn't at the Gratitude Circle last year. I don't think it has anything to do with his avoiding Kit. She avoids him, and makes a lot of little needling comments about him (mostly when he isn't around) but he mostly just ignores her. I think don't think Charlie would let anybody keep him from doing what he wants to do.

The way the Thank You Doll works is that Sarah and one of her students carry in a big box full of farm products that last a while--potatoes, winter squash, apples, dried flower stalks and grass stems, dried chilli peppers--and a sort of wooden stretcher or litter. Then we built this figure or doll out of the vegetables, using little wooden slivers to stick the pieces together.

There weren't very many of us--Sarah and her family, plus Charlie, Sadie, Kayla, Aidan, Nora, Rick and I, and a couple of other students--so we all got to work on the Doll. We ended up making a sort-of snowman shape with three round squashes. It had two long skinny squashes for legs, fallen oak twigs for arms, chillies for facial features (we stuck them on with wooden slivers), and foxtails for hair.

Then we carried the Doll on the stretcher-thing to the middle of the farm, put it down, and "woke up the Doll." We did this by jumping up and down and shouting "wake up! It's Mabon! Wake up!" It was very silly. Apparently, the youngest person present is always in charge of checking to see if the Doll is awake. This year, of course, that was Aidan. He bent down and listened carefully for a long time. Finally, Kayla asked "Aidan, can you hear the Doll say it's awake?" He nodded, and then said yes.

What is that like for a small child, being asked to hear a doll made of vegetables speak? I asked if the Doll literally speaks, but the others didn't know. None of them had ever been the youngest in the group.

"The children always say they can hear it," said Sadie.

Afterwards, we took the Doll on a tour of the farm and showed it all the places where its bodyparts had come from. Then we had a late Paleolithic lunch and everybody gave part of their meal to the Doll. After the meal, we put the Doll (and its food and drink) on display in the Great Hall. I saw the Doll last year, but didn't know what it was and didn't ask. The place is all decorated for Fall now, so I just thought the Doll was part of the decoration.

A few days later, we got together to bury it in the center of the farm. Sarah says parts of the Doll often sprout in the spring and they are always allowed to grow.

Nobody explained what all of this is about, where the ritual came from, or why Sarah, of all people, is in charge of it. But that's kind of normal around here. A lot of things have no explanation, they just feel right. I suppose getting a sense of "right" is part of the lesson around here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Year 2: Fifth Interlude


Daniel-of-2014 here. Happy Mabon.

Writing about the 9/11 attacks in recent weeks has been harrowing. Not that I personally suffered very much—I lost no one I knew—but it was still a difficult time to revisit. I’ve actually just been to New York City, and with the attacks so much on my mind, the visit felt surreal. I kept thinking of Joe, since he volunteered that week, and how the city must have looked and felt to him. On the way out of town to visit friends, I looked out the window and saw One World Trade. There was something dreamlike about the sight.

I was in The City for the climate march on Sunday. 

I think a lot of people from the school were there, although I didn’t bump into anyone I knew except for my own group. It was a big march.

My wife and daughter and I drove down with Allen, Lo, and Alexis, and Kit and her husband. We actually parked in Long Island and took the train in. We met David, Kayla, and Aidan at Port Authority. They’d taken a bus.

It might seem strange to read about these people now, since you’re used to them as they were thirteen years ago, when Aidan was a toddler and Alexis was four. Alexis is seventeen, now, and a senior in high school. Her hair is dark, like Allen’s, and she’s on the short side, like he is, but she looks more like Lo in the face. A couple of years ago, she got a pair of ferrets and she takes them pretty much everywhere with her. She has a soft-sided carrier for them, but they spent most of the march sleeping inside her shirt.  David is twenty-five and in graduate school for ecology. He’s the one who told us about the march, a month or so ago. Kayla is twenty-six, and dancing professionally. She’s one of those women who looks like a teenager forever. In another year or so, when Aidan hits puberty, they’ll look like twins.

The march was big enough that there were multiple staging areas, each with its own theme. We chose the one for religious groups and spent most of the day tagging along with a group of pagans. They waved banners and drummed and burned incense as they walked. Sometimes we dropped behind and found ourselves in among either of two groups of Buddhists, all ringing bells and wearing robes. Occasionally, we ran into one or another of a group of Franciscans, also in robes.

“Makes me wish we’d worn our uniforms,” Kit said, sadly.

“If we’d identified as a religious group,” Allen replied, “who would we identify ourselves as?” He has a point, since the school is still secret.

“Uniforms!” exclaimed Kayla, who had only half been listening, “I still have mine!”

“As do I,” I told her.

“You have to,” she replied. “You’re a master.” Which I am.

“I don’t have to do anything,” I told her, “except put the welfare of the school community and the rest of the Six first, to maintain my integrity and excellence, and to offer my expertise to interested students.”

“Neither bound nor free,” Kit commented, smiling at my quoting of the vow. That phrase, neither bound nor free, is from one version of a Wiccan initiation rite. It means your actions are constrained by your word, not by anyone else’s power over you.

“Obedience to the unenforceable, as Charlie would say,” put in Allen. That’s from 12 step culture, and it means something similar.

“I never got to wear the uniform in the first place,” said Aidan, sounding resentful.

“Would you have?” asked David, sounding surprised. Like most former Sprouts, he thinks of the school as the place where he comes from, not where he is going.

“Yeah. Of course.”

“You still can,” said Kit. “The school exists as long as we keep that vow.”

“I think you just passed the entrance exam,” I said. “That makes you our first third-generation student.” Sadie, Kayla’s mom, is, of course, a graduate.

My daughter, riding on my back in a carrier, wiggled and bounced.

“Watcha doing, sweetie?” I asked. She didn’t answer.

“She’s mugging for cameras,” my wife said. I really wish people would ask before they took pictures of my daughter, but we had dressed her up to attract attention. She was carrying a blue and green pinwheel and wearing an oversized t-shirt that read “It’s my planet, too!” Her sun-hat was covered with political buttons. 

Some people carried signs in the march, I carried my baby.

Seriously, there are times I can’t even bear to think about climate change because of her. She won’t get to grow up in the same world I did. What kind of world she does get to live in depends on the outcome of this march, whether 310,000 people gathered together is enough to convince the powers that be to sign an emissions-reduction treaty with teeth in it next year.

We never used to pay much attention to politics, when I was at school. I suppose we considered it too worldly, or something. When I was a novice, we never paid much attention to climate change, either. Of course, the school itself was carbon-neutral and had been for five or ten years, but except for one or two required classes, we never talked about it. It was one more thing that belonged to the outside world. By the time I became a candidate, that standard had changed, we’d started talking about climate issues in philosophical and moral terms, but we still didn’t talk about politics. Not climate politics, nor the political implications of any of the other issues we learned about and discussed.

Now, I think the standard has changed again. Some of us are starting to talk as a group about how to engage with the world, how to do what Kit calls “the Great Magic.” Greg calls it “civic alchemy” or “applied mysticism.” We’re talking about how to use what we know and what we have to change the world. I think that if the school still existed as a school, we might begin to teach activism. 

Or, maybe we had to lose the campus in order to learn how, as a community, to reach beyond it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Year 2: Part 5: Post 7: Aftermath

Note: as a reminder, this is one of a series of posts set in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11th, 2001.

This week has been so strange.

None of us here on campus was close to anyone who died in the attacks, but some knew people slightly--two who died in the towers and one who was injured in the Pentagon (but is still alive). A lot of people know people in New York and DC, and Allen has a dear friend who apparently had planned on being in the World Trade Center that morning but had changed his plans at the last moment. When the masters told us the news last week, Allen didn't know if his friend was alive. We didn't find out until yesterday who had survived and who hadn't.

Security Joe has gone to New York as a volunteer. A lot of the personnel from Port Authority have died and they need police. The more senior students and the masters are talking about other volunteers, former students, mostly. They're worried. Apparently, for the first few days nobody thought to issue respirators to the people working at the World Trade Center site, and there is some thought now that could have been a serious mistake. Joy knows some of the dog handlers doing search and rescue and what she hears from them is wearing on her. She's worried about the dogs, and proud of them.

It's interesting hearing all of these connections. We seem so separate here, so set apart, and yet when something like this happens, our community is in the middle of it, just like everybody else. It makes me wonder how many people I saw before I came here might have been wearing a green ring.

Classes were cancelled that Tuesday and Wednesday, but since then we've had a normal schedule. The main difference, other than how bizarre everything feels, is that all the talks and events we have in the evenings and on Saturday have been pre-empted by an ongoing workshop on Islamic and Arab history. We're all strongly encouraged to attend.

The day of the attacks, Greg said "Now we're at war--with somebody." He meant, I think, that America would respond by attacking, whether or not it turned out there is a rational target. When we found out that this was an attack by an Islamist terrorist organization, he got worried. I'm sure the situation reminded him of Pearl Harbor.

"Are you worried about discrimination?" I asked him.

"No, I'm worried about the failure to discriminate," he told me. "I am worried about the failure to discriminate between the people who actually killed Americans and anyone, American or otherwise, who happens to wear a turban." This workshop is his doing, and he teaches most of it, though he's brought in a few former students and other allies who are Muslim, as guest speakers. He has public talks lined up at all the libraries within driving distance. I didn't even know he could drive....He's bound and determined not to let history repeat itself.

"Our culture has a history of responding to fear by exacerbating the perceived difference between self and Other," he said, at the first class meeting of the workshop. "Which is curious, because of course they are never so different from us as they seem, and are usually busy othering us for exactly the same reason. Compassion and empathy are lost. As an historian, as a Buddhist, and as a man who has been othered, I do not want to see this country become bereft of compassion again."

I am not aware of anyone else--anyone outside the school--responding to the crisis by holding an Islamic studies class. But then, I'm not aware of anyone outside the school who has even begun to return to ordinary daily life, as we have. The only thing out there that has gone back to normal yet is that planes are flying again.

During the three days that they were not, the sky was clear--the same extraordinary blue that it was on Tuesday. I remember seeing Kit, on her way into lunch on Wednesday or Thursday, look up, fling out her arms, and twirl around, smiling. When she was done twirling, there I was. Our eyes met.

"It's so beautiful," she said. "It's too bad it takes something like this for us to get our sky back."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Year 2: Part 5: Post 6: September 11

Note: this story is set thirteen years ago, so this week covers September 11, 2001 and its events. I decided to cover the 11th before the anniversary, rather than after it. –D.

Today. Oh, today. 

You already know what happened, because, for once, the big news happened not on campus but off of it. For maybe the first time since I’ve been here, we on campus are sharing an experience with the rest of the country, maybe the rest of the world.

This morning I had my horticulture shift, like normal, so I was going around beetling—this means grabbing any Japanese beetles you can find on plants and dropping them into a coffee can of soapy water. The soap isn’t toxic, but the beetles can’t get out of it and so they drown. Charlie doesn’t do anything about native pests (he refers to caterpillars as bird food and treats them as a kind of crop), but Japanese beetles, as the name implies, are exotic. So we go after them.

I was just finishing up the front gardens by the Mansion—this was maybe 9:30 or so--when I heard a noise and looked up in time to see all these people run out the front door, like maybe five or six people all at once. It looked like every student who was on duty at the time in the Front Office and the Library. I put down my can of beetles and went to the Office. Sharon was at her desk, resting her head in her hands. She looked upset.

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Can I help?”

“Get Charlie,” she said, looking up at me. She’d been crying. “Get Sarah. Tell them to come here as soon as they can. Tell everyone—everyone on the landscaping team—we’re having an emergency all-school meeting in the Dining Hall at 12:30.”

I didn’t stop to try to get her to explain. I ran out of the Office, too.

I found Charlie and some of the others replanting the frog pond and I gave them my message. Charlie did not overtly react, which is what he does when something bothers him. It’s like his face freezes. He thanked me, asked the others if they could manage without him, and reminded me to finish beetling once I’d found the others and Sarah.

“When in doubt, do your work, always,” he said, and hustled off to the office.

Later, heading in to the Dining Hall, I found myself next to Rick.

“You notice something odd?” he asked me, looking distracted. Now, obviously, a lot of things were odd, but I doubted any of them were the one Rick meant.

“No, what?”

“Look up,” he said. “No airplanes.”

And he was right. The entire sky was clear, this fabulous, cloudless blue, and there were no jet trails in it. Rick was tracking the sky, and, like Sherlock Holmes and the dog that didn’t bark in the night, he’d noticed the oddness in what was missing.

We went inside and sat down. Lunch was set out, but nobody served themselves. I got in there around 12:15. People were still coming in. I noticed none of the masters were there. I guessed they were having a meeting of their own, and indeed they all filed in together just before 12:30, all fourteen of them, and stood or sat together at one end of the room. I hadn’t seen them all together like that since Brigit.

Allen is head of the Masters’ Group this year, so he spoke first. He was still dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, his clothes and hair damp with sweat from cycling.

“There’s no easy way to say this,” he said, “so I’m just going to begin. The United States is apparently under attack.” We all made various noises of shock and surprise and he held up his hands for silence.

“I saw it on the news this morning,” put in Aaron, the librarian. “I told Sharon.”

Allen looked at him and frowned slightly. Then he opened his mouth and closed it again, shaking his head. He looked at Greg, who stood up and continued the explanation.

“This morning,” he began, “persons unknown, for reasons unknown, hijacked four large passenger airplanes. Two of the planes were flown into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, in New York City. A third flew into the Pentagon, and the fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Apparently its passengers prevented it from reaching its intended target, which was probably also in Washington, DC. Both of the World Trade towers have now collapsed. It seems as though this attack is over and there are no more hijacked planes in the sky, but thousands of people have died.”

He let that sink in. Nobody said anything. Aaron stood up.

“I expect phone lines, email, everything, is pretty tied up right now. Unless you have friends or family who could have been in the attacks, I really suggest you not try to contact anybody today. The news services have all gone to live coverage, but they really don’t know what’s going on yet. I really recommend you not try to watch the news. There’s no reason to burn those images into your retinas. You can’t help anybody by doing that. I’ll watch for you, and I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

He sat back down again. Allen stood back up.

“We’ve cancelled classes today,” he explained. “I doubt any of you could pay attention to them, and we certainly can’t. Tomorrow we’ll stagger the therapy groups throughout the day so I can attend all of them—I’ll get a schedule posted by breakfast tomorrow. If any senior students want to convene a group and have a session with me, let me know.”

“I think it’s safe to say we’re at war,” said Greg, darkly. “With somebody. Anybody.”

The meeting ended, and we all had lunch together. Even Rick ate with us, though of course he ate his own, wild food. When I went up to get my food from the buffet bar, I found Charlie, of course, making himself a cheese sandwich. I don’t think he ever has anything else for lunch. Some things, at least, are reliable.

“And today was such a beautiful day,” I said with some regret—and no small resentment. There was a part of me that was angry with the hijackers for interrupting my day, like having to be upset was so inconvenient or something. I don’t think that’s what I was supposed to be feeling, but I was feeling it. And I was angry with myself for feeling that way, for being selfish. I wasn’t angry with the hijackers for killing people, not yet. That part hadn’t sunk in. How do you wrap your mind around thousands of people dying at once? I was just mad they’d interrupted my blue sky.

“It still is a beautiful day,” Charlie said to me, sharply, while spooning mustard onto his bread. “Lives end every day. Those beetles, for instance. The world doesn’t cease to be beautiful  simply because this time it’s someone you happen to identify with.”