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, May 24, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 8: Grace

Note: this year, yesterday (Sunday) was Pentecost and Shavu'ot was the day before. Thirteen years ago, however, Pentecost fell on the 19th of May  and Shavu'ot on the 18th. I had just returned from the Island on the 17th. So this is another occasion where I'm publishing posts a little out of order because of differences in dates from year to year. Today (Monday) is, of course, Memorial Day, but I don't plan to do a Memorial Day post--as far as I recall, we completely ignored it on campus that year.

Yesterday was Pentecost. We celebrated it when I was younger, although it was never a very big deal, and I've even met other Methodists who have never heard of it, which surprised me. It's the day when the Holy Spirit descended into the Apostles and the other early followers of Jesus, empowering their ministry. Among other things, they gained the power to preach in other languages so that they could carry the Good News to everybody, all over the world. What I remember, mostly, is that the sermon on Pentecost Sunday would usually focus on the universality of the Church and how we should not let social or cultural barriers stand in our way of reaching out to others--a good message.

I also remember that last year I asked Ollie if he planned on leading a service on campus, as he'd lead one on Easter and he looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently, Baptists don't celebrate Pentecost, regarding it as overly ritualistic or something. This year I went to a service at the UU church (they celebrate everything) and thought of him.

He hasn't begun his Absence yet, since he's waiting for Willa to graduate, but I hardly ever hear from him. Probably it's that most of what we did was go running together, and we can't do that now that he's off campus.

I was feeling kind of glum about it, especially since this morning was beautiful weather for running and of course I went alone. So, after I got back from working at the landscaping company, I went into the Mansion, intending to go upstairs and take a shower, but instead I wandered into the library and sat down. It was cool in there and no one except Aaron was about. I've gotten into the habit of talking to him recently, which is kind of funny because he's a librarian and I'd always thought that the main job of a librarian is to tell people not to talk.

I asked him about that once and he made a noise like "pffh!"

"If you want a quiet place to read," he told me, "You can check your book out and go someplace quiet! This is a library. Anyway, if we couldn't talk, how could I help you find your books?"

More recently, I mentioned that I've gotten to like talking to him.

"Yeah, I think a lot of research librarians get that," he said. "We're just kind of there. Like bar tenders."

"People talk to bar tenders because they're drunk," I told him. "Bar tenders get used to dealing with drunk people in crisis." I don't actually know if this is true--I haven't spent much time in bars, for obvious reasons. "I don't see the similarity to librarians."

"Don't you?" He asked me. "I'm a research librarian, not a circulation librarian. You guys mostly come talk to me because you have some homework assignment due and you have no idea how to find the information you need. That's not so different from a drunk in crisis."

Ok, then.

So, today I went in and sort of flopped down and the table in a dejected kind of way and Aaron came over and asked what was up.

"Ollie hasn't contacted me."

"Oh? Have you contacted him?"

"Not recently."

"Well, then."

"Yeah."

"Litha's coming up. Ask him to come visit for a few days."

"My bother and his wife and kid are coming."

"Yeah? So get Ollie to come, too."

He had a point.

"Aaron, you're Jewish, right?"

"You're pronouncing it wrong. I'm a Jewitch."

"Ok, I mean you were Jewish."

"I was a man of the book. Now I am a man of many books."

"You celebrate Pentecost, too, don't you?"

"Not especially."

"I mean there's a Jewish version."

"Yeah. Seven weeks after Passover. Pentecost is the Greek name for it. Fifty days. We call it Shavu'ot, or the Festival of Weeks."

"What's it about?"

"It's the first harvest festival and it commemorates the giving of the Torah."

"Like Lammas plus literature?"

"Something like that. So, what's yours about?"

"Pentecost?"

"Yeah."

"It's the birthday of the Church, the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the followers of Jesus."

"So it's the same thing--the beginning of the religion."

"Yeah, I guess so. Founders' Day." I hadn't thought of that before. "Hey, why doesn't the school have a Founders' Day?"

"We thought about it, but it didn't seem that important."

"We? Were you there?" I hadn't heard anything about Aaron's history.

"I was a candidate when we bought the campus. Two years later, just after I won my ring, they hired the non-teaching staff. There was a woman named Lara in the library for a while, but when she left they hired me."

"Why did she leave?"

"I don't know. A bunch of people did, though. They did a whole lot of volunteer work to get the school up and running and then when it was they decided they wanted to go do something else. Maybe they were afraid they'd stay forever?"

"How long have you been here, Aaron?"

"Seventeen years. I'll be here till I croak, I expect."

The scents of summer, grass, flowers, and animals, floated in through the open window and mixed with the scent of old books and clean wood. The dust still on my knuckles from working itched and I felt a tickle on the back of my neck, at my hairline. I reached back and pulled off a tick and watched it wave its eight legs in the air. It was at my mercy and I knew I was not going to kill it. I can shoot a deer if I have a good reason to do so, and I can eat her afterwards, but I cannot kill an animal simply for biting me. It would seem an unfair trade.

"I can understand that," I told Aaron.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 7: Sweetness

Now the campus tastes like summer.

The strawberries are in, for one thing. We have asparagus, rhubarb, lettuce, ramps, dandelion greens, and snow peas, too. Plus dandelions and rose petals, which you can eat. Some of these are on the way out while others are on the way in. Plus the greenhouses are still producing. The point is that our meals aren't dominated by carefully rationed stored food anymore but by fresh food, mountains of it--the challenge isn't to ration anymore, it's to eat as much of whatever's fresh this week as possible.

I don't mean the idea is to gorge ourselves, I mean that each meal has to take maximum advantage of whatever's in plenty at the moment.

We've also switched over to mostly eating quick breads again, not that the zucchini is anywhere close to ready to harvest, but we have dried zucchini saved, plus a couple of winter squashes left over from last fall, and Sadie has us finishing all that up. So that's another taste of summer.

The thing I'm actually excited about, though, is the strawberries. We have mountains of strawberries, piles of strawberries, and more coming in every day. Almost half of it goes into jam or pie filling for the winter, but the other half--

The fruit bowl is back. Any time you're in the Dining Hall you can grab a handful of fresh fruit. Whatever's left in the bowl at the end of the day goes into jam, so it doesn't go bad. There's strawberry vinaigrette dressing on the salad bar at lunch. There's strawberry shortcake for dessert.

 And for breakfast--

In the winter, breakfast is mostly a choice between oatmeal and miso soup. Plus the hot bar, I mean, for eggs and sausage. Now, we've got the summer version, granola instead of oatmeal, but what most of us do is only use a little of the granola, for texture, and load up on fresh fruit with milk or yogurt. The fresh fruit, of course, is strawberries right now.

And yes, we'll get sick of strawberries--right around the time the plants stop producing and blueberry season starts.

The thing I'm excited about is not just the strawberries themselves but the way the season has turned. We've put the bean window boxes up outside all the dorm rooms and the plants are growing fast. It's warm enough now that people lay out on the grass between classes or even nap--one of the things I like about this place is that you can take a nap just about anywhere and nobody will bother you or think you're weird. Not that I take naps, much, but I like that I can. And the frogs and toads and even a few spring crickets are singing.

We're in this great little hole in the weather, this narrow window of the year when it's warm enough that we don't need the wood stoves but cool enough that we don't have to shut up the Mansion during the day. That means the windows can be open all day and all night. And there are still hardly any mosquitoes.

So I can lay in my bed in the afternoon, working on homework from a workshop or doing the meditations or magical exercises Joy has assigned me, and I can hear the birds sing. I have a sliding glass door onto my balcony, we all do, and the  door curtain waves a little in the breeze and all my clothes smell of fresh air because of course we line-dry everything here.

The sun is setting later and later now. Sometimes I'm back in my room in time to watch sunset from my balcony and I can hear Charlie playing his love songs to the land at dusk. I have heard yearlings asking who is playing the tin whistle at night and why. I do not tell them.




Monday, May 18, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 6: Greg's Cat

[For anyone who gets this blog emailed automatically: if you have not gotten the most recent post, the one I posted on Saturday, go to the blog's website. I've discovered that the site did not notify readers that I'd changed the "notice" to a real post. --D.]

A few days ago, we returned to campus from the Island and I had a short but oddly startling conversation.

I rode back with the students and masters, as I said, because Allen and his family are staying on the Island for another week. The school uses a pair of fifteen passenger vans (converted to veggie-diesel) for these trips, and I was in the first van to get back. The other one stopped to get dinner on the way, while we voted to wait and eat on campus. That both Charlie and I were in the same van and voted the same way probably had something to do with the difference. I'm not doing it on purpose, but I'm getting more and more like him in certain ways--I don't like being in fast food or chain restaurants anymore, even supposedly healthy ones, like Panera. The light in there looks strange and the food doesn't smell right. Or something.

Anyway, so we pulled into the little parking lot between the Mansion and the Formal Garden, piled out, and unloaded our stuff. The yearlings scattered pretty quickly, going inside with their personal gear or carrying the group equipment and leftover food to the Mansion basement or the Dining Hall, but I didn't have anything to do--not being a yearling means it isn't my job to put stuff away. So I just stood around for a while, stretching after the long van ride and looking and sniffing around. As expected, spring sprung while we were away. The trees are completely leafed out now and the azaleas are mostly done flowering. Some of the roses are about to start. After the cold, early spring conditions on the Island, this explosion of green is kind of overwhelming.

So as I was standing around, a car pulled up. It was one of the campus cars (veggie diesel also) but any car, even one of ours, driving on campus is rare. I waited to find out who had been driving it and why.

A man got out. He was tall, gray-haired with pale golden skin, and he wore black jeans and plaid shirt. It was only when he greeted me that I realized the man was Greg--I'd never seen him out of uniform before.

"I didn't even know you could drive," I said, before I could stop myself. He laughed.

"I haven't always been cloistered," he told me. "How do you think I got by before we built this place?"

I actually hadn't thought about it. I've heard he was a carpenter.

Anyway, I asked him what he'd gone out for and in answer he reached in to the passenger's side of the car and pulled out a blue plastic cat carrier occupied by the black and white cat who loves him.

"He was in the hospital for a couple of days," Greg explained, setting the carrier on the ground. "He's fine, now." I could hear the relief in his voice.

"What was wrong?"

"Urinary tract infection. I found him pissing blood last week."

It sounded strange to hear him use a word like "pissing." He's so reserved, I tend to fall into thinking he's more formal than he really is.

"Too bad Joy was away," I told him. "You wouldn't have had to take him to an outside vet."

"Yes, I would. I made an appointment when I found the blood and I was going to keep him in my room until then, so I could keep an eye on him. But that night, he stopped going at all. A cat that can't piss has a couple of hours. Joy doesn't have the equipment to intubate him, so I would have needed to take him in anyway. He has lost his penis, but kept his life."

"Lost his penis? Why?"

"In the judgment of the vet, his risk for a recurrence is high, especially since we can't monitor him well here. A cat's urethra is very narrow through the penis, so it blocks easily. Removing it reduces the risk."

He had been looking in through the carrier at the cat, but he looked up at me and saw my expression and chuckled a little.

"He would have lost it anyway, if he'd died," Greg explained. "Funny how many men don't think clearly about that type of choice?"

I wasn't sure how to respond to that.

Greg looked over his shoulder a minute, frowning. I guessed that he wanted to take the cat inside, so he could recover from surgery up in the masters' quarters, but since we're not supposed to have animals in the Mansion he wanted to use the secret stairwell, which I'm not supposed to know about. He'd actually looked right at the door to it.

"I know about the stairwell," I told him. "I caught Charlie using it last year."

"Really? He didn't tell me."

"Well, I don't tell anyone else."

"Nor should you. Every magic school ought to have a secret stairwell, don't you think?"

"Yeah. I used to think there were ghosts in the walls. I think a lot of people still do."

"There may be ghosts, too. Just because there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for something doesn't mean that explanation's accurate."

"Ok."

Greg reached back into the car and grabbed a cloth bag full of something and a couple of pieces of paper. He removed one piece, presumably a debit card slip, and handed the other two me.

"You might find this interesting," he told me.

It was the vet bill. It seemed unremarkable to me, except that it listed Greg, not the school, as owner, which was kind of interesting. But then I noticed the name listed for the cat: Greg's Cat Monroe. Monroe in Greg's last name, but....

"Greg's Cat Monroe?" I asked. He smiled.

"Nobody ever calls him anything else," he said, somewhat embarrassed. "I suppose that's his name, now."

Generally the cats on campus don't have names, although the dogs do. Sarah says she's not sure it makes sense to name animals who don't seem to care what their names are, except for human need or convenience. Greg looked pleased that his cat had a name, now.

"Meoww!" said Greg's Cat.

"I'd better get him inside so I can let him out," Greg said, and wished me good evening.

I walked around campus for a while, thinking. What Greg said about choices? I don't think he just meant that men don't think clearly about anything that threatens male genitals. That would kind of be a cheap shot, for him, and anyway, how many men actually have to choose between life and penis? It's not something that really happens for most people.

I think by "that type of choice" Greg meant a kind of false choice. When he first told me about the operation, I was on the point of making some uncomfortable joke based on the idea that the cat had made a choice between sexlessness and something else. Something along the lines of what's more important, life or sex? But that's not really what the situation was--I don't know if neutered cats actually have sex, but I'm pretty confident dead ones don't.

How often do we try to hold on to something we are bound to lose, and lose something even bigger because of it?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 5: Belonging

[Sorry I did not post this yesterday as planned. Everything's fine, just poor planning on my part. Yesterday was my wife's birthday, and I kept planning to do the post later--after breakfast, after shopping, after party preparation, after the party--and then I ran out of later and it was time to go to bed. - D.]

So, yeah, I've stayed on the Island the full two weeks--I'll head back with the students tomorrow. I assume I'll be Charlie's assistant next year, too, but I'm not sure I'll camp with Lo and the kids next year. They've been very welcoming, and I've really enjoyed their company, but I kind of feel like an imposition. It's their family vacation, after all.

That's the tough part about this gig--I don't really belong anywhere, not with the yearlings, not with the masters, and not with Allen's family. They all come to the Island to connect as a group, and I'm not a part of any of those groups.

I talked to Allen about it a little yesterday, about not belonging. He said:

"Most of us feel that way at least sometimes. And sometimes it's true--we don't belong to the group we've landed among. But that's not always the same as not being needed or wanted. You'll have to rely on others to tell you whether you are welcome, regardless of your feelings. And you are welcome here."

"But what if you're all just being polite?" I objected. He laughed.

"That's a problem sometimes," he acknowledged. "But not for any group with me in it. That's the one thing I actually don't know how to do--lie."

I'm going to need to think about that.

Tonight was our last night on the Island. I expected the masters to have some kind of party and for me not to be invited, but that's not quite how it worked out.

In the morning we--Allen's family and I--climbed around on the rocks by the water. That seems to be our default activity. After lunch, Allen took Julie and Alexis hiking and Lo read a book in her hammock. David and I were trying to figure out what to do, when Kit dropped by for a chat. David mentioned that he was thinking of taking music lessons, but didn't know what instrument he wanted to try.

"Let's use your Dad's guitar?" Kit said. I could tell by his face that David hadn't expected to start music lessons today or, necessarily, with Kit, but he went along with it and they were soon huddled together on the picnic table bench trying out chords.

I left them working and took my books with me to botanize the campground--botanizing is kind of like birding, except with plants. For some reason, I hadn't done the campground yet, although of course I'd taken my field guides up mountains and through forests all week long. I'd kind of assumed that there was nothing worth seeing so close to "home" but I ended up finding three species I'd never even heard of before.

In the course of walking around the campground looking at plants I actually found the masters' campsites--I didn't mean to, I was just walking along and spotted Charlie in a tent site, apparently picking up microtrash around the fire pit. He looked up, saw me, and without a word put a finger to his lips. Silence. I nodded and walked on.

When I got back to our own campsite it was nearly dinner time and Kit had left--I imagine she was off with the yearlings teaching them the dance exercise. David was still strumming the guitar, playing around with chords and sometimes putting them in a vaguely familiar order.

"Dad's not back yet," he said, when I walked up. "Kit says to stay here, though. We're having dinner in a bit."

Kit said to stay here? What did she have to do with our dinner? I wondered but did not ask. Lo was nowhere to be seen and David was doing nothing dinnerish, so I walked down to the water again and sat on the cliff-top for a while, watching the waves crash on the rocks. The day was sunny and breezy and the surf was high. I didn't stay there long, because of Kit's mysterious instruction. When I got back, Allen and the kids were there, though Lo was not, and Charlie had joined them. He sat whittling something, apparently marshmallow sticks.

"You want some practice with an axe?" he asked me. "You can split firewood. We'll need a lot." The campground provides wood for free, but it's not split--it's these big rounds maybe eighteen inches across, slices from trees that fell across campsites over the winter, I guess.

"I don't have my axe," I told him.

"Use mine."

ICharlie's axe is a very high quality antique he's had for years, so I felt kind in awe of the thing. It's kind of embarrassing how much of a thrill getting to use it was, but I didn't say anything, I just split up a bunch of wood.

"You want me to start the fire?" I asked, not sure what the plan was for the evening . There seemed to be a plan, but nobody had bothered to tell me what it was.

"No. I want Alexis to do that. You know how already." That was true, I did.

"Daniel, you can go get water," Allen suggested. "We need one jug fresh water and one salt."

"Salt water?"

"Yeah, best thing to cook shell fish in."

So I took a cooking pot and and a big plastic jug and I went back down to the sea. The tide was coming in and most of the lower tide pools were covered already, but I used the pot to ladle out water from a tide pool into the jug--the waves were pouring into one half of the pool while I ladled out from the other, so I suppose the water was pretty clean.

When I got back, Lo had reappeared and David had already fetched the fresh water. I felt vaguely disappointed to have my job given away like that, but of course I didn't say anything. The fire was burning nicely, though Alexis was still fussing over it under the supervision of her sister. The picnic table was full of bags of food, so obviously we were going to have company. Charlie was still there, thoughtfully examining a clam, and as I stood around, taking everything in, Karen arrived, carrying a bag of something, which she set on the table.

"Should I leave?" I asked Lo, quietly. "I think there's a party here and I don't think I'm invited."

"Of course you're invited," she told me, as if  I was being silly.

"But I'm a student," I protested.

"You're not invited as a student," she explained. "You're invited as our guest." By "our" she meant her family. I was an extension of the Kilmons, apparently.

We had something like a Philosopher's Stone Soup, though I don't know whether it was Allen's idea. Everyone brought an ingredient (I brought salt water) and we all worked together to cook a meal that involved every ingredient. There were mussels and clams and two lobsters, edible sea weed, leftover rice from something the masters had made earlier, bunches of green grapes, northern white cedar twigs (for tea), honey, two different kinds of fudge, locally made beer, a box of Corn Flakes, a bag of marshmallows, a jug of goat's milk, a jar of Crisco, and a kit of condiments and seasonings.

The lobster meat went into a salad with the sea weed, the lobster broth and most of the the milk, rice, and clams all went into a soup, and Allen turned the corn flakes and some of the milk and beer into a kind of batter for the mussels, which he fried in Crisco.

We tried toasting the fudge over the fire along with the marshmallows, which kind of worked. The grapes we just ate--except that Alexis insisted on cutting each grape in half in deference to the rule (from Philosopher's Stone Soup) that each ingredient has to be prepared somehow.

Afterwards David played the guitar. He knew exactly one song, and played it badly, but he'd only learned that afternoon so he did very well, considering. We all clapped. We sat around and talked for a while, picking at leftovers, and sometimes Allen strummed his guitar and played a song or two.

I still felt out of place.  I think I was out of place. But as Allen had said, I was welcome.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 4: Surprising Students

I should probably explain how Allen's Kids can go camping with their parents for three weeks in May, when most kids are supposed to be in school. They actually take a long family trip (to the Florida Keys) in January, too, and I've been wondering how they manage it. I mean, I never got to go on vacation during the school year as a kid.

The answer, basically, has to do with the school they go to.

Julie and Alexis go to this really cool-sounding little private school where they are allowed to go on family vacations whenever they want provided they make up the work and do a report on what the vacation taught them when they get back. I asked, and Julie says no, they don't have to make up every single assignment, they just have to meet the learning objectives. This week she was supposed to be learning about the writing of the Constitution, so she'd decided to do that on her own by paraphrasing the whole thing. I'm serious.  Here is her version of the Preamble:



We, the United States of America People, do hereby make this Constitution in order to better organize ourselves so we can have a fair, peaceful, safe, prosperous, and free country, forever and ever.


Pretty good, huh? I also asked whether Alexis really has to write a report, given that she's only six.

"Well, sort of," she told me. "She's going to draw some pictures and do a class presentation--it's sort of like show-and-tell."

But the school only goes up through eighth grade. Julie graduates next month, and David graduated last year. He would be in public high school now, only apparently there was a big blow-up this winter when the family realized that if they took David on the traditional trips, the school district would mark the absences as unexcused and initiate various disciplinary procedures. And with those absences, if he missed just ten more days this year for any reason, he'd automatically have to repeat ninth grade regardless of how well he'd done (that's expulsion for minors).

I can imagine that caused some uproar--Allen, for one, never handles bureaucratic nonsense well, especially when it hurts children, and I've heard that on the rare occasions that he gets angry or anxious he works himself up pretty badly. I don't know Lo as well, but I imagine that something like that coming up in the middle of the school year would be pretty intense.

All that David told me was "getting expelled didn't sound like a lot of fun, so I quit."

"You quit?"

"Yeah. I told Mom and Dad I wasn't going back after Christmas break. If they wanted me in school, they could find me another one. Meanwhile I'd teach myself, like Kayla does. Public school was boring anyway. They wouldn't give me enough work."

Kayla, you remember, is technically a college student,  but since she's only fifteen she's actually doing high school-level work as a series of independent studies.

So, they withdrew David, enrolled him in the same homeschool program Kayla belongs to, and they went on their vacation. And now they are on their other vacation, which is this one. I expect they'll have the same problem next year, when Julie is in high school, but at least they'll have a whole year to figure out what to do about it.

In the meantime, yes, I've been hiking and biking all over the Island with David, but today we didn't go anywhere except down to the rocks by the sea near camp. There are these cliffs there and we all had fun climbing around on the rocks, except maybe for Lo because she was worried about Alexis maybe falling off--but she let her climb around and explore anyway. For once, David let himself act like just one of the kids again,getting way too close to the waves and shrieking.

Me, I found a tide pool.

It was about as long as I am, and maybe as far across as I could reach if I were in the middle of it, which I wasn't. The bottom had little patches of seaweed in it, several different kinds, all branched and brown and short, like a living shag carpet. Otherwise, the bottom was white and red with some kind of smooth crusty stuff, also alive, I assume, and there were little empty snail shells in piles here and there. Once a sort of claw-like thing came up out of the seaweed and submerged again, but I didn't see it after that and I wasn't going to reach in and try to grab the thing.

And there were barnacles along the sides, just a few of them, opening the doors of their little white houses and reaching little feathery feet out into the water over and over again.

I lay on my belly on the warm rock and watched those barnacles feeding for a really long time.




Friday, May 8, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 3: An Unexpected Teacher

So, I'm still on the Island, but now I have nothing to do. Or, rather, I have nothing I have to do. Which has its advantages.

I'm camping with Allen's wife, Lo, and their kids. Allen himself is not camping with us but with the other masters, on retreat. He visits at least once a day--and he is friendly with me when he does. It's always a bit strange interacting with someone who is engaged in act activity I'm excluded from. In a very real way, part of the point of this trip for the masters is to be together without the students present. I don't know where their camp is (although Lo and the kids clearly do) and I've hardly seen any of the others. If I bump into one of them at the bath-house or something, they might be cordial or awkward, but it's clear they don't want to talk me. Allen is a little different. Maybe it's because I'm camping with his family, or maybe he just likes me, but when he comes to visit our site he's genuinely friendly with me.

(Yes, Kit and Charlie genuinely like and trust me, too, as far as I can tell, but for Charlie that means he trusts me not to bug him when he'd rather be alone. I haven't seen him in days. And Kit is one of the awkward ones, for whatever reason).

Anyway, I have nothing specific I'm supposed to be doing, although in a general way Charlie does want me to get to know the Island a little better. I brought all my field guides and notebooks and my binoculars and magnifying lens. My intention was the spend my time hiking everywhere and looking everything up. That isn't what's happening.

David, as I've mentioned, is a teenager now. He's fourteen, growing like to proverbial weed, and just this week his voice started showing signs of changing. Last year, I know, was very hard for him, because he was still acting like and being treated like a kid, even though that didn't really fit him anymore. This year he definitely has a new role, but he doesn't seem to know how it works, yet. He doesn't know how to be a teenager or what he really wants to change as he grows up. He obviously loves his family, but he doesn't seem sure he wants to spend much time with them anymore. Like, it might be too childish or something to spend all day playing with his little sisters.

Without at all meaning to, I've offered him an alternative.

Realistically, it hasn't been that long since I was a teenager, and I'm probably still pretty immature. And I'm male, which I'm sure counts for something. And I'm certified in wilderness first aid and I'm not a total idiot, so Lo is comfortable with her son going off on adventures with me.

(She'd let David go off with a friend his own age, too, of course, but she won't let him go hiking alone. Which feels restrictive, but she's probably right)

And the advantage for me in all this is that David knows more about the Island than I do, especially the birds. He's been a sort of unofficial student of Charlie's since he was born, and he's been more or less obsessed with bird identification for years, so he's quite an accomplished naturalist. So, hanging out with him I get to learn something.

I don't want to make it seem as though David is some kind of freakish prodigy or something. He isn't. He is strikingly intelligent, as is Allen's whole family (as are all of the masters-- I once asked if you have to be brilliant to wear the green ring. "Nope, only enlightened," quipped Allen), but he's not inhuman. And he still seems very much like a kid, despite his large, technical vocabulary and his cracking voice. His teaching method, for example, is innocently horrible--he just announces facts and then scowls if I don't understand and memorize them instantly. He's just one of those kids who is both bright and obsessive, so he knows a lot about the things he's interested in and not much about anything else.

But I like his company. He's a good kid.

So we've hiked up and down what seems like half the mountains on the Island, watched birds whose names I still mostly can't remember, traversed vertical crags over storm-tossed surf (we swore a solemn oath not to tell Lo about that), and improvised ghost stories in the fog over bags of peanut M&Ms on granite domes glowing green with lichen.

Next week, I suppose, we'll hike the other half.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 2: The Island

I ended up riding up to the Island with Allen's family and now I'm camping with them.

As I've explained, there's a gap of a few weeks between the Beltane and the beginning of the summer semester--for most of us, we use the time to take a couple of workshops. The masters take a few days off and write up the student evaluations for the spring classes. So. But the yearlings spend two weeks of that gap on a certain island in a kind of retreat--they camp as a group and get to know each other. The masters (except for Greg) go to the Island with them and teach a series of workshops there. When not teaching, they're more or less on their own retreat--the masters don't camp with the students.

Anyway, Charlie's workshop includes a couple of educational hikes, but there are too many yearlings to fit manageably into a single hiking group. So Charlie divides the group in half and has an assistant lead the other group. Last year, I trained to be his assistant, and now here I am on the Island in that capacity again.

But I can't camp with the yearlings, because they're supposed to be bonding with each other as a group. And I can't camp with the masters, for the same reason, more or less. I was afraid I'd end up having to camp by myself, but fortunately Allen's family goes up to the Island at the same time and they said I could stay with them. They'll stay on after the retreat is over, so the whole family can have a vacation together and I'll head back to campus with the yearlings.

I got up here a few days ago, talked through the walk with Charlie (he does exactly the same program every year, which does make things easier for me), and hiked the routes myself to see if anything on the trails had changed that I would need to talk about--there wasn't.

Today I did the first of the hikes. I was a lot less nervous this year than last--I've done it before now, of course, and the whole idea of me leading part of a workshop seems less alien. It actually helps that I don't know most of the yearlings. Charlie's told me that there's no problem with teaching your friends--if they're really your friends they'll respect you--but it's a little tricky to maintain both roles and it's easier not to have to deal with that when you get started. Anyway, the other hikes I have to do are tomorrow and the next day.

After that, I don't have anything particular to do. I don't know whether I'll stay the whole time or head back by bus--Charlie has encouraged me to spend some time exploring the island on my own, learning as much as I can, so next year I'll be able to answer questions at more depth. It occures to me this is a lot of effort to put into an assistant who's only going to be available one more year, but of course I'm still a student--part of the point of all of this is to further my education, as well as that of the yearlings.

You know, I really like it here. I like the sea and I like the mountains. I like the forests and the plants there, which are different than the plants back on campus--I notice things like that now, it makes the entire place seem exotic. I like coming here in the early springs, which is what May is here--the trees haven't broken bud yet, most of them. When I go back to campus, everything will seem explosively lush in comparison.

I don't know, I don't have much else to say. I'm just having a good time.