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 16, 2016

Year 4: Part 6: Post 5: Connections

In theory, Charlie and I now no longer need to talk about my schooling, meaning that when we hang out, it's purely social. But of course when we actually got together for lunch today, we talked about school.

We took our food and walked out to the field below the Edge of the World, and on the way he asked me what I plan to do after I graduate.

"Grad school," I told him. "I want to extend my skill as a naturalist. Ecology, botany, something like that. I haven't decided yet. I don't even know what kind of job I want to aim for when I get done."

"You don't need to worry about that, now."

"I don't?"

"No, because what you do now doesn't have anything to do with what kind of job you get."

"It doesn't? Don't I need to know what kind of education the job I want requires?"

"No, you don't. First, it's the opposite of that joke. Mostly, you can get there from here. Get to anywhere from here, no matter where 'here' is. There are exceptions, but there's usually a way. Second, you don't know what's going to happen between now and then. You pick a goal, you decide halfway through you don't like it, something blows up, something else you'd rather do comes up.... Do what you want to do now, out of the options you have. Tomorrow, make the next decision. You'll have a good chance of being happy and useful that way."

"Ok," I told him, "well, I want study ecology."

"Good. You need a hard-science background. You've gotten into too much woo-woo stuff around here*. Fly the nest."

"I thought ecology wasn't a hard science?"

"You go study it, and tell me how hard it is! I mean rigorous, scholarly. Hard, soft, inexact...giant professional-level pissing contest."

"You in a bad mood?"

"Not today. Any day I wake up is a good one."

"Do you have any suggestions?" I asked. "About what school to apply to, I mean."

He spoke the name of a school immediately, then turned and looked at me. We weren't far from where we'd had the ritual, of which there was now no visible sign. The day was clear and gorgeous and cool, the sky blue, the trees rapidly changing color, living flames of red and yellow bursting out in the forest around us. He explained that the school he'd mentioned had a good conservation biology program and was rumored to be fairly progressive, with a small student body and a liberal and rather artsy campus culture. It sounded as close as possible to the school I already belonged to.

"I thought you wanted me to fly the nest?" I asked.

"I said fly the nest, not migrate to a different biome."

We sat down and ate together without speaking for a while.

"Charlie, how do I apply for the masters' program here? I'd like to become a master." He chuckled and I looked over at him. "What?" I asked. "Did I just pass the entrance exam, or something?"

He laughed again.

"Just about," he told me. "The process is that when you want to come back, just call Sharon and ask. She will say yes if you have completed your absence and have the sponsorship of someone willing to serve as your primary master."

"Do I have such a person, Charlie?"

"Oh, be direct!"

"Will you be my master then, too?"

"Yes, of course."

"Out of curiosity...if I decided to work with someone else instead, could I do that? Or am I committed."

"You can switch masters. You on;y need someone to vouch for you that you can be a candidate. You pass your entrance exam with me by letting me get to know you. I vouch for you. You want to work with someone else, that's your business."

"You know I really was just curious, right?"

"Please, my ego is not that fragile, Daniel."

"I was just making sure."

He grunted. We were quiet again, for a while. Late-season crickets sang around us. A crow cawed in the distance.



"I was just thinking, in some ways I don't know anything about you."

"What ways?"

"I mean, the sort, for example, I know when Joy or Karen have a boyfriend. People see things and students talk, you know? But I don't know that kind of thing about you. I've never heard of you having a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend."

Charlie grunted again, a little "huh" of laughter, and took a bite of his sandwich.

"When I used to date," he said, "I dated women."

But that wasn't what I was really asking. I mean, first, I don't really care. Second, I was pretty sure Charlie was straight. I just added that about boyfriends so that, on the off-chance I was wrong about his orientation, he couldn't skewer me for making an assumption. I was just kind of surprised to think about how well I knew Charlie on one level, without knowing the things about him that knowing a person usually told me. We were quiet again for a few minutes. He started in on the second half of his sandwich. I finished my second apple.

"You know, it was a girlfriend of mine that brought me here," he said, after a bit.


"She was friends with the early master's group and introduced me. She fancied herself a shaman or something because she did a lot of esoteric drugs. You know the type? Or maybe you don't. Anyway, when I lost my place, I went to them for help. The master's group took me in. I was in rough shape."

"Your place?"

"My apartment. I lost my apartment."

"What happened to her? That woman, your girlfriend?"

"We drifted apart. We never formally broke up, I just stopped making much of an effort to see her, after I got sober. I heard through the grape-vine she was dating someone else. I didn't mind." He shrugged. "I really haven't dated anyone since," he added, as though he had just now realized it. As though dating had just skipped his mind for twenty years.

"Do you think you'll date again," I asked. "Do you think you'll ever marry?" I felt weird talking to Charlie about any of this. I wasn't used to him opening up to me about his biography.

"I am married," he said.

"You are?" Although even as I said it, I realized what he meant, what he was about to say.

"To the land, here. I am married to the land."

"Huh." I could think of no other response. I remembered his tin-whistled love songs he plays to the evening, what I heard in that first secret serenade I accidentally heard years ago, and I thought about that. "What's it like?" I asked, after a while.

"What do you mean, what is it like?" His voice had gone sharp.

"I don't know, what's it like?" I reiterated. "I don't know, how do people usually talk about their relationships? ...'So, you getting any?'"

Charlie had just taken a big bite of his sandwich and he choked with surprised laughter. It look him a few minutes of coughing and sputtering to get hold of himself. I don't normally talk that way with him. Or, really, with anyone. It's not really how we talk, here. In control of himself again, Charlie looked at me for a while, chewing his sandwich, an odd, thoughtful expression on his face. Finally, he spoke.

"Fuck yeah I am," he said quietly, with emotion. Then, half shouting, "look at this!" And he suddenly flung his arms wide, indicating the whole world of blue and green and leafy fire with his gesture. The cheese flew out of the remnants of his sandwich and he he fell or rocked backwards in the grass, lying, limbs out-stretched on the ground, beaming a sudden, suddenly admitted to joy.

I copied him and flung myself out on the grass. Above me the blue sky stretched slightly wispy with faint cloud, my visual field framed by towering grass stem and, on one side, a fringe of tree foliage. I opened my senses, quite deliberately, and heard the crickets sing louder, heard roosters crowing in the distance, a truck going by on the main road, then a car, and, a few minutes later, another. There were few other sounds. The scent of the grass and the nearby leaves filled my nostrils. More faintly, I could smell a hint of animal dung and, perhaps, wood smoke. We haven't lit our wood stoves yet, but one of our neighbors apparently had. I could feel grass blades and the movement of ants, tiny field spiders, little gnats, all tickling me, just slightly.

I wouldn't have called it sexual (though, really, what do I know?), but it was lovely and it was sensual, this great and participatory beauty. I lay there or a while, thinking about my various bodily relationships with the land and how we shaped each other, communicated with each other...I could not see myself ever equating any of it with sex, but given everything else I'd learned over my four years of study, I could see how Charlie might.

Suddenly, horribly, I realized that when I sat up, whatever I said would leave me open for some kind of teasing or awkwardness. How do you talk to your teacher after he says I experience this as erotic and you copy him?

Steeling myself, I sat up and looked around.

Charlie was gone.

*Reading this line, I'm not sure it makes sense to readers, but it is roughly what Charlie said. He was a man of few words when he spoke (although he was a prolific writer), and he was referring to ideas he knew I already knew about. So, here is a translation, of sorts. The "hard sciences" are those, like physics, that can make precise, accurate predictions. NASA can spend millions of dollars building and launching a spacecraft to go study Jupiter because physicists can predict exactly where Jupiter will be when the space craft gets there. You just can't do that with a bird. The life sciences and social sciences focus mostly on what are called "complex systems," which, by their nature, can't be precisely predicted no matter how rigorous you are--and yet there is always the implication that "soft sciences" are inexact because they are less rigorous, less sciency. Biologists and ecologists have made attempts to develop more mathematical and predictive approaches, in part to make their fields seem more like physics. Charlie says they have physics envy and are compensating for something.

If all this sounds vaguely sexual, there's probably a reason. While scientists don't have a very virile reputation among the general public, among themselves they are heroes and rock stars. The sciences are a world dominated by driven, ambitious men, just like business or professional sports, so you get all the permutations of male pride embedded in the culture. Charlie, who was always very aware of language, was always of the opinion that "hard," as in science, should be read as "manly," and that "soft" means, literally, "limp-dicked." As though the life sciences and so forth are fields for wimps or for women.

That is why Charlie referred to the whole distinction between hard and soft science, dismissively, as a "pissing contest."

When he told me I need a hard science background, he didn't mean hard as in difficult, he meant hard as in rigorous and "sciency," the opposite of  mentally lazy "woo-woo." But he rejected the traditional division of fields into hard and soft and particularly rejected the idea that "hard" necessarily means "predictive." He sometimes asserted that "ecology is not rocket-science; ecology is much more difficult." Ecology is harder.

When Charlie entered a pissing contest, he entered to win. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Year 4: Part 6: Post 4: Fire and Ashes

So,  I finished my report on threats to my spot in the woods and what I can to to counter those threats. Identifying threats was relatively easy--climate change, acid rain, various invasive species and pathogens, the possibility that the land really could change ownership and be damaged, and on and on.

Coming up with a list of what I can do about it was much harder. The first time I tried, I came up with a bunch of solutions, like a cap-and-trade policy for climate change, turned in my report to Charlie, and he sent it back almost immediately covered in red pen scrawls.


Of course, I'd come up with ideas best enacted by an amorphous "someone." Charlie suggested I start each solution with "I, Daniel Kretzman, will...."

So that took a while to figure out.

But eventually I got my report finished and Charlie took me through the only actual ritual he's ever had for me. I mean, I know he sings or whistles to campus every evening, and that's kind of a ritual, and I know he prays before the full moon, and probably at other times, and when I asked he told me what prayers he uses. I know he has little ceremonial bows or phrases that he uses at certain times and I have adopted some of them. When I've needed to say a few words he has sometimes provided them. But he's never before taken me through a ceremony I did not explicitly ask for.

When he gave me my bone-handled knife after we killed that deer, he simply said "here," and handed it to me.

He didn't explain what the ritual was for, nor did he tell me what we were going to do. He just looked at me, a day or so after I'd given him my report, looked at me very carefully, and said "It's time." I must have looked rather frightened and confused, because he laughed and said "Don't worry, it won't hurt, much," and asked if I had the afternoon free. I did.

He asked me to gather wood--at least a couple of twigs, preferably dry--from every species of woody plant on campus and to meet him by the sugar maple trees near the main entrance. We often end up there when we meet for lunch, because it's a pretty spot, with a good view of much of campus, but it's out of the way. Nobody's likely t bother you, or even necessarily notice you there. There's no reason for anybody to be on that end of campus, most of the time.

Gathering the wood took me over an hour, though of course I knew exactly where all the plants I needed to find were. I know all the trees and have for years, and by now I know the shrubs and vines pretty well, too. But it's a big campus and it takes a while to walk all over it.

By the time I got back, Charlie had set up a kind of portable fire pit made of an upside down trash can lid filled with sand. He also had a couple of dry oak branches about as thick as his wrist, to keep the fire going long enough to make sure all the twigs I brought, even the green ones, burned.

So, we build a fire and watched it and fed it. It didn't seem right to talk, so we mostly didn't. The fire wasn't very large, and couldn't have taken very long to burn down, but it felt like a very long time.

When all the wood I'd gathered was ash and the flames leaped only on the remnants of the wood Charlie had brought, he spoke, very seriously.

"If you do this, you'll never be able to leave. Not psychologically."

I thought for a moment about what Allen had said, about how you have to be able to leave if you're going to come back, but decided that the two statements belong to different systems of paradox and don't necessarily intersect.

"I'm not going to be able to leave, anyway," I told him, and he nodded, as though that were the right response.

Then he directed me to heat the blade of my knife in the fire and then let it cool, without wiping the soot off. The soot, as I already knew, would be sterile. And he showed me how to make a cut in my arm where it wouldn't do any actual damage, a shallow cut, leaving a thin flap of skin. And how to use my knife to scoop up a little of the warm, mixed ash and inset it there under that flap, under the skin. It's a primitive tattoo, a little gray blob-shape, that I'll have for the rest of my life. Hardly anyone will ever notice it, and no one will know what it means, but I will.

Charlie helped me bandage the new tattoo with a very modern-looking gauze pad and medical tape, though he used lavender oil, rather than antibiotic cream, on the gauze, and told me not to wash the area until it healed, and to let him know if I saw any signs of infection. There was nothing to be said about the ritual. Saying anything would have cheapened it.

So, I stood there rubbing my bandaged arm a bit (yes, it hurt).

"So, are we done?" I asked. "I mean, are we finished...overall?" As usual, I wasn't making a whole lot of sense. I can write, but that doesn't mean the words always come out right when I speak. I meant that, since my entire relationship with Charlie had been based on his being my master, and that process seemed to be complete--it felt complete--were we done with each other. I didn't want to speak that possibility out loud, but I really didn't know and I had to find out. That reluctance to say what I was talking about accounts for my garbled words. But Charlie understood.

"Why would you think I'd want that?" he said, and smiled.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Year 4: Part 6: Post 3: Standing Out.

Please note that in 2003, Rosh Hashanah occurred about a week earlier, relative to the standard calendar, which is why the holiday is referred to here as having just happened.

I just realized that I really didn’t know what Alien Steve has been studying. We spoke often in my second winter here, but not that much since then. And even when we did talk a lot, we were mostly discussing identity, belonging, and what it was like for him to be an alien, not mundane matters like school. So, today I asked him.

“I’m an alchemist,” he told me, as if I should have known. I should say that ‘alchemist,’ as we use the term here, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with turning lead into gold. Instead, it’s about transforming the self so as to effect practical change in the world. Something like that.
“But you’re not working with Greg, are you?” Greg, as you may recall, is the alchemist on staff.
“No,” he told me. “I mean, I’ve talked with him. He’s helped me, some. But I’m working with Joy on magic and spirituality. They’re the only two areas I need.”
“But I didn’t think Joy was an alchemist.”
“She’s not, not especially, anyway. But there are alchemical dimensions to her magical practice.”
“Why alchemy?”
“Why not? What else is an alien going to do?”
“Ok, what does that mean?” I was confused.
“I’m different,” he told me, grinning a little. “Different people are disruptive by definition. Think about a dance, like a group dance, like square dancing? If there’s somebody in the dance, just one person, who is doing something different than anybody else, then the entire pattern changes. Do you see?”
“I suppose so.” I was imagining, not a dance, but a traffic pattern—somebody drives the wrong way and everyone swerves around and crashes.

“So, the question is, how do I insert myself in a system to effect the change I want?”
“How do you?”
“Be very careful about what I compromise about and what I don’t.”
“Consider; Frederick Douglas became free, without compromise, before he even ran away from slavery. And he helped free all the slaves. Mahatma Gandhi also made himself free, without compromise, and helped free India. If you don’t move, everyone else has to.”
“I bet you don’t include Jesus on your list,” I teased him. Jesus was the first person I thought of adding to the list, but Alien Steve is slightly hostile to Christianity.”
“I’m not sure he existed.”
Steve is pagan, but with the subject up in my mind I remembered that he’s specifically Jewish pagan.
“Hey, you just had a holiday, didn’t you?” I asked.
“Rosh Hashanah. No really my thing, religiously speaking,” he told me. “I did go home to my parents’ for a big dinner.”
“Are they ok with your being pagan?”
“They don’t care. They’re both atheists.”

“Huh,” I said, because I couldn’t think of anything else. Then—“hey, there are a lot of Jewish people here, aren’t there?” There aren’t a lot who identify as Jewish now, though Steve does, are nine or ten students, plus Aaron, who were raised Jewish and sometimes show up at campus Seders and such. That’s about ten percent of the student body, which is much higher than the national average. “Is that odd? I thought most neopagans used to be Christian.”
“No, it’s the other way around. Most of Christianity used to be pagan. The rest was Jewish.”
“I knew that part. I mean now. Individuals. The holidays are so similar, it just seems weird to me, Jewish pagans.”
“It shouldn’t. European magic has deep ties to European Jewry.”
“Yeah. Remember Nicholas Flamel?”
“Was he real? And Jewish?” Nicholas Flamel, you may recall, was one of the couple who created the Sorcerer’s Stone in the Harry Potter book.
“Real, yes, Jewish, no. He was something like a clerk, but he endowed a couple of churches and hospitals and things. How did he do that, if he didn’t have some unusual way of making gold? He claimed to have created the philosopher’s stone. But when he was first figuring out alchemy, the first thing he did was to go to Spain to look for a Jewish scholar who could teach him the Qabalah. The first thing that occurred to him.”
“I mean, if you think about it, we, too, are different and so change the world.”

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Year 4: Part 6: Post 2: Senioritis

Charlie and I seem to be ok again and, just to prove there are no hard feelings, he's given me another assignment.

Actually, he has given me work, though I don't think it has anything to do with hard feelings. We do seem to be relaxing with each other again. He approached me after lunch the other day and, looking somewhat embarrassed, asked if I minded another assignment.

"You don't really have to, you have my vote," he told me, "but there's something I'd like you to do."

"Charlie, you know I'll learn anything you care to teach me," I said.

He flashed me a very quick smile.

"I'd like you to write me a report on all the things that could possibly threaten your spot in the woods and what you, personally, can do to address those threats."

"Any deadline?"

He shrugged.

"When you can."

"Got it."

It's odd, thinking about it, I really have spent very little time actually talking with Charlie. We seldom have long discussions. Aside from the occasional lunch together, most of our interactions probably last less than a minute and a half. And yet I feel like we're together almost all the time--when I'm working on an assignment from him, he is present for me, challenging, supportive, exasperating, just Charlie.

Anyway, I'm glad to have a project from him again, but I do wish he'd given me a deadline, because with "as you can" I'm not likely to feel comfortable until it's done. It feels like it's supposed to be done immediately. And yet, later that day, I did manage to go to a party.

More and more of us are getting the votes we need to graduate, and frankly we're getting a little silly. I mean, most of us already were silly, but there's a loosening. For example, this party. It sort of erupted out of this week's Callaloo, the "open mike" concern Kit hosts. I don't go every week, but this week I did, and about half the rest of the graduating class did, too. I think only two or three people there weren't part of our group. It was weird, like a convention nobody had to invite anybody to, we just showed up.

When the big crowd showed up, Kit sent a couple of people over to the Dining Hall to snag more snacks and some alcohol. Not a lot of people actually drank much, but it just being there made things seem more festive. A couple of people played or sang--I remember Dan (who is not me!) doing "Eleanor Rigbe" on his cello, and Raven G. singing something or other badly. A group of us, yes, me included, formed a chorus line and sang "Those Were the Days," while kicking our legs and falling over ourselves. Tommy, who I don't think I've mentioned before, sang "Proud Mary," and a couple of women, including Joanna, jumped up to sing back-up. That one surprised me, that Joanna would sing back-up--it was girly in a way I would have thought she'd find negative.

But that's kind of what I mean by silly--people doing things they normally wouldn't, just letting themselves go a little bit.

That's what Steve Bees did. The latter part of the evening became a concert for Steve and Eddie, singing mostly early and classic rock and roll and some Motown. That music is happy, light-hearted in a way most newer music isn't. Eddie favors it and sings that kind of music a lot.

Steve doesn't--he likes to listen to it well enough, I've seen him dancing to the music Eddie makes, but when he sings, he's usually serious. For a year or more, Steve's been a man on a mission. It's not like he never enjoys himself, but his passion, the important part of all his days, has been social justice. It's what he talks about, what he reads about, the end to which he is transforming himself. When he sings to himself, under his breath, he'll sing anything, things he likes, things he doesn't, ditties from commercials, but when he sings for us, it's always on message. He sings well, now, and we like his message--having deep conversations is a big part of what we do, here--but it's just something we notice about him. Steve is serious.

Which is why it was so good to see him perform some Chuck Berry and just having a good time.

Eddie, of course, is more or less always having a good time, but that's his message and he's always on it. His infectious joyousness is deliberate, religious, even political. This time, for once, there seemed to be no message, no challenge, nothing to think about, just two men with a couple of friends accompanying them on various instruments, singing "Rock and Roll Music," goofing off in their talented way.

Towards the end of the song, Steve sang alone, sweat visible on his face, as happy as I've ever seen him, while Eddie jumped and jittered and windmilled his arms, dancing around the little open area we were calling a stage. We were all on our feet, dancing.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Year 4: Part 6: Mabon

Happy Mabon.

The rest of the Northern Hemisphere now agrees with Kit; it is Fall. The days are getting short, there is a real hint of color in the trees, the meadows are full of goldenrods and asters, and the mornings are usually cool, though not cold. There is still a definite hint of late summer, especially in the afternoons, and occasionally we still have a hot day, but I agree with Kit, now; it has been the season of transition for weeks. The idea of the same season holding sway over an entire hemisphere at once seems strange to me--I have a cousin in New York, and it isn't Fall there yet. Why should it be? These are different places, different countries.

I'm taking for granted so many ideas that used to seem strange to me.

Anyway, I had me nephew with me again for the Mabon festivities (my niece is still too young--she's not walking yet). He's just past two, now, and so I let him spend a lot of time running around with the other Sprouts. I was nervous about that--he seems so very small, hardly more than a walking baby, and of course my sister-in-law would kill me if anything bad happened to him--and I'd let her kill me. I mean, I'd feel so awful. But, as Kit pointed out, the older Sprouts know more about taking care of toddlers than I do, and they'll keep an eye on him.

So I was free to wander around, mostly on my own, like any other student, sampling food and drink and marveling at the unusually large vegetables at the harvest fair set up on the Central Field. This year there was a whole selection of quick breads to choose from, made with different kinds of squash and fruit and nuts. I liked the acorn squash and raisin bread best, and ate quite a lot of it.

At the cider-tasting tent I ran into Charlie--around here, "cider" usually means hard cider, since we have no refrigeration, but they've just pressed a couple of batches, so there were non-alcoholic ciders there, too. Anyway, I saw him a few seconds before he saw me, then our eyes met--and his face went hard and blank and he turned away.

Everyone thinks that Charlie is a curmudgeon who growls at people because he doesn't like human beings. And, in fact, I think he does like other species a lot better, but I don't think that's really it. I've seen his gentleness with the vulnerable, with children and small animals, and I've seen the way his face and body relax when he's in the company of people he trusts. And I saw how sad he looked last week when I was so angry with him for lying to me, for deliberately hurting my feelings by telling me my spot in the woods was going to be cut down. It wasn't, he just had to check to see if I really cared--that was his final exam for me, part of his job, as he saw it, the job I asked, even begged him to do almost four years ago. He knew I'd pass the exam, knew what those few seconds of mistaken grief would be like for me, and knew there was a chance I might not wholly forgive him for it. And he did it anyway, but it made him very sad.

He turned away from me in the cider tent because he did not want to see me turn away from him.

I've known people who didn't especially care for me. Most people like me, superficially, at least, but not everyone really cares and that ok. And I've known people who hold me special, who do genuinely care. That's ok, too, more than ok, in fact. But I've never known anyone else, except maybe my Dad, who cared about me and liked me and unhesitatingly did something that might alienate me, simply because they believed I needed it--no one else except Charlie.

I attended the Paleolithic Feast over lunch, along with most of campus, which of course Charlie runs, but we didn't speak to each other then, except to sort of details of where I should put the dish I brought and whether he needed me to help set up chairs, that sort of thing. He didn't seem hostile at all, he wasn't not speaking to me, but he did seem distant, closed off. My heart kind of hurt.

After lunch, I went to the Thank You Doll build instead of the Gratitude Circle I went to last year and my first year. Sarah runs the build, but Charlie always attends, just like Kit always attends the circle. The two avoid each other, and while Charlie doesn't get in to the snippy stuff Kit does, I think the situation bothers him somehow. These are the two main events of the afternoon, and they happen at the same time, so you can't do both. I think Charlie was glad to see that I'd chosen his.

The build itself went really well. This year we made the Doll mostly out of red potatoes (potatoes come in all different colors, red, white, yellow, blue, and lots of sizes and shapes), with tiny blue potatolets (tubers that hadn't come to full size by harvest, for whatever reason) stuck on for eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and fingers and toes. We used a large potato as a big butt in the back, for balance, and a small one stuck on the back of the head, like a bun, as the foundation of the hairstyle--we made a sort of fan-shaped halo of blue potato slices and behind that, stuck on to the "bun," a large fan of dried grass heads, all of the large Seteria species that look like big, golden caterpillars.

The hairdo was Megan's idea, Megan being one of the Sprouts, one of Charlie's many grand-nieces. Her twin sister suggested we give the Doll some clothes, which we did my making a skirt out of curly kale leaves. We didn't have any kale in the box of veggies Sarah had brought, because it's pretty perishable, but Adelee, one of Sarah's daughters, ran and got some for us. All the remaining Sprouts, except my nephew, Aidan, and Alexis, are either Sarah or Charlie's relatives, so we had all of them except Alexis helping with the build. It's a fun activity anyway, especially for kids.

When we woke the Doll up, my nephew listened for its voice and, once again, he heard it, or said he did. I still want to know what that's like. I could have asked Aidan, or Billie, or Julius, or Adelee, each of whom have been the youngest in the group at least once and heard the Doll, and who now have strong enough language skills to explain the experience, but I didn't ask.

Some mysteries are better left unplumbed.

Afterwards, while we were cleaning up, I approached Charlie.

"Thank you," I told him, simply.

For a moment he did not speak, just looked at me.

"You're welcome," he told me, gruffly, and turned away to consolidate compost buckets. But I could almost feel the tension drain from his body. I could feel him lighten somehow. I haven't studied him for four years for nothing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Year 4: Part 5: Post 7: Interlude

Hi, Daniel-of-2016 here, and I'm going to do something unusual. This blog is due for an interlude, but because I skipped a week a while back, there's an "episode" I wanted to cover before Mabon that I haven't gotten to yet. Normally when this happens, I just post whatever it is after the holiday, with a note if necessary, but I don't want to do that this time because part of my holiday post depends on your having read this episode first. So, for the first time ever, I'm basically skipping an interlude. I don't have very much to say right now, anyway. We're all fine. Carly just started pre-school, three days a week. It's quiet around here without her. Note that  the following events occurred on a Thursday. -- D.

For the better part of four years I have occasionally daydreamed about doing violence to my teacher--as in "he wants me to do what? I'm gonna kill him!"

Today I actually came close.

After Healer's Health class, I went to lunch, like normal. The weather was nice and cool and mostly cloudy. I think it'll rain later. The trees are just starting to turn. I'd been planning to eat outside, but Eddie and Alien Steve saw me and called me over and I ended up eating with them. Afterwards, on my way out, Charlie ambushed me. He'd been waiting for me just outside the Dinning Hall. When I passed, he stepped out and asked me to walk with him. He had something to tell me.

Charlie had never acted like that with me before--he seemed very serious and uncomfortable. He wouldn't look me in the face. Frankly, he scared me. But he wouldn't tell me what he wanted to talk to me about. As we walked along through the maple corridors he actually made small talk, asking me about my classes and my family and whether my nephew would come to campus for Mabon again this year. When we got to the Martin House, I stopped him and insisted he come out with it. He faced me.

"Daniel," he told me, "I've got some bad news. The land trust had to raise some money and they've approved a small timber sale. Your 'spot' in the woods is included. I'm sorry."

I felt all the blood drain from my face. I turned away and could not speak. I didn't know how to respond. My spot! My place in the woods! My home!

"Did you hear me?" Charlie asked. "I said they're going to cut your trees down. The spot you've been living in for a year is going to be gone."

"I don't believe it," I mumbled. And then, in a very different tone of voice, "I don't believe it. My spot is on our side of the boundary! Anyway, the land trust wouldn't do that." I looked at Charlie. He was having trouble keeping a straight face and not entirely succeeding. "You lied to me! What the hell?"

Charlie shifted his stance, subtly readying himself for self-defense the way Karen taught her senior students. He thought I was going to hit him. And I might have, if his defensive posture hadn't made me think. My hands had made fists of themselves. I turned away.

"Why did you lie to me?" I asked.

"It was necessary," he said, calmly. "But it won't be again. You have my vote to graduate."

"This was a test?"

"Almost four years ago, you said you want what I have. The only thing I really have is love--and I know of only one way to check if you have it, too. You have my vote. I'm sorry it had to hurt. I won't lie t you again."

"I don't know what to say," I told him. I didn't want to hit him anymore, but I couldn't just absorb something like that as if it were nothing. For a moment I'd thought he was screwing with me. I couldn't get that feeling out of my head. I looked over at him again, unable to instantly forgive him, and I saw the most extraordinary sadness on his face, just for a moment. It was a subtle thing, something in his eyes. The rest of his face did not move.

"For horticulture today," he told me, "survey some of the forest trails for exotics. You don't have to speak to anyone, if you don't want to."

He meant, I'm sure, that I don't have to speak to him.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Year 4: Part 5: Post 6: Choices

So, I asked Charlie for his vote. He said no.

Or, more precisely, he said "not yet." I asked him what more he wanted me to do, and he said he'd let me know. I just don't know what to do with that. I finally got up the courage to ask him and he basically said no. I suppose he'll get around to telling me what to do next one of these days. I can't even imagine what ridiculous challenge or test it might be, and now all I can do is wait for it.

I asked him right after I got back from work on Monday, and I didn't have anything particular to do afterwards other than wander around disconsolately, so that's what I did. I meandered on down towards the Martin House and then beyond it, towards the sugar maple rows along the entrance way. The leaves are just starting to turn--still green, for the most part, but it's a paler green, and a few are starting to yellow a little on the edges.

There, I met Kit coming the other way, as though she's walked off campus and was just now coming back--which is plausible. The school is on good terms with our neighbors and she might have gone visiting, and the Lake is close enough to make a pleasant walk in nice weather. As she came out from the shadow of the big trees, her red hair caught the sunshine and lit up. A grasshopper who had been singing on the roadside stopped at her nearness and she stepped away so as not to bother the animal. The cicadas buzzed thinly in the trees overhead. It still feels like summer.

She saw me, greeted me, and I guess noticed that I looked upset. She asked me if I was ok.

"I guess so," I told her, seriously. "I asked Charlie for his vote and he said not yet."

Even as I said it I realized I shouldn't, because Kit uses every available opportunity to put Charlie down, and that's not what I wanted from her. I closed my mouth as though I could take back the words. But Kit just smiled a little.

"Yeah, he does that," she said. "You'll get it."
"I know."
"Come sit?"

And we settled ourselves under the nearest sugar maple, our backed against its ridged bark.

"Everybody and their mother's asking for votes this week," Kit said, after a bit. She sounded tired.
"Yeah. I've just been talking to Joy about Eddie."
"Eddie's not your student, though, is he?"
"I'm his music master, but he's had my vote since Beltane. No, Joy wanted to ask me about her vote."
"I'm kind of involved."

Kit is the occasion of Eddie's spiritual growth. Like me, he has a serious, longstanding, and obviously hopeless crush on her, but he's working with Joy to transmute that attraction to devotion and let it teach him.

"So, you know?"
"I always know. I wish I didn't."

I opened my mouth to speak, she looked at me, and I closed it again. She still looked tired.

"Daniel, you know why I flirt, don't you?"
"I have some ideas. I'm not sure if they're right. I know you're not...serious."
"Oh, no, definitely not. Look, people are going to be attracted to me, and I'd be a pretty poor witch if I couldn't play with that, affirm that. It's a part of life I want to be able to encourage, y'know? But you're supposed to see through me to the Goddess behind me--eventually so, anyway. When students make it personal with me...I'm flattered, of course, but, I wish I didn't know."

I didn't know how to respond, so I asked how Eddie was doing with it.

"I shouldn't be talking about this with you."
"I'm sorry."
"No, you know what? Screw it. You're almost one of us, anyway. He's doing fine. He...treats me like a real person, you know? That's what a lot of people don't get--they see the Goddess in me, or they see their fantasies in me, but they don't see me. They don't realize there's a difference. They miss the woman for Woman. Like, I want them to find the Goddess in me, or the priestess-teacher, or whatever archetype they need to encounter right now, but I don't want to feel like they're choosing me-as-a-symbol over the real me, you know?"

"Kit, I'd choose the real you," I told her, and meant it.
"You're a good friend, Daniel," she said, and squeezed my hand.