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, January 31, 2016

Year 4: Part 1: Brigid

And so a new school year begins. I got back to campus a couple of days ago, since I wanted to spend at least one night outside before the beginning of February. I ended up managing two--both extraordinarily cold, but fortunately no precipitation. I sleep in a hammock, so it doesn't matter to me whether there is snow on the ground, except that I have to be careful not to drop anything. There's eighteen inches in places, and I wouldn't want to have to dig for some small piece of gear.

I had wanted to talk to some of the graduating students, especially Ebony and Rick, but except for a brief conversation with Ebony when I first got back (she told me about her plans to appear sighted for graduation), I haven't seen them. I've noticed graduating students often go missing in January. I assume they're finishing up last-minute requirements or, I don't know, partying together somewhere or something. There were plenty of people on campus to talk with otherwise, though--everyone else got back the same time I did, and the Great Hall seems very crowded. The masters were back, too, but I hardly saw any of them until the ceremony.

I did get to give two new students their tours--I happened to be in the office when they came in so Sharon asked me. I still haven't been asked to be anyone's buddy--a long-term new student guide--and I still don't understand how that works. Should I have volunteered? When? Was there any special training involved? I guess I didn't want to be a buddy badly enough to find out.

So on the evening of Brigit, I entered the Chapel along with everyone else and found a seat between Kayla and Steve Bees. Eddie sat on Kayla's other side. I don't know where Nora was.

"Where's Aidan?" I asked.
"With a baby-sitter in the Mansion. He's three, he can't sit still for this long."
"That's right, it's his birthday."
"We'll have a party for him later. Not having him here is my present to him."
"I kinda miss him being here."
"You wouldn't if he were here and decided to pitch a fit."
"Aren't the terrible twos supposed to be over now?"
"My son is never terrible. But he has his moments."

Actually, Aidan is a pretty well-behaved kid, but taking care of him is still a full-time job for whoever is watching him. I guess Kayla wanted to be able to focus on being at the ceremony. It's still weird to think that four years ago she wasn't here because she was busy giving birth in the basement alone.

"I'm excited," said Steve, who doesn't know Kayla's story, I don't think. "Last year Brigid was just a blur, I'm looking forward to seeing what it's really like."
"It's always blurry," put in Eddie. "That's deliberate. They put something in the air. Can't you smell it?"
It took Steve a couple of seconds to realize Eddie was joking. He smirked and rolled his eyes. And then the ceremony began.

The ding! ding! ding! of tiny, silver-sounding, seemingly endless bells, on and on, mind-numbing, and then the rustling and squeaking chairs as we all turned around in our seats to watch the masters file in. They are all, really, ordinary people--brilliant and generous, but ordinary too. Human. But that's not how they look processing in, the hoods of their brown robes drawn up, the honey-colored gloom of candle-light half hiding, half illuminating them, the air full of the mixed scents of snow, of beeswax, of wet wool and cold buildings, and the ceiling of the Chapel lost in shadow above so it might as well have been the clear sky....

I wasn't sitting on the end of a row, so I didn't get to light anyone's candle, but I saw the room brighten perceptibly. The fourteen masters took the stage together, set their candles in holders, and sat down. Seven empty chairs sat beside them on the stage, space for the candidates graduating this year.

Kit, the current Head of the Masters' Group called everyone to order, but her voice was noticeably hoarse. She seemed to have a cold. She got through introducing the new students, but then, as she moved into the graduation part of the ceremony, she touched her throat and winced and Allen said something to her. I couldn't hear him but she nodded and they switched places. And so, when Ebony crossed the stage it was Allen who waited for her. She did, indeed, look like she was sighted--the illusion worked. I'm sure the new students didn't understand why she gave a little jump of surprise when she heard Allen's voice, but of course until he spoke she would have thought it was Kit standing there.

The ritual worked just as well with him, of course, ad the illusion was maintained. In the candlelight I could see Ebony's face, but as usual she was almost expressionless. I could not see Allen's. After he handed her the diploma they hugged and held each other for a long time.

When the graduates come out they're wearing their black student cloaks and you can't see what they have on underneath until they take the ropes off. The newly revealed outfit is supposed to symbolize the next phase of their lives. Usually some of the outfits are outlandish and often someone is naked. I had kind of expected Rick to be the naked one but he wasn't. He was wearing a suit and looking quite uncomfortable in it, symbolic, I suppose, of having to live and work among humans for a whole. I should have known--he'd know better than to be naked in a room no warmer than 40 degrees.

Instead, the naked one was Raven F.

The graduation of the candidates took a long time because there were seven of them. Usually there are three or four. This is not what you'd call a big school. But finally the ceremony was over, the masters processed away, and we had the first of the evening's many receptions. Raven, still naked (you can't put your cloak back on once you take it off, something Raven seemed to have forgotten), was very cold. We teased her a bit for that before someone gave her something to wrap up in.

It's good to be back among the familiar, mystical wackiness of school. I've seen this ceremony four times, now--the only thing is that sometime during the ceremony I realized that I'm what outsiders call a senior now. I have sat in this audience as a novice for the last time.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Year 3: Eighth Interlude

This is my last of the non-narrative posts for this batch. Next week I'll post on Brigid as my twenty-two-year-old self, making this the Interlude, more or less. Really, all of January has been an interlude.

In my narrative, I talk about the classes I take, but I seldom mention the classes other people take, let alone the variety of workshops and classes available. Since I naturally focused on those classes and events that suited my interests and credit requirements, I worry that I've given a somewhat lopsided view of the school, focused disproportionately on science, when actually science was something of a sideline for most people.

I don't have a record of every single class, workshop, and talk offered during the four years I was a novice, but I've been able to cobble together a list of most of them. I've asked around, and this list is pretty representative of the variety that most of us can remember from that period--in more recent years, the curriculum was slightly different.

I am leaving out the few classes and events specifically aimed at candidates, since we novices were hardly aware of them at the time.


Dark Waters (a psychopathology survey course)
Intro to Psychology
Gender Studies (team taught with Kit)
Tricks of the Trade (stage magic)
Psychology of Magic
Lies, Statistics, and Illusions
Healer's Health (self-care for clergy)

Extra-curriculars and mini-classes/events

Group Therapy (weekly)
Philosopher's Stone Soup (weekly)
Stage Magic (workshop for those considering training)
Advanced Stage Magic (workshop restricted to those already in training)
Juggling (introductory workshop)
Playing (workshop on the Island--does consist of fun)



Intro to Ecology
Science Literature (how to find and understand professional science papers) 
Messing Around Outdoors
Literature of the Land (reading nature writing)
Creating Campus (wildlife-friendly landscaping)
Environmentalism for Dummies

Extra-curriculars and mini-classes/events

Dead Poet's Society (weekly)
Paleolithic Dinner (weekly)
Horticulture Training (weekly)
Chainsaw Safety and Maintenance (workshop)
Axe Work and Sharpening (workshop)
Tracking (introductory workshop)
Tracking Spring (botany/plant ecology workshop)
Inside a Woodchuck (workshop--dissecting woodchucks)
Tanning and Leatherwork (workshop)
Art and Craft of Woodwork (workshop)
Art and Craft of Bone and Antler (workshop)
Natural History of the Island (workshop) 



American Minority Perspectives
Intro to History
Sacred Threads: American Religious History
American History of Dissent
World History: Africa
World History: The Americas
World History: Asia
World History: India
Intro to Buddhism
The Art of Listening and Love

Extra-curriculars and Mini-classes/Events

Zazen Meditation (daily)
Alchemy (monthly, if students show strong interest)
American History Talks (in observance of days of historical importance, such as Pearl Harbor Day)
Islamic History Talks (lots of these after 9/11)
Other Talks (mostly on religious history and Buddhism)



Beginning Horsemanship
Advanced Beginner Horsemanship
Healing Horsemanship (helping horses with physical and behavioral problems)

Extra-curriculars and Mini classes/Events

Reiki Workshop (weekly)
Manifestation Workshop (monthly)
Animals in Service (talk)
History of Animal Labor (workshop on the Island)
That Good Night (workshop on veterinary end of life issues)
Veterinary First Aid (workshop)
Veterinary Nursing Care (workshop)
Bedside Manner/Working with a Patient's family (workshop)
Magic Talks (topics include pendulum use, visualization, astral projection and perception, animal communication)



Personal Safety and Fitness
Intermediate Martial Arts
Energy, Ethics, and Honor (includes martial arts-related occult skills)
Advanced Martial Arts and Healing
Sword and Empty Hand Sparring
Zen Flower Arrangement

Extra-curricular and Mini classes/Events

Calisthenics (daily)
Zazen on the Island (workshop)
Advanced Flower Arrangement (workshop)
Advanced Reiki (workshop)
History of Asian Martial Arts (seminar)
Buddhism in America (seminar)
Zen and Art (seminar)
Women in Buddhism (seminar)



Intro to Sacred Dance
Intro to Wiccan Magic
Intro to Wiccan Ritual and Myth
Gender Studies (team taught with Allen)
Music Theory and Practice
The Spirit of Music (music in magic and spiritual practice)
Herbal Magic and the Allies of the Land
Intro to Anthropology

Extra-curriculars and Mini classes/Events

Thursday Night Jam (weekly musical jam session)
Callalloo (occasional open mike event)
Storyteller's Circle (occasional)
Practical Yoga (daily)
Sacred Dance and Movement (talk)
Island Workshops (workshop)
Teaching Coven (meets for sabbats and esbats)
Tools of the Craft (talk)
Time and Direction in Wicca (talk) 
Magic Talks (topics include trance induction/extraction, dreaming, intention, and visualization)

Other Instructors (allies and student-instructors)


Recognizing Rocks, Crystals, and Gems (basic minerology plus introductory crystal magic)
Earth and Water (introductory earth science course)
Moving Earth: Geological Processes
Everyday Physics (introduction to Newtonian physics)
Physics and Fiction (exploring physics through speculative fiction)
Einstein and Atom (introduction to Einsteinian and subatomic physics)
Earth Science Literacy (includes climatology)
Weather Magic
Spirit and Magic of Sex (theory only)
Farm Training (taught by Sarah)
Campus Systems (taught by Chuck)
Latin (taught by Charlie but not every year)
Greek (taught by Charlie but not every year)
Spanish (taught by Charlie but not every year)
Hebrew (when there's interest)
Kabbalah Studies (only offered to students fluent in Hebrew)
Aramaic (when there's interest)
Cooking (taught by Sadie)
Advanced Math (taught by Malachai, when there's interest)


First Aid/CPR
First Responder Certification
Introduction to Bee Keeping (workshop)
Personal Health (workshops, seminars, and talks)
Shearing, Dyeing, and Spinning (workshop)
Weaving (workshop)
Knitting (workshop)
Crochet (workshop)
Biblical History (workshop)
Incense Blending and Aroma Therapy (workshop)
Candle Magic (seminar)
Energy Self-Defense (seminar)
Personal Security (workshop taught by Security Joe)

I could probably go on. I keep remembering more. But that gives you the picture.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Year 3: Part 8: Post 3: Loose Ends

I'm continuing my series of non-narrative posts through January, since I was at home with my parents that month. Mostly, I'm just tying up some loose ends and filling in gaps. An especially serious gap is that there is no way I can say everything I want to say about all the people I want to talk about--there just hasn't been the space. I can't tell everybody's story in its entirety in just a couple of pages a week.

And I'm about to run out of time to tell a couple of stories, because thirteen years ago this February, Ebony, Rick, and Andy all graduated. As did Veery and Willa and many other people, but those three were (and are) my particular friends and so I've talked about them a lot...and I've just realized I'm out of time for their plot arcs. The thing is, I decide which stories I'm going to tell each week as I go along. If I had plotted out the whole thing ahead of time I wouldn't run into problems like this, but I'd also be ready to publish sometime around 2030. The objective of this whole project is not to win the Pulitzer Prize, it's to give readers an idea of what's possible for a school like this, to plant ideas, and to do it now. And so I write by the seat of my pants, make mistakes, and play catch-up.

This won't be the end of me writing about these people, by the way. If this project goes on as long as I hope it will, I'll be able to write about my time as a mastery candidate, too--and Ebony, Rick, Ollie, Eddie, and Andy (and others) were candidates with me. And I'm friends with all of them, so they'll turn up now and then in the interludes in the meantime. But I won't be able to talk about them as novices anymore, so I'm taking the time now to maybe tie up some lose ends.


I've talked about Ebony lot as my friend (and girlfriend), but I haven't really told the story of her development as a student. Of course, I was never directly involved with her studies. What I knew was what she told me and also the changes I saw in her over time. When she arrived she was...brittle, beyond a certain point. I don't mean that she was more issue-laden or wounded than most people, she wasn't, but she had a need to probe, to understand her wounds and at the same time the pain of her prodding would make her reflexively draw back. She lived in that ambivalence between reaching and aversion. What was her wound? Well, of course I can't go into detail about that--there are people who read this who know her and yet are not her confidants. I can say that vision and blindness are very much wrapped up in her identity. Anything that touches her there can reach very deeply.

In Allen I believe she found a safe space to deal with that depth. Over the two years of her novitiate she not only learned about vision--and became a fair hand at stage magic--she also seemed to ease somehow. Between reach and recoil she grew some space where she could push herself without triggering panic or shame. She could carry inside her the safe space that Allen had made.

And Allen himself, how did their work affect him? Certainly they spent a great deal of time together, and there is no way to visit a person's dark places without also visiting your own. Intimacy has to be reciprocal to some degree.

I don't know. He has not told me. I do know that for each master there were a small minority of students who were special. For Greg, that was Karen. For Charlie, it was Sarah--and possibly me, I could never be sure. For Allen, it was Ebony.

The two of them worked out a magic trick for her graduation. Like many of Allen's tricks, it subverted the whole idea of stage magic by not looking like a trick at all--making the extraordinary look ordinary, not the other way around. They made Ebony appear to be sighted.

Ebony is obviously blind, in part because she is, as she admits, poor at most blind skills--unlike what she calls "super-blind people," she is actually bad at doing all of those things you'd expect a blind person to be bad at doing. Walking across a room without her cane is a challenge and she hates her cane. But on her graduation, she walked across the stage unaided and interacted with the officiant as though she could see.

It wasn't a very difficult trick, from a technical perspective--she and Allen were actually comfortable sharing the method, because they figured it would be obvious to everyone who already knew she couldn't see. They laid a strip of black electrical tape along the floor for her to follow by feel (she was one of several who crossed the stage barefoot) and choreographed the interaction on the stage so that she knew where to look and where to reach when, producing the illusion of sightedness.

The audience for the trick were the new students, who could not see the tape from their seats, could not see Ebony's unfocused eyes in the candle-lit gloom, and did not know the school had a blind student. They saw her as ordinary.

The fact that Ebony could enact the trick without being paralyzed by conflicting emotion made her look extraordinary to me.


Andy appeared frequently in posts the first year, but not so much since then. I don't know why. Maybe it's because he was--unintentionally--funnier for the first year, with his wide-eyed enthusiasm and his almost cartoonishly frequent praise of Jesus. He was then not only newly converted and newly sober, he was also recovering from chronic hypothermia and malnutrition, which had affected his mind. As he recovered he evened out a lot. By the end of his three years at school he seemed almost normal.

Or, almost normal by the standards of the school. He retained a kind of upbeat innocence you don't normally see, but by the end of his third year he had become quietly grounded as well. Almost nothing upsets him, ever.

The one-time bicycle thief had learned bicycle repair and maintenance from Chuck, our maintenance chief, then gone to work off-campus at a bike shop. He made bicycle repair a kind of ministry and when he graduated planned to live in an apartment above the shop and save up to buy the place when his boss retired.


I haven't talked much about Rick, but there isn't much else to say.  He was and remains distant, alien, allowing little of himself out into view to be talked about. He spent his last few months at school taking care of some outstanding credit requirements and arranging the logistics of his post-school life. He lined up a job as a logger--it seemed odd to me he'd get a job cutting down trees, when he liked trees better than people, but he wanted to be a forester and thought he should get some experience in the industry first. And he thought he could make some money for grad school that way. Also, we made plans to hike the Appalachian Trail together, once I graduated.

In the last few weeks of January, it really dawned on me that all three would really be going. I felt kind of lost.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Year 3: Part 8: Post 2: Money


I'm continuing with non-narrative posts through most of January. I was at home thirteen years ago, so I thought it better to spend these weeks tying up some loose ends rather than telling you what it was like living with my parents.

I mean, if you have parents, or know anyone who does, you already know more or less what it was like.

I don't think you really know how the school's finances worked, though--or how fundraising influenced our lives on campus. Basically, we subsisted on a combination of tuition, alumni donations, and renting our facilities to others. In such general outlines, I don't think our school was unusual.

First, tuition.

Because we had a very small student body, the school had no economy of scale. So, the school has a whole got a smaller proportion of its funds from tuition than larger schools of similar cost do. Also, we never let students take on debt to pay tuition, nor did we accept outside grants or scholarships. Instead, many of us were allowed to cancel some or all of our tuition in exchange for work. So the school really ran on a shoe-string.

Partly that worked because the faculty and staff were almost volunteers. Besides free room and board and free medical and dental care, the masters each received a stipend of only $1000 per month. The other big money-saver was the student work itself. We worked for free, meaning that the school not only didn't have to pay us for our work (obviously), they also didn't have to pay any other payroll costs. So our work cancelled out twice as much that way.

But we still needed other funds.

Alumni giving worked about the same way as it does for other schools, except no one ever did fundraising mailings or cold-calls. The school waited for us to offer what we could, and we always have. More magic, I suppose.

We also had two "cash cows," as it were.

One, that I've already told you about, was the summer camp--which still exists, by the way. Legally, the camp was separate from the school and its participants mostly had no idea what we were up to. The camp charged $1000 per week, per kid, which is not unusual for such that sort of thing, but since the staff were all students working as volunteers the profits were large and, one way or another, all of that profit found its way back to the school. Sixty kids every week, twelve weeks, it added up (the Sprouts, of course, were among the campers and did not have to pay).

Finally, we rented out parts of the campus for events--mostly weddings, though we did a few bar/bat mitzvahs, high-end birthday parties, that sort of thing, too. And we did a few conferences and conventions. The campus, remember, was beautiful.

Most of these events were in the summer, when we weren't wearing uniforms because of the campers--we didn't want them asking certain questions. So, we looked like an ordinary college, probably on summer break, as there were so few of us on campus. In the morning, at breakfast, they'd announce which parts of the campus had been rented out and by whom and we'd all stay out of the way.

We sometimes resented it, or at least I did. This was our home, and to have parts of it borrowed by strangers with little or no warning or say-so certainly rankled. But we also understood why it was happening--the events were giving us as a community a financial cushion. If something on campus broke, if one of the masters became gravely ill, if enrollment or alumni giving dropped for a year or two for whatever reason, that cushion would keep the school open and cover the necessary bills.

And so, knowing that, we kept our peace.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Year 3: Part 8: post 1: Food and Feasting

 This is part of a series of non-narrative posts, full of details about the school that haven't made it into the narrative. Story-telling will begin again at the end of the month.

Food was a big part of my experience at school, though there isn't any easy way to work that into the plot of the blog posts. I  didn't think about or talk about food much, and I was only very rarely involved in procuring or preparing it, but every day I ate food that came from our kitchens and so my sensory experience of the community was shaped by the distinct tastes of place and season.

Most of what we ate and drank came from campus itself and most of what didn't came from other farms nearby (the only major exceptions, by volume, were coffee, chocolate, oatmeal, and wheat flour). That meant there were some weird holes in our diets--no bananas, no oranges--but really we had more variety than most people do. For example, I grew up eating spinach and sometimes kale, but on campus "green leafy vegetable" could be spinach, kale, beet greens, turnip greens, lamb's quarters, purselane, sheep sorrel, or galansoga.  We grew five different kinds of mushroom in the Dining Hall basement and four more varieties above ground on the farm. We had no beef, but for meat we had lamb and mutton, goat, venison, chicken, turkey, and all the various pork products--plus rabbit, squirrel, fish, and groundhog, for those of us who had dinner with Charlie once a week.

The other major difference was that we had no refrigeration on campus. We preserved food with a combination of smoking, drying, and canning and we planned our meals so as to eat when was fresh when it was fresh. For example, every year we slaughtered a group of lambs and kids (goats). Sometimes we also slaughtered adult sheep and goats. But we never did all of that slaughter on the same day--that would have been too much meat to process at once. Instead, throughout the late summer and into the fall, one or two such animals would die every week and everyone who wanted some would get fresh meat for dinner. Whatever we didn't eat that day would be smoked.

Between our commitment to eating locally and our lack of refrigeration, our diets varied dramatically throughout the year so that not only did place taste like something, but so did time. 

The food on campus was consistently delicious. Even when I didn't happen to like something I could always tell it was well-made. Part of this particular magic came from our head chef, who is very good at what she does. Part of it was that everything was fresh and well-grown in good soil. Very few of our meals had much in the way of seasoning. They didn't need any.

So, here are a few sample menus for both ordinary meals and feats.


Always served communally, menu varied seasonally based on availability. In hot weather milk was processed into cheese or yogurt immediately so it wouldn't spoil, which is why we had no fresh milk on the table then.

From February until the weather got hot;

  • vegetarian miso soup
  • oatmeal (honey, nuts, dried fruit optional)
  • sheep's milk
  • eggs (various styles)
  • pork sausage or bacon
  • hot coffee
  • hot chocolate
  • herbal tea
In the summer:

  • vegetarian miso soup
  • granola
  • fresh fruit
  • eggs (various styles)
  • sheep or goat yogurt 
  • hot coffee
  • hot herbal tea
In the fall and early winter:

Similar to late winter until the animals stopped producing milk and egg production dropped off. Then the oatmeal would be replaced with bread and our own jam or jelly.


Lunch was similar throughout the year because we had a green house, but the greenhouse wasn't heated so there were limits to what it could grow. It was always served as a casual buffet, available any time between noon and four.

  • fresh squash or zucchini bread
  • fresh wheat bread (usually sourdough)
  • soup (usually vegetarian)
  • beans (various styles)
  • kale (or equivalent) and onions, steamed, with oil and vinegar
  • sheep's milk cheese (for sandwiches)
  • sometimes seed or nut butter or smoked meat (for sandwiches)
  • green salad (in the spring only)
  • sometimes leftovers from the previous dinner

Dinner varied too much for me to give a typical menu, but was usually vegetarian in the first half of the year and usually meat-dominated in the latter half. There was always something for vegetarians, though. 


Our holiday feasts varied slightly from year to year but each usually involved variations on the same foods. For example, Beltane's feast always involved a lot of strawberries, but that might be fruit salad one year and pie then next--or both! So, yes, we had dessert, but it wasn't always the same--pies or cakes or puddings or whatever else, in the flavors of the season. Alcohol of various kinds was usually served alongside whatever other beverages. In the winter we drank hot chocolate or cider and in the summer we drank herbal sun tea, sorrel tea, or lemonade-berry tea.

Brigid Feast

  • crackers
  • squash bread with butter or honey
  • cheeses
  • raisins and nuts
  • dried apples
  • dilly beans
  • jerky
  • sausage 
  • snow-cream
  • snow taffy
  • butterscotch
  • mint-flavored candy
  • Baked goods with hot-pepper jam

Ostara Feast

  • egg salad
  • potato salad (using up the last of the previous year's potatoes)
  • green salad
  • asparagus
  • ham and ramps (if available)
  • chocolate and home-made sugar candies

Beltane Feast

  • strawberries and rhubarb (many different ways)
  • green salad with lots of edible flowers
  • peas, mushrooms (many kinds!) and ramps
  • egg salad
  • spinach quiche 
  • spinach pie
  • Various breads and baked goods with cheese and honey and the last of the year's jam and jelly
  • baklava

Litha Feast

  • roast pork
  • grilled vegetables
  • grilled mushrooms
  • stuffed mushrooms
  • strawberries and rhubarb (many different ways)
  • steamed greens and onions
  • vegetarian chili
  • various breads
Lamas Feast
  • Stuffed squash
  • stuffed mushrooms
  • roasted vegetables
  • vegetarian chili
  • sweet corn
  • roast chicken (sometimes)
  • baked apples (sometimes in pies or cobblers, other times not)
  • fresh fruit (various kinds, sometimes in a salad, other times not)
  • deviled eggs
  • many different kinds of wheat bread
  • corn bread
  • zucchini bread
  • fresh, sliced tomatoes
  • usually there were tasting contests of different types of tomatoes or apples or honey or sometimes various vegetables. We'd vote on our favorites

Mabon Feast

  • various baked squashes
  • cole slaw
  • roast venison (or, some years, mutton)
  • apples and pears, various ways (including pies)
  • popcorn, some years (often candied in some way)
  • squash bread
  • corn bread (or corn pudding)
  • roast vegetables
  • baked beans
  • baked potatoes
 Samhain Feast

  • roast venison or mutton
  • apples (various ways)
  • Brussel's sprouts (usually roasted with onions)
  • Various baked goods
  • raisins and roasted pumpkin seeds
  • various nuts
  • pumpkin soup
  • cauliflower soup
  • baked beans
  • candies and chocolates

Yule Feast

  • roast pork or ham
  • baked beans (or sometimes black bean soup) 
  • roast acorn squash 
  • Brussel's sprouts or cabbage, various ways
  • mashed potatoes
  • mashed turnips 
  • baked macaroni and cheese
  • various breads, sweet rolls, and cookies
  • baked apples (pie or cobbler)
  • chocolate cake
  • plum pudding
  • chocolates and candies

And there you go.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Year 3: Seventh Interlude

Hi, all, Daniel-of-2015 here--for the last time. Next time I write to you I'll be Daniel-of-2016. Still the same person, of course. I'm posting this today rather than Monday more or less because I feel like it. I was going to write this up early and just sit on it until Monday, but it's my Christmas post, so I might as well post it on Christmas.

Anyway, as some of you may have noticed, I'm changing things up a little. Rather than putting the interlude before the sabbat, I've put it after--and the following section, all my posts until just before Brigid, will be non-narrative, essentially an extended interlude, just like I did for January last year. I was not on campus for these weeks, and so rather than writing about what it was like to live with my parents, I'm going to write a series of posts about the school to fill in details you might have wondered about but didn't fit into any story so far.

This has become an odd time of year for my family. Religiously, we're pretty fluid these days, and usually no one really cares--the people we actually share our religious lives with are people we can sit down and have a real conversation with, so we don't really need a one-word definition of who we are and what we're about. But at Christmastime we both have relatives who assume we celebrate it...and we both kind of want to, but more and more, it's Yule that feels like a holiday to us and Christmas doesn't. So sorting through all of that--and figuring out how to explain it to Carly--is difficult.

Yule is easier, unambiguous. Part of it, I'm sure, is the school community. Yule is still ours. Our ceremony has changed with changing circumstance, but we still gather.

At the Yule party this year, which was a little before the solstice for various reasons, Kit asked me if I was ready. I think I must have given her a rather desperate look, because she laughed and said "welcome to Pagan Standard Time!" That's a common phrase--it means that pagans generally are late and disorganized a lot.

"I'm all ready," I explained, "if you count decorations that droop and look funny, presents wrapped in newspaper and addressed with a Sharpie, and a tree decorated by a two-year-old. And I think we're having Chinese take-out for Yule dinner. Oh, Kit, how did you do it at school? Everything always came off so perfectly!"

"No, it didn't. We had all these grandiose plans that never worked out."

"Oh? Like what?"

"We were supposed to have a dedicated ritual space for students--a temple--but we never did. We never could decide where to put it or what design to use. So that's why my covens always circled in the Martial Arts studio. I wanted to choreograph all these sacred dances--the others agreed, but I never got around to it. We always talked about serving Boar's Head for Yule dinner, but that hardly ever happened. I wanted a mummer's troop, but couldn't get anyone interested...."

"I don't think that's on the same level as gifts addressed with a Sharpie."

"We had those kinds of problems, too, in the beginning. The last few years we did pretty well--but even then we made mistakes."

Allen's smile faded for a moment. It was a mistake of his that triggered--not caused--the chain of events that forced the closing of the school. That didn't have anything to do with a holiday, though. I squeezed his shoulder and he smiled again.

"You have to remember," he added, "that we were at work. Making the holidays happen was part of our job, not something we had to take time out to do."

All the holiday stories I tell seem to involve these two, Kit and Allen. There is a reason for that. Charlie became my teacher, my Yoda, if you will (my Dumbledore?), but those two become my friends. In fact, that year, the year it is in my narrative, 2002, was the first time I shared part of a holiday with either of them off campus in a non-incidental way.

Or, a semi-non-incidental way. I planned to go home, but I couldn't get a ride and my parents couldn't come get me. I couldn't borrow a car because I'd be staying off campus for weeks.It was Christmas Eve, and I was getting desperate, when Allen stepped out of the office right in front of me and solved my problem. I hadn't even known he was still on campus. He said he'd heard about my problem, and that Lo and the kids were picking him up in a few hours and that if I cared to go with them to the midnight service, they could drop me off at home on the way back.

So, it's not like it was a purely social invitation, but it was helpful and kind, and they did include me in part of their family holiday.

We went to the same UU church that I went to the one time I stayed on campus for Christmas--where I bumped into Allen and his family, but back then he was friendly only in the way that teachers are when they see students in public--with a distance. This time, they were all really glad to have me with them and we laughed and joked and had a good time. After all, I'd camped with them that spring and was friends with David. Lo had largely adopted me.

I grew up Methodist and the UU service was always this interesting mix between the familiar and the different. One of the familiar elements was the scattering of Christmas carols throughout the service. One of them was Joy to the World. When the pastor announced that one, Alexis whispered "Jeremiah was a bull-frog," and giggled. She's still too young to whisper quietly, so we all heard her and laughed, even Lo, who gave her a disapproving glance first and shushed the rest of us.

Later, on our way out, Allen suddenly started singing that other "Joy to the World" in the middle of the parking lot--loudly and, as normal for him, slightly out of tune. Lo busted up laughing, obviously startled and delighted, and we all joined in, singing. And all the way to my parents' house we sang, first Three Dog Night, then other songs, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Run, Run Rudolph," and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

And we had a fantastic time.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Year 3: Yule

Happy Yule.

I just realized I've forgotten to tell you about the Yule tree. I've written about it in years past, but this year, no mention. It was already up when I and the other "elves" decorated the Great Hall that night, trimming the tree is an informal campus activity. None of the masters helped--it's our tree--though soon after we finished both Kit and Joy arrived from nowhere (none of us could tell whether they'd been on campus or just arrived) and sat together in a little love-seat, wrapped in the same blanket and drinking mugs of something, looking at the tree. At one point they both sang "Oh, Christmas Tree," except Kit sang it in German, to the obvious surprise of Joy. Also, Joy can't sing on key, something I hadn't known before. When they were done, they giggled like school-girls and spilled some of their chocolate on the blanket. I fetched them a dish-towel from the Great Hall Kitchen.

Anyway, the tree itself is artificial but scented with fir-oil so it smells right, and it looks realistic. It's quite tall, because the Great Hall has a high ceiling, maybe twelve feet. All the decorations are in the same color range, all on the same theme, and the lights are white--the whole thing looks very elegant. In the interior of the tree are balls of various sizes, yellow and orange and red, they look like fruit and catch and reflect the light. Then there are ivory-colored ribbons rimmed with gold, like vines hanging from the branches--this year we added a long string of bright red cranberries and another of popped corn. On the outermost branches clung blown-glass birds, each one detailed and lifelike and different from the others, and all of no species I've ever seen this side of a dream. On the very top of the tree is a pose-able doll clinging to the top leader like she's climbing it, a fairy dressed in a short Greek tunic with a bow and a quiver full of arrows slung over her shoulder.

The masters all clearly like the tree, because they take the time to come look at it, but it's not their tree. They have their own--I remember seeing it my first year when I was on the janitor team--it's a little live red cedar, which is really a species of juniper, in a big pot. It usually lives in their outdoor courtyard, but they bring it in for a few days around Yule and decorate it. As I remember, the decorations are a motley lot. I expect that each master (except maybe Greg?) brought in a few treasured family ornaments and added them.

This year, just like the last two, we had a party on Yule night and a lot of the people who had gone home came back to join us. Kit and Greg attended the party, but the others didn't. I assume they had their own party up on the fourth floor. They must have been up there and they could not have been sleeping, because we on the first floor were making too much noise, singing and dancing and goofing around. Hours went by.

And, the whole time the weather was awful--a cold, driving rain and wind, with the temperature gradually dropping through the night. The weather worried me because I knew we'd have to go out in it, but the yearlings didn't know and I didn't tell them. They danced on, unconcerned.

Long about dawn, Lou broke it to them--we were going out. It took some cajoling to get everyone to agree to it without knowing why, and frankly I wasn't sure there was much point, given that dawn would be just about invisible, but I put on a brave face and helped shepherd everyone out the door into the frigid, wet dark. Sometimes, you just have to act on faith.

As I said, the temperature had been dropping, and by that point the air hovered just around freezing. The wind had died back a bit, but the rain had turned to an intermittent spitting sleet. The ground was sloppy with an inch or so of slush and a and we splashed along, breaking a thin crust of ice with every step, our toes freezing already, and none of us allowed to talk as per the rules of the ritual.

We climbed the mountain and sat down to wait for the dawn. Before long, Charlie--invisible in the dark behind us--began to play "Here Comes the Sun" on his tin whistle, repeating the song over and over. The others joined him, but given the weather, their instruments were different. I heard no guitar, no violin. Instead I heard a harmonica (Kit can play any instrument she picks up), two kazoos, and a rattle. The song went over and over and over as the sky grew gradually lighter, and the rising sun was visible for just a moment before it lifted into the dense cloud. At that moment of sunshine we all began to sing here comes the sun! although the sun was gone again before the song was over--but before the song was over, I am not kidding, the sleet switched over into snow.

It was a thick, warm snow and it built up quickly on the wet but frigid ground and all along the winter trees and on our shoulders and hair and eyelashes. Song finished, we shrieked and laughed and threw slush-balls at each other in the first morning of winter (though Kit calls it mid-winter), the first morning of the returning sun.

The masters had not brought up drinks and candy this time. They played in the snow like the rest of us (Charlie thanked us for bringing the nicer weather up) for a few minutes but then Joy and Charlie insisted we all get back to the Mansion before we froze. And in fact we were all shivering pretty seriously by that point. As we got inside, Joy, who, remember, in our Healing Master, ordered us to all take warm showers and put on dry clothes before breakfast and presents. So we did, racing upstairs like a herd of obedient children.

By the time we got back it was well after nine in the morning and the view out through the windows was a white wonderland. The temperature was still dropping, because the flakes were smaller, swirling down out of a pale grey sky in the winter's first true, heavy snowstorm. Inside, the wood stove was going strong and everything was gloriously warm. The Great Hall smelled of hot stove and oatmeal and peppermint and chocolate and evergreens, and each of us had a bag of goodies and little toys to open (organized by a student committee--everybody but the yearlings had kicked in a few dollars. It's possible to be a kid and a grown-up at the same time). The Sprouts were there, along with their relevant adults, so many people that the party sprawled out into the Bird Room and the Rose Room and the Library, because we couldn't all fit in the Great Hall.

We played with our toys and ate cookies and candy until, one by one, we all more or less crashed.

The last thing I noticed before I fell asleep myself was that Greg had not gone upstairs to bed as he had in years past. Instead he had fallen asleep on the floor, stretched out behind one of the couches, apparently mid-way through breakfast. And Greg's Cat was drinking his coffee.