To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Guest Post 1: Miriam's Words

Hi, all. I', going to do my regular post for the week on Friday, so I can talk about Thanksgiving. In the meantime, here is a guest post--its protagonist is also its author (she decided third-person works better stylistically). "Angela" is a pseudonym, but I'll use it for her hereafter. She is--and this is incredibly good news for all sorts of reasons--a reader who identified with Ebony's descriptions of transability and got in touch with us recently.--D.

Angela took the wrong bus to Amherst. She realized this after the fact, when she texted John, Dr. Da Silva’s son. She was new to her iPhone, and the text-to-speech software had mangled the information on her electronic ticket, plus her excitement had made her a little flighty, a little reckless, even though she had spent last night digging her toes into the carpet, as her yoga teacher had taught her.

“I thought you were supposed to get in at two,” John wrote. She hadn’t even gotten there yet, and she was already inconveniencing everyone.

But when they met at the bus stop, he was perfectly good-natured and didn’t seem at all bothered by her mistake. Neither did his sister, Miriam, whom they picked up on the way to Dr. Da Silva’s house. The siblings instantly began to bicker--about the messiness of John’s car, about his obsession with electronic cigarettes--and she found herself a little surprised that they were so unguarded around her.

“I’m nervous about the experiments,” she confided.

“Don’t be,” John said. “My mom is really cool. You’ll like her. Plus, I can hold you entirely responsible for getting her to chill out about weed. She used to be pretty hard-core about it.”

They chatted about this and that. Miriam was a lawyer, and her voice reminded Angela of a certain public radio reporter’s. It was a voice that asked pointed questions, that encouraged the speaker not to shy from complexity. They discovered that they both had been addicted to Serial though they agreed it was a little bit of a let-down.

Angela could tell immediately, even with no visual cues, that Dr. Da Silva’s house was beautiful, that it in fact shared some unnamable characteristic with her mother’s. Later, her supposition would be proven correct; she’d pad across the hardwood floors in stocking feet, and run her fingers across granite surfaces.

“You must be hungry,” Dr. Da Silva said. She served lentils and quinoa and spiced chicken.  They ate in what must be the living room; Angela was seated in a chair that reclined so steeply that the balancing act required to spare her lap and the carpet took almost all her concentration.

They got down to business after the lunch dishes were washed. Angela was only in Amherst for a day and a half and already time seemed to be getting away from her. Of course, Dr. Da Silva wanted to begin with the dermo-optical perception (DOP) experiment. The idea of perceiving contrasting colors by touch was what had piqued the researcher's interest in the first place. She had only agreed to observe how marijuana affected Angela’s vision because Angela herself had insisted on it.

John and Miriam stayed to help with the experiments, and Angela tried not to think that was odd. They showed her the apparatus that Dr. Da Silva and her colleague, Dr. Meadows, had devised. It consisted of a box to completely cover her eyes, as well as slits for her hands. Even before she’d finished examining the thing, she knew that the experiments would be a failure. When her DOP was consistent at all, which it rarely if ever was (she’d told Dr. Da Silva this many times), her success depended on her ability to explore the image freely.

It soon became apparent that the bulkiness of the apparatus was just one of many problems. The images they gave her smudged easily, and she began to recognize each of the cards, not by the roughness or smoothness of the colors, but by the shapes of the smudges. The more she rubbed her fingers up and down the pages, the smudgier they became. After many of her answers, Dr. Da Silva conferred with her children in Spanish, and Angela knew that these whispered conversations meant that she was doing poorly. She was back in ninth grade, hastily scrawling answers on the French quiz she hadn’t studied for.

“It’s not a test,” Dr. Da Silva told her.

“I know,” she said. “I’m trying my best. I think I’m experiencing cognitive collapse.” She had learned about cognitive collapse in educational neuroscience last semester, and playing Hermione Granger with Dr. Da Silva made her feel less like a research subject, even though that’s exactly what she was.

They abandoned the apparatus. They tried just about everything else to entice her DOP: glossier paper; regular printer paper; black and white images; simple images and more complicated images; smaller sheets of paper and bigger ones. Still, Angela performed at or below chance. Dr. Da Silva didn’t say it, but it was obvious that she was disappointed. Neuroplasticity was a hot topic, and Angela’s DOP, if substantiated by experimental data, would be an intriguing and novel example of how the brain of a blind person could rewire itself.

Angela tried not to feel badly. She had told Dr. Da Silva many times that her DOP fled like a spooked deer whenever she felt like she was being tested. She’d even said that it was possible that her supposed abilities had more to do with the happenstance of the texture of ink and paper than any sort of neural rewiring. It was not her fault that Dr. Da Silva hadn’t listened. 

At six o’clock, Dr. Da Silva conferred with her husband and children, again in Spanish, and they ordered dinner from a nearby Chinese restaurant. After that was taken care of, Angela asked Dr. Da Silva if she could eat the pot brownie, which would give her access to some vision, and Dr. Da Silva agreed. “I guess it’s your turn to do experiments now,” she said with grudging amusement. These would not be publishable experiments, Dr. Da Silva had told her. It was unethical and illegal for her to ask Angela to ingest marijuana, but it was possible for her to observe her on an informal basis after she had voluntarily consumed it.

It took about an hour for the brownie to kick in. By that time, the food had arrived, and she was once again seated in the recliner. The first thing she noticed was a flurry of rapid motion, the source of which she could not determine.

“It’s over there,” she said, gesticulating madly.

“It must be the television,” Dr. Da Silva’s husband hypothesized.  Those were the first words he had said in reference to her all day.

Gradually, the room began to take shape around her. She couldn’t recognize any objects or pieces of furniture—not yet, anyway—but there were lines and edges and rectangles, as if someone had taken the walls and floors and couch and table and flattened them. The air took on an elastic quality, as it always did, and it tugged on her eyes and face and hands so that they could explore the drawing of the room that was beginning to emerge. Angela tried to keep most of these revelations to herself—everyone was still eating, after all—but whenever the Da Silvas tried to engage her in conversation, she’d break off in mid-sentence, startled by the flicker of the television screen, or the sudden movement of a hand, or, at times, nothing they could identify at all.

They finished eating, and John got up to take Angela’s plate. “OH!” he said, evidently surprised by something. She asked what had happened.

“You made eye contact with me,” he said. “It’s totally fine; I just wasn’t expecting it.”

Angela smiled to herself. Last night, she had tested out the batch of pot brownies with her friend Ellie, just to make sure they would work, and Ellie had been equally surprised. “I’m not used to being so up close and personal with your eyeballs,” she had said.

Angela was becoming overwhelmed by all the visual stimuli. Her whole body was spinning with it. There was pressure on her face and chest, and her heart was starting to race. This was the price she paid for forbidden knowledge, forbidden sight. She managed to ground herself enough to catch a glimpse of something shiny, and the shininess triggered a vivid recollection of something smooth on her fingernails, and she knew that the smoothness was nail polish. Logic told her that the shiny sensation, and thus the nail polish, must belong to someone else, and because she could hear Dr. Da Silva’s voice close by, she came to the obvious conclusion. And it turned out she was right; Dr. Da Silva was wearing nail polish, and the fact that she was right—and about something so detailed to boot—brought her closer to the reality of the power thrumming inside and outside of her, and that power scared her.

She recognized the scissors on the table, as plainly as if she’d reached out and touched them. Then she saw a big soft thing that Dr. Da Silva told her was a tissue. Dr. Da Silva said that maybe Angela had mentioned the scissors because she knew that they were on the table from earlier, when Miriam had been cutting paper for the DOP experiments. Angela did not know how to explain that normally, her mind didn’t work like that; when she was sober, if she wasn’t touching an object it had no physicality and would never hijack her attention like the scissors had done.

Angela was keen to show Dr. Da Silva what happened when she looked at colored strobe lights, which was how she had discovered that marijuana improved her vision. But her growing euphoria was starting to get in the way. “Yellow lemons!” she exclaimed, apropos of nothing. Miriam hadn’t even started shining the light yet, but the marijuana had flipped a switch, as it always did, and Angela was now able to imagine, not just yellow, but any image she could dream of.

She could tell the moment Dr. Da Silva turned on the strobe light. The colors reached for her; each brushed her cheek with a distinctive weight. But her hungry brain had another agenda. It latched onto the edge of the phone, the back of Dr. Da Silva’s hand, and it wouldn’t let go. “This is a hand,” Angela told herself. The knowledge felt so primal, so beyond language, that it was shocking, and she had to close her eyes for a second to stanch the flow. But as soon as she opened them again, the thoughts surged toward her once more; “This is a phone, and this is an edge, and this is what people mean by tracking objects, and now I understand how hypnosis works; it’s like the phone is pulling on my eyes, and I can’t look away.”

Back in the Da Silvas’ living room, she was vaguely aware that Miriam was asking her what color the light was.

“Like an apple,” Angela answered, “Or like a tricycle. Wait, it’s changed. Now it’s like milk.” This part of her brain didn’t seem to have access to color names, only a string of associations.

Dr. Da Silva must have leaned toward her then, because she was distracted away from the strobe light, and she was aware of her eyes like fingers tracing something rough, like a peach that was just beginning to shrivel.

“It’s your face!” she said. “See, I wasn’t lying to you. I really can see!”

“Yes,” Dr. Da Silva said. “I don’t know exactly what’s happening, but the signals to your retinas do seem to be boosted somehow.” Dr. Da Silva’s voice was scratchy, and Angela realized that it was almost midnight, that she had been keeping Dr. Da Silva and Miriam up with her antics. In hushed conversations that didn’t involve her, they worked out the sleeping arrangements. Angela would sleep in Miriam’s room.

“It’s cold in there though,” Miriam said.

Dr. Da Silva started gathering things, presumably the scraps from the failed DOP experiment. “I’ll bring her the electric blanket. And I’m sleeping late tomorrow. My foot is killing me.”

Angela could have kicked herself. Dr. Da Silva had broken her ankle a few weeks ago, and Angela had been oblivious. That was the deceptive thing about her new sight; when she could see, she felt more present, more connected to the solidity of the world than she ever did with only four senses. But maybe it was a selfish, deceptive sort of presence.

The room was freezing, even with the electric blanket; this was yet another similarity to her mother’s house. For two hours, Angela lay in bed, shivering and nauseated. The brownies often upset her stomach. At first, there was the usual euphoria; she had seen and seen and seen, and there were witnesses. She wasn’t crazy. She wasn’t making things up. It had been six years since she had discovered that marijuana could help her see, but that discovery had torn a hole in logic, and the doubt that came rushing in was as big and powerful as the discovery itself. “Never again,” Angela promised. “Never again will I torture myself like this. I can finally let the doubt go.”

In the morning, the euphoria was gone, and she felt drained and sheepish. She tried to find her way to the shower on her own, but Dr. Da Silva’s husband saw her and got his wife out of bed, even though Angela insisted she didn’t need help and that he should let Dr. Da Silva sleep. She managed to leave her clean underwear outside the bathroom door, and Dr. Da Silva had to hand it to her, while she stood wrapped in a towel, her hair dripping onto the tile.

They all had breakfast at IHOP. It was March 14th, the day Angela’s father had died twelve years before. When she was little, they’d always go to IHOP on Sundays, though they called it the Pancake House. Angela shared all these details with Miriam, and even let a little sadness creep into her voice. She rarely let herself become intimate with her grief. Miriam responded sympathetically, asking the appropriate questions and making the appropriate reassuring noises, and Angela had to remind herself that she had known the woman for two days, that they probably would never see each other again, and it had been unwise and perhaps a little desperate to reveal so much so quickly.

On the long bus ride back to Boston, Angela tried to mold the story of the trip into a success. She could finally cross “showing a researcher what happens when I see after I eat a pot brownie” off her bucket list; it had occupied the top position for years. “Your retinal signals have definitely been amplified,” Dr. Da Silva had reiterated that morning, but her pronouncement kept shifting and melting and reforming itself, like a clock does in a dream when you try to check the time.

At breakfast, she had asked Miriam what she had thought of last night.

“It was hard to tie what you were saying to people and objects in the room,” she had said. “For me, last night was less about what you could see and more about the movie that was going on in your brain. You didn’t say anything that definitively demonstrated that you were seeing. It was a cool movie, but we outsiders only got tiny glimpses of it.”

She was met with the same hollowness she’d experienced when she’d finished Serial. She’d gotten what she’d come for--the stamp of approval and legitimacy from a neuroscientist, someone who understood how cannabinoids and retinas and optic nerves worked. Months later, her friend Jess would tell her the story of a woman who loved hiking so much that she gave up everything: her husband, her children, her comfortable suburban existence. For this woman, the aliveness she felt when she hiked trumped everything, even loneliness. Angela never felt more alive than when she was seeing, but she could not become that woman.

What good was a movie if only one person could see it? Miriam was a lawyer, not a neuroscientist, but it was Miriam’s words, not her mother’s, that Angela would remember.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Year 3: Part 7: Post 3: What You're Bad At.

I was wandering through the Great Hall earlier today, without anything particular to do. The Mansion seemed very quiet, I think pretty much everybody else was outside, the weather being nice for once (lately it's been raw and rainy more often than not). But then I noticed someone sitting on the couch in the gloom.

It was Allen, playing a Game Boy.

I sat down next to him.

"Hey, I thought you were away on vacation or something?" I asked.
"Huh? Oh, no. We had a party last night so I came in...just haven't organized myself to leave yet." He seemed vague, distracted by the Game Boy. "Hi, Daniel," he added, belatedly.
"Hi, Allen," I replied. "Hey, that looks like my old one." I meant the Game Boy. I got a Game Boy Color when it came out, but lost it a couple of months later.
"Maybe it is yours?" Allen suggested, showing interest.
"What, you've been snooping around my parents' attic?"
"No snooping necessary. Here, check this out!"

And Allen put the Game Boy down and fished four quarters out of his pocket. He gave three to me, kept one for himself, and had us both close our fists on the money and shake it for a few seconds. When we opened our hands, I had two quarters and he had two quarters. I laughed.

"That's awesome! How did you do it?" I didn't expect him to explain, of course.
"Ain't telling," he answered. "It's new, I don't have it worked into an act, yet."
"But you didn't take my Game Boy like that, did you?"
"No. The funny thing is, I don't know where this came from. It could be yours, for all I know. It isn't mine."
"It's not David's?"
"No. He has a Game Boy Advanced, got it for his birthday from one of his uncles, but he doesn't play with it much. It doesn't have feathers. But he never had one of these. I just opened a box of stuff the other day and there it was. It's kind of fun." He was back to playing it, and as I watched managed to level up on Tetris.
"Huh. That's weird." I meant the unexplained appearance of the Game Boy, not his game play.
"Very. I like it." The new level was evidently too hard; the shapes piled up and he lost and turned the thing off. "Oh, of course," he added, realizing. "It's Ryan's. David's friend Ryan used to have a Game Boy. He'd bring it over to the house. I ought to call him and see if he wants it back."

As we were talking, Steve Bees came in from outside, used the bathroom, and then leaned over the back of the couch and asked us what's up.

"Adverb, preposition, or adjective, towards the sky or towards a higher position. Also has various idiomatic uses." Allen said all this with a straight face, then looked up at Steve and smiled. Steve chuckled and smiled back.

"Hey, listen," said Steve, addressing Allen, "thanks for the other day. You're really good at reading people."

"Actually, I'm not," Allen replied.

"Come on, yes you are, you're a therapist," Steve insisted. But Allen shook his head.
"I am a therapist, yes, but I'm terrible at reading people. That's why I needed to earn several degrees in psychology in order to understand human beings. I'm not good at social signalling, either, which is why I can't lie. I don't know how."
"But you're a good therapist." Steve was having a hard time with this. I already knew, though I'm not sure when or even if anyone told me.
"I'm number two so I try harder?" suggested Allen, evidently quoting something. He shrugged. "Yes, I'm good. That's because I don't make assumptions about people and I actually listen when others tell me who they are. Most people don't really listen because they think they know everything yet."
"So, you're an excellent therapist because you're really bad at social skills?"
"Just about."
"Wow. So...what am I bad at?"
"That is an excellent question, Steve," Allen told him.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Hello, everyone,

Today got really busy and I'm going to have to put off posting until tomorrow.

On another subject--will the anonymous person who recently commented to ask for our contact information please connect with my editor on Facebook? Her name is Caroline Ailanthus, which is a unique name so she is easy to find. Send her a PM and she'll send you my email address.

Bizarrely, we can't figure out how to reply to your comment directly--the reply just won't post. So I hope you read this here entry. I am very glad to hear from you.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Year 3: Part 7: Post 2: Future plans

Well, the school year is over. Chapel Hall is closed down and winterized, the Dining Hall is closed down except that they're still using the kitchen to finish the last of the canning and drying, and about half the campus has gone home.

Yearlings, like Steve Bees are, of course, still here--they have to be. The program requires a minimum residency of a year and a day. But of senior students who are not graduating in February, less than a dozen of us are left and more will head out eventually. I'll stay through Yule and then go home for Christmas and not come back until Brigit, like I did last year.

I'd kind of like to stay, and I've heard others say the same thing, but the deal is if you aren't here you don't have to pay the room and board fee, which is $100 per week. That's not bad, compared to how much you'd have to pay for food, rent, and utilities if you were living in an apartment or something, but it still adds up. My job at the landscaping company will lay me off when the snow flies, so being able to save a few hundred dollars by going home has a real appeal. That, and I miss my parents.

The graduating group is a whole other situation, by the way. Some of them head home for a week or two, or travel for a while, but mostly they say here--but they spend a lot of time doing things together, apart from the rest of campus. So we don't see them, much. I tried to get Ebony to tell me what they're doing, but of course she doesn't really know yet and she said she won't tell me when she does find out. She suspects it's some sort of magic that only works if it's a surprise. She's probably right.And this week she's off visiting her mother.

So campus is pretty quiet, now.

Rick is still here. He's graduating, so I'm not going to see much of him in the coming weeks, but I saw him today in the Great Hall. He was riding the rocking llama--it's a giant wooden rocking horse type sculpture covered with a real llama skin and like everything else whimsical around here, most of us take it for granted or just look at it and think about it sometimes, but you can ride it and Rick was. The Hall was dark, as it often is in the mornings, especially when it's cloudy out. No one was around and I was on my way through to the library and I almost walked past without seeing him.

"Situational awareness, Kretzman," Rick said when I noticed him and startled. "If I'd been a predator, you'd have been lunch." Kretzman is my last name.

"You are a predator," I told him. "And so am I." He hunts and while I do not, I did my symbolic hunt with Charlie last year. And I've helped both of them butcher their kills. And I eat meat, which makes me morally culpable.

"Very true. And I have caught a llama." He rocked on it some, and grinned. "How can you be a good tracker without good situational awareness? They're part of the same skill. More and more, I'm thinking of awareness as tracking in present tense. I wish I could teach it, awareness."

I tried not to let my feelings get hurt--I think I'm a pretty good tracker by now, and Rick has taught me, but my situational awareness is still poor unless I'm deliberately working at it. I still daydream a lot, when I'm not in the woods.

"Talk to Greg," I told him instead. "He teaches awareness of a kind."

"Good idea. But I'm not going to be here long enough to teach anything. So that means you'll have to. You might learn something."

"Is that an assignment, teacher mine?" I asked. I'm sure I sounded irritable. Rick has taught me much, but he's still a novice, just like me. I don't like it when he gets this mocking, commandeering tone. I picked up the model of the Whale and the Mariner from the story How the Whale Got His Throat and I looked at the thing. It had a sticker on the bottom that said $2, but I can't imagine anyone selling it for that little and I can't imagine it being anything other than made for the school. I sometimes get distracted like that when I'm upset by something.

"If you choose to accept it," Rick answered, still mocking me.

I put the Whale and the Mariner back on the mantelpiece with a bit of a bang and stared at him. He grinned and won--I looked away. It just wasn't worth it.

"You arrogant prick," I told him. "I'm going to miss you, though."

"Yes, I expect you will."

I was in a mood to feel hurt at that, too, but it's just how Rick is. He doesn't miss people and he doesn't pretend to. It isn't a rejection, coming from him.

"What are you going to do when you leave?" I asked. I knew he's planning on going to grad school for forestry, but I don't think those programs start until Fall, and anyway I don't even know if he's applied.

"I dunno. I'm going to take some time off from school, I think, and work. I need some money."

"I hear you. Especially if you're starting grad school in the Fall."

He shrugged and rocked on the llama some more.

"I'm taking a year off. I'll start in '04. I want to take some time off and work. I can't do both at once."

"Ok, that makes sense."

"Of course it does." He was quiet for a while and leaned forward on the neck of the llama. "I want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail," he said suddenly. "Do you want to come? After you graduate, I mean?"

"Yes!" I said immediately, though I'd never thought of such a thing before. "But I want to work before grad school, too, and I don't want to take a whole year off. I don't think I'll have time."

"So, make time," said Rick, shrugging again. "Maybe only do part of it."

"I'll think about it," I said. "For now, I have to go get that mycology book from the library."

"Don't bother--someone left it in the Herbarium."


So I went to the Herbarium. When I walked back through the Great Hall, Rick was gone.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Year 3: Part 7: Post 1: Samhain

Happy Samhain!

I found myself very much looking forward to the holiday this year--the candle-lit Chapel, the heart-felt memorials, the goofy eulogy song--it's a special, exciting time. And of course, being on the groundskeeping team, I got to help set everything up.

I sat with Ebony on one side of me (and Eddie beyond her) and Steve Bees on the other (and Andy beyond him). It was Steve's first Samhain on campus and Ebony's last (at least until she comes back for her ring). Eddie and I took turns explaining what everything looked like to Ebony and I wished I could still hold her hand.

The masters processed in bearing lit candles. With the candles already on the walls and along the aisles, the whole place seemed very bright and warm, although in point of fact it was still too dim to read. The ceiling and the far corners were still lost in a dark, honey-colored gloom. As before, the masters deposited their candles on the stage and then took their seats among the audience--except for Allen and Kit. Allen, you may remember, has been Head for the past two years and now it is Kit's turn. That means she will be responsible for acting as liaison to the outside world whenever anybody other than Sharon is needed. In emergencies when someone needs to make a decision for the school quickly, she would be empowered to make that decision. On the stage, she held yet one more candle, which Allen solemnly lit. After that, she served as MC for the evening.

"Oo, that means I'll get to graduate with Kit!" Ebony whispered, meaning that Kit would conduct degree conferral. "She'll take off my cloak and everything!" As you may remember, part of the ceremony is that the master removes the graduating student's uniform cloak to reveal whatever outfit symbolizes the student's next phase of life.

"I'd like Kit to take off my cloak and everything," I whispered, meaning something completely different. Ebony giggled.
"So would I," added Eddie, from her other side.
"Hush!" said Steve. "I'm trying to hear them." Andy giggled.

Greg, once again, read the long list of memorialized names. He does official and solemn very well. I still don't know most of them, but a few are people I've heard enough about that they don't seem like strangers anymore. I added my Aunt Ida to the list, too.

Kit led all of us in the "Hats Off to Dead Folks" song, which is a goofy memorial where everyone who wants to can add their own verse and we all join in on the chorus. Last year I added a verse for my kitten, Sanchez, who died when I was little, but this year I did not. I wanted to give other people room to jump in.

Finally, we all stood up and milled around for a while until the bell rung and the masters all left, suddenly, without saying goodbye. Of course, they join us for the reception afterwards, but it's like in that moment the school year dies. With only a few exceptions, as teachers, they're gone until next year. It's kind of a bittersweet thing, the end of the school year. This warm, funny, grand ceremony, and it means that something is over....

On our way out, there was the sound of a struggle. Someone cried out and then stopped, suddenly. Steve looked back, concerned and asked what was that? I pretended not to have heard it and kept walking. He wasn't convinced and kept looking back over his shoulder. Ebony told him to wait until we got to the fire pit and then we could ask around--if something was wrong, someone would in the crowd would have seen it.

Of course, Ebony knew what the sound was, too. She was in on the secret. Steve, being a yearling, was not.

That seemed to settle him. I asked him what he thought of the ceremony and he laughed.

"That was cool," he pronounced. "Totally not morbid. When I die, I hope to be memorialized like that! Hats off to dead folks." He laughed again. "But the thing is, I like Halloween. It's fun to be scared. Don't you think? Having a time set aside for the creepy and the unexpected. I wouldn't want to lose that."

"You don't have to," Ebony pointed out. "You can celebrate Halloween also." We had reached the fire where people were milling around and collecting food (mostly candy and baked goods) from long folding tables. There were a lot of people, the whole campus, all the faculty, plus some of their family members and most of the allies. We were among the last to get there, because Steve had stopped walking because of the noise. Once people stopped arriving, he looked around, once again concerned.

"Kit's not here," he said suddenly. "Hey, anybody seen Kit?" he called out.

"We have Kit!" announced what looked like a stereotypical Gypsy in heavy skeleton make-up. She strode into the group and planted herself authoritatively next to the fire. "We have Kit and you will never see her again if you do not pay the ransom!" The Gypsy carried a shiny scimitar and had a very real-looking handgun stuck into her belt.

For a few seconds, Steve stood frozen in shocked terror before he realized that of course the figure was a child in costume. He gave a little moan of embarrassment and giggled.

"They do this every year, right?" he asked.

"Yup," I told him.

Julie--of course it was Julie, Allen's older daughter, haggled fiercely with the faculty over the ransom, paid in candy, expanded TV privileges, and a later bedtime for some of the younger kids. Finally, they reached an agreement and the other Sprouts and their friends from off-campus brought in Kit. She was completely tied up and gagged (the gags are always fake, just a handkerchief tied loosely across the face, but the faculty member does not talk while it's on. All the other bonds are real). She wasn't painted up, as the kidnapping victim of the past few years had been, but they had been allowed to walk and she wasn't. The group of costumed children actually carried her in a small cargo net.

The miscreants deposited their prisoner, claimed their candy, cheered, and ran off. We untied Kit, who laughed and said she hoped they wouldn't eat the random all at once.

"Tell me about it," said Allen. "If I need help peeling Julie and Alexis off the ceiling tonight I'll let you know."

"Oh, no, you're on your own. You're the one who let them talk you out of all that candy."

"Me? Joy was the primary negotiator this year. She can't bargain worth a damn."

"Then make her deal with the kids."

"Hey, I'm staying in the barn tonight," announced Joy.

While all this was going on, various people had begun setting up and tuning instruments. Eddie went over to talk to the impromptu band and then they all launched into "I put a spell on you." I think it's by Nina Simone. They party was in full swing.

"You were saying, about wanting to be scared?" I said to Steve.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Year 3: Sixth Interlude

Hi, all, Daniel-of-2015 here,

and I'm just amazed that it's time to write an interlude again. I mean, this is only the fifth post since the last interlude--how does a gap of  eight weeks yield only five weekly posts? A combination of a late beginning and an early Monday, of course, but it feels like I must be missing a week or two somewhere.


I've been thinking about how I'm going to handle the future of this blog, what I'm going to do next year, when I'll be covering my final year as a novice. I'm thinking I'll do some version of skipping over my Absence with a series of interludes and then launching into my experiences as a candidate. It's curious that I'm thinking of this now, though, because thirteen years ago I was not thinking about the future very much, I was not thinking about how my final year as an undergrad was about to begin. I did not viscerally realize that I was on the way out, as it were, until just a few weeks before Beltane.

I'd like to think I've gotten better at thinking ahead, but I probably haven't. The other day, June said something about getting Carly in pre-school and I looked at her completely blankly. Carly is a toddler, she doesn't need to go to school. But of course, she's not going to stay a toddler forever--she's two-and-a-half now and already she's playing around with learning to write--she puts big C's, followed by squiggles, in the middle of her drawings and says that is her name. Sometimes the C's are backwards, or very crooked, but she's getting the right idea. So, yeah, it's getting time to think about pre-school, but in my head she's my baby and my baby she will be forever, I guess.

But what I couldn't see at the time I can see in retrospect and I know what the next "chapter" of my story is going to be--and the one after that.My hindsight is better than my foresight.

I said a while back that I'd have news about our community, and so I do. We have decided to continue as a group, as an entity, and not to let the closing of the school mean the end of us as a people, as a sort of tribe, if you will. To this end, we obviously need a project to bring us together and to provide some means of introducing new students to us. I'm not going to go into details, since I don't want anyone identifying us through my story (if I can find a way to protect our secrecy while going into more detail I will), but basically we're going to start a group of interrelated businesses and, through them, offer various classes and talks and events to the public. Most of our students will not know who and what we are, or even, probably, that our businesses are related. But if any guess, they will pass the entrance exam and be able to join us.

More importantly, we'll be doing a public service as a group again.

It's a rebirth, of sorts, but I wonder if it will ever feel like enough, whether those of us who remember the school and its campus will always be half hoping to somehow go home.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Year 3: Part 6: Post 4: Keeping Notes

The trees are just past peak color, now. Another good, stiff wind should blow most of them down, and already some of the branches are bare, or nearly so. The avenue of red maples along the road in front of the Dining Hall has become an almost painfully bright yellow tunnel. They are all exactly the same--Charlie says they are genetically identical clones, bought from some landscaper by the previous land owner. The avenue of sugar maples along the main entrance (which Charlie has allowed to spread into a miniature woodland) is more diverse and has gone various shades of red and orange. I can sit among either, or up in my "spot" in the woods, and listen to the leaves falling around me like a continuous, dry rain.

As I said, Charlie has me keeping a journal of my time outside. And yes, I am using the blank journal he gave me for my birthday. I hand it in to him once a week and he returns it a day or two later, marked up with comments and questions or new mini-assignments. Sometimes these make me smile--I drew a picture of the site the other day, in pencil, and he wrote "Nice!" in the margin of the next page, with an arrow pointing towards the picture. Sometimes they frustrate me, as when they seem to contradict--the same week yielded "more world, less Daniel" and "where are you in all of this?". They were written on different pages in different colors of ink, so he probably wrote the comments on different days.

Recently, he appropriated an entire page, with a big title in red pen, underlined three times, and a series of asterisk-pointed items:

* Identify all woody plants within site (due end of month)
*Identify principle soil type within site (due end of month)
* Each week, list all animal behavior observed, incl. sound
*Each week, list all plant phenology markers (sprouting, etc.)
* Note fungi
Common + Latin names, spelled correctly, required

Phenology means the study of when things happen, like when different species sprout, flower, etc. ("phrenology" is completely different!). So, basically he wants me to pay attention to the same things on my plot that he's been teaching me to attend to on campus--which makes sense. I about died when I saw the list, as it looks like a huge about of work, but actually my "spot" isn't very big. There are only three species of trees, plus maybe five shrub species (I haven't counted them yet). And, realistically, I'd do most of this anyway, just maybe not every week and I wouldn't necessarily write everything down.

I still don't know what Charlie is up to, but at least he's consistent, and it's becoming clearer to me that everything else we've done together was training for this.

It's not much warmer sleeping inside than out, these days, as we haven't lit the stoves in the Mansion, yet. We won't, probably, until at least sometime in November. Not that it ever drops below freezing inside, but the days of sleeping in long underwear under several layers of hand-made wool blankets and quilts has definitely begun.