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, October 5, 2015

Year 3: Part 6: Post 2: Looking Foreward

I said a few days ago that it’s felt like fall for a while. And that’s true. But it didn’t look like fall. 

Only a few of the trees were just starting to turn. But last night a storm blew through campus and this morning, for whatever reason, the trees had turned. I don’t mean all of them, or that any turned completely overnight, but a lot more trees have a lot more yellow and orange in them now. It looks like fall.

It looks like Fall inside, too. We’ve got the whole campus pretty much decorated for the season, now—displays of pumpkins and corn stalks in doorways, little winter squashes on the tables in the Dining Hall, vines twine up the walls and across the ceiling of the Great Hall…we’ve worked hard to get it all set up over the last few weeks. The place looks good.

What we haven’t had to do is rake leaves on campus. Charlie says the best mulch for a tree is what it grows itself. All around here, where we have trees we have ground covered in leaves and broken twigs, all year round. The difference in the fall is the ground gets a fresh and more brightly colored coat. We do rake leaves off campus, though. Charlie has a deal worked with our neighbors where we come and take away their fallen leaves and compost them and use them to mulch our garden beds and farm fields. That will probably start next week. It’s fun—I remember last year how we hitched a cart to one of Joy’s horses and took that cart out along the main road picking up leaf piles….

But the advancing season is making me think of other things, too—all the people graduating. Graduation itself isn’t until February, of course, but after the school year ends at Samhain we won’t see the graduating students very much. I won’t even be on campus very much, though I’ll be here more than I was last year in order to keep my commitment to sleep outside an average of once per week. So it’s like Samhain is the beginning of the end or something.

38 people are graduating this year, including four mastery candidates. I’m not honestly all that concerned about most of them leaving—other than being happy for them, of course. I’m not really friends with most of them and some are people I hardly know. And some aren’t really going anywhere—Arthur, for example, is earning his Green Ring at Brigid, but he’s not leaving. His whole reason for coming here was to get involved in this community, so he’s probably going to stay on as an ally—as long as there’s room he can live on campus for a fee and help out.

But other people—this year’s graduating class includes Rick, Willa, Ham, Jim, three more of the Ravens, and Ebony. And both Rick and Ebony want to come back and get their rings, so they’ll be going into Absence. No offense to any of my friends who are staying on, of course, but right now I’m thinking it’s going to be pretty lonely around here next year.

In the meantime, I’ve started doing my outside thing. This past weekend I spent Saturday night out in my spot—I would have spent Sunday night out also, but that storm was coming in and I turned chicken. My plan is to do two nights a week when I can, so I’ll have the leeway to skip a week when I have to. My parents think I’m crazy, of course. Specifically, my mother is angry that Charlie is “making” me do this. She’s grumbled some about what am I paying room and board for if I’m not allowed to sleep inside. Which is all very strange because my mother loves camping—she and Dad go camping for a few days at a time at least once or twice a year and says she wishes she could afford to do it more often. And she knows I used to love going camping with them. So why is she complaining about Charlie “making” me do something she knows I enjoy and that she wishes she could do herself?

But I’ve long since learned not to worry about my parents’ reactions to this place. It’s just because they love me.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Year 3: Part 6: Post 1: Mabon

Happy Mabon, somewhat belatedly.

My family always gets Mabon and May Day confused. I can see why--I keep wanting to spell it Maybon. But living here, immersed in these celebrations, I don't mix them up. I mean, I know it is September and not May right now.

It was a glorious day for a celebration--clear blue sky, a bit of crisp in the air, just cold enough for winter-weight uniforms but not for the capes and the mosquito season is finally over. The trees haven't started turning yet, except for some of the maples have a hint of color at the tips, like they're thinking about it.

The winter squashes are coming in now, and the potatoes and the fall apples and pears. The popcorn will be in soon and, before too long Brussel's sprouts. We haven't had a frost yet, so we're still getting huge numbers of tomatoes and summer squash. It's a huge amount of food, most of it going into storage for the winter, so the farm staff is busy drying and canning and everything. It's not just vegetables, either--after the mostly vegetarian summer, meat is back on the menu. We don't have much milk left, but the last batch of hens has just started to lay so we'll have plenty of eggs again soon--and another chicken feast.

Charlie has started bringing in deer, two already, and I think he plans to get four or five more this year, plus a few turkeys. I haven't hunted with him again, but I helped him butcher one of the deer. I have gone out with Rick once or twice when he was hunting, but he didn't get anything either time. Between the two of them they plan to get maybe four or five more, and Joy is going to start killing lambs and kids soon. She never does all of them at once--only one at a time, on weeks when Charlie doesn't get a deer. Aside from one feast the day the animal dies, most of the meat gets smoked or dried and that takes time. We don't have refrigerators or freezers on campus.

It feels like Fall, and it doesn't feel like Fall started just on the equinox, either. I guess I'm slowly coming around to Kit's way of looking at things.

As I've said before, for the Fall Equinox we have a variety of holiday activities, instead of one central series of events. You can't go to all of them because some happen at the same time. The most popular one is probably the gratitude circle. You stand in a big circle and take turns thanking each other--you hand the person a ball of yarn and keep your end so that a strand of yarn connects you across the circles. Then the person you handed the yarn to has a turn to thank someone and eventually you end up with a big tangle of yarn connecting everybody. The yarn is donated from the weaver who makes our blankets and everything--it's all the yarn that wasn't spun right by trainees. We keep it and use the big tangle to start a ritual fire in February.

Anyway, the first year I did the gratitude circle. Last year I did the Thankyou Doll build instead, with Sarah and Charlie, but this year I was back at the gratitude circle. Kit led it--my first year Allen did, but both were there both times. As I'd expected, Allen's younger daughter, Alexis, now has the job of running the yarn between us and attaching new balls of yarn when the old one runs out.

Alexis is six now, going on seven in a few months. Maybe it's doing the gratitude circle again after two years, which sort of leads to comparing everybody with how they were last time I did this, but for some reason it's really struck me how much she's grown. When I met her she was a toddler.

I shouldn't be surprised, I mean, time passes, that's what it does. But it does surprise me--how much difference a few years makes for the children around here.

All the Sprouts were on campus for the holiday, and there were fewer of them than there used to be. Mary and Sequoia Ackerman-Hill, Charlie's grand-nieces,  and Allen's older kids, David and Julie, they're all gone. Kayla used to seem like she wanted to still be a Sprout, not a student, but she seems used to being a teenager now. And none of the faculty or students have had kids in the last three years, so the Sprouts as a group are getting older.

But there is a new one.

My brother and his wife want their kids to be Sprouts, so they gave me my nephew for the day. He's 13 months old, so he's walking around and can say a few words (but only when he's alone with his parents) and really hard to keep an eye on. And I am not at all used to being in charge of a toddler, I'm probably forget to feed him or something if someone didn't remind me, but fortunately there are a lot of people around him to help me look out for him.

I knew I wouldn't be able to keep track of him while wrapped up in bunch of yarn at the gratitude circle, so I gave him to Charlie for a while. He really likes little kids. But that means that my nephew was the youngest person at the Thankyou Doll build. That made it his job to listen to hear if the Doll was awake. And he must have done it because now the Doll is sitting in state in the Great Hall, surrounded by offerings.

I wonder what, exactly, my nephew heard?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Year 3, 5th Interlude

Hi, Daniel-of-2015, here.

I'm posting this today, late on Friday, because Mabon snuck up on me--I should have posted the interlude last Monday, but I didn't think of it, and psting only once a week as I've been doing would mean that if I posted the interlude this coming Monday, my Mabon post would be put off till the Monday after that, almost two weeks after the actual holiday. So I'm wedging in the interlude right here.

I don't have much to say right now, other than that we're all fine and I may have some exciting news to share next interlude. But there's a conversation I wanted to share--it was a follow-up to the one I wrote about a few weeks ago, where Andy confronted Ebony on accepting the medical reality of her blindness and I commented, in the narration, that he had a good point but it was not the point Ebony needed to hear.

Actually, at the time, I was not so mentally articulate. I heard him speak and I felt uncomfortable and protective. I didn't know why. I recognized that Andy had a point, so why did I feel like he'd said something wrong? I have good instincts, as everybody says, but I seldom know what my reactions are about on a conscious level until much later. At least on that occasion I noticed that I was reacting to something--a couple of years of training in awareness was bearing fruit. I probably would have figured it out eventually, but actually for this one I had help from Eddie.

But I can't figure out how to edit my romance with Ebony out of that conversation, which means I can't tell it as my 22-year-old self.

So Eddie and I were sitting in the Dining Hall together--I can't remember if it was breakfast or lunch or how long after the earlier conversation it was--could have been later the same day or it could have been a few weeks later. Anyway, Eddie leaned back, folded his arms across his chest and stated "So, you're talking to Ebony again."

"Yes," I acknowledged.

"Good?" He was asking whether it was a good thing, not whether it was going well.

"I guess so. I mean, I wouldn't have dated her if I didn't like her to begin with."

"I hear you. She seems quiet or jumpy or something these days. Is she ok?"

"No, not exactly."

"Do you know what's wrong?"

"Yes, but I'm not going to tell you." Actually, she had just broken up with the woman she'd left me for. That relationship had become deeply unhealthy and had ended rather catastrophically. She had told me, but it was not yet common knowledge on campus--though I was surprised Eddie didn't know. Generally, they seemed pretty close.

"Man, you're killing me. What's a nosy guy to do?"

"Ask her directly?"

"Oh, you're no fun." He grinned at me, though, before turning serious. "That Andy, though. He gets E for effort and nothing else."

"What do you mean?"

"What he said to her at breakfast?"

"Yeah, I noticed that. Or noticed something, anyway. I thought he had a point, but it was the wrong point, or not enough of the right point, or something. You know how Ebony doesn't usually do facial expressions, but she has a different non-expression when she's upset?"

Eddie grinned at my description. He'd noticed it, too.

"A different non-expression. That's good. Yes, Andy had a point. Life would be easier for her if she accepted the physical reality of her blindness instead of forgetting her cane all over the place and everything. My life would have been easier if I'd let my Mom take me bra-shopping when I started bouncing around. But when you live your whole life with everybody around you telling you your experience of yourself isn't real, "accept your body" isn't what you need to hear. Ebony needs to become sighted before she can be blind."

"I wish I could help with that," I said.

"You do. You see her sighted sometimes, don't you? You're her mirror." He was right. Sometimes I did--and do--think of her as sighted. Then I want to show her things and it seems a complete and frustrating tragedy when I remember that I can't.

"Is that what you did?" I asked, partly changing the subject. "Is that why you danced the maypole as a woman this year? Did being male make it ok to be female?"

Eddie smirked.

"First of all, I am not female. I like to play with other people's breasts, but my own? Good riddance. But yeah, I guess it was easier to buy undergarments when I was binding my breasts than when I thought I was supposed to make them look perky. No, I danced as a woman...because I felt like it. I don't know why I did it. Maybe to see if anybody would care."

The whole idea of Eddie with breasts seemed strange. I tried to picture it and in my mind's eye he still looked like a guy, except with breasts.

"Did you used to be named Edwina or something?" I asked. Which, by the way, you're not supposed to do. Asking about the former name makes it sound like you don't think the new one is real or valid. Except that on campus a lot of people changed their names, at least in practice, if not legally, that I think the validity of a chosen name was well-established. Names like Otter, Oak, Raven, and Kit aren't nicknames, they're Craft names, and reflect a new magical identity. I never knew most of their birth-names, but if the subject came up there was no prohibition against asking. It didn't occur to me that Eddie might be a different case. Anyway, he just laughed.

"Oh, god, no. Edwina."

"What? Some people are named Edwina. Is Eddie short for Edward, then?"

"No. Eddie isn't short for anything. It's long for Ed. It means 'happy' in some Indo-European language or other. Edward means happy protector, I read that somewhere. I named myself Happy, because I am, now. I didn't used to know what happiness was. I didn't think it existed, I thought people who talked about it were deluded or lying or something. And now...I am Ed. That's what matters."

Obviously, I don't remember that whole thing word for word. I remember a few phrases and the gist of the thing. The above is a reconstruction that captures the gist, as most of this blog is. But it's a gist I wanted to share.

Happy belated Equinox!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Year 3: Part 5: post 8: Returning

So, I'm back among people now and...everything's different. Human beings seems noisy and intrusive. Society seems arbitrary. Being dry when it's raining, or even just taking a crap indoors, all seem weird. Not that I necessarily dislike being dry and comfortable, there's just this persistent sense of oddness in everything I do. As though in a profound way, I am still outside of something.

Charlie says that living in the woods alone for two weeks is unlikely to make any permanent change in me, that I'll start taking campus life for granted again over the next few days. And yeah, I'm already feeling more normal than I did when I first got back. He says if I want to I can use the memory of this sense of strangeness deliberately, to help be get and retain a better perspective on society, but I get the feeling that's not really his objective in giving me this assignment. He's not trying to make me feel like an alien, even if feeling like an alien can occasionally be useful.

I'm not sure what his objective is, but we seem to be progressing towards it. He's given me a new assignment. For the next year I'm supposed to average one night outdoors per week, always in that small area he has defined for me. I'm allowed to do several nights out in one week to bank time so that I don't have to go out in really bad weather, but I do have to spend at least one night out each month. I can't, say, skip February.

Again, it's not an exercise in outdoor survival; I can bring out whatever gear I need to stay warm and dry and I'm supposed to carry up all my own food and water. I'm allowed to have visitors, but not to the extent of not experiencing where I am. And I'm not allowed to bring anything like a radio or a CD player, nor can I bring reading material, except for for field guides. A day counts as a minimum of fourteen hours, so if I arrive on site at five thirty in the evening, I have to stay until seven thirty the next morning or it doesn't count. I'll be able to attend classes at least.

I'll also have assignments within the assignment. I'm supposed to keep a journal and make at least one entry per night out. Each week I'm supposed to hand my journal in to Charlie so that he can make comments and suggestions and ask me to do, write about, or learn about specific things when I go back out.

"My new notebook!" I said, realizing why he'd given me a blank write-in-the-rain field notebook for my birthday.

"Yes, if you want to. It's a good brand--I use them. But you can use that book for anything or nothing, if you want to. It's your present." He shrugged a little, to show that his feelings wouldn't be hurt if I didn't use the thing, I suppose. "Happy birthday," he added, a fond twinkle in his eye, briefly. Funny, I don't normally see that from him.

I did go out for my belated birthday celebration a couple of days after I got back. This time I thought to ask Charlie to come, but he begged off, saying he had papers to grade.

Besides my twenty-second birthday, my time in the woods made me miss Greg's talk on Labor Day and the history of the labor movement (he didn't do that last year--I think the talk was, in part, a response to a request from Steve Bees) and the campus observation of the anniversary of the attacks on nine-eleven. I have heard it took the form of a memorial gathering for those victims of the attacks that people with some connection to our community knew. Odd that I missed that and didn't even think of it while I was out. I'd lost track of the days.

My parents, of course, think this whole sleeping in the woods think sounds onerous and even dangerous. They think Charlie is being strange and ridiculous to make me do it. And yet they both go camping when they get the chance. If I'd told them the whole thing was my idea, I think they would have been happy for me.

Human beings are odd, sometimes.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Yar 3: Part 5: Post 7: Losing Track

I'm still in the woods. I've been in here--or out here--for a long time. It rains sometimes, but I have a tarp and nowhere to go and nothing to do, so when it rains I just lie in my hammock, under my tarp--there's a string above my hammock to hold the tarp up--and listen to the rain. I have no reading material. I get no news. The world could have blown up in the last few days and I don't think I'd know. Kind of like when I heard as a kid that it takes eight minutes for light to go from the sun to the earth, so if the sun blew up we wouldn't know for eight minutes--except I always thought that was kind of creepy and this is relaxing.

There are coyotes, at least two of them. There are both ravens and crows. There are crickets. I hear them. I don't see them. I watch the way the sun comes through the leaves of the trees above me. I listen to birds and sometimes count them but mostly I just listen.

It's really incredible having nothing to do, and in fact I can do nothing--I'm not allowed to go anywhere. I have no schedule. I can stay up all night if I want, sleep all day, take a nap any time. No one minds. No one knows, unless Charlie is watching me in secret. I think he comes to check on me sometimes and that he can watch me somehow without my seeing him, but he can't be watching all the time, he has other things he needs to do.

He had said he'd send company if I needed it, but we decided to try it just me alone and I'm glad I did. I could send a note out with my things at the drop-off point if it started to get to me, but it hasn't. I mostly don't feel lonely. I wouldn't want to spend a long time like this, but so far it's been ok.

I've completely lost track of time. The sun moves, the stars move, the weather changes...for the last while the moon has been growing so every night is brighter. The last two nights two nights it's been almost half and so bright I've wanted to go do something by its light but I haven't. Of course I can't.

But the day of the week? The date? No clue. I lost track.

I worried for a while that I'd forget when to come down, but then I realized that when Charlie stops supplying me I'll notice and go back to civilization and get something to eat. It's occurred to me that maybe I could just stay out here, try my luck at foraging like Rick used to, and let the human world go spin by itself. Would anybody notice and miss me? The human world seems so far away.

And then, tonight, just a few minutes ago, I went down to the drop point to leave my left-overs and I found a note:

Time's up. Come to breakfast tomorrow. Bring your stuff to the greenhouse. 
We'll chat at some point.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Excuse me, a note

I haven't been posting on Fridays and this isn't an ordinary post, I just want to say a few words about September 11th, since that is the day we have landed upon.

Curious how a date that occurs every year becomes the name of a specific, isolated event? I've written about that before....

Anyway, I ended up writing less about the attacks over the past year than I intended to, as though we saw the news, reacted to it, and everything went back to normal a week or two later. It didn't, of course. Two graduates of the school died that day, no one I knew, but some of the masters were pretty broken up--especially Allen, since one of the two had been his student. Other people on campus had outsider friends or family among the victims.

Security Joe, as a retired cop, went and volunteered at Ground Zero for while. While there, he was exposed to contaminated dust, and while I do not think it has actually affected his health, he will be monitored for it, just in case, for the rest of his life. Several graduates joined the military because of the attacks and one of them died in Afghanistan several years later. Greg became very concerned about rising anti-Arab sentiment and began lecturing, both on campus and off, about the history of the Middle East and Islam. He's still at it, making the rounds of schools, colleges, and libraries every year.

In the months after the attacks, things on campus felt...weird. It's hard to describe, which may be why I didn't end up describing it. I think it was easier for us than for many people in the outside world because we didn't watch TV and so didn't constantly get reminded of those images. Also, a lot of us were in therapy, just as part of being students at the school. But life had divided itself into before and after.

Over the following year, things gradually normalized, if anything at such an extraordinary school can be said to be normal. By the first anniversary, I think most of us felt that the attacks had started to recede into history, that we were moving at last into whatever comes next. There was a memorial of sorts on the anniversary, but I was in the woods still and missed it.

Anyway, I just wanted to add that in.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Year 3: Part 5: Pst 6: My Birthday

I've been in the woods for the last couple of days--straight, I mean. I haven't seen another human being the whole time. This is not anything I anticipated doing when I came to school, here. I thought I'd learn to wave a magic wand and do the impossible. But then I chose Charlie as my teacher and here I am doing what I thought was impossible, no wand required.

He defined an area with flagging tape for me about fifty yards on a side. I'm not allowed to leave it, nor is anyone else allowed to come in. I have a sleeping bag, liner, and pad a hammock and a tarp, a jug of water, a box that works as a mini-outhouse so I don't have to dig holes all over, my knife, a med kit, my toothbrush, my flashlight, the clothes on my back...and that's it. I'm allowed to leave my area twice a day, and only to go to a sort of drop box a little way away in the woods--in the morning I pick up my food and water there and in the evening I drop off any leftovers and get more water. If I need something I'm supposed to leave a a note in the box.

I never see or hear Charlie when he makes the drops, and of course he is trying not to be seen. He's like Santa Clause, an invisible presence dropping off packages while I sleep.

I sleep surprisingly well. With nothing else to do, I go to bed at desk, rather than use my flashlight. I fall asleep pretty quickly, then wake up in the middle of the night for a while and think or daydream. If it doesn't look like rain I leave the tarp off and so I can watch the stars move across the sky through gaps in the canopy. Then I sleep for a while again. Then I wake up at dawn and listen to the birds and daydream some more. I don't have a watch or anything. I don't know when anything happens or how long anything takes. When I get hungry I walk down and get my food for the day. I do my practical yoga exercises and my Reiki exercises. I walk around my little area. I spend time looking at things, sometimes because I'm bored, sometimes because I'm interested and I have the time to look as long as I like. I spent what I think was a couple of hours the other day waiting for something I hadn't seen very well to come back out of its hole, but it never did. Eventually I eat some more and go to sleep again.

The only thing that really bothered me was knowing I'd be alone on my birthday. I'll celebrate with my friends and family later, of course, but on my actual birthday I felt pretty out of it. Like a hollow sort of thing.

"Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me" I sang to myself, quietly, but my voice sounded odd in the wilderness and I stopped. I guess I felt pretty lonely.

But then when I went down for my evening visit to the drop box--I was later than usual, it was night already--I saw a light, like a candle or something. As I got closer, I could see it was a candle, a candle on top of a cupcake sitting on top of the drop box. And next to the cupcake was a package wrapped in old newspaper. I opened it by candle-light--it was a new write-in-the-rain notebook, the kind scientists use to take notes in the field.

I've never told Charlie my birthday. He hasn't told me his, and we don't normally talk about anything personal with each other, unless it relates to my studies somehow. We don't have that kind of relationship, I guess. And obviously he had found out, found out and gotten me a present.

I looked around and didn't see anybody, but obviously he was watching me--he wouldn't have left a candle (or a cupcake) unattended in the woods. I made a wish and blew out the candle. I ate my cupcake and left the newspaper and candle with my leftovers in the box.

"Thank you!" I said, into the darkness.