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 13, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 2: Leaves without Leaving

I'm really not sure what I'm supposed to be doing this winter.

On the one hand, there's an argument to be made for staying on campus all the way through. June has to stay, because she's a yearling, and because she's graduating at Brigid, and I don't want to leave without her, and I still have my poetry writing assignment. But, on the other hand, I'm sure I could arrange something for poetry the same way as I arranged to go home for a while when I had the sleeping outside assignment. Most of the other candidates have left campus, and staying costs a hundred dollars a week in room and board that I'd like to not have to pay. June is busy finishing up some final assignments and actually has very little time for me. My family misses me.

I'm trying not to think about what Charlie would want me to do. He isn't in charge of my life, and I've got to learn how to think and act like a grown-up with respect to my studies here. What do I want to do? What would be good to do?

Ollie has left campus to go rejoin Willa, Andy is living above his bicycle shop and only comes in a day or so a week to visit, Eddie and Ebony are both here, but busily working at something, so I hardly ever see them, and both will leave campus right before Thanksgiving and stay gone until Yule. Rick is here, and staying through, but he's spending most of his time living outside--he eats our food, he's not hunting and gathering, but we don't see him. I feel very much left behind.

The Dining Hall and Chapel Hall are both closed down for the season. The Mansion is a bustle of activity at breakfast and certain other times, but mostly it's quiet. It's not yet cold enough yet to have the wood stove on all the time, so people aren't clustering in the Great Hall the way they will later in the winter, and there are great blocks of time when just nobody is about.

In one of these blocks, this afternoon, I found myself with nothing to do and no one to do it with, so I wandered outside and up to the barns and sheds, on the working end of campus where hardly anyone who does not have business there ever goes. Joy's oldest horse, the grey one with spots, looked up from his hay and regarded me as I passed.

I ended up out near the cider house and the slaughter house and the smoke house, buildings enclosed in a tight, tall fence to keep the coyotes and bears from investigating too closely. The have the various compost piles in there, too, to take advantage of the fence, and nearby I found a massive pile of autumn leaves.

We leave the campus leaves where they fall, for the most part, but our neighbors don't want to do the same, so Charlie has a deal with them where we collect their leaves and bring them on campus for mulch. Teams from the farming and landscaping crews go down the road with the horse cart and bring the loads up here, load after takes a long time. I think they're about done, now, most of the leaves are down, the crescendo of autumn color fallen now to a whisper, and in any case no new loads were coming in today. The crews must have been busy doing something else. There was a big mountain of leaves sitting there, by itself, just outside of the fence, left to wait until it could dry out enough to be crushed into compostable mulch.

I looked at that mountain for a bit and then I crawled into the pile, wrapped myself up in my cloaks and hoods and cowls for warmth, and fell asleep amid the fragrant leaves. I woke up, hours later, alerted by the first dimming of daylight and cooling of evening to the fact that it was almost dinner-time. And I was wholly and completely happy.

Which, I think, answers my question. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Hi. I just plain forgot to post yesterday. Nothing's wrong--it was June's birthday, and we had a big, whooptido party that took most of the day to set up, we had a great time, and then long about 11 pm last night I think "oh, crap, today was Monday, wasn't it?"

And unfortunately, my time budget it such that I can't catch up this week. I have a number of deadlines looming. So, with regret, I must simply say "see you next week."


Monday, October 30, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Samhain

Happy Samhain!

These last few months, I've basically gotten used to being back. There have been times--beginning very soon after June and I arrived--when it seemed as though I'd never been away and the world outside was not, and had never been, real. But now, at Samhain*, I'm once again struck by how long I was away and how good it is to be back.

I did not celebrate Samhain the whole time I was away. I could have, but I didn't know how to celebrate it alone, and most of the time I was gone my attention was wrapped up in grad school, and I really wasn't thinking about anything else. But there is something important, something vital, about celebrating the dead, and I have missed it. I did not realize how much I had missed it until just now.

I had a hard time explaining it to June. She's heard of Samhain, of course, but she hadn't celebrated it before, and had trouble understanding how it relates to Hallowe'en on the one hand and Dia del Muertes on the other. And she thought it rather morbid to end the school year on the same day, and had trouble understanding why we take the winter off to begin with--I think she's sad that her classes are over, since she only gets the one year as a novice--until I reminded her how cold the Chapel was back at Brigid and asked if she really wanted to take classes in those temperatures all winter. That building leaks heat like the proverbial sieve.

In any case, once again I sat and hung out with some of my dorm-mates as late afternoon turned into evening, and once again I looked out a window over campus grown dark and saw the central field illuminated by hundreds of flickering candles. The sky was clear and dark and spangled, the temperature falling rapidly into the first truly cold night of the year, and I thought that this moment, which doesn't happen every year, when I look out and first see all those candles, is my favorite part of the holiday. It's like that moment on Christmas morning when you're a kid, when you wake up, before the presents, before the candy, before everything, and you know for sure it's going to happen.

I met June in the landing above the central stairway down into the Great Hall--which is itself decorated with pumpkins and squashes of all kinds and sizes, and shocks of corn all bundled together, and creepy vines all twisted and dried and twining across the ceiling, and the Thank You Doll, now all shriveled and old, still sitting in state and ready for its own internment, and we and the rest of our crowed put on our shoes and our cowls and cloaks, and walked out through the Green Room towards the Chapel, my wife and I holding hands.

When we got to the Chapel, of course the room was full of light, lit candles in the aisles and in the holders along the walls and on the stage, and already the room almost half full of people. We found our seats.

"I'm excited," June confessed. "I don't know what's going to happen."
"That's the idea," I told her. "You're a novice."

The bells began, and the masters processed in, looking strange and mysterious as they always do, with their hoods up and almost covering their faces, like so many enchanters. That some of them actually are witches, or alchemists, or magicians is an entirely prosaic fact around here, as normal as being able to play the guitar or write poetry, but being a witch, or an alchemist, or a magician, or whatever it is Charlie is (a Troll King? An Ent, one of the shepherds of trees?) ought not to be prosaic, and there are certain days when they dress up and remind us that something extraordinary is going on. Samhain is one of those days. They took the stage, and the ceremony began.

We read the names of the Beloved Dead (I recognized one name as belonging to someone I'd met--Charlie's brother. I'd known he had died, but not what Charlie felt about it. I looked over at my teacher and he seemed attentive but impassive. Some questions don't have answers), recited some dozen short eulogies, and sang Hats Off to Dead Folks. The masters came down off the stage and we all milled around, talking, until the bell summoned them and they left, mid-sentence, taking their candles with them, leaving us with that much less light. And the rest of us streamed out onto the already freezing grass, headed towards the bonfire and dinner and s'mores.

And just as I realized June was not beside me in the crowd anymore, I heard a strange sound in a familiar voice. I turned back to investigate.

The sprouts, costumed for the holiday and lying in wait, had captured their grown-up, as they do every year. Usually it's one of the masters, one year it was me. They hold the grown-up ransom for candy and expanded privileges, and everybody pretends they don't know the ruffians are children playing a game. But this time, they'd caught June.

"Ahoy, there, pirate!" I called. "I would parley with ye!"

A rough-clad figure in a dreadlocked wig, who I suspected of being Adelee Grimm, detached herself from the group and came over to talk to me.

"You're supposed to pretend you don't know it's us," she said, sullenly.

"Me? Know who you are?" In the still-distant firelight, identification really was difficult. "All I know is you're a fearsome pirate--and you've kidnapped my wife." I let my voice sound suddenly stern and irate.

"That's how the game works," she said, rolling her eyes like the teenager she'd recently become. She won't be a sprout much longer. "Come on, you're ruining it for the littles."

Behind her, I could see Paul and Ruthie, my niece and nephew, looking at me in frightened confusion. I knew them in the dark by their small size and by something in their postures. Lo had picked them up when she brought Alexis to campus earlier in the day. That Chris wasn't with them proved we'd known exactly what the plan was. Only kids four years old and older can play this trick for treats.

"How the game works is you're supposed to take a master or a senior student, not a novice!" I let myself get even more stern. I was not play-acting. June was lying, half-tied-up, under a restraining pile of children, probably getting cold, and she didn't know what was going on.

"Aw, but she's Mrs. Kretzman," protested Billie. I know his voice. He meant that she was a staff-member. And of course, she had been the director of the summer camp they had all attended. But that wasn't the point.

"She's a novice," I reiterated. "You have to go tell her the rules and ask her if she wants to play. If she doesn't, I'll take her place."

So, Adelee went back to her group and conferred briefly with the prisoner, who thought about things for a few seconds, then nodded. Adelee reported back, still sullen. I had little sympathy.

"She said yes."

"Ok, give me a little time to go tell the masters she said yes. And when you do come out, negotiate hard. Make this worth it." Ok, I had a little sympathy, and I didn't want to ruin their fun, or have June think she had ruined it.


I found the masters and almost everyone else already at the bonfire. I whispered my news in Kit's ear. She nodded and then let the others know, subtly, without calling attention to themselves. When the costumed sprouts showed up and announced they'd taken June, I was suitably distraught, really camping it up, offering them anything, anything, for the safe return of my wife, while Kit and Greg held firm, insisting that we do not give in to criminals. Eventually, the kids got half a pound of candy each, plus a shopping trip to a certain favored toy store, to be funded collectively by the masters and parents. It was somewhat less than they've gotten in other years, but there's always some variation so I'm not sure that their choice of target hurt them. I didn't think it should.

June was released, none the worse for wear, and yes, a little cold from having lain on the ground. I wrapped my cloak around both of us and warmed her as best as I could.

"You know," I told her, "It's really a compliment."


"They thought you counted as one of the masters. It's a good sign that you will be."

*I'm posting this on October 30th, although Samhain begins at sundown on October 31st and extends through November 1st.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Interlude 7

Hi, all, this is Daniel-of-2017, and I am genuinely curious how I only got through four posts between sabbats this time. Wasn't it just Mabon a few weeks ago?

It's not just that time seems to be flying, though that happens, too. It's that there are six weeks between sabbats, so why did I only get four weekly posts in? The problem must be that I posted for Mabon late, whereas I'm posting a little early for Samhain. I don't want to simply pass the organizational buck to the next season, after all. I want to prepare for this holiday early.

Samhain is harder to forget about than Mabon or Lunasadh, or several of the others, because it coincides with a mainstream holiday, Halloween. It's funny, I know a lot of Wiccans who really like Halloween, who see it as very much an extension of Samhain, but as I started noticing my first year on campus, the two holidays are very different. Samhain honors and celebrates the dead as beings who are still part of our lives, people who are welcome to come have dinner with us, if they can. The symbols of fruit (pumpkins, apples, pomegranates) and seeds (corn, acorns) and gorgeous fall leaves (rather delayed, in the case of this year--our area has been well above normal in temperature for weeks, now) all hint at sweetness, fullness, and the promise of regeneration. Samhain is about the thing that does not die at death. In contrast, Halloween, with its symbols of bones and blood, tombstones, and scavenging rats, focuses very much on the things that die.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with celebrating Halloween, but it's not really my thing, especially since there's no rule that says you can't celebrate Samhain and eat Halloween candy at the same time. But I am kind of surprised that so many people like both holidays--something about being "witchy."

I'm not sure what else to say. I'd planned to spend a few more weeks talking about the end of June's school year and the progress my fellow candidates were making, but then again, I also planned to talk about some of the novices I met that year, especially the yearlings who made up most of June's new friends, and here I realize I've introduced NONE of them as characters...most of what I plan doesn't happen, but then things I didn't plan do happen, and that's usually better.

In any case, I do remember being sad about the annual eclipse of the faculty--the masters mostly leave campus after Samhain, and those who remain are not generally available to talk to students. I was, at the time, in a difficult middle position where I was genuinely friends with some of them, even close friends, and yet when they distanced themselves from students in order to take a break from working, they distanced themselves from me, too. Too, I had spent so much of the summer and early fall feeling angry and rebellious at Charlie, and as a result, he'd become angry at me, and it felt like just as we were starting to get along again when he went away.

Of course, that's the one scary thing about Samhain and all it represents--however early you start preparing, in some sense it is always a surprise. There is never enough time

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 6: Post 4: Leaves and Leaving

I went for a walk with Kayla the other day. I hadn’t spent much time with her in a while, and we hadn’t really talked about her studies, her career through the school, in years. 

“You’re graduating this year,” I said, after a bit.


“Is it weird? I mean, you’ve been here forever.”

“Not forever,” she corrected me. “Just my whole life. And yes, it’s weird.”

“I’d be scared, if I were you,” I said. She laughed.

“Is that your big-brotherly advice? To be scared?”

“No, it’s just what I would do. I’m not saying it’s a good idea.”

“I’m not scared. Maybe I should be? I’m going to miss all of you, though.”

She has this deal, to make sure she goes out and experiences the “real world,” where she’ll be barred from campus for a year, not even allowed to call. If she wants to come back for her ring, she’ll have to be Absent, or at least living and working elsewhere, for ten years, not the normal three.

“We can visit you, though,” I pointed out.

“Only one at a time,” she reminded me. “And honestly, you won’t. Not very often. You’ll get all wrapped up in your lives here, and you’ll forget to visit.” I started to protest, but she overrode me. “No, it’s ok, I think that’s part of the point. If they thought you’d all come by my apartment every other minute, they’d probably put tighter restrictions on me.”

“They’re tough.”

“They are.”

“What about Aidan?” He's an exception to the one-at-a-time rule, I knew that.

“He has to come visit me. Every day and twice on Sundays. I told Mom I’ll reveal the location of her secret chocolate stash if she doesn’t take him.”

“Ooo! So, what’s your plan? When you leave?”

“Did I tell you I joined Joe’s company?” Impressive news, though apparently a non-sequitur. Joe, my former boss on the janitor’s team, you may remember, has a dance company off-campus. Hardly any students ever dance with him, though, because he does not teach beginners. You have to audition. She had passed.

“That’s great! So?”

“Well, he does pay his dancers. Not much, but with that on my resume, and the dance classes I’ve been teaching at the summer camp, I should be able to get a job as a dance instructor, somewhere.”

“Kayla, I’ve never asked you—what do you study here?”  Her first few years, of course, she was just taking the occasional course and mostly being a kid. She only really got serious about earning her degree while I was away in by own Absence.

“When I was little,” she said, “and I’d ask my Mom how she knew something, she’d always say ‘it’s something I learned in Mom School.’ Well, I guess I’ve been going to Mom School.”


“Yeah. I mean, I met my healing requirement by learning how to take care of a small child, everything from baby CPR to how to splint a fracture, to reading all this child-development stuff. Magic is stage magic so I can entertain my kid and make things he shouldn’t have in the first place disappear. My spiritual studies revolve around what it means to be a mother and how to integrate my experience of…having Aidan, you know? My Craft is cooking, but I’m going to try to argue it’s building a human being… Mom School.”

“But your Mom is mostly raising Aidan.” As soon as I said it, I knew I should not have, but she appeared not to take offense.

“Let’s just say that if Aidan comes into fatherhood early, I’ll know how to help him.”

While we’d been talking, we’d come down among the sugar maples on the side of the road. Most of the leaves are still up, and some of them are even still green, but a lot have fallen already. I’d been using my foot to idly push leaves into a small pile, as if I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. Now, I knelt to tie my shoe.

“I know one thing you’re not prepared for though,” I said, while still kneeling.


“A Sneak Leaf Attack!” I shouted, and tossed the pile at her. We were both wet and tired and covered with bits of vegetation when we made it back for Friday Dorm Dinner.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 6: Post 3: Andy's Ministry

It’s curious, of the whole candidates’ group, all of us returned either this year or last year. There are no third-year candidates. Of course, a lot of people do finish their candidacies in only a year or two, but three and four-year candidacies aren’t uncommon. I could end up having one—I already know that I’m not earning my green ring this year, and I wouldn’t want to. And the two who earned their rings this past Brigid, Yves and Wren, were both third-years. 

But the Brigid before that, no one came back to start a candidacy. And Yves and Wren were the only two who came back before then. So, no third or fourth years, now.

All this must seem pretty dry and random. Like, who cares, right? And it’s almost that. I mean, I was just thinking about things the other day and it popped into my head—huh, no third-years. But we’re a very small group, we candidates, and small groups are prone to weird fluctuations according to chance. That’s one of the things I learned in grad school. The laws of probability, the type of reasoning that flows from them, it’s a way of thinking as unusual, as magical, as any kind of mysticism. Maybe more so, because the magic, for all its power, hides in plain sight.

Half the magic and mysticism here is, in fact, scientific reason. Charlie has scientific training, as do both Allen and Joy, in slightly different ways. Logic, quite specifically, was the teaching my friend, Jim received here, and reason was a big part of Ollie’s training as a novice. And of course, Charlie sent me off to grad school and a degree in environmental science quite deliberately.

And then there is Andy.

Andy, the one-time bicycle thief, the recovering heroin addict, the born-again devotee of Jesus Christ. He’s not so entertaining as he was when he first arrived here, blithering with chronic hypothermia and religious fire, but he remains the real deal, dedicated to tripartite monotheism in a proudly polytheistic enclave, and happily oblivious to any kind of thought that moves in a straight line.

I dropped in at his bicycle shop the other day. He doesn’t own it yet—his credit is not yet repaired to the point where he can get the loans a business owner is likely to need—but the owner has essentially retired. In most ways that matter, it is Andy’s shop. And you can tell.

When you come in, there is the normal bike shop smell of rubber and grease, but also something else—the scent of coffee and, sometimes, baked goods. Andy’s set up a sort of bar where people can come in and sit and chat and drink coffee as long as they like, while he works and chats back, or rings up customers. The coffee’s free, though there’s a donation jar marked COFFEE FUND on the counter. Sometimes there’s fruit, or chocolate, or doughnuts, or baked goods on the counter, also free.
The rack of cycling magazines doubles as a library—you can read as long as you like, without buying, and stuck in among the cycling mags are copies of National Geographic, the Christian Science Monitor, and The Watchtower. There’s always a couple of people hanging out, and Andy asks them for a hand, or delivers random lessons in bicycle maintenance, when he gets the urge.

There are bulletin boards all along the back wall, some for community notices, some for cycling-specific messages, some for photographs of customers having adventures on their bicycles. The boards are all framed by rows of Christian bumper-stickers, and Christian rock often spouts from an old boom-box in a corner. He’s still only here part-time, since he’s mostly on campus. Two shop assistants make up the difference. But the place comes alive when he enters it.

This shop is Andy’s ministry, as he puts it. He’s set up a place for people to chat for the express purpose of getting to know his customers and providing a space for them to reveal any problems they might have, which he then solves, if he can. He teaches courses in bicycle repair, often to various underprivileged groups and sometimes for free. He rents out the warehouse space to AA and NA meetings. He organizes races, small concerts, and guess-the-number-of-jelly beans raffles to raise money for various, mostly local causes. There is a second donation jar labeled “Buy a Kid a Bike,” and he periodically uses its contents to give free bikes to people in need—often children, but sometimes adults. He never draws attention to the program, though, and never identifies the recipients of the bikes.

All of the service he offers is practical. Despite the literature and the bumper stickers and the music, he never talks about Jesus with his “parishioners,” unless they bring Him up. Even then, his religious talk is minimal. He offers a friendly ear, information, money, and free bicycles to anyone who needs it.

“No preaching?” I asked, teasing him a little.

“Did Jesus preach to the lepers,” he responded, “or did He heal them?”

Monday, October 2, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 6: Mind in Poetry, Poetry in Mind

Well, here we are. It's October, the air is crisp and cold, the trees are well on their way to peak foliage, and it's only a month before the end of the academic year. I always find this time a little surreal, thinking about how the year is about to be over, and how far we've come since Brigid--and how far I've come since that first Brigid--and which ones of my friends are about to graduate, even though the actual end of the year, actual graduation, isn't until February. It's this sudden, weird rush of perspective.

Of course, the person who's graduation is most on my mind is June, and she's not going anywhere.

The Mansion is decorated for Fall, now--that started some weeks before Mabon, of course, and will continue into Samhain, with items being gradually added and occasionally subtracted. Dried seedheads in attractive arrangements are slowly proliferating as the world outside makes them available, for example. But at the moment the Hall looks really good, filled, this year, with pots of red and yellow chrysanthemums, and the Thankyou Doll sitting in state in a kind of altar on the mantle piece, and the weather outside still warm enough for all the windows to be open during the day.

Charlie and the landscaping crew are busy putting the campus "to bed" for the year, and it's weird not to be working with them. Sometimes I really miss being on the crew--I can help out when I have time, of course, but they don't really need an extra person, and I rarely have time anyway. I get my hands in the dirt at my off-campus job and when I do trail work up in the woods. It's other students' turn to be on the campus crew, now.

What I have been doing is teaching my workshops and seminars and going over my grad school notes with Charlie. Both are almost done, since Charlie and I are just going over the last of my grad school classes and my thesis now. It's strange to think that this last--the thesis process--is something Charlie never completed. Academically speaking, I now outrank my teacher. I wonder if that ever makes him wistful? Not finishing? Of course, he doesn't need a master's degree because he is a master six ways from Thursday, but he wouldn't be the first person to be irrationally regretful.

And I continue to write a poem every day from my special spot in the woods, and to edit my poems with Charlie. I've given up on the idea that it's impossible to edit poetry, just as I've given up on the idea that one can't write poetry on command, that one has to wait for the muse to descend. I write when it's time to write and I edit and I improve.

And yet I've noticed that the thing Charlie suggested as an alternative to editing--he said that if poetry can't be edited because it expresses the writer's soul then we'd have to improve my writing by improving my soul--seems to be happening also. I don't mean that I'm getting enlightened, or anything like that, I mean that I'm starting to be able to see the problems that Charlie flags. The way I read my own poetry is changing. And I've noticed that when I arrive at my "spot," I automatically slip in to my "writing mood." I'm more observant, and I'm observing my observations, rather than daydreaming or worrying about things. It's as though my mind is in a poem even before there is a poem in my mind.

Just the other day, he suggested that I start writing poems in and about other places, too.

"Why?" I asked. "Wouldn't poems about other places ruin the thematic unity of the eventual book?"

Notice I didn't say aren't I supposed to be writing about my spot, or some other appeal to rules and authority. I said "thematic unity," something I never used to even notice, let alone care about. Anyway, he flashed me a smile, a brief indication of approval.

"Good question," he said. "I do want you to continue to write about your spot. Unless you'd rather do something else, all the poems you publish in the book will be about that spot. But you can write about other things, and you should, and when you do, I hope you'll share them with me."

So, that's what I'm doing.

Perhaps the objective is to have my mind in a poem all the time?