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

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Merry May Day

Sorry it's been a while since I've posted--some things in the here-and-now have come up and demanded my attention. I wanted to tell you all about Beltane, and here it is, already two weeks past. Well, here goes; better late than never.

Beltane, as you might know, is the first of May, and celebrates the beginning of the pagan summer. Of course, that's European-derived paganism, where they have warm winters. I used to think that it was the Gulf Stream that kept western Europe so warm for its latitude, but Charlie just growled "well, what the hell is going on with Seattle, then? No Gulf Stream there." And he's right. Of course he's right. Charlie was always right. Fact of the matter is, it's the prevailing wind direction in the temperate zone that does it, flowing west to east, so that places to the east of an ocean get a moderate, maritime-influenced climate and places to the west of an ocean get a harsher, continental-influenced climate. The bottom line is that while Kit was making plans to celebrate the beginning of Summer, Charlie and Sara (the school's farm manager) were struggling with late frosts on their plants. Five years earlier, they said, they'd seen snow on Mother's Day, and they didn't expect full leaf-out for another few weeks at least.

But for us on campus, Beltane did mark the beginning of academic summer. I'd finished my first semester, and required courses in ecology, psychology,  history, and anthropology were behind me. I'd chosen a Master to work with in three out of the six required areas (I'll tell you about that shortly), and I felt pretty much at home at my new school. We didn't have summers off (we had off from November through the beginning of February, remember), but there was a three-week break before the short summer semester started, and Beltane was the axis on which the campus turned from one season to the next. Just as Charlie had been more or less in charge of Ostara, Kit--and to a lesser extent, Sara--were in charge at Beltane.

Kit and Sara made an odd team, for Kit was (and remains) vehemently pagan, while Sara is a practicing Catholic who quietly disapproves of pretty much anything else. She lived with her husband and three children on campus, mostly in a loft in the barn, while she ran the farm that fed us and he built custom violins and other instruments. She had once been a student, and she wore the green ring. By the time I arrived, she had actually taken to keeping her kids away from the students, especially those she didn't know well, but she loved the land and would not leave it, and she was quietly devoted to Charlie.

So on Beltane morning our animals and fields and orchards were blessed by a Catholic priest at Sara’s request, and in the afternoon we danced the maypole and had a feast.And between the two, Kit and Sara sang a duet, unaccompanied, about summer.  I found out later they had once been yearlings together.

It was the first time I’d seen Kit dressed in her own ritual costume, not her brown school uniform. She wore a white cotton dress of a vaguely Greek style, belted with a green braided cord, with a black hooded cape with red lining over top. She looked good, this tiny flame of a woman with a beautiful, commanding voice. It was also the first time I danced the maypole, so I don't know how traditional Kit's version was. The ribbons were all either red or green, and she had people dancing as women take one color, and people dancing as men take the other--that meant that you could choose which sex you wanted to dance as. At the end, we were supposed to end up facing someone of the opposite sex, and then the two of you would be partners for the night--not sexually, though that was the implied symbolism, but for some task like setting the tables for the feast. I ended up facing a dude, which was awkward, I won't lie, but I adapted.

"What if we're neither male nor female--or both?" someone had asked, though I don't think anyone on campus at the time really was in that situation. Kit didn'y miss a beat, she just tossed a tambourine to the questioner, saying "If you dance to the beat of a drum we don't have, then clearly you must help us make the music."

I noticed that none of the faculty or staff danced with us, nor did any of them even make music for us--the whole thing was students. I asked Kit about it later--unlike Charlie, who rarely explained why he did anything, Kit loved to explain at least a layer or two of the symbolism she employed. I later came to appreciate Charlie's ability to just let symbolism be symbolic--you'll notice I don't explain a lot myself--but at the time I really appreciated Kit's willingness to talk. I didn't feel quite so stupid around her. She said that students and masters should not risk becoming partners--and she said it with a flirtatious little smile. I think everyone on campus who liked women liked Kit. And she was ok with that. And the same time, it clearly wasn't going to go anywhere. You could have a crush the size of Kansas, and as long as you weren't rude or anything, you didn't have to worry.

It was nice.

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