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, July 9, 2012

A Day in the Life

I'm looking over a daily planner of mine from twelve years ago, and I see my schedule written here in my handwriting. There are no notes, no anecdotes, no adjectives, just what I was supposed to do when, but this note I wrote to myself over a decade ago brings all the details coming back to me across the years, even to the scent of farm animals and green things, the hot, sticky evenings of summer, the cool of the morning before the fog burned away. I'll tell you some the details that I wrote down, and some of the details I didn't.

There was meditation in the morning, of course, though in July the sun was already well up by six, so I usually set my alarm for quarter of five and went running before zazen. Breakfast was always a choice of either miso soup or oatmeal, though there were eggs and sometimes sausage, and home made granola and buns, too, and the tables were set with these beautiful little wooden bowls full of toppings for the oatmeal--fresh fruit, sugar, nuts...that June I remember there were blueberries, we grew blueberries on campus, and I think I mostly lived on them.

I didn't have anything scheduled in the mornings that first summer, my classes were all in the afternoon, so after breakfast I'd put in my hours as a janitor and then go about whatever tasks Charlie had set for me. I could, and did, complain almost constantly about all the ridiculous things he was making me do, even though I'd talked him into being my teacher in the first place, and I'd do it again. He was right about the value of a boogie-man; blaming Charlie freed up a lot of my energy that would otherwise have been expended just getting out of bed in the morning. By July he'd let me slack off on counting birds and gotten me into trees. I had to label every tree on campus, I'm not even kidding, I had to make a little label for every one with common name and scientific name, both spelled right. I could look up every one in a guidebook if I wanted to, I didn't have to memorize anything, but it's hard to table a few dozen of this or that tree and not get "white pine, Pinus strobus," or "sugar maple, Acer sacharum" stuck in your head, and of course Charlie knew that. So I'd spend an hour or two labeling trees every morning, cursing Charlie, and then when I was tired of that I'd quit for the day and go hang out with Charlie. I must have been insane.

Charlie did not have classes in the morning in the summer either, except for some elective, I forget what, on Friday. Instead, he supervised the grounds keeping team, gardened, and puttered about. I was still kicking myself for not having joined grounds keeping, so around ten thirty or eleven I'd go find Charlie and help him with whatever he was doing. He couldn't give me a formal assignment, since those were reserved for his actual employees, but he let me tag along and do whatever he was doing, planting, pruning, checking for beetles or aphids or whatever else. It was a lot like when I used to help my Dad in the garden when I was little. Charlie and I didn't talk much while we worked--Charlie never talked much--but it was a companionable sort of thing, and sometimes he would tell me the names of plants or insects, or quiz me, or tell me why he did things one way and not others. The entire campus, I came to understand, was not just landscaped with natives, it was a single, giant, ecological sculpture, his self-taught, ad hoc attempt to garden for habitat the same way Sara gardened for peas or tomatoes. I have no idea if it worked or not, but there did seem to be more birds and more interesting creepy-crawlies than anywhere else I've been. Campus is one of only two places I've ever seen a living luna moth--go Google them, if you want to, they're amazing.

Anyway, when Charlie got hungry, he'd declare lunch time, and we'd go pick up sandwiches in the dining hall. Sometimes we'd eat with Alan or Sara, or Rick, Rick being another of Charlie's students. Sometimes Charlie had a meeting, or maybe an attack of grumpiness, and left me to eat alone. Sometimes the two of us would go eat our sandwiches together out on the meadow where a large building used to be--I think it was student housing or a school building back when the campus was a private boarding school. I guess it burned down in the same fire that damaged the Mansion--that fire is why the school was able to rebuilt the third floor and add a fourth and make the Mansion into the passive solar structure it is today. But where the other building was is just a flat spot with a drop-off at the end, a little grassy cornered cliff. We called it the Edge of the World, and a good place to have lunch.

After lunch, I'd have class--two days a week I had Introduction to History, the Wednesdays were for martial arts with Karen, and Mondays and Fridays I took various workshops and talks. A lot of the talks were for credit, and though you only got a quarter credit per talk, they added up. In the evening...let's see, Monday I did homework, Tuesday was Philosopher's Stone Soup, which I'll tell you about later, Wednesday was group therapy and then Dead Poets Society, Thursday was the Paleolithic Dinner, which I will also tell you about later, and Friday I hung out with my dorm-mates. Over the weekend there were parties, little concerts and poetry readings, and homework. I'm not sure when I slept. Maybe I didn't sleep. I was only nineteen and had energy to burn.

I remember one day, over lunch out on the Edge of the World, I asked Charlie why I had to listen to birds and label trees and so forth. I wasn't complaining, but he was primarily my spiritual master, and while I must have had an intuitive sense of the answer, or I would never have pushed Charlie into teaching me, I wasn't sure what this natural science stuff had to do with finding God. Charlie looked at me a moment before answering, and then asked if I knew him. I didn't know what he meant.

"You know, do you know me? Do you know who I am? Are we friends?"

"Yeah, sure, I guess so," I told him. Were we friends? The word started me, and I was distracted for a moment, wondering. Charlie went on, answering my question with more questions.

"What's my name? My full name," he asked. I told him, middle name included. His eyebrows raised--I don't think he knew I knew his middle name. "How do I make my living?"

"You're a professor at an odd liberal arts college, and you write and publish poetry and essays."

"What do I live on? What do I like to eat?"

"Sheep's milk mozzarella on whole wheat oat bread with honey mustard," I told him. He made an odd sound, a cross between a grunt and a chuckle, and looked at his half-eaten mozzarella sandwich. I never saw him eat anything else for lunch, ever.

"Who are my associates, who do I like to be around?"

"Uh, Alan and Sara and some of your students," I ventured. That one was harder, since I never saw him when he wasn't working and I didn't know who he saw on his free time.

"Who don't I like to be around?" He asked this one with a sly twinkle, wondering, maybe, if I'd be able to answer, but I answered without hesitation. I knew he didn't like Kit, was more or less allergic to her. He made his chuckle-grunt again. "Is it that obvious?" he asked ruefully. "I'm going to have to do something about that." He took a few more bites of his sandwich and a pull from his water bottle.

"If you didn't know all those things about me, would you be able to say you know me?" he asked. I told him I would not. "Well, God is the same way."

I think I paled, realizing what this statement implied about how much Charlie would ask me to learn about trees, but something still didn't add up.

"But particular tree species aren't God," I objected. Charlie shrugged and held up his hand. It was big, meaty, and calloused.

"What is the name of my first finger, then?" he asked me, shrugged again, and then finished his sandwich and began to pack up. I let him go. I'd long since noticed that whenever Charlie said more than he'd expected to, he seemed to feel a need to get grumpy, or to leave afterward. Often, he didn't even say good-by. He wasn't being inconsiderate, he was being deliberately rude, showing his prickles like a porcupine would. But a porcupine is a vulnerable animal with a soft belly and a slow, impractical walk. You can kill one with a good fastball, so I've read, throw a stone that a rabbit or a cat could easily dodge. I've never actually met a porcupine up close, though I've seen them in trees once or twice. But if I did see a porcupine on the ground and it showed me its quills I would let it walk away in peace.

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