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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Moon Man

Neil Armstrong died this past week, and now there is a full moon. I keep thinking about it. The moon is a big deal for a lot of people I met through school--it's a big deal to me, though I find it easier to talk about what it means to other people, people who are more overtly religious than I am. When you don't have a religion to talk about, all you have is spirituality, the deeply personal, the hard to explain.

I'm going to be thirty-one years old this coming month. I obviously don't remember a moon without Neil Armstrong's footprint on it. Not that I can see the print, but I know about it. I've always known about it. My first memory of the moon, in fact, is of my Dad telling me about how astronauts had walked on it. I had a picture book all about it. I wonder what it was like to look up and see a moon that nobody had ever walked on, and then see that change.

I know people who wish it had never happened. For them, the moon is the Goddess, period, and the thought of the moon also being a planetary body of rock and dust seems disturbing. Even Kit, who does not object to the moon landing, tends to ignore it. She looks up and sees the Lady. She does not see men's footprints there.

I know other people who wish humans would go back to the moon, who see our failure to go back as a failure of human spirit. I don't know what to think.

Tonight, I went out to my garden, our garden, at the house my wife and I rent. We're allowed to do all our own landscaping, and we've done a little backyard habitat, like Charlie taught me. But we also have a moon garden. It's mostly natives, but it's all pale plants and white flowers, or flowers that open at night, for moths. There's a bird-bath in the middle, and I go out there sometimes, to think. I take out my athame, the one Kit gave me, and I look at the moon reflected in the water, and I pray. Or I get as close as I get to prayer, anyway. Tonight I prayed for Neil Armstrong.

And I prayed for my wife and our baby, the one she thinks we're going to have. We don't know for sure yet. We weren't planning for this, we weren't trying, but we weren't trying not to, either. Imagine; our own little astronaut, swimming weightless in my wife's sea.

We're all exploring a new world, every day.

The moon was significant for Charlie, too, though he never explained what he saw when he looked at it. He never explained much about himself, and I never asked. There's a lot about his story I never knew, and probably never will, now. But he did sometimes tell me snippets, little hints, about who he was, and he once told me about his first AA meeting, and how he got sober. He never told me about his drinking, and he told me very little about his sobriety, but he told me how one became the other.

It was back when the Master's Group was still just six friends,three of whom owned a house together, and the students, or those people who eventually evolved into students, would crash out in the basement, studying, doing yoga or sometimes drugs, wondering what, exactly, enlightenment was. There were six then as there are six now, but nobody from back then is left. I've only ever met one of them. Charlie was friends with them, and worked as a landscaper and arborist.

I don't know how or why, but Charlie got in trouble. He lost his apartment--that's how he said it, "lost," like he misplaced it somehow. He asked his friends if he could stay with them for a while, and they said yes--if he went to one AA meeting first. I'll try to put the story in Charlie's own words.

"If they'd said I had to get sober I would have ignored them. I'd have slept on a park bench. I didn't need their sanctimonious shit, telling me what to do...not when they had half a dozen kids getting stoned every night in their basement. But they just said I had to go to one meeting. Just one meeting. I figured, what the hell, I've done worse things for rent. I slept through half the meeting, but when it was over, I got up, walked outside to where all the reformed drunks were standing around, smoking and gabbing...and as I came out from under the eves of the building, the light of the fill moon fell on my face. And I knew I'd never drink again. I asked Jim--he took me to the meeting--to help me get into rehab. He did. And I went."

I asked Charlie then why he went to rehab, why he bothered attending AA meetings at all, if he knew from that moment that he'd never drink again. And he looked at me the way you'd look at some little kid who had just said something irrelevant.

"Daniel," he said to me, "when God speaks, you don't ask those kinds of questions."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Philosopher's Stone Soup

So, I said I'd tell you about Philosopher's Stone Soup. It went pretty much all year round, except for the winter break, but I only got my act in gear to join it over the summer, so my first and lasting impression of it was of summertime, when we cooked and ate outside, our talk punctuated by the tickle of grass and the long summer shadows, our food seasoned with the scent of citronella candles and environmentally-friendly bug spray.

Philosopher's Stone Soup was a weekly potluck run by Allen and Kit, or, at least Kit was usually there. I'm not sure she was doing much running (she had her own extra-curricular activity, a free-form jam session for the school's many musicians). Except, for most potlucks you're supposed to bring prepared dishes, but for Stone Soup you had to bring ingredients. You could bring anything you wanted, as long as you could get it edible within twenty minutes (no whole frozen turkeys, for example). People would bring flour, zucchini, blueberries, lillies (they're edible), cookies, squirrel meat, and pretty much anything else you could think of.We'd figure out some way to make a single meal out of it. Usually the idea was Allen's; he was a phenomenal cook. Then we'd make the meal, and then over dinner Allen would ask what we wanted to talk about.

It was always a trick question, because whatever subject we brought up he would pick it apart. He was the philosopher of Philosopher's Stone Soup. He'd start out asking clarifying questions and gently pointing out inconsistencies and logical errors, and he'd keep right on going until he had thoroughly demonstrated than we did not know what we were talking about. We put up with this for two reasons. First, we knew what he was doing. You hear about the Socratic Method as though the point of all the questions is to finally arrive at some kind of knowledge, but that isn't what Socrates did, and that isn't what Allen did. Instead, you ended up at the very limits of knowledge. Allen used his sharp mind first to cut through all our assumptions and mental sloppinesses, and then he kept on cutting, kept on pressing us, chasing us out along the edges of what we knew and were sure of, until....

I've read that there was once a culture where they would hold contests on how to define God. First one team would offer a definition, then the other team would offer a better definition, and they would keep going until eventually one of the teams wouldn't be able to respond, wouldn't be able to define God any better. And in that silence of not knowing was God.

Not that we didn't get frustrated with Allen sometimes, but it was impossible to be angry with him, because he was such a cut-up. And that was the other reason we kept coming back. Once, I did get at least half angry and actually called him an eel. I would never, never in a million years, have called one of my teachers names at any other school, but then this school wasn't like any other. Allen just laughed. I think he actually laughed so hard he sprayed out a mouthful of wine, but I might be making that part up. It's hard to remember. But he did laugh.

"One of Socrates' friends said something similar," he said when he could speak. "Called him a torpedo-fish, which is the same thing as an electric eel. Really, I'm honored." He snorted again with laughter. We were all laughing, too. It was infectious, his laugh.

"What did Socrates do, when his friend called him a torpedo-fish?" I asked, trying to get a hold of myself.

"Told him to stop flirting with him," Allen replied.

"I'm not flir--" I burst out, indignant, and everybody erupted in laughter again. Except that Allen fixed me with his incisive gaze and, very calmly, asked me how I knew I was not flirting with him. Then he busted up laughing again. Allen is the only man I have ever known who could do a dead-on perfect imitation of himself.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I could have titled this post "Lammas," the name refers to the same holiday, and it is easier to pronounce and to spell, but we almost always used Lughnasadh on campus. It's August 1st.

Lughnasadh was not a big deal for most of us, although we did have that day off from classes--the summer semester ended the day before, and there was a break of a few days before the fall semester began. There was also a big lunch that Sarah used to more or less show off the farm. I can't remember if I've said so before or not, but we ate very well on campus. We ate strangely, because there were almost no foods that weren't local (coffee and chocolate were both exceptions), and either in season or dried or canned. We had no refrigeration on campus, either, and some things, like eggs and milk, were rationed. That all doesn't sound very good, it sounds like deprivation, but we actually always got enough--there just was no room to waste. And everything we did eat tasted fantastic, and a lot of that was Sarah's doing. Every vegetable of hers I ate was always the best one of that kind of vegetable I'd ever had. On that first Lughnasadh, I remember I was eating stuffed squash, and I don't even usually like squash. There was a big party tent set up outside, in case of rain, I suppose, because we ate out on the meadow near the Dinning Hall, just eating and talking. It went on for hours. Some people brought guitars or juggled, or just sat around and read. One girl, Amanda, took a nap under a table.

The masters left the party early, and they did not all leave at the same time. The only reason I noticed was that I watch people (I’m a writer), and I happened to be watching Greg when he left. I’d been watching him much of the afternoon, because I was surprised he was there; Greg did not usually attend community events if he didn’t have to, though today he seemed to be in an unusually good mood, joking and laughing with some of his friends. Then he left. I was watching the door to the tent, thinking, when Alan left. Odd. Were they going somewhere together? I knew they got along, but Greg seemed so separate from the others, it seemed strange to think of him making plans with somebody. I decided to look around and see who else had left, and I noticed Joy was gone, as were both Joes and Chuck, the maintenance man. Obviously the masters were going to do something as a group that we students weren’t supposed to know about. I debated asking one of them directly—a direct question usually got an answer, and the masters sometimes did things mysteriously in order to provoke students into asking. But they also sometimes acted mysteriously for the pleasure of being mysterious, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spoil their fun—or mine.

But I got distracted from any snooping or questioning I might have done that day, because Kit and Sarah started singing. They weren't performing. Maybe they were practicing. They were sitting off by end of the big tent where we'd had our holiday lunch. Sarah was sitting on a tall stool, Kit was standing. She wore, I remember, not the school uniform, but a green dress with mirrors flecks sewn in that set off her hair, just so. Sarah wore a simple, grey skirt she had sewn herself, and she had her hair done up in a yellow bandana. And they sang "I Come to the Garden Alone," Sarah in a sweet soprano, Kit weaving her earthy alto in and among Sarah's tune.

I went over to listen to them--Kit looked at me briefly, nervously, but otherwise they both ignored me, which was fine with me. I would not have thought they were friends, except for those occasional duets. They were both so zealously committed to religions that each excluded the other, not that it had to be that way--Sarah was not the only Christian on campus--but that was how they had both made it. And yet they sang duets. I'd heard they were once close, as students.

Finally, they stopped, embraced, and Kit began to gather her things to leave. Sarah sat down next to me, but she was looking off behind me, watching something. I turned, and saw she was watching Charlie. Here eyes followed him as he gathered his things, spoke briefly to a few people, and left the tent.

"You were his student, weren't you?" I asked. This was common knowledge, but I was being conversational. Also I was being nosy. I wanted to know about the strange, almost but not quite neutral expression on her face as she watched him. She blushed, slightly, but whether it was because she'd been rude enough to completely ignore me (Sarah was usually very conscientious and polite), or because I'd clearly noticed her watching Charlie, I couldn't tell.

"I still am," she told me, quietly.

"Did he always make it so hard to be his student?" He had just made me re-label several dozen trees again, so I was a bit irritated, but Sarah clearly thought I meant his resistance to taking on students to begin with, which was legendary.

"Oh, no. He used to be pretty outgoing, to a fault, if anything. He seemed to think he was God's gift to students. He couldn't wait to teach us."

"Really?" I'd never heard of this. "What happened?"

"If he has not told you, I will not."

"Well, what else was he like? What was he like when you were a candidate?"

"He knew everything, same as he does now," Sarah smiled nostalgically as she spoke. "You know how your parents seem to know everything when you're small? He really did. He made the world seem bigger."

"I guess you're like Alan, then, stuck between him and Kit?" I shouldn't have asked about this, and Sarah shot me a look, but I thought it was common knowledge that Kit and Charlie were more or less allergic to each other. To my surprise, Sarah shook her head.

"It wasn't like that. We were his students together. I found my way to Jesus through him, and she found her Goddess. She admired him as much as I did,"

"What happened?"

"We both grew up, I think," she answered. I must have asked too many questions, though, because Sarah nodded to me in farewell, and abruptly got up and left. It was a self-protective gesture so like Charlie that if I didn't know better I could have sworn she was his daughter.