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.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


I have described Yule on campus, and it is true that Yule, not Christmas, was the major winter holiday for the school as a whole. Many of us did celebrate Christmas, but most of us did so off campus with our families. Most of the people on campus over Christmas itself were there precisely because they did not celebrate the holiday. Yet, there were some exceptions, and that first year I was one of them. I celebrated Christmas at school.

I was curious, mostly, plus my brother, recently married, had decided to take his wife on a cruise, so it wasn't as though Christmas at home would be exactly as I remembered it, either. And I suppose that, at twenty, I was eager to prove I was really out on my own now. In later years I went home for the holiday, but at least I got my curiosity satisfied.

My parents had sent me a Christmas care package, though we planned to exchange gifts in person later. There were five or six of us who planned to celebrate together and they had care packages, too. Our plan was to have breakfast together and open our packages and exchange Christmas cards with each other. We'd also decided to give presents among ourselves, but limited to gifts that we'd made, already had, or that cost less than five dollars. We knew of nothing official scheduled, and I think we expected that by the end of the day we'd feel pretty lonely and sad. It didn't end up that way.

 On Christmas Eve I went to the midnight service in town. I was a little late--almost late for the service--because biking in the dark down the narrow road proved a little sketchy and I walked part of the way. I'd picked the UU church, and was not surprised to see Allen and his family there. He seemed a bit surprised to see me, but then I was not a regular attendee and I knew he was. He invited me to sit with them and was friendly with me, but it was the slightly distracted friendliness teachers often have when they see students out of context. I took my place on the pew next to Alexis, the littlest of Allen's kids. I don't know if she recognized me, but she obviously knew I was friends with her father and therefor an ok adult.

"I'm staying up till MIDNIGHT!" she told me, with no preamble.

"You're staying up later than that," her father corrected her, gently, "it's almost midnight now. The service goes until at least one. See my watch?" He was still explaining the mysteries of clock time when the service started. Over his bent head I made eye contact with Lo, Allen's wife, and she smiled her fondness of him.

The service was a bit different than the Methodist Christmas service I grew up with, but familiar enough, and the sermon was interesting. I forget now what it was about, but I remember that I thought about it for a few days. I felt a bit strange attending a ceremony in street clothes, like I should have been wearing my school uniform. And I felt a second strangeness after noticing the first. Increasingly I was feeling as though things on campus were normal and everything else was unreal. I glanced over at Allen; he wore a jacket and tie and seemed comfortable in them, but then he never looked right in school uniforms anyway. We were standing to sing while I thought these things and Alexis stood on the pew and sang along. She knew all the words, I noticed, except some words she clearly did not understand and mangled cutely. Oh, come all lee faithful, joyful and tri-umpant. Here father held her hand.

It must have been almost three in the morning before I got to bed, but I was up again at eight, ready to open presents...and to my surprise, there were some. I went down stares to the Great Hall and found that someone--I never found out who--had hung candy-canes and red and green Hershey's kisses on the tree; the kisses were speared through with loops of wire so they could hang. Someone had set out trays of doughnuts and bowls of oranges. The oranges were as rare a treat as the doughnuts, since usually all our fruit was local. There was coffee and hot cocoa waiting. And there were presents. Besides the ones we got for each other, I mean. Each of us who celebrated Christmas had a little bag with our name on it and inside was some small but perfect thing, all of them either inexpensive or probably used. I got a nice pair of binoculars. They were a little beat-up looking, but worked perfectly. Andy got a booklet on local scenic bicycling routes. Ollie got a deck of playing cards and an odd little set of magnetized marbles. And so on. It was more than just getting stuff; it was knowing that someone obviously really knew each of us, knew and cared, that warmed the heart. But who? None of us had done it, and a few of us got presents that were perfect in ways none of the other students could have known. Had Santa been here? Had one or another of the Masters--or, perhaps all of them--organized this? It is true that they often seemed to know more about us than we had ever told them.

Either way, it was fun--and accurate--to consider the presents the result of magic.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Happy Yule!

Yule is not the same as Christmas. Instead, it is a European pagan holiday on or around the winter solstice that merged with Christmas when Northern Europe was Christianized. Modern Wiccans and some others celebrate it on the winter solstice as a distinct holiday. It is basically all those parts of Christmas that don't really have anything to do with Jesus. I had known pagans celebrated Solstice before I got to the school, because I'd had some Wiccan friends in high school, but we never talked about religion much, and they always called it Solstice, at least when they talked with me. So I didn't know Yule meant something specific besides Christmas until I got to campus and I celebrated it for the first time. I've always celebrated it afterwards, and I still celebrate Christmas, too. With the baby coming, my wife and I are going to have to figure out how to have family traditions that make some kind of cohesive sense.

Anyway, there were only maybe twenty of us on campus the day before Yule, since a lot of the people who had stayed on campus after Samhain had gone home for the holidays. I was a little surprised, because we'd been encouraged to be there for Yule, but I was also kind of glad. We had a little Yule dinner around the beautiful old table in the Great Hall dining room and we all fit around it. Kit and Greg both joined us for dinner and helped cook, and they sat at the head and foot of the table like parents--which was strange, as I was not used to thinking of Kit in maternal terms and I had never really connected with Greg. But I liked it. Yule night, I should say, is the night before the sunrise of Yule, not the night after.

After dinner, more people started to arrive. Kit's husband came in, along with a lot of students and a couple graduates. I think we'd swelled to at least forty people before ten o'clock and a full party got going. There were trays of candies and cakes, a lot of alcohol, and dancing. Kit and her musician-friends formed a kind of band whose composition kept changing as one or more members got up to dance and someone else sat down. I was a bit surprised that none of the other Masters appeared, but this party seemed to be mostly a student-thing. It got pretty raucous and it just didn't stop. Around three in the morning I realized we were going to dance the sun up, but I turned out to be wrong.

By five I noticed that Kit was no longer part of the party. I didn't know when she had left. Things were starting to calm down, and I thought maybe she'd gone to bed. I was getting tired myself, and I had to remember that Kit was past forty. One of the older students called us all together and suggested we all climb the mountain to watch the sun come up. Greg would stay behind and watch over the oak logs and bayberry candles that still burned. The only thing was, we had to be utterly silent, not say anything until the sun actually came up. I knew a ritual activity when I heard one, I think we all did, so nearly all of us put on a couple of extra layers, pulled on our boots, grabbed foam pads to sit on, and walked out into the crusty, early-season snow.

We had flashlights, and it is hard to get lost in such a bit group, so hiking in the dark wasn't bad. It was strange not talking, though, moving with such a large crowd in the dark and hearing their breathing, their footfalls in the leaves and the snow, and nobody talking. We climbed to the top of the ridge behind the school to a lookout area where the trees had been cleared to give us a view almost straight down the valley to the east. By that time there was a definite glimmer of dawn; the eastern half of the sky was a luminous blue, with the ghosts of grey clouds just visible here and there. We all settled down to wait.

And heard music.

Someone, somewhere behind us, was playing "Here Comes the Sun" on a tin whistle.

Charlie! I looked around, but could not see him in the gloom under the trees. He finished the song and immediately began it again and this time, after the first few bars, was joined by a guitar. That had to be Allen. I hadn't seen him in weeks. I still couldn't see him, though the air was growing brighter all the time. The song cycled through, over and over, gaining instruments as it went: a violin, a tambourine, and a drum. The masters had all come. It was light enough now that I could probably have seen them if I'd looked, but the dawn was so close I was watching the horizon for the sun. One spot as growing brighter and brighter so that I kept thinking is that the sun? Is that it? Like when you're on an airplane taking off and you wonder if you've left the ground yet until suddenly it's obvious that you have. The sun came up and split the weird pale light of dawn and at that moment the song that had been repeating itself over and over again reached its beginning and it was obvious that we should all sing. Most of us knew the words--I did, I knew all of them.

Sun, sun sun, here it comes! we sang as the sun indeed came. I'd never paid any attention to sunrise before, but now it felt like a victory over darkness, like some sort of achievement. We did it! And when we were done singing we all jumped up and hooted and hollered and hugged like our team had won the Superbowl or something.

And we were completely freezing, having sat in the cold for the better part of an hour. Fortunately, the Masters had not just brought their instruments, they had also brought vast quantities of hot chocolate, cider, and coffee. Kit passed out ginger candies, golden as the sun, and caramels made with cayenne pepper. By the time we all got back down to the Great Hall, breakfast had appeared and so had dozens of other people, including the "sprouts," the children and nieces and nephews of the masters, all playing with new toys and eating cookies and candy. The almost monastic quiet of campus in winter was gone. I'd been up for over twenty-four hours at that point and was pretty fried, but I was also twenty, so I just kept going.  Not everyone did. Greg had gone to bed just after breakfast. I think the noise bothered him some, he wasn't a very outgoing person, and he was by no means young. Most of the masters fell asleep on the couches for at least a few minutes, and some took naps. Around noon, we found Kit curled up asleep under the Yule tree and her husband picked her up and carried her off to bed like a child. It was very sweet. I don't think she was exactly sober at that point, and she didn't wake up except to wrap her arms around her husband's neck, smiling. I wished I could have offered to help carry her, but of course I could not. It was years before I even admitted to her I'd seen her looking so cute and vulnerable. She would have been mortified.

Happy Yule, everyone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Busiest Winter Vacation Ever

I have previously written of my winter on campus as a very low-key and relaxing thing, and I do remember it that way; when I remember winter at school, the first image that comes to mind is myself seated by the wood stove in the Great Hall reading a book. Or, sometimes I imagine walking in the woods with Rick and the smell of the snow. I remember it as a very relaxing thing. But at the time, I actually felt very busy...the difference, I suppose, is that in retrospect I know that I got all my work done on time, so the memory is missing the anxiety that I felt when I was actually reading all those books and taking those walks.

As I've said, Charlie spent most of the winter living on campus, but I hardly ever saw him. He was actively avoiding students, resting from a long season of being almost constantly available.  If I did spot him, he would usually just wave and walk on without speaking. Before disappearing, though, he gave me two assignments.

First, he gave me a list of books to read--twenty of them, I think. I had to write short reviews of all of them and an essay when I was done. The process was quite similar to some independent study structures I've heard of--I believe Goddard uses something similar--except with those structures the whole point is to allow the student to design his or her own syllabus, whereas Charlie simply assigned me books he thought I should read. It worked out to about one and a half books a week, but I am a fast reader and Charlie knew it. I had to be done before classes started in March. He did not just give me titles, though. He actually gave me the books out of his personal collection. I'd get five at a time from Sharon at the front desk and then return them to her when I was done. Within a day or two he would have dropped off the next batch for me. I went through everything from the Bhagevad Gita to Sand Country Almanac that winter, all the books that I had correctly guessed Charlie considered spiritual texts when I'd looked at his bookshelves so many months before.

But Charlie had not just read and reread those books; he had also written in them. He was one of those people who likes to talk back to books, writing responses to the author as though the author would be able to read and respond to them. I've never seen the point of such notations. My parents taught me never to write in or damage a book, and I've never gotten over that injunction. But I'm glad Charlie had the habit. He never mentioned his notations, but he did seem insistent that I read those copies specifically, so I'm sure he meant for me to see his writing. The thing is, Charlie was not giving me information so much as showing me how to think in a certain way. It's not that he wanted me to have the same thoughts as himself, but thinking is an action, and he was giving me his thoughts to copy so that I could learn how to use certain parts of my mind better. Kit gave her dance students exercises to work on for the same reason. Charlie never told me that's what he was doing, and at that point in my life I was still so passive that I don't think I really noticed how dictatorial he was really being until much later. But I did read his notations and his reactions to the books shaped my own. The notes were rarely complete messages, and they were not always legible. His handwriting was not bad, but he sometimes read outside on his balcony until his hands were numb and stiff from cold. Other times he had a lot to say and wrote very small, curving his lines this way and that to take advantage of any remaining space on the page. Sometimes a note would consist of only a word or two;
 "says YOU!"
"Oh, yeah? Well, what about Fouts?"
 Or sometimes just an exclamation point. Sometimes I could see evidence of evolving ideas, where some flippant rejection would be crossed out and replaced by "oh, of course. I see." And I'd spend the rest of the day trying to figure out what it was he'd seen.

The other assignment was to learn how to track. Rick taught me. Rick had learned some of his tracking skills from Charlie, but he'd also had other teachers and was a true master. Snow is not necessary for tracking, and I can now track well without it, but snow catches very clear sign and is a good way to start, so after every snow that winter, Rick took me out and worked with me. By the time Spring came, I could teach the basic tracking workshops myself--a good thing, too, as Charlie's annual spring cold kept him from doing it.

Looking back, I was so busy...but it was not the same kind of busy that threatens me now. Now, I've got five or six balls in the air at any time, and there is always more that I'd like to do than time in which to do things. I know people who have it worse. But no matter how much of my time way occupied those years at the school, there was never any question that it was possible for me to get everything done if I applied myself. And there was nothing at all that I had to do other than school work and doing my cleaning chores. My life had a unity to it that I miss and that I associate with youth. I think some part of that unity was what Charlie was after, though, he and the others who wear the Green Ring.

Just a month or so now to when I restart this blog at its new address.