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;
"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.