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, March 17, 2013

Part 2: Post 1: Ostar

[Note; this post is about the Spring Equinox, and written as though looking back on the day, even though the actual equinox is still a few days away. I scheduled the post this way as a compromise among several conflicting timing issues. -D.]

We did get chocolate, actually, though that didn't turn out to be the most important thing about the spring equinox on campus. I'm not actually very surprised--I mean, I like chocolate, but I didn't exactly expect it to be mind-blowing. I'm not four, after all.

Although, you know, sometimes I miss being four--or, not four specifically, but little. I remember Easter when I was little, how exciting, how deliciously mysterious, hunting colored eggs and eating chocolate and jelly beans was. The Easter Bunny supposedly came in when we weren't looking and filled the house or sometimes the backyard with this absolute numinousness that tasted of pastel-colored sugar and smelled of vinegar dye and new-cut grass. Often, if Easter fell late, my Dad would have just mowed the lawn for the first time that year, so the smell of it, the smell of spring and growing things, was everywhere.

Of course, we went to church later in the day, and when I got older I got into that more, but when I was really little it was just all about the chocolate. I said something about this to one of my Wiccan friends a few years back, and she said that what I liked about Easter when I was small was Ostar, an older,pagan holiday that Easter had somehow usurped. I don't think that makes sense, because, you know, what is mysterious and wonderful for a four year old isn't necessarily all that special when you get older. I mean, I could buy a pound of jelly beans myself, if I wanted to, but I haven't bothered, not in years. I'm kind of over it. Whatever else they were, pre-Christian European pagans were grown-ups, or at least some of them were, and so their holidays could not have consisted entirely of fun and games for four-year-olds.

Even having been through the celebration today, I'm still not sure I'm in a position to say what either pre-Christian or Neo-pagan Ostar is really all about; I know the campus Wiccans went off somewhere to have their own celebration, and whatever it was they did, it must have been different from what the campus as a whole did. I was not invited to watch. I'm not sure I can even say what the celebration I did attend was about, because nobody explained it to me. That was sort of weird--when Kit talks about Wicca, she explains it in detail, what everything means, all the symbolism and history and everything. A lot of her students do that, too. But when we do something as a whole campus community, nobody explains anything unless you ask, and sometimes not even then. The best I can do is say I liked it. It was fun.

It lasted all day--I got out of my janitor shift, even, though I had to help with set-up and clean-up instead, in order to get my hours. We opened and decorated Chapel Hall, including stocking the place with firewood. Classes are starting this week, actual classes, and they'll be held in Chapel Hall, in the little rooms around and above the cavernous chapel space itself. So now it's warmed and dusted and swept out and, at the moment, bedecked with pastel-colored ribbon, hung with hand-blown and decorated eggs and bouquets and garlands of dried flowers, and perfumed with little pots of sweet-smelling jonquils. Lunch was a sort of a picnic, in that the food was served outside, but a lot of us took our meals inside to eat. It's still kind of cold, and there are still patches of snow on the ground. After lunch we had an egg-hunt, but we did not hunt dyed chicken eggs.

Instead, we hunted for actual bird's nests. It was like nature scavenger hunt. Charlie was in charge of it, and he handed out digital cameras, memo pads, and good binoculars--one of each per team of two, unless you already had binoculars, which I did not--and told us to go take pictures of active nests. We were supposed to write down why we believed the nest to be active, and where it was on campus. Nests or egg masses belonging to other animals were ok, too. Even sprouting plants were ok, although for them the scoring was a little different. We got one point per nest, an extra point if the time stamp on the picture showed we were the first to take a picture of that nest, and another point if the picture was beautiful or artistically interesting. A point would be deducted for a nest that wasn't actually active, or if Charlie found out that we had done anything to stress the animals. For plants, all the shoots of the same species were treated as a single nest, so only the first person to photograph that species go the extra point, and if you took photographs of different plants of the same species that still only counted as one. Charlie said that the winning team would get a prize, and the best pictures would be printed and hung in the Chapel Hall gallery.

Great Horned Owl
I didn't win, and I didn't expect to, but apparently my team did pretty well. I was partnered with Nora, which was interesting, as she and I had never really talked before. She's not in my dorm. It's funny, she seems so young, but she's only three years younger than I am. I guess that's not that much in the grand scheme of things. She kind of has an attitude, like a chip on her shoulder, but she's also really smart. She had a better idea of how to look than I did, and found our first nest. It was a great horned owl nest in an old squirrels' nest, or drey. She knew roughly where it was because she'd accidentally wandered near it at dusk a few days earlier and been chased off by one of the adults; "f___ing thing was as big a small dog," as she explained. Today I guess the owls were sleeping,because they didn't bother us and we didn't bother them. You can't see the inside of the nest from below, and we weren't sure where it is anyway, since there are a couple of squirrels' nests up there and they all look alike from below, so Nora's idea was to climb one of the pine trees nearby and look down from above. I gave her a boost up to the lowest branches and handed her the camera and note-pad, and she came back down with some pictures of a very sleepy owl. We couldn't see if there were eggs or chicks underneath, but we earned a point.

Common Raven
 Then I found a raven nest inside what I guess is one of four bell towers on top of Chapel Hall, but there are no bells in there and it's all open, so I guess they are raven towers. I spotted  it from the ground, but we climbed another tree to get a decent picture. We ended up being the first ones to photograph the ravens, so that gained us an extra point, which I then lost for us with my picture of a mantis egg case, which turned out to be old. "Good eye, though," Charlie remarked on our memo pad.

Other people found two active squirrel nests, a pregnant doe, various insect eggs and cocoons, and some frog jelly in one of the big puddles in the woodlot behind the campus. Of course, several people got pictures of the chickens, and, surprisingly, got points for the pictures. I'd have thought the chickens wouldn't count, but they are laying and they are birds, so I guess they do. Also someone got a really nice picture of a barred owl nest in a big dead tree near the pond, but apparently that owl family always nests there and the people who got the picture are second-years, so I'm not sure if that's fair.

Barred Owl
 The team that won found three nests, one of them first, and got two really great pictures. Charlie made a slide show for us and showed it in the Great Hall after dinner, so we all got to see each others' pictures. And he explained what everything in the pictures was, which is how I know which owl was which, and what a drey is, and so on.

The winners did get a prize, presented in the evening, with the slide show.  I'd expected the prize to be a five dollar gift certificate or a chocolate bunny, but it turned out to be a pair of beautiful Faberge-style eggs. Charlie had found them in a yard sale, and had paid for them accordingly, but he must have known they were worth a bundle. The things are exquisite, tiny, with precious metals and enamel, and apparently a matched set. Charlie told the winners they could give the eggs away, if they wanted, but could not sell them.

Praying Mantis Egg Case
Someone told me that the prizes are always egg-themed, always a surprise, and always serious pieces of art. Last year the prize was seven Ukranian Easter eggs. I've seen them, their base color is almost black, but interrupted by a marvelous filigree of flower, leaf, and animal designs. The way they're  done is the artist covers part of the egg in wax, then dips it in dye so the wax resists the dye and leaves a white design against some pale color, like yellow. Then the artist adds more wax and dips it in a different, slightly darker color of dye, such as blue, so now the whole egg is green except for a yellow pattern and a white pattern. And so on, until the base color is as dark as can be and every color imaginable is represented in the intricate, symbolic design. When it's done, they drop the egg in hot water to melt the wax off. It's called Pysanke (pronounced "peSHENkie"), and I think somebody on campus probably knows how to make them.

The year before last, each winner got a small silver tree hung with nine tiny ceramic eggs, each a different color and pattern. I've only seen one of those, the other winner isn't on campus right now.  No one knows where Charlie got the egg trees.

Did any of this mean anything, besides a fun time outside on a nice day? Was there any intended message or teaching, or does Charlie just like to send students outdoors to play? I don't know. But, as I said, I liked the egg hunt. It made me feel both very childlike and very grown-up, like the thing inside me that liked hunting plastic eggs in the living room had grown up, so the game had grown up, but I liked it in exactly the same way as I always had.

It's hard to explain.

These are Pysanke, in the same style as the prize from the egg hunt in 1999. Never mind how they're standing up.....

[Next Post: March 22:Gardening with Charlie]

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