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, March 25, 2013

Part 2: Post 3: Why Ecology?

No, Jesuits were not the primary instigators of the Inquisition.

Yes, I did use this picture last week, but I figured Aaron and his parrot (named "Ahab") made a good introduction today as well.
 You may remember that figuring that out was my homework assignment in History last week. I had no idea how to go about this at all, but I figured the thing to do was to at least find out what a Jesuit was--I'd heard the term, and knew it to be some subset of the Catholic Church, but that was about it. So I went to the library and looked up Jesuits in the encyclopedia. They are an all-male Catholic religious order founded in 1534 by St. Ignatius of Loyola and approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, and they are primarily concerned with teaching and missionary work. Then I looked up the Inquisition. Turns out there were two of them; the Medieval Inquisition, which began early in the 13th century and focused largely on Christian heretics and the Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1481 and focused primarily on Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity. So, I guess that's that. I didn't expect it to be so easy.

I find it interesting that, according to the encyclopedia, anyway, the Inquisition hunted down Christian heretics and Jews, not pagans. Of course, most people here are convinced that the witch hunts were aimed precisely at pagans, and constitute something very like the Holocaust. They call it the Burning Times. And here is the encyclopedia implying otherwise. Of course, the encyclopedia could be wrong--maybe it is hiding something, or maybe its authors were duped somehow....but it's in our library, and presumably wouldn't be if the masters didn't think it was a reliable source. It's an unusual library--except for some of the reference books, like dictionaries and encyclopedias, they only have books the local library in town does not, which is why we all have town library cards. So the collection is quite deliberate. They wouldn't have a book here that they didn't actually want. I suppose this is why we're taking history class, to learn how to deal with apparent contradictions like this.

I hadn't really wondered why we are taking the classes we are, as opposed to Transfiguration and Potions and what-not. I'm kind of just taking everything in right now, and I like to kind of go with the flow anyway, but several of my teachers began by assuming we'd wonder, and it's a good question.

For example, why ecology? Charlie is back, though still blowing his nose occasionally, so this week's meeting was our first with an actual teacher, and he began with the question.

"Why not?" someone answered.

"Well, sure, but why not a lot of things? You could study almost anything that way. Why is ecology one of the first four courses you're supposed to take here?"

No one answered, and so Charlie began his lecture.

"You probably consider yourselves to have some sort of Earth-centered spirituality, right? You worship the Earth-mother, you're animists, whatever. If you were Jewish--you couldn't get away with calling yourselves Jewish if you never read the Bible. So what's our Bible? Where do we go to read something to keep us from falling off into fantasy?

"You," he said, picking out a student at random, "what do you know about oak trees?"

"They're tall, strong, they have...leaves. I mean, they have oak leaves," Jahred stammered and blushed, knowing how he sounded. Charlie waited patiently. "I mean--how do you describe the shape? Anyway, they make good firewood, they're used for growing shitake mushrooms, and they're metaphysically masculine."

"Good," Charlie responded. "The word you want is 'pinnately lobed,'" and he drew a picture on the white-board of an oak leaf.

"Pinnate" means "feather-like," so pinnately lobed means the lobes come off to the sides of a long central axis, like the fringe off a feather.. While not all oaks have lobed leaves, those that do are pinnately lobed, and pinnate lobing is distinctive of oaks.

"English oak is everything you said--strong, big, ancient...I can't comment on metaphysics, but otherwise you're right. Except we're not in England;
Northern red oak is an American oak that fits the steriotype of the big, noble tree. Its bark, when mature, is distinctive for its thick grey ridges that are paler than the (sometimes reddish) furrows between.
Northern Red Oak; Quercus rubra
some of our oaks fit the same description, but  not all of them. Bear oak doesn't; it's a shrub. The name comes because bears can reach the branches for acorns." Charlie mimed being a bear gathering acorns. A few people laughed.

"If you lived in the Southwest, you'd have Gambel oak. It's a shrub, small tree, comes up in little clumps among the pines. Makes good fence-posts. Wildlife like it. I don't know what the people there, the Dine, the Ute, and so on, think of oaks metaphysically, but I bet they don't see them as symbols of power and sovereignty.  You--what do you know about holly?"

"I know they're used for Christmas decorations, because they're evergreen?" Dana sounded unsure of herself, probably guessing that she was going to be wrong.

"Right," began Charlie, "if you lived in England or, say, Maryland. But neither English holly nor American holly grow around here. Our hollies are deciduous. Whatever they mean symbolically, it has to be something else--"

I have seen this tree, but never in the company of someone wearing the school uniform; I put the student in the picture for scale. These trees can grow to thirty feet, but fifteen to twenty feet is more typical in my experience.
Gambel Oak; Quercus gambelii
 At this point Charlie interrupted himself and spoke more gently for a moment. "Relax. If nearly everybody didn't make exactly the same mistakes I couldn't write my lesson plan around your wrong answers, now could I? Someday I'm going to call on someone who has the right answers and I don't know what I'll do." He went back to his earlier tone.

"If you have any serious claim at all to be rooted spiritually and religiously in the Earth, you've got to let your ideas and your symbols grow out of the Earth. You've got to let the symbolic meaning of a plant or an animal or a landscape grow out of what it means to other plants and animals and landscapes, what it really means to you in a practical sense. You can't get that out of some Wicca 101 book. The men and women who study this stuff for real, who really spend their lives at it, are ecologists. They're the ones at whose feet you have to sit. And to have any chance at all of understanding what they're talking about, you have to know their language, the terms they use, the assumptions they make when they talk to each other. And that is why you're in my classroom today."

And that, I guess, is also why I now have about seven hours of homework for a single class.

(Next post: March 29th: Psychology and the library)

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