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.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Part 2: Post: 12: The Names of Things

The trees are leafing out now. The whole campus is turning green. I know I've been saying that intermittently for months, but it's been happening for months, and every successive change seems both dramatic and sudden, not like something gradual at all. The snow melted, the shrubs and wildflowers greened up, and now the trees are leafing out and more and more plants in the ornamental gardens are in flower. The sumac is past already, but the spice bush is in bloom. It's just a different campus. I keep coming back to this. Am I going to be surprised by green every single day until Autumn?

Some of the things I described earlier are no longer true. The bird feeders in the garden you can see from the Bird Room have all been taken in, I guess so that bears won't get to them. My parents have their hummingbird feeders up and are awaiting their first visitors, but there are none here. Instead, a lot of the plants growing now will attract birds and butterflies when they bloom. All the balconies have window boxes now. In a few weeks, after we're sure the last frost has past, we'll all get scarlet runner beans to plant so in the summer we'll having living sun-shades and hummingbirds right outside our bedrooms. On warm days the chickens come out of their winter coops and hunt for bugs and whatever plants they like in the still mostly brown grass. I can hear the roosters crowing from class (an additional bird sound to keep track of, as I'm still being trailed by Charlie's spies).

And our food is starting to change. I hadn't thought about how seasonal what we were eating was until it started to change. Hardly anything is even planted in the outdoor beds, of course, since we still get frost every week or so, but the greenhouses have plenty of light. They aren't heated, so we can't get tomatoes all year or anything like that, but we've got cold-season greens and lots of sprouts. And we've got dandelion greens picked out of the fields and pastures. I knew dandelion greens were edible, but I never thought I'd actually eat any, and now it turns out I like them. I guess I was getting tired of root vegetables and soups and everything dried or canned. We still have a lot of that, but there's less of it, and hardly any meat anymore. We're starting to eat a lot of salad. Do you know, I don't think the kitchen has a refrigerator? We hardly ever eat anything that needs it.

And we continue to change. Kayla's son, Aidan, is getting rounder and more alert. I'd heard this before, about newborns, without really understanding it, but he really didn't look like a baby when I first saw him. He looked like a fetus, I guess, all thin and wrinkled and solemn. He's starting to look more like a baby now. And Kayla's doing well. I haven't spoken to her in a while, for whatever reason, but she looks like she's happy, and I've heard she's passing her class, which is pretty incredible in my opinion. Nora has officially asked Kit to teach her Wicca, though I don't know if anyone has told Nora's mother yet. I've hardly talked to Ollie in the past few weeks, we don't have any classes together, but we keep saying we're going to start running together in the mornings. Maybe we will. Andy has made himself officially in charge of bicycle maintenance and repair, which he is learning as he goes, largely from Chuck, the maintenance man. He seems happy. He has almost three months clean now.

And all of us,the full-course yearlings, anyway, are starting to --it's like our classes have invaded our speech.We all have the same classes, but some of us don't have a lot else in common. So obviously we talk about school to help each other with homework, but also because, I guess, it's what we think about. We even joke about physics, ecology, etc., because those are the in-jokes we can all get. Our spring classes are over now, though. They were just two credits each, and now that they're done it feels like they were both very short and very long. It's been pretty intense.

We have a few weeks off before summer classes start, but I don't think anyone's going home. There are a couple of extended workshops between now and then a lot of us want to take. There's a trip to an island I particularly want to go on, right after Beltane.

The other two workshops are Wilderness First Aid, and Chainsaw Operation and Maintenance. Both include certification. I'm taking both of them,the first because I want to, and the second because Charlie suggested it.

He asked me the other day if I had any thoughts about which craft I'm going to take. I hadn't, though as he'd the craft teacher I expected him to suggest I get on the horticulture team next year. Instead he suggested I get into chainsaw work, maybe axe, and trail maintenance. Apparently there are a lot of trails back in the woods behind campus, and he has a hunch.

"You can change your mind later and do something else, if you want, but as long as you don't have plans you might as well take the chainsaw class this summer," he said. Of course, he and a buddy of his are teaching it.

Speaking of working with Charlie, I'm hearing birds everywhere, now. I still don't know their names, or maybe their songs are their names, but I'm hearing them. It's like all of a sudden the woods and fields seem crowded, even when I'm the only human around. There are all these conversations happening around me and I don't understand any of them. I'd like to learn. And I'm starting to notice plants more, too. Wild ones, I mean. Even grasses. Did you know there's more than one kind of grass? Lawn grass, I mean. There's four or five kinds starting to flower out along the main road. Charlie didn't say I have to learn the plants in my squares, only look them up and write down which ones are sprouting and blooming and so on, but of course I'm starting to learn them, anyway. It's fun.

But I honestly wasn't sure why I was doing it. I hadn't even asked Charlie to teach me anything specific, just to teach me. So when Charlie and I talked about which craft I was going to take, I asked him.

"Hey, Charlie, you're my spirit master, right?"

"Yes, among other things." He was sharpening a utility knife as we sat together and he didn't look up at me.

"So, why am I learning all this? To listen to birds, to identify flowers?"

Now he did look up at me.

"Not what you expected, is it?"

"Oh, no, that's not it. I didn't really expect anything, I mean, I didn't know..." I sputtered a bit. I didn't want him to think I didn't still want to learn. "No, I'm not complaining, I just don't know how all this fits together." He kept sharpening his knife for maybe half a minute more, tested the blade by shaving a couple of hairs off his sinewy arm, and slid it into a deerskin sheath on his belt. Then he looked at me.

"Daniel," he said, "you're trying to make friends with God, right? That's one of the names for what you're doing?"

"I suppose so, yes. Yes."

"And you and I are friends, right?" News to me, but I certainly wasn't going to object. "So what's my name?"

I told him his name, first and last, including his middle initial, which I don't think he knew I knew. It's R, and I don't know what it stands for. He chuckled.

"Good. How do I make my living?"

"You're a college professor, groundskeeper, and writer."

"And I work part time with a landscaper in town. Buddy of mine. What do I eat?"

"Cheese sandwiches on homemade bread with honey and mustard." I'd never actually seen him eat anything else for lunch, and I never saw him at any other meal. He chuckled again.

"You're thorough. Who do I hang out with?"

"Me, some of your other students...Allen. I don't know who your friends are when you're not working."

"Who do I not hang out with?" This question there was a trace of something sly in his voice, as though he wasn't sure I'd be able to answer, but I did, without hesitation.

"Kit." My answer made him chuckle.

"Is it that obvious? I'd better do something about that. Now, if you hadn't noticed these things about me, would we really be friends?"

I'm not sure we are friends, though I'd be his friend, happily, but I've studied ecology long enough to catch the metaphor.

"You want me to learn all that about the birds and the grass and the flowers and the, the bugs and whatever else, everything that's here, don't you? But that will take years!"

"You've got four of them, and you seem reasonably intelligent," he said with a shrug. "You're a quick study." The compliment distracted me for a moment. I'm not sure he's given me one before, and all our classes are pass/fail, so I haven't been getting any grades. But--

"But the birds and the grass and the bugs are not God," I protested. Allen would have asked how I knew they aren't, but Charlie just held up his index finger.

"Alright," he said, "what's the name of my finger?"

[Next Post:April 29th: Second Interlude]

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