I’m not sure why there’s a break between Spring and Summer classes. It’s not so we can go home, because hardly any of us will—one of the workshops I took is actually mandatory. Maybe the break is for the workshops, or maybe it’s just so the faculty can have some time to write up our evaluations. I’m sure they take forever to write.
We don’t get grades here, incidentally. All our classes are pass/fail, and I’ve heard that the evaluations we get aren’t even the equivalent of grades. I mean, you can’t use them to rank yourself, even against some abstract notion of an average student. There’s no top of the class, there are no star students. I got curious, so I was talking to Ollie about this, and he says you just get constructive feedback on what you need work on. I’ve always gotten good grades, but I never really thought I cared much about that. Now, knowing that there are no good grades to get here…I guess I was wrong.
Anyway, the mandatory workshop is a three day Wilderness First Aid course. You get certified and everything. All the yearlings took it, as did some of the people planning to graduate this year. When you graduate, you need to have current CPR certification, plus First Responder certification (wilderness or front-country) or better. I scored well on the exam, and I know I should feel all confident that I can save a life now, but mostly I just feel more aware of how much I don’t know and how much could go wrong with a person that I couldn’t do anything about. The problem is it’s too much information to really keep in my head the first time around. I should really take the class again as soon as I can.
Two things really stuck in my head, though. One was that the instructors say that first aid providers often try to diagnose every symptom someone tells them about, but real doctors are much more likely to say “I don’t know.”
The other thing was something one of the instructors said at the end of class. Both of them are graduates of the school, so they know what we’re about here, and one of them finished up the class by talking about magic. He asked if anyone knew the phrase “you can’t heal if you can’t curse.” Over half the people in the room had, though I had not. It sounded to me like it meant you can’t work good magic if you don’t also work bad magic, a pretty appalling idea if you ask me, and I think most of the other people in the room had heard it in the same way; like real witches are necessarily morally ambiguous.
But this guy had another interpretation. He asked us to think about what sort of injuries could kill, and whether anything we’d learned might be useful when writing a murder mystery. Of course it could. I can imagine all sorts of nasty things a killer could do and exactly what would happen to the victim afterward.
“You don’t have to hurt anybody, and obviously you’d better not—you’d be missing the point of this class a bit, I’d think. But if you didn’t know, say, that cutting the femoral artery could kill a person pretty fast, how much use could you be to someone who has that injury? If you don’t know what hurts a person, how can you heal?”
On what I thought was a completely different note, I also took Charlie’s Chainsaw Safety and Operation course. He team-teaches it with a buddy from the Forest Service, so you can get a certification with it, too, but Charlie said people who didn’t know how to cut yet should just focus on getting some new skills, and not worry about passing the test. I didn’t pass, and I tried not to worry about it….But I did learn a lot. I’d used a saw a few times before, so I could see how what I’d been doing was inefficient and unsafe, and I got the opportunity to practice some new good habits—Charlie had taken down some of the trees along behind the Mansion, exotic spruces he’s gradually replacing with native trees, and he let us limb the trees and cut up the branches for the outdoor fire pit. The trunk sections he either sold or gave to a buddy of his. Apparently the wood is pretty valuable.
But there was something else. We spent a lot of time in class watching videos about chainsaw safety, and one of them had two characters, a logger who did everything right and a logger who did everything wrong and ended up squashed under a tree by the end of the film. Fiction, of course, but realistic enough. And the logger who did everything wrong was called Charlie. The tagline of the video was "don't be a Charlie."
Well, we all laughed about that, of course, and Charlie, the real Charlie, let us laugh and took it in good humor. But then, towards the end of the class he got up and made a sort of concluding speech. It was pretty short.
He was wearing regular clothes, not his uniform, which made sense, of course, but it always looked kind of strange. He didn't look right in running shorts and a t-shirt. So he just stood up there and said "You're all a smart group of people, and you've done pretty well in the class. Some of you passed and will get certificates, and you others have made a good start. But before you go out there ready to use all your new skills and so on, I want you to remember; you're never too smart to be dumb."
And he pulled up one leg of his shorts, pulled it up about as high as he could without exposing himself, and there, at the top of his thigh near the crease of his leg were scars, deep, old scars, thin lines with an odd, puckered look, like what I've seen in pictures of people who have been cut deep into muscle, people who have nearly lost limbs. And the placement of the scar jogged my memory; the lines ran right near where the femoral artery bubbles closest to the skin, the most critical pulse-point in the body, other than the neck. The injury we'd been talking about in First Aid class as a hypothetical was suddenly, appallingly real. I don't know how or when or why, but at some point in his past, Charlie quite literally came within two inches of killing himself.
"Don't be a Charlie," he told us.
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