I’ve been talking about what the Masters did on the Island, but really that’s only part of the story, and perhaps it is the lesser part. The bigger deal, maybe, is that this is the first time all us yearlings (except two) have been together without, well, supervision by senior students and faculty. Yes, one or another master has taken charge of us during the day, but, except for the overnight on the stone beach, they leave us alone at night. A few times one or another has stayed with us for a few hours around the fire at night, but without telling us what to do--it's not like we're doing anything illicit or even all that exciting with our freedom, but it's just sort of new to have to figure things out by ourselves. Like who is going to do dishes, or what we're going to have for dinner,or what to do when we run out of some foodstuff. It's like being left home alone by one's parents for the first time--and honestly, that's probably why I find it so striking.I mean, I haven't really been on my own yet all that much. I'm sure it's not as big a deal to say, Arthur.
But even Arthur noticed the change.
“I guess they trust us now. We’re converted,” he said. And I guess that's the issue, really. I mean, if we'd all gone off together somewhere when we'd first come to the school, we would just have been a random group of people camping together. Now, I guess we're part of the school, and the school is part of us, so even without senior students or masters with us, we're having a distinctly school-ish experience by simply being together. Maybe that's part of the reason they take us out here; it's an opportunity for us to get to know ourselves as a group of group of students. That it provides an excuse for the faculty to more or less go on vacation is probably another part of it, I'd guess.
And it's true that we're kind of different. I mean, we've spent the last couple of months, most of us, taking the same classes and reading the same books, more or less, and having wacked-out conversations with the same mind-blowingly strange and awesome people, so I think we take some things for granted now that other people don't. And I think we talk about different kinds of things--different from what my friends at home and I used to talk about, anyway.
For example: Bigfoot.
Now, I've talked to people who have claimed to have had paranormal experiences before, so the fact that Arthur turned out to have a Bigfoot story is not itself all that strange. But any normal group of people sitting around a fire would have followed up that story by telling their own stories and trying to top each other, right? And that's not what we did.
Arthur was holding court by the fire, as usual. I think he likes being the oldest and maybe wisest of us. He's already done a lot of the things we came to school in order to learn to do--he actually is a Wiccan priest already, and I think he likes impressing us. So he told this story. He didn't actually see the creature--the night, he said, was utterly dark--but he heard something, and it was neither human nor any animal he'd ever heard, or heard of. It screamed, twice, and he could hear it walking through the underbrush, clump, clump clump. It was big, and, from the sound he described, bipedal. A second person heard the sound, too, but in the morning they could find no tracks, no physical sign of anything having been there. Later he learned that area (in Pennsylvania, I think? Maybe Maryland? I was too wrapped up in the story to take notes) is a major center of Bigfoot sightings, but he had not known that at the time. And it was years and years ago, before he got into the occult at all.
He told the story well, with spine-chilling pauses and sound effects, and I would have thought he'd made it all up except that for one moment, just a moment, he looked subtly but genuinely afraid. Sixty year old men trying to impress college students do not pretend to be afraid.
"But how could that happen?" one of the women named Raven said afterwards. "There is no Bigfoot, right?"
"You don't know that," countered one of the other women named Raven (there were seven women named Raven on our trip, none of them have nicknames to keep them separate, and yes, it's confusing).
"But scientists have looked, right?" This was the first Raven. Arthur confirmed that scientists have looked, and that while no definitive proof of Bigfoot presence has been found, a few of the sightings and footprints have not been otherwise explained. And there are fossils of an extinct ape of the right size, so the thing at least used to exist.
"But you can't just close your mind to these possibilities," insisted the second Raven, "There's all sorts of things out there that science can't explain."
"But how do you hide a seven foot tall ape?" asked Don. That shut us all up for a moment.
"What if they're space aliens?" I offered. "They're not hiding, they're just not always here?"
"I don't know if I want to go there," demurred Don.
"Why not? That would explain scientists not being able to find them. It's the simplest available solution."
"But it doesn't explain how the aliens got here." This was Don again. "Speed of light--there's nowhere other intelligent life could be where they could have picked up our radio signals and had time to come find us yet."
"Maybe they didn't come here to find us?" I interjected, but everybody ignored me.
"I still don't think we should close our minds to these things," Raven reiterated. "I mean, there might be faster-than-light travel. There might be all sorts of things in the woods we don't know about yet."
"No, see, then science wouldn't work," the other Raven put in. "Science is based on the assumption that the universe behaves consistently, right? You do an experiment over here, and that tells you about what's happening in all comparable circumstances anywhere. You can't just hide a breeding population of seven foot tall apes in the middle of the United States and not be able to find any proof that they exist."
"You're being way too linear," accused Arthur, affably. "I've seen things science can't explain. What about magic? What about faeries? Science can't explain them, but they certainly exist."
"Maybe they don't" said one Raven.
"Maybe science can explain them, but it just hasn't yet," said the other Raven at exactly the same time. The both laughed.
"The thing is," continued the more science-minded of the two Ravens, "if science doesn't work,then how come we can use scientific knowledge to invent weather reports and modern medicine and digital watches and so on?"
"Wait, digital watches? Did you seriously just say 'digital watches'?" Don interjected, but everyone ignored him.
"Or maybe," began yet a third Raven, "Science does work, but it's incomplete. I mean, it's just a paradigm, right? Somebody decided that the universe behaves consistently. And it worked for us for a while, but maybe there's a better model? But if we're going to let go of that paradigm, the question is what are we going to replace it with?"
"Marshmallow?" offered Arthur.
That was a few days ago now. The trip is over, and we're starting to get ready for our summer classes. But I keep thinking about it, about the island, the mountains, the lichens, the fog...I keep thinking I hear the crash of the waves at night, the way I sometimes could in the campground on the Island. And, of course, I'm thinking about Kit.
Kit, in a way,had the first word on the Island, talking with us about goals and expectations and leading us in asking permission to go up into the thin places. In a similar way, she managed to have the last word, too.
In the morning of our last full day she took us to the campground's amphitheater, where nobody comes at this time of year, and had us go through a series of expressive movement exercises. Like, we'd take turns dancing in a happy way or in a sad way, or making up movements that expressed ourselves or each other. It was a lot of fun--as long as someone else was doing the dancing. I'm not normally shy, exactly, and I am athletic, but I do not think I'm graceful. I'm tall and gawky and I feel like I'm all elbows and ears and Adam's apple. Part of liking to watch other people is that I do not like other people watching me. So when she finally asked us to take turns dancing our experiences on the Island over the week, I stood there silently begging her not to call on me. And of course, she did. They always do, when you hope they won't.
"I...can't." I stammered.
"Why do you say that?" asked Kit, gently, with real curiosity.
"I'm--shy." I don't normally think of myself as shy, but it was the only word that fit. Allen would be proud of me; I'm getting better at naming my feelings."
"Can you dance your shyness?" Kit suggested. I considered. I really did not want to be the weanie who doesn't rise to a challenge, even if the challenge seems kind of strange or small. And so, by way of answering, I tried to dance.
I don't mean 'dance' like to any particular rhythm or anything like that. This was more like a modern dance thing of interpretive movement. That's part of what Kit does--pays attention to the language of movement. She's a dance/movement therapist, by training.
So I crouched down in a protective ball, shielding myself from others' gaze with my hands. I tried peeking, to see what people thought of me, but that was horrible. So I stopped peeking and closed my eyes. But of course, there is something slightly ridiculous about such a self-protective posture; it's not exactly inconspicuous. So I started to exaggerate it further, scuttling around like some scared bug, really hamming it up. Once it was obvious I was trying to be funny, I guess, the others started to laugh, some. That was alright. I'm ok with being laughed at, when I'm trying to be funny. Eventually, being a clown got to be more important than dancing my shyness, and my movements got bigger, more exaggerated, more expressive. I kept my eyes closed, but I started waving my arms and making strange faces, head-banging and pumping my hips. I wasn't blind to what I was doing; I was dancing my way out of my shyness. Finally, a little out of breath, I came to stillness and opened my eyes. Everybody clapped. I didn't die.
After lunch, we went back to the beach of stones, and Kit assembled a sort of band where everyone was banging on rocks with sticks or banging rocks together, or singing nonsense syllables, or dancing. She built up this complex rhythm, layer on layer, half impromptu and half directed, and there was no way I was going to dance or sing, my morning breakthrough notwithstanding. And I have all the rhythm of a slug, so I wasn't going to drum. Kit assembled everyone else, all facing the sea,and then she looked at me. I looked back.
"Just open your mouth and see what comes out," she suggested. "Face the sea, breathe deep, and...?"
She stepped away from me and I let myself forget about her and all the people behind me. I opened my mouth and said--
"Once there was a man who had no music, and he lived by the sea and the sea had no music, though the sea was in the music and the sea was music, and the sea was in him. But the music was hidden in the deep rollers and in the light on the sea and in the man's heart, and there was no way to bring it out. And so the man dived into the sea, and so began his journey."
And I told this story. I have no idea where it came from, it just spun out of my mouth as I opened it, as I kept opening it, this half-poem, mythic thing, and behind me the drummers and the singers adapted themselves to my cadence. They slowed down in the slow parts and sped up during the exciting bits, and when I said that the man reached the edge of the sea where the horizon meets the sky and, he found the Dawn and asked her about the music, and the Dawn helped him climb into the clouds so he could ask the sky, and he asked the sky where the music was and the sky said BOOM! everyone behind me startled and laughed and broke the rhythm for a moment, but then they recovered and they boomed with me, BOOM BOOM BOOM. It was seriously like I was the front-man for a rock band. And the music burst forth like rain showers, all kinds of music, all kinds of rhythms, and the man found his way back to his homeland and he brought the music with him,the music the was the sea and the sky and his heart and had been there all along. But now it could come out, and it has been out ever since, and that is why Dawn comes first to this Island, it's to listen to the music, and this is why there is so much fog, it's because the Sky comes here to check up on things, and this is why more kinds of plants grow here than pretty much anywhere else nearby, it's because every note is a live thing, and every rhythm is an ecosystem, and they all came here first, because of the man who wanted music.
[Next Post: Monday, May 27th: Einstein and Earth]