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, June 30, 2013

Part 4: Post 5: Nora and the Bees

 Nora seems to have a thing about bees now. I forget if I’ve mentioned it, but there are beehives on campus. That’s where we get all our honey and the wax for our candles. The beekeeper is an ally who comes in a couple of times a week. For the last month or two, maybe, Nora has been tagging along with her as much as possible, helping out and talking. Now, she can’t stop talking about it to us.

 I suppose Nora hanging out with the beekeeper is not all that different from me tagging along with Charlie when he works, except that I don't go on and on about it. Nora does have more time to tag along than I do, though, because she's not working and because she's only taking half as many credits. I forget if I've mentioned it, but Nora is on a six year track, because she hasn't finished high school yet. 

It’s not that she’s not smart enough, of course, it’s that there are some assignments here that require skills she doesn't have yet, so she takes a lot longer to finish her homework. But not all of her homework assignments are like that, so she often has a lot of free time. She's using it to hang out with the beekeeper and also with Kit. I expect she'll choose both of them as masters, if she hasn't done it yet. She's reading up on bees, she got her own bee suit for her birthday, and she's particularly interested in the wax. She made last week's batch of candles by herself, and now she's trying to figure out how to make scented candles. The wax belongs to the school, so she has to find someone willing to use scented candles for some legitimate school-related purpose before she actually makes them. Kit just said she'd use the scented candles in one of her classes, and this is why Nora is talking non-stop about bees and candles today.

She seems really young, talking on and on excitedly like this. Sometimes I forget she's really a high schooler. Other times, she says or does something, and it's like she might as well be twelve. But then, I probably sound about the same to a lot of the older students.

Nora doesn’t need to choose masters yet, even though she seems to be doing so. They set the deadlines for such things based on when you’re supposed to be done, not based on how long you’ve been here, so the longer you’re here the longer you can wait to choose. Arthur had to choose in his first couple weeks, because he only has one year here. Of course, he only had to choose one master, because he tested out of everything. For full-course students, you have to choose both your spirit master and your athletics master by the beginning of your first fall semester, but the others can wait a year or two. I think those are first because they usually take longer.

As I’ve said, I chose Charlie as my spirit master. I didn’t need an athletics master, but I now have him for that, too, at his suggestion. I’ll probably choose him for craft master, too. I don’t need an art master, and as far as I know Charlie doesn’t teach healing or magic, so I’ll have to choose somebody else for those. Most of the other yearlings have already chosen at least some of their masters, too; the leanings, the hints, I noticed a month or two ago, when we argued about who of our teachers was Dumbledore, have developed, crystallized out, into real choices.

Andy has organized his studies around something he calls “radical Christianity,” although, oddly enough, his spirit master is Greg, who isn’t Christian. I think he’s going to ask Kit to be his athletics master, so he can study yoga. He still sometimes gets almost manically excited about things, and he came back to the dorm a few weeks ago after a workshop Kit taught (“Beyond the Asanas,” I think it was called) just blown away by the idea that yoga is not just a series of stretches but also a way of living that includes kindness and generosity. He’s also adopted the care of all the campus bicycles, studying bicycle maintenance with Chuck, the maintenance man. I had thought that his interest in the bicycles seemed unhealthy—remember that he first came to campus in order to steal one of our bicycles, which he returned after he got clean. It was like he couldn’t let go of that guilt. But he seems really happy fixing bicycles, and he’s really good at it. He says that sometimes a debt that cannot be paid, a wound that cannot be healed, is a gift.

“Fixing bicycles makes me real,” he said. I don’t know what he meant.

Joanna is studying both Wicca and yoga with Kit, and stays out late on full and new moon nights in order to meet in ritual with Kit’s teaching coven. She’s already making ritual objects with Kit, that’s her craft, and she says she’s going to ask Charlie to teach her leatherwork and beading. I usually don’t think of him as an artist in that way, most of the time, though of course writing and landscape design are both arts, but I’ve seen his quiver, simple and practical but fringed at the top and bottom by rows of large, unique beads threaded through with leather thongs, and he made it himself.

Three of the women named Raven are working mostly with Kit, three are working mostly with Allen, and one with Charlie. I’m really going to have to come up with a way to differentiate them in writing—we use context, for the most part, or last names, which I don’t want to share. Dan, who shares my name and my age, is studying Zen Buddhism with Karen and music and dance with Kit. One woman, Sally, is studying New Age spirituality and horsemanship with Joy. And on and on.

I’m starting not to really understand what my fellow students are saying. We used to all have these great conversations together, and I still get to have conversations like that, but not with the same people as often. We’re all doing different things and getting excited about different ideas. It’s like we don’t even share the same language all the time now.

A few months ago, when we argued about who was Dumbledore, I thought that maybe we were really arguing about which teacher was most central to our experience of the school. We disagreed because we each saw the school differently. I said, at the time, that it was like we were each going to a different school, in a way. Now, it seems I was more right than I thought I was. And I wish I wasn’t.

[Next Post: Friday, July 5th: Fireworks]

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Part 4: Post 4: The Taste of Summer

So, I found out more about the summer camp. I really should have known about this earlier, because I know people who work as counselors there, and of course they’ve known all about it for weeks. 
Maybe I’ve been a bit oblivious. Anyway, the camp is for both boys and girls ages six to twelve, and runs for six weeks. They live in tents in the orchard and they split their time between helping Sarah on the farm and a choice of fairly standard summer camp activities, like archery and hand crafts, or they can just run around and be kids for a while. Legally, the camp is a separate entity, but all their staff are unpaid interns from the school and any profit they would have made is paid to the school in rent. Basically, the camp is a money-making scheme for the school, and I think we also get some possibly illegal child labor out of it for the farm, but it does sound like fun. 

I think the camp also helps keep some of the masters’ families happy, because children of masters can attend the camp for free.  I’m thinking here about Allen—as I think I’ve mentioned, the masters don’t really get salaries, they get stipends, only twelve thousand a year, I think. That’s fine for people who live on campus, like Charlie, because they get food, housing, and medical care all covered. They don’t actually need to spend any money, so twelve thousand extra to play with isn’t all that bad. But Allen has a house and three kids, and I don’t see how he can contribute anything like his fair share of expenses. Maybe being able to provide his kids access to an expensive private summer camp helps even things out a bit.

So yes, Allen’s two older kids are here, along with most of the other sprouts—“sprout,” I’ve learned, is the term for a child in the family of one of the masters, or anyone associated with everyday campus life. Aidan, for example, would be a sprout even if his grandmother didn’t work here, because his mother is a student. I asked Kayla if she is a sprout, and she said she is, but won’t be much longer. She sounded kind of sad. Obviously, she isn’t attending camp, because she’s a student now. She would have been a senior camper this year.

The campers eat some of the food they harvest, but mostly I think they eat food bought off campus—sourced locally as much as possible, of course. This thing about eating locally, I’ve been thinking about this, it means that different places have different tastes. Like, it’s not just cultural, the way you hear about…clam chowder in Maine, or sweet tea in the south, it’s the place itself that tastes like something. I have friends who ask me if I get tired of eating locally, if I miss, I don’t know, bananas or something. They don’t really get it. Of course, if I want a banana I can hop on my bike, go to the store, and get a banana, so it’s not like anybody is actually preventing me from eating anything, but usually I don’t bother. It’s inconvenient, yes, but also…it’s like why I don’t go to the store and buy all the fixings for a Thanksgiving Dinner. I like turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry relish and all of that, but I don’t go out and get it just whenever because it wouldn’t taste right. That’s what Thanksgiving tastes like. It isn’t what June tastes like. And so, a banana wouldn’t be what campus tastes like.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because our food has changed again. Late June on campus tastes different than May did, apparently. Milk is out, strawberries are in.

Milk is not out entirely, but they don’t put it out on the table anymore. The dining hall is hot, even at breakfast, because the heat from the stoves and ovens does not vent properly. It’s so hot that a jar of milk on the table would probably sour before the meal was over. So they bring around the milk, the way they used to bring around the oatmeal, and then they take whatever nobody wants back to the kitchen and immediately start making cheese or yogurt out of it. You can’t get seconds, because there’s no refrigeration on campus. They’re in a race to make the milk into something else before it spoils. But, at least we get yogurt now.

They don’t serve oatmeal anymore, because it’s hot, and nobody wants hot cereal. They still serve miso, but fewer people want it, so they make less. Instead, there’s home-made granola and piles and piles of chopped, fresh strawberries. Some people forget about the granola and just eat the strawberries. They put any leftover strawberries out for lunch, and if any strawberries survive that they go in the root cellar where it’s cool. Every three days they make a batch of jam, but we don’t get to eat jam now; June doesn’t taste like strawberry jam, it tastes like fresh strawberries. Strawberry jam is for the winter. In a few weeks, there’ll be blueberries.

This thing about not having refrigeration—not only does it mean we all have to think about food differently (did you know cheese is what you do with milk so it won’t spoil? I did not), it also means there is no ice. I’d never thought about this before—there’s just always been ice. Ice to put in your drinks, ice to put on sunburns or sports injuries, ice to drop down the back of your siblings’ shirts (I did mention I ran track, didn’t I?), whatever you need ice for, it’s always there. I mean, intellectually, of course, I knew ice is something we make with a freezer, except in the winter, but I’ve never really not had it when I wanted some. I suppose I could bike to the store and buy a bag if I was really hard up, but that’s not the point. 

So, when I said last week that Kit provides us with iced coffee in class? There’s no ice. What she provides us is more like cold coffee, or even just coolish coffee—however cold she can get it by leaving it in the root cellar for a while. And no, it’s not all that refreshing. For refreshing you want plain water, or any of the sour herbal teas they make here, mostly wood sorrel or sumac berry. With honey, they taste kind of like lemonade. But I’m not going to turn up my nose at the coffee. It’s sweet and milky, and usually Kit adds some kind of flavoring like chocolate or hazelnut. And it has enough caffeine to keep me awake in a hot, muggy classroom long enough to learn about the wedding customs of the Nepalese, or why the British don’t chill their beer, or whatever else my grade depends on this week.

I’ve been good at school most of my life, my semester at a regular college not included, and I’ve made up my mind I’m not going to be anything less than a fantastic student for Kit.

[Next Post: Monday, July 1: Nora and the Bees]

Monday, June 24, 2013

Part 4: Post 3: Curious Assignments

Kit is a surprisingly normal teacher, I’d say. I mean, I would have expected that her classes would be full of music and mystery and glamour. A lot of her workshops and talks are, and she’s always
dropping these hints, like she knows this magical secret and if you just follow her a little farther, you’ll learn it, too. So you’d expect her to begin her class by opening up a box full of live fairies or something. Maybe she does that in one of her other classes, but she didn’t in Anthropology. The class has been going for about a month now, and it’s a fairly straight-forward survey course covering the variety of known human culture. She assigns a lot of reading, and while she does not require a lot of writing in terms of word counts, she does demand that it be nearly flawless.

“If I can learn to spell, so can you,” she told Dan, in tones suggesting she expected him to learn it by the following week.

The only perhaps unusual thing about the class is she uses Wiccan symbolism to organize the syllabus; each of the eight homework assignments is organized around a different stage of human life and a different facet of human experience as per the Wiccan ritual mandala she taught us back in February. Not that she ever mentioned the connection, and not that I spotted it myself. Nora pointed it out to me. I can’t tell if Kit is surreptitiously trying to introduce us to Wicca, or if she just doesn’t notice there’s any other way to organize things anymore. If the latter, that would be ironic, as the whole point of this class is clearly to impress upon us that there is more than one way to organize things, more than one way to think.

I’ve never taken classes straight through the summer before, and I kind of wish I wasn’t doing it now. Chapel Hall is not, of course, air-conditioned. Nothing on campus is, and while we’ve only had a couple of really hot days, the building tends to get hotter and much stuffier than the outside air. It’s worse than the Mansion is, because we’re in the Mansion at night, so we can keep the windows open and let it cool down. In the morning, we shut all the windows and draw the curtains before we leave, and that helps. It has excellent insulation and all new windows, so that keeps the temperature inside fairly stable. Also, I know the Mansion was rebuilt when the school started, because it had been damaged by fire. Chapel Hall was not damaged, so it is in its original condition and that makes it hot in the summer and frigid in the winter.  I mean, it’s stick-to-your-chair hot. Sometimes we go outside for class, or at least into the Chapel where it’s cooler, but Kit usually needs the whiteboard, so we have to be in the classroom part of most class days. She brings iced coffee and fresh fruit to class for us, to help us stay awake.

A Variety of Grasses
Speaking of learning things, I’m still doing that assignment for Charlie where I’m surveying everything that’s growing and flowering in a couples of squares of ground every week. It’s not like the “growing ears” project, where I had to do well enough to be allowed to stop doing it; I suppose I’ll keep at this until the end of the growing season, whether I do ok at it or not. And since Charlie isn’t checking my work, as far as I know (I file my completed forms in the Herbarium, but he’s never mentioned reviewing any of them), I’m not sure I can tell for sure if I’m doing well or not. I think I am learning, though; I’m getting much better at using the field guides, and I’ve decided to get copies of my own—probably from my parents for my birthday, in September. And I’m starting to really notice wildflowers and grasses. I never really did before, unless one were startlingly pretty or something, or if it’s related to a garden flower I’ve handled. Now, I’m starting to spot new things when they start blooming like I’d spot a stranger on campus.  If this is “growing eyes,” I want to do more of it.

And of course, no sooner had I thought that then I got another assignment, in addition to continuing the surveys. I’m supposed to label the trees. All of them on campus. I’m supposed to put a little label on or next to each one listing both its common and its scientific name, both spelled and capitalized correctly. I asked Charlie what counts as a tree, since there are a lot of woody shrubs and saplings around, and he seemed to think it was a good question. He had a ready answer.

“Anything with a woody stem at least three inches DBH,” he answered.


“Diameter at breast height.” He seemed hurried, answering my questions. We weren’t having one of
Where Foresters Measure Diameter
our talks, we’d just bumped into each other and he’d taken the opportunity to give me more work.
“Breast height?” I asked, “whose breast?” Charlie smiled and rolled his eyes at my question.
“Some forester’s. Calm yourself, Daniel. It means four and a half feet.”

So, I’ve got to name every tree on campus except those less than three inches across. That cuts out most of the saplings and such, which is good, but still leaves me with something like three hundred trees to label. A challenge. But most of them are going to be doubles, and a lot of them are still in single-species groups left over from before Charlie started planting things, so this sounds definitely doable.

It’ll be fun.

[Next Post: Friday, June 28: The Taste of Summer]