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, June 10, 2013

Part 3: Post 13: Dead Poet's Society

The nose got trimmed during scanning
 The woodchucks tasted pretty good, actually. I’d expected them sort of roasted whole, like four-legged chickens, but of course they had been dissected as an educational exercise (which I missed, again), so that it was all in chunks. Chunks of woodchucks. Charlie had roasted the meat with raisins; he has the advantage of having been here to gather things last year when they wild grapes were in fruit, I suppose. He’d used the bones to make broth for soup with wild onions and mushrooms and some kind of spinachlike something. He’s a pretty good cook. 

The other dishes other people brought were pretty good, too, although one woman brought nothing at all because, as she admitted, she'd managed to set her offering on fire while cooking it. That made Charlie laugh, a thing I've just realized he rarely does.

I took Charlie's advice and asked Rick to help me put together something, but I ended up helping Rick put together something instead; we went fishing in the lake a couple miles from campus and brought back six good-sized trout. I'd known Rick to say hello to, but I'd never really spoken to him more than that. He isn't in my dorm or my therapy group, and I haven't had any classes with him because he's not a yearling. But he's a really awesome person, I've discovered. He's a fantastic fisherman, for one thing, and he didn't get frustrated with my trying to "help," though I really didn't know how to do anything we were doing. Like me, he is Charlie's student--I mean that both of us sort of have Charlie as our unofficial primary master, though his focus is a bit different. Get this; he's learning how to live entirely on the land, to hunt and forage and everything. Next year he's going to spend the entire year living like that. Now he's in training.

There were maybe ten of us at dinner. I was the only yearling, though I'm not sure if I'm the only yearling who attends--the group is secret, so I wouldn't know. All sorts of people could have been going, and I wouldn't know. It's interesting looking around to see who was there, who has this secret kinship of...liking to eat wild stuff, I guess. But it's more than that. It's who really pays attention to Charlie. I'm not sure a lot of people around here do, though nobody dislikes him. It's just a world where most people spend their time talking about and thinking about myth and magic and so forth, a fairly straightforward ecology teacher doesn't quite fit in. I mean, I don't think there's much that he talks about that you couldn't find in a mainline science class, and if there is more that he thinks and feels to be true, he growls if you ask about it.

We're the people who don't go away when he growls, I guess.

Looking around at dinner, thinking this way, I also got to thinking about that other secret society Charlie is a member of. Not for the first time, I wondered how many other people on campus knew that Charlie is a recovering alcoholic? I've kept my promise; I haven't told anyone, and that means I haven't asked anyone else about it, either. I wish I could. It kind of freaks me out, a little; I wonder, sometimes, what he used to be like, when he drank, whether he ever did anything terrible...probably, I will never find out. I wonder, too, whether he will stay sober, whether he will ever relapse, I mean, people do, sometimes, I know that. I wonder about the health of his liver, whether he stopped in time to avoid really hurting himself. I can't do anything about it, and he wouldn't appreciate my worrying about him, I'm sure. But I wonder who else among his secret group of paleolithic diners know? Maybe we all do; I noticed that nobody brought any alcohol to dinner, even though a lot of people on campus make alcohol from wild ingredients, like dandelion wine or hard birch beer. I think this is the first party on campus where nobody brought anything like that, and nobody even asked for any. Charlie wouldn't care, I'm sure; he can be around alcohol without drinking, I've seen him do it. But I probably wouldn't bring any to a party he was hosting, either.

But there is yet another secret group in play here. Halfway through dinner, Jared, a mastery candidate in Elk Dorm, said something about "the Society," and then cut himself off and glanced nervously at Charlie.

"It's ok. You can tell him," Charlie assured him.

"Tell me what?" I asked, pretty sure I was the "him" they were talking about.

"The Dead Poet's Society," Jared told me, with some lingering reluctance.

"That's real?" I asked, incredulous. I'd seen the movie, of course.

"It is now," Charlie said. "Most things are real, if you act like they are."

"We meet on Wednesdays, in the Grape Arbor, usually. We meet late--at ten. And you can't tell anyone."

"Invitation only and I'm invited?" I asked. Jared looked at Charlie again, nervously. Charlie nodded, just slightly.

"Yes," Jared told me.

Dead Poet's Society is very much like what you see in the movie, which is why it's secret, I suppose. There's no practical reason not to tell anyone, it's not against the rules here, or anything like that. The  Grape Arbor is an actual grape arbor, but the vines grow up a series of beautiful wooden square arches, almost like those gates you see in pictures of Japan, though with only one cross-piece on top, not two. They're tall enough to walk under, but no one can really see you in there, because of the grape vines. There's a wide area in the middle, a sort of swelling in the avenue of grapes, like a cave made entirely of leaves, and that's where we met. We were supposed to bring at least two poems on different subjects to read or recite. They didn't have to be original, and we wouldn't all have time to read.

So, I've been once, so far.

We gathered in the Grape Arbor by the light of three citronella candles, and Charlie recited the Thoreau quote they use in the movie;

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life, 
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not,
when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

 Then he rang a little, odd bell, two metal discs on a string that he held and allowed to swing together on their edges; ding! And after that, we weren't allowed to talk, except in poetry.

One person read something, and then the next person had to read or recite something that responded to it in some way, like a conversation. And so on. Some people made up new poems on the spot, other people seemed to have a lot of poetry memorized so they could always come back with something. I didn't read or recite anything; I stayed silent.

It was strange, though; the strict format, the rule against talking, it made everybody, except, maybe, me, more spontaneous, not less, like within the stricture of form and art, we could say anything at all. I didn't speak, but by the end of the meeting I was just humming with this weird energy. It felt like anything could happen, and probably would. The night had turned cool, cool for June, and I was getting chilly. The cold and the candles could not entirely keep away the mosquitoes, so I was also getting bitten up, some. I didn't care. I still don't.

At the end, Charlie recited Walt Whitman's "Oh Captain, My Captain," which seemed a fitting way to end something called Dead Poet's Society, and he rang the bell again. Ding! And the spell was broken; we could talk normally. I almost couldn't remember how.

 "Come on," Jared told me, taking me by the arm and steering me back towards the Mansion, "We'll get some tea and something to eat. It's a tradition."

And we did. Most of us who had met under the Arbor, though not Charlie, met in the little kitchen off the Bird Room and talked over tea, crackers, and cheese. I think it was after one in the morning before I finally got to bed, and I had to get up at five to go running with Ollie.

But who needs sleep? I only get to be nineteen once, I might as well take advantage of it.

[Next Post: Friday, June 14th: Interlude]

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